Trip Start Jun 16, 2011
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Alnabru

Flag of Norway  , Oslo,
Sunday, July 24, 2011

Our stay in Norway started late on a Sunday night with our first delayed flight of the trip (touch wood it stays that way). The flight was only delayed by an hour so we have been very lucky (touch wood again!).

Gro - (also known as Mary) who we had met in New Zealand in 2004 - and her sister met us at the airport with Norwegian flags - our first introduction to the patriotism of the Norwegians.  After six weeks or so away, being met at the airport was very special and exciting.  We then headed to Gro's mum's house which would be our base for our week in Oslo.  When we arrived there was a home-cooked meal waiting for us.  Yum!

The terrorsaken
We arrived in Oslo only two days after the bombing and the shooting so we were expecting the place to be a bit different to normal.  We had thought carefully about whether to skip Oslo but put our trust in Smarttraveller and the fact that it was Norway, a peaceful country, and that the terrorist had been caught.  When we arrived, the TV channels, both Norwegian and European, had constant coverage of what was happening in the terrorsaken (terror case).

The following day there was a minute silence organised by the Prime Minister which we watched on TV.  There were no speeches, just the minute silence and coverage of the crowds. Everyone was very quiet and sad, but there was not as much anger as you would expect to find. There seemed to be a general disbelief that such a thing could happen in Norway.  Later that evening we headed in to the city with Gro and her boyfriend, Ståle, and her brother and sister.  A public walk was planned from the Town Hall to a plaza near the Domkirke (cathedral) in the centre of town - people would carry roses and it would be a gesture that Norwegians are against violence.  We were waiting at the plaza as when the walk ended there were meant to be speeches and music, however, so many people had come (some websites I have read estimated 200,000 people, so about 1/3 of Oslo's population) that they weren't able to walk anywhere.  Needless to say that roses were scattered everywhere around town and florists were sold out of stock of red roses. 

We walked to the Domkirke, which is the same one that you would have seen in news reports with masses of flowers. candles and letters/cards.  It was quite overwhelming to look at, even without the added emotion of being Norwegian or having known anyone who had been killed. We walked past lots of buildings with wooden panels covering windows which had been broken by the force of the bomb in the centre of town.  There were still a couple of blocks which were closed and had police guard, including the building where the bomb went off.  Apparently the day before the city had been guarded by police with machine guns, unusual in a country where police don't normally carry guns at all.

We also drove past the island, Utøya, where the youth camp was being held.  We didn't realise but it is actually quite a fair way out of Oslo, probably about an hour to an hour and a half.  You can see the island from the road but it is a couple of hundred metres from the mainland.  There are a few houses near the road on the mainland but it's a pretty country area.  Again there were flowers about and the area was blocked off.

The rest of our time
While the terrorsaken did have quite an impact on our stay we were lucky to have some great tour guides to show us around.  Our first day of exploring started with a trip to Frognerparken and the Vigeland sculpture garden.  Gustav Vigeland was given a house in Oslo by the City Council and asked to make sculptures for the garden.  We think that the City Council got their money's worth - there were lots of sculptures.  None of the people in the sculptures are clothed and the most popular sculpture is called 'the Angry Boy' and has been stolen a number of times (and then returned).  We are not sure why it is the most popular of all of the sculptures and our trusty tour guides were not either.  Maybe it is just on all the university scav hunt lists?!  

Next we went up the ski jump, Holmenkollen, which is a very new ski jump with a good 360 degree view of the city.  We looked around the museum (about skiing but also Oslo & Norway) and also took an elevator that moved both horizontally and vertically to the top of the ski jump.  After this we were starving and went for lunch at a place that was described as Oslo's 'romantic' restaurant.  We then headed back to Gro's to meet the cats.  They are two ragdoll cats - very cute and great temperaments for cuddles!

We had a couple of days out around Oslo - firstly to a bear park (Bjørneparken) in Flå that had some great bears but also other animals - and best of all no bear spray needed!  Our favourite bear was a big brown bear, Rugg.  He lived by himself away from the other bears and had had been thrown lots of apples and was spending his time swimming around collecting and eating the apples.  Flå is where Gro grew up and was a little town but there had been some heavy investment and the town now was home to a McDonalds, a hotel and a shopping centre.

We then drove to stay with Gro's father in Larvik, a cute little town not far from the seaside.  We visited the beach and spent a day sunning ourselves (Norway's favourite past-time) on the rocks.  We were careful with the sunscreening but the Norwegian sun seems to be a lot kinder than the Australian sun and the Norwegians tanned themselves without too much sunburn.  That evening after dinner we went to a nearby town for a drink and a wander.  The highlight was definitely the Hesteheimen (Horse House) in Stavern.  Let's just say that if you go to southwest Norway and ask for directions to the Hesteheimen you may be looked at strangely – it is a place that is only on Ståle’s tour – and even then you need to have a bit of imagination!!

Our last few days in Oslo were spent relaxing and enjoying the sunshine with a combination of sitting in the garden and exploring the Nobel Peace Museum, Akerbrygge (like a mini Darling Harbour) and the Oslo Palace.  Our trip to the palace was plagued by Vicki seeing old and beautiful buildings and asking 'Is that the Palace?’ only to be told ‘no’.  This happened many times and may in fact be the basis for our next children’s book!  The Nobel Peace Museum was very interesting – lots of focus on refugees and good to see a different perspective.  I’m not sure whether it is just the people who had been to the museum or whether it was the Norwegian perspective but it was a lot more sympathetic to refugees than I think Australia would be.  It made me remember that we have missed the ‘Go back to where you came from’ doco.  Would be keen to hear how it was…

We also cooked up a thank you feast for Gro and her lovely family of pizza (apparently the third classic Norwegian dish – only beaten by tacos and lasagne!).  Shopping in a Norwegian supermarket was an interesting experience.  Not only was it very very expensive but fresh food was in short supply compared to frozen food.  They also don’t have any pumpkin.

We really liked Oslo but especially enjoyed getting to know Ståle and Gro’s family and seeing Gro again.  Such lovely people!
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