Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Oslo, No way

For a country so preposterously sloshing in oil, the capital of No'way is strikingly unremarkable. I don't mean it's bad. There's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing much right either.

swarms of Seagulls attacking Oslo

The first impression I got is that the most expensive city in Europe features a surprising number of junkies, beggars and tramps rummaging in rubbish bins. They've recently outlawed prostitution, ruining the business for the hordes of Nigerian hookers formerly active in the city, so I've narrowly missed seeing these as well.

From the last paragraph you might get the impression that Oslo is a bit of a lawless city. And you would be right. There are no policemen to be seen anywhere, save for the accidental lonely couple on horseback, minding their own business and filling the streets with manure. Laws are conspicuously not enforced, and for someone coming from Airstrip One, CCTV is shockingly yet blissfully absent. I guess it's basically just like any other normal city. London must've nibbled at my brains somehow.

Visitors and locals alike all agree on one thing about Oslo: public transport sucks. Not just because it's criminally expensive. Trains work when the planets get aligned in the right order. There is no public transport at night to speak of. There are some night buses that will take you to the suburbs, for the Guinness-world-record-breaking price of 100 NOK one way (a whopping £10 at the current exchange rate).

Trafikanten is the Oslo equivalent to Transport For London. The main office is situated just outside Oslo Sentralstasjon. Check out this picture.

See all those people hanging around, bottom-right, on top of the stairs? As you get out of the train station you'll have to walk past them. At this point any number of jolly fellows will approach you and greet you with one word: "hash?", "speed?" or "cocaine?", marking their stock in trade. In a situation of exquisite surrealism, the traficantes (drug dealers) of Oslo are all clustered around a Cyclopean column covered in red neon that shouts "Trafikanten".

With English and a few words of German in your linguistic toolbox, deciphering written Norse is fairly easy. On the other hand, when spoken it sounds like the bastard offspring of Finnish and Hindi. I constantly made life impossible for any Local who would be so polite to answer my questions. Like a hyperactive kid lost in an exposition of exotic interestingness, I kept poking my finger at random words and cooing "Whassat mean?". Tons of fun for me. I wish I could say the same for the poor victims of my geekiness.

The one inescapably unique thing in and about Oslo is Vigeland Park. The more I think about it, the less I can understand how it could ever be built, and the happier I am that it was. Naked statues everywhere? Naked boys and girls together? A huge phallic monument of intertwined naked bodies? Go build that in Spain in the 1940s, see what happens.

run awaayyyythe phallic centrepiece

Central Oslo aside, people in Norway don't live. They camp. They don't have houses. They have bungalows. They all live in the forest, surrounded by the sounds of chirping birds and the smell of wood fire. I kept humming to myself that tune that goes "Little boxes, on the hillside" while beholding the ultimate suburban utopia.

Norway is of course not representative of all of Scandinavia, and Oslo is hardly representative of Norway as a whole. And yet, I did manage to get a fleeting glimpse of Scandinavianness, and two aspects of it have impressed me strongly: the houses and the people.

I'm on my knees in love with Scandinavian houses. I've finally found houses that are just the way houses are supposed to be. Or the way they teach you they're supposed to be when you're a kid. When you learn how to draw a house, you don't paint an appartment building in red brick exposed, nor a crumbling brown-bricked Victorian façade. You draw a roof and big square windows and a door and you paint it in screaming bright colours and add a green garden and smoke coming out of the chimney and maybe a tree or two. That's your basic Norwegian house.

terminal cutenessI want a house like that one

Not only do I love them on the outside. The inside inescapably strikes you as a photo springing out of an IKEA catalogue. Don't tell the owners that (I did); IKEA is just as much despised for its cheapness as it is popular for its low prices. And it's not just the way they look. They just feel right. Having electric heating under your floor just feels right. Having a whole wall of your living room open to daylight just feels right. (Having your toilet always by your front door, this I do not quite grasp.) The lighting is great; the furniture is comfortable, practical and design-conscious; everything feels the right size and shape and position. I reckon Feng Shui is practiced most in the top end of Europe.

From my limited exposure to people in pubs, the impression they made on me was one of proverbial loud, boisterous, back-slapping, good-natured Vikingness. Manly slaps on the back and brotherly handshakes keep coming as glasses keep clinking to the chorus of "Skål!". After a few half-litres they tend to mix and match, always open to meeting new people to invade, pillage and rape, with a slap on the back and a belly-booming laugh. They are quite jolly-spirited, not easily offended (I've tried), and generally quite a fun bunch. Thumbs up.

I'd love to sprinkle this post with some nice panoramas of Oslo, but it has proven impossible. It's just not a pretty city. The best views of Oslo are from the top of the Opera House, because from there you can't see the Opera House.

Oslo from the Opera HouseOslo from the Opera House
the Town Hall seen from the ferrythe... uhm... Opera House

So what about the experience? All in all, I've had a blast. Yet had I visited backpacking on my own, I wouldn't have had a tenth of the fun. Isn't it good to have friends. To friends! Skål!

ye olde Norse churcheShoplifters will be beaten, stabbed and stomped. Survivors will be prosecuted.


MakurA said...

Ahora me pondré a ver las fotos a un tamaño más majo, así que lo mismo me pierdo algo gracioso antes de postear =D

Me he reído un huevo con los de los "trafikanten" (es que el turismo español es muy apreciado allí), con lo del parque pedófilo y con lo de los vikingos de taberna xDDD En serio, muy gracioso, te envío palmaditas en la espalda de las que no van acompañadas de sonrisas barbudas e intenciones de pillaja =D

Cuando te vemos de vuelta por aquí? Cuales son tus planes?

Un fuerte abrazo tronco!

PS. Te debo un mail!!!

paumickey said...

No way!!! hehehe Seriously, you left me without words... Lo tuyo es aventura tras aventura. I still don't know how you do it, it seems so easy!!
Anyway, I hope (I see) you're great. I don't know why but it feels like you're so far away... A ver si se te ve pronto... o algún día jeje
Big hug

euge said...

This time I did try to be the second in the family to post a comment, but...no way! ;)

Well, quite a different pattern of reality up there / North, eh? It looks as if everything takes place in slow motion....But the houses really are splendid!

And there's no denying about the origin of at least one third of English jokes. Hopefully, though, London p'lice have not yet been briefed on the possibilities of modernizing their notices "...your car will be clamped and YOU will be beaten, stabbed and stomped" for offending! :D

MasterMan said...

Maku: Se agradecen las palmadas bien intencionadas :D Como tardes mucho con el mail, ya mejor me lo cuentas en persona, que me pienso personar por esos terrunyos el dia 9 del mes venidero, hasta el 12. Abrazote!

Pau: ^_^ Que bueno verte activa por los internetes. Como te trata la vida? Mas liada que pata de romano? Y no se como parece que estoy tan lejos, si ahora mismo estoy en Alemania! :D En cuanto a verseme, lease el parrafo anterior. Abrazote!

Euge: Speaking of jokes, here are a few Norse expressions I learned of while there:

"To walk around the porridge" = to beat about the bush
"Stepping in someone's salad" = to meddle/interfere
"In the middle of the butter eye" = brilliant; spot on (this takes some explaining, it's something to do with a dish they cook there)
"To have your beard in the mailbox" = to be in a difficult situation (obviously)

paumickey said...

Pues me va bien, no me quejo (bueno, sólo a veces jeje) Me parece genial que vengas unos días. Cuando ya me taba sintiendo algo culpable por no ir a verte allí, vienes tú y me solucionas el problem. Thanks! By the way, I had a good time reeding the post, I would love to visit that park. Y me he partido de risa con "To have your beard on the mailbox"
C U soon!
Little kiss

ausfi said...

Fortunately things have improved a bit. The single fare at night is only 28 kr if you buy it in the automat and less with a monthly ticket.
The traficantes have been banished from the area next to the railway station.
I had fun with your "offspring of Finnish and Hindi", because I am a Finn and after 18 years still cannot understand all of the Norwegian spoken in the TV.
The opera house in your photo really looks dreary. I love it and I go there at least once a month and have taken close to 600 photos, not just of architecture but people.