Oslo Travel Guide: Ish Meets Norway

Many travelers are intimidated because of Oslo’s reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Tokyo and Moscow are some of the other cities which are associated with this title and for the Filipino traveler; this used to raise a red flag.
In recent years however, more and more Filipinos have been going out of their comfort zone to travel both for work and pleasure. The Filipino traveler has discovered that flights to Europe cost only as much as flights to the States and all these exotic cultures are just as reachable.
Of course, the most cliché destinations are first on the list. People go to cities like Paris, Rome, London and Barcelona. However, they generally leave out Scandinavia and cities like Oslo which have a reputation of being expensive. Times are slowly changing and with more Filipinos exploring Europe, Scandinavia is slowly becoming the next big thing.

The land of the midnight sun. The first time I went to Oslo, it was the dead of winter. The sun would rise halfheartedly at about ten in the morning and never really reach the peak of its climb up the sky. At around three in the afternoon, the gloom will start to creep in and the sun will start its depressing descent and cover everything with darkness for yet another twenty hours.
To a Filipino, this was interesting to me since we get relatively uniform day and night cycles.  Being there during the winter was a welcome change to the monotony of equatorial life. I’m saying this of course, only because I was there for only a little over a week. Living in constant darkness for months is an entirely different thing altogether. Further up north, the spectacle of the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights may be enjoyed. This is perhaps one of the most fascinating things that one can observe in nature.

Subsequently, I had the opportunity to come to Norway closer to the summer season and was able to experience the midnight sun. Down in Oslo, we didn’t get 24 hours of sunlight but the three or four hours of gloom from two in the morning until about five is nowhere near what one would call dark.

Before we tackle the ‘most expensive’ label, let me first tell you why Oslo is worth a visit and clue you in on some of the places you can see around the city for free.. First of all, people speak perfect English.
Yes, all over Scandinavia, people learn English in school and the films they show there are not dubbed, only subtitled. They have English television channels and English music. But hey, who wants to stay on the couch watching TV while on vacation right?

The restaurants have English menus as well and all the tourist spots have English information. There won’t be any ‘Lost in Translation’ adventures here!

Norway is also in the Schengen zone which means that to go there, you will need a Schengen Visa which can be acquired through any of the countries included in the border-less Schengen area. I know that visa issues are always a hassle and holding a Philippine passport is well, quite frankly a pain in the behind. But all things considered, a Schengen visa is quite “sulit”.

This visa allows you to enter so many countries in continental Europe. With flights getting cheaper within the continent, getting a Schengen visa opens up your doors to visiting a handful of interesting places and not just one country.

Just a heads up though, most other countries in the European Union are using the Euro, Norway still uses the Norwegian Kroner which is approximately seven Pesos.

Coming to Norway during springtime is perhaps the best idea. There’s a lot of sunlight to be enjoyed, temperatures are manageable but you can still get decked out in your lovely winter clothes. This May, I was lucky enough to experience 27 degree days in Norway as well as lovely snowy mornings! The best of both worlds indeed!

All over Europe, the springtime blooms are a sight to behold. The beautiful public parks in Norway blend right in with the modern city center. At the smallest hint of sunlight and as soon as temperatures go above fifteen degrees, the parks fill with people and the fountains become focal points of social interaction. Young and old people alike walk around with their dogs or little adopted kids from Africa or Asia. For whatever reason, so many Norwegians have taken it upon themselves to augment the child surplus from less fortunate nations. Oslo is one of the most multicultural cities that I have ever been to and yes, there are so many Filipinos walking around now, you can even hear Bisaya spoken at the table next to you in McDonalds.

Unlike other old cities in the continent, everything in Oslo feels new. There will be none of the gloomy alleys and medieval castles. The very modern Opera House by the shore perhaps does not look quite as exotic as Sydney’s Opera House but the sleek modern design is sure to be one of the most recognizable architectural innovations in Europe. The entire roof of the Opera House doubles as a concrete park where people walk around or stay to enjoy picnics by the sea.  In the city center, everything looks brand new. No one would suspect that Vikings settled here thousands of years ago.

*The Opera House
*Father and son on a picnic at the Opera’s roof
*Field trip: Kids in the sun, bags in the shade

Despite the constant modernization, Historical artifacts and other interesting cultural information can be found in the abundant number of museums. The Vigeland Park is an outdoor display where you can enjoy the works of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland.

Other museums have entrance fees though and it can get steep if you try to visit all of them. My favourite ones are The Polar Ice-breaker (FRAM) Museum (80 NOK) where you can see the life aboard one of the most well travelled arctic ships.  The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (100 NOK) is a quite an interesting outdoor museum featuring a collection of ancient houses and churches which date back to the Viking era. . The Nobel Peace Center (80 NOK) is also located in Oslo where exhibits change yearly depending on the current recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

*The famous “Angry Boy” statue in Vigeland Park

*Vigeland Park
*Ancient homes in the Museum of Cultural History
*The Nobel Peace Center

Perhaps the only evidence of Oslo’s medieval past is the Akershus Castle and Fortress which still looms over Oslo’s hippest boardwalk where the best restaurants are located. The Palace is no longer used as the Royal Family’s official residence but has been restored and is now used for various functions such as concerts and conventions.

*Akershus Castle

The Royal residence is now a far more modern building set right in the city center. The biggest attractions here are His Majesty’s Royal Guards. If you thought the changing of the guards at Buckingham is a must-see, well, you must see the Norwegian guards. They even have a Facebook fan page!

Oslo has become a multi-cultural melting pot. However, if you want to see good old blond haired-blue eyed Norwegian goodness, the Royal Palace is the place to be. They are technically not allowed to talk to you but sneaking in a small chat won’t get your head cut off.  Besides, in such an expensive city, a free attraction like this one is always a plus factor, no?

Food in Norway and all over Scandinavia is treated with respect. They give a premium to quality ingredients and fresh produce and seafood. The service in the restaurants is incomparable to most other cities. Cuisine from all over the world is available here and yes they do have the Michelin star places serving liquid nitrogen blasted stuff and all sorts of other scientifically altered food.  However, it’s the fresh, simple stuff that really make a mark.

Now, the question is, just how expensive is it in Oslo? Let me give you a rundown of some of the basic expenses you might encounter as a tourist:

Taxi from Airport to City Center:            700 NOK (PhP 4,900)
McDonald’s BigMac Meal:                     80 NOK (PhP 560)
Soda:                                                     30 NOK (PhP 210)
Coffee:                                                    20-40 NOK (PhP 140-280)
Cinema:                                                  100 NOK (PhP700)
Bus Ticket:                                             25 NOK (PhP 175)
Pack of cigarettes:                                   80 NOK (PhP 560)

Yes, I know it’s a bit depressing compared to our local prices in the Philippines. But hey, what better time to splurge than while you are on vacation? Hotels are actually surprisingly relatively cheap. They range from about 60 Euros up to over 200 Euros for the regular chain hotels which is nearly the same as the rest of Europe.

If anything, coming to Oslo gives us a complete picture of first world living. After all, travel is about learning about other cultures and experiencing what you don’t have at home.  Seeing how they progressed from being a part of Sweden  only about a century ago to what they are now should perhaps inspire us to make some changes to improve our own country in our own little way.