Monday, September 14, 2009

36 hours in Oslo with New York Times

New York Times has recently visited the Norwegian capital, and made their own 36-hour tourist trail through the city. They remarked on Oslo as a high cost destination. High costs should not be a surprise for journalists located in the Big Apple. You may have to pay double price for hotel accommodation in NYC compared to Oslo, and I have bought beer and wine on Manhattan as expensive as anywhere in the Norwegian capital. Let's face it - it is with NYC as Oslo, you have to know where to go - and I certainly think New York Times visited a few very expensive tourist traps on their way.

They had to admit, that Oslo, after all, had much to offer the tourist, and recommended a path through the city. As a citizen of this rather provincial capital, I saw their recommendations and I asked myself whether I would have followed in their path if I had two days in Oslo. If I had a solid bank balance, I might, but there are so many places to visit that would be as nice, and would cost far less than the NY Times' recommendation.

1. Would I visit The Royal Palace? I would!

In my mind the view to yellow empire-style palace at the end of Karl Johansgate, Oslos parade street, is one of the most beautiful I know.

I honestly did not know that The Royal Palace was open to public, and I have never had a visit to this prominent building. I am very happy that New York Times told me that we could see the interior of this great sight.

The Royal Palace in Oslo was built in the middle of the 19th century as the residence for the Swedish king, that remained head of state until the union of the two countries was dissolved in 1905. Now it is the main residence of King Harald V and Queen Sonja.

If it is not open when you visit, you are strongly recommended to watch the change of the guards and then take a stroll in the beautiful Palace gardens.

2. Would I take a drink at Kafé Onkel Donald? I would not!

Kafé Onkel Donald is a trendy downtown café catering for the young, trendy crowd. You find will places like this everywhere.

Where would I go? I would recommend Summit 21 Bar on top of the Radisson SAS Scandinavia Hotel. From here you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city in a relaxed atmosphere. If you would like to head for a place with atmosphere, book a table at Lorry an old artistic tavern with a great atmosphere, and an impressive selection of beer.

3. Would I use NOK 1600 on seafood at Solsiden? I would not!

What a ridiculous sum of money to use on seafood! Do as the locals do - indulge in fresh prawns and sip to a glass of white wine or a pint of beer.

Order a bowl of fresh prawns or an open sandwich at Herbern on Aker Brygge instead. From here you will get the view to the Medieval fortress and even better; you would spend 1/2 to a 1/3 of what you would use at Solsiden.

4. Would I visit the new Opera House? I most certainly would!!

The white marble coating the new Opera house makes it look like an ice berg as it makes up a part of the planned new water front of the Norwegian capital.

The new Opera House is designed by the Snøhetta team and is a architectural marvel in Carrara marble, glass, and wood.

You can walk along the water or climb up on the top to admire a magnificent view of Oslo. Inside the lobby you will find an elegant bar / restaurant where you may take a drink while being there and give you time to study the elegant interior.

See story on Oslo's new opera house here

5. Would I pay NOK 230 for a guided tour on the fjord? Nope!

The Oslo Fjord has a great number of small islands easily accessible by boat during summer. The NY Times chose to take a guided tour and paid NOK 230 per person.

If you buy a day pass (NOK 60 / $10) or a week pass (NOK 200 / $35) at Oslo public transportation service, you will not only able to access all public transportation within the city, but also get access to the number of ferries taking tourists out to the many small or larger islands in the Oslo Fjord.

Bring you swimming gear, and jump on a boat to the beautiful Hovedøya Island. Here you can go for a swim and admire the ruins of the old Cistercian Monastery founded by British friars 900 years ago. Beware of wood ticks though!!

6. Would I eat seafood at Lofoten Fiskerestaurant? Maybe!

A restaurant visit to the more exclusive fish restaurant at the upscale Aker Brygge area may end up a costly affair. It once used to be a wharf, now you find bars and restaurants in any categories, from McDonalds to TGI Friday's to exclusive eateries. Aker Brygge is worth a visit, but there are places to enjoy a good dinner elsewhere. Try Dagens Fisk (Fish of the Day) at Lompa, located on Oslo's East End. It will cost you less than $30 and it tastes great.

7. Would I visit the flat of Henrik Ibsen? I certainly would!

No Norwegian is more famous abroad than Henrik Ibsen. This 19th century playwright shook the establishment with shocking contemporary dramas. The flat where he and his wife Suzannah lived from 1895 to 1906 has been converted to a museum, with the poets furniture set in a contemporary interior. I am ashamed to say that I have not visited this sight yet.

See story on the grave of Henrik Ibsen here

Read story on Imperial Tramontano where Ibsen wrote his famous play ghosts

8. Would I try the reindeer at Engebret Café? I most certainly would!

Engebret Café is one of Oslo's oldest restaurant. It has been in business for over 150 years, and is located close to Akershus, Oslo's medieval fortress. I have had an exquisite dinner here, in a charming old interior in a 200 year old house. The old world does not come cheap, though. Café Engebret charge you a good sum to dine here.

9. Would I take a night cap at Aker Brygge? Maybe?

I recommended Aker Brygge to indulge in tasty Norwegian prawns. If you want to enjoy a night cap why not try one of the courtyards of old Oslo. Café Celsius has an outdoor serving in the yards of Rådmannsgården, an old building from 1626. Another place for a romantic drink is Stortorvets Gjestgiveri, a 18th century inn at Stortorvet. Or you could go to Oslo's East End to sit in the backyard of Asylet (the Asylumn), an 18th century building with a long and intriguing history.

See story on old and new taverns of Oslo here

10. Would I see the artworks of Edvard Munch and other Norwegian artists? I certainly would!

Edvard Munch is famous for his dramatic art, and some of his artworks are on display in the National Gallery, but most can be admired at the Munch museum at Tøyen, on Oslo's East End. You are also advised to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Astrup Fearnley Museum.

See story on Edvard Munch's childhood home here on Enjoy Food & Travel

11. Would I see the Vigeland Sculptural Park? I think it is a tourist trap!

Everyone that visit me from abroad have to see the Vigeland Sculpture Park. I personally find that the megalithic vision by this Norwegian sculptor reflect the "Zeites geist" of a time to be forgotten, a time of Stalinism and Fascism. But I just have to accept that I am hopelessly out of touch with the reality, as most tourists find it irresistible.

See story on Vigeland Sculpture Park on Enjoy Food & Travel

Some remarks on the NY Times Basics

How to get to Oslo from the US

Non-stop flights from Oslo to the US are operated by Continental (Newark - all year), or US Airways (Philadelphia - seasonal, stops October).

I personally prefer Icelandair's service (From JFK to Oslo, over Reykjavik).

See why I like this way of traveling to the US

Traveling from Oslo Airport to downtown Oslo

Taxi will cost you a fortune. The airport express train is very convenient but pricey, and runs up to six times per hour. You may take an ordinary train service from the airport and pay close to half the price. Another inexpensive alternative is the shuttle bus.

See more on Oslo Airport here

Accommodation in Oslo

The New York Times recommended two hotels. First Grims Grenka was nominated as one of the top designer hotels last year. With prices starting at around USD 270 you will enjoy a sleak interior and trendy people.

The newspaper’s second choice, Thon Hotel Opera, has a prime location by the Oslo Central Station and the new operahouse, and has lower prices. For those of you on a lower budget, there are cheaper alternatives.

At Bed and Breakfast Frogner, a small B&B with a prime location, you will get single rooms from NOK 695 and double from NOK 895. This intimate little hotel has a prime location on the affluent west end close to the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

At the inexpensive Cochs Pensjonat you can get a room at even lower prices, starting at NOK 460 for a single and NOK 660 for a double room. These budget rooms have no TV and has bathroom and shower in the corridor. The best rooms start at NOK 610 for a single with refrigerator, water kettle, shower and TV. The price of a double room in this category is NOK 820. Cochs Pensjonat is located in the trendy Homansbyen area, close to the Royal Palace.

You can see more on their prices and online booking here.

On the story 36 hours in Oslo

See full story in New York Times here

View NY Times Oslo tour with alternatives in a larger map

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