Oh, Oslo

We were heading to one of the costliest cities in the world. It’s the capital city of one of the Scandinavian countries. Guess which city?

Yes, it’s Oslo in Norway. Norway is also amongst the top countries with a high human development index, which is calculated based on the life expectancy, education and income. We’d set foot in this expansive and expensive country on a ten-day sojourn. For me, it was a second visit in less than three years. Yes, I loved to go back for it’s a traveller’s paradise thanks to its blaze of exquisite natural beauty.

Ski Jump

Ski Jump

We were excited as the plane made its descent into Oslo that morning. After exiting from the airport, we headed straight to the tourist information centre where we picked up a local map that came along with an official guide to Oslo. There was a separate booklet for bus routes. Surprisingly, these were for free. We then travelled to the room we’d rented out. We dropped our luggage, freshened up and set out. On our Lonely Planet guide, we’d marked a few places we wanted to visit. We used a metro to reach the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, which was opened as recently as 2010 and it could be seen from many vantage points in Oslo.  We walked uphill and we were offered a panoramic view of the city. We then saw the gigantic ski jump structure that was made up of thick steel. Skiing competitions are held on this steep slope. From a distance, the shape of the ski jump area somewhat resembled a dinosaur to me.

Ski simulator

Ski simulator

Well, skiing as a sporting culture is believed to have started in Norway and Sweden thanks to the climatic conditions where winters are snowy and severe. Norwegians are known to be born with skis on their feet! Every household would have a wide collection of skis and boots for various types of skiing. To experience at least some virtual skiing, I hopped on to a ski simulator by paying 60 NOK. (The Norwegian currency is Krone.) I felt like a skier as I descended into a snowy, steep surface at 130 km/hr in a virtual skiing avatar. I quite enjoyed it. 🙂

We then went to the city centre taking a metro. Hungry that we were, we went looking for a restaurant for some good veg grub. It so happened that we chanced upon an Indian restaurant that was recommended by Trip Advisor. We  decided to have a full-course North Indian meals, vegetarian of course. It felt quite homely there. Surprisingly, we saw cycle rickshaws (three-wheeled cycles that enable ferrying passengers) near the city centre! We also got a view of the ancient Oslo Cathedral from a distance.

A section of the Nobel Peace Center

A section of the Nobel Peace Center

The next day we visited the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. Every year, Norway recognizes people who have promoted world peace in various ways and honours them with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.  The “Nobel Field” section was visually appealling with a display of long strands of blue fibre optics and on top of which digital portraits and biography of the prize winners starting 1901 were planted.

The sheroes

The “sheroes”

A section on women activists called “sheroes” was quite nice with sketches about their achievements. The “sheroes” were none other than the Nobel Peace Prize winners for 2011, and here goes their names: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakel Karman.

Digital display of handprints

Digital display of handprints

We “gave peace a hand” as we left our handprints on a digital screen. Within the Peace Center, an exhibition with Afghan women in focus was also quite absorbing. Yours truly ended up buying a magnetic bookmark (with Mother Teresa’s photo on it) as a souvenir.

Parliament building, Oslo

Parliament building, Oslo

Oslo City Hall

Oslo City Hall

As we stepped out and started walking, we got to see some popular buildings like the City Hall, Parliament, National Theater, etc. We had planned to meet our friends R & S in Oslo. They lived in Jøvik, 120 km away from Oslo. We had some refreshments at a cafe and then the two couples (R & S, P & me) headed to the huge Vigeland Sculpture Park where we spent time walking around and chatting up.

The sculptures all along the park (left, right and in the centre of the park) were modelled single-handedly by artist Gustav Vigeland. There was one 14-metre high sculpture in the centre that was particularly eye-catching. It was called the Monolith and built using one single stone and it was supposed to consist of 121 human figures. During my earlier visit, my host-friend T had taken me to the Viking Ship Museum where huge ships from the viking times were on display.

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Vigeland Sculpture Park

We bid goodbye to our friends, picked up our luggage from our lodging, had wholesome veg dinner at another Indian restaurant and left for Trondheim (500 km north of Oslo) by a night train. Wow, the train was super cool, fast and clean! You know what place I shall cover in my next blog. 🙂

E-treat and retreat

It was a bright sunny morning. I received an e-mail from my sister inviting me to her housewarming ceremony in California, US, that day itself. Well, I live in Belgium and how could have travelled that far in a few hours?! Welcome to the world of technology! She’d arranged for an e-housewarming. She’d e-invited her close family members to this auspicious event. She’d opted for services of an e-vendor who streamed the event for the select invitees. The buying and setting up of the dream home happened at a hectic pace thanks to the fact that she and her hubby are a working couple. Their way of saying “we care for our families and their wishes” was through live streaming of the event.

It was 2 pm local time. Plop! At the click of a mouse, I expected to witness the entire event, but that was not to be. The Internet cooperated for a couple of minutes only and then the connection disappeared into thin air. Jinxed that I was, I did all that I could to restore the connection, but in vain. Finally I set out on a mission to somehow get a glimpse of the e-event. It was a telephone company right opposite our home that I first went to. They didn’t have any browsing plans to meet my urgent requirement. I then went to a university where I had engaged a few lectures in the recent past. I met a kind-hearted soul who connected me to the Internet using his login credentials. I thanked him, breathed a sigh of relief and began witnessing the live proceedings. It was a neat ceremony over there with a priest performing the rituals. Sister and her hubby (draped in traditional Indian attires) were seen in their pious moods.

All the while I was excited to partake of a family event, physical distance notwithstanding. It also left me on a path of retreat as I began to think how dependent we are on technology -based communication with our dear ones, especially when we live in different parts of the globe. Its very presence has shrunk the world into a global village. Technology enables or disables connections, forms or breaks relationships. Boy, such is its overwhelming power! Still photographs could have summed up the event, but the live streaming (albeit with a few glitches) was like a perfect visual treat. Well, in this era, it’s all about how one taps into the potential of technology and makes best use of it.

 

Ah, Amsterdam

After enjoying Keukenhof gardens and spending that night in a luxurious suite, our next destination was the capital city of The Netherlands, Amsterdam. We decided to explore the city largely on foot. We used the help of public transport to reach certain key points. At the tourist office, we picked up a map from an automated machine by paying two-and-half euros. The map – wrapped in a neat box – was delivered by the machine in no time.

Museum Square

Museum Square

Well, we went to the Museumplein (Museum Square) with the hope of making it to the famed museums such as Rijksmuseum (State Museum) and Van Gogh Museum. Unfortunately, there was a serpentine queue to buy tickets to these museums. We couldn’t imagine waiting there for hours, as we had already had a long day previously. Also, we felt we could do it the next time. Somehow we end up feeling we’d go back to the places we visit – perhaps due to an enigma attached to them. We continued with our quest to get a flavour of the city. The roads in the city looked narrow and crowded, but an aura of a typical European city did prevail. Our eyes met some lovely canals and bridges;  the buildings built around them were aesthetically appealing.

How's it?

How’s it?

It was 1 pm and time for lunch. We headed to a vegetarian joint called Maoz Vegetarian where we quickly had falafel (deep-fried ball made from channa) with some salads, and they were wrapped in a pita (wheat bread). This was typical vegetarian middle-eastern food and we enjoyed it. We also had some frites (potato fries) and cappuccino later.

We passed by Concertgebouw (concert building), one of the finest concert halls known for its great acoustics. There was an attractive theatre we came across, Pathé Tuschinski, where premier Dutch films are screened. We appreciated the cycling culture of the city. Incidentally, cycling is very popular in The Netherlands thanks to the flat land structure. We saw so my cyclists merrily riding away to glory, beating the moody weather conditions.

Pathé Tuschinski

Pathé Tuschinski

Attractive indeed!

Tulips in various forms

We walked through one of the ancient cobble-stoned markets called Albert Cuyp, which was built in 1904. It did have all those sundry things to buy – from clothes to shoes to cutlery to knick-knacks and what not. (I ended up buying a bag hastily, and it’s still adorning a shelf in my cupboard!) The tulip shops were a major attraction there. The tulips and their bulbs were sold in pots and bouquets. The seeds were on sale too. What a colourful sight that was! The tulips were also being exported to many countries in Europe.

Magna Plaza

Magna Plaza

We next went to the Dam Square where we saw a Gothic style Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and a neoclassical Royal Palace. There was a funfair too on the Dam Square. We then stepped into a magnificent 19th century building behind the palace, which housed a mall called Magna Plaza. This mall catered to designer tastes. We then headed to the American Book Centre where we bought a couple of books. It was 5 pm and quite cloudy.

Central Station - Amsterdam

Central Station – Amsterdam

We walked to the railway station.The building looked monumental and artistic. We took a train to Nijmegen (in the east of country) to meet our friends U and J and their little baby boy N. We spent that night with them and headed back to our present hometown in Belgium the next morning. All in all, our trip to The Netherlands was filled with fun and frolic. 🙂