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Days 1 & 2: Oslo

Our choice of where to go for a post-Christmas holiday was largely determined by the availability of cheap flights. We wanted to go somewhere which would be cold and snowy, ideally leaving on December 27th and being home on time for work on January 2nd. Everywhere in eastern Europe was ruled out, because the flights home were almost sold out with people returning to the UK after Christmas. We were struggling to think of a suitable destination, when Tim came up with the idea of Oslo. Oslo should definitely be cold and snowy, and there were some reasonable flights from Stansted on the days we needed. Our visit to Helsinki over the summer had made us aware that going to a Scandinavian country could prove rather expensive, so we decided to book an apartment rather than a hotel, in the hope of keeping costs down by self-catering.

The weather forecasts prior to our departure were not terribly auspicious. First of all, the temperatures in Oslo were reported as being unseasonably mild, with light rain expected rather than snow. Secondly, a storm was forecast for England over the night of the 26th and morning of the 27th which could potentially have scuppered our flight. Luckily Stansted seemed to escape the worst of the weather, however, and while our drive down was a bit windy and the flight itself a bit bumpy in places, there were no delays and we were treated to the infamous Ryanair jingle upon arrival, informing us that yet another flight had touched down on time.

Seeing as we were travelling with Ryanair, we didn't actually land in Oslo but in a town called Rygge, about 40 miles to the south of the city. Reaching Oslo was easy though, with a free shuttle bus to take us from the airport to the nearest train station and then a direct train into Oslo. We were lucky enough to get seats in the silent compartment and so enjoyed a peaceful journey through the Norwegian countryside with views out across the Oslo fjord. We arrived in a wet and windy Oslo shortly after 2pm and after the usual confusion after exiting a train station and finding that none of the roads bear any relation to the ones on your map, we eventually located our apartment block, which was only a kilometre or so from the main town centre. Having searched in vain for a doorbell, we realised that we had to ring a number posted on the door to alert someone to come and let us in. This seemed like an unfortunate system given the cost of international phone calls, but once we managed to get through a lady soon arrived and showed us to our apartment. We were pleased to see that it was a nice spacious room, with a good-sized kitchen and enough implements to enable us to cook. We were less pleased when we tried to pay in cash and were told that we could only do that if we had the exact change. The bill happened to come to a figure ending in 8 - and we only had krone notes in mulitples of 10 - so this was a bit problematic. Tim ended up having to go across the road to a grocery shop and buying a can of Pringles in order to get the correct change!

Successfully checked in, grocery shopping was our next task and one which proved to be somewhat painful. We picked up a few necessities, including some bread, ham, cheese and juice for breakfast, and some mince and pasta for tea, and were horrified to find that the cost came to the equivalent of £37. I hasten to add that the shopping did not contain any alcohol, as the supermarket was strangely devoid of wine. We had located the drinks aisle, only to find that it was stocked with beer and nothing else. At a price equivalent to £3 per can, Tim declined to buy any but we asked the cashier as we paid where we could find wine, and he informed us that we needed to go to a place called Vinmonopolet. Vinmonopolet (The Wine Monopoly), it turns out, is controlled by the Norwegian government and is the only shop in Norway allowed to stock drinks with an alcohol content of 4.75%! It was pouring with rain by this point so we didn't try to locate an outlet that evening, but resolved to track one down the next day. I was intrigued to know how much the Norwegian government would sell wine for.

After a quiet and sober evening in, we were up early on Saturday morning, eager to explore Oslo and make the most of the daylight hours. Having started getting dark at about 15.30 the previous day, the sun began to rise around 9am which gave us a better window than we had anticipated to see the sights. We set off promptly, and the first sight we came to was the rather impressive Oslo cathedral, the main church in the Church of Norway which is the location for public events of the Norwegian royal family.


Round the corner from there, we came across the building of the Norwegian parliament.


From there the road continued down towards the Royal Palace.


Plant pots along the route had been filled with beautiful purple heather rather than flowers - presumably to withstand the cold winter, although today was still rather mild.

The Royal Palace itself was rather impressive, and had a very low security presence compared to London.


Downhill from the palace was Oslo town hall. It doesn't look like a very attractive building, but it's one of the most famous buildings in Norway, because it is here that the Nobel peace prize is awarded each year.


More attractive than the town hall was the sea, which we found just across the road from it. The photo looks dark, although it was about 11am by this point; this seems to be as much daylight as Oslo gets in December!


The next sight on our agenda was Vigeland Sculpture Park, a park housing a large collection of sculptures by the Norwegian artist, Gustav Vigeland. This was described by the guidebook as one of the biggest attractions in Oslo, so we were quite excited to see it. After a lovely stroll through the suburbs of Oslo, we arrived at the entrance to the park.


There are 212 sculptures in the park in total, of which 58 are located along this bridge. Some of them were stranger than others!


The highlight of the park is the so-called 'Monolith' sculpture, a huge granite structure which apparently represents man's yearning for the spiritual and divine. We struggled to see it personally ;)


There were some amazing views of Oslo and the surrounding area from the top of the staircases though.



On the walk back into Oslo city centre, we came across the elusive Vinmonopolet. There was a very extensive display of wine, almost all of which was way outside our price range. After scouring the shelves for some time, the cheapest we could find was a bottle of Riesling for just over £10. Tim managed to charm the checkout operator into giving him a free carrier bag, and we carried it back to the apartment very very carefully indeed lest we break it. Vinmonopolet closes at 3pm on Saturdays(!) so there would be no opportunity to acquire any more.

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