Oslo, Beauty and the Edge of the World
I recently had a great opportunity to visit the Norwegian capital Oslo. Norway is somewhere I've wanted to visit ever since I learned about fjords and glaciers in geography class when I was a child. I've always had a romantic view of the north. In my mind I always saw it as somewhere that still held mystery and wonder in its sparsely populated landscapes. So needless to say I was psyched to be finally visiting the wonders of Scandinavia. Unfortunately things didn't go exactly according to plan.
I was all set for making the most of the trip photographically. I had packed different cameras for the right environments, bought extra memory cards, made sure all my lenses were clean and so on. On the trip over we had to stop in Copenhagen to change planes and on the descent into Denmark my ears began to hurt. This is pretty normal for me as I always get sore ears when I fly. Anyway, it was bad enough having to go through it once, but we had to fly again an hour later and sure enough on the second descent into Oslo airport my ears were killing me. I didn't really think anything of it as, like I said earlier, it's pretty common for me. Incidentally Oslo airport is an architectural beauty. Its liberal use of wood makes it very warm and friendly as far as airports go.
That night my wife and I went out for dinner and my ears were still sore, but I didn't really think about it. The next day however, I woke up and the room was spinning. I knew immediately it was vertigo as I'd suffered from it before. If you don't know what vertigo is, it's not a fear of heights as many people believe, it's the medical term for an inner ear imbalance that causes a sense of motion. If you've live ever rolled down a hill as a kid or spun around and noticed how things keep spinning when you stop, well vertigo is like that only it doesn't stop. All you can do is close your eyes and hope it goes away. The worst of it passed quickly enough but I was still dizzy. And unfortunately I remained dizzy for the rest of the trip. In fact I'm still suffering from it.
The medical term for this is barotrauma apparently. Well, ear barotrauma technically. It happens when you change altitude and the pressure can cause damage in your ears. It's very disconcerting and unfortunately it severely curtailed my plans for exploring Oslo. Still, I did my best to get out despite the dizziness which came and went in strength throughout the week. It was very tiring too so I could only manage a couple of hours of exercise a day before it got the better of me.
Oslo is a very beautiful city. While I didn't get to visit as much of it as I had hoped the parts I did were gorgeous. The area around the royal palace and the harbour are especially picturesque, and this time of the year, despite it being cold, there is a sense of emotional warmth as the trees are all in their fall plumage and the colours are really pretty to look at.
There is some amazing architecture in Oslo too. The famous opera house is quite something to behold. It reminds me of something out of a science fiction movie with its sweeping lines and angular profile, and you can walk up its polished stone roof. From the top there are spectacular views over the fjord. It perhaps wasn't the wisest place to be when suffering from dizziness, but it was worth it. It was damn cold up there mind you.
The inside is as beautiful as the outside. I really love the use of wood in Scandinavian architecture and in the opera house its use is spectacular.
Norway is a wealthy country thanks to the discovery of oil some years ago and Oslo has been on a modernisation kick. Some of the new buildings are pretty impressive, it has to be said. Opposite the opera house there is a whole series of high-rise buildings being constructed, each architecturally different from the other but all complimentary. It's still a construction site and I didn't really take any pictures of it, but at night it's really impressive. It should be quite something to look at once its finished.
Speaking of architecture, there is another gem down the far end of the harbour in the newly renovated section. Here there is a new museum of modern art called the Astrup Fearnley Museum. This is another impressive use of wood in modern building design. And it makes for some nice photos as well.
Actually the whole harbour area is quite impressive. Coupled with the beautiful norwegian light this time of year it makes for some dramatic pictures too.
I did manage to explore the historic fortress on the hill overlooking the fjord. It's an impressive structure and it's remarkably well preserved. The grounds around the fortress which house numerous museums are quite leafy, which in the autumn gold is really quite beautiful. I'm sure in the summer it's a busy place, but on the day I visited it was a quiet and tranquil affair.
At the bottom of the fortress complex is a famous square called "Cristiana Torv" which has some of the best preserved buildings in Oslo, or so the guidebook says. It was also the finishing point for one of Top Gear's infamous races from several seasons ago. It's actually a lovely square, and I'm not really sure why, but it has kind of a Santa's workshop feel to it.
On the subject of historical locations, we were visiting the Nobel peace museum and the day we decided to visit it just happened to be the day they were announcing this years Nobel Peace Prize winner. We were even there as they added the recipient, the EU, to the permanent exhibit of peace prize winners. We even got to stand and watch as they filmed the ceremony.
The whole place really does have the edge of the world feel to it that I had always imagined. I'm not sure what it is about it that gives it that. Perhaps it's the ferries coming and going across the fjord, or the low sun and dramatic skies.
We were sitting out one evening having a bite to eat on the quay side, under blankets that all the cafes seem to provide, and we just had this sense of being on the edge of the frontier. It really did live up to what I had in my imagination from childhood. I just wish my continuing dizziness hadn't kept me from exploring it more.
On the way home I was dreading the journey for obvious reasons, but I acquired some special ear plugs that are supposed to help maintain pressure in your ears for the flight and they appeared to work. As we soared above Norway I looked down on the beautiful countryside below. As we passed over southern Norway the mountains were covered with snow.
Onward out to sea and there was this surreal sight of the sun reflecting against the sea. Whatever way we were flying it almost looked like the sun was below us, as if we were on top of the world. The sky faded away to black and it appeared as if we were on the edge of space on top of the world.
Even though I was sick and even though I only got to see a small part of it I was thoroughly enthralled by Norway and I can't wait to go back. It was a beautiful and almost magical place on the edge of the world, where the cold wind can't hide a warm and friendly people and a remarkable city of filled with both history and modernity.
That and.. you know, Vikings.