Bit by bit the now so familiar kilometres of forests and lakes merge with villages. Human activity picks up as we are approaching Oslo: people mowing their lawn, walking their dogs on bridges, fishing from their small boats…
Riding the train from Arvika, a provincial Swedish town about two hours away from the Norwegian border, we arrive in Oslo: the contrast is dramatic. Heading through the station towards the city centre, we eagerly smell a wide variety of food scents, hear a dozen of different languages spoken by rather smiling locals, see a rainbow of skin colours in a city where more than a quarter of the inhabitants are immigrants. Just out of the station, the modern architecture of buildings captures our attention right away.
We are drawn towards the Oslo Opera House and find ourselves captivated by the modern architecture of this iceberg coming out of the clear blue waters of the Oslofjord. This amazing building all covered in marble and glass is a gathering point for tourists and locals alike, whom wander on the inclined plaza that surrounds the main structure from sea to roof-top level. Seagulls circle above, and their shadows play with the wavy aluminium covering the top tower contrasting with the white marble and the blue sky. It is hard to imagine that only a few years ago, a wrecked shipyard was occupying that spot.
As we are looking at the map of the city, deciding on our next destination, a friendly Norwegian young woman asks us in English if we need some help. We feel very welcome in this wealthy capital which in 2011 was ranked second most expensive city in the world after Tokyo.
This wealth is clearly visible at Aker Brygge. Until 1982, the shipyard and engineering industries bloomed in this economical centre. Now, it is the biggest gathering point in Norway: the stunning modern architecture mixed with classy renovated industrial buildings houses shops, restaurants, bars, the Astrup Fearnley Museet of modern art, trendy and luxurious flats, cinemas… This exclusive peninsula is surrounded by small harbours with powerful leisure boats, art sculptures, bridges, gardens and beaches. Terraces are packed, bands are playing, well-dressed and fit patrons are having fun, spending money on very expensive drinks and food while enjoying the sunrays.
We keep wandering through the city, following the smells of lilac and we find ourselves in Frogner, the residential embassy area on the West side of Oslo. Its quietness and country-like feel so close to the centre are surprising.
We decide to dig into history a bit more and to visit the National Galleries in the Universitetsgata, a significantly older part of town. The famous ‘Scream’ by Munch is displayed at the National Galleries along some landscape paintings by Johan Christian Dahl that give us an idea of life in the Norwegian countryside roughly one century ago.
At night we are dying to try out some Norwegian food, which is after all not that easy to find with American chains like TGI Friday’s or the Hard Rock Café taking the stage. We enjoy a delicious dinner at the cosy restaurant Elias, where the small menu displays only fresh and seasonal products.
On the morning of May, 17th, as we are heading to the airport, we see people dressed up in folk costumes to celebrate the national day in Norway. Proud, they are gathering, waving their flag, showing a unified nation, no matter their skin colour, native language or background.
Oslo leaves us puzzled with many questions. The way this city copes with a huge amount of immigrants with significantly less problems than in many European capitals is impressive. How this city, in a country which not too long ago suffered from massive migration of its inhabitants to the USA and Canada due to its poverty, rapidly grew into a modern, trendy hub is baffling. The hospitality is touching, the architecture mind-blowing; this city trip really worth-while.
Claire & Marcella
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