Fjords And Beyond

Friday, January 15, 2010
Travel Writer

President Obama reportedly spent just 26 hours in Oslo last month, where he collected his Nobel Peace Prize, delivered a speech and then skedaddled back to Washington to deal with health care and Afghanistan.
Still, he did manage to put Norway’s capital in the news. What better opportunity, then, to revisit this flourishing Nordic city, if only to consider what a less-busy traveler might have done? A spectacular new opera house, the recently opened Nobel Peace Center and excellent skiing are just a few of the attractions. And while the cost of living is (often shockingly) high, some favorite wintertime activities are surprisingly inexpensive.

Oslo is an easy place to enjoy — a clean, well-organized lively city with spectacular natural beauty and friendly, multilingual locals. Compact and urbane, its downtown neighborhoods lend themselves easily to walking, and winter temperatures are generally no more fearsome than those in New York.
In winter, when pale sunlight glistens on the snowy firs of this city’s many lush forests and darkness cloaks the streets in mid-afternoon, Oslo is a polar bear’s paradise. Some of the world’s most beautiful skiing spots are within a short hop of downtown, along with opportunities for sledding, ice-skating and other seasonal sports. Norwegians don’t hunker down in cold weather; rather, they take full advantage of it in the city’s many candlelit cafés and snowy parks.
Jewish visitors to Oslo will find a warm and well-organized community of about 850 people. With roots in both Inquisition-era Iberia and Ashkenazic Europe, the Norwegian Jewish community survived periods of tolerance and repression before being almost totally annihilated during the Holocaust. Only 25 Jews survived.
In the decades since, Oslo’s Jewish community has evolved through the immigration of refugees — many of them Ashkenazim from postwar Hungary — and Israelis, and today boasts a thriving Ashkenazic synagogue, a mikveh, schools and community centers, and a kosher food shop. So that the small community functions cohesively, observance is officially Orthodox, but welcoming to Jews of all persuasions.
The Mosaic Religious Community is the official organizing body of Oslo Jewry; its English-language website offers all the information a Jewish traveler might desire to plan a visit, including a kosher product guide. The Oslo Jewish Museum, while modest, is interesting for those curious about Norwegian Jews’ multi-century history. Open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, it costs about $8 for adults.
Oslo has a major new attraction in the form of its Opera House, inaugurated last year amid a flurry of international architecture prizes. Its dramatic waterfront location at the mouth of the Oslofjord, a sparkling-blue bay that slices through southern Norway, has drawn comparisons to the Opera House’s counterpart in Sydney.

The building is a stunningly modernist series of shimmering white slopes and angles that evoke the region’s signature snowy mountains, and that slide cleanly into the tranquil waters of the Oslofjord. Throughout the year, the Opera House hosts performances by Oslo’s national opera and ballet companies, as well as classical concerts and an arts school for children.
The Nobel Prizes have been awarded for achievements in sciences, literature and peace every year since 1901, but it was just four years ago that the Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation opened the Nobel Peace Center. a public museum, in Oslo. The building is shimmering white on the outside, cheery red and forest-green on the inside, and features the striking Café de la Paix designed by Chris Ofili, the British artist who became famous here when then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani objected to Ofili’s placement of elephant dung on his portrait of the Madonna. Guided tours are offered in English at 1 p.m. on weekends.
The center’s aim is both to educate the public about the Nobel mission and its laureates, as well as to provoke thought and conversation about issues of war, peace and human rights. “A Call to Action” is a new exhibition about this year’s peace honoree, President Obama, while another current exhibition, “From King to Obama,” traces the history of the American civil rights movement.
Oslo offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. One of the most popular spots is Frognerseteren, conveniently reachable by the Holmenkollbanen metro line. Frognerseteren is located in the Marka, Oslo’s sprawling forest, at the top of a mountain with spectacular views of the city lights and the harbor front.
Throughout Marka, you can hike through mountain trails, ski and snowboard. At Frognerseteren, you can also rent a sled (helmets lend for free) and take a toboggan ride down the 2,000-meter slope; an easy metro connection takes you back up the hill for another round. The Kafe Setersua is a beloved traditional restaurant housed in a rustic 19th-century lodge that features Norwegian fare like meatballs and apple cake along with warming hot toddies.
Oslo’s answer to Rockefeller Center is the Narvisen ice skating rink, scenically located at street-level in the heart of downtown. It’s a cheap thrill: there is no charge to glide through the darkness and take in the city lights, and skates rent for less than $8.
For most people, a visit to Oslo would be incomplete without a stop at the Munch Museum. The vast majority of works by Norway’s most famous artist, Edvard Munch, remain within the country, making this a unique opportunity (and a relatively cheap one: admission is less than $10, a bargain by Met and MoMA standards).
Two major exhibitions will open in mid-January: “Munch and Denmark,” chronicling the artist’s engagement with Copenhagen that links Scandinavia with continental Europe, and “Works from the Permanent Collection,” which includes masterpieces not regularly on display.
Travelers’ Resources:
Oslo Tourism information (including arts and sports information in English): www.visitoslo.com
Mosaic Religious Community (Jewish tourist information): http://www.dmt.oslo.no/english
Nobel Peace Center:
http://nobelprize.org/nobelpeacecenter/index.html
Frognerseteren mountain resort:
http://www.frognerseteren.no
Oslo Jewish Museum:
http://www.jodiskmuseumoslo.no/
Munch Museum: http://www.munch.museum.no n
 

Cultural high note: The modernist Oslo Opera House was inaugurated last year amid a flurry of international architecture prizes.

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