Let's go to Norway...
After searching through Skyscanner and seeing where we could go on a cheap flight for a long September weekend, both Jilly and I decided on visiting the Norwegian capital city of Oslo. Having paid just £45 return for two one-way flights from Liverpool to Torp and then Rygge on the return to Manchester, we then found an excellent value Airbnb very close to the city centre.
But Scandinavia is so expensive...or is it?
Having been to Scandinavia many times in the past, I know how expensive certain day-to-day items can be such as food, transport and drinks. That said, Norway is meant to be the most expensive of all the Nordic countries and Oslo is, in fact, one of the most expensive cities in the world.
As a tip, the key is not to compare the Scandinavian capitals to other places that you know and how much further your money will go in other 'City Break' cities such as Krakow and Munich. Oslo felt more like a short break in London especially as 100 NOK equalled close to £10.
Only 2 hours to the Airbnb on the train...
We arrived at Oslo Torp airport which isn't really in Oslo at all, but located on the Oslofjord approximately 100km+ from the city centre. You cannot really complain when the flight is £15, however, after the 2-hour train journey that cost £25 each, we didn't arrive at Oslo city centre until the late afternoon. First impressions of Oslo were of a working port and business city with the atmosphere of a large provincial UK city such as Glasgow or Liverpool. We arrived in Oslo city centre and walked the short distance to the Airbnb located in an upmarket area close to numerous national embassies and an excellent tram line. We stayed with a nice family in their apartment for the weekend and I was glad we made this choice over a hostel or budget hotel.
Having used Airbnb a few times this year, I really like the concept as you really get to experience the city from the perspective of the people you are staying with. I can understand why some people do not like the idea of sharing a home with a complete stranger. However, there is a trust element required on both sides for the concept to work and above all, an open mind.
Walking on the roof of the Opera House... Our first port of call was the National Opera & Ballet House located on the redeveloped waterfront close to the Central train station. The building is unique in that you can walk on the roof and feel part of the building. Ever since reading about this modern building in various travel guides, I have wanted to visit it and I was not left disappointed.
We arrived just as the sun was setting and the soft light was reflecting on the marble white facade. When we returned the following day with our bikes under gloomier skies, the impressive, bright white Opera House looked like it was floating in Oslo Harbour.
Cycling around 'Aker Brygge'...
On Saturday morning, we hired bikes from Viking Bikes located in the city centre for a few hours as this was not a weekend for being on the bike as much as possible. Both Jilly and I decided that we should only hire bikes on Saturday morning to see more of the city than we could on foot and then see the rest using 24 hour day travelcards.
We spent much of the morning riding around Aker Brygge exploring the modern architecture that Oslo has in abundance. A particular highlight was the Astrup Fearnley Museet designed by the world-famous architect Renzo Piano. We then cycled around the old harbour past the modernist Oslo Radhus (Town Hall) to the Barcode district which houses some very funky modern buildings.
As a fan of modern architecture, Oslo has some of the best new modern buildings in Europe. Development is set to further continue as work continues on the new library, Munch Museum and National Museums which will create a world-class waterfront cultural quarter by early 2020.
Onto the Munch Museum and the Ski Jump... When I told people that I was going to Oslo, I did an impression of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' to give them a clue about my next trip. To reach the museum, we cycled through the ethnically diverse area of Gronland up to the Munch Museum where I bought a postcard of the famous picture as a souvenir. I really like the disturbing atmosphere and genuine fear in the captured face. Everything about the painting is unsettling and poses many unanswered questions... After a short ride around some of Oslo's quirkier streets, we returned the bikes to the rental shop. Jilly decided to look around the shopping streets whilst I went up to visit the Norway National Football Stadium and the seriously impressive ski jump at Holmenkollen on the T-Bahn (Metro).
We went back into the city centre later in the evening and had dinner at a traditional Norwegian pub where I ate reindeer steaks! The last time I ate reindeer was in a gourmet restaurant in Northern Finland and in a stew in an Arctic Circle teepee. The setting this time was less formal and I suppose, more 'normal'.
Boat trip around Oslofjord to Bygdoy... On Sunday, we decided to go on a boat around Olsofjord to the Bygdoy Peninsula located 20 minutes away from the ferry terminal near Oslo Town Hall and next to the Nobel Peace Prize centre. Bygdoy is home to the National Maritime Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Viking Museum as well as small, sandy beaches and great harbour views to enjoy across the water.
Oslo is a city that is over 1000 years old and famous for being one of the wealthiest in the world built in the modern era on oil and fish exports, yet the sense of adventure in the Norwegian people is also legendary. Famous explorers such as Thor Heyerdahl and Roald Amundsen have museums dedicated to them in Oslo with genuine artefacts from their travels on show. We returned to Oslo by ferry and went to the Opera House to eat lunch in the sunshine. After a quick goodbye to Jilly who stayed on for another night, I headed 1 hour south to Rygge Airport on the train to catch my flight back to Manchester. The next day whilst I was sat at my desk at work, she was walking around the Vigeland Statue Park and one of Norway's most popular tourist attractions!
I'd recommend Oslo for an alternative city break... I really enjoyed my time in Oslo and have now completed visits to all of the Scandinavian capital cities (I am still debating whether the Faroe Islands count). Compared to Stockholm and Copenhagen, Oslo certainly did not feel as 'touristy'. The public transport system in Oslo is excellent, good value and the city is very easy to get around on foot or by bike as well as tram/metro. I was slightly disappointed that I could not ride the excellent public hire bikes that everyone seemed to use as they require a local Oslo address to hire one. My advice is simple. If you can find a cheap Ryanair or Norwegian flight, do not mind paying for the fairly expensive train tickets into the city centre from the surrounding airports and accept that things will be slightly more expensive than your normal city break, then I definitely recommend visiting Oslo for somewhere different.