DANNY ROBINS' INDIE TRAVEL GUIDE TO... OSLO
So, we're going to the capital of Norway this week. Felt appropriate to go somewhere cold as we creep into winter and the Christmas lights come on.
Oslo's actually one of the biggest capitals in the world by geographical area, but a lot of that is forest - the city centre is small and walkable and there's not that many people living there - only about 600,000. You're very aware of nature around you. You can easily get out to places where you can sledge and ski. One of the city's landmarks and main tourist attractions is the Holmenkollen Ski Jump - it's just been redesigned and is now state-of-the-art and has a museum with a virtual ski-jumping experience should you want to experience that.
There are lots of Christmas markets there which will make you feel all nice and in the Yule spirit, unlike the tacky sponsored lights we have in the UK. You can enjoy a nice cup of gløgg (Norwegian spiced mulled wine) and a gingerbread cookie - traditional Norwegian winter warmers. On 28th November they're switching on the Christmas tree lights in Youngstorget where one of the main markets is. Being Norway, it'll be a giant pine tree direct from a local forest.
A word of warning... This is not a place to go if you're counting the pennies. Norway is expensive. Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. If you go out to eat or drink, it will make you go ouch. A pint can cost anything between £5 and £8. The trendier the bar, the more you'll pay.
Researching the current price of beer in Oslo, I stumbled across a rather good website which will tell you the price of a pint pretty much anywhere in the world. It's also available as an App. Pretty useful. I now know that the cheapest place in the world to drink is Tadjikistan (25p a pint). Norway is second most expensive.
To get you in the mood, why not read a bit of Jo (pronounced 'Yo') Nesbo? He's the latest Scandinavian crime-writing sensation, the Norwegian Steig Larsson (the bloke who wrote The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). He has a detective called Harry Hole who is, if you will, 'the Norse Morse'. The books really get you into the mindset of Norway - small country, not many people, cold, beautiful landscape, serial killers running amok, that sort of thing....
In the words of Alan Partridge... Aha!
There aren't that many Norwegian bands who've broken through onto the world stage. Certainly they massively lack behind their neighbours Sweden, but there is one giant of Norwegian pop music that towers above all others - Aha.
Many a teenage girl had her first crush on the now dreamboat that is Morten Harket. Of course, Morten and the boys are getting on a bit now and are currently on their last ever(!) world tour. Their final gigs before they retire are next month in Oslo - 2nd, 3rd and 4th Dec at the Spektrum venue, Oslo's biggest gig space. How sad is that going to be? Could be the perfect excuse to head over there? Of course, you could just go and see them in the UK - they're touring here this month.
If you're a real obsessive fan you might want to check out the Aha exhibition at the National Library of Norway. It's on until the end of January.
The other thing that Norway is famous for musically is dark and doom-laden black metal. Over the years there have been various dodgy incidents involving Satanism, burning down churches, far right views and even murder. There's a book called Lords of Chaos all about the Norwegian black metal scene and some of the stuff that went on - they're making a Hollywood adaptation of it with one of the blokes from Twilight.
There are a lot of indie bands there too. Scandinavian countries do seem good at inspiring soulful, sometimes melancholic indie pop. Here's a blog that is all about Norwegian indie music that has links to playlists they've made on Spotify.
Where to hang out...
The area around the "Youngstorget" square and the "Grünerløkka" area are where you'll find most of the places you want to hang out in. Like in New York, the East Side of Oslo is where most of the alternative stuff happens, whereas the west side is more posh.
One of the best venues for live music is Blå (meaning Blue). They have all sorts of indie gigs there - next week they have a festival of Japanese new music and in early December they've got We Are Scientists. Every Sunday they have a group called the Frank Znort Quartet (not actually a quartet as they often have 10 people on stage) - they're a bit of an institution and have been playing there on Sundays for years. It's a mixture of jazz, bluegrass and gypsy rhythms and really gets people going - it's packed every week and they hold a lottery and if you are the lucky winner you get a recording of last week's gig.
For a good beer in cosy surroundings check out Mikro Bryggeri (Bogstadveien 6, 0355 Oslo) a micro brewery who even do an English bitter and a stout.
Teddy's Soft Bar (Brugata 3A) is the only bar in Oslo protected by cultural authorities thanks to its 1950s original interior (it's been going since 1958). It's got a rockabilly vibe and you'll find a few Norwegian music and film stars hanging out here (if you know what they look like!) Teddy's apparently first brought the concept of milk shakes to Norway, but sadly they've now stopped serving them! They do good breakfasts though and burgers and of course beer and there's an original Wurlitzer jukebox with '50s and '60s music.
A good cafe with an indie vibe that gets lively as a bar and venue later on is Cafe Sør. They have good food and it won't break the bank.
It's in an area with lots of clubs. I haven't been there but I'm told Sosialen is the latest 'in' place just across the road from Cafe Sør.
How's about some quirky tourist attractions...
One of Oslo and indeed Norway's biggest tourist attractions is really quiet weird - it's a sculpture park full of quite unsettling statues of naked people. They are all the work of Gustav Vigeland, the man who designed the Noble Peace Prize medal - the medal features three naked men and he clearly was a fan of nudity as this 80 acre park is ram packed with statues designed by him of people in the nuddy. They're not nice serene nudes like you get with classical statues though, these are all just a bit disconcerting. There's a naked angry boy, a naked man throwing babies, and an obelisk made out of naked bodies -- kind of good but weird. Still, the Norwegians are very proud of it.
And once you're done with that, get yourself into town for a visit to...
Of course! It's a museum of miniature alcohol bottles. Just what any city needs. This place has a whopping 53,000 bottles though I'm sad to say only 12,500 are displayed. They're all displayed in quirky looking rooms which make you feel you're inside a giant mini-bar. It's one of those brilliantly batty obsessive collections.
It's only open on Saturdays and Sundays. There is a real bar too which is quite nice where you can drink drinks poured from full size bottles.
Regular listeners may know I like to help you out with some handy phrase to help smooth your passage through the country of choice. Norwegian is funny as it is actually two languages. There's Nowegian Bokmål and Norwegian Nynorsk - the first is more old-fashioned, the second newer and more radical, but oddly these two types only exist in the written language - the spoken language is full of even more variants - with different dialects spoken all over the country. Confused? Me too.
Anyway, here are some phrases I got translated by a real Norwegian...
"I kveld vil jeg rocke som en viking!"
- "Tonight I want to rock like a viking"
"Hvorfor kan vi ikke bare ta av oss klærne som alle skulpturene i denne parken? Hva er det verste som kan skje? Åh faktisk, forfrysning og bli arrestert? Okay, la oss droppe det."
- "Why don't we take our clothes off like all the sculptures in this park? What's the worst that can happen? Oh really, hypothermia and being arrested? Ok let's not do it."
"Jeg er redd jeg bare har en måneds lønn på meg. Hva er din billigste øl?"
- "I'm afraid I only have a month's salary on me. What's your cheapest beer?"
And finally, had to share this one with you - it's an example of the one of the Norwegian dialects - this comes from the Toten area:
"Dom som seje dom e dumme, dom e dumme dom" (written as pronounced, meaning "those who say they are stupid, they are even more stupid themselves"..........) Craaaazzyyy....
Twips... some Oslo tips from listeners...
"The big thing to see in Oslo is the nature, take the tram up to Frognerseteren, here you should rent a sleigh (if it is snow, they have built a track so you are going down 2 stations and then you jump on the tram back up again, very funny!"
"To eat, go to Curry & Ketchup (Indian food, very cheap, they don't take card), Yayas (Thai food), Delicatessen tapas restaurant (you can't reserve, during weekends it is very crowded so don't get there too hungry)."
"Listen to a concert at the "National Jazzscene" is another hot tip. The atmosphere in local is very cozy and perfect for enjoying some nice jazz music and beer.
"Dattera til Hagen" is a very indie bar. There's often concerts, improv theatre and different stuff going on there."
"There´s a bar in the city centre of Oslo that´s made out of 60 tons of ice, and always keeps minus 5 degrees C indoors. Visitors are handed out warm jackets when they enter. Mind you, it´s definitely a typical tourist thing (and expensive)."
"Munch Museum is notable for having the most intense security measures of any gallery. It's harder to get into than America because 'The Scream' keeps getting nicked."
"Walk on the roof of the opera house - amazing. (and go in). Also get out to the Turkish area - can't remember what it's called at the moment. Great change from the Nordic norm and a fantastic fleamarket."
"And go to the Fram museum. Boat ride across the harbour. Terrific. Especially in November I imagine."
"Take lots of money - seem to recall paying the equivalent of £25 for fish & chips and pint x 2 and that was about 3 yrs ago."
"Things to do: Holmenkollen ski jump, Munch, Viking ship & Kon-tiki museums. Get an Oslo pass."
Thanks to Runar Nilson, Viktor Friberg, Michelle Flower, Susan Turnbull, Merv Millar, Jenny Kerford, April ET and all the other people who sent me tips!