Note: As with all my blog posts, you can click on any of the photos below to enlarge them.
I recently went on a bit of a last-minute and unexpected trip to Oslo and it was awesome! I was completely blown away by the city, the surrounding natural beauty and the wonderful people I met there during my stay. Now that I'm back home in Edinburgh, I thought it would be nice to put together some blog posts about what I did with my time in Oslo, the things that I saw and, of course, the tasty vegan food I found while I was there.
Unfortunately, there is no simple and quick way to get from the UK to Norway overland (I looked it up the fantastic website The Man in Seat Sixty-One to check before my trip) so I ended up taking the plane from London to Oslo. As I had been told that British Airways would not provide vegan food options on my flight, I took some food with me. Handily, Pret a Manger have a couple of outlets in Heathrow Airport and mark their vegan options clearly, so I picked up a super greens sandwich and a pot of fruit to take with me, along with some lentil chips (yum) and an absolutely delicious apple patisserie thing which I picked up from Vx/Vegan Cross while I was in London.
On arriving at Oslo Gardermoen, it was very straightforward to get the train into the central station, where I arrived to the sight of a giant pride flag displayed on the side of the station! Oslo had hosted EuroPride 2014 the week before I arrived and signs were very much still in evidence throughout my stay, not least when I spotted trams moving around the city with pride flags attached to them!
As I arrived into the city centre fairly late in the afternoon, I didn't do much exploring of Oslo on my first day there; instead, I found a hostel to stay in for the night (which was simultaneously the most expensive and the worst hostel I have ever had the misfortune to stay in), dropped my bags there and went to sit for a beer and read a travel guide I picked up for some ideas of what to do during my stay before going back to the hostel to sleep. One thing which I had been warned about before my trip is that drinking out is very, very expensive in Norway, so it really was just a single quiet beer before bed! Checking out alternative accommodation online that evening, I swiftly discovered that for only about Nkr 100 a night more than I was paying for a grotty bunk in a dormitory in the hostel, I could get a small single hotel room in the city centre which included breakfast (a definite boon considering how expensive eating out is), so I booked that for the next few nights.
After a fairly appalling night's sleep, I went for a walk to drop off my bags at the hotel and head over to the Tourist Information centre. On my way there, I came across some snublesteiner/stolpersteine marking places where Holocaust victims had lived in Oslo before they were deported to Auschwitz. Apparently these are a fairly new addition to the streets of Oslo, and it was sobering to look at them and realise how whole family groups had been deported to concentration camps and wiped out. I'll be writing more about this later, as during my trip I visited both the Norwegian Resistance Museum and the Holocaust Centre, which were both extremely informative experiences.
Having spoken to a few people who had been to Norway recently, I had heard about the wonderful and fantastic Oslo Pass. For a payment of just Nkr 428 (which was including a student discount), I bought a 72-hour pass which gave me free entry to a large number of museums and art galleries in Oslo, as well as free public transport (bus, tram, metro and boat). As one of my main pastimes on holiday is to try and get around as many museums as possible during my stay, this was a great thing to be able to buy which saved me a lot of money.
After acquiring my Oslo Pass, I headed straight down to Akershus Fortress to look around the medieval castle, church and museums which make up the complex. The castle was a fairly standard castley thing, but I still enjoyed walking around it and looking at all of it.
Within the fortress are also a couple of museums, the Norwegian Resistance Museum and the Armed Forces Museum. I went to the Resistance Museum first of all, and was particularly fascinated by the copies which were on display of just some of the huge number of different underground newspapers which existed during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1945. The Norwegian resistance wasn't something that I knew much about before, and I learnt a lot in this museum about the various tactics used by the resistance, such as supporting the government in exile over the pro-Nazi Quisling regime, military defence, sabotage operations, civil disobedience and unarmed resistance. There was also a lot of information about life under occupation, including prohibitions, shortages and imprisonment of Norwegian citizens both within Norway and abroad in concentration camps.
Next, I visited the Armed Forces Museum, also within Akershus Fortress. Of particular interest to me was a small display on nuclear weapons, some more information about the resistance and some rather unexpected anti-NATO graffiti on the wall.
Finally, to finish off my day, I went to the Nobel Peace Centre, which is, in my opinion, an excellent example of what a peace museum should aim to be. As well as displays about the history of the Nobel Peace Prize and its winners over the years (including Liu Xiaobo, who is currently the only Nobel Peace Prize laureate being held in detention), there was also a fascinating exhibition on combating chemical weapons and the work of the OPCW. I was completely taken aback to learn that around 150 tonnes of unexploded munitions from the First World War are still being recovered in Belgium alone every year, of which about five per cent or 7-8 tonnes are unexploded chemical weapons. It's clearly a huge job for the OPCW to collect and make safe such a huge amount of munitions which have been lying in the ground for almost one hundred years. The Nobel Peace Centre really is an excellent example of how to effectively communicate messages about peace, reconciliation and human rights and the intersections between them, and I highly recommend a visit there.
Finally, after a long first day in Oslo trekking around museums, I needed something to eat! As it was getting late and there weren't that many nearby vegan-friendly restaurants open (for some reason, quite a few cafes and restaurants in Oslo seem to close up to go on holiday during July, including a vegetarian restaurant in the city centre which had been highly recommended to me), I ended up going to Loving Hut, part of an international chain of vegan restaurants operated by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai. Generally, I try and avoid these kinds of places which are run by cults or "new religious movements" (NRMs), but on this occasion I did end up going there and the food really was delicious (I had crispy tofu with lemon on a bed of salad with rice). To understand some of the ethical problems with supporting the Loving Hut franchise, you can check out the well-researched article on it by Jamie Foley, aka Skeptical Vegan.
Anyway, so that was my first couple of days in Oslo! Keep an eye on this blog for parts two and three, which will cover my trips to museums on the Bygøy peninsula, art galleries, and of course more vegan food!