Friday, November 9, 2012

Wandering Around Oslo

I didn't stay at the Grand Hotel, but if I were independently wealthy, I think it would be fun to book a room on the Ladies' Floor (they give you fresh fruit and a yoga mat! and face cream!) for my next trip to Oslo. I was quite happy with my room at one of the many Thon Hotel locations around the city, however, which had a lovely firm-but-squishy bed and a hot shower and free wi-fi and a lavish free buffet breakfast, with cold meats and smoked salmon, salty caviar in tubes and a dozen different fruit preserves in jars, scrambled eggs and bacon'n'eggs and baked beans and fresh fruit and quite decent coffee. I didn't need to eat lunch, ever.

I bought two day passes for the transit system, which allowed me to take any tram line or any bus line, though the first day I did more walking than anything. I got off at the Slottsparken stop on my way into town just because it looked interesting - a large open wooded park, with a tall wide golden stone building on the top of a hill in the middle. This, it turned out, is the Royal Palace, protected by two alert guards and a noble bronze horseman in the front (none of whose names I got), plus Queen Maud (1869-1938) and Crown Princess Martha (1901-1954) to either side.

Then I just started walking.

I made my way down to the waterfront, and walked over to the new Oslo Opera House, whose roof was covered with camera-carrying tourists. I didn't go up any of the slanted roofways but sat instead on a low parapet at the water's edge, enjoying the play of sunlight on the iceberg-shaped floating sculpture titled She Lies, at least until it got chilly enough that I wanted to start walking again. I went over to another arm of the harbor then, one guarded both by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Akershus Fortress.

The clouds had been clearing off, but the breeze picked up, and I was glad for my wool coat and scarf, and Big Papa's genuine Italian leather gloves. The residents of the city were generally already prepared for winter weather - it snowed in Oslo a few days before I arrived - and sported down jackets with fur-trimmed hoods plus hats, for the most part, from adults down to the toddlers in their strollers. You could tell who the tourists were, because none of us had hats.

I climbed up to the hilltop Akershus complex, the fortress and barracks and old castle, to get a view from the top. I stopped to take a picture and heard a woman behind me say, with a distinct American accent, "This would make a perfect picture, if only that woman would get out of the way!" Her Norwegian friend/companion/tour guide(?) murmured something soothing and they walked past me down towards the foot of the fortress walls. I hope she got a good photo on the way back up. I found a group of French tourists, and asked the very handsome and very nice older man who was taking photos of the view to take one of me as well, with Oslo and the open water in the background.

There is always a guard here, too, just as at the Royal Palace, but this guard seemed to be much younger. I was imagining that this cold and lonely vigil over a massive 700-year-old structure that's no longer used for national defense (though newer buildings below are used as the headquarters of the Norwegian Armed Forces) is a sort of training ground, or perhaps a freshman initiation, until the guard can graduate to a more lofty, if less elevated, position.

By this point it was late afternoon, and I decided to go back to the hotel, but I got off the tram several blocks before my stop, because I wanted a closer look at one particular neighborhood street the tram line goes through, with attractive buildings and the intriguing name of Inkognitogaten.

I'd first thought that the name was given because there are several embassy buildings along this street, which runs along the rear edge of the park containing the Royal Palace, and of course diplomats and spies require secrecy, right? But doing a little Norwegian Googling I found that when the original Incognito House was built back in the late 17th century it got that name because it was - at the time - hidden away in the trees from the rest of the city, which was spread out around the harbor on the other side of the hill. Many of the large townhouses along the street were built 200 years later or thereabouts. The buildings got more and more modern as I followed the tram line back to the hotel on Bogstadveien, more than ready to warm up with a hot shower and a snack of gluten-free bacon and potato cakes from the deli next door - just a bite or two, since even after all the walking I did that day, I was still working off the morning's massive breakfast.

The original Incognito House, at Number 49, above.

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