After nearly three weeks in Croatia we flew from Split to Oslo, Norway. Over the last few days in 90 degree heat on the bike trip, we started fantasizing about Scandinavia in the 60s and 70s. Well, that’s what we got and it felt great. There we were on August 1 thinking it felt like a perfect fall day. Quite the welcome change!It’s worth noting that though Mark was here 36 years ago, this is my first time ever in Norway. And now both Mark & I have been in every country in Europe except Belarus. We’d like to go there, and even tried to get a visa there nine years ago, but given the geopolitics these days – that’s the country that cooperated with Russia in the invasion of Ukraine – it might be a while before we check off that last European country.
Much of the stop in Oslo was about seeing friends. First up was Luba, a woman we first met five years ago on a bike trip in Japan; since then we’ve spent time with her in London and Corfu. This time, when she learned we were going to be in Oslo she decided to fly up from London where she lives and have dinner and drinks with us. Such fun! And the great news is she’s taking some important new job that will require her to come to NY periodically.
The next night was dinner with Bart & Ann, our old Cambridge neighbors, and their friends Pat & Sam. This was just a one night overlap with Bart & Ann, our last night in Oslo, but we’re spending three days in Bergen with them later in the week.
Dinner was notable in part just because the Japanese restaurant we went to screwed up pretty much everything. More interesting, though, was that their friend Pat is a Edvard Munch scholar. Munch is the most famous Norwegian artist (think The Scream) and in fact Oslo had recently opened an entire museum dedicated to his work; Pat consulted with the museum during its development.We had toured the museum the day before and, to put it mildly, it infuriated Mark. I was pretty annoyed but Mark was almost beside himself. The problem? At no point did the displays in the Munch museum tell you a thing about who Munch was, where he came from, what motivated him, who influenced him, or anything of the sort. And he’s a really interesting guy; as Wikipedia puts it in their introduction, “His childhood was overshadowed by illness, bereavement and the dread of inheriting a mental condition that ran in the family.” He drank heavily and had a mental breakdown while in his 40s. I mean, that’s worth at least mentioning, right? Maybe it would explain a bit about why his paintings have titles like “Anxiety,” “Despair,” and “Death and the Child” along with “The Scream” of course. Not so much, apparently, in the Munch Museum. Eventually we got over the frustrating lack of context and just enjoyed the art, but to us at least it definitely felt like a missed opportunity.
During our three-day stay we toured two other museums, an opera house, a library, and a large park with a huge collection of statues. Here’s a quick summary.
The modest modern art museum was forgettable. Enough said. The National Gallery, on the other hand was a great art museum. It covered the 16th century to contemporary art, it was very easy to follow your way through, and had absolutely great descriptions in every single gallery. It was like taking a survey course of Western art history with a heavy oversampling of Norwegian art. So good it made you wonder what the people who put the Munch museum together were thinking.
The opera house tour was fun, too. The building itself is the main attraction, a very modern and well done piece of architecture. And for an hour a guide took us and a reasonably small group through the back stage area to see how it all fits together. A good way to spend an hour but after seeing 10 operas at the Met last year we had to say that it all felt a little small.
The other highlight was Frogner Park, a place that wasn’t remotely on our radar until Luba suggested it. She’d been in Oslo three years ago with her mother who really wanted to see it. It was amazing. The park itself is big, the biggest in Oslo in fact, but what makes it “pop” are the 212 bronze and granite statues by Norway’s premier sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. All the statues are of people – old and young, men and women, boys and girls. They’re sitting and standing and running and jumping and thinking and acting … and there’s not a stitch of clothing on any of them. This is a park that would drive former Attorney General John Ashcroft stark raving mad. (He once had a statue in the Justice Department partially covered with a cloth because there was a bare breast.) Vigeland’s style, though, was just so unique and interesting. Good call Luba!!
And then, just before leaving Oslo, we made time for a quick pass through the new library, right next to the new opera house. A case where great design and architecture really made you just want to hang out in the library. It even smelled like a library.Very well done.
And that was Oslo. You might note that there was no raving about the food here; that was not an oversight. And I didn’t rant and rave about the $2.11 it cost me to use a public toilet in Frogner Park. I know, bushes are a lot cheaper. But then I also didn’t spend enough time here talking about the amazing train from the Oslo Airport into the city. And our stop was too brief to enjoy the small beach or public saunas available. We still have a couple weeks in Norway, though, so we may be able to fit some of those in.