As our plane descended to the airport in Norway I looked down at moonlit pine forests with little houses scattered among the trees, lights in every window. There was something about it that resonated so deeply.
It was snowing. With Ryan Air flights you disembark planes down stairs outside rather than on a breezeway, and everyone was giggling and smiling and taking pictures as they tromped through the snow towards the airport. We had emerged into a winter wonderland! I really wasn't expecting it to be so beautiful.
Our priorities for the trip were as follows:
- eat shitkaka (heehee! Norwegian meatballs. it's not spelled that way in Norwegian but that's how it sounds) and the famous brown goat cheese
- see the Viking ships
- see a Norwegian stavekirke - 1000 year old churches made of wood, soooo cool looking
- try the 8-10 minute sled ride above Oslo
- see Munch’s The Scream
- visit the City Hall where they have the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony
- explore Viegeland Park (huge park full of hundreds of statues representing the human experience, the life work of one artist)
- see the rafts made of papyrus and balsam wood that this dude sailed across oceans (!) as part of an anthropological experiment in 1947 and 1970.
Another part of my personal travel philosophy is to not spend money unless you absolutely have to. Cheaper travel forces you to really experience a place anyway. We bought a package deal before we left for Norway that included a hotel room, breakfast, free public transport and museum entrances. The hotel room was pretty cheap (especially for Oslo, the most expensive city in the world), and we were surprised when we arrived that it was big schnazzy joint. Huge grand staircase and chandeliers and all. Um, are we in the right place? We walked down this luxurious hallway to our room thinking, “didn’t we book a budget package?” then we got to the end of the hall, which curved around at a weird angle and there was our room. I think we got such a good “budget” deal because our room was a converted broom closet. It was tiny.
But no matter. Because here’s the part about not spending money. Our hotel had a big beautiful breakfast buffet. It had everything, including meats, cheeses, baguettes, and pretty much everything you would need to pack a lunch. And a dinner for that matter. So we packed away! And we never spent any money in Oslo – we'd paid for the "Oslo pass" in advance and never bought anything else at all! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were provided by our frugal breakfast-buffet-packing-away skills. Little sick of baguette sandwiches, but so proud. This is especially good because in Oslo a single item at Burger King would set you back at least $12. Want fries with that? $4.50.
After a good dose of seriously cool museums and wandering around in the snowy woods around old buildings, we spent a day up in the mountains above Oslo drinking in the views and riding toboggans down a sledding hill over a mile long! It took about 10 minutes to get to the bottom. Most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. I can’t even describe it. It was a long windy track that was the 1954 Olympic luge track. It was perfect, just steep enough to go down REALLY fast but not so steep that you thought you would die. You had to navigate some sharp curves (we both biffed once), it was the perfect challenge. When we got to the bottom we got on the train and rode back up for 20 minutes and went down again! And again! I can’t believe it was real when I think of it. “Wait,” you say, “where did you get those toboggans?” You can rent them. “But I thought you didn’t spend any money while you were there.” Ah yes! The wrinkly old lady renting them out winked at me and said we could have ours for free.
And that is why I love Norway. The lady renting the toboggans is a kind soul. You can sled for ten minutes in one go. Also their breakfast buffets are fantastic. Shitkaka and brown cheese? Delicious. Public transportation: amazingly efficient and easy (and clean!). And the history, and the scenery, magical. I'm so glad we decided to 'beat the winter blues' by embracing winter wholeheartedly rather than going somewhere warm.