Next country: Norway! Oslo should have been a four hour drive away, except that we left Sweden on a Friday afternoon in peak hour traffic. Five hours later we arrived. We had no idea when we actually entered Norway; just like most of Europe, arriving in a new country didn't seem to be a big deal (every one was a huge milestone for us). We passed beautiful scenery on the way, including several stunning, silvery-grey lakes. Yet the closer we were to Oslo, the more wet everything became (they do say that Norway is a rainy country). I hoped this wasn't an omen of how our Norwegian adventure would unfold.
Our destination was a caravan park just outside the city, but about two kilometres out we encountered an automatic tollway (no cash facilities). We were driving on a small residential street, which seemed like an odd place to put a toll. We tried to detour the paid road but we just found more tolls and blocked roads (trying to catch people like us, trying avoiding the tolls). We had no choice but to go through it then ask at the caravan park how to pay for it. Luckily it turned out not to be too hard, just a hassle. Although we already knew it, our first impressions were that Norway was going to be an expensive country.
The caravan park was one large, muddy field with a single toilet block to one side. There would have been decent views over Oslo if the low hanging clouds disappeared. We ate dinner at 10 p.m. (which was when we arrived) and drank the cider I bought in Malmö. It was so much better than the sweet varieties I had been drinking lately. It rained on and off all night, making the ground around us even more muddy. It looked like we were in for a wet week in Norway.
It was amazingly good to have a sleep in and a shower after I'm not going to admit how many days. We were also excited about doing a load of laundry, which we needed to hang up inside due to the terrible weather. Our van is tiny, but we managed to string up a cord crossing the van side to side multiple times. The damp smell wasn't appealing, but clean-smelling clothes were much better than the alternative.
After our lazy start, we parked outside the caravan park and caught the bus into town, which was only a 15 minute bus ride away. In the centre we jumped onto a tram and travelled out to Vigeland Sculpture park, a huge outdoor space full of sculptures of naked people in random positions with disturbing facial expressions. The park was beautiful and quite interesting but busy with tour groups, which spoiled things a little.
From Vigeland we caught the tram back to centre, where we visited the royal palace (average) and then headed to the National Gallery. We were just about to buy tickets when I spotted a brochure and discovered it was free on Sundays, so we left with the plan to come back tomorrow. We also learned that this weekend was the Norwegian Wood Festival (whatever that meant – apparently something to do with the Beatles according to Danny) and there was a street parade of different cultures. One culture apparently involved baton twirlers (American?) and overall it was not very exciting. It was at this point that it started to rain so we ducked into McDonald's for a while to wait for it to stop.
It didn't. In the end I gave up and walked to the Nobel Peace Centre, thinking it was close by but it took me 15 minutes to find the building and by that time I was soaked. Coincidentally today was the Peace Centre's birthday and there was free entry for today only. Norway is the most expensive country in Europe so any saving of money is a victory. The centre wasn't as big as I was expecting and focussed heavily on Norway's Nobel Peace Prize winners, but overall it was worthy of a visit.
I met up with Danny again and we decided that today was a write-off (it was still raining) so we made our way back to our van. We stopped at a supermarket and discovered all the alcohol fridges locked. We asked another customer what the deal was and he said something about not selling alcohol because the festival was on. Between the lousy weather, cost of everything and now the lack of alcohol sales, Norway was not looking to hit the top of our favourite European countries list.
Back at the car we drove down the road from the caravan park for the night so we could catch the bus in the morning. Of course it stopped raining as soon as we stepped inside. Incredibly we discovered we could receive free internet where we were parked (even the caravan park didn't have internet), so that was a bonus. We spent the night eating risotto for dinner, watching a movie on the computer and munching on a huge bowl of popcorn for dessert.
It was blue skies and sun when we woke up, which lasted all day. This did not equate to warmth though - summer means something completely different this far north compared to what we know in Australia. We caught the bus into town again and jumped off at the Opera House. It was a strange, modern building that we could walk up to the top of via a series of wide, outdoor ramps, to see the views over the harbour. The surface was extremely uneven and all one colour so people were constantly tripping over. We even saw a couple of paramedics helping an elderly man who had fallen and couldn't stand up. A few design flaws there I think.
From the Opera House we walked along the water for a while before coming up to a fortress/castle, which also gave us harbour views. The fortress consisted of large grounds and many buildings but not much of interest. From here we walked back to the National Gallery for our free entry and we were pleasantly surprised. We skipped the first section (too old) and enjoyed the second half immensely. There was a whole room dedicated to Munch, the highlight being one of the two Scream pictures he painted.
After the National Gallery Danny wanted to visit the Design Museum (he has a thing for Scandinavian design), which was also free today. Like the paintings, he was more into the 19th century pieces than the older works. I admit it wasn't all bad, almost like a fancy Ikea, but overall it was not really my thing.
Next we walked along the river, past several cascades and dozens of people sun baking, although it wasn't even 20ºC. We then meandered through an alternative/hippy area, with a market and live music spilling out on the streets. If alcohol wasn't so expensive here we probably would have stopped to have a drink and listen to the music. Speaking of alcohol, we have not found one shop that sells bottles of wine to take home. Not even in the supermarkets. Maybe it's so expensive here that no one buys it.
After wandering around a bit more we headed back to the car for a curry soup dinner, then decided to get a jump start on tomorrow's leg (approximately eight hours). We ended up driving almost two hours into the sun (even at 10:30 p.m.) and stopped in the small town of Kongsberg. There we found a large gravel car park right next to a wide, fast-flowing river. The scenery along the way was amazing: lots of fir and pine trees lining beautiful lakes, with the sun reflecting off them in brilliant patterns. We imagined it would be even better tomorrow.