Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Oslo Festive Mini Break

The dark nights are certainly upon us and a chill has returned to the air. I must confess, that I'm a little pleased. Despite loving long days and the warmth of summer, autumn has always been my favourite season. With the welcome of our little man we're very much looking forward to cosy days in the house, spent baking, reading or watching films, with low lights and sweetly-spiced candles. I'm looking forward to apple sauce (with everything), weekend walks and woollen jumpers. Thoughts of this sort have had us thinking about our last anniversary trip, to the wonderful city of Oslo. As usual we looked to airbnb for our accommodation and found the most magical cabin, located in the forest, overlooking the city centre. We loved every minute of it and really (really, REALLY) didn't want to leave. Here's an edited version of that break from our travel journal...

We have arrived! Our journey here was very straightforward - we flew from Edinburgh, just after lunch and arrived on Norwegian tarmac around 4pm local time. The airport (Rygge) was about an hour from the city centre so we took the airport bus (which is an excellent service) to Sentrum (the centre) and then the T-Bane (T1) to Skogen (Norwegian for 'forest') where we have found (not so easy in the dark!) our host, Elsbeth's little cabin. By around 7:30pm we already had the fire going. The cabin is a like a fairytale dream, the view from the here is stunning. Given how cosy it is in here we've opted to stay put, rather than taking our usual 'land and explore' approach. This has meant settling for what's in the cupboards (Elsbeth has kindly left us some treats and some staples), which has resulted in spaghetti drowned in olive oil, garlic and toasted walnuts (very Norwegian, no?). Wisely, we picked up a bottle of red at the airport, anticipating that this sort of beverage may be a tad more expensive than at home. Tonight has been spent snuggled by the fire researching places to visit over the coming days. Perfection. 

A neighbouring house, a little up the hill from the cabin

Elsbeth's House, aside the cabin
The view of the city from the cabin
We have awoken to such a glorious view! The cabin overlooks the city centre and the surrounding forest, it's 8:30am and the lights of the city are still shining. From the little bedroom window, which has a small writing desk in front of it, we can see the most beautiful pink and grey sky. The sun is beginning to rise and because of the frost, the rays are reflecting on the rock face, making the whole landscape sparkle, it is a truly magical view, which no photograph can do justice. We slept amazingly well in the antique carved wooden bed (we decided to share one of the twins - it's big enough for two). Can't wait to explore - but first coffee (we've brought our trusty stove top with us). 

Oslo is fabulous! We're back at the cabin after a full day. We began with a trip to the top of the hill (on the T-Bane) and walked back down the hillside through the forest, passing lakes and country estates before jumping back on the T-Bane headed in the direction of Sentrum. Our first stop, a flea market  which takes place weekly at Birrkelunden Park, in the hipster area of Grunerløkka. On our way there we picked up some brunch from a 7/11 (not much is open here on a Sunday) - J had a saffron bun and I had a muslibrød and brown cheese (my favourite). The market was quite small, which wasn't surprising for mid December, but the stalls were filled with beautiful Norwegian objects. There were loads of catherineholm pots, in all different colours, lots of teak handled utensils and cutlery, Figgjo Flint ceramics and loads of cute mid century Christmas decorations. Just about heaven for me. B u t...everything was super expensive so we decided to jump on a bus and head across the city to the Norsefolk Museum, where we wouldn't be tempted to spend too much. 

The museum is wonderful, a Norwegian version of Beamish but, dare I say it, possibly better - and I truly love Beamish! (Although, not sure it's quite as good as Skansen, for us, the ultimate living museum). There was a Christmas market on within the grounds of the museum, selling crafts, food, honeycomb candles and vintage objects (so much for spending less...). We spent about three hours roaming from building to building, homes, shops, churches, schools and farms all depicting the various centuries of Norwegian life, each decorated beautifully for the Christmas festivities. We listened to choirs and drank glogg - it was the most perfect afternoon and we left filled to our brim with Christmas spirit. 

On our return journey we stopped off at the port and spent a little time wandering around Aker Brygge. This area is newly built and has a Canary Wharf feel to it, filled with restaurants, offices and shops (mainly designer but with some highstreet including Cos and H&M). We decided to eat here as there were plenty of options - for both menu and purse. We opted for a pizza place, as it was one of the less pricey options - two pizzas and two glasses of wine came in 602NOK (around £50). Unsurprisingly Oslo is cold and despite thermals and many layers we still felt the chill so have returned to our Cabin to repeat last night's evening of fire/reading/wine.

Planning the day's adventures the little writing desk
Walking down the hill from the last T-Bane stop towards Skogen
The Norfolk Museum
J enjoying glogg at the Norfolk museum
Another lie in - the cabin is soooo cosy, then back on the T-Bane, quite possibly the most efficient and scenic public transport we've ever been on (if your accommodation happens to be in Skogen). 

Our first stop was the National Theatre, in search of the shop Norway Designs. It is such a beautiful store, specialising in 'home grown' (well, Scandi) objects for the home, office and nursery. So many classic designs and so many precious objects. The basement houses a fantastic paper department for those interested in that sort of thing. Wearing our walking boots in here had us feeling a little nervous. We bought a few Christmas gifts and left (without breaking anything) heading back in the direction of Grunerløkka, via Karl Jungen Street, Oslo's main shopping street, which resulted in lots of stop offs and a few purchases (well, Munki had a very good sale on).

Lunch was eaten at a small bakery in Grunerløkka (two sandwiches and two coffees cost 260NOK about £20). Grunerløkka has a great feel about it, the shops are much more affordable, mainly vintage, some design stores and lots of independent boutiques. There are some chainstores but they tend to be smaller, Scandinavian ones such as Granit

From here, we walked back towards Sentrum along the riverbank and discovered the Opera House - an amazing building, the roof of which can be walked on via a large slope. A bit slippy (but manageable) and great for photographers. Next stop was to a small cafe/deli called Pascal (recommendation of our Wallpaper guide) where we refuelled with waaaay too much sugar. Giddy from our hot chocolates (plus chocolate fondant plus cookie. yikes) we then did a small grocery shop for some essentials (like brown cheese and wine) and headed back to the cabin for some more fireside cosiness. 

Pascal, a cafe in the city centre
Inside the cabin
We ate breakfast in the cabin before setting off to Hollmenkollen, a large steel ski slope, originally built in the 1890s, two stops down from the cabin. It was a beautifully clear morning, and the view from the top of the slope was magnificent (and terrifying), we could see for miles around us. We were pretty much the only people there and decided to make the most of it. We went on the simulator (much to J's amusement, but I'm sure he'd agree it was £12 well spent) which enlightened us to just how brave skiers are (- very) and then we spent a couple of hours in the museum, which is really interesting. Norwegians appear to be mad about skiing. There was even a ski outfit for a 9 month old on display. We left here in search of Old Oslo, which was nice, but we didn't see too much to explore (we may have not looked hard enough, it was very cold). Instead we jumped on a tram from here and headed up a different hill to the one we are staying on and decided to walk back down through the woods as dusk fell. Needless to say the views on this walk were incredible - the sky was all shades of pink and grey. Below the hill was an industrial plant which bizarrely looked beautiful, sparkling because of the frost, and silhouetted against the sunset. 

Despite looking for somewhere cool and independent for dinner we ended up at Crudo,  another Italian (the perils of being veggie and on a budget) before a stroll around the Royal Palace and onto the neighbourhoods of Briskby and Fogner, if only we'd waited a little while to eat - these well to do areas are filled with nice restaurants (and fancy shops).

Ski outfit for a 9 month old!
The view from our walk down the hill
First stop, some culture, in the form of Frogner Park, a peaceful sculpture park surrounded by residential areas. We strolled, at a (now standard) leisurely pace from here to Frogen, which is filled with pretty shops, delis, florists and cafes - all quite pricey (and a bit 'yummy mummy') but lovely to walk around, as it's also largely residential and very peaceful. Our next stop, on foot, was to the Architecture Museum, which had three shows on - Architecture and the Comic Book, Building Ideas and the annual Gingerbread House competition - diverse and equally interesting!

Tonight's dinner was eaten at a little french bistro we'd spotted earlier in the week, Bistro Brocante. It's been snowing today and it was lovely to see it lightly falling from inside the warm, candlelit bistro.The food here was good, and quite big portions, still not eaten anything traditionally Norwegian, though - apart form brown cheese. 

Sculptures in Frogner Park
Our last day in Norway. We managed to get in a few activities before our flight home. Oslo has a great luggage hold at the station (it's for both trains and buses), we left our belongings here and went to the Decorative Arts and Design Museum. This is really great for a chronological history on Scandinavian design (as it includes Sweden and Finland although the focuses is on Norway). There are some fab chairs, ceramics and textiles on display here - well worth a look and brilliantly, entry was free (as it was a Thursday!). The rest of the day was spent shopping, well it is only one week until Santa arrives!

Us - on top of the world (well, on the top of a very large ski slope!)
If you are considering a Christmas trip to Oslo, then our advice is book it right away! It's a really lovely city and perfect for those in search of some genuine festive spirit. Oslo makes a good choice for a mini break - the city and surrounding areas are very easy to navigate and manageable in size, the transport options (bus/tram/tube) are easy to use and there's enough to keep you busy, but not so much to see so as to be overwhelming (we didn't feel like we'd missed any key places, which can often happen in capital cities). 

There are so many scenic walks in wooded areas just up from the centre - using the T-Bane is probably the best way to reach them. The view from the T-Bane down the hillside is beautiful and so different, depending on the time of day and the direction of the train. Through the day everything is white and glittering because of the frost (or snow) and the low sun and on an evening houses and flats were all lit up with candles and fairy-lights and people making dinner or pottering about inside their cosy homes - like they were in a movie! Although it is super dark at night, so maybe only take the T-Bane at this hour for the view, rather than a ramble at the top!

Eating out varies enormously, although most places, like for like, are more expensive than the UK. The types of places we'd usually 'splash out' at seemed to be just too far out of our price range to try, but perhaps we didn't look hard enough - there are sure to be some gems amongst the less central areas. Another consideration we'd not researched enough was veggie and vegan options.

Cost of entry to the museums wasn't very much but had we noticed sooner, we'd have bought a day pass for the National Museums - which allows access to the four National Museums all for one price, so long as you visit on the same day. Or we'd make sure we visit as many of the National Museums on a Thursday - as Thursdays are free!

In terms of accommodation  we'd certainly suggest looking in to Elsbeth's cabin - we can't recommend it enough (our friends will testify!) Elsebeth is a perfect host, greeting us warmly on our arrival and then leaving us to it - with the offer of any help, should we have needed it, however, her well considered and very useful handbook outlining local area information, transport and shops etc was more than suffice for our needs. 

One last thing to mention - if staying on the hill towards Skogen, when using the T-Bane, be sure to to sit in the farthest carriage, on the left side as the train climbs and on the right as it descends, this way you get the best and far least disturbed view (as the end carriages don't open at every stop).

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