When I was booking my flight from New York to Amsterdam, I picked the one that gave me a seven-hour layover in Oslo. Because why not? Not only was it the cheapest option available, it also gave me the chance to see, however briefly, yet another new city in another new country. I have always been interested in Scandinavia, which is often referred to as having the best quality of life in the world. Plus, I can’t come across a single picture of Norway without lingering over it, marveling enviously in its raw natural beauty. What would its capital city be like?
Oslo’s airport is located about 50km outside the city, but the Flytoget train got me into town in a twenty-minute blaze across rolling hills that reminded me of Amish country in rural Pennsylvania or New York State. I was immediately grateful for the fact that I have a still-uncommon, US bank-issued, chip-and-pin credit card, and that I had come across this card’s PIN number just days before when I was cleaning out my desk at home, because I didn’t have to deal with bad exchange rates and just used my chip-and-pin credit card for transactions.
And then I stepped out of Oslo Central Station and–yeah, we’re definitely not in the US anymore.
I think Europe holds a fascination for so many Americans because of its age and history. We don’t often realize how young America is, compared to the rest of the world. Oslo, like many other European cities, was an important place long before America was. It was built back in a time when architects strove to make even private housing unique and classy, when roads were meticulously laid with stones and brick. Okay, yes, it was also a time of sexism, plagues, and no sanitation systems, so let’s just say that Europe holds a romantic appeal for many Americans.
I think Oslo was a perfect place for me to start my European adventures, because it wasn’t all medieval buildings. Indeed, the first thing I went to see was the (in)famous Oslo Opera House, which is a bizarre architectural construction that, well, grows on you, especially if you appreciate quirky modern architecture.
Then it was on to the quaint streets:
I emerged onto the open area around Karl Johans Gate at the same time the sun decided to as well. So I basked in the unexpected warmth, which brightened the colors of the buildings, and listened to musicians in the square perform smooth jazz that floated down the streets and around corners on the mild spring wind.
I had lunch at a busy cafe by Karl Johans Gate. I tried a coffee, because I had heard good things about Norwegian coffee, and also because I was desperately tired and jet-lagged and needed to wake up. ‘Twas good.
After lunch, I walked through Slottsparken, the city-center park surrounding the Royal Palace, which I did not go into. Then I wandered a few more small streets and eventually ended up by the harbor to make my way back to the train station, within plenty of time to catch my flight.
Seven hours ended up being the perfect amount of time to travel to and from the airport, wander around, and enjoy a leisurely lunch in Central Oslo. I didn’t go into any museums, but I wasn’t planning to, although I was sorely tempted by the Henrik Ibsen Museum (he’s my favorite dramatist). Puffy-eyed and jet-lagged as I was while I walked around, I did not end up regretting choosing the slightly longer way to Amsterdam. Now to plot my return to see the rest of the country…