Posts Tagged ‘tours’

Oslo expeditions

July 22nd, 2018

My five days in Oslo were packed and I still left with the impression there was much more to see. When my flight home got delayed I was annoyed because there were still a few hours to go out and see the museums I’d missed — let alone a ferry trip I’d meant to take to the islands — but not quite enough time to do any of those. In a way it was Stockholm all over again: I should have booked a couple more days. Ah well, better to err on the side of taking off before you’ve seen it all and get bored I suppose.

Since I went on fewer tours than I did in Stockholm I’ll go into each tour individually, though I’m saving all the outdoor art segments for the next post.

 
Oslo
Oslo Oslo
 

Free Tour Oslo City

This free (donation requested) tour hits many tourist friendly destinations. Starting at the tiger statue outside Oslo S, it heads to a view of the Opera House, up to the main square of Christiania/New Oslo, over to the fortress, to the waterfront, City Hall, and finally to parliament. That list isn’t comprehensive but covers the gist of it.

Opening hours permitting the tour goes inside Oslo’s City Hall. While the building doesn’t look like much from the outside the interior has wall to wall murals covering various art deco styles. Sculptures in the courtyard outside built into the walls have typical arts and crafts designs.

The tour doesn’t sugarcoat the dark side of Oslo’s history during its occupation by Nazi Germany. A number of plaques on the ground written in Norwegian have a person’s name and the word “Auschwitz” — you can easily guess what that means. After the tour guide pointed these out I began spotting them all over Oslo.

 
Oslo
Oslo Oslo
 

After the tour ended I wandered back to check out the Opera House firsthand. Or maybe “firstfoot” would be a more appropriate term as the exterior of the building is an enormous sloping plaza. It’s currently surrounded by neighborhood construction on two sides — and water on two others — but you can still visit via a small bridge. While the outdoor space is always open, the indoor lobby and restaurant have posted hours.

I’m told the Opera House plaza can get very slippery during the winter. During the summer the white exterior is almost blinding to look at. Either way you need to watch your step due to the uneven surface. Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, or at least that’s how it would end up in the US.

 
Oslo
 

At my host’s suggestion I visited the botanical garden. No tour here, just a serene and impeccably maintained garden filled with exotic plants. It’s a perfect spot away from the crowds to sit around and sip a cold coffee on a hot summer day — you can bring your own or visit the cafe in the middle of the garden.

It’s free to visit but they have a donation box for those inclined to contribute.

 
Oslo Oslo
 

The Culinary City Walk

This food tour is from the same company that runs the food tour I went on in Stockholm. Oddly, while waiting at the meeting point for the tour guide to show up I was mistaken both for the tour guide and for a participant in a nearby Pokemon Go event.

The first proper stop on the tour was Mathallen, a hip modern food hall built into an old industrial brick building. This stop introduced me to Norwegian brown cheese, a caramelized dairy product (not technically cheese) often eaten at breakfast with waffles or crepes. Personally I though it was fine, though some find it quite divisive.

We took a long winding stroll to reach our next destination on the waterfront. As an aside I spotted a taco truck parked by the streetcar stop on the waterfront, which I went back to later on my own. The tacos were surprisingly good, and I had a lime Jarritos to go with it. Little taste of “home” as it were.

Anyway, back to the tour. We went to a seafood-focused restaurant on the waterfront called Rorbua where we were served a large sampler platter. Mine was all seafood, but the meat eaters in the group were served some rather exotic meats including whale and reindeer (sorry, Rudolph.) Not everyone seemed to have the stomach for eating whale. As far as seafood the trout and shrimp were particularly tasty.

Unlike the Stockholm tour where we ended on coffee, the food tour in Oslo ended at a bar with a beer tasting. Seemed a little early for beer, but most of us went along with it. All of it was brewed in Norway yet in traditional British styles. The only one that stood out to me was an IPA that had a more subtle hoppiness than the in-your-face styles we tend to have at home in California.

As we departed the tour feeling a little tired from all the food and beer, a bunch of protestors marched outside the bar towards city hall as if it jolt us awake on cue. I think they were protesting against the imprisonment of an East Turkestan independence advocate, though the connection to Oslo’s city politics (if any) was entirely lost on me.

 
Oslo
 

Discover the Charming Westside of Oslo

Here we have it: the first tour on this trip that was a total bust. Maybe the online info is just outdated, but the guide never showed up.

Since I hadn’t paid in advance there wasn’t much to be mad about, just a little annoyed that I’d brought 200 NOK in payment. The tour was supposed to start near the royal palace (see above photo) so I just wandered around the gardens for a little while. The gardens are open to the public and pretty popular with tourists; palace grounds include a small park, a duck pond, and oddly enough a beehive. There’s probably a joke about a queen bee in there somewhere.

The palace gardens were hosting a small temporary sculpture exhibit I found amusing, which got me thinking — the tour was supposed to end at the Frogner Park sculpture garden, so why not just head over there? After all it’s not like the sun was going to set.

So I hoped on a streetcar and visited Frogner Park. Would have been nice to have a tour guide, but the evening itself wasn’t a total failure. I’ll go into all the sculptures in the next post.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Hipster Oslo (Grünerløkka)

I wanted someone to take me around the neighborhood where I was staying and discovered this tour almost at the last minute. A young family had signed up for the tour even more at the last minute than I did, moments after the guide showed up.

I highly recommend this one — it’s inexpensive, goes into great detail, takes you to many historical spots in the area, and the guide was practically a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. If you want an off the beaten path tour of Oslo, this is it.

The tour was so long I’ll just stick to the highlights. It starts off in the labor union square on the edge of the neighborhood, passes by a former bathhouse, then snakes through a few streets lined with boutiques and restaurants, before hitting the campus of a world renowned art university and along the river, highlighting a couple of waterfalls.

Continuing up a hill we passed a hip outdoor area lined with street art (also in the next post, I promise) followed by a steep street lined with some of the oldest surviving wood buildings in Oslo. Going around a corner or two we went through a cemetery where many famous locals were buried, including Edvard Munch.

All the famous individuals buried there had QR codes next to their graves in case you wanted to look up their obituaries. Someone had left a handmade book at Munch’s grave of their own sketches of Munch’s famous paintings, including The Scream. It reminded me of a quote from the show Westworld — “Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin never died; they simply became music.” There’s a certain truth in this idea.

Passing through the cemetery we were supposed to go through a church but it was closed due to construction. Instead we detoured around a communal garden and ended the tour at the Mathallen food hall.

As we parted ways I pulled the 200 NOK note out of my pocket I had leftover from the no-show tour and handed it to the guide as a tip — a 100% tip. She was clearly surprised, but it was my last full day in Norway. I enjoyed the tour and had no interest in bringing Norwegian currency back with me. Hopefully big tips aren’t considered insulting or anything.

 
Oslo
 

Once again back at Mathallen I was hungry and ready to try something new. After washing up at the bathrooms in the basement I sat down at a Spanish food stall serving pintxos. Much like traditional Scandinavian cuisine, pintxos are open face sandwiches with various toppings. Or kind of like avocado toast back home… hmmm, who else would grab lunch at a place like this in Oslo?

The guy next to me kept trying to order in barely passable Spanish. I couldn’t help snickering when the employees replied in English. At some point he turned to me and said “Hey, where you from?”
“San Francisco.”
“Oh? Me too! What neighborhood?”
“The Mission. You?”
“Twin Peaks,” he replied.

We got to chatting a little before we both left separately… and then we both wound up in line at Tim Wendelboe, an espresso shop that seemed remarkably familiar. I ordered an espresso and after a long wait it arrived with a shot glass of sparkling mineral water. I kept looking around for the Blue Bottle logo, yet it was nowhere to be found.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Later on my last night I went to explore the Akershus Fortress, which sits on a hill above the waterfront. Even though its military presence is long gone the area is still patrolled by royal guards with bayonets. Its clearly all for show as the guards seemed happy to take photos with tourists.

From the fortress there’s a good view of the waterfront — a sensible place for a fortress. Cruise ships dock just outside the fortress though, so if there’s one in the way the views may not be so hot.

Stockholm expeditions

July 4th, 2018

During my six sunny days in Stockholm I tried to squeeze in as many expeditions around town as possible without exhausting myself too much. It’s a big city with a lot going on — you could probably spend a couple weeks in Stockholm and still leave with that nagging feeling you missed something.

Here’s how I spent my time:

Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

 
Free walking tours
Note: These are all free, but you’re expected to tip the guide if you enjoyed the tour.

  • City Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. This tour’s kind of a grab bag, but wanders around mostly in the new-ish parts of Stockholm to the east of the old town. Much of it focuses on the era around the beginnings of the era of the constitutional monarchy.
  • Old Town (Gamla Stan) Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. When I first set foot in Gamla Stan I couldn’t help but to roll my eyes — yet another beautiful relic of a medieval European city turned into a tourist trap. Sigh. But this tour helped breathe some life, or in some cases death, into the stories from the old days. Can’t say Gamla Stan is my favorite place, but by the end of the tour I appreciated it the history enough to not hate its current incarnation.
  • Subway Art Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. If you’ve seen the amazing photos of the subway stations in Stockholm this tour needs no introduction, and if you haven’t go Google it right now! My only complaint about this tour is it didn’t take me to enough stations. I’ll follow up with another blog post about Stockholm’s subway art in the near future, there’s too much to say here.
  • Söder Tour from Free Tour Stockholm. I was staying in the Söder neighborhood/island so most of the ground we covered was already familiar, but the history of the neighborhood was new to me. Somehow this part of town went from a battlefield to the poor part of town and eventually became a the hip part of town.
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      Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

       
      Other tours

      • Stockholm Ghost Walk. This somewhat theatrical tour covers both the historical stories from the old town (Gamla Stan) as well as the more… shall we say, legendary tales. A crypt is included, though the bodies were moved long ago.
      • Guided tour of the Riksdag (Parliament). This tour shows you around the building where Sweden’s government operates. The building’s a mishmash of old and new, modified over time to fit the needs of the day. It’s completely free, just show up at the designated time and prepare to go through an airport-style security check.
      • The Nordic Food Walk. This one’s pricey but worth it since it includes samples of many different Swedish cuisines you won’t find elsewhere. They’ll try to cater to your dietary needs, and as a pescetarian there was only one dish I didn’t get to try — a meatball. The tour ended in the basement of a restaurant for a “fika,” or Swedish coffee break.

       

      Odds and ends

      Aside from the tours here are some other places I stumbled on during my time in Stockholm.

      Stockholm
       

      During my first day in Stockholm my Airbnb host suggested visiting Monteliusvägen, a lookout point near where I was staying. There’s a panoramic view of the city from there and it’s not much of a climb. The place was pretty crowded, but there’s a long trail along the cliff with a few lookout points where you can take in the view and snap some photos.

      Stockholm
       

      A few rooms of the Royal Palace were open to visitors for free. The photo above is the chapel built into the palace but there are several other rooms you can visit without taking the tour. The courtyard is also open to the public.

      Stockholm
       

      The Stockholm Public Library is like a temple for reading. The circular main room has three levels of narrow hallways with books on one side. There’s a small section of English books, though like many visitors I was just there to admire the architecture of the building. According to a sign outside the building this was the first open stack public library in Sweden.

      Stockholm
       

      The idea of an espresso tonic never appealed to me until I was in Stockholm during a heat wave and happened to walk into Johan & Nystrom. Normally at a fancy espresso bar I’d order an espresso, but it was such a hot day I almost gagged at the though of drinking a hot beverage.

      Noticing an espresso tonic featured on their summer menu I went ahead and ordered it. The barista made an espresso, which he poured over iced tonic water. I liked it so much I came back for two more during the trip.

      Stockholm
       

      Everyone who visits Stockholm seems to agree there’s one museum you have to visit: the Vasa Museum. They’re right. This is one impressive museum.

      Back in the 1620′s, the king of Sweden wanted a modern warship with two gun decks in order to intimidate his neighbors. This proved to be a little too cutting edge for the time as the ship sank on its maiden voyage. The wreckage was mostly forgotten until the 1950s when it was discovered again.

      The museum tells both the story of the ship and its historical context as well as the monumental effort that went into getting the ship to where it is today. But the initial “wow” factor for me was walking in past the ticket counter right up to a massive wooden ship that nearly fills a five story building. You don’t see that every day.