It’s been less than a week and I’m already missing the beach. Something about water calms me…it’s like an instant shot of happiness 🙂 Maybe I need to get an “ocean waves” app or something…but then I’m nervous that it will make me want to pee all the time. Hmmm…I guess the next best thing to being there is staring at pictures!!! As I started looking thru my online photo albums, I realized that I’ve been BEYOND BLESSED to visit so many amazing places! And I’d like to share a few of them with you. So, get your pretend swimsuit, a very real cocktail, sunglasses and let’s go!!!
I had the good fortune to spend 4 days in Oslo. This city reminds me of Zürich and Geneva in that it doesn’t really have the energy or distinct architecture that London, Paris, Rome or Amsterdam has. And while I found the city to be kind of “blah”, the city sightseeing tour and museums were actually pretty interesting.
A few interesting facts about Oslo:
1. It was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved during the reign of King Christian IV. It was rebuilt closer to Akershus Castle, and renamed Christiania in his honour (also spelled Kristiania in the late 1800s). In 1925, twenty years after the dissolution of personal union between Norway and Sweden, the city reclaimed its original Norwegian name, Oslo. (source Wikipedia)
2. This city rich. And I am not kidding (a regular pizza & Diet Coke from a chain called Pepe’s Pizza cost me $50 USD! I wanted apply for Norwegian food stamps so I could eat.). In 2009, Oslo was rated as the most expensive city in the world (now it’s second only behind Tokyo). The guide on my tour said that they have a lot of oil (and continue to keep discovering more of it) which allows them to save money since they don’t have to import it from the Middle East. They ration the oil to avoid a shortage in the near future (they feel they have enough to last the city for approximately 75-150 years).
3. The main pedestrian street (Karl Johan Gate) and various sidewalks throughout the city are actually heated (which you can do when you are rich). The city uses hydro electricity which powers most of everything there.
4. The Vikings didn’t actually wear the hat with pointy horns (you know what I’m referring to). According to the tour guide, this was made up for a play and kind of just stuck.
5. Norwegians love al fresco dining…even in the winter. I was surprised to find that most restaurants had their outdoor seating sections open while there was still snow on the ground! And it was packed. Most restaurants provide blankets or furs to snuggle up in while you dine. We actually tried this one afternoon and while the air was brisk, it was actually pretty nice.
Nobel Peace Center
The Nobel Peace Center was opened in 2005 and is absolutely fascinating…and very humbling. As I viewed the exhibits, I realized the strength and courage these people had to face opposition and fight for something they believe in. I was humbled to remember that I take for granted the fact that I can voice my opinion, own a home and have my own career.
The Nobel Peace Prize was established by Alfred Nobel (who was Swedish) in his will. He gave no reason for this but some feel it was to assuage his guilt over being the inventor of dynamite. The Nobel Peace Center is divided into 3 main areas (1. Main Exhibits; 2. Current Nobel Peace Prize Winners; 3. Former Nobel Peace Prize winners) with various other small areas.
The current exhibit is on Afghanistan and contains the soul-searing photos from Lynsey Addario and Tim Hetherington and short films by 3 brave teenage girls in Kabul (which you can view on the website).
“The British war photographer Tim Hetherington’s photo series Infidel provides a rare portrait of masculinity, camaraderie and vulnerability among American infantry soldiers. For nine months in 2007 Hetherington lived side by side soldiers at a base in the remote Korengal valley. Tim Hetherington was killed during a grenade attack in Libya in April 2011.” (quoted from The Nobel Peace Center website)
Notice the dog above has a collar made of bullets. There was also a short documentary film being shown of the soldiers in daily life. I’m not usually an emotional person but that film brought me to tears. It’s hard to understand what war is like if you have never served in the military. That glimpse into their lives broke my heart. The toughness they exude in the still photos (with all the tattoos and the obvious hazing) was countered by the fear during gunfire and the tears for fallen comrades. I highly recommend you check it out.
“The American photographer Lynsey Addario’s photo series Veiled Rebellion is an intimate and personal portrait of women’s lives in a patriarchal society. Addario has photographed women in Afghanistan for 11 years.” (quoted from The Nobel Peace Center website)
Her photos captured everyday living (from the birth of a child to the autopsy of someone who recently died). There were scenes of happiness from a typical wedding and the sadness of living in poverty. But there was a theme of hope. You could see the women getting stronger and happier as the years went on and they gained more freedoms.
“Anders Sømme Hammer and Christoffer Næss work with three girls in Kabul who want to change their society. Using hand-held cameras, the girls document their lives in the Kabul Cards video documentaries.” (quote from The Nobel Peace Center)
These videos were so touching. There were several videos of the 3 girls doing every day activities (shopping, trying on make-up, interviewing other teens). It really gives you insight into the culture and mindset in Kabul.
From there, you can walk upstairs to the SHEROES Nobel Peace Prize laureate exhibition 2011. The exhibition provides you with the biographies of the 3 brave heroines and laureates: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen. I saw Leymah Gbowee on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart a few months ago and was absolutely mesmerized by her. She is smart, funny and completely engaging. And, she was able to convey the enormous effort it took to gain women certain freedoms in Liberia. The one thought that kept running through my mind was that these 3 women were courageous and not easily intimidated by more powerful men. That takes a lot of faith and strength. It’s amazing how you can be inspired by the contributions of others.
Past Nobel Peace Prize Winners
I have to say, I was so excited to see this room. It is so cool…dark with ambient lighting. Very peaceful. As you can see in the picture at the left, each Nobel Peace Laureate is featured on a small tablet with their name, year of being the recipient (and reason why) and their speech. I did find it interesting that Yasser Arafat received a Nobel Peace Prize but Ghandi didn’t. Really? But my favorites are Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela. Amazing!
The Viking Ship Museum
This small museum houses 3 unearthed Viking Ships and I found the history fascinating. I didn’t realize that the Viking burial ceremony was similar to the Egyptians. Their belief was that the dead needed food and drink (2 oxen were killed and dough was supplied), weapons, animals, clothes and their ships (basically everything they owned) in the afterlife. Horses and dogs (even a peacock) were killed and buried with the dead (including bridle mounts). I’m not sure if the dead had access to Cuisinart products to cook up the meat and bake the dough.
There were also tapestries (which I was not allowed to take pictures of) that had scenes of Viking life and burial. It looked very similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics! Another detail I was unaware of is that the Vikings owned slaves (but not from Africa).
All of this information was obtained when 2 Viking Ships were excavated. The Oseberg burial mound, which contained numerous grave goods and two female human skeletons (two women…one, aged 60–70, suffered badly from arthritis and other maladies; the second was aged 25–30. It is not clear which one was the more important in life or whether one was sacrificed to accompany the other in death). The ship’s interment into its burial mound dates from 834, but parts of the ship date from around 800, and the ship itself is thought to be older. It was excavated by Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson in 1904-1905. This ship is widely celebrated and has been called one of the finest finds to have survived the Viking Age (source Wikipedia).
Then there is the Gokstad ship. Shortly after the 1880 New Year the sons of the owner of Gokstad Farm, having heard of the legends surrounding the site, uncovered the bow of a boat and its painter while digging in the still frozen ground (source Wikipedia).
Holmenkollen Ski Jump
You can’t go to Oslo in the winter without checking out the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. It just so happens that the FIS World Cup occurred the weekend I was there. The ski jump is 60 meters/197 feet high!
This is a popular place for not only ski jumping but regular skiing as well. I decided to try the ski jump simulator and after 4 terrifying minutes, realized that I would never try it in real life. I’ve never been one to be afraid of heights and love rollercoasters but this was where I drew the line. Imagine looking down 197 feet (and I don’t even know how they get to the top of the jump). The amazing thing is that you speed down the course then fly off the end (as the jump) and stay airborne for a while before trying to land on skis. I would be dead with 2 broken legs.
Vigeland Sculpture Park covers 80 acres and features 212 bronze and granite sculptures all designed by Gustav Vigeland. 58 of the park’s sculptures reside along the Bridge, a 100 metre (328 ft) long, 15 metre (49 ft) wide connection between the Main Gate and the Fountain. All are clad in bronze and contribute to the Human Condition theme of the park. Here visitors will find one of the park’s more popular statues, Angry Boy (Sinnataggen). Visitors could enjoy the sculptures while most of the park was still under construction. At the end of the bridge lies the Children’s Playground, a collaboration of eight bronze statues, all in the likenesses of children at play.
The Fountain (Fontenen) was fabricated from bronze and adorned with 60 individual bronze reliefs. Portraying children and skeletons in the arms of giant trees, the Fountain suggests that from death comes new life. On the ground surrounding the Fountain lies an 1800 square meter mosaic laid in black and white granite. It took Vigeland a great deal of time to establish the monument: from 1906 to 1947.
The Main Gate to Vigeland Sculpture Park is forged of granite and wrought iron and serve as an entrance to Frogner Park itself (source Wikipedia).
The Monolith Plateau is a platform made of steps that houses the Monolith totem itself. 36 figure groups reside on the elevation bringing with them the “circle of life” message. Access to the Plateau is made via eight figural gates forged in wrought iron. The gates were designed between 1933 and 1937 and erected shortly after Vigeland died in 1943 (source Wikipedia).
Other sites around Oslo
Hopefully this gives you a pretty good overview of Oslo.
Looking for a hotel in Oslo? Check out my review of the Thon Hotel Astoria here.
Thon Hotels is one of Norway’s largest hotel chains with hotels in Norway, Sweden, Belgium and Holland. They have 4 types of hotels; City (typically in the city center), Conference (professional conference hotels geared towards business travellers), Budget (simple accommodations) and Resort (suburban accommodations). I spent 1 night at the Thon Hotel Astoria located at Dronningensgate 21 in Oslo, Norway. The Thon Hotel Astoria is in their “budget” class of hotels and is centrally located close to the main pedestrian street (Karl Johan), the Oslo S Station, and many restaurants and boutiques and sights.
Rooms & Suites
There are 3 types of rooms available: Standard Single, Standard Double and Standard Triple/Family. As stated above, this is a budget class hotel which means there are no frills. I stayed in the Standard Single which had a twin-sized bed, an older tv and a small shower. While the room is small, it was comfortable enough.
The Fitness Center
Breakfast (the only meal served at the hotel) is included in the cost of the room. As I left prior to breakfast being served, I cannot review the taste or quality.
Free wireless internet service is available. You must get the code from the front desk so I suggest asking for it upon check-in to save yourself a trip downstairs.
I found this hotel to be comfortable and a great value. The rooms were clean and cheap. The only negative was the long line at check-in. This has been a big complaint from other reviewers. The lobby is small and there is typically only 1 person working the front desk which makes the check-in process longer than necessary.
I also stayed at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia in Oslo for 1 night (which is considerably more expensive as I paid 1525 Kronor/$284 USD) and I found the Thon Hotel Astoria to be better. While I can’t give this hotel the rating of a Fabulous 4, I would definitely stay there again in the future. Looking for things to do in Oslo? Check out my city review here and my Norway in a Nutshell review here (if you are looking to visit the fjords).
Nikki’s Rating: 3 “Eh, it’ll do”
Rating Scale 1-5 (1 = GET OUT NOW; 2 = Seriously?; 3 = Eh, it’ll do; 4 = Fabulous; 5 = Absolutely Wonderful)
“God dag” from Norway! A couple of months ago, I saw a picture of a Norwegian fjord on Pinterest. It was so breathtaking that I promised myself that one day I would visit. I was blessed to have a business trip here so I added a couple of days to experience as much as I could of this country. Getting to the fjords isn’t as easy you think. You need to take a series of trains, buses and ferries. After a lot of research, I found that the easiest way is to take the “Norway in a Nutshell” tour.
This tour is a series of pretty well-organized connections from Oslo to Bergen (and back) via rail, bus and ferry. Along the way, you will take a train halfway across a mountain, then ride the Flamsbana train down to the Sognefjord for a ferry ride thru 2 off-shoot fjords (Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord). There are also other city & fjord combinations (for more information, check out Fjord Tours). You can buy your ticket directly from Fjord Tours or at the train stations. One of the great things about this tour is that if one segment is delayed, your next segment will wait as they are all connected. Since we are short on time, we decided to do the roundtrip tour from Oslo to Bergen…which was 22 hours long! During the summer, you have more options for a shorter tour.
8:11 = Train leaves Oslo S train station
12:53 = Arrive in Myrdal
13:02 = Flamsbana train departs Myrdal
14:00 = Arrive in Flåm
15:10 = Boat/Ferry departs Flåm (cruise the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord)
17:00 = Arrive in Gudvangen
17:25 = Bus departs Gudvangen
18:20 = Bus arrives in Voss
19:20 = Train departs Voss
20:34 = Train arrives in Bergen
22:58 = Night Train departs Bergen
6:26 = Arrive in Oslo
How was the Sognefjord created?
“The process began during the ice age about 3 million years ago. A glacier about 6,500 feet thick slid downhill an inch an hour following a former river valley on its way to the sea. Rocks embedded in the glacier gouged out a steep, U-shaped valley, displacing enough rock material to form a mountain 13 miles high. When the climate warmed, the ice age came to an end. The melted glaciers retreated and the sea level rose nearly 300 feet flooding the valley now known as the Sognefjord. The fjord is more than a mile deep, flanked by 3,000-foot mountains (for a total relief of 9,300 feet).” [quote from Rick Steves’ Scandinavia]
Oslo – Myrdal Train
Rick Steves’ Scandinavia describes this as “the most spectacular train ride in Northern Europe.” You are climbing over Norway’s “mountainous spine” where the scenery gets more dramatic the higher you go. Honestly, I didn’t find it all that spectacular. Of course, I fell asleep about an hour into the ride so take it for what it’s worth. It may actually be spectacular in the summer when the land isn’t barren. For a beautiful train ride through a winter wonderland, you should check out Interlaken, Switzerland.
Now this train ride had beautiful scenery. Waterfalls frozen mid-stream, bubbling creeks, snow-capped mountains and rustic little towns.
This small town is really catered to tourists. During the winter, most of the restaurants are closed (we were able to find 1 that was open for lunch). The souvenir shop was open from 1-3pm.
This is the real star of the entire tour! The cruise takes you through Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord (which is the narrowest fjord). While it was very windy and cold, you easily are caught up in the beauty and serenity of the area.
Rick Steves’ says it best, “Gudvangen is little more than a boat dock with a giant kiosk.” Seriously…there is nothing more than that (other than a bridge and a bus stop).
This is a plain town that has a beautiful church and a lovely lake. There isn’t much to do other than walk around while waiting for the next train out.
I really can’t review this city. We arrived at night while it was raining and just found a restaurant for a quick bite to eat. It is a bigger city and recommended as a stop-over by Rick Steves.
The Norway in a Nutshell tour was fine. I wish there were an easier way to reach the fjords because, for me, that was truly the highlight of the trip. Other than the Flamsbana train ride and the fjord cruise, I could have been okay with not doing the rest of the tour. However, during the summer, it is probably very good as the land will be lush and the days longer.
The night train back to Oslo was great though. We upgraded to a sleeper car (totally worth the extra 850 Kronor!). I was so well-rested upon arrival that I didn’t even bother with a nap today. This tour is a bit expensive (2240 Kronor = approximately 390 USD (without the sleeper car)) but you do have a fully packed day. While this is officially a “tour”, there is no actual guide. You receive your tickets and a schedule. I highly recommend bringing along a guidebook (Rick Steves’ Scandinavia has an excellent step-by-step guide of this tour which helps you to understand what you are seeing and what to expect next).
Looking for a hotel in Oslo? Check out my review of the Thon Hotel Astoria here.
One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is “What should I wear?” I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below). Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety. Most pickpockets target tourists. Looking like you belong goes a long way. Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.
1. Dress for the Country/Culture. Each country has its own style. Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy). With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters. Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).
- Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries) = First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting. Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it). Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin). Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily. Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country. Women from western countries are viewed as being “loose”, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population. By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of you (and your valuables). In Morocco, most women (and quite a few men) wear djellabas (a hooded robe). These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season). I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce the amount of stares you get. I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
- France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around. This means they take their fashion seriously. While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
- You can never go wrong with basic black. It’s easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
- The French love black, navy and brown. I suggest using those as your base colors. You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf. Don’t have one? Buy one when you get there…it’s a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
- The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more. Most of all, it is attitude.
- Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored. I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape. I picked this tip up while visiting Paris. Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
- Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts. I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn’t see that because I don’t think that’s a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
- England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes. I can’t say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the “don’ts” listed below). A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*). Don’t emulate that. Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.
2. Dress for the Season. Be sure to check the weather before you go. Weather Underground is a good resource. I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad. A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall. Going in the winter? Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo. I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan…only to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one. First and foremost, you want to be warm. Don’t take an unlined peacoat when visiting Finland in the dead of winter. Your health trumps fashion. Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather 🙂 ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded. This jacket is so cozy & warm! I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it. The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty. This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!
3. DO NOT WEAR…
- Baseball caps! If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don’t bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
- Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc. Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don’t want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice…not like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don’t think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
- Fanny-packs! Seriously…just no. It’s not cute. Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire. I don’t even know how this item became popular. Never carry your money and valuables in a waist contraption that is easily seen. You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you. Use a money belt instead. It’s similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist of your pants instead so it will not be seen. This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
- Expensive jewelry/bags! A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton. Leave your valuables at home.
- White sneakers??? I have actually seen quite a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris. My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones. I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe. Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.
4. Must Haves.
- Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship. You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed. I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love. So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship. I even wear it around at home.
- Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome. Highly recommend! The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place. It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
- Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet. A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
- Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces. Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.
5. Handy resources. Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items: While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).
While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer. Hope it helps! Safe travels. Do you have any travel fashion tips? If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!