April 19, 2012
Our Day Walking Visit to Oslo, Norway
All I knew about Oslo before visiting there was that it is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, and that Norwegians love trolls. Oh, and maybe that it was cold in the winter. But typical of these visits, a lot of myths were dispelled when I actually saw the place.
First of all, it’s quite pretty. Oslo sits at the northern-most end of a long inlet or fjord, all nestled at the base of a crescent-shaped ridge of low hills to its north. Our ship docked along the eastern shore of Pipervika harbour, right beside Arkershus Fortress, a walled castle/monastery kind of place, about a half mile from downtown Oslo.
This was our first port-of-call, so we had to disembark as instructed by the cruise director over the PA. Disembarking from a cruise ship requires you to have your boarding/cabin card scanned just as you cross the gangway. The same happens when you return. Plus security scanning for contraband. And you must be back by a certain time, usually half-an-our before the ship sails. They will usually hold the ship for only so long for late-returning passengers. Beyond that time, they’ll leave and you’re on your own.
While most ports and local sights are interesting and scenic, most terminal docks are anything but. They are functional asphalt, concrete and metal piers with lots of ropes and cables lying about. They are also fenced in. For security reasons, passengers usually have to show their boarding/cabin card once again just to leave the dock area.
Naturally, the first place we chose to visit was Arkershus Fortress, being as it was right across the road. It was clearly an armed fortress or castle at one time, no doubt for defence of the city, but has now been converted to part museum, part historic site, part military school. We took a lot of photos there, but I’ll only show a few.
After visiting Arkenshus Fortress, we walked the short distance to downtown. The lowest portion of the inner harbour is a pedestrian mall with lots of fountains, shops, stalls and vendors stands. But it was early in the morning, and a damp one at that, so a lot of this activity wasn’t up and running yet.
From the pedestrian mall we then walked further into town. Visiting foreign places can often be an eye-opener. For my oldest, it was the realization that, as far away as he was from his own country, he was still surrounded by stores and businesses he recognized like The Gap, Apple Computers, Sony, MacDonalds and Starbucks. It surprised him, and I think even disappointed him a bit.
No trip to any capital city, especially one with a monarchy (King Harald V and Queen Sonja), would be complete without a visit to the Royal Palace. The grounds of this magnificent estate sit a couple of blocks up from the harbour, at the western end of a beautiful tree-lined boulevard.
Leaving the Royal Palace, we followed the tree-lined public boulevard downtown. Life was getting underway by now, and there was lots of colour and activity.
Cruises are kind of a two-barreled vacation. First, you get to visit new and interesting ports of call every day or two. Plus you are staying in a five-star, floating hotel where the service, the food, and the facilities are excellent. It’s always nice to know that after a tiring day on your feet (or seat, if you’re bus-bound), your day will always end with some guaranteed pampering. And I must add that on each of the Holland America cruises we’ve taken, the food and food service was first-class.
We typically choose the any-time seating plan when we cruise so that we can eat in the regular restaurants like the Horizon Court or the Lido Lounge at any time. Or, if we’re in the mood for a fancy, full-service meal, we just have to make a reservation early that day.
Unfortunately on this trip I broke a molar on our second day out, and had to suffer through every meal with some mouth discomfort. But I waited until I got home to my own dentist before I had it looked at.
One discovery Nancy and I made on a previous cruise was to visit the Crows Nest Lounge during departures because of the panoramic view afforded by all those windows (plus a glass or two of wine is also nice). Our departure from Oslo was a scenic one because of the narrow channel the ship had to navigate.
Norwegians are proud of one particular WWII event that we got to share the evening of our departure. There is a narrow channel in the fjord where an island crowds the passage. On the night of April 8, 1940 the German heavy battlecruiser Blücher sailed up the fjord toward Olso with invasion in mind. But, using vintage guns and World War I torpedos, the local Norwegian military fired on the Blücher from the island, causing a major fire to cripple the vessel, eventually sinking it. There was major loss of life as the Germans refused to abandon and give up their mighty ship to such a weak force. The ghost of its sunken hull can still be seen beneath the waters. I guess the message is clear – don’t mess with the Norwegians!
This pretty much concludes our day in Oslo. Overnight we sailed to the picturesque city of Aarhus, Denmark which promised its own unusual sights.