My retired parents spend about half the year in my childhood neighborhood in Illinois, and the other half of the year all the way out in the Philippines. Neither place is anywhere by my daughter in Oakland. My husband and I both had grandparents raising us in our childhood, and we sometimes worry that my daughter doesn’t have enough of that same quality time.
We recently took a trip with them to Norway, and spent some time in Oslo together. The idea of trying to experience a new city is a little daunting because we would be in a larger group, and at different stages of life’s interests and general fitness. I can see the benefit and prefer to travel in small groups when necessary, but I knew some adjustments would need to be made to enjoy our time together and see all that we wanted to see.
As we packed our bags together in Oakland, I knew I would need to change some of my expectations for the trip, and help them to prepare for what my husband and I were looking forward to. Most of the planning was done ahead of time and I wanted to be sure we were all on the same page. Things like making sure they have the appropriate and adequate layers was something we caught right away and made sure to sort through the gear prior to the plane.
We landed in Oslo in the early afternoon and the first thing we did was walk to the AirBnb close by. My husband and I chose an apartment to rent because of it’s proximity to the train station and the Oslo Opera House that we wanted to see. With our luggage and backpacks in tow, we walked over to the apartment. What would normally be about a 15 minute walk ( 3/4 mile), became 30 minutes with additional bags and the short legs of the little one.
To make matters worse, it had started drizzling, so at one point we had my parents take a bench with the little one and the bags so that my husband and I could pick up the apartment keys quickly and get us all indoors. We had picked up some groceries along the way to cook, but couldn’t figure out how to work the stove so we left for some eats to put us in better traveling spirits.
Without an idea of a place to go, we decided to start walking the city to find a restaurant. The reality of how difficult this task would be was sinking in. We had no idea where to look, we were all a bit tired from the walk with all the stuff to the apartment, and now we were all hungry. We wandered a bit aimlessly, in a busy area of Oslo, looking for food while getting more hungry and tired in the process. We finally ended up at by the train station again, and finding a restaurant to stop in for some Norwegian food.
The Café Cathedral is a centrally located spot with some Norwegian specials mixed in with some general touristy fare. The place had Norwegian specialties like fish soup, moose stew, and reindeer steak… but also had pizza and pastas. Service was great, food was good, and I highly recommend the $20 soup over the $40 steak, but the best thing there was the national cake, Verdens Beste. The $12 slice of cake is something of a sponge cake with merengue layers in vanilla custard. Topped with whipped cream and chopped almonds, it may have made my top 3 cakes of all times list.
Once fed and back in good spirits, we walked over to the Oslo Opera House on the way back to the apartment. This iceberg-inspired building sits on the Oslo fjord and is an impressive piece of architecture in the city. They offer tours, but wandering around is free. As you walk around, the large windows display costume tailoring spaces and wig workshop studios to give an idea of some of the inner workings of the opera house. As you work your way up to upper levels, you can get a pretty great view of the city and the fjord. We really wanted to check out their “Mini” program, which is for ages 4-7, and educates and exposes the youth to opera. They play in costume and learn plots and songs, even presenting something to adults after the 50 minute session. Unfortunately, they were all booked up until 2017, so make sure to call first if you are interested.
Back at the apartment, we got settled in, and over some Frydenlund pilsners that we picked up at the store, I did a little additional research to prepare for the next day. We were going to try to pack in as much as we could in the day, but I wanted to be sure we weren’t as tired or hungry as we were that day. I double checked locations of things to be able to plan efficient routes. I also wanted to keep in mind that we would probably still be feeling tired and tried not to over extend our plan.
We started the day off with some bread, fruit, and brunost (a Norwegian sweet brown cheese). We packed our bags and walked back to the train station to put them in the lockers for easy retrieval at the end of the day. We carried only what we needed, and we were off to explore the city.
Passing the Cafe Cathedral from yesterday, we walked to Karl Johans Gate and passed through the boutiues and main shopping areas. My parents wanted to stop and check out the actual cathedral that the Cafe is named for, as we explored a beautiful open air flower market outside.
Karl Johans Gate continued with more shopping and a large and park, Eidsvoll Pass, which was filled with fall colors in the tress. The colorful path led us to the Royal Palace, Kongehuset. I didn’t bother with the entrance and tour here as I felt there was more to see, but it was nice taking that walk up to see it from Karl Johans.
Turning from Kongehuset, we walked over to the Nobel Peace Prize Center, or Nobels Fredssenter. I initially wanted to turn it into a lesson in injustice for Evie, but it was so interesting that we soon found all of us literally reading the writing on the walls. We each searched to read more about the winner of our birth year and some notable people throughout the years. It was all pretty informative, and since one area was being set up for a new exhibit, we even got discounted tickets.
From there it was time to re-fuel, and we found a great spot en route to the next destination. Rorbua had some Norwegian goodies, like that fish soup (which my mom ordered since the last one was so good), open faced sandwiches, pancakes (crepes), and all sorts of Norway’s fisherman history on display. Next to the fjord gives it a great location for people and water watching. With dishes at about $20-30, it wasn’t the cheapest option, but for great service and a prime location to stop and relax for the day, it was perfect.
Post lunch, we walked to the Astrup Fearnley Art Museum of Contemporary Art. Contemporary art can be an enigma to me, and this was no exception. My husband, Evie, and I walked around as my parents relaxed a bit on the furniture in the lobby. The exterior building was the draw here and the use of lines and angles were my main attraction. We saw some incredible work and some confusing work, but as more things started to freak little Evie out, it was time to move on.
Walking back along the fjord, as more clouds started to part, we got to have a great view of other monuments like the waterfront Akershus Fortress as well as access to some green spaces located there. The various boats in the water ranged from historic (and open for tours) to fishing boats with customers lined up on the side to get some fresh caught seafood. A playground along the water gave us a little break from walking and Evie got to explore the different activities.
We cut through the streets to slowly make our way back to the train station to await our train up to the Northern end of Norway. We were able to pop into various places like sneaker shops, deign stores, souvenir stands, and food markets. My favorite here was Fenaknoken, a meat shop specializing in Norwegian specialties. We walked in and the shop owner, Eirik, greeted us with samples of a reindeer sausage pizza. He continued to tell us more about the Norwegian history of cured meats; what kinds, the process, even the cultural history… offering different tastes of the charcuterie along the way. I was like a kid in a candy store. Cured lambs legs hang from the ceiling, as we were taken from moose sausage to herrings to brunost. You can see a genuine passion for the art of making the items, and the love of all the small farms and local producers.
Last stop before the station was Det Grønne Kjøkken on Kongens Gate. Some cappuccinos and a nutella crepe was necessary. We sat and enjoyed a break with some wi-fi, and I was able to do a bit of work.
We made it back to the train station and hung out here for a couple hours until our train came. I know my parents and my daughter were both tired from the walking. My dad even took her to the ice cream shop in the station for being such a trooper. Luckily, there’s plenty of shops in the station and it is even connected to a mall, so my husband and I were able to pick up travel needs and groceries while we waited. Right before boarding, we went to the lockers and grabbed our bags. It was off to the next whirlwind adventure.
The parents and my daughter did pretty good for so many hour on their feet. We stayed in a relatively small area of Oslo, but saw a lot of things. We took breaks to eat and rest to keep us all in good shape to press on. In the end, it was lovely memories made with all of them. Evie may not have her grandparents around to be with her regularly, but the time she does have with them will be remembered with such fondness. I’m happy that my parents are in pretty good shape that they were able to do so much, all things considered I know a lot of parents who wouldn’t be able to do that. My parents are used to traveling with guided groups and tour busses, so I’m glad they let me take the reins on this one. As much planning that was done to see all that we wanted to in a short time, we also made great discoveries just walking around.
We loved Oslo and it will always be special with this group because we were together.
Our map for reference: