04 May 2011

Last Days in Norway

Since I am a bit pressed for time (as will be explained in a later post), but wanted to get the re-caps of my last few days in Oslo and my Seville trip up (mostly before I return to MD and drop off the face of the earth as I learn what it means to 'sleep' again - not that insomniacs get much sleep anyway, but still), this post will have less words and more pictures. 

Friday, April 16
When I awoke on Friday morning, my second to last day in Norway, it was to a blanket of fog so thick that you could barely see 3 feet in front of you. Since I had no inclination to go running in such weather (mainly because I was afraid of being hit by one of the thousands of commuter bicyclists who populate Oslo), I had a bit of a lie-in, ate a leisurely breakfast, and then took the tram to the city center. I then hopped on to the T-Bane (Metro) to Holmenkollen, a ski resort located in marka (hills/forest) just outside of Oslo. When I arrived in Norway, I had been told that I had to go to Holmenkollen to see the massive skip jump and the amazing views. 'You can see all of the city and for miles otherwise'. Yeah. Not quite.
Look at 'dem 'dere 'amazing views'!
In the winter season, Holmenkollen is known for being one of the most popular ski resorts since it is home to the famous ski jump, site of the World Ski Jumping Championships. Since the snow had mostly disappeared by this point and it is probably illegal for me to even be anywhere near skis (my coordination is dodgy at best even without two long boards attached to my feet), I opted for climbing the hill to the Ski Museum and Ski Jump Visitor Center. As I climbed the hill upwards, I couldn't help but wonder if I was actually just heading off the face of the earth. It sure felt that way.
Observation seating at the ski jump. Presumably it would provide a better view on competition days.

Why is the ski jump so popular? I can only imagine it is because that it has no top!
 The Ski Museum was surprisingly interesting considering that I've never skied, have no interest in trying to ski (see above note on coordination), and almost killed myself on my two attempts at snowboarding. There was an intriguing exhibit on polar exploration and on the skiing habits of the Norwegian Royal Family. I also learned that a traditional Norwegian family day out involves strapping on the skis, heading to marka, and eating oranges and chocolate. If it weren't for the skis and oranges, I imagine that I would fit right in.

After exploring the Ski Museum, I descended from the fogs of Holmenkollen and used the T-Bane to get to Frogner, a swanky district in North-Western Oslo. It is the area immediately behind the Royal Palace and is home to many international business and foreign embassies. (Fun fact: The US Ambassador's house takes up an entire city block. I was afraid to take a picture of it lest I suddenly find myself in trouble with DoS.) Eventually I arrived at my destination: Vigeland Sculpture Park. Gustav Vigeland was a famous Norwegian sculptor known for his productivity. When commissioned to make sculptures for the city center, he made so many that Oslo eventually created an entire area within Frogner Park just to display his sculptures.

58 sculptures displaying the 'Human Condition' line the bridge from the Main Gate to the Fountain
Today it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists.
I'm uncomfortable for the woman just looking at this
 I don't know if this is because people just like sculpture or if it has something to do with the fact that Vigeland was fond of displaying his subjects engaged in rather improbable activities whilst nude.

Gates and the Monolith
 Dominating the center of Vigeland Sculpture Park is a massive monolith comprising of some 121 human figures rising towards the sky. Apparently it is supposed to represent man's desire to reach salvation and the divine.

View from the Monolith to the rest of Frogner Park
 Saturday April 17
Since my plane was not due to leave Oslo until 10pm, I took advantage of my last day in Oslo to roam around at a leisurely pace. I went for one last run in which I attempted to make it into the marka just beyond the hostel, but failed miserably. I like to consider myself reasonably fit, but the hills stripped me of any pride in my fitness that I may have had. I had to stop several times because my lungs felt like they were being stabbed repeatedly by my heart, which I could hear pounding in my chest. Ultimately, I admitted defeat and ran back to the hostel. Marka: I will reach you eventually, I swear!

After checking out of the hostel, I walked through East Oslo to the Munch Museum. Eastern Oslo is much more multi-cultural than the rest of the city due to the recent influx of Pakistani and Middle Eastern immigrants who have settled in the area. After a 10 minute walk, the rows of silk shops, ethnic food markets, and kebab stands gave way to the botanical gardens, on the grounds of which are located the Munch Museum holding a massive collection of lithographs, paintings, sketches, poems, and letters by Edvard Munch.
Security at the Munch Museum was incredibly tight (think US Capitol or White House tight) and understandably so. In 2004, armed gunmen broke into the museum and stole The Scream and Madonna. The paintings were recovered in 2006 (a topic on which Wikipedia provides an interesting account here). Since then other museums in Oslo holding Munch's work have placed their collections into storage so as to avoid the same fate. I was quite pleased to see that the Munch Museum still chose to display this though:
Not a painting: this is actually how I appear during exam periods
 After leaving the Munch Museum I explored the areas along the river east of Aker Brygge. This included the National Opera House...
National Opera House. In order to get to the main entrance you had to walk on the roof of the lower levels
 And the Middlderaldernparken (Middle Ages park), which the guidebook made seem a lot cooler than it really was. Apparently, the park was once the site of Oslo Cathedral from when Oslo was located on the opposite bank of the river. The ruins looked relatively recent (18th/19th century) to me. I remain suspicious.

I sat in the park writing and people-watching for quite some time before returning to the Central Station to grab a Diet Coke. As I sat on the steps enjoying the sunshine, I witnessed the strange phenomenon of Norwegian guidos (a la Jersey Shore). Dressed entirely white with blonde hair slicked bag, wearing Ray Bans and pants that were entirely too low for anyone's comfort (mine and almost certainly theirs), they engaged in episodes of fist-bumping, high-fiving, flexing, and taking swigs from a bottle of vodka in a paper bag. It was probably one of the strangest things I have ever seen and I desperately wanted to take a covert picture to record this for anthropological posterity, but was afraid of being seen in action. A strange end to my trip indeed!

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