If we thought we were lucky by being in Stockholm for Eurovision, it was nothing compared to showing up in Oslo on the morning of May 16th.
We had taken the night bus from Stockholm, with cushy La-Z-Boy-style seats, charging outlets, wifi and plenty of room. The girl in front of us Snapchatted some boy for hours, while her friend giggled next to her. Penny and I took moments like these (evenings in our hostels, wifi on trains and busses) to update our families and friends via Instagram or Facebook. Tagging each other, sharing candid photos we’d taken of each other, and laughing at each other’s captions. 95% of Penny’s photos were of food.
When we arrived in Oslo at 6am, we got off the bus groggy and confused. The best word for Oslo at 6am on May 16th was: dead. There was not a soul in that city. Even the few people who came the entire length of the bus route with us, immediately disappeared into waiting cars, or down side streets. The city was absolutely, completely empty.
There was a carnival in the middle of the city near the bus stop. There is nothing creepier than empty carnival rides at dawn. We went into a subway station to get travel passes from a machine, and hoped there were no unsavoury characters waiting in the shadows for a couple of young, female tourists. Penny looked for a place to pee, but alas, we were dismayed to find that the public restrooms required Norwegian coins that we did not yet have.
With nowhere to go, and our city bus to the campground not scheduled to arrive until about 8am, we sat in Central Station and bought some canned food and hard bread/crackers for our dinner at the campground. The train station convenience store was the only thing open, anywhere. Penny bought two pieces of pizza at 7am, and demolished them.
Once we got to Bogstad Campground, things were looking up. We paid for our spot (since we were tenting, with no car to park, I think it was about $13 each per night), and went to stake out a place for our tent. A nap was in order before we could figure out a plan for the day.
Since we hadn’t done any real hiking so far on our trip, and we were told by the staff that there were trails nearby, we decided to spend this beautiful day exploring the mountain trails. We ventured out in search of the trailhead, and found a busy beach with some swans (by the way have you ever seen a swan OUT of the water? What odd animals. Huge, and a little scary too…
Once we found the trailhead and got going… that’s when we finally realized what was happening around us. We met some older ladies, who were also out for a hike, and once we got to chatting, they let us know that everyone spent May 16th sleeping, hiking and drinking, since the next day was their national holiday.
We were in the capital city of Norway, for their national holiday.
That’s like being in Ottawa on Canada Day. Absolutely insane.
How had we not known this???
They were very nice ladies, and were pleased that we’d be able to see Oslo at its most lively and colourful. They told us all we had to do to properly celebrate on the 17th was to “dress up, watch the parade, and eat salmon.” As for the hike, they were really keen to tell us about a place called Tryvannstua, and that we just had to follow the ski hill and we’d come across a cafe. We were a bit skeptical that there was a cafe in the middle of nowhere on a mountaintop, but we followed their instructions nonetheless. Either way, we were getting outside and enjoying some Norwegian mountains!
Whaddya know. There was a freakin’ cafe in the middle of the woods. The scenery along the way was incredible, the air was like nothing I’d ever breathed in my life, and I’ve never enjoyed a snack so much, as I did the coffee and ice cream we got at the top. It’s the little things, you know?
We took a slightly different route back to camp, and got to explore a historic farm, more water, and so much sunshine.
Dinner was some canned soup we got for a few dollars at the train station, with some hard bread for dippin’! Then we settled in for the coldest “sleep” in history. We learned our lesson. The next night… all the clothes.
Alright, here’s where our first impression of Oslo got completely turned on its head.
May 16th in Oslo = 0 human beings.
May 17th in Oslo = every Norwegian on planet Earth.
We bussed into the city early in the morning, witnessing many a Norwegian in traditional outfits heading to the festivities. We found a seat at the first cafe we came to near the parade and settled in for sunshine, caffeine, flag-waving and the best people-watching. After the parade, we explored as much of Oslo as we could. The Opera House, a free outdoor concert, Aker Brygge, a ferry ride to see the islands, a fortress that seemed to be the gathering place for many young people looking to relax and look out over the city and harbour, one of Oslo’s oldest streets and the most beautiful and well-placed cemetery I’ve ever seen.
After a much warmer night of tenting, we got up the next day to have one last coffee and treat at Kaffebrenneriet before boarding the train to Bergen through the fjords and mountains. We loved this cafe, and had a great discussion with our server re: coffee prices in Norway vs Canada. She couldn’t believe you could get a cup of coffee for $1.75 (or ~10 NOK). The cheapest (non-espresso) coffee available at any Scandinavian cafe seemed to be about $4-5 CAD.
We only spent 2 days in Oslo, but man we got a lot done!
- $13/night per person at campground (best decision we could have made. Hotels on a national holiday would have been insanely pricey)
- Hiking: Free
- People-watching: Free
- Camp food and gas for camp stove: $6 each
- Coffee/treats/food on May 17th: $30-40
- Transit (Ruter) pass: $14 per 24-hr pass
- Train to Bergen: $138 each
- Train food/coffee: ~$10-15 (we also packed snacks that we got at the station)
Not including the train ride, I spent about $100 in Oslo over the 2 days we were there. Including the train ride and train food (since it took 11 hours, basically a whole travel day), it was about $79 for May 16-18th. Not bad! I might be forgetting some small expenses, and I’m estimating the meal costs, but I know it wasn’t much. We ate at a popular cafeteria (not a fancy restaurant) on the 17th, and otherwise relied on camp food or food trucks. I do remember wandering around for a long time to find supper on the 17th, as everything was closing early! I can’t remember what we wound up doing for food that night, but I think it was more canned stew. At least, I think it was stew. I still don’t know what “sodd” means.
Have you ever arrived in a capital city for their national holiday (by mistake, or on purpose)? What was it like?