How long can we afford to stay in the fjords?
Norway: Land of Vikings, fir trees, fjords… and pickled herrings? Are they Norwegian? To be honest, I knew very little about the country before we landed; I just had this strange urge to go there. (I rarely ignore my urges - it might be dangerous or something.) The one thing I did know for sure is that Norway is a costly country to visit. CNBC lists Oslo as the fourteenth most expensive place to live in the world, so I was expecting our budget to take a bit of a bashing.
Turns out that ‘a bit’ was the understatement of the century.
Expense, I discovered, is relative. Britain is expensive; Norway, by comparison, is extortionate! The first day when we were wandering around looking for a place to eat lunch, I nearly died when I saw the prices on the menus. 90 kroner for a bowl of vegetable soup… that’s 9 UK pounds… 22 NZ dollars! For that money I’d expect my soup to arrive in a gold-plated tureen, sprinkled with truffle shavings and served with Roquefort and Almond sourdough bread or something.
This was a dilemma, of sorts: we obviously had to eat - Pete wouldn’t agree to crash diet for a few days - but it was really depressing when we realised how much even the most basic items were going to cost us. I mean, we’re not skinflints and we’re not expecting this trip to last forever, but every transaction lead to an “Ouch!” moment when we considered the dent it was making in our savings. (Such is the disadvantage of going travelling using a currency with weak international buying power.)
In the end we came to two conclusions:
1) We had to stop converting everything into NZ dollars, ‘cos the constant wincing was starting to spoil the mood.
2) We obviously couldn’t afford to spend much time in Norway!
We decided to see the highlights, pay whatever we had to without worrying about it, and go somewhere else very soon. This plan worked, and we managed to relax and have a good time, after all.
It’s a lovely, modern city, situated by an impressive fjord, with some stunning architecture. We liked it immediately.
The weather was exceedingly changeable, which why the colours look a bit washed out. For the first two days there was a heat wave. “Brilliant!” we said, donning shorts and t-shirts. “Oslo’s great, we could live here.” For the remainder of our stay we had rain and storms. “Ooh, we could never live here,” we grumbled, bundling ourselves up in jeans and sweaters. “It’s much too cold!” This, and the horribly high cost of living, effectively put paid to our idea of seeing more of the country. We simply couldn’t afford it, and we objected to freezing to death anyway.
As well as pretty buildings, Oslo has plenty of statuary. This is one example we encountered when strolling by a shopping mall. I had to include it here due to its hideousness.
Isn’t this one of the ugliest things you’ve ever seen? Before Pete took the photo he asked me, “Which do you think is its best side?” My reply: “It doesn’t have one!” I don’t know much about art, but I know I don’t like this!
Fortunately Oslo has several galleries full of decent art to make up for Mr. Quinn’s monstrosity. I pestered Pete to take me to the Munch Museum, ‘cos there were several works I wanted to see. “Pity his first name wasn’t Monster,” says Pete. (For those of you who have no idea what he’s on about click here. Wasn't worth it, was it? Sorry.)
Most of you are probably familiar with Munch’s most famous work, The Scream:
According to the people who know these things, this piece is a representation of man’s existential angst. I have an alternative explanation: I reckon this was painted after Munch had taken a short break in Oslo and just seen his hotel bill. (Yes, I am still harping on about how expensive everything is here. I've gotta get it out of my system somehow, and blogging is cheaper than therapy!)
After all that screaming, something a little more sedate was called for. Oslo has about a million museums to choose from, and we decided that the Nobel Peace Centre should provide the requisite level of relaxation.
The Nobel Peace Prize is the only one not awarded in Sweden. Mr. Nobel thought Norway was a nice peaceful country, and requested that the Peace Prize be handled here. Good job there aren't any Vikings around, eh?
This was worth seeing for the technology they’d used in their exhibits, if nothing else. They had an interactive ‘book’ which could be controlled using your hand in place of a computer mouse; a Wall Papers exhibit which displayed information about the Peace Prize winners in the form of a digital newspaper; and a fascinating fiber-optic garden that altered images on a series of computer screens as you walked past. It’s worth a visit if you like cool technology!
And so passed a couple of days in Oslo. We liked the city very much, but sadly I don't think we'll be coming back any time soon - not unless the New Zealand dollar suddenly inflates or we win the lottery or something. Neither of these options being likely, we have decided to head south in search of sunnier climes.
More from the road soon!