Friday, 1 August 2014

Art Attack in Oslo

During our three days in Oslo, it was apparent that the Norwegians have a great passion for stimulating art. In previous posts I highlighted the fabulous artwork in our hotel, The Thief, and the incredible Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park. But there is exciting art everywhere - in galleries and in public spaces.

The Thief is located in the Tjuvholmen area of the city, which is home to the new Astrup Fearnley Museum, a work of art in itself designed by Renzo Piano, renowned architect also responsible for a number of contemporary buildings such as The Shard, the Pompidou Centre (with Richard Rogers) and the Morgan Library in New York.

Free to Oslo Pass holders, the gallery contains some stunning works by Damien Hirst including the famous cow and calf in formaldehyde work, Mother and Child (Divided). There are pieces by Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Jeff Koons. While we were there they had a contemporary exhibition, Biography, by duo Elmgreen & Dragset: challenging installations such as a huge swimming pool with a body floating in the middle (his shoes remaining on the side). Their work continued into the cloakrooms: let's hope no-one tried to use the urinals in there...

Elsewhere in the city art pops up everywhere - unusual sculptures on the street or in the water.

Here are some of my favourite examples:

Motorbikes transformed into art.
Known locally as 'Rudolph the chrome nosed reindeer'

she lies. sculpture by monica bonvicini. oslo
'She Lies' by Monica Bonvicini, a 12m x17m steel and glass structure floating in Oslo harbour

Titi, Jeff Koons, Astrup Fearnley museum
'Titi' by Jeff Koons

he by elmgreen & dragset. oslo
'He' by duo Elmgreen & Dragset.
A partner for the Little Mermaid? He sits looking out of the window
onto the waters of the fjord.

moonrise east november oslo
'Moonrise.east.november' by Ugo Rondinone


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

72 hours in Oslo - Part Three

Having tested the metro and the tram on our second day in the city, we decided to take to the water on our third, using the Oslo Pass for the ferry to Bygd√ły, the museum island of Oslo. There are six museums on the island but we reckoned trying to see all of them would push our culture-o-meter up to the max, leading to brain overload and the distinct possibility of a family fight. Far better to choose two and try to do them properly.

First up, the Viking Ship Museum. Having been fascinated by the idea of a ship burial from our visit to Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, it was a real treat to see the world's best preserved examples which had been buried along the Oslo fjord over 1000 years ago. The museum is spacious and simply designed to showcase the three striking vessels. Artefacts from the graves can also be seen plus videos explaining some of the issues archaeologists are now facing with regard to the future preservation of the ships.

Viking ship museum, Oslo
Gokstad ship, Viking Ship Museum
Our second choice on Museum Island was a short walk away but the clouds were looking rather threatening so we hovered for a couple of minutes by the bus stop and were rewarded when a bus came along almost immediately, just as the heavens opened. It dropped us off at the door of the Kon-Tiki museum so we ran in to escape getting wet. The irony wasn't lost on us: trying to escape a bit of rain by bolting for shelter in a museum dedicated to men who crossed the Pacific Ocean in treacherous conditions on a balsa wood raft.

Now, some museums I can whizz round quickly and get the gist of them. Once in a while a museum is so expertly put together that you read every word on the information boards, you sit and soak up the atmosphere and you feel sad to leave. The Kon-Tiki Museum is such a place. Learning about Thor Heyerdahl and his fellow explorers, their bravery and tenacity, was really quite astonishing. And how lovely to have corresponding information for children written underneath, at their height. Again, the museum was a beautiful space: the two crafts, Ra II and Kon-Tiki itself, were bathed in warm light and were exhibited with all the equipment and supplies Heyerdahl and his team would have taken with them. Just perfect.

Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki raft.
The gods were again on our sides as we left the museum and sought a way back to the city centre. The hop on-hop off mini cruise, which happened to be free for 72 hour pass holders, was just about to leave. We hopped on and 15 minutes later hopped off at Tjuvholmen, the location of our hotel (The Thief). As black clouds gathered once again, and thunder rumbled, we spotted a bakery, Bergshaven, which, considering everything else we had eaten in Oslo had been very pricey, was surprisingly reasonable for the most deliciously fresh ham salad rolls and carrot cake. We snuck them back up to our room, made ourselves some coffee and sat with the balcony doors open to watch the storm pass.

This was proving to be an exceptionally good day for the Burgess crew. Normally we miss buses, get timings wrong, are victims of unseasonal weather and inappropriate footwear. This was a day where everything went right although there was still a fair chunk of the afternoon to go. Despite Rory's pleas for us to stay put, we were able to persuade him to walk with us to the Nobel Peace Center. Good decision as this was just the thing for a young lad hoping to study politics at university in September. With permanent exhibitions devoted to the influential winners of the Peace Prize, plus an interesting temporary exhibition on social media and democracy, there was much here to make you think.

A walk around the grounds of Akershus castle was our final attraction for the day and it was all going well until Dougie made the fatal mistake of suggesting 'just one more museum'. To be fair, Norway's Resistance Museum was an insightful, educational place but it deserved the attention of visitors who we weren't footsore or grumpy. This is the one disadvantage of having a city pass - the urge to see everything because the ticket price is included. We should have learned from our own success that morning on the museum island - less is more.

We forgave Dougie because he made an excellent choice for our dinner that night. A two minute walk away, the Rorbua restaurant specialised in North Norwegian fare and was decorated like a rorbu (fisherman's house). A gorgeous little place with huge helpings of traditional dishes and a much appreciated 20% discount for holders of the Oslo Pass. Rory grudgingly posed for a photo (unlike his disagreeable expression the previous day on the metro) although I made sure he was at the side so you, dear reader, could get an idea of the restaurant.

Rorbua restaurant, Oslo
Rory in Rorbua
Restored by food and beer, we sauntered along the boardwalk in time to see Norway's version of The One Show being filmed in a little studio on the waterfront. A fair number of Oslo residents were watching the interviews and it was all quite exciting, despite us having absolutely no idea who anyone was....

If you didn't catch my other Oslo posts, here they are:

Mum's gone to review The Thief Hotel, Oslo

72 hours in Oslo - Part One

72 hours in Oslo - Part Two


Thursday, 24 July 2014

72 hours in Oslo - Part Two

We made great use of the Oslo passes on our second day in the city by trying out the transport network. It's a very straightforward system but the Burgess family still managed to get it wrong by not realising there were two entrances to the T-bane (Metro) at the National Theatre: we were standing on the eastbound platform when we were planning to travel west. A quick exit followed by a short dash to the other entrance and we had cracked it. From then on, it was a breeze. The trains were efficient and regular, even on a Sunday and, as expected, spotlessly clean. Such was my excitement and eagerness to capture this on film, I whipped out my camera to take a photo of my boys sitting opposite. I sensed from their expressions that they were not happy. They are used to me snapping away on holiday but I broke a rule, apparently, by using it on public transport. Just look at their faces, and the chap behind who seems to agree that I had committed a serious faux-pas.

If looks could kill...

Our stop was Holmenkollen, location of the world's most modern ski jump. Going to see it in the summer is to be recommended as the views from the top are superb plus, if you're an adrenaline junkie, they have a zip-wire attraction at weekends so you can fly down. Unsurprisingly we passed on this but it was great fun to watch other people. Seeking a small thrill, we had a go in a ski-jump and slalom simulator and I embarrassed my boys yet again by squealing throughout the whole ride. We also visited the Ski Museum here and managed a quick, inexpensive lunch before descending.

First place for...erm...observing?
Can you spot the person on the zip-wire?

Having spent a morning up in the hills, we took the Metro back to the city and alighted at Majorstuen in order to visit Frogner Park: a beautiful expanse of public space that is a magnet for residents and tourists alike. In the middle is the Vigeland Installation, the most extraordinary collection of over 200 bronze and granite sculptures designed by Gustav Vigeland. The bronze figures located on the bridge were delightful, happy, carefree figures - family groups, parents with children, lovers, old and young - together forming the 'Human Condition' theme. Along the bridge is Oslo's famous Angry Boy whose left hand has been touched so much, it glows oddly against the green patina.

Vigeland's sculptures including the Angry Boy

Further into the centre of the installation is a totem-like monolith, surrounded by other granite works to demonstrate the Circle of Life. These figures, like the bronze ones on the bridge, are quite remarkable in their accuracy and, indeed, quantity - the lifetime's work of an artist whose ability to capture the human form was quite astonishing. Using our Oslo Pass we had a quick canter round the the Vigeland Museum to find out more about how Vigeland created his pieces.

Two examples of the granite works by Gustav Vigeland
Keen to try another form of transport in Oslo, we hopped on a tram just outside the park and that shortened the journey back to the hotel or at least it would have if we hadn't turned the wrong way after getting off. Just a small diversion...

Chill time back at The Thief before the usual 'where shall we go for dinner?' routine. Having had a blow out the previous evening, we plumped for just one course at Jacob Aall in the harbour. Sitting outside once again as it was still balmy, but enjoying the sheepskin throw snuggling into my back nonetheless, we had excellent burgers and chips and an enjoyable chat with the waiter who used to live in Somerset. They served Caipirinhas too and as that's now my favourite tipple following our Brazilian meat-fest in London, I pretended not to notice the price...and sucked the lime wedges dry.

The Oslo Pass gave us free transport on the metro and tram, free entry to the Vigeland Museum, plus the Holmenkollen attraction and discounted rates for the simulator. For details about the Oslo Pass, please see previous post : 72 hours in Oslo - Part One


Monday, 21 July 2014

72 hours in Oslo - Part One

We may have splashed out on a fancy hotel, The Thief,  for our short break in Oslo but we saved money elsewhere by choosing a reasonably priced Ryanair flight and only taking hand luggage. Yes, the airport we flew to, Olso Rygge, is a little way out from the city centre, but it was a breeze to hop off the plane straight onto the coach which was waiting for us. About an hour later we were in the city, ready to explore.

Keen to discover as much of the city as we could in three days, I contacted VisitOSLO before we left and they offered us a complimentary 72 hour Oslo Pass which would give us free access to many museums and free transport. This would normally have cost us 535 NOK each (about £50). We often deliberate about whether such city passes are worth buying and, in most cases, we have found they have had a very positive impact on our holiday, mainly because, once purchased, the city's doors are open to you. Plus, if you are in a museum and you're not crazy about it, you can leave rather than battling on just to get your money's worth out of it.

As we didn't use the pass for the first afternoon, preferring to get our bearings on foot and soak up the atmosphere, we would probably have purchased a 48 hour pass (£40) to cover us for the two full days we had in the city if we had been buying it ourselves. Either way, it proved to be of great benefit to us. The attractions we visited would have cost 570 NOK each, and that's without the ferry, tram and metro savings we made.

We could have had the pass in paper form but opted to try out the app instead which completely flummoxed my technophobe husband, as we had to wave the QR code on our phone under special machines in museums. We had only installed the app on one phone, mine, so all three codes were on one device. This was feasible but slightly complicated as it required much swiping back and forth for each code and necessitated 'handing the phone to a teenager' to work it. If all members of the party have a smartphone and know what to do with it, I would suggest you would be better installing the Oslo Pass app on each phone or, if you are idiots like us, maybe the paper version is preferable.

We walked our socks off that first afternoon in weather which was surprisingly warm and muggy. I had come prepared for it being a bit chilly but we were melting in our sturdy shoes and jeans. Oslo was basking in the overcast heat, everyone was sitting outside at restaurants and bars, packing the waterfront at Aker Brygge, watching the boats coming in and out of the harbour. We walked as far as the Opera House, which dazzled us from its position in the bay, like a contemporary, angular wedding cake, with tiny figures appearing to slide down its roof. It's a magnificent building and just as beautiful inside.

Opera House Oslo
Opera House, Oslo

There is a significant amount of new building going on in the city, particularly along the waterfront. My eye was drawn to a series of office blocks, each one trying to outdo the other in wackiness. Named 'The Barcode Project' there has been much public debate about the size and shape of the buildings. I think, once that whole area is complete, they will be a stunning addition to this forward-thinking capital city.

barcode project oslo
The Barcode Project

We ended our first day in Oslo at one of the main restaurants in the harbour: Onda. There were two parts to the restaurant - Onda Sea or Onda Grill. We opted for Onda Grill as it had a mixture of both meat and fish dishes. We had an enormous four-course sharing menu with fabulous seafood, shellfish and grilled meats. We had steeled ourselves for expensive food and drink prices in Oslo and, blimey, yes they made your eyes water, but we were sitting on the dock of the bay, with the sun gradually setting, eating delicious food so perhaps it was worth it....

Onda Sea or Onda Grill?

Disclosure: VisitOSLO gave us the 72 Oslo Pass to try out as an app for our phones. All opinions are my own.