Call me a massive fool, but I prefer going up north in the coldest months of winter. Short days, starry nights, logs crackling in the fireplace and a blanket of fresh snow under my feet: what’s not to like? I’ve visited all five Scandinavian countries, and by doing so I became a true expert in offensively stereotyping the local populace. The Danes are just prettier Germans, Finns and Icelanders are horny binge drinkers who look like a cross between an Elf and a Hobbit and Swedes are very pretty but slightly boring. Norwegians were the only ones I wasn’t very familiar with, and Oslo was an unknown destination to me as well. I had no idea what to expect of the city, and whether or not there was actually much to do or see.
“Call me a massive fool, but I prefer going up north in the coldest months of winter.”
When last December I got invited to pay the Norwegian capital a professional visit – I write for actual magazines you know, I have a real job – it felt like the perfect opportunity to remove another blank spot from my travel map. I’d be there on the weekend of the Nobel Peace Prize festivities, which meant lots of people, lots of events and lots of happy faces around. Oslo turned out to be a lively city, with leafy parks, warm people and beautiful panoramas. The Christmas markets were already open, and to top it all off the first snow of the season had just fallen as well. But what can you do in Oslo on a cold winter day? A lot, apparently. These five things for example.
1. Watch someone break a leg on top of the opera house
The new Oslo opera house was officially opened in 2008 and is still the city’s most stunning contemporary building. It’s a huge complex of white marble and glass, and it seems to rise from the water like an iceberg. The clever design allows everyone to walk straight up the roof from the waterside. In summer this is great, but take care in winter. Especially when – after a sunny day – the melting snow on the roof starts freezing again. The Norwegians are not bothered at all by something as trivial as a patch of ice. That’s because they’re a crafty bunch, who pull elastic bands with steel studs over their shoes. Dumb tourists from countries brought to the brink of complete economic collapse after half an inch of snowfall however, don’t know about gadgets like these and are unwittingly risking their lives on top of the opera. This insight sadly only came to me after a painful tumble left me sliding back down on my belly, shamed and defeated. I wasn’t the only struggling to stay upright by the way. The bottom of the Oslofjord must be full of city trippers who – cameras still around their necks and with a look of complete surprise on their frozen faces – once slipped from the roof and now rest in the murky darkness of the deep. Consider yourself warned. Get a pair of fancy steel studded rubber bands (brodder in Norwegian), pick a nice viewing spot and enjoy the unfolding spectacle/carnage. www.operaen.no
2. Have a drink in the worst bar on the planet (when it reopens)
Most pub owners try – a bunch of Antwerp innkeepers apparently didn’t get the memo yet – to make sure the time people spend in their establishment is reasonably pleasant. This is mostly done because the commonly accepted purpose of going to a bar is essentially to have a bit of fun while you ease your troubled mind. One particular pub in Oslo however, doesn’t care about flowery nonsense like this. Misfornøyelsesbar – in English: The Bemusement Bar of Discontent – was specifically designed to make its clients as miserable as possible. In the 19th century, the building was used as a forced labour camp for mental patients who showed antisocial or promiscuous – hey that’s me – behaviour. The current owner saw this history as a fun source of inspiration, and went to work with a couple of local artists. The result is a bar where every room was redecorated in the light of a mental illness: from paranoia to schizophrenia. Everywhere dozens of eyes are staring at you, everything from the floor to the ceiling is painted full of psychedelic imagery, the toilets are dark enough to be practically unusable, the chairs are small and uncomfortable and your glass will be poured just half full by a grumpy barkeep. Someone ending up here unexpectedly is going to have a bad time, but I found it rather fascinating. The only thing actually unpleasant was having to get a bank loan in order to pay for my drinks. Nordic beer is expensive y’all.
“Misfornøyelsesbar was specifically designed to make its clients as miserable as possible.”
PS: While writing this piece, I found out Misfornøyelsesbar ironically had to close down. They’re working on a version 2.0, but an official opening date is still far away. Even so, is there a better reward for the self-proclaimed worst bar in the world than a bankruptcy? www.misfornøyelsesbar.no
3. Marvel at a baby-kicking statue
Vigelandpark is the most beautiful park in Oslo, and is one of the highlights of every visit to the city. More than 200 statues are on display here, and they are all made by the same artist: Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. In between the two World Wars, the man spent more than 20 years finishing this masterpiece. The end result is magnificent. Vigeland stunningly visualises human emotions, relationships and the fleeting nature of life. Some of his sculptures are very emotional, others are provocative, and a couple are simply hilarious. The statue of the stark naked man furiously fighting off four newborn babies – kicking one of them like it was a football – is without a doubt in my mind the greatest piece of art ever made. Go to hell Michelangelo, with your stupid David and his tiny penis. Fuck right off Bernini, with your pompous try-hard pieces of shit. All of your combined work is childish mediocrity compared to this epic, majestic, naked, baby-kicking god. It’s heavenly. It’s out of this world. It’s goddamn perfect. If I had the money, I’d commission a gigantic copy and replace the Eifel tower with it. SUPERB. SCULPTURE.
4. Eat a moose burger on the Christmas market
To me a Christmas market is just a slightly colder county fair. It’s the perfect occasion for the saddest lowlifes of the village to come crawling out from under their rocks and get wasted on mulled wine and gin, only to then, with their droopy eyes tearing up from the booze and their repressed frustrations, start another stupid marital fight over nothing. I’m not a big fan. I gladly make an exception for Christmas markets in another country though. It’s always fun to compare the local differences with what I know from home. After visiting The Scream by Edvard Munch on my first day in Oslo – the only painting that looks like it’s personally insulting you when you stand in front of it – I was thoroughly in need of some good old Christmas vibes. Happily whistling Jingle Bells, I started for the big market around the Spikersuppa ice skating rink close to the Royal Palace. ‘Seven bucks for a cup of mulled wine? Not bad for Oslo’, I thought, as I broke into a fine White Christmas to top off the previous song. It was only then I realised they’d dared to give me a non-alcoholic drink. There would be no more whistling that day. A good bit tastier than warm, expensive grape juice, were the local specialties I could try all over the place. I didn’t find any whale – and I wouldn’t have eaten it anyway – but I discovered a stall selling moose burgers instead. ‘Have to try one’, I thought, and it was fine. For everyone not into having a piece of Rudolph’s big brother for Christmas: a moose burger tastes exactly like any other burger in existence. So unless you have a personal feud with the world’s largest species of deer, there’s no need to try for yourself anymore now. You’re welcome!
5. Watch a movie in the sauna
Oslo is a wonderful city for walking. The waterside between the castle and the opera is a particularly nice stretch to explore. On it, you’ll find Vippa: an old warehouse full of graffiti, where a whole bunch of food trucks sell street food from all over the world. A little further, across from the opera, there’s a raft floating made out of recycled materials. There’s a makeshift sauna on it you can book with eleven of your friends, and when you’re done sweating you can jump straight into the Oslofjord to cool down. Regular old sauna too boring for you? Get yourself to SALT then. This is a temporary art project where concerts and parties are held. Their most spectacular installation however, is a sauna that can accommodate up to 80 people, who can then watch a movie on a cinema screen. Watching The Day After Tomorrow or Alive! while the sweat is pouring off your brow sounds like a total treat. Don’t forget your bathing suit though. SALT allows kids in the sauna, so behave and keep your dirty bits covered. We’re not in Finland here.
There. Five tips for a wintery weekend in Oslo. Want to add a couple of things? Any questions or thoughts on my ramblings? Finnish or Icelandic and furious because I just called you an Ed Sheeran looking alcoholic? Well suck it up, crybaby! I’m not changing a single word! Are you on the other hand Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, the Icelandic giant who plays The Mountain in Game of Thrones? Then accept my humble apologies right now kind sir, I’ll change it straight away. Please don’t crush my head like a melon. In any case: the comment section is below. Use it.