Welcome to Oslo: One of the most expensive cities in the world
Updated : March 16, 2019 09:00 AM IST
“I have never seen more perfect physical specimens: tall as date palms, blonde and ruddy; they wear neither tunics nor caftans, but the men wear a garment which covers one side of the body and leaves a hand free. Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times…” Sitting in an ancient log house in the world’s most expensive city, I re-read Arab diplomat Ibn Fadlan’s description of the Vikings that he met in 992 AD. Tall? Blonde? But aren’t Vikings stout, short, big-nosed, their head burdened with two-horned helmet? Was the diplomat dreaming? Or, were the Viking cliches fallacious?In Oslo, Norway’s capital, cliches stood corrected. The diplomat was right. Oslo had a tryst with the tall as date palms Vikings -- the city was probably founded by them and prospered during the Viking Age (800 to 1050 AD).In Oslo, many costumed-Vikings strutting the sidewalks, but I shunned them to walk back to the time when the Vikings were cutting through placid Scandinavian waters in their long wooden ships with a flat keel.In the Viking Ship Museum, the rays of the morning sun fell on ebony boats so fragile that they need to be propped. Built in the ninth century, it houses two of the world’s best preserved Viking boats, one used to bury a woman, the other held a chieftain along with his other-world pleasures including a dog and a peacock.Spread in the neat museum, there are sledges and carts with exquisite ornamentation, even harness and textiles that were discovered in Gokstad, Tune and Osberg at the turn of the 20th century. In the Ship Museum, I was tempted to pick the oars, hold the spear, don the armour and be a Viking. Alas! The boats were too brittle, the armour too heavy and I too petite.I knew I could not be a Viking. I did not know I could not even hold the chisel to sculpt a naked man. In Vigeland Sculpture Park, there are 212 humans carved in granite and bronze – naked men huddled on a pedestal, the little angry boy, a mother smothering her children with love, an old couple brooding against the azure sky and men sitting back to back. I stared at the unclothed sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, but it is not nudity that piqued me. Those sculpted bodies seemed so real -- I could fathom the anger in the woman’s eye, hear the scream of the angry boy and the touch the near-tangible angst of the old man.In the frosty Oslo air, I could walk on white Italian carrara marble and granite of Oslo Opera House - the world’s first and only opera house one can walk up onto the roof, or I could pretend to row the world’s strongest vessel in Fram Museum and go on a polar expedition (this ship has been on three!), or hope to bump into a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But December is when the mighty walk down Oslo’s streets for the Nobel ceremony. I missed peace by a whisker but the words waited for me. I decided to walk on quotes. Henrik Ibsen’s quotes that are moulded in stainless steel and laid on Ibsen Sitat. The famous playwright would take a daily stroll from his home near the Royal Palace down Karl Johan’s Gate to the Grand Cafe, where he had lunch every day. Ibsen no longer lives in Oslo, he is in heaven. But there were 69 of his quotes that I could walk on. In Oslo, I picked Nora (A Doll’s House): “I must stand on my own two feet if I’m to get to know myself and the world outside. That’s why I can't stay here with you any longer”. For the love of Ibsen, I could have stayed in Oslo. But, like Nora, I have to know myself and the world outside. So, I walked away. To another street.
Good to know: Oslo Pass allows the holder free entrance to all of the city's most popular museums and attractions as well as free access to buses, trams, and the ferries to Bygdøy.
Photo credit: Preeti Verma Lal
Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer.