Our Sunday in late August 2022 was a busy day. We had stayed the night in the small hamlet of Vatnahalsen in the mountains above Flam and then took the train down to Flam. Around 2pm, we caught the train back to Myrdal, changed trains and headed for Oslo on the other side of Norway. We arrived at Oslo Central Station after 8 pm and we were lucky our hotel was in easy walking distance from the station in the fading daylight. We were joined by a new member of our party in Oslo and the new group of four stalwarts were ready to explore the Capital of Norway over the next two days.
The map below illustrates our walk from the station on arrival to our hotel and our trail the next morning as we started to get our bearings in this large complex city.
We were lucky in the placement of our hotel as it was only a short walk from one of the most interesting sites in Oslo, the medieval Akershus Fortress. It is one of the most significant castles built in the history of Denmark, constructed around 1290 by King Hakon V. Although besieged many times during the Middle Ages, it has never been taken by enemies, surviving in particular, a series of assaults during the many wars between Swedish and Norwegian forces in that period. The photo below illustrates its position on the south facing parrot-beak shaped Aker peninsula, pointing out into Oslo’s fjord. This strategic position ensured that it was the primary defence of the city of Oslo from attacks from the sea. Presumably the cannons that are placed on the embankment of the castle today were evidence of the difficulty for enemies approaching the centre of Oslo via the fjord.
Whilst the castle was never successfully besieged by a foreign enemy, it was surrendered without combat to Nazi Germany in 1940 when the city was evacuated after German forces assaulted both Denmark and Norway. It became the German garrison of the city for the next five years. Unsurprisingly, 8 Norwegian traitors were executed here after the war; this included Vidkun Quisling who served as Norway’s ‘Prime Minister’ from 1943-5 alongside the German Civil Adminstrator. The fortress was handed back on May 11, 1945 to Terje Rollem of the Norwegian Resistance Movement.
The large ‘footprint’ of the fortress can be seen on the map presented earlier in this blog. The map also shows that enclosed within its walls is not just the old castle, there a various museums, a Defence Force University as well as offices for Armed Forces employees. We arrived fairly early in the morning at the gate of the fortress and thought that the serious looking guard at the gate would bar our entry. However, he politely invited us to proceed given that the opening hours were 6am to 9pm.
We were unable to go into any of the castle buildings as it was closed on Monday but we had a very pleasant stroll around its walls and grounds. After we exited the fortress area itself, we found ourselves outside the Resistance Museum of Oslo. We didn’t visit this museum but its relationship with this castle can be deduced due to the roll of the Resistance movement during the Nazi occupation and the fact that their representative was on hand to receive control of the fortress when the Nazis left in 1945.
We used the tunnel under the Resistance Museum to wander down to the docks that sat below the fortress. It was a very impressive, busy harbour. Apart the huge sailing ship docked in the shadow of Akershus Fortress, we noted in the distance the slow arrival of a huge cruise ship that was slowly making its way to the central Harbour of Oslo, not far from the City’s amazing Opera House. After our time in Oslo, we sympathised with the local anti-cruise ship brigade who put up clear messages around the city that the Cruise Ship tourist trade was not welcome in town
From the Fortress it was a straight walk back to the Oslofjord. We were heading to see the city’s Opera House as we had met an American couple at dinner at Vatnahalsen and when they realised we were going to Oslo the next day, they recommended we not miss the Opera House, particularly the walk on the roof! As the light was starting to fade on us when we arrived at the Oslo train station the previous day, we didn’t notice the Opera House nearby but we did notice a structure sitting in the fjord that looked to all intents and purposes like a sailing ship with glass sails.
My original guess as to what this sculpture was came nowhere near what the artist, Monica Bonvincini intended. It is a public, floating sculpture called ‘She Lies’ that is an interpretation of a 19th century painting by Caspar Friedrich called ‘The Sea of Ice’ (see right). Bonvincini’s sculpture floats on a concrete slab and is meant to represent a massive mound of Ice. Here is her explanation… “The synthesis of structure/skin/ornament explore the interface between nature and culture, or that of a cultural artefact. While reconstructing a famous Romantic painting, the work represents in a visual striking way the shape of an iceberg, as if one would have, by circumstances due to the global warming, ended up in the fjord in front of the opera house” When taking the long shot of the Opera House below, I should have attempted to get the angle right so that I could have got ‘She Lies’ in the frame as the sculptor clearly intends them being seen together.
We decided after seeing quite a number of cities in Scandinavia that the locals were clearly very fond of their high culture. Almost every city we visited had a beautiful Opera House somewhere near the centre of their city. Oslo’s Opera House is home to both the National Opera and National Ballet companies and was opened in 2008 after a design competition was held in 1999. The critics certainly agreed with our American friends as it was a spectacular building and deserved the two awards it received after opening; the culture award at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona in October 2008 and the 2009 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.
We decided we should inspect the famous white marble roof of the Opera House and take in the great views of the city from up there. Like walking on any form of roof where there is a long sloping surface, it pays to be very careful, particularly to walk slowly and not trip over any obstacles. Uncontrollable rolling down this building’s roof would not be a rewarding experience.
We had decided by this time of the trip that Scandinavians all seemed to enjoy the extremes of Spa bathing. I have never been convinced that spending lengthy time sweating half naked in a public steam room was time well spent. I have also become convinced that recklessly diving into artic water after the steam bath can’t be good for your long-term health as well. Combine these two activities with a night on the town drinking strong alcohol (only in private saunas!) and you have summarised the business model of the facility on the right above…Oslo’s Badstuforening! For an English speaker, starting a business name with ‘Badstuf’ is a little off-putting until you realise that ‘Bad’ in Norwegian means ‘Spa’.