Oslo Norway

Katherine and I made our first visit to Norway the last week of July.  My brother has lived there for over forty years and I finally got to visit him and his family in the town of Asker, a suburb of Oslo. We timed it to be there for my brother's birthday and the nice summer weather.

We took the Norwegian Air direct flight from Malaga to Oslo.  Only 4 hours and then the airport express train to Asker.  Nice and easy trip, so nice to know that we are so close to Norway to see my brother and family in future visits. We got to Price and Aase’s beautiful house by 9 pm.   Of course that far north, sunset was still a long way off.  So a nice late dinner on the back deck with Price, my sister-in-law Aase and my niece Victoria looking out to the Oslo fjord was in store.  

Our first impression of Norway was wonderful.  First off, it is very green with dramatic views of the fjords around Oslo.  They enjoy shorter but very mild summers especially in the south part of the country.

Of course most Americans think of Norway as the home of the Vikings.  For more than three centuries until around 1066 AD, the Vikings voyaged and invaded neighboring countries. Little by little they acquired national identities and became Swedes, Danes and Norwegians. Norway became one kingdom around 885 AD. The Vikings spread across Europe, down the Caspian Sea, to Greenland and Iceland, and in the year 1000 to North America. At that time Norway became a Christian country but traces of Nordic mythology can still be seen in the names of the days of the week and in Norwegian holiday celebrations.

Norway was unified with Denmark in the 14th century and then became part of Sweden in 1814, but became independent in 1905.  Today, Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a very high standard of living, which all started with the discovery of crude oil on the Norwegian continental shelf in 1969. The petroleum industry continues to be essential for the Norwegian economy.  Given this, it is understandable why Norway elected not to join the European Union. 

We spent our first full day driving around Asker and eventually went over to Price’s golf club, Kjekstad.  Price gave us the grand tour including a few lessons on the nine-hole course, which helped us get plenty of steps on our FitBits and maybe something to help our game in Spain.  Price is a long time member, former club champion and still teaches the beginner course a few days a week. Awesome! 

On Tuesday we got our first real tourist outing, visiting the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. This is a small museum, and it was very crowded. But well worth it because they have two restored Viking long ships from around 900 AD.  One of them was believed to be for long travels, just like the ones that took the Vikings on all their historic voyages.  Both of these were found because they were used as burial ships for important people and thus buried on land under mounds discovered in 1905.  The museum also has cases with found artifacts such as jewelry and even a wagon from the same era. After a late snack at a cafe on the water near Asker we toured the nearby boat museum which had some small sailboats and power boats from the 1920's and 30's on display.

The next day found just the two of us going to Oslo to do our walk around the city and be tourists.  We used the train from Asker, which is only a 15-minute trip unless you do like I did and miss our stop and end up a few more stops in the countryside to the east.  After a short wait at the Frogner station with some nice photo ops we did make it to the center of Oslo.  As we got out of the station near the royal palace the changing of the guard formation was approaching.  As it was my brother’s birthday I at first assumed it was a small parade in his honor.  I posted a picture on Facebook noting this, which got a good laugh from Price later that night. 

Oslo is a nice city to walk around, very clean and very green.  It took us a few minutes to notice something else, the lack of noise from the ubiquitous motor scooters we are so used to in Spain and all over Europe.  Mainly due to the hard winters, they are not that practical! 

Another different experience there for a tourist is the emphasis on not using currency.  We did not have or need to use any Norwegian currency (the Kroner) during our entire week visit.  Everything is expected to be paid for with a credit or debit card.  I have never had a trip to a foreign country before this one without getting local currency. 

We spent the afternoon walking through city center. We visited the Oslo Cathedral, dating from 1697.  This is small but beautiful church, full of light from the large stained glass windows.  The only other stop we made was to the Historical Museum, which had one exhibit to make note of, the development and expansion or the Nordic culture after the last ice age.  We took time for a fancy lunch at a food truck in a park, trying out some sort of local cheese and pork barbeque sandwich which although OK, wasn’t like any Georgia barbeque we remember. 

We ended up the day meeting my nephew William and his girlfriend Kristine in their new Oslo apartment.  That evening the whole family went to a special restaurant to celebrate Price’s birthday. The Lille Herbern is a small restaurant just off shore in Oslo harbor, which requires a tender to get you there.  The scenery and food was the best and of course being there for Price’s birthday made it very special.  The marina surrounding the little island also was indicative of another observation of our trip…. there are thousands of sailboats in many, many marinas around the Oslo fjord.  I thought I had seen a lot of sailboats during my sailing days around Annapolis and the Chesapeake but it seemed like there were more here.  And they have very cold water and only a 5-month sailing season.  I suppose this makes sense when you consider the long history of seafarers in Norway. 

On Thursday we returned for one more trip to Oslo, this time getting off at the right stop and walking to Vigeland Park.  This is the largest sculpture park displaying the works of one artist, Gustav Vigeland, and opened in 1905.  This sculptor had a real thing for nude bronze and stone statues in as many poses as he could think of, distributed across nicely landscaped areas full of flowers.  As it turned out we didn’t visit any other tourist sites that day, instead after a few hours in the Park, we elected to walk all the way down to the waterfront area. 

There is an impressive old fortress overlooking the harbor there with a wide walkway around it full of cafes near the ferry docks.  We ended up a very relaxed day with a lot of steps sampling the local beer and people watching along the harbor.  On the way back to Price's house in Asker we reflected on another observation from our Norway visit.  That one was the amazing amount of electric vehicles in Oslo.  Norway is setting the standard for the big switch to electric vehicles.  For example, I have never seen so many Teslas in one place.  In fact, my Nephew William has never owned a car before but has ordered a Tesla as his first one.  Norway is the number one market per capita for Tesla and Norway is the world’s largest per-capita market for electric vehicles. Half of all new cars sold to Norwegians are either fully electric or hybrid. Aase is on her second electric car as well. Price and Aase explained that a few years ago Norway incentivized the purchase of electric cars with tax breaks, driving, parking and toll privileges and then had charging station infrastructure installed throughout the country.  Granted that Norway is a rich county with a small population but this is still a great example of what could be done, even in the USA or Spain someday. 

For our last full day in Norway we changed it up and all of us took a 2 hour drive more inland and up into the mountain area to visit the cobalt mine museum in Blaafarvevaerket, about 75 km from Oslo.  For over 120 years the worlds’ biggest cobalt mine produced 80% of the supply of blue cobalt pigment used to make porcelain, glass and paper.  The site has many restored buildings from the manufacturing process and actually is part of 4 different sites, including the cobalt mine itself, about 8 km away.  The drive through wide farmlands and up the forested mountains added to the very pleasant summer day in very green Norway. 

On the way home we dropped by for a tour of the small special-needs school (Brusetkollen) in Asker where Aase is the Principal. There is a one-to-one student to teacher ratio at this specialty school, which originally opened in 1920's. Aase explained the goal of the school is to have all their students eventually return to an inclusion school and they have had a very good success rate over the years. 

Before one last great dinner prepared by Aase that night we dropped over to their local pub/micro brewery, Kraka (the Crow) to do some additional beer sampling.  You can actually see their house from there, Kraka is on a small farm and is about as local as you can get. And, the beer is excellent!

Saturday we returned back to Nerja with an easy trip by Norwegian air to Malaga.  We had a great visit with family and saw a truly beautiful country with very friendly people.  Next summer we should plan to return.