SALT cafe

Oslo: Welcome to Grandma’s House [Travel Series]

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Cover photo: The Boat House Cafe at SALT in Oslo, Norway.

by Lenna

In June, I introduced a new travel series called Wanderlust, and in July, I wrote my first post on Nordic White Nights.

Now it’s mid-August and I’m just getting around to writing about Oslo. The pace is not as brisk as I’d hoped. 🙂

Anyway, the first stop on this trip was Oslo, Norway. Let’s start with the quintessential destination I thought best represented the character of the city.

Naustet

Naustet (The Boat House) is a cozy little cafe along the waterfront, near the opera house.

The cafe is part of The Salt Village, a unique nomadic art project with a pyramidal construction called “hesjer.”  Ads for the cafe say it’s supposed to “remind you of your  grandmother’s cozy living room.” And it does.

Sort of. It looks like it could be someone’s grandma’s house anyway.

But if we were really my grandmother’s living room, it would be filled with plastic flowers and handcrafted Bible kitsch, and smell like fried potatoes. 🙂

Oslo Boat House
An artistic depiction of a Nordic grandmother’s living room at SALT, Oslo, Norway.

You could sit down on a comfy couch with a glass of ice water and charge your phone. No one would come to sell you anything. You can just be there.

The store clerk did greet us. Eventually. Very casually. He never tried to sell us tickets to the private spa, which I didn’t even know was the point of the place until after we’d left.

To me, this is Oslo. Soft-spoken, kind people and inviting cafes and shops. That’s how I’ll always think of the city, based on the brief time I spent there.

The Walkable Opera House

The nearby opera house is quite interesting. Modern and not really my favorite design, but the building was certainly unique.

You don’t just go into this opera house. You climb around on it, and from the top, the view is lovely. In this photo, you can see across the harbor to the SALT pyramid structures I mentioned earlier:

SALT in Oslo, Norway
View of The Salt Village from the top of the Oslo Opera House in Norway.

If you’re clumsy, beware. There are all sorts of angles, grooves, dips, and dropoffs that could lead to injury for less sure-footed visitors.

One thing I’ve noticed in my travels is that America is a mother hen when it comes to safety. Oslo, like most other places, is not like that.

Ikea Everything

There is a certain look that characterizes Ikea. Smooth, simple lines in neutral and earthy tones. That is a popular style throughout the Nordic countries.

As I’ve mentioned before, I generally hate modern architecture. But some of the modern architecture in Norway is actually quite nice.

Art Museum, Oslo, Norway
Tjuvholmen Icon Building at the harbor southwest of Oslo’s city center.

Though you can find pretty much any style of building somewhere in Oslo, the architecture leans simple and clean.

Here’s another part of the city which looks quite different. I was still fascinated with the Nordic White Nights, so I took lots of pictures of clocks…

Oslo, Norway
Summer White Night in Oslo, Norway

Oslo Accords and the Nobel Peace Prize

One of the few things I knew about Olso before I arrived it that it’s where Israelis and Palestinians held secret negotiations resulting in the Oslo Accords.

Palestinian and Israeli leaders signed the Oslo Accords in Washington DC in 1993, amidst much fanfare. The following year, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with two Israeli leaders.

There was controversy over awarding the prize to Arafat. I thought it made more sense to object to any Israeli leaders receiving the prize, given how they behave! Then and now.

In any case, the Oslo Accords failed to bring peace to Palestine. It’s still a mess, all these years later, and Israel is still busy colonizing what’s left of the West Bank.

Here is the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo…

Oslo Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, Norway

See the crane in the background? Not really beautiful, but a sign of wealth and development you see quite a lot in the region.

Even more interesting than the buildings are Oslo’s many sculptures.

Where’d You Get Those Eyes?

Take a look at this sculpture featured near the waterfront. What do you see?

Eyes, Oslo, Norway
Oslo Sculpture by the harbor

Those are eyes! Two eyeballs, okay?

The sculpture is entitled “Eyes” so that’s how we know for sure. Check it out from another angle…

Eyes Sculpture by the harbor in Oslo, Norway
“Eyes” Sculpture, Oslo, Norway

See? Now you can clearly tell those are eyes (not really).

Notice how the sky looks fairly bright, even though when I took this picture, it was almost 11 o’clock at night.

There are a lot of other racy sculptures scattered about Oslo that are less ambiguous. People are flat out naked, which seems to be a thing in most of Europe.

I’m half tempted to demonstrate just how detailed and “anatomically correct” some of these sculptures are. You’d probably be surprised!

But instead…

Oslo Sculpture
Saber Tooth Tiger Sculpture in Oslo, Norway

Here is one of a saber tooth tiger. You can’t really tell since no one was standing next to it, but that cat is quite large and looked pretty cool.

Creepy Satanic Teddy Bears

Satanic Bear
Creepy satanic teddy bear balloon, Oslo, Norway

Check out this bear. A Call for an Uprising would have a field day with this…

Notice the strange marking between his eyes that resembles an upsidedown cross. And his zombie mind control eyes.

He also has a pentagram on one leg and a heart on the other. What’s satanic about a heart, you may wonder.

Well, Satan is a subtle deceiver who lures people into the hellfire under the pretext of love. Love for everything, including everything traditionally defined as sinful.

These huge teddy bear balloons were strung up and looming all over Oslo.

I’m not sure what they were supposed to symbolize. But I thought they were creepy.

GAY! GAY!!! GAY!!!!!

Earl Gay Tea
Gay Pride tea in Oslo, Norway

Another thing that will always stand out in my mind is how avidly, obsessively, and aggressively pro-gay Oslo is. I mean really, really, REALLY!!!! out loud and proud.

I don’t know for sure if it’s always that way. We did arrive on the heels of “Gay Pride Month.” So maybe they’d stepped it up a bit?

If you didn’t know any better, you might think Norway’s national flag was the “pride flag.” Because there were rainbow flags absolutely everywhere while the national flag was relatively scarce.

One of the tallest buildings in the city has a HUGE “gay pride” flag on top, dominating the skyline.

Friday’s restaurant chain proudly proclaimed itself “Pridays.” And instead of buying Earl Gray tea, you could buy “Earl Gay” tea in specially designed boxes. You see this sort of thing everywhere.

Most notable (and disturbing) for me was a HUGE ad covering the entire side of a tall building.

In front of a rainbow pride background, the ad featured an enormous image of a transgender homosexual named Conchita Wurst. “She” was wearing red lipstick while shaving “her” dark, bushy beard with a Philips razor.

I have to confess I found that ad nauseating. 🙁

Delicious Food, So-so Coffee

The food in Oslo is fresh, colorful and generally wonderful.

Even the humble egg salad sandwich was a work of art in Norway. You got dark grainy bread, lettuce, tomato, purple onion, and spicy, flavorful egg salad like I’ve never had before.

You find a lot of this around Oslo–food that seems not just prepared but crafted with care and style.

Latte in Oslo
Norwegian coffee art.

Coffee is another matter. There are plenty of coffee shops, and Oslo has Starbucks.

But the local coffee isn’t hot enough for me. This is a problem I’ve found in a lot of European countries.

Even if you ask them to make it extra hot, it’s still not really hot.

Fortunately, if you go to Starbucks, they will serve it hot, just like in America. 🙂

Toto, Sounds Like We’re in Kansas!

Most people in the Nordics speak English quite well. In fact, they often sound more like expats who grew up in Kansas City than natives.

Except that most of them are blondes, which you would expect, right? Duh!

But when I went to Ireland, I thought there would be a lot of redheads there too.

Not really! Redheads seem as prevalent in the US as they are in Ireland, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Oslo is, of course, a major city and a cultural hub, so you’ll find a mix of people. But a lot of Nordic people still really look Nordic. And sound like Midwestern Americans.

Money

Oslo, Norway Art
More Creepy Bear Balloons in Oslo, Norway

You won’t need much cash in Oslo.

You can always use your credit card. Apple and Android pay are also widely accepted.

The only exception might be for the bathrooms.

I find pay bathrooms highly annoying because, in America, we’re spoiled. Apart from very rare exceptions, bathrooms here are free.

But in Europe, a lot of times you have to pay. So for the bathrooms, you often need some coins.

This is true even in places like the train station. It’s only about a dollar, but I grumble about it anyway.

Oslo, you’re rich now. Please let people use the toilets for free! 🙂

Traditional Churches

Church in Oslo
Lutheran Church, Oslo, Norway

Oslo doesn’t seem to have a lot of churches. I was a bit disappointed because I generally like to look at Europe’s pretty churches.

Norway was mainly Norse pagan until about a thousand years ago when it became a Christian-majority country.

Today more than 2/3 of Norwegians still identify with the Lutheran church. At least nominally, but I wasn’t surprised to find church attendance in Norway is quite low.

Now Christianity seems to be waning and paganism is making a modest but steady comeback. Not as much as in Iceland, but it does seem to be happening.

Traditional religious values are receding, giving way to a very liberal, progressive culture, even compared to America. So if that’s the kind of scene you like, then you’ll be really happy there.

But even if you’re not entirely on board with that sort of thing, you’ll probably like spending time in Oslo. The attitude there seems to be “come as you are” and everyone is welcome.

Conclusion

I was in Norway for only a brief time. I’m really glad we got to see Oslo, but I would have also liked to explore outside of the city.

If you look at other people’s travel photos, you can see that Norway is a gorgeous country, filled with stunning natural vistas. Especially in the northern areas.

So if you have a chance to visit Norway, try to make it to some of the northern areas. But even if all you get to see is Oslo, it’s well worth a visit.

Once there you can easily take cheap flights, train rides, and cruises to the surrounding countries. We visited a total of six countries via bus, train, flight and cruise ship, all at a very reasonable cost.

My next post will be about Sweden, insha’Allah. So please stop by later and check it out. 🙂

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Lenna
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Note: An earlier version of this post had a photo that was actually from Stockholm, Sweden. I blame Google for grouping my photos from Sweden in “Oslo” search results! But it’s fixed now. 🙂

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I am so utterly offended!

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Excellent post. One thing though, regarding the floating teddy bear, the symbol on its shin is a rune, which means something very different than may otherwise be suggested. 🙂

Lenna
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Thank you.

Runes? Okay, maybe. But they’re still creepy…you don’t know how scary a puffy balloon bear can be until there’s a whole army of them looming over you in a foreign land. 🙂

Floki
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Floki

Uff Da!