Having done all the plausibly necessary prep, Jonathan and I set out for our first backpacking/camping trip with our 15-month-old daughter on a sunny Saturday in July.
Our destination was a little lake called Skjennungen, approximately 5km from Frognerseteren (depending on the trail you choose), at the end of the 1 Tbane line. We've camped there sans baby twice before. It's close to Skjennungstua, an unmanned hytte on top of a hill, which gave me some comfort in the event of a freak thunderstorm or baby-related emergency. There are also trashcans near the hytte, which meant we could unload some waste weight before the longer hike home on Sunday. Our route took us out by way of Ullevålseter, a manned hytte, where we planned to stop for a coffee break. Total distance over two days was only about 12 km (7.5 miles). Click to enlarge the map below.
We left after naptime on Saturday. The metro ride took about 40 minutes, and we disembarked at Frognerseteren at 3:45pm. The ability to start summer activities late in the day like this is one of the many things we love about Norway. Sunset in Oslo that Saturday wasn't until after 10pm.
- In Jonathan's pack (32 pounds): tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, warm clothes for the kid, extra socks for all, books for all, food for one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, a backpacking cook stove and pot, plastic cups and sporks, water pump and filter, camera, and extra backpacking-related stuff (small lantern, waterproof matches, knife, etc.).
- In my pack (40 pounds): a 15-month-old Cheeks McGee, water for all, first aid kit, trail snacks, diapers and wipes and waste bags, the kid's favorite stuffed animal.
Over the next two hours, we tramped along dry, well-marked trails, taking time to point out different types of trees, birds, and flowers to the enraptured baby girl. She got to see butterflies in motion, which garnered major giggles. She ate blueberries. She tried to get a good look at an itty bitty frog that her mama couldn't quite catch from within a patch of grass. She picked up stones and traced her fingers through the dirt in the trail. She tried to sing along to various hiking songs. Happy Trails, Row Your Boat, etc. But mostly she sat quietly with a fresh breeze in her hair as her parents talked about interesting things. McGee was a backpack champ. After a couple of breaks, she even voluntarily returned to the pack and attempted to saddle up herself. We will be buying our own Deuter Kid Comfort 3 soon!
Arriving at Skjennungen just after 5:30pm, we decided to eat dinner before setting up camp. (One thing about having a baby--even an easy-going one--with you... there's less flexibility when it comes to the timing of meals.) A couple of campsites closest to the trail were already taken up by tents, but one less accessible site, on the opposite side of the lake was open. After boiling water on the stove, I sat at a picnic table and fed the kid, while Jonathan hurried to stake our claim.
We're the Camps. We camp. It's something we've done together since the beginning. Jonathan and I have pitched two-person tents in Yosemite and Grand Teton and Joshua Tree, as well as myriad other campgrounds in the eastern Sierra. When we moved to Norway, we brought all our camping gear along for the ride, including both our 3-season and 4-season North Face tents. In the last five years, we've camped out on Kvalvika Beach in Lofoten and in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's tallest mountain, but mostly we've stuck close to home, trekking not so very far into Oslomarka, the wilderness area surrounding the capital city. Having the marka so accessible is one of the reasons we love living in Oslo.
Two years ago this month, we traveled to Bodø in Nordland to chase the midnight sun. We rented a little fishing cabin to allow us to travel light. What we didn't know then was that the girl basking in the glow of midnattsola--slathered in bug repellant, signing the guest book tucked into a tall cairn at the lookout, and grinning victoriously at her husband--was a couple weeks pregnant. That was the last "camping" adventure we had before our daughter was born in April of 2015.
Last summer, camping couldn't have seemed more impossible.
Our little Cheeks McGee was a born screamer, and her mama's best coping mechanism was a controlled eating and sleeping schedule. The babe was six months old before we attempted putting her to bed anywhere except her own crib. That trip to Berlin proved she could be a champion overnight sleeper no matter where we went, but it was already October, and the window for camping in Norway had closed.
When my semester ended in May, I was craving some time in the woods. I hauled our camping bins up from the cellar and inspected the contents. If we wanted to pull off any camping trips this summer, there was much to be done and much to be acquired: a tent to accommodate three people; sleeping bag for the babe; a backpack-style carrier; a new first aid kit.
On top of that, it's been five years since we owned a car, so any camping trip here requires backpacking, as well. This was no problem in the old days. We tramped many, many miles with 20-25 lb packs. Now one of us would also be shouldering a growing toddler, along with her proper-care-and-feeding miscellany.
But I was determined we wouldn't miss another summer. It was time to go camping in Oslo with a baby!
- We started working out in the evenings after the baby was in bed, focusing on strength-training for our glutes, quads, hams, and calves, as well as core exercises.
- We researched tents and ended up buying an MSR Mutha Hubba NX 3-person, purchased at Oslo Sportslager downtown. Adqequate brand selection; knowledgable staff. An employee allowed us to set up the tent we wanted in the store before we made our final decision.
- We tried on multiple backpack baby-carriers, ultimately borrowing a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 from a friend. In the weeks leading up to our camping adventure, we tried out the pack around our neighborhood and on a shorter hike. This worthwhile endeavor taught us lots of important things. Especially that my hips were impressively designed to bear children, both in the sense of birth and lugging the kid around later on. When the time came, I would carry the babe; my husband, devoid of hips, would carry almost everything else.
- We followed the weather forecast, watching for a dry week and weekend. Best weather website for Nowegian weather: yr.no.
- We made food plans and packing lists.
- We purchased bug repellant; natural stuff for the babe and her dad and DEET-heavy stuff for her sweet-blooded mama. Also bug-bite reliever. Also a bug-net for the backpack carrier, a last-minute panic-purchase that didn't get used once. All this I found at Chillout Travel in Grünerløkka. Fun little shop with lots of expensive gear, but also a campy cafe and a cozy basement spot to hole-up and plan an adventure.
- We pored over Den Norske Turistforening (DNT: Norwegian Trekking Association) website and maps, choosing our destination and route. Criteria included proximity to transportation and personal familiarity.
- We repeated to each other over and over that our bar for success on this outing would be low. Everyone comes out alive = We did it! No pressure.
The stars aligned two weeks ago. After several hot, dry days, there was sunshine in the forecast. All three of us were fit and healthy. Jonathan was in town. I was still on summer break. McGee hadn't yet begun barnehage. It was time.
Look for future posts this week on the hike itself, along with details about our destination (Skjennungen), and additional commentary on the gear we used. Spoiler alert: It was awesome! Thanks for reading. It's good to be back.
I live in one of the most beautiful countries on earth. I suppose there are many countries which have incredible landmarks and geographic features. The United States of America, my home, boasts 59 national parks, all of them spectacular in their own ways. Yellowstone is my favorite, followed closely by Yosemite and Grand Teton. I've also visited the Swiss Alps (and the Italian Alps), which take the breath away. Ireland's Dunloe Gap made me woozy with all the green, green, green. And I've stood stunned on the brink of the Blue Mountains in Australia. But Norway, even after all our travels, is special. This latest time lapse video from Rustad Media demonstrates that in high definition detail.
Yes, I've been to several of the places featured in this film. I've wandered among the sharp peaks of Lofoten and cruised the deep, placid fjords of Vestlandet, and hiked the snowfields in Midt-Norge, and walked above the clouds at Norway's highest point, Galdhøpiggen. But what I love most about this video is actually the way the cities and towns are woven into the narrative, too. Bright, gold lights flicker in the windows of snug, colorful buildings in these typical Norwegian towns. It's what I'll actually remember most if and when I leave this place one day: that among the wilderness, Norwegians have carved out the cosiest spots for themselves. As a resident of this place, I promise here and now never to take that for granted.
Journal entry from 20 July 2014:
This morning the wrinkles of our sweatshirts smell like pipe smoke and DEET. We left the hytte at 20:30, slathered in bug spray so that our cheeks shone in the late sunlight. Stopping to watch fish rise in the river--just a slip of dark, shiny head above the sparkling surface, then rings expanding to the shore--we found ourselves surrounded by a cloud of insects.
They hovered and glowed in the light, whirring and bobbing. It took me a moment to realize they were mosquitos. Enormous mosquitos. Their terrifying blood-sucking apparatus long and curved and visible. They appeared more like hummingbirds than insects. Thankfully, the spray kept them at bay.
We walked on up the road to the turnoff just before Rundvatnet, then up another steep fire road to its end. There we found no trail, but our object was the North-facing ride of Ostre Omasvarri (654 m), an understated hunch of a hill in this region of sharp-peaked giants. We turned and wandered in to the forest of birch--widely set from one another and branchlessly white down low, a departure from the forests of our Sierra home--which happens to be excellent for off-trail tramping and bushwhacking.
At six o'clock in the morning the streets of Oslo are almost empty. An overcast sky shades every corner, every park, every closed cafe patio gray. The light breeze is welcome after several consistently hot weeks. Leaves are still tightly bound to the branches of the full, green, summer trees. It's just me out there. Me and the city I call home.
I've never seen Oslo like this before. Oh, I've seen her empty. On Easter weekend. Or after catching the 1 a.m. train home from the airport, rolling our suitcases up the hill from National Theater. But never like this. Behind every closed door and Stengt sign comes the buzz of potential energy.
I am running. Downhill first. From Inkognitogata to Henrik Ibsens gate, through the heavy construction at Solli plass. Asphalt peeled back to reveal old tracks and new track. Rust at the joints. Workers in neon vests sip coffee. All this downhill is a gift to me. It's tough enough to motivate myself out of bed in the morning. To lace up my old sneakers (new shoes will be my reward for successfully completing the Oslo Half Marathon in September). My footsteps are quick and even.
Down Dokkveien to Aker Brygge. No cars on the road. I pass the Nobel Peace Center, cross Rådhusplassen. I am alone with the statues, the fountains. Fishy smells waft up from under the piers on the fjord. The bells in the brick towers don't chime. It's only been a mile. It's only been ten minutes. My breathing is more labored than it should be, but I'm used to that by now. It's the first mile and a half that's hardest for me. A breaking in. Breaking through the wall and finding a healthier part of my spirit.
I skirt the perimeter of Akershus Fortress. No cruise ship parked where I expect it, so the fjord view is open to me. Islands. Sailboats. Ferries. Rounding the corner, I see the Opera House. It is an iceberg. Pristine. Not a single person on the terraced roof. And faster than I expect, I am running along Operagata. Three men exit a beige sedan carrying musical instruments in bulky, black cases. Cyclists whip past me wearing black spandex, neon vests, helmets. They are on their way to work.
I am suddenly anxious. This is where my path will deviate from what I've run before. As a reluctant runner, I find blazing new trails joyless, even stressful. But this is a necessary part of my training. I'm piecing together the half marathon course one segment at a time. Nordenga Bridge rises ahead of me. I run up. It's another deal I make with myself. Never walk uphill unless I must, but if I run up, I get to breathe at the top. Not sure who enforces these rules. My subconscious?
I take the stairs at the far side of the bridge. Carefully. My knees wobble. Platous gate, then Tøyengata. This is what I"ve been preparing for. The new segment circles Oslo's Botanical Gardens, and that's a climb. For me. Seventy-odd feet in less than a mile. On race day, it'll be about Mile 10. I predicted it would crush my soul.
Spring in Oslo tends to come fast, if late. Three weeks ago, as we left for our trip to California, I snapped a quick photo of our front walk. It was a few days before Easter, technically a full month since the first day of spring. Our hedges were almost absolutely bare. The limbs of our apple blossom trees remained naked and cold.
It had been a rough winter and, given that I hadn't been "home" to California in more than 18 months, I was thrilled to run down that path to the airport. Toward family and friends and sunshine and a pattern of mild, vague, evenly-pleasant seasons I've missed so much.
Yesterday, we came home. The one without quotation marks. And the scene had changed. A flurry of apple blossoms. A wave of brilliant green.
The forecast for the coming week is bleak and unstable. Cloudy and rainy. Fluctuating temperatures. I'm unsurprised. But yesterday was glorious. Yesterday it was spring. In Oslo, it comes late, but fast. Don't blink; you might miss it.
Spring is coming. Allegedly. Right now, it feels like the worst winter I ever experienced in California: cold rain whipping against the windows, clouds so thick and so gray for so long you start to forget the sky was ever blue. In the interest of my own sanity, I thought I'd look for some proof of past springs here in the wild north.
Almost three years ago, Jonathan and I took a weekend trip to the historic old town of Fredrikstad, about an hour south of Oslo by train. As you can see, it was a bright, sunny day. (Proof!) A tourist's Scandinavian delight.
The Gamlebyen (Old Town) is the center of a fortress and has been impressively preserved. Rather than taking a small ferry across the river from the train station (couldn't find the docks!), we braved traffic and walked across the long, modern bridge. Soon enough, we were passing through the 16th century stone main gate and onto the cobbled streets of old Fredrikstad.
When Jonathan and I decided to move to Norway almost three years ago, we knew only a few things for certain:
- We'd be able to travel more.
- We'd need warmer clothes.
- And we'd likely never receive any visitors.
This last, we understood, because, unlike France or Italy or Switzerland, Norway just isn't one of those legendary, popular European destinations. Few non-Europeans can name any Scandinavian city other than the three big capitals. Even fewer could locate the capitals on a map without help. Plus, unlike Denmark, which shares a border with Germany, Sweden and Norway are just plain UP THERE. Oslo and Stockholm share roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska and St. Petersburg, Russia. So, we resigned ourselves to our loneliness, determined to make new friends and buy plane tickets back to California as often as necessary to remain recognizable to our old crowd.
And then the unthinkable happened. People came.
On the perfect Oslo day, the air is warm. The sun, up since 3:30am, swings slowly overhead. Trees sway gently in manicured rows. The air is sweet with the scent of freshly clipped lawns and flowers blooming in window-boxes. Today was just such a day. After writing at a nearby cafe for a couple of hours, my mind spinning with poetry, I decided to wander the streets of my beautiful neighborhood and catalogue its character... by way of Instagram!
Left: Reflections on a pink dress.
There are several excellent vintage clothing boutiques in Oslo. Of course, I'm not rating them as "excellent" based on my experience as a buyer. I couldn't possibly afford this stuff! But I do peruse when I can. Just to run my fingers over nude Chanel pumps. I yearn to be petite enough to fit into the sizes lining the racks along the wall, lace slip dresses and wool pea coats.
Right: Finally! The Norwegian strawberries are here!
Norwegians are crazy about their strawberries. It's one of the first things we learned when we moved her two years ago. All year round they brag about those strawberries. The best in the world. True? Well, aside from being tiny (compared to the monster, steroid-enhanced strawberries Californians are used to), Norwegian strawberries are absolutely wonderful. Bursts of sweet, tangy, red juice. Worth a try if you're ever here in the summertime.
Things will be quiet behind the red door for a few days. In April, I gave Jonathan his birthday gift of plane tickets to a dream destination, and now we finally get to realize that dream.
For the next ten days, we'll be trekking and tramping around the Lofoten Islands, Northern Norway's most dramatic and beautiful region, hunting for the famous Midnight Sun. (We may or may not actually see this phenomenon, as the weather is predicting a gray and drizzly ten days.) Either way, we'll be backpacking from tiny island town to tiny fishing village, bagging a few peaks and camping out amid some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I can't wait!
Off to cross over the Arctic Circle... See you on the other side!
Opening with one of the eternal sunsets for which Scandinavia is so well known, just behind Gustav Vigeland's infamously Angry Baby, this video from Kristian Larsen captures the true, modern personality of Oslo.
All the city's landmarks are here, from the Opera House to the Royal Palace to the City Hall. And there are some finer points, too, like the dandelion fountain at National Theater (my favorite) and the spinning iceberg sculpture in the water near Operahuset. These photos were captured over a two-week period in May of this year. When you see the city erupt in a flurry of flags and native costumes, you're seeing this year's 17 May celebration and parade. Jonathan and I are somewhere in that crowd, along with Madolyn Yuen, our guest that weekend.
Someday, when I leave this place, I will be glad to have this video as a souvenir. It bottles up some of Oslo's magic: colorful, clean, full of light, speed, and efficiency, but with time and space enough to stretch out and consider the ever-and-quickly-changing sky.
I could smell smoke. Cigarettes, wood fires, weed. The music and rhythm of parties echoed up and down our street. A group of twenty young people gathered across the street. I leaned over the railing from my apartment balcony to see them. Smart phones twinkled in their hands. Their voices were animated, full of potential energy. Beers popped open. A boy tugged gently on the long, blond hair of a female companion. After a minute, they paired off and started snapping photos of themselves. I could imagine Facebook timelines refreshing all over the city, all over the world. Midsommers party-time!
Today, the sun rose at 3:54 a.m. Sunset won't come until 10:44 p.m. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. Here in Oslo, that adds up to 18 hours, 50 minutes, and 1 second of daylight. For the sake of comparison, my old hometown of Livermore will see a mere 14 hours, 51 minutes and 47 seconds of daylight today. This is one of the delights of living at the top of the world.
Last summer, Jonathan and I celebrated the solstice by hiking in the Oslomarka. We took the train out to Movatn station, an unmanned on the shores of a small lake. We disembarked at 10:15 p.m.; the train eased-then-flew off into the night. And we walked home.
(PHOTO: A nameless pond in the Oslomarka at 23:15 on 20 June 2012)
Four and a half days. That was all. And some of that time must be spent sleeping. Sleeping instead of laughing, embracing, catching-up. Three times Audrey counted it. Four and a half days. And tomorrow her guests would arrive.
I'm being dramatic, and I'm cheating a little, too. There's nothing terrible about having one's best friends in Oslo for four and a half days, except that it's less than five and a half or six and a half days. I'm stealing O. Henry's drama to make you understand, dear reader, how much I worried that four and a half days wouldn't be enough. One hundred and eight hours. Selfishly, I wanted a full week, but four and a half days would have to do.
There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.
Or suck it up.
I did the latter. And then planned, planned, planned all the stuff we would do, the places we would go, and the people we would see during those 108 hours. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Life may well be made up of "sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating," but smiles certainly held their own while Cindy and Brad were in Oslo with us.
At left, you'll see what we wound up doing for the majority of that time. Besiding. Morning, noon, night (or what passes for night during summer in Norway), we were beside one another. At meals. Playing games. Exploring the city. I could reach out and touch my friend's elbow, feel her wrap her arm around my waist. Nothing went according to anybody's real plan. Brad and Cin were nursing colds. Jonathan ordered fish on his pizza. The tourist info office moved since last summer, so I had my guests break the law by riding public transportation before we actually bought the passes to do it! But all of it was done besiding. Which made it perfect.
Don't overplan your next visit to Oslo with friends. I've got a recipe for one Basically Epic Week in Oslo:
"I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance."
-- Beryl Markham (West with the Night)
Rodeo Weekend 2007: Audrey kicked back at Panama Red (then Panama Bay) in downtown Livermore, CA, USA
I've been dreaming of greasy In-n-Out wrappers and 100-degree summer days and rounding small town corners to encounter the smiling faces of old friends. I wake to the smell of manure and sawdust. Garth Brooks croons to me in the perpetual twilight of each Norwegian summer night. I am haunted... because I missed Livermore's rodeo for the third year in a row. It leaves me aching. Between the rodeo, the Alameda County Fair, and my church's Fourth of July picnic, June and July are just about the toughest months for me to be a world away. The remnants of those wholesome traditions, so very, keenly American, cling to me.
The expatriate lifestyle is one to which I still count myself as new. Not only do I remember the questions which run through the anxious mind of someone making the decision to leave home, to make a new home somewhere else... I still have those questions. Doubts are only natural. Sometimes, Jonathan and I will talk about our future in terms of a life spent here in Norway. Years upon years. This isn't something I would have guessed before we came. I might even have denied it vehemently for the sake of my parents and friends. But it comes up. Then fades away again. Unresolved. Left to simmer.
In this way, I fear I am committing one of the cardinal sins of the fully-embraced expat life; I am leaving the old place slowly.
Oslo waxed lilac overnight. Fat and elegantly bunched, they waited until we were asleep to arrive, to place themselves in the trees and bloom. Where one week ago there were only the wet, black branches and sharply-new green leaves of a tardy spring, suddenly blossoms appeared. Purple and white. Immaculate thousands of tiny petals. Each dense panicle of lilacs is a fractal; the blooms are four-lobed, radiating from a tubular base, arranged in pairs. Around them wave the simple, glaucous leaves of the lilac tree, outshined by the spring bounty.
It is evening, warmer than most expect it can be so far north. We walk below Uranienborg kirke, a proud, brick tower, built on a hill to catch the last of the light. Bells sound the ten o'clock hour. I raise my hand and lift a healthy panicle with my palm, then grasp it lightly and lower it to my nose and inhale. I recognize the sweet, yearning fragrance of syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, which floats along the avenues of Oslo each May.
Too late! There was no spring, really. Too fast! We blinked and the blooms had bogged the tree branches down so they swept the gutters. Don't love us too much! Norway's rainstorms will pound the pavements and rooftops, will pound the life out of these clusters of airy, papery flowers. Purple and white and mauve. In the aftermath, shriveled petals will litter the sidewalks, will dry, will die. There is no stopping this cycle. It will come to every leaf on every tree on this road. It will come for me, too. But with luck, I'll last longer than the lilacs.
I release the bundle of blooms, and the supple branch bounces back to its place above me. We walk on.
Each spring, the tenants in our apartment building in Oslo come together for an afternoon of unpaid, voluntary, organized community work.
This is a dugnad, a Norwegian tradition in which a bunch of people, in this case neighbors, join forces to spruce up their public, shared spaces. In my opinion, this is a beautiful concept, like a barn-raising, but on a much smaller, less sweaty, less Amish scale.
As it was our third time at this rodeo, Jonathan and I knew the important stuff: where the box of gloves and cleaning supplies is kept, that we should bring our own ladder and paper towels, etc. Stuff we hadn't a clue about the first year. Some people trimmed trees and hedges, some scraped the weeds from between the stones on our walkway. Jonathan and I raked leaves (and cigarette butts) on the front lawns, then completed the task we look forward to each year: cleaning the front door.
We have this beautiful door on our building. Lots of burnished wood and glass. Together, Jonathan and I scrubbed and squeegied the thing until it shined. One of our neighbors called it "Jonathan's Masterpiece." I didn't mind. It was Jonathan who risked his life on the rickety ladder to reach the high spots!
My favorite thing about dugnad is that it gives us the chance to meet our neighbors. Classically, Norwegians aren't the most overtly friendly people, especially within apartment buildings. The joke is that you could pass your neighbor on the steps in your building for 20 years without getting so much as a hello, but if you ran into the same guy on the ski trails outside of town, he'd hail you down and chat you silly. That's only partially our experience in Oslo. A couple of our neighbors know us by name; everyone makes a point to say hello. But the spirit of the dugnad sparks teamwork and breeds organic conversation. Plus, there's always someone new to meet, and that's a pleasure.
The main reason so many dugnads happen this time of year is in preparation for Syttende Mai (17 May), the big national day celebration. We all want our buildings to sparkle as we celebrate Norway's independence. At the same time, I like to think we're celebrating that a country like Norway, one which puts such a premium on teamwork and equanimity, thrives in the world today.
More on Dugnad from other Oslo bloggers:
It's a Dugnad! via Northern Natterings
The Dugnad: A Big Community Clean Up via A New Life in Norway
Dugnad via My Feelings For Snow
Cabin fever. It sets in after one too many days or weeks or months indoors. Oslo is a beautiful, fun city, full of things to do and see. But this year, the snow is taking its sweet time in retreat, which means a few of the spring things I look forward to must wait a bit longer. For instance, walking around the beaches at Bygdøy, a large peninsula to the west of Oslo. Bygdøy holds many of the city's most popular attractions, including the Folk Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Holocaust Center, and the Norwegian Maritime Museum.
You can get to Bygdøy by bus, ferry, or bike. Trails and roads criss-cross the peninsula, making it easy to explore by foot. In the spring, the lilacs begin to bloom and the birches waver greenly in the crisp, cold breeze. Exploring the coast means tramping across beaches of the tiniest seashells and coming upon harbors full of bobbing boats on sky-soft sea.
Not even mid-winter here in Norway, but we've already got guests lined up for summer. When Jonathan and I moved over in April of 2011, we weren't sure anyone would come see us in Oslo. After all, that's a long way to go, for Californians especially. It's expensive. And Norway, surprisingly enough, isn't high on the priority lists of most travelers. But last summer, we mananged to lure a couple of couples up into the Nordics. What a blast! We visited museums, ate delicious pastries, took lots of pictures, and generally goofed around. Memories! Best of all, we got to play a lot of Kubb, a tradition I hope to extend through Summer 2013 as more friends venture north to hang with us.
Left: Amy and me in full-on Kubb-box-model mode. We make it look like the best game ever. Who wouldn't want to play with us? Right: Amy and me in full-on gonna-kick-the-boys'-butts-at-Kubb mode. We make it look like the toughest game ever. Who wouldn't be afraid to play with us?
What is Kubb?
Our first summer in Oslo, we noticed groups of people engaged in some kind of stick-throwing game. On the palace grounds. At Frognerparken. On the banks of the fjord or beside small lakes in the Oslomarka. Throwing sticks at sticks. And while some might roll their eyes at such a juvenile-looking pasttime, Jonathan and I were gripped by curiosity.
The game turned out to be Kubb, a Swedish lawn game where the object is to knock over wooden blocks (kubbs) by throwing wooden sticks (klubbs) at them.
What should we do this weekend? The classic question.
The Oslo Music Festival -- June 2011
Living in a city like Oslo is great because there's always something to do. Unfortunately, as an expat, it can be tough to know what all (or any) of the options are. If you don't read the language... if you haven't found an active group to join. But there IS an answer to this question.
The Events List
This "non-profit, community service intended for individuals of the English speaking community in and around Oslo" takes the form of a weekly email that lists as many events--tours, concerts, art installations, festivals--as possible taking place in the coming week.
Det Kongelige Slott -- Oslo's Royal Palace
Oslo, Norway. My home these days, and a great place to visit! Jonathan and I vacationed here about a year before we moved over, and were dazzled by everything the country had to offer in the summertime. Since then, I've lived through (and enjoyed!) a Norwegian winter, too. I'm even looking forward to my second.
Bærums Verk, Norrway around Chistmastime
When Cheapflights.ca approached me about writing a travel guide to Oslo, I jumped at the chance. My city has so much fun stuff to offer all year round. Visit the Cheapflights website to read my travel guide. It includes:
- 5 Great Restaurants in Oslo
- 5 Bars and Taverns in Oslo
- 5 Fun Winter Activities in Oslo
- 5 Must-See Monuments, Museums or Galleries in Oslo
- 5 Day-Trips Outside of Oslo
The Freia sign on Karl Johans gate in Downtown Oslo
Holmenkollen Ski Jump -- Oslo, Norway
If you're sitting around on a Saturday afternoon or a summer evening and wondering what's free to do in Oslo, I've got an idea for you. Totally random. Totally Norwegian.
Pay a visit to the Holmenkollen Troll!
Take the Number 1 Metro line up to the Holmenkollen stop. From there it's a bit of a walk uphill, but the way is well-marked. Even if you've visited the ski jump before, you may not have swung out to visit the troll. He sits in a cluster of pines facing the jump, and only when you get up close do you find he has a little friend, too.
"A troll am I. Big and tall. I sing in one of my songs. For I am big and tall. When you see me sitting at Gratishaugen, I measure almost 7 meters. Big and tall may sound dangerous, but that's not the case. I am a good troll. It is the famous Norwegian sculptor Nils Aas, who brought me here. I am made of concrete, and I guess I do look a lot like the trolls you'll find in the Norwegian folk tales collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe."
Wave goodbye to the troll and stroll down the road a bit to give your inner child another thrill at Himalaya Park. Several fun obstacles and playground-style installments on the low ropes course are available for your use and pleasure. A rope wall, a hideout, a balance beam, a swinging bridge. It's full of pulleys and ropes, and it's free! (At least, it was the last couple times we wandered through it.)
I suppose this is really meant for families with kids, but... I don't have a kid; I have a husband with an active inner child. (Which means I'm rarely bored in Oslo!) Enjoy!
Like bouldering, but on buildings. It's one of the many things we tried this summer, if briefly.
My best friend and Ya-Ya, Amy, visited us in Oslo with her husband, Jeff, at the beginning of June. We did a bunch of fun stuff together. I loved playing tour guide in my city!
One of the best things about Ames and Jeff is their spontaneity. We're spontaneous people, too, so the four of us have a very special brand of fun. On their last night, Jeff took us running out the door, down the stairs, into the street, and down a block to the local French school. There, we set about climbing the large retaining wall that runs the length of the playground. I'm so happy I grabbed the camera while everyone else was collecting their climbing shoes and chalk bags.
Eventually, Jonathan and Jeff pieced together a pretty nifty traverse from one end of the wall to the other. As they "worked," several people wandered by us in the street. One stopped to take an iPhone photo of the crazy Americans on the wall. Another asked where we were from and, as he walked away, called back over his shoulder, "Rest in peace, California!" (We're reasonably sure he meant "Take it easy," but it's the thought that counts.)
When Ames and Jeff boarded the train back to the airport the next day, I'll admit I cried a little. There are few people in this world who know me the way Amy does. She is a piece of home; and she'd brought that feeling all the way across a world to me. And while I may have been instrumental in showing them the nooks and crannies of Oslo, building memories they will carry with them the rest of their lives, they also gave a gift back to me: I will never see the schoolyard walls in my neighborhood the same way ever again. Walking the few blocks to the market or the post office or Solli plass will always be a little more special because that wall holds a secret route, one navigated by fingers and toes, and has held the chalk echoes of our movements alone.
My place is currently cluttered with camping and climbing gear. Coiled ropes, tents, sleeping bags, camp stove. A full backpack's worth of dirty clothes takes up most of the floor in my bathroom. This is the aftermath of a five-day camping trip in the Jotenheim region of Norway, about 5 hours north of Oslo. We rolled back into town on Sunday evening, and I was too exhausted to do much about it right away. Funny how the mess doesn't clean itself up. Funnier how I always wish it would.
I spent the morning organizing things, but only seemed to displace the chaos. To give myself a break, I decided to walk downtown and grab lunch. Just a date with me. The girl who stopped counting her most recent mosquito bites at fifteen; the girl with the massive blister on the back of her heel after hiking across a glacier to the top of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's highest mountain. Not pretty or fun or flirty... but in desperate need of a slow walk in the sunshine, you know, to begin the healing.
It worked. Summer may have gotten off to a slow start in Oslo this year (so much rain!), but as we close out the last week of August, I have to say, we're getting some pretty perfect weather. Oslo is beautiful city anyway, but in the sunshine it takes my breath away.
I ate lunch (Max Burger) on a bench near the statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Akershus Fortress. Aker Brygge, the main harbor, bustled below me. Cruise ships came and went. People stood in line for tickets. The number 12 tram clattered around the corner, packed with tourists. An accordionist collected coins in an upturned cap on the cobbled stone. I used all my napkins to wipe the burger's special sauce off my chin. Slowly, but very slowly, my city-girl-ness returned to me.
Partly it was listening to the myriad languages spoken around me as I walked back toward National Theater to catch my tram home. Partly it was the way the sunlight warmed the crown of my head and spread down to my shoulders, forcing me to pull up my long sleeves and expose my pale wrists to the sky. Partly it was the bird calls and the ship horns. But mostly it was the music.
In the summertime, the changing of the palace guard in Oslo includes a march from Akershus, down Karl Johans gate, and all the way up the hill to the palace grounds. Three policemen on horseback lead the mini-parade; then comes the band. I love the way the red stripes on their pant legs catch the sunlight as they stride out from the cover of shadows.
A while later, the band took their places in the small pavilion near the National Theater and played a short concert. I reluctantly ran for my tram as they finished a brassy rendition of Hello, Dolly! So, bridge that gap, fellas. Find me an empty lap, fellas!
Home again, I surveyed the gear and laundry and dishes with rejuvenated eyes.
Somewhere a hurricane is thrashing the levees of a gun-shy city. Somewhere delegates loyal to Ron Paul are calling out the so-called tyranny of the Republican party. Somewhere my nephew is playing a game with the man who will likely become his stepfather. Somewhere a woman of God is losing her religion. Somewhere a book is burning. Somewhere a hiker with a broken leg waits trembling in the blue-white crevasse of a glacier. And here at home there is a Kindle with a half-read Ann Patchett novel to be finished, and a tall, icy can of apple cider to be drunk. And music is playing behind it all.
It is early afternoon, pleasantly warm, and I am lying on my blanket in the grass at Frognerparken, the largest city park in Oslo. My pale legs and arms are bare to the sun. It warms me. I can feel it pouring brightly over the crown of my hair, especially hot at the part. I have spent the last hour flat on my stomach, turning the pages of my book, lost in the rhythmless warble of children on the nearby playground, the buzz of bicycle tires, the click of tourist cameras, and the chirping of birds. Having been in Oslo a full month I can now say fairly that this is one of my favorite spots in the city.
The park is vast and green, criss-crossed by walking paths. Playgrounds and public pools dot the perimeter. Tour buses park in the nearest lot, just outside the main gate, their occupants, eager to see the statues, have long since scattered across the lawns and up the steps.
Within Frognerparken is Vigeland Sculpture Park, including 80 acres of grassy space and more than 200 bronze and granite sculptures, all by Gustav Vigeland. The Norwegian sculptor donated these statues to the city and park in return for receiving a free studio space in Oslo. Upon entering the broad iron main gate at the southeast end of the park, visitors can walk straight down the main path across a 100 meter bridge lined with the statues, all nudes. They are gray and polished to a shine at every curve. The figures dance, embrace, wrestle, make love, and die, all along the bridge, all around a grand fountain, all leading to the main attraction: The Monolith Plateau. The monolith rises more than 14 meters into the air, appearing as a totem that includes 121 human figures entwined and clambering toward heaven.
Tourists cross the bridge with their cameras extended, gaping at the methodically spaced figures. The nudes are bulky, voluptuous, arching their backs and whipping their hair. They sit with their backs to one another or toss their children in the air or throw women over their shoulders and stalk back to their caves.
A man in a red ball cap waves his long-lensed camera at his two preteen children, exhorting them to mimic the comic drama of two grappling statues. The son obliges, giving his sister's hair a tug. She responds by putting him in a chokehold just before the camera flashes. Though the position isn't exactly accurate, they've captured the essence, Vigeland's playfully wry view of the Human Condition.