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Oslo On A Shoestring

Xanthi Barker explores one of Europe's most expensive cities

Written by . Published on September 9th 2011.

Oslo On A Shoestring

SUPPOSEDLY the most expensive city in the world, Oslo is probably not the best place to go when shoe-strings and bizarre conversations are all you have to live on. But attempting to embody the spirit of Knut Hamsun himself, I decided not to be deterred. If I descended into a Hunger-esque delirium, complete with kaleidoscope-logic and frenzied hallucinations, then so be it. All the better, perhaps. And for once there could be no better beginning to a journey than the toilet-fumed crush of an early morning Ryanair flight.

Sleepless, but unable to check-in to the only low-budget accommodation in Oslo – Anker Hostel, a sort of sleep factory-farm – until 3pm, I wandered north-east towards the jumbling bohemia of Grünerløkka. Here international supermarkets and dark cafés line the streets between the Akerselva river and the botanical gardens. Drawn to its red glow, I ended up in a place called Fru Hagen where gnarled, naturalistic light fixtures glow dimly and coffee is served from an endless decanter into fat, knobbly mugs. Not a bad place to semi-nap for a few hours.

Flower In FenceFlower in the fence

Walking later through the centre of town, I started to notice a number of flowers tucked into fences, lamp-posts and monuments. These culminated at the foot of Oslo Cathedral where thousands of bunches of flowers and notes lay wilting in the rain – a horrifyingly poignant reminder of what happened here only a few weeks ago. Walking past, people stop to read the notes and nod their respect. The air is filled with the sweet perfume of decaying roses. Surrounding the church, however, buskers, businessmen and fruit and flower marketeers keep on moving, selling and singing.

Just south of the church is Karl Johan’s Gate, a bit like a Norwegian Covent Garden – a street jammed with shopping teenagers and camera-happy tourists. It runs from the Royal Palace in the west to the central station in the east, with the cafés and shops descending in glamour and expense from the eveningwear riches surrounding the National Theatre to the everything-on-sale shopping centre attached to the station. Further south is the harbour, where boats and clouds gather at the mouth of the great Earth-crack that is Oslofjord. From here, you can climb up with the seagulls into the medieval Akershus Fortress to watch the fjord and the ducks and the sentries as the sun disappears behind the mountain.

Oslo HarbourOslo Harbour

Too exhausted to stay out past ten, I was forced to spend the evening in the precarious environment of a hostel dormitory. After four flights of damp, echoey stairs I was greeted by a grinning German hiker, setting up his camping-stove on the bunk below mine. Around the corner, two Vietnamese boys stared silently over their laptops, and a middle-aged German man, wearing only red y-fronts, nodded curtly at me before continuing a raspy-monologue directed at the friendly pyromaniac. Later, a cowering Norwegian completed our bizarre community, explaining that his wife had just kicked him out. I ducked as far into my sleeping bag as possible, crossed myself and went to sleep.

Awaking magically unscathed, I headed across town to the apartment of my couch surfing host. If you haven’t heard of it, couchsurfing.org is a website that connects people around the world who need or can offer places to stay. It’s a sort of cross between Internet dating and the Come Dine With Me rip-off, Four In A Bed. People open their houses to each other in exchange for stories, friendship or nothing at all. Trust and kindness are the basic principles. My host lived just behind the Royal Palace, in the leafy, western side of Oslo, below the main shopping district of Majorstuen. Her apartment was a bliss of cleanliness, high-ceilings and hospitality. She was a wonderfully maternal mix of enthusiasm and propriety. Why does anyone ever stay in a hostel?

That night we went out for dinner with some of my host’s friends to the terrifyingly-named ‘Curry + Ketchup’ – one of the cheapest sit-down restaurants in Oslo. Inside, bags of rice and cooking paraphernalia fill every wall and ceiling, creating a genuine atmosphere that defied the name. And the food was good! Huge garlic naans and bowls of rice accompanied curries that were neither painfully hot nor drowning in oil. For around 100 kroner (about £12) per dish, it was only ‘budget’ in Oslo terms, but it was a lot more satisfying than the rolls of rye-bread I had been eating.

When beer costs more than the meal, all cravings for alcohol-induced entertainment evaporate. Instead, we walked down to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Here, hundreds of brass and bronze humans line the pathways leading up to a fourteen metre high monolith of tangled stone people. It is a universe away from the sculpted impossibility of ancient Greece or Rome. The pot-bellies, love and violence of authentic human bodies is entrancing, invoking every minor human emotion from stamping childhood through battling adolescence to heart-breaking old-age. The statues were designed and orchestrated by Gustav Vigeland in the first half of the twentieth century.

Baker Hansen BreakfastBaker Hansen breakfast

On my last day in Oslo I discovered the wonder of the (oldest) Norwegian chain, Baker Hansen. The sandwiches are boulangerie standard, but the prices are not ridiculous. I got a ‘Gronscon’ for breakfast, which was like the pinnacle of all the best muesli I’d ever had baked into one, hamburger-sized scone. Another brilliant discovery was the secondhand shop Uff -– one behind the cathedral on Storgata and the other just beyond the train station. Clothes and shoes from every era (including an incredible collection of traditional fjord cardigans) were crammed into rooms the size of a small supermarket, with prices surprisingly less extortionate than London.

Uff Secondhand ShopUff secondhand shop

Next door to the Storgata Uff is Oslo’s DNT shop. This is the main office of the Norwegian Trekking association, where I spent the afternoon examining maps and planning the next part of my trip. In the morning I had a train ticket to Geilo, a city halfway between Oslo and Bergen. From there I figured out a 89km route around the Jokulen glacier, ending in Finse where another train would bring me back. Telling the shop assistant I intended to walk alone, I was met with bemused concern. Rule number seven of the Norwegian mountain code is “Don’t go solo”. “Have you done this before?” he asked. “Yep,” I lied. He raised his eyebrows and wished me luck and I tried my best to look a tiny bit tough. But ‘solo’ is an abstract term to a Londoner. It would take three days and a furious mountain before I understood what that rule meant. 


Flights – London Stansted to Oslo Rygge, £32 return with Ryanair

Anker Hostel - £23 pppn  www.ankerhostel.no

Fru Hagen - Thorvald Meyers gate 40, www.fruhagen.no

Couch-surfing www.couchsurfing.org

Curry + Ketchup - Kirkeveien 51

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Baker Hansen - Grensen 17 www.bakerhansen.no

Uff - Storgata 1 and Jernbanetorget 2 www.uffnorge.org

DNT office - Storgata 3 www.dntoslo.no










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