I moved here 8 years ago with a guy I'd only been dating for a few months. I didn't know much about Norway but I was fresh out of University, and desperate for a new start. We packed a suitcase, said goodbye to our family and took a flight over the north sea.
The first few weeks were fun, but I must admit that I was taken aback by how expensive everything was. I wondered if I would have enough money to last me until I found a job. I went out into the city and tried to make friends and see if I could find some bar work, it was harder than I thought it would be. The people in Oslo felt rather unwelcoming. Nobody seemed to talk to each other, avoided eye contact with strangers, people stood as far away from each other as possible when waiting for the bus. I missed the Manchester warmth, I missed people calling me 'love' and 'our kid', I missed my mum, my friends, and the local chippy.
After a while things started to fall into place and I started to feel at home. I made friends and explored the city with them. I learned how to speak Norwegian and how to make a good Norwegian christmas dinner. I did all the tourist stuff like tobogganing on Korketrekkeren, and posing with the statues in Vigeland Park.
Since I moved to Oslo I have lived in 9 different places, taken care of 5 cats, had one operation, been to 3 funerals, 3 weddings, and fallen deeply in love. There are so many special places here, that I have come back to over and over again. Places that might not make it onto a usual tourist blog, but personally make me feel so much love for this city.
'This room is an acoustic sculpture'
Maybe my favourite place in Oslo is Nasjonalteatret Station. If you enter the station through the west entrance (at the back of the castle, opposite the old American embassy) you will find yourself in a round room immediately noticing the echo from your footsteps changing sound as you walk further into the room. I remember the day I first came across this place, how beautiful I found the fluttering echos of the room to be. I remember waiting until there was nobody around and and then bursting into song so I could hear how my voice was distorted differently depending on where I stood in the room. It sounded amazing.
The 'echo chamber' was designed by the architect Arne Eggen. He knew there would be a flutter echo when he built it, but he never expected it to be so strong. Initially the railway company didn’t like the effect and threatened to sue the architect. However, it quickly became loved by musicians and tourists and they dropped the case. Now this beautiful acoustic sculpture has won prizes and been written about all over the world.
The sensory garden
There are so many cool things in Oslo's Botanical Gardens. It's a very pretty place, a popular spot with tourists and locals alike. The gardens are split up into different sections, they have a rock garden, greenhouses, a herb garden, and an arboretum. My favourite part is the sensory garden, or 'great granny's garden' as it is often called which is right in the middle of the park. The plants here are collected from old gardens. Many of them are no longer commercially available, but are preserved here in a living archive. The project was started in 2008 by the Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre, who have been responsible for the registration and collecting of ornamentals in Southeast-Norway and have a special responsibility for the conservation of peonies.
A sensory garden stimulates many senses, evokes pleasant emotions, brings out long-forgotten memories, and stimulates communication. Sensory gardens are therefore considered an important tool in the therapy of dementia. I think it's wonderful that everyone can go here and see these rare old breeds of beautiful flowers that also help people hold onto valuable memories.
Walking down Calmeyers Gate in Oslo the simple brass plaques embedded in the pavement are easy to miss. I had walked by them many times without looking to see what they were, until one day I read one of them:
“Here lived Bernhard Leimann
Murdered January 1943.”
Leimann was married and had a five-year-old daughter, Valli. On October 26th, he was part of a consignment of men over the age of 15 who were arrested by the Norwegian Nazi Party. One month later, Leimann was deported to Auschwitz.
Of the 532 Jews who boarded the German cargo ship SS Donau in Oslo on November 26th 1942, only nine survived the war. There were 302 men, 188 women and 42 children on board. All told, 772 Jews were deported from Norway in four voyages during the second World War – only 34 came back.
The German artist Gunter Demnig began the Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) project in the early 1990s in Berlin and the cultural initiative has now spread to several countries. In their sheer simplicity, the stones trigger a response by connecting the “here lived” with the living while at the same time emphasising the evils of totalitarianism. Since I saw that first one on Calmeyers Gate I have seen them all over Oslo. The symbolism of the stones serve as a stark social reminder of the lives lost in the Holocaust. I'm glad they are there.
Oslo's local stores
It is so nice to support local businesses, especially ones that have been around for ages. My favourites are Bislett Blomster who have been in business for 40 years selling the most beautiful bouquets and plants, Skafferiet in Frogner, another family business where you can get the best avocados in Oslo. I also love Gutta på Haugen, which is a great place for specialist groceries like fancy hot sauce and luxury chocolate.
When it comes to coffee, we like to head to Tim Wendleboe, Java, and Fuglen. You can't beat coffee in Oslo, it really is the best.
Life, Death, & Sex
One of the most extraordinary and amazing places in Oslo is Tomba Emmanuelle or as it is more commonly known: Emanuel Vigelands Museum. It doesn't really look like anything particularly special from the outside, but once you step into this dark barrel-vaulted room, your eyes will slowly adjust and reveal to you that the entire place is covered in fresco paintings. Naked, dramatic, erotic figures tell the story of human life from conception till death. Lovemaking and procreation in the honour of God takes place in front of a dark and infinite universe, dimly lit by the life-giving, divine sun but also by the blazing fires of hell. It is really quite amazing to experience this place, and the acoustics are as dramatic as the visuals. One of my best memories is attending a concert here by the Norwegian band Supersilent. They play improvised avant-garde experimental music and it was so perfect to listen to it in that setting.