Mr J-M and I are developing a splendid little tradition wherein, when an artist we like announces a tour, we pick a European city and book our gig tickets, and then we follow-up by booking a short city break around the gig. We saw Nick Cave in Copenhagen last year and this year we decided to see John Grant in Oslo. We are both very fond of the Scandilands (Mr J-M practically looks like a Viking though sadly his Ancestry-DNA results recently confirmed he’s more Celt than anything else) (as did mine). I’ve only managed visits to Copenhagen, Malmö, and now Oslo so far. Mr J-M has also spent time in Iceland, and as I haven’t, an Icelandic cruise is still on my bucket list of unattainable dreams.
So it was a first time visit to Oslo and to Norway for the both of us, and a tremendously out-of-season one at that. Nevertheless, the weather was pretty mild and though we had some drizzly days, it was overcast but an acceptable autumn temperature most of the time. Which was unfortunate for me because I wanted SNOW. Frosty disappointment. Sad times. But even though the weather was unusually mild for us, and I’m sure it’s usually much colder, that’s definitely no reason not to aim for Norway in the winter months. Check out this link for some city guides – you can see that there is plenty of frosty fun to be had.
(On the way out to Oslo, I decided to try asking for a hidden disabilities lanyard at Manchester airport after I read a blog post from a fellow M.E. sufferer who’d used one recently. As it turned out, the airport was pretty much devoid of queues and people-traffic so it wasn’t really needed, but I was happy that they handed it over really quickly and that I can keep it for next time. Would recommend!)
What you’ll find, readers, is that if you book a trip to Oslo (or to Norway) everyone will immediately begin asking how rich you are, or how much money you’re taking along (rude). That’s because Norway is pricey. Holy cow. It’s pricey. We once spent the day in Sweden so we had a rough idea of what to expect. Here is what to expect in British pounds (approximate conversions):
- £6 for street vendor chips.
- £60+ for a pleasant dinner for two with two courses each and free water. No booze.
- £6 for a bag of supermarket sweets.
- £4 for a can of supermarket beer.
- £17 for a portion of dhal in an Indian restaurant.
- £8-9 for less-than-a-pint of lager in a bar or pub.
- £10 for a super cheapo fast-food meal (burger, fries, drink). (No photos because we scoffed it in our hotel room bed whilst watching Netflix.)
Regardless, all the food we bought was dee-licious. And often organic. And really excellent quality. A more expensive city, particularly one where the beer is much more expensive, has one very delightful side effect – the complete absence of boozed-up stag parties, or the more shameful/gross breed of English laddos like the ones who thought it funny to do nazi salutes in Hamburg. I’ll trade that for the complete inability to buy anything other than food and museum entry on my holidays any day of the week.
Because I was happy to avoid booze for a few days (most eateries have free tap water) I was similarly happy to spend a little extra on grub. And there was a lot of amazing grub! You really can’t go wrong at all with the excellent (and free) Vegan Norway app in your pocket. Unlike Happy Cow, it’s curated lovingly by a small group of very talented, dedicated, vegan (and local) app developers. It’s in English and functions like a dream. Whenever you want to see what’s nearby, just fire up the app and let it know your location and you’ll get a list or map of local places along with a wee write-up and usually a recommendation and an idea of price.
We would also recommend booking a hotel well in advance, and choosing one that offers bed and breakfast. We stayed in a budget Thon Hotel and it was perfect for us – comfy beds, spacious shower, smart-TV with Netflix/YouTube/etc., and a huge (mostly organic) breakfast buffet with great coffee. Most mornings I made do with bread, jam, and peanut butter, along with fruit, or a bowl of muesli with soya milk. Nicking a banana as a mid-morning snack was also advisable. We tried our best to carb-load at breakfast given the lunch and dinner prices out and about.
Another thing we did, which I’d highly recommend if you’re a museum fan, is buy a 48-hour Oslo city pass each; it gives free entry to most museums and free public transport (as well as discounts on things like the fjord cruise). We were SUPER impressed with the museums and the pass is well worth it if you use any public transport and check out a few of the included-attractions. We would particularly recommend the amazing Frammuseet (we went on the actual Fram!!), the Vikingskipshuset, and the Norsk Folkemuseum, all of which are over on the Bygdøy peninsula, which is a short bus ride away (the number 30 [dir Huk] from outside the city hall, a free journey with your city pass).
All in all our food experience was tremendous. Using the brilliant Vegan Norway app, mentioned above, we never struggled to find vegan options nearby. There are far too many places to mention here, but we visited (and very much enjoyed, and would recommend) the following:
- Elias mat & sånt – I went for the chickpea burger and the berry crumble, both very delicious.
- Kaffebrenneriet – a coffee shop chain with vegan and gluten free chocolate/hazelnut scones.
- Peloton – a cycle-themed cafe/bar with vegan pizza options.
- Creperie de Mari – a lovely cafe/bar/restaurant serving delicious buckwheat crepes with both savoury and sweet vegan options.
- Nordvegan – a reliable option with an all-vegan menu of organic food on the hearty & healthy side.
- Backstube – the budget option for filling up! All bakery items marked when vegan – you can get a huge topped-focaccia slice and an apple pastry for less than £5 total.
- Max Burger – another great budget option; various vegan options and a burger/fries/drink meal deal is around £10 total.
- Yummy Heaven – sweets!! Gelatin-free sweets labelled and ingredients listed.
Of course, John Grant was also an incomparable delight ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜 Mr J-M’s not so keen on his newer gay disco stuff and much prefers the crooning; I like both, so I was very satisfied indeed. The free tap water tasted particularly good that night.
On the overall I was pretty mega thrilled by Oslo. Mr J-M prefers Copenhagen with its world-class cycling infrastructure (and possibly the cheaper øl) and I was awfully fond of Copenhagen too, for sure. There was something I can’t quite put my finger on about Oslo and Norway though – yes, everything is super expensive, but at the same time I feel that there is much less of a culture of endlessly consuming disposable and tatty STUFF. There is a greater sense of ‘community’ (albeit enforced) in that taxes (both income and value added) are very high, but wages are living wages, with fewer wage gaps and therefore (in theory) a more egalitarian social structure. It all seemed a bit less about self-centered bluster and braggery. A bit more about consuming mindfully, about enjoying what you have, and about quality rather than quantity.
All that seems very alien and appealing (and healing) to a completely useless Manchester-born adult like me; I spend half my time trying to cure serious long-term mental health problems with pick & mix sweets and new stationery, and the other half trying not to go mad because of the stresses of my job and my commute and anything else that life gleefully and violently lobs at the side of my head like a rotting turnip in the hands of an east Manchester teenager. I spend all my money on pens and carbohydrates and notebooks and ultimately meaningless material fripperies when I should be saving for a holiday home in Scandinavia (or at least retirement). Mr J-M does a very kind, generous, and valiant job of keeping me on the straight and narrow for the most part, but I feel like it shouldn’t be quite such hard work.
(Please forgive the hyperbole I just got back from my hols…..)
I just can’t help but feel that we could all benefit from hygge or lykke or gezellig or whatever the heck it’s called in almost any language other than English because we don’t really have such a thing. Maybe it’s just the post-holiday blues talking, but I’m not sure I was ever more disappointed to arrive back in “Great” Britain and be immediately plunged back into the grim northern realities of everyday life.
Or maybe it’s my unstable sense of self talking but since Mr J-M and I would rather surgically remove our own reproductive innards with cheap cutlery than produce any little humans, shouldn’t we be living out our rather inconsequential lives somewhere more peaceful and progressive and hopeful than England? Roll on the next forest hot tub holiday is all I can say, folks. Cor blimey!
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