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Europe Notes, Part 1: Oslo, Norway

The Torshov neighborhood in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Clay Duda.

What follows is part one of a four-part series of journal entries I typed on my iPhone during a month-long trip across Europe. Read more about our itinerary here, or just read on and learn as you go. That’s kind of what I did. (Also see part 1part 2, part 3, part 4)

Europe Day 1, June 10, 2015:

My wife and I are getting ready for our 17-hour, three-flight trip from Atlanta, GA, U.S.A. to Oslo, Norway tonight and I just weighed all of our gear. Between the both of us we have 50 lbs. of crap stuffed into two backpacks, but that’s everything we should need for the next month. Still, it’s about 10 lbs. heavier than I hoped. If I just ditched my camera and laptop…

…I just paid $7.60 for a Sweetwater IPA at the Atlanta airport. So much for staying on budget…

We’ve got about 50 minutes until our first flight to Washington D.C. I’ve been apprehensive today, I won’t even lie. I’m a bit nervous, but I know we have enough friends and family – here and abroad – to make it back home one way or another. It’s time now to make the most of this opportunity.

Fuck! I just broke my camera lens and we haven’t even made it out of the states. Our flight to D.C. was delayed by some rambling drunk chick, so I and a dozen other passengers made a mad-dash for our connecting flight to London as soon as we touched down. I was sprinting through the terminal when my book bag zipper burst open and out toppled my camera. Crack! That’s the sound of a $1,000 piece of glass smashing on carpet-covered cement. From here on out it’s all 50mm.

We made our flight to London with one minute to spare.

The sun sets as our plane descends into Washington, D.C. Photo by Clay Duda.
The sun sets as our plane descends into Washington, D.C.

Europe Day 2, June 11, 2015:

I watched the sun set as we descended into D.C. last night, but by the time my clock said 3 a.m. (EST) the sun had risen again and was peering in our window over the Atlantic. Breakfast was served a few minutes later. Was it 8 a.m. in London? Who knew. I think I managed a few hours of shut-eye during the over night-day flight, then a few more during our five-hour layover at Heathrow, and now we’re in the air again. The pilot says it’s only another hour until we touch down in Oslo, and then things really kick off.

Akerselva in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Clay Duda.
Akerselva.

Europe Day 3, June 12, 2015:

My buddy Marco says his dad is a tour guide in Germany, so giving us a tour of Oslo must come naturally for him. We hiked the city today, from Marco and Linn’s flat in Torshov just outside the second ring, down the Akerselva (Akers River) to Ring 1 and the city center, the parliament and royal palace, the harbor for fresh shrimp off the boat, the tourist boardwalk that is Aker Brygge, over to the Akershus Festning (Akershus Fortress), and out the other side to the opera house, then to the top of the opera and on through the Barcode district to Little Istanbul for drinks at Asylet (the Asylum — where people go for refuge, not because they’re crazy… or so I’m told). At our last stop we met Linn just off from work and we all grabbed a ride from the bike share and pedaled back to Torshov. A quick stop at one supermarket, then another fresh market nearby and here we are back at the apartment cooking salmon, mushroom, and squash “on the barbie.”

Oslo has to be the cleanest city I’ve ever visited (though I haven’t been to many outside the U.S.). We walked under a bridge and it didn’t smell like piss. There isn’t litter dumped everywhere, and the transit system makes living without a car not only feasible, but pretty convenient. Can you imagine?

Akershus Festning. Photo by Clay Duda.
Akershus Festning.

So far the biggest surprise has been the TV tax, which we discussed at length (among other things) over home brewed beers last night. The other has to be the price of beer, but I was well warned about that before arriving. On the TV issue, if you own one you pay for all the channels on it. If not, the TV tax collector comes knocking and makes you pay up. At least that’s how my mind interpreted things after downing a few beers. It seems like socialism. Then again, Comcast is an imperial devil with a tight monopoly in most U.S. towns. I may turn to socialism.

Visiting the supermarket was a foreign journey in itself. If not for our tour guides, I’m sure we’d still be there typing names into Google Translate.

The opera house is designed to look like an iceberg. It looks like an iceberg. I could hardly see once we climbed out on the ‘berg, blinded by the sun reflecting off its stark white surface. But the views of the city and the fjord – at least from what little I could see – were definitely worth it. There are also walls with metal panels covered in bumps and divots that resemble braille. It may have been braille

The beers we had at Asylet were refreshing, cold, and expensive. We sat at a long wooden table under these pretty fascinating trees as the sun circled overhead. It was the closest thing to a German beer garden Marco had found in Oslo, or so he said. We will see how it compares when we get to Berlin.

The Oslo Opera House. Photo by Clay Duda.
The Oslo Opera House.
The Oslo Opera House. Photo by Clay Duda.
The Oslo Opera House.

Europe Day 4, June 13, 2015:

We’re on the ferry back to Oslo after spending a day exploring Oscarsborg Festning, a military outpost on an island about an hour south of Oslo that dates back to the mid-1800s. It’s named after a King Oscar, who was king of Norway back in the day when the fortress was first constructed. Now it’s decommissioned, but back during World War II it took a walloping from the Germans after the Norwegians sunk one of its Nazi ships that didn’t come in peace. This is a point of pride it seems and helped delay Germany’s occupation of the northern country for one day, which allowed Norway’s royal family to escape to England. It also triggered the shelling of said fortress, but the 700 or so soldiers stationed there holed up in underground tunnels during the raid and not a single person was killed.

We had a chance to explore some of those tunnels and pretty much every square inch of that island and another connected by a bridge. Marco rode a cannon. I spun an old turret and aimed it at the front entrance of the hotel (pro tip: Don’t pay for coffee. There’s “free” java in the hotel lobby directly in front of the small bridge).

It takes an hour on a ferry from Oslo to reach Oscarsborg, but it’s still in the massive Oslofjord leading out to the North Sea. The ferry is also part of Oslo’s emaculate public transit system, so buying a ticket is as easy as purchasing bus fare. Rates vary depending on which zone you’re traveling to and from. Our boat only ran a few trips each day. We arrived at 11 a.m. and it boarded for the return trip at 4:50 p.m. It’s a great ride for a different view of the city, a slice of history, and the herd of island sheep that have a penchant for ribbon seaweed.

Sheep at Oscarsborg Festning. Photo by Clay Duda.

There are a couple of cafes and a food truck there, but a better option is to pack a lunch and find a grassy spot on a hillside or a picnic table and enjoy. In fact, that’s good advice each day in Norway — and what we’ve done so far — since the price of pretty much everything is more than I’d like to pay. The dollar is strong, but the cost of living here is much higher. We haven’t eaten out at a restaurant yet and we don’t plan to before we depart in another two days.

Also, pack some water and maybe a blanket for picnic or just to wrap around during windy weather. There’s a series of paved paths and also dirt trails crisscrossing the islands. Each leads to a hidden gem and generally amazing views of the fjord, the town of Deborka, and the surrounding countryside.

Tonight we’re going to make dinner for our hosts since they’ve fed us the past two nights and morning. Marco, Linn, y’all are the best. But first I think we’re swinging by for a pint with one of their friends who is getting ready to head back to his home country of Brazil. We’re just along for the ride.

We’re making tacos + mojitos. Here’s what we need:

— corn tortillas
— ground beef
— Mexican cheese
— taco seasoning
— avocado
— onion
— salsa
— sour cream
— lettuce
— tomato
— black or refried beans
— yellow rice
— ice

(Turns out yellow rice isn’t really a thing here. Neither is Mexican cheese.)

Oscarsborg Festning. Photo by Clay Duda.
Oscarsborg Festning.

Europe Trip Day 5, June 14, 2015:

We made some tacos and mojitos for our gracious hosts last night, then worked down that bottle of rum with some beers and wine as the hours spun by. We watched the sun dip to twilight around midnight and rise again by 3 a.m. This afternoon, when we were all finely awake and starting to move again, we were reminded why we don’t do shit like that much anymore. With age comes wisdom, but it’s good to fall back and remember every once and a while.

With that said, today, Sunday, we took it easy and tried to recover. The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra put on a free show at Myraløkka, a grassy park just a block away from the flat, so we took blankets and met a few of Marco and Linn’s friends. They brought homemade carrot cake. We caught a little rain as we lounged around soaking up patches of sun and the crescendo of sounds.

Linn was kind enough to dish up a batch of Norwegian waffles for desert tonight. So we sipped tea, ate waffles, and started in on the new season of ‘Orange is the New Black.’ The antics of Piper Kermin know no borders.

Recharged, tomorrow I think we go for a hike and explore some of the countryside during our last full day in Norway. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye to such amazing people.

The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra put on a free show at Myraløkka. Photo by Clay Duda.
The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra put on a free show at Myraløkka.

Europe Day 7, June 16, 2015:

It’s always hard to say goodbye, and this trip is going to be full of them. The first just happened as I hugged away Marco and Linn and boarded the bus for Rygge Airport to catch our flight to Paris. Fortunately we had a chance last night to polish off a few beers and a bottle of scotch and talk into the night — a formal farewell. Linn and Melissa turned in earlier than us guys. Marco and I spent most of twilight taking about life, family, living abroad, and a ton of other things that I can’t fully remember.

That’s part of the reason I did not write yesterday. We wanted to make the most of the time we had left. We spent most of the day hiking the forest, up Gretsenkoppen (or Gretsen Hill) for a panoramic view of the city and Oslofjord below, then on to a series of small lakes and a large reservoir that feeds the Aker River, which we followed back home.

It’s amazing to live in a city where the great outdoors is so accessible even without a car. It’s about equal distance from their flat near Ring 2 to travel downtown or to the forest for a hike. It’s about 5 stops on the tram, from what I’m told, to make it to the woods, but with it being so close we just decided to walk. If you’re going for a hike, why not hike?

The view from Gretsenkoppen. Photo by Melissa Duda.
The view from Gretsenkoppen.

It was definitely a Norwegian hike even though our self-appointed German tour guide led it. That basically means you take oranges and Kit Kat to eat on the trip — but don’t call them Kit Kats in Norway! They have a Norwegian name and I’m told it’s something of a point of pride. Unfortunately I don’t have the wrapper in front of me…

It was all up hill to Gretsentoppen (the top of the hill), then a few rolling peaks and valleys from lake to lake. We stopped for lunch on a log near the lake shore and ate some sandwiches we packed from home, tried a beer with pooping dogs on it we picked up during a brief tour of the state-run liquor store, and then soaked up the beautiful sun and mosquito bites. It was a brisk day, but I think by my standards ‘brisk’ may be as warm as Oslo gets during the summer, though it is still early in the season.

The hillsides were covered in rock outcrops, many ferns, and an array of flowers in just about every color I could imagine, and even a few varieties I haven’t seen before. I don’t know much about flower types, so I’ll let some of the pictures speak for me.

Norwegian flowers. Photo by Clay Duda.

Norway also has the largest anthills I have ever seen. These little buggers make their home out of pine straw from the forest floor and stay active. The mound, some we saw as high as 4 feet or so, swarm with thousands of ants at any given time, all doing something or nothing. I didn’t stick around to find out.

Back in the city we stopped at a local microbrewery that only had an “N” on the cover of its menu. The beer was ok, but the service not so much. Because we were not eating the wait staff basically ignored us, though the place does have a full-service bar and, well, even a brewery, so you’d think they’d be a little more receptive.

After another late night, morning came all too early, but we made our bus on time and now, hopefully, we’ll make our plane. I’m not sure how we will do navigating Paris on our own, or how that experience will compare to spending time with such great friends in Oslo, but that’s all part of the adventure. In 3 days we link up with Claus in Berlin and the games begin again.

>> Continue on to Part 2: Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin

Beware! Godzilla anthills of Norway! Photo by Melissa Duda.
Beware! Godzilla anthills of Norway!

>> Continue on to Part 2: Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin

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Clay Duda is a freelance journalist specializing in investigative reporting, feature writing, editorial photography, and digital media.