Travel Tips Part 1: Oslo, Norway

Welcome to the beginning of your journey throughout an icy Europe. Be sure to book your tickets from London (or any other such place) through the budget air-line Ryannair – note the word ‘budget’ here:  although you have paid peanuts for this ticket there are always hidden fees lurking in the undergrowth of the terms and conditions you were too lazy to read, for example, having a laptop in your hand-luggage counts as a second piece of hand luggage and you will be charged around 40 pounds for this second item. Luckily, someone had already told you this before you left so you needn’t learn the hard way.

Prepare yourself for your trip: where are you going? What language do they speak there? What will the weather be like? If, by all accounts, you’ve managed to book a flight during winter then make sure you pack the following: layers of ugly but warm clothes that make you look super-butch and grossly overweight. Using your logic, completely forget about the fact that an airplane will not be the 8 degrees you will except in your destination, and opt for dressing yourself in two layers of thermals, a pair of jeans, followed by a jumper and a jacket. And a scarf and a beanie. And Doc Martins. And two layers of thermal socks. And leg warmers.

Get to the airport and hop on the plane. Note at this point how independent you feel about traveling to a foreign county all by yourself. You’re a real grown-up now. And despite the fact that you haven’t been anywhere yet you’re actually quite a well-travelled being. Cease these thoughts when the first beads of sweat start trickling down your neck. In your heated stupor you forget that on these budget airlines you have to pick your own seat. Look around and spot an unshaven, tattooed, mildly attractive man sitting alone. Tuck your hair behind your ears, smile, and sit down. Smile. Get up again when his boyfriend wants to sit next to him. Sit down. Wipe a second bead of sweat from your brow. The flight hasn’t even taken off yet and you’re already flop-sweating like a seedy middle-aged man. This isn’t a problem! Take off your scarf and beanie. Better now? Mildly. The flight is taking off, so at this point take out your handy-harry European language guide that covers about 20 countries held in a convenient pocket-sized package. Flick to the language of your first destination of your European getaway: Norwegian. Remind yourself again why you’ve decided to travel to the most expensive city in Europe during winter. Ignore these thoughts and start trying to get your head around the gibberish spurting off the pages. Ignore all other phrases except “Hay!” and “Adieu!”

You are flying at 37,000 kilometres in the air over a mass of water when you are reminded of the young girl who died recently while on her own European getaway from DVT. Calm yourself. You will not be contracting DVT on a 1 hour 50 minute flight. You’re being silly. But aren’t you wearing about a thousand layers of clothing right now plus a sturdy pair of Doc Martins? Won’t that increase this already incredibly low risk of contracting DVT? Stay cool. Start frantically moving your leg muscles and feet like they tell you to do on long flights even though you’re on a very short one. Look over at the bathroom and notice that it’s occupied. Contemplate taking off your jeans in your seat. Realise this isn’t a great idea and think about how silly you’re being. Weigh up your options: is it worth is to attempt to fit your bloated self into the cramped bathroom and take off layers of clothes while trying not to step in the small piss-puddle that occupies the majority of airplanes? No. It’s not worth it. You decide that if you contract DVT then that’s just too bad.

You have landed. You’re getting more excited now. Get off the plane, go through a very small and friendly border security team then wait for your backpack. Look in the opposing mirror and try not to whimper at the sweaty reflection. Your bag is here! Oh, and it’s quite heavy so this makes your body temperature increase all the more when you struggle to get it on your back. Ok: game plan now. You need money. Decide to get out some Euros and change them when you get into the city. Go to the ATM and become confused and disgruntled by the language. Decide to get out 200 Euros and put off calculating the conversion rates until you are more settled, and cooler. Ignore the stinky heat you’ve created and think about how you’re getting into Oslo from Rygge. Note that there is a bus that takes you directly into the city. Bingo! Start waltzing over to the exit then stop when you remember you have no Norwegian Krona on you at all. No bother: the bus accepts cards. At least all others except for yours. Rush back into the airport back to the blasted ATM which gave you the option for Krona’s in the first place but you decided to ignore the first time. Get out 200 Kronas which sounds like a lot but you’ll soon realise will get you not very far. The bus ticket is 140 so you’re all good.

Miss the bus. Sit outside with a handful of others in your situation and feel comforted that you’re not the only dickhead. Sit on your backpack and become instantly grateful for the hearty amount of layers you’re wearing: you’re quite the genius. At this point you don’t feel the least bit rough despite your money issues because – you’re in freaking Norway! Get chatting to an Italian girl you’re waiting with until a maxi-taxi pulls up and informs the group that the bus driver had called ahead to pick the rest up for no extra charge – you’re liking Norway already! Get in the cab where the driver helps you with your bags, and is listening to a station that plays Madonna followed by Kissed by a Rose followed by the Chilli Peppers. Decide that Norway is rad. During this one hour journey to the centre of Oslo, be sure to sit back and enjoy the view – it’s really lovely.

Arrive in town, grab a map and try to figure out where the hell your hostel is. Get a bearing of where you are: the bus station is behind you, there is a hotel to your left, you need to walk…north? Get out your trusted iPhone and screw the damn data- roaming charges just as long as you get rid of this fucking bag and have a shower – you’re starting to boil again. Ok, start walking in one direction. Get confused. Walk back. Walk in another direction. Look at your phone – it hasn’t yet decided where your current location is. Silently curse Steve Jobs. Walk down another ominous looking street and get bothered by three homeless people. Note how truly authentic these homeless people look, not like the bums at home. These people might actually have cholera or leprosy! Contemplate giving them some coins but remind yourself they’ll probably only use it to buy booze or food of course. Note at this point that you are finally walking in the right direction. Start looking around the city – Oslo is small, quiet and understated. There are numerous good looking men and women walking around in very expensive clothes, smoking very expensive cigarettes. Dotted around the place are cafes/bars that are often open until midnight each night. Hang on – you’ve come too far and missed your hostel completely. Panic and ask someone where to go. Feel stupid when they point to a building 10 metres away.

Check in. Walk up the three flights of stairs to your room – note here “walk” not “take the lift” as the girl at reception told you to – get to your room and flop down. Have a shower. Get changed. And head off again – this time with just your trusty shoulder bag, 5 quid from Primark.

You’re in Oslo. You’re quite tired but excited nonetheless to see the city. Its about3.30 and it’s already getting dark. That can’t be right. Check your watch – it is indeed 3.30. You’re meeting up with friends at 6.30 so you have ample time to explore. Walk to the nearest convenience store and buy yourself a packet of smokes – you’re on holiday! Note that a pack of 20 Marlboro Gold’s sets you back 114 NOK. Do the math in your head. First mistake: buying cigarettes in the most expensive city in the world. No mind – start exploring the city. As you walk around be sure to have a cigarette: smoking is cool and teamed with your platinum blonde hair you look adorably Norwegian. Walk down another street. Start to feel less like an adventurer as it gets darker and colder. Have another cigarette. And another. Note that chain-smoking around Oslo isn’t in fact cool but wasteful and is making your mouth feel like cement and is making you hungry and thirsty. Decide to find some dinner – noodles from the local shop – and walk back to your room. You still have time.

Have you figured out where you are by now? Of course not. Get lost about 4 times then eventually find your hostel – it was right around the corner. Blast these confusing street signs! Get comfortably in your room and get a phone call from your friends wondering where you are. It’s 5.30? Weren’t we not meeting in an hour? It’s actually 7.30 – you had failed to change the time from London. Twitch. Never mind, you’ll meet up with them later on. Put the stove on for dinner and unlock your bag. The lock won’t open. Try again. And again. And again.

Snap when the fucking thing won’t fucking open, call up your friend – waking him at 2.30 in the morning his time – and sob to him on the phone about the fucking bag and what are you doing in this country and it’s the first day and you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re tired and…Your friend reminds you to calm down and stop acting like a crazy person. Eat some dinner and make a note to cut the bag open the next day. Go out to the Tube and meet up with your friends.

Go to an International University “kitchen party” whereby about 50 people are crammed into a tiny kitchen that is heaving with music, drinking games and the cheapest alcohol they could find. Feel comforted to be around people again yet still feel alienated because you don’t have an exotic accent. Meet some awesome people. Take the train back into town with the entire group and walk to a club. Wait in line for a while then eventually say goodbye and walk back when you realise it’s going to cost 100NOK to get in. You don’t have any money left for the day. This doesn’t matter – it’s midnight and you’re completely shattered anyway. Start walking back to your hostel by yourself in the middle of the night in a strange city. Get lost a couple more times but feel oddly safe doing this – the people you pass give you a friendly “God kveld!” (which means “good evening”) or just smile as you walk pass. Get back and sleep in till 8.30 – bliss.

The next day, be sure to make an effort to interact with the people in your dorm. Do this and it pays off – you have people to spend the day with instead of wandering around aimlessly by yourself. Note for breakfast: seeing as most (all) places in Oslo are incredibly expensive, feed yourself by going to the immigrant-run groceries around town where you can pick up tasty fruit and veg for low low prices. These stores are normally open till 11 each night so you’ll never starve.

Visit the Fortress – it’s a 15 minute walk away and more importantly, it’s free! Have no idea what the Fortress is all about but make sure you take lots of photos as it’s beautiful up there – especially in the autumn. Take a walk back into town and pay 90 NOK for a croissant, then walk up to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Do not assume that because it is a museum it will be free – pay a small fee of 30NOK and walk around the building. Until mid -January next year, the Museum of Contemporary Art is holding a large exhibition dedicated to instillation art, including artists such as Bill Viola and various others you’ve never heard of. This is a great place to visit – it’s weird and interactive and worth every penny. Walk back into town, bid adieu to your new friends and head up to your dorm. It’s only 2 in the afternoon but a long day spent walking around Oslo has left you completely knackered. Start chilling out in your dorm when a new person arrives – politely say hello then take your laptop and head downstairs, you’re neurotic and prefer to be alone. Skype some people, email other people, do some writing, head back upstairs. Get dressed and take the tram to the statue park about 15 minutes away. Note: the entire time you have used public transport in Oslo you haven’t once paid, not because you are a rebel but because you still haven’t figured out how to buy a ticket. Also there are no transit officers checking tickets that you’ve seen about, so you feel quite lucky.

Get to the museum park just as it’s getting dark to view the naked, carnivorous statues by lamplight. The park is a large mass dotted by statues of naked men, women and children in various poses of dance, love, anger, joy, and peace. Follow the path of entwined couples and arguing siblings until you reach the huge phallus pole of naked bodies at the peak of the path. The view is amazing just as the sun has set. Decide not to walk up to the phallic pole as it’s dark and there is a bundle of a man sitting at the pole who looks suspiciously seedy. Start walking back to the Tube.

It’s now 6.30 and your new dorm buddy – Ella from the Philippines – is still wandering around in the room doing god-knows what. She says hello as you walk in then promptly goes to the bathroom. You boil some water and sit down to read when you hear the first distinguishable plop from the bathroom followed by a moan of relief. You yourself have always been self-conscious about using other people’s toilets or trying to be quiet when there are others around, up to an increasingly pedantic point where you sometimes just wouldn’t go at all for fear that those around you will assume you have regular bowel movements. So when your new roomy is so comfortable about it, you feel an odd pang of discomfort and envy. It was almost as if she had been waiting in the room for you to return in order to drop a very loud what’s-it. She walks out of the bathroom – you immediately cast your eyes away – and changes into her Snoopy pyjamas and climbs into bed. At 7pm. As she does this you begin to notice a few quirks about her: her plastic tiara for example and her repetitive muttering of “Aiee no Nikki tsk tsk tsk…”

You decide that if you spend your second night in Oslo creeping to bed at 7.00 in the evening listening to crazy pills calm down the voices in her head, then it would be a night wasted. You promptly chow down your noodles, brush your teeth, grab your book and head out.

The chill is certainly harsher at night, so you quickly walk into the first café/bar you find. It’s called Habbib Café and is situated in the nook between Storgata and Oslo-City shopping centre. The door is heavy and antique-y and the room is illuminated by melting candles. Not finding a seat inside you opt for a rickety plastic chair outside, where you order a glass of wine and sit down to plough your way through Hitch-22, accompanied by about 5 other cigarettes. You realise the irony of this and after 2 hours of cold you head back to your hostel. It’s 9pm and crazy pills is soundly asleep.

The next day you do some much-needed housekeeping: you buy some last-minute essentials (like a bowl for your delicious noodles) and book your seat reservations for the imminent trips to Bergen and Stockholm. You meet up with a friend in the afternoon and visit the National Gallery – the biggest museum in Norway which holds a room solely dedicated to Norway’s national treasure: Edvard Munch. Feeling satisfied that you’ve seen The Scream plus works by Picasso, Van Gogh and Renoir, you walk back into town to have a traditional Norwegian dinner.  Unfortunately for you, traditional Norwegian dinner is either reindeer or salmon, and as a vegetarian you don’t feel the urge to commit acts of manslaughter just so you can try something different. “Something different” is still otherwise a corpse, and was once an individual. You ponder what your life would be like if you honestly thought like that. Pretty dull. You opt for a plate of hearty potatoes and mushy peas and something resembling bubble-and-squeak, plus a Norwegian beer. You find that Norwegian beer tastes just like Aussie or English beer – you are not a beer connoisseur.

Go back, wake up early, check out and begin your next journey onto Bergen, Norway: a small town about 7.5 hours away by train.

You’re sitting on the train at the beginning of your trip, thinking about how beautiful it is here. You decide that you’re going to have to marry a fit Norwegian bloke who owns his own company of sorts so you can live here like royalty. Enjoy the daydream.

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