Saturday, October 22, 2005

Quaint things about Oslo

Tea lights

  1. Candles outside shops. Some shops have them all year round but usually this is a winter thing. Shop keepers trying their best to set fire not only to their own premises but to everyone passing by. Occasionally there will be a really serious gas or paraffin fired blazing torch. You need to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid a singed bum! It is a delightful sight on a dark winter afternoon.
  2. Candles everywhere. To light the long winter nights and even the long summer days you find candles and tea lights everywhere particularly on your table in bars cafes and restaurants. I think it is a delightful touch particularly on the dim winter days.
  3. Shops do not put their Christmas decorations up until beginning of December. Unlike the UK where Christmas starts at the begriming of October!
  4. The all year round Cafe culture. In the winter Cafes and Bars supply blankets to cover your knees if you want to sit out side. You can't beet drinking a cold beer when it´s -10C with a warm blanket wrapped around your knees.
  5. You get the best Cafe Mocha in Oslo cafes.
  6. Norway is NO SMOKING. You have no idea how delightful it is to watch Liverpool spanking Chelsea (well you can dream) in an Oslo city centre bar which is smoke FREE. The smokers are very well trained and nip outside for a quick drag at regular intervals and top the nicotine at half time. The only problem is during the summer months when non smokers want to sit outside. This is a chance for the smokers to get their own back by blowing smoke in your face!
  7. Ethnic food shops, particularly Greengrocers. Oslo and its environs are well supplied with corner shops and ethnic establishments of all sorts. Some of the best are the Greengrocers one of the best of these are the Sultan shops, they sell a vast range of fresh fruit and veg and other exotic merchandise.
  8. You can check the salary of your neighbours or any other Norwegian citizen, including the King on line. Oh, that means the King can check your salary as wel of course. How democratic is that.
  9. Craft Bread. It is a standing joke that Norwegians only eat stale bread. It is true that an average Norwegian loaf can last the best part of a week and has a similar consistency at the end as at the start. But there must be more Kraft Bakeries around Oslo than there are Boulangeries in Paris. We have enjoyed some of the most delicious fresh bread ever. The biggest problem is most of the loaves look the same. One of our favourites breads is Gulrotbrod (Carrot bread) apart from being very tasty it has the advantage of not turning into a brick within 24 hrs.
  10. Limited choices in Norwegian supermarkets. Oslo has lots of small and medium size supermarkets but as far as I am aware there is nothing to match the size of even an average size Tesco store. There is a raging controversy that four companies control the main supermarket chains in Norway and they are accused of restricting choice by charging placement premiums for stocking products in prominent positions. The result is that some manufacturers are refusing to cooperate, Procter & Gamble for instance have refused to supply disposable nappies. There is also a policy of stocking home produced products for example Norway grows all their own strawberries, can you believe that. All down to poly tunnels and cheap electricity apparently. Nice strawberries though!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Norway Best Place to Live in the World!

For the fifth year in a row the UN has ranked Norway the best place to live in the world. The benefits of North Sea oil and a generous welfare state are two of the attractions. Although mention the benefits of North Sea oil to the average Norwegian and they will look at you with a blank expression. In Oslo the infrastructure is crumbling, if you think UK roads are bad you should see Oslo streets. Taxes are some of the highest in Europe and the cost of living is 30% higher than the European average. A pint cost around £5.00 and if you fancy a Guinness it will set you back £8.00. You can buy beer in a supermarket but you can only buy wine and spirits in the "Vinmonopolet"; the State Liquor Store. Cheapest wine is about £6.00 and the hard stuff about 3 times UK prices. Yet despite this deterrent to buying alcohol Norway has a high incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse. The evidence for which can be found littering the many open places throughout the city. As a regular visitor to Oslo for about 8 years I must say that apart from the horrendous cost of living. I enjoy my visits to the city and find it generally very attractive, with one major disappointment, GRAFFITI. I have never seen such wanton vandalism of any city as the graffiti artists and mindless Taggers visit upon Oslo. I know most cities suffer from the problem to a greater or lessor extent but Oslo must be the graffiti capital. I suspect the problem is not confined to the Oslo only from what I read it is a particular Scandinavian disease. I am familiar with the mantra of the dedicated graffiti artist many of whom are far from being children. Many of them are gifted if misguided artists. It is unfortunately the younger element who wish to imitate the activities of their heroes but do not share the artistic skills and have to limit their activity to mindless tagging. They take great pleasure in defacing anything they can reach. Nothing is sacred. Their activities are not confined to paint and markers but to scratching and cutting. It is an outrage the damage they have perpetrated on the windows of public transport, brand new trains and buses mindlessly defaced.

COMMENT from Dagbladet
Graffiti has been a constant problem for the Oslo underground, but things have taken a turn for the worse, with passengers threatened by youths bent on destroying property. Graffiti and trashing are becoming a major problem, with a noticeable impact on the general public. Graffiti is part of an extremely individualistic global youth culture whose roots are to be found in the prevailing social conditions and winds of ideology blowing across the world’s social landscapes. But they also present a challenge to those responsible for maintaining law and order. It is a commendable that the Nordic railways, subject to constant harassment, have now joined forces in an effort to combat the problem. Creative young people should have other outlets. Regardless of the nature of the problem, however, society cannot accept the destruction of our common environment by a few.

Graffiti is destroying what is otherwise one of the most attractive cities in Europe, lets hope the perpetrators turn their undoubted talents to something more rewarding or less anti-social.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lucy´s Birthday 20th October 2005

Please can I have a peice of cake. Lucy 1 yr old

In traditional Norwegian style Lucy´s first birthday was celebrated with chocolate "kaka" (translated as cake) for breakfast. Not quite as acceptable as egg and bacon! But Lucy was delighted as was Cora, which is all that matters.The only problem is 6.00 am is too early to celebrate a birthday, even Lucy´s although she is normally awake at that time. We have still not recovered from our early flight so shall forgo the early start and wait for the official birthday party on Sunday for our "kaka". Lucy has asked that I pass on her thank you´s to everyone who sent her a card and or present. She responded to the singing of "Happy Birthday to you" by squealing and clapping, I get the impression she knew what was going on. I have to say Lucy has been a little love, very easy to look after. She appears to understand everything we say, which is amazing considering we only speak to her in English. Bi-iligual at 1 year old a bit humbling to say the least.

The day started with a temperature of 2C with drizzly rain which turned into rain as evening approached. Temperature rose slowly to 7C. There is supposed to be a chance of snow Friday or Saturday. Looking forward to the sun on Sunday.

Visit to Oslo 18th October 2005

Fog over Gardemoen airport
Why have BA changed the Oslo flight from 10.00 hrs to 6.55 hrs? I just hate having to get up at 3.00 hrs. If I wanted to get up at that time I would have become a milkman or a the presenter of the Today programme, similar qualifications required! I was on the Thirlwell Viaduct before I freed my eyes of sleep bogies. We used the same Chauffeur parking service as last time, works a dream and it is the cheapest option I have found, £70 after discount for 14 days, not bad. We had booked in online, changed our seats and printed off the Boarding Passes so we just had to check the luggage in, one bag was 27 kg but no comments. I have to say I am a big fan of the BA web site, works a treat.

It turned out we were on the little Embrair 145 for this flight, hardly surprising as there where only 25 passengers. Flight time was just 1 hr 45 min, 30 min less than scheduled. Had a weird flight, the plane was rolling from side to side for most of the flight most sick making. The approach to Oslo was spectacular as always, enhanced by the bright low morning sun. What appeared to be low cloud filling the hollows turned out to be FOG! The captain updated us with weather conditions in Oslo, temperature -3C brrrrr, with FOG, he added that he was going to make an approach to Gardamoen but that we should be aware that he may have to abort the landing at the last moment. In which case we would probably head for Stockholm, 4 hrs from Oslo by express train. I am delighted to say he landed perfectly if not a little gingerly on the slippy runway.
Usual efficient operation once we had landed, luggage waiting. We took advantage of the unique Gardamon facility of a Duty Free store in the baggage hall. This rather confirms the schizophrenic attitude the Norwegians have towards alcohol. Needless to say the locals are like kids in a sweetshop, they clearly like their Brandy if the contents of most of the baskets are to be believed. Incidentally Gardamoen airport has the largest Duty Free shop in Europe if not the world!. It is also the longest laminated wood construction in the world, not bad for a city with just twice the population of the Fylde (529846). We walked straight on to the Flytog, the super fast rail link to Oslo central station in just 20 mins. Brilliant, on time clean and with loads of luggage space. Why can`t we have trains like this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Erika Nissens Gate

Erika Nissens gate was named in 1914 after the Norwegian pianist and teacher Erika Røring Møinichen Nissen (1845-1903). She was famous for her interpretation of Bach and Beethoven and gave many concerts in Scandinavia , Germany , Switzerland , Netherlands and France. Erika Nissens gate runs between Agathe Grøndals gate and Lammers gate. I bet that one does not come up in the pub quiz.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Where the Hell is Torshov

Torshov is a suburb of Oslo about 4 km NNE of Oslo centre. The name Torshov comes from Tors Haug (Thor's Hill), as this was a place where rituals connected with the god Thor (from Norse mythology) were carried out. Torshov is one of Oslo's jewels - this is an exquisite area for walking, with a very different feel from that of the rest of Oslo. To date we have not witnessed any strange goings on but there are a few odd folk in the area!

It is one of the few parts of this city built with an architectural plan, and has many open spaces and parks. Two things you should see while you are at Torshov are the Ox (Bull) Fountain (Oksefontenen) on Hegermanns plass, and Torshovparken with its fountains, sculptures and pavilion. On New Year's Eve this is one of the places where people gather to set off their fireworks. We were lucky enough to witness this New Year 2004/2005, it was like the outbreak of World War 3. There is a spectacular view of a large part of the city and Oslo Fiord. Sometimes there are outdoor concerts and theatrical performances in the park bandstand.

The river Akerslava runs through the area, directly south into the Fiord. There is a fantastic paved walk the length of the river right into the centre of Oslo. The river falls quite steeply in places over rapids and many dams built to provide water and power for the many industrial premises that were established in the area. The geography makes for spectacular ice formations during the winter months as the water and spray are frozen into ice sculptures. Many of the traditional industries, brewing, milling paper making etc have moved away to be replaced with more modern businesses, restaurants bars and attractive apartments. As an alternative you can follow the river northwards passing through some of Oslo´s hi-tech industrial and University parks and campuses, to its source at lake Maridalsvannet. A trek we have yet to complete. As is the case throughout Oslo living accommodation and industry are closly intermingled.

We have an apartment in Erika Nissens Gate, a road opposite the entrance to Torshovparken. A delightful spot, well endowed with trees and open spaces and conveniently situated for access to the city as a whole. Trams 11, 12 or 15, or bus 30 will take you from Torshov to the centre of Oslo and bus 20 provides access across town to places such as Frogner Park and Major-Stua, a large shopping area. It is also possible to walk into the centre of Oslo by a variety of interesting routes in about 20 minutes. Walking or using public transport, tram, bus, metro or train is one of the pleasures of visiting Oslo. Although you would be well advised to avoid travelling a peak times unless you are into playing sardines.