OD’ING ON OSLO!

Nor­we­gians say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only wrong at­tire. In Oslo, you can ap­ply that phi­los­o­phy to ev­ery as­pect of life!

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - By Priya Bala

We were at No. 5, So­phies Gate, in down­town Oslo, an ad­dress fa­mil­iar to Jo Nesbø’s read­ers. One of the name­plates at the en­trance to the build­ing says ‘Harry Hole’. The mo­ment when fans of the fic­tional de­tec­tive are in­tro­duced to this quirky nugget is a high­light of Oslo’s Harry Hole walk, a two-hour guided am­ble through streets and past build­ings tra­versed by the now-fa­mous de­tec­tive cre­ated by Nesbø, the Nor­we­gian crime writer who’s gar­nered in­ter­na­tional fame.

The make-be­lieve name­plate made me smile. The seem­ingly im­pas­sive Nor­we­gians are fan­ci­ful like that. In fact, at the start­ing point for the walk, the Best Western Ho­tel on Karl Johans Gate, our guide, a feisty lady of sixty-plus, told us, with no ap­par­ent in­ten­tion of caus­ing alarm, that the ho­tel, es­tab­lished in 1899, was haunted and that its orig­i­nal own­ers were given to walk­ing the cor­ri­dors at night to check if ev­ery­thing was as it should be.

WATCHING THE DE­TEC­TIVE

The Harry Hole walk on a mel­low spring evening, one bathed in golden light, ended at Restau­rant Schrøder on Walde­mar Thranes Gate, the de­tec­tive’s pre­ferred hang­out, de­spite him tak­ing the oc­ca­sional dig at the meat­balls on the menu, which also in­cludes tra­di­tional Nor­we­gian fare like rein­deer burg­ers and steamed cod. I didn’t dine here, pre­fer­ring to check out one of the hip, new places. Grådi, which means greedy in Nor­we­gian, is one such restau­rant, serv­ing de­li­cious takes on Scan­di­na­vian favourites like pate on rye, with beet­root jam, crispy fried oys­ter mush­rooms and ba­con.

Grådi is in Tøyen in the Gamle – or old – Oslo bor­ough which is bet­ter known for the Munch Museet. I had to go and see The

Scream – not just be­cause it has been de­scribed as a ‘Mona Lisa of our time’ for its de­pic­tion of an age wracked by anx­i­ety and un­cer­tainty, but be­cause it was at the cen­tre of one of the most dra­matic mu­seum heists of re­cent times. Stolen in 2004, Munch’s mas­ter­piece was re­cov­ered in 2006 by the Oslo po­lice and is again on dis­play, cap­ti­vat­ing and dis­turb­ing in equal mea­sure.

The walk­ing tour through the back­streets of down­town Oslo, in­clud­ing past the Ceme­tery of Our Sav­ior where Hen­rik Ib­sen and Munch are buried, and near which the open­ing scene of Nesbø’s The

Devil’s Star is set, was off the beaten track. I did, how­ever, get talk­ing with a young Cze­choslo­vakian stu­dent in the group who’d read all the Nesbø ti­tles in Czech and had come to Oslo just to go on the Harry Hole walk.

CHEERS TO GOOD CHEER

Oslo’s more con­spic­u­ous at­trac­tions are strung around the fetch­ing fjord at the head of which this ach- in­gly beau­ti­ful city sits. There is the me­dieval-style Ak­er­shus Fortress and Cas­tle, built in the 14th cen­tury and be­sieged several times by the Swedes. If you, like me, aren’t too keen on photo-ops with the royal guards, it’s won­der­ful to sit at one of the bars across the water and ad­mire this splen­did ed­i­fice from afar and watch the sail­boats skim­ming the water. De­spite the travel brochure panorama, I couldn’t help telling my­self the small pint of beer was cost­ing me what a de­cent bot­tle of wine would back home. But that is Oslo for you, one of the most ex­pen­sive cities in the world. Even the lo­cals com­plain and think noth­ing of fly­ing out to Ber­lin, where the beer is cheaper than water, for a week­end of heavy drink­ing.

Which brings me to the cover of a book I spot­ted in the air­port book­store: That sums it up.

The Nor­we­gians you en­counter here don’t give much away. They are im­mensely po­lite and well-man­nered. Mo­torists wait for pedes­tri­ans to cross, bus driv­ers step out and un­fold a ramp for wheel­chair-bound pas­sen­gers to board. Even if you hap­pen to get into con­ver­sa­tion with a stranger at a café, no one asks ‘Are you mar­ried?’ or ‘Any is­sues?’ An Oslo pub or bar, then, is a place to see

THE AL FRESCO CAFÉS LINING KARL JOHANS GATE FROTH WITH PEO­PLE DRINK­ING BEER AND WINE WHILE SUNNING THEM­SELVES

usu­ally re­strained Nor­we­gians aban­don their in­hi­bi­tions. On a bright day, the al fresco cafés lining el­e­gant Karl Johans Gate – de­scribed as the Champs-Elysées of the North – froth with peo­ple drink­ing beer and wine while sunning them­selves. It quickly be­came one of my favourite spots in the city, too, and I spent hours peo­ple-watching. It’s a fash­ion pa­rade of stylish Oslo folk strid­ing past pur­pose­fully in their snazzy boots and spiffy jack­ets. Then there are the clus­ters of tourists from China and now also Korea, eas­ily iden­ti­fied by selfie-stick and pack­age tour cap.

Lonely Planet’s rec­om­men­da­tion that Oslo is one of the top 10 cities to see in 2018 hasn’t been taken lightly.

WHERE TO HUG A TREE

At one end of Karl Johans Gate is the par­lia­ment and it’s not un­usual to see a min­is­ter cy­cling by. Cut to the sirens and stop-all-traf­fic rou­tine our ne­tas com­mand. At the other end, sit­ting atop a slope is the royal palace, an im­pres­sive struc­ture in the Neo­clas­si­cal style. It is from its bal­cony that the Nor­we­gian fam­ily watches the pa­rade on Nor­way’s Na­tional Day, May 17. I was there dur­ing the cel­e­bra­tions, when oth­er­wise mod­ish Oslo folk come out wear­ing Bu­nad, the tra­di­tion­al­ru­ral at­tire. It makes the prom­e­nade seem like a huge stage with every­one in pe­riod cos­tume. For all its moder­nity, this is still a place of myth and leg­end, folk­lore and fa­ble, trolls, ghosts and Norse gods.

Sprawl­ing all around the palace is a ver­dant park. ‘Walk on the grass’, ‘Hug the trees’, say the signs at Slottsparken. This is a coun­try

IN OSLO, YOU CAN NEVER BE FAR FROM A PARK WHERE NA­TURE’S SPLENDOUR IS COMPLEMENTED BY AESTHETIC DE­SIGN

that has traf­fic signs for chil­dren play­ing (speed limit 30) and for elk cross­ings. Af­ter lunch at nearby Den Glade Gris (The Happy Pig), a cured pork spe­cial­ist, I spent an af­ter­noon in the park, read­ing Nesbø un­der a tree burst­ing with spring blooms, mar­vel­ling at peo­ple who pre­serve their green spa­ces with such care. Lit­ter­ing is a no-no and cit­i­zens dili­gently clean up af­ter their dogs and empty it into bins as­signed for the pur­pose.

In Oslo, you can never be far from a park where na­ture’s splendour is complemented by thought­ful, aesthetic de­sign that makes it easy to ac­cess and en­joy. The Vige­land Park is both a green space and a mas­sive open-air gallery for the dis­play of Gus­tav Vige­land’s mas­sive sculp­tures of men, women and chil­dren, all naked. Be star­tled, shocked, sur­prised or sim­ply take in the heady scents ris­ing from the rose gar­dens. The mu­seum fiend has more places to see – and spend kro­ners in. There’s the Vik­ing Mu­seum, one ded­i­cated to the cul­tural his­tory of the coun­try, and the Kon-Tiki Mu­seum, which I en­joyed, trac­ing the ad­ven­tures of Thor Hey­er­dahl.

sEAsOns by THE sEA

The Ho-Ho bus does the round of these, and an­other kind of hop­ping

on and off is pos­si­ble when you take a boat trip to the is­lands scat­tered in green heaps across Oslo Fjord. There are few travel ex­pe­ri­ences to equal be­ing on the deck of a boat on the fjord – the spring sunshine on your face, the air fresh and pure, and ev­ery­thing bathed in the clean, sparkling light of these North­ern reaches.

The seasons set the mood in this part of the North­ern hemi­sphere. But Nor­we­gians say there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong at­tire. Prop­erly equipped, they en­joy ev­ery sea­son and the out­door op­por­tu­ni­ties that it af­fords, hik­ing and cy­cling in sum­mer and hit­ting the ski slopes in win­ter. I had ar­rived in early spring, but the de­scent to Gar­der­moen air­port was into a Christ­mas card scene. The snow was deep and the trees were bare. Within days of reach­ing, I watched spring ar­rive – ten­ta­tive at first, in the whis­pered un­furl­ing of leaf buds and shoots, then an ex­u­ber­ant, ex­ul­tant surge of green, fol­lowed by the bloom­ing of wild­flow­ers, yel­low but­ter­cups and pur­ple heads of lupin dot­ting ev­ery grassy slope.

This ar­ca­dian land­scape may seem far re­moved from the chic, ur­ban charms of Oslo – its edgy de­sign stores, its mod­ernist Opera House and 118-year-old Na­tional Theatre, the shabby-turned-hip­ster Grün­er­løkka from where you can walk along the Ak­er­selva river to Mathallen, a food hall stocked with salami, seafood, oils and salts to thrill ev­ery gourmet, and its night clubs where the city un­masks its wild side.

Still, for me the great­est plea­sure Oslo yields is the op­por­tu­nity to es­cape into the deep pine forests, which sur­round the city. Here, the only sounds you hear are the rus­tle of leaves and the call of birds. You stop to see an elk’s hoof mark as you walk along wooded paths, un­der cir­rus­flecked skies that are an im­pos­si­ble shade of blue. To bring back home, I bought some smoked salmon and blue­berry com­pote. Also, in that imag­ined back­pack in which trav­ellers tote their mem­o­ries, there was the in­de­scrib­ably beau­ti­ful light of Scan­di­navia and the sight of it danc­ing like di­a­monds on the fjord.

brunch­let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com Fol­low @HTBrunch on Twit­ter

The au­thor is a Ben­galuru-based se­nior writer who spe­cialises in food, travel and life­style writ­ing. She has edited several ma­jor main­stream pub­li­ca­tions and re­cently re­leased her book Se­cretSauce.

ART FOR ALL The Vige­land Park has an open-space gallery for the dis­play of Gus­tav Vige­land’s sculp­tures

CUL­TURAL INSIGHT The Vik­ing Ship Mu­seum is part of the Mu­seum of Cul­tural His­tory of the Univer­sity of Oslo

HIS­TORY SPEAKS Trace the ad­ven­tures of Thor Hey­er­dahl at Kon-Tiki Mu­seum

MOD­ERN AGE ‘MONA LISA’ TheScream was at the cen­tre of one of the most dra­matic mu­seum heists of re­cent times

foodie’s par­adise Mathallen is a food hall stocked with salami, seafood, oils and salts to thrill ev­ery foodie

na­tional pride The coun­try cel­e­brates its Na­tional Day on May 17 with pa­rades, march­ing bands and tra­di­tional cos­tumes

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