My husband Bill and I took our very first cruise in June 2009. At the time, we were living in Germany and on a mission to see as much of Europe as possible before we had to come back to the United States. Bill had wanted to explore the Greek isles, but I couldn’t find a cruise that was both affordable for us and had an itinerary that we liked. Then I spotted a four night Baltic cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas. The itinerary began in Oslo, Norway and stopped in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tallin, Estonia, and ended in Stockholm, Sweden. Neither Bill nor I had been to any of the places on the itinerary and the price was definitely right. We also liked the fact that it would be a short cruise, in case we didn’t like cruising. I signed us up and we decided that since our cruise would be brief, we should stay in Oslo for a couple of nights.
First impressions… Oslo’s efficient airport and train service
Bill and I flew Air Berlin from Munich, Germany to Oslo, with a brief layover in Berlin. We arrived in Oslo’s beautiful Gardermoen Airport in the mid afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised by how clean and efficient the airport was as we picked up our bags and headed for the Flytoget, an express train that would take us to downtown Oslo, where we would check into the Scandic Edderkoppen, a member of the Scandic hotel chain. We purchased tickets at a machine in the airport and quickly found our way to the train.
I’ve been on many European train systems, but I was very impressed by the Flytoget. The train was spotlessly clean with comfortable seats and a flatscreen monitor that provided information in several languages about what was going on in Oslo over the next few days. We got off at the National Theater stop, which was just a few minutes walk from our hotel.
After leaving the train station, we were slightly disoriented. Bill tried his embarrassing German on a shopkeeper to ask for directions, but then I reminded him that the vast majority of Norwegians would know English before they’d know German! After a couple of days in Norway, we found out just how well most Norwegians speak English. Even the television programming was in English with Norwegian subtitles.
It wasn’t long before we were headed in the right direction of our hotel, thanks to a friendly local or two.
The Scandic Edderkoppen
Hotels in Oslo are very expensive. Consequently, it was difficult to find a hotel that was safe, comfortable, and convenient, as well as affordable. We finally settled on the Scandic Edderkoppen because it’s located in downtown Oslo and was relatively reasonably priced. We booked the room through Expedia.com at a rate of about $235 per night. For that, we got a classic room with a queen sized bed, a shower/tub combination bathroom, a writing desk, and a small television. Our room at the Edderkoppen actually reminded me a lot of a college dorm room, but it was very clean and functional and Internet and an impressive buffet breakfast was included in the price. Most importantly, the room had very good blackout curtains, which were very necessary, since in the summer it stays light in Oslo until about 11:00pm.
One really cool thing about the Edderkoppen is that it has it’s very own theater located inside of it. Bill and I did not catch a show during our brief stay, nor did we use the sauna. The Edderkoppen also has bikes available for hotel guests to use as well as a couple of computers. There’s a full scale restaurant, a small store, and a bar available as well.
One major forgotten item
I had been so used to how warm and sunny southern Germany is in June that it didn’t occur to me that Oslo would be quite chilly. It got so brisk during our two days that Bill and I walked from our hotel to Aker Brygge, a shopping area near Oslo’s harbor. We stopped by a mall and bought sweaters. I would definitely recommend that anyone coming to Oslo in the summer pack at least a light jacket or a sweatshirt. Obviously even warmer clothing will be required for all other times of year.
Oslo’s freewheeling style
One thing I noticed about Oslo besides the many tall, beautiful, Nordic people was the very liberal atmosphere. The very clean streets were full of young people out and about and naughty sculptures. We saw one work of art that depicted a woman wearing nothing more than a sunhat!
Although the weather was chilly and the skies were somewhat overcast, I found Oslo very beautiful and intriguing. We walked all through the streets, taking in the sights and sounds of street musicians. On our first evening, we even ran into a group of young people in a dance contest. It was about 9:00pm and still very bright out, and a couple of dozen couples were dancing divinely right by the harbor. It was a delightful display and completely free of charge.
A day cruise
On our one full day in Oslo, Bill and I decided to take a day cruise around the fjords surrounding Oslo. We went to the harbor area near Oslo’s city hall and purchased a ticket for a 90 minute mini cruise. Though most of the others on the boat were Norwegian, the excellent tour guide spoke in Norwegian and English. She passed around blankets for those who needed them. I couldn’t help but notice that most people were happy to accept a blanket, since it was very chilly. The cruise took us all around the Oslo fjord, as well as past Akershus, an ancient fortress that was built to protect Oslo from sea attacks.
I really enjoyed the mini cruise, especially since the tour guide pointed out places of interest and was very happy to talk about what it’s like to live in Norway. She gave us information about some of the unusual and very expensive homes built right on the fjord and even pointed out the homes of local celebrities. It so happened that Alexander Rybak of Norway had just won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009. Our tour guide pointed out where he lived as she served us hot tea or coffee.
I think everyone who visits Oslo should take a mini cruise. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city. Tickets for this cruise ran approximately the Norwegian krone equivalent of $20 per person, though I did notice that several different mini cruises were available. The ninety minute cruise was just perfect for us. It ate up a good portion of the afternoon, without taking too much of our precious time. Viator.com is a great resource for information about Oslo mini cruises and other activities around Europe.
Good food and drink
Besides expensive lodging, Oslo’s restaurants are also somewhat pricey. However, we did find a pretty good deal at the Hard Rock Cafe Oslo, of all places. Located just down the street from the Scandic Edderkoppen, the Hard Rock Cafe offered American style food, but at prices that didn’t break the bank too much. We ate lunch there, then splurged at a very nice restaurant called Kafe Celsius for dinner. It turned out Kafe Celsius was pretty busy the night of our visit, so we dined outside, braving the chilly wind which sprayed water from a nearby fountain at us. Despite the weather, the food at Kafe Celsius was outstanding. The splurge came from ordering a bottle of wine. Alcohol, like hotel lodging and restaurant meals, is expensive in Norway.
Meeting locals at an Irish pub
One discovery I was proud to make in Oslo was The Ferryman Irish Pub. Located just beyond the Aker Brygge area in Oslo, this pub had some very cool murals on the walls and a friendly barkeep who also happened to be the owner. We sat down at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. The bartender struck up a conversation with us and was very knowledgeable about American politics.
While we were chatting, a rather tipsy but friendly young Norwegian man wearing a fisherman’s sweater walked in and started talking to us. It turned out he worked on the Vision of the Seas but had just started his vacation. Whether he was telling the truth about his employment or not, he was a lot of fun to chat with. And the animated conversation we enjoyed at The Ferryman was a precursor to the Norwegians we met on our cruise. As it turned out, since our cruise was so short, there were about 1400 Norwegians aboard as opposed to about 75 Americans. It wasn’t hard to make new Norwegian friends!
Though we didn’t spend a lot of time in museums, Bill and I did get a great opportunity to people watch during our short stay in Oslo. While it can be an expensive city to visit, there’s something for everyone! Best of all, people watching is free!
If you’ve ever wanted to visit Scandinavia, I highly recommend taking a cruise. In fact, I would love the opportunity to cruise Scandinavia again, only next time, I will choose one with a longer itinerary. That four night cruise was enough to really whet my appetite for northern Europe.
Air Berlin- www.airberlin.com
Hard Rock Cafe Oslo- www.hardrockcafe.no
Kafe Celsius- www.kafecelsius.no
Oslo Airport- www.osl.no
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line- www.royalcaribbean.com
Oslo mini cruises- www.viator.com