Velkommen to Oslo, Norway

The final stop on my Scandinavian tour was Oslo, the capital of Norway. I took a three-and-a-half-hour trip up Sweden’s western coast to cross the border. Oslo sits at the northern end of a 60-mile fjord due north of Denmark.

It was already late afternoon when I arrived in Oslo and I wanted to get a look around before it got dark. I dropped my bag off at the hotel and hiked down to the harbor. Roughly one in five Norwegians live in the Oslo area and the city stretched out along the water.

Massive cruise ships and ferries were busy sailing through the cold water. I couldn’t help but think of the Titanic as I watched the ships pass what reminded me of an artistic glass and steel iceberg moored in the harbor.

I’d never been this far north in my life. The winter sun was low in the sky at such a northern latitude and as sunset approached, the extended “golden hour” made for dramatic photos.

One of the first statues I came across in Oslo was of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In September of 1942, during the depths of World War II, FDR gave a speech where he invoked Norway to rally the Allied cause:

“If there is anyone who still wonders why this war is being fought, let him look to Norway. If there is anyone who has any delusions that this war could have been averted, let him look to Norway; and if there is anyone who doubts the democratic will to win, again I say, let him look to Norway.”

The next morning, I explored an area of town that harkened back to the early 1800s. Historically, Oslo was devastated by fires and the core of the city was rebuilt in brick. But here were a few streets where the old houses were wood and painted traditionally bright colors.

Notice the icy cobblestone lanes. The snow melts and re-freezes forming a dense ice sheet in many areas. Locals usually spread fine gravel over the ice to provide traction. I slipped once and tore a small hole in the arm of my down-filled coat. Now when I move around, small white feathers escape periodically and wisp away. I’m a walking movie opener for Forrest Gump.

I crossed an otherwise anonymous courtyard surrounded by government buildings and noticed what looked like grass among the pavers. On closer inspection, I realized there were thousands of tiny sculptures of people. This was an installation called “Grass Roots” which aimed to remind government leaders that it’s the people supporting them and although they can appear small at times, working together, they can be powerful.

Further south in Europe, grand cathedrals dominate the skylines of most towns. Here in Scandinavia, city halls loom large as temples of the people. Oslo’s city hall, completed in 1950, hosts the annual Nobel Peace Prize presentation in December. The other prizes are awarded in Stockholm but Nobel designated the Norwegians to present the peace prize.

As in Stockholm and Copenhagen, Oslo’s city hall was open to the public and filled with artwork representing the nation. I took my time admiring the grand hall and then walked up the staircase to explore more of the rooms. I even walked right through the city hall meeting chamber.

I always think this type of building represents what a nation wants to believe about itself and present to the world. Norway chose to highlight its Norse heritage, the common man and citizens striving to work together for the betterment of all.

One entire wall of the grand hall was dedicated to the trauma of Norway’s occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. In Norway’s Resistance Museum, it seemed the Germans expected the Nordic peoples to actively join them in Europe’s fight against Bolshevism.

Although a few in Norway did join the Nazi cause, the vast majority fought back: actively during Germany’s invasion in 1940 and then underground in the resistance movement during the resulting occupation. Three Norwegian partisans were executed just outside the building which now housed the museum. Snow covered a small pine wreath when I visited the marker.

Walking through Oslo, I came across another memorial to the war. A German artist initiated the Stolpersteine (stumble stones) project back in the 1990s to mark the home or workplace of victims of Nazi terror. The small brass markers, embedded in the pavement, are impossible to ignore. Thousands have since been installed across Europe.

Although the text is in Norwegian, you can understand that the members of this family were arrested and deported. Their lives ended at Auschwitz. A lot to think about during my time in Norway.

The winter sun sets early here but the sky lingers in a beautiful dark blue hue before nightfall. As I walked back to my hotel, children were happily skating on the ice at Spikersuppa. The trees lining the grand boulevard up to the Norwegian Royal Palace were wrapped in tiny white lights.

It was a peaceful end to a full day exploring Oslo.

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Thanks for coming along on the trip. If you have questions or suggestions, tweet @JasonRMatheson. Missed an entry? Click here.

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I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.

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Jason R. Matheson

I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.