June 6, 2015: Touring Oslo

Today is our last full day in Norway. We got a total of five full days here, from Tuesday morning to Sunday morning. Tomorrow we have to get up and get moving immediately to get to the airport and fly back to New York. We are not looking forward to that which adds some stress to today, but at least we have all of today to do nothing but see the city. It is unfortunate that I have to routinely work very late at night, going into the wee hours of the morning, because it makes the next day so hard to do anything. It is nearly impossible to get up early and get moving because I am so exhausted if we do that.

Our plan today was to get up and get to the metro station and take the subway to the bus station and from there catch a bus or a ferry going to the island of museums (I do not know its name but there is an obvious and well known island in Oslo that is full of the most famous museums.) It took a while for me to get up, get moving, get the girls ready and get to the metro station. By the time that we were there it was getting late and we were worried about being able to get to the museums before they closed.

It took a bit to figure out how to get tickets for the subway since, like much of Europe, they simply do not accept American credit or debit cards in the machines here. They also do not take cash, only change! Why caries enough change to do this I have no idea. Very impractical. Dominica went into a shop in the subway station and asked if they could make change from a five hundred Kroner note so that she could buy subway tickets. They told her that they could not make change but they could sell her the tickets. So that turned out to be easier than expected.

Using the subway itself was pretty easy. We are staying on the eastern end of the main downtown subway lines which, like in Dallas, all converge for several stations through the heart of the city so for about five stops (four in Dallas) you can take any line to get to any of the five and only once the subway leaves downtown do the different lines diverge to head off in their respective directions.

We took the subway to the City Hall stop which was right in the heart of the city and on the waterfront. Once there, all of our directions that we had been following that explained how to get transportation to the island of museums fell apart. The bus that we needed was on the list to come here but the schedule showed it never actually coming. So our window to make it to the island was rapidly closing.

After spending a good ten or fifteen minutes trying to figure out what to do we gave up on the station and set out walking down towards where other transport links, like the tram, bus station and ferries, were located. By this point we were pretty sure that we had missed the museums and I was convinced that we needed to just bail on that idea and slow down and just relax and see the city itself. We can do the museums and other sights some other trip to Oslo. We don’t want to burn all of our time and energy trying to get to a museum that we will likely miss and even if we don’t, will get almost no time at. We’ve done one museum in town already and while the girls like museums we don’t want to wear them out on them either.

We walked down to the port and never found a clear way to get to where we had been wanting to go. The public transport links are just very confusing and dealing with things in Norwegian is not something that we are good at.

There were huge crowds down at the port. It seems that everyone in Oslo comes out on a beautiful day like this and just walk all over. (We would learn from our land lord later that this weekend was a near record for this time of year and was the equivalent to high summer weather and was nearly peak sun and temperatures for Oslo so the city was all heading to beaches and trying to get in outside activity as it was pushing towards seventy degrees which is a rarity anywhere in Norway.) There was a lot of live music at the port and we stopped for a minute to listen to an awesome Dixieland Jazz Band there. I tried to get Liesl to give them money but she is too shy and I had to do it.

The one thing that we absolutely had to do was to ride a ferry around the harbour. The ferry, as long as we were taking a local one, was included in our metro passes for the day, as were buses and trams, which makes things easy. We hunted around for ferry options and found one that went to several of the main island in the harbour but would not take too long. A long ferry is a concern for Dominica as she gets seasick so easily. The waters here are not nearly as bad as in the Straights of Gibraltar, which is good, but the ferries are much smaller and slower, which is not good. So we were taking our chances.

The ferry that we picked was a good one. It started off going right in front of the famous Akershus Castle, which sits right on the water and is the residence of the royal family. That was awesome to get to see. There is a model of that castle in Walt Disney World that we have been to several times as they have the best of the princess dinners there and an awesome Norwegian menu.

From there the ferry took us from island to island so we got lots of great views of Oslo itself and got to see what the extended parts of the city were like. It was a very nice day and perfect for doing this. The girls were pretty restless after not too long, though. So everyone was quite ready to get off of the boat and walk around once it returned to port.

Our next goal was to find some lunch. We ended up walking all over the downtown area trying to find something semi-local. We had been told by locals that no one eats Norwegian in Norway except on holidays, at home, with family. So Norwegian restaurants just do not exist. We spent at least an hour trying to find reasonable food options and just could not. Everything was an Irish pub, American bar and grill (Hard Rock Cafe, TGI Fridays, Burger King, etc.) or similar. Everything was a chain from the US, even the Irish pubs were from Boston, not Ireland. We walked and walked trying to find anything that would not be embarassing to eat at but failed.

We did find some nice parks to walk through and the girls spent a little time climbing some monuments which they love to do. The parks were all very busy. At one point we walked through Oslo’s Musikfest and I got a great picture of Liesl posing by the concert area and someone in the concert crowd took a picture of me taking a picture of her.

From there we tried going to a toy store that Dominica had seen and the girls were excited to check out but, sadly, they were closed by the time that we got there. We were pretty bummed because we had been hoping to take the girls there for a few hours and had been saving it as a motivation for them. It also meant that we walked quite far in a direction that we really did not want to go.

We finally gave up and settled on TGI Fridays for our late lunch or early dinner meal. Not what we wanted at all but we were running out of options. They at least had a clear set of vegetarian options that looked decent and we knew that the food would be good. It was probably the right choice and, if you really think about it, this is a major part of the Oslo experience – the locals eat at TGI Fridays, so if we were to find something “more authentic”, it really would not be. The restaurant was quite busy and all locals.

We had a nice meal, quite expensive, and it turns out that our waitress was a student at the University of Rochester! So we had a lot to talk about. Talk about a small world!

After we ate our last big thing for the day was to go to see the world famous statue garden in Oslo. This is the park shown in every travelogue of Oslo, probably the biggest and most important thing to see in the entire city. It is a large municipal mall filled with hundreds of enormous statues. The artist that did the work dedicated his life to this one park. It is effectively his entire body of work all in this one place.

We were able to get there by taking the tram from the harbour area which turned out to be quite easy. It was a good distance away but riding the tram was swift and included in our existing tickets so we were very happy.

Dominica had guessed that this city park would have a playground and did it ever. It is probably the biggest playground that we have ever seen. Epic would be the only way to describe it. There was so much for the girls to do, they never even got a chance to scratch the surface. They did slides and all manner of climbing things. But they seemed to most enjoy an extensive sandbox installation with kid sized “stops” to play in and some cool sand machinery that would hoist sand up in buckets and let them empty it into a shoot and have it come down below. It was all very neat and they loved playing there.

Luciana was really into playing “bakery” and she would make sand cakes and then take them into the “shop” to sell them from the sales window. It was adorable.

We probably spent an hour on the playground before taking the girls to see the statue garden which was really impressive. It was a long walk and it climbed up a hill. Sadly, at this point, the sun was getting low which made things hard to see and both girls were getting really exhausted. Luciana demanded to ride in her stroller the whole time and Liesl walked what she could but by the time we were done I had to carry her much of the way which was wearing me out very quickly.

That was as much as we could handle for the day. We are done. We walked back through the mall and to the tram stop and were on our way back to the harbour front. By this point it was eight or possibly nine in the evening. Time to get back and get ready for bed and tomorrow’s travels.

Getting back was not too bad. We were back to the apartment well before ten and there was really nothing more to do than to pack and get everyone off to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a painfully long day and absolutely no fun. Today was good, we got to see a bit of the city and are much better prepared for touring it the next time that we are here, which could easily be later this year. We wish that we could have seen a lot more of it and really which that we could have done the “Norway in a Nutshell” tour but seeing how we all felt today, I am quite glad that we did not attempt that. None of us was really up for it and spening over a thousand dollars to wear ourselves out for the day would not have been good.

Next time that we come to Oslo for a flight transfer I think that we will shoot for less time during the week. Being in Oslo just for me to work from the apartment is overly expensive and it is too cumbersome to try to do anything so better to remain in a lower cost location and only spend weekend time here, I think.

No more things to see and do. Our fun time in Europe is over for this trip. Off to America first thing tomorrow morning.