Norway 2016, part 6: Returning to Oslo

The final day in a week-long solo adventure in Norway. Monday, September 12, 2016.

My room on the top southwest corner of CityBox’s central Oslo hotel had an excellent view. I particularly loved the heated bathroom floor, but the view was a close second. Waking up before the sunrise once more, I took a few minutes to watch as the light made a brief pastel rainbow at the horizon.

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By 7:30, I was ready for the morning. Having been assured by the desk clerk at check-in the night before that it was safe to park my car on the street until 9 am, I headed out because I intended to turn it in that morning and spend the day in the city. I was surprised to see a ticket on it when I got down to the street. To make a long story short, I learned the following from an extended phone conversation with the Olso City parking authority: you must park PAST the sign which states when you can park there, not NEXT TO the sign. Parking next to the sign is not the same as parking just past the sign. No, the sign does not apply to the whole section of street generally, and you will not find any indication on the pavement that you cannot park before or next to the sign. That would be too hard to see in the wintertime. The sign is the only marker that shows EXACTLY where it is okay to start parking on that section of street. Tourists are expected to know these rules.

So, there. Now you know, too. (NOTE: There will be no on-street parking in this section of the city from June 2017 and on. Look for one of the 9,500 spaces in a parking garage.) The answer, of course, is to turn in the car before entering the city.

img_8488I drove my rental car over to Emily at the Enterprise office in Skøyen, grabbed a bolle and raspberry smoothie at the train station, and headed back downtown for a walk to the Oslo Kommune Kemnerkontoret, which is where you can pay your parking ticket in person. The other option is to pay it from your bank to theirs, but I happen to know that my bank charges an outrageous fee for such international funds transfers, so I was relatively glad to be able to pay it in cash. Their office is located at 2 St. Olavs plass, 0130 Oslo, in case you ever need to visit them. They were ever so polite and were happy to take my (unearned, I felt) kroner.

But there was no way I was going to let that ruin my last day in Norway.

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I had things to do on my list. I walked and walked, photographing as I went. I wandered from St. Olavs plass around to the various churches at the center of town, where I sat on a bench by the Domkirke and watched people go by as the fresh fruit and flower market set up for the day.

I waited there on the bench until the GlasMagasinet department store opened up for the morning shoppers, then headed in to explore the basement.

On Rena’s recommendation, I was there to find wool yarn. The lower floor is the location for the Heimen Husfliden shop, one of the main places to buy a bunad or bunad-related items, among other traditional offerings. They had wool yarn indeed- lots of it, and not just for embroidery. There were rows and rows of knitting yarn and linen thread. They also offered expensive silk ribbons, scarves, shoes, high-end traditional crafts and beautiful housewares. I settled on a few (10) colors I thought might be best to supplement the ones I already had.

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Since they had a rack of white bunad shirts, I asked about obtaining a pattern. They directed me to their flagship sore at Rosenkranz gate 8, which was indeed an expansion of the Stortorvet shop. There, in a back room, they have all kinds of things for making or buying a bunad. They do not offer parts to the Tinnbunad, but they do offer shirt fabric and trim. I didn’t need the fabric, but I bought 1.5 meters of white tatted shirt trim and they gave me a shirt pattern with instructions. It is in Norwegian, of course, but I hope to translate it soon.

Is there a way to pack it all in my suitcase?

The two other things I sought in Oslo that day were located right next to each other on a street not far from the castle. I say “two other things” as if it really was just two things I was seeking. In fact, I was searching for whatever I could find within the two categories of “old Norwegian things” and “books in Norwegian”.

I follow a Norwegian woman on Instagram who lives in Oslo and loves second-hand and vintage clothing. I recently asked her for a recommendation for the best second-hand shop in Oslo and her unhesitating answer was Fretex on Universitetsgata. (Fretex is the store owned by the Salvation Army in Norway.) It’s a small, split-level boutique with women’s clothing upstairs and men’s downstairs. There are a few housewares on the entry level, too. Not knowing exactly what I was looking for, but knowing that I love a good deal when I see one, it took a few minutes for me to get my bearings. When I saw the sweater section, I knew. I combed through some truly ugly 80’s numbers before finding a blue cardigan that was perfect. I sifted through the children’s and men’s sweaters, too, but there was not much exciting there on that day. However, the accessories section had a brand new (with label still attached) pair of black and white Selbu mittens and a black and white snowflake patterned ear band as well. It had been surprisingly difficult for me to decide what to get for my teenage daughters, so I thought these might be a good start. Sold.

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A door or two down the street I found my final goal for the day: Norli, a book store. The one on Universtitetsgata is very large and I walked through the entire main floor to gather ideas. Then I went upstairs to the reference section where I struck gold; they have an AMAZING assemblage of books for learners of the Norwegian language. Better than I have ever seen online or anywhere else. I was after a visual dictionary I had once seen at a meeting and I found it. No shipping costs! Then I found the textbooks, workbooks, verb books (which I didn’t think even existed), dictionaries, and grammar books. I was overwhelmed and began to calculate the weight of my suitcase. The employee behind the overflowing reference desk asked if she could be of help and I honestly did not know what to say in response. Yes? Well, no, not really. But thank you.

I gathered a prioritized, though meager, sample of what they offered and I took pictures of many of the bookshelves, aware that the good-humored woman at the desk behind me was probably laughing to herself. On the main level, I deliberated for a long time over which novel to buy. It was almost crushing to see the rows of books in Norwegian and know that I could probably only afford (both in price and in weight) one more book. I perused several before deciding on the newest novel by Helene Uri titled Hålke. It’s a story about an old couple, stuck inside when the weather turns icy, and reveals something about relationships and love. The style is perfect for my level and I’m collecting a long list of new vocabulary words on a notepad. I’ll probably read it twice or three times over.

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One last stop: Flying Tiger for a few unusual souvenirs for the boys. Parachute rope and a cat-face egg mold and some weird candy. Perfect.

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I arrived back in my hotel room with heavy shopping bags and very sore feet. It might not have been the right day to break in a new pair of leather clogs. The mid-afternoon was spent recovering, repacking, and resting. By the time the sun had worked its way around to the south west, I was ready to go out and explore again. Wearing more comfortable shoes, I went east.

The Opera House is just amazing. It is stark, clean, simple at first glance, detailed underneath, and a magnet for all kinds of people despite the constant wind. I enjoyed seeing it again. It is both easy and difficult to photograph; the easy images are too easy to make while the interesting ones take real effort to see, compose, and correctly expose. I love it.

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Across the water, along Langkaia, there are benches where I sat to sketch the Opera House and I listened as two groups of young men merged, chatted, and redivided for the evening’s activities. I took my leave of the Bjørvika area and walked down Langkaia to Grev Wedels Plass. Here was another pocket of the city I had never seen; an empty park and what looked like apartment buildings right in the thick of the old city. The clock said I had about half an hour before my dinner reservation, so I continued on to the fortress.

Akershus Festning, or Akers-hus fortress, was begun before 1300. It’s been a castle, a defense fortress, a prison, and now a military area which is open to the public during the day. Occasionally the large banquet hall is used for state dinners. It affords a lovely view of the harbor and Oslo fjord. On the evening I was there, it was quiet and warm. I saw only one guard on duty, a solitary soldier with exactly the kind of focused dedication to his responsibility that the King himself would expect. It seemed he did not see the tourists’ cameras, but of course he noticed us all.

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Wishing I had another few days to spend, I reluctantly left Akershus Festning and made my way over to Engebret Café across from the Museet for samtidskunst on Bankplassen. I was looking forward to this meal because the reviews of this restaurant were so good. And, sure enough, it was fabulous. My waiter was excellent, not least because he was patient with my Norwegian and respectful enough to let me use it without switching to English. The main dining room was half full on a Monday evening and the groups were mostly friends meeting up although there was one other English-speaking tourist family there. I know because they ordered the “Taste of Northern Norway” with its whale and reindeer meat, king crab and cod tongues among other delights and they had good things to say about it. I ordered the arctic char which came as a whole fish along with perfect cabbage, potatoes and carrots and a marvelously thick butter sauce on the side. I was suddenly grateful I had not eaten lunch because it was a huge portion and absolutely delicious.

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It was the only meal I ate in a restaurant in Norway this time and it was worth it. Eating out alone is not my favorite, but sometimes it happens. The waiter must have thought I write a blog or something because I kept making notes in my journal and I took three pictures. At the end he gave me a brochure about the restaurant. I made sure my tip was generous because, in fact, he deserved it. The other waiters I observed were similarly skilled.

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When I emerged from fish heaven it was twilight and I knew I needed to see the harbor one more time. Tjuvholmen, the area down past Aker Brygge, has grown up in the last 20 years and it was worth a warm evening’s walk to see it. Aker Brygge itself was full of diners, strolling friends of all ages, and happy noises. Tjuvholmen, by contrast, was quiet and almost empty. I ducked into a little corner store for an ice cream bar, then explored new streets. The Astrup Fearnly Museum and nearby sculpture park stand at the tip of the little peninsula and that’s a nice place to look back on the fortress and City Hall and say goodnight, dear Oslo. But, you know, bring a tissue.

img_8594This visit to Norway had been just like this view: the familiar, seen from a new perspective, plus things I’d never seen before. Norway is a place to discover for oneself. It is multi-layered and gives back generously according to the effort the visitor puts into exploration.

It was very difficult to say goodbye this time. The flights home through Amsterdam, Washington, D.C., and Denver to Salt Lake City seemed to take forever, but maybe that’s necessary to the transition one must make from vacation to home. It had been good to be at home on vacation in Norway, and it was very good to be home at home again.

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I look forward to the next time.

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Tinnskoene

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