Five of Oslo’s Venues with “Wow” Power

Part 2

(Part 1 appeared in the January 2023 issue)

Afternoon sunlight streamed through the glass wall on the 13th floor observation deck, unveiling the shimmering headwaters of the Oslo fjord. Captivated by the sights 600 meters below, we watched men in scanty Speedos and women in scantier bikinis run from floating saunas moored along the bank and jump into the frigid waters. A local resident noticed my surprised look and explained. “It’s a daily thing in Oslo. No matter the temperature or weather, people get hot and steamy in those saunas, then refresh with an icy dip. It’s good for the body and the soul.” 

Munch Museum

The Bjornika neighborhood showcasing the revamped waterfront area unfolded from our perch at Oslo’s modernistic Munch Museum, the largest exhibition in the world dedicated to a single artist. Opened in October 2021, this building meets Norwegian regulations for a reduced climate footprint. Building materials include low-carbon concrete, recycled steel and perforated aluminum panels. The entire front façade is made of insulated glass that screens, reflects and refracts light, depending on the time of day. True to Oslo’s goal of lower emissions, there are no parking facilities for employees or visitors at any city venue. Signage guides everyone to nearby public transit stations.

I loved this museum. The building has transformed Oslo’s skyline, as the top six floors gently bend in a graduated curve over the waterfront, to represent “bowing to the city.” Born in 1836, Norwegian Edvard Munch donated 26,000 pieces of his art to Oslo upon his death. Similar to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, here, everyone comes to see The Scream. Given its own darkened gallery, Munch’s masterpiece spoke to me; the terror-stricken eyes of the lone person on the bridge, that mouth, wide open, the silent sound of a piercing scream jumping from the canvas was deafening. With every frustration that makes me want “to scream,” my mind sees this image. I snapped a photo of the original on my phone, so I have it when I need it. Munch’s work resembles that of his contemporary, Van Gogh, and I felt drawn to his expressionism and themes of melancholy, anxiety and fear.

Oslo Opera House

From the observation deck, another “must do” sprang from the landscape below. Hundreds of people were walking on the Oslo Opera House’s Italian marble and white granite roof. It slopes to the ground and beckons visitors to step onto the incline and walk up to the highest point for panoramic views of the city. Since it opened in 2008, concerts and cultural events have been staged on this rooftop for residents and tourists to enjoy. The Norwegian architect Snøhetta won several World Architectural awards for the largest cultural building constructed in Norway.

Our stay at the Thon Palace Opera Hotel, located one block from this national landmark, provided the perfect location to “walk the roof.” A tour inside the structure popped with as many “wows” as the outdoor views. Floor-to-ceiling windows, each 49 feet tall, encompassed the entire first-floor reception area, offering maximum waterfront vistas. Solid oak slats covering all interior walls provide sound and temperature controls within the building. The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and the National Theater have permanent homes in the two horseshoe-shaped auditoriums.  For an opera buff like me, the intricate work done behind the scenes sparked my imagination. In many of the 1,100 rooms, we watched costumes, wigs, even shoes being designed and sewn for future productions. Crews constructed stage settings and props, while we witnessed dancers rehearsing their choreography. It was magical. 

I’ve visited many of the world capital classical opera houses  from the 1800s, with their opulent, gilded designs, but this contemporary place of music and drama offered a refreshing, clean glimpse of modern theater.

Fram and Kon-Tiki Museum

For centuries, Oslo has excelled in maritime and shipbuilding industries. At Oslo Harbor, a leisurely walk from city center, continuous ferries offer transport to many of the 40 islands within city limits. Topping Trip Advisor’s list of all sights in Norway, and for me, surpassing all other venues, the island of Bygdoy, the center of Norwegian Viking History, wowed me. Here the Fram and Kon-Tiki Museums, both lie within steps of disembarking the ferry.

Having traveled to the Arctic and Antarctica, I have a zealous fascination for early polar region explorations. Norwegian explorer, Fridjof Nansen, sailed the locally built wooden ship, Fram, into the Arctic pack ice in 1893 in search of the North Pole, and then in 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, became the first person to reach the South Pole in this same craft.  Inside the museum, we boarded this famous polar, expedition-ready vessel, and discovered how seagoing sailors coped with solitude and confinement aboard. To deal with the harsh realities of polar conditions, the ship came equipped with everything they needed during years of continuous exploration. On the three lower decks, we found a piano for frolic and entertainment, a sewing center to make warm protective seal coats and boots, a butcher station and pens for live pigs and goats for food, and even a section to house 100 sled dogs.

On the walls surrounding the ship, continuous footage of videoed movement of a turbulent, icy Arctic Ocean and the furious Drake Passage to Antarctica provided the backdrop. This virtual technology made some visitors seasick, as they felt the ship sway in the waves. Daily accounts of these expeditions had been chronicled in personal journals and ship logs. I could have spent days soaking up every entry.

Dragging myself away from the Fram, in minutes we traveled from the poles to the Pacific in the Kon-Tiki Museum. Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian explorer, gained fame in 1947 when he and five other men crossed the Pacific Ocean from Peru in the Kon-Tiki, a hand-built, simplistic, balsa wood craft. Heyerdahl attempted to prove that pre-Columbian South Americans could have sailed to and populated the Polynesian Islands. The original Kon-Tiki, named for an Inca God, was on display, and the Ra II reed boat which Heyerdahl used to explore the Easter Islands, stood ready.

Time constraints prevented visiting the Viking Folk Museum, the Norwegian Maritime Museum and the Holocaust Center, all situated on Bygdoy Island. It’s a place that encourages modern adventurers to trace steps of Norwegian Vikings and explorers.

Vigeland Park and Museum

Free to the public, Vigeland Open-Air Gallery features 212 sculptures in bronze, granite and forged iron, representing 1924-1943 works of Norwegian sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. Within the spacious forest setting of Frogner Park, Vigeland’s sculptures concentrated on striking depictions of the human form and the emotions of passion, fear, love, and frustration that epitomize being human. One of Oslo’s most popular attractions, the park remains open 24 hours a day for reflection. For me, viewing the artistic carvings amongst roses, pines, oaks and lakes provided an environment to contemplate life within nature’s milieu. The beloved icon of Oslo is the sculpture Sinnatagen portraying a small boy stomping his foot in anger.  www.vigeland,

Holmenkollen Ski Jump, Ski Simulator and Museum

From central Oslo, one can scan the distant mountains and see the Holmenkoller Ski Jump. From atop Holmenkolbakken Hill and up an elevator for 60 meters to the very summit of the ski jump, a 360-degree panoramic view of Oslo unfolds, amongst green forests, blue fjords and the North Sea. The whistling wind and the shining sun took my breath. Every ski jumper has this view as he or she starts the descent down the snow-covered steep ramp. I stood where the jumpers stand, looked at the rows of audience seats to the right and left and envisioned the electrifying excitement of this airborne skill. The ski museum on the first floor holds all the ski secrets ever to be told and if anyone wants the sensation of flying down the ramp at crushing speeds, the Ski Simulator awaits. This venue has been an Oslo landmark since 1892 and the ramp has been rebuilt stronger, higher and faster 81 times. It is a “must do” in Oslo. 

Other worthy venues in this urban gem abound, each one blended within the natural landscape, each one designed with meaning for its people: the Noble Peace Prize Pavilion, City Hall where the prize is awarded, the Grand Hotel, where nominees await the reveal, ferry rides to islands with nothing but hiking trails and tranquility. So much to tell, but only one suggestion – Go and explore Oslo and come away a calmer person.

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Carol L. Bowman
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