*not to many pictures as I lost the ones on my camera. BACK IT UP PEOPLE! *
**it’s about the memories, not the pictures, and we did have a great time! **
***and it’s a good reason to go back! ***
I am a traveller. And travellers love to travel. Giving me a gift is easy. Give me trip (or a book, I am after all, also a booklover) and I am happy. And this year, I got to chose my own birthday present. I got to arrange a trip, anywhere I wanted to go. And I choose Oslo.
Now, Oslo may seem like a strange choice if you haven’t been to Scandinavia. Especially at the end of March. But I wanted to go see nature and have the option of staying indoors in case the weather turned out to be typical for early spring: wet and windy. Oslo is known for it’s surrounding natural beauty, but also has a vibrant food-life and enough museums to entertain for a weekend. So, Oslo it was.
Fun fact about Osloites: they tend not to celebrate Easter in their home town, but in holiday-houses across the country. Or so we are told after we’ve already spent Maundy Thursday and Good Friday roaming around a nearly empty city. Not the best weekend to want to explore the hipster café’s and shops in Grünerløkka, but we won’t let that get in the way of a fun weekend getaway!
We arrive at the airport around midday, enjoy THE BEST EVER warm cinnamon rolls and check into our hotel. The streets are very quiet around the train station. At first we believe we may simply have chosen the wrong neighbourhood, but the more we walk, the more we realise: everything is closed, everyone has taken off.
It’s a bit of a let down as I’d planned this afternoon for shopping (I love outfits from abroad), but the weather is absolutely beautiful, so we simply walk around the city. In crispy clear weather where spring has not yet made its appearance we walk past a few architectural beauties to the opera-house. The iceberg-like structure is sprinkled with colourful tourists enjoying the sun and wine and food they brought and is mirrored in the plastic iceberg floating around the harbour. I snap pictures as if I know anything about photography and architecture, but mostly I enjoy the sun and view and people around me. We sit for a while until our butts turn cold and then continue into the city.
Exploring, because I hardly know what it is we are looking at. Finally forced into a plan-less meandering through the thoroughly Scandinavian (and at times touristy) streets. We pass the local castle and houses of parliament and skid along frozen trails in the surrounding parks until we stumble upon the market halls.
Like any self-respecting hipster city, Oslo has transformed an industrial looking building into a venue for small footstalls and restaurants. We decide to enjoy the sun a bit longer and then gorge ourselves on overpriced but delicious pintxox with wine, mussels and beer and fish and chips with wine, thankful that this place is open and so lovely.
Afterward, we decide to walk to our hotel via a cocktail bar. The bar is steeped in dark panelled wood, lots of plants, old books and old type writers. It’s my kind of place: new cocktails and old literature. I don’t even care that I don’t read Norwegian! In stead, we just talk the kind of talk you have in a strange new city, feeling sun kissed and cradling new types of cocktails. Up and down into serious subjects and funny tales. A perfect way to end a great day.
The next morning is about making plans. If the city is in holiday shut-down mode, we need a new plan for the next 2,5 days. Thankfully we’d done some research about the surrounding areas and soon we’ve got a plan. Today we’ll spent exploring the city itself some more and tomorrow we’ll rent a car and make our way to the Øvre Årdal fjord some 300 km away. Sunday we’ll visit a nearby lake before dropping the car at the airport. Plans made and all is well again in this planaddicted mind of mine.
We spent the day walking around. We have a very relaxing lunch in the surprisingly warm and bright sun at the waterside and all the time I am torn between enjoying a meander through the city and being pissed at myself for not checking about the Easter celebrations. How could I let my birthday present be such a let down. How can I not enjoy the beautiful weather and just let myself be carried along time’s current? In the end, the only thing I can control, is the way I view today. And I decide to enjoy it. Even if it’s not what I expected.
By then, we’ve settled down on a busy terrace (so there are people around!) and are cradling two beers in the winter sun as if we are on a skiing holiday. Life isn’t so bad when you slow down a bit. Leisurely we pick up the car, have dinner in a restaurant named after a Cluedo character (I am such a sucker for tricks like that) and find our way to an early bed, because it is going to be an early morning.
When the alarm rings at 5:30 am, both Erik and I are thinking the same thing: why the hell do we do this to ourselves? Why do we wake up this early, only to head out into a dark and cold Oslo and a car that isn’t quiet warm yet?
But as soon as we leave the city boundaries behind us, I remember. This time of day and this type of travel, is simply lovely.
Our lonely little car the only one around and diving into a fairy-tale scenery. Not the lovely, fake, bright, Disney version, but the real deal. Filled with frozen lakes, mountains covered in pine trees that appear black in the pale rising sun and then transform to a wonderful deep shade of green. Under the pale blue sky with a few streaks of pink we discover the promise of a lovely day. This is where witches and trolls come from. Where Ronia the Robber’s Daughter runs around (even if the book is set in Sweden) and where giants sleep. The magic is nearly palpable as we reach a completely white landscape, untouched by human hands and the only sign of live the cars awaiting the return of their drivers.
Late in the morning we reach the fjord of Øvre Årdal. From the mountain, my brain is unable to register what I am seeing. At first it tries to tell me I am looking into a well as big as an ocean. But it’s just an optical illusion. My vision shifts and the world tilts and makes sense again. I’ve simply been looking at a crystal clear lake mirroring the mountain and sky. It’s absolutely still. And cold, but the crazy kind that actually feels really good so long as you stay in the sun.
We eat and drink a bit of what we’ve brought and eagerly return to the icy dessert on the top of the mountain. The need to explore this strange place irresistible.
About three months ago, I stood in an empty, lonely, orange place. It was incredibly hot. Now, I am standing in an empty, lonely, white place. It is incredibly cold. Two worlds that couldn’t be farther apart, but under same bright blue sky and inside the same strange stillness that hangs around, it feels remarkably similar. With -22°C and only a normal winter coat and hat (and NO GLOVES!) it’s lunacy to try and walk around, but we try it anyway. Erik soon steps into a deep hole and my hands start to hurt like crazy after only a few meters. It’s a shame, but we race back to the car to prevent ourselves from getting to cold.
Thankfully, a little further down the road it’s only -13°C and completely wind still. It’s still not the kind of place people belong to, but we can hike to a little island. As my breath crystallises on my hair, my feet make a crunchy sound on the snow that lies on top of a frozen lake. All I can hear is an intense absence of sound and my own breath. This is why we get up so early. This is where I am happy.
But, all good things come to an end. We still have a long way back to the city. And another four hours later, we are very much done with driving. We find our way to a disappointing pizza and a very much not disappointing speak easy. Here, we witness the art of cocktail mixing in all it’s relaxed glory, wander around the many floors and functions of the place (nearly knocking over a DJ-table as I am gazing at a barbershop inside the bar) and let the day sink in.
Our final morning in Oslo, we’ve earned ourselves a bit of a sleep-in. These day, sleeping in is 8:30 am and it feels like a luxury. We have another relaxed breakfast, pack our bags and head to the Sognevann lake. This lake is as frozen as the lake yesterday, but still very different. Pine trees line the shoreline – what will be the shoreline again as summer approaches – and stand in clusters on little islands. The place is crawling with people. Runners (how do you run on ice?), families (I’m pretty sure I couldn’t cross-country sky when I was 2 years old) and old people taking an active stroll.
A little hike around and over the lake later, we still have plenty of time left, so we continue to a little lake further up the mountain. We are past by more cross-country skiers. Some clearly enjoying themselves, some struggling a bit more.
It’s disorienting to walk on a path next to a lake that is frozen. Everything seems white and to me it’s hard to distinguish the lake from the paths when I glimpse through the trees into our future. But we make it. When in doubt, always follow your nose or your ears. The air doesn’t smell fowl anywhere (yes, this is a LOTR reference, I am a geek like that), but we can hear water dripping down a waterfall. The waterfall is mostly ice but beautiful all the same.
We make our way back to the main lake and enjoy the sun some more. We make our way back to the airport and try to enjoy the airport food (usually impossible). We make our way home and enjoy our home, but already miss the adventure of visiting a random city. Time to look forward to the next one: Dublin!