Emily C. Skaftun

(skŏf • tŭn) n. A writer of speculative fiction.

Tag: nils anders

Two ways to rush through Oslo

You can see more than you think on a short trip to Norway’s capital—even while smelling the roses

Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.

Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO
Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.

With so much to see in a fascinating place like Oslo, you may think it best to budget a week or more in Norway’s capital city. I can’t argue with that thinking, of course, but the reality of traveling is that we can usually not spend as much time anywhere as we’d like (except for airports. We spend far too much time in those).

The first time I visited Oslo it was for one day, an afterthought squeezed in between uncooperative train and flight schedules. The second time I hoped would be more leisurely, but I ended up with just over two days! Still, one can see a lot in a short visit if properly armed and motivated.

For armaments, you’ll need an Oslo Pass and a map. If you’re privileged enough to have a smartphone that actually works in Norway (no, I’m not bitter at my cell phone carrier. NOT AT ALL.), there is an app for all of that, called Visit Oslo. I’m sure it works wonders. For those of us who find ourselves suddenly in the last century with regards to personal technology, a physical Oslo Pass and map will do just fine. You can pick these up at most hotels, and also at a visitor’s office at the train station. They’re available in 24-, 48-, and 72-hour versions, and the clock doesn’t start running on it until your first use. The Oslo Pass also comes with a pocket-sized paper guide to everything it offers. Which is an incredible amount! Between attractions and public transportation, it’s a real bargain.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun The finished statues in Vigeland Park are pretty great, but in the Gustav Vigeland Museum (park-adjacent) you can explore what it took to make them—and see examples of the sculptor’s other works.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The finished statues in Vigeland Park are pretty great, but in the Gustav Vigeland Museum (park-adjacent) you can explore what it took to make them—and see examples of the sculptor’s other works.

On that first trip we arrived late in the evening, found some food, and wandered on Karl Johans gate and down to the Opera House before heading back to the hotel to plan our attack on the next day. The goal: to see as much as possible.

We started by taking the ferry (included!) from the Oslo Harbor in front of the Rådhus over to Bygdøy, where you’ll find a cluster of museums. If you’re into boats, this is the place for you: the Viking Ship Museum is there, along with museums hosting the Fram and Kon-Tiki (and Ra). They are all rather small museums, and all included in your Oslo Pass.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun The Fram is just one of the famous Norwegian ships clustered in Bygdøy. But it is one of the more impressive, and you can even go on deck.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The Fram is just one of the famous Norwegian ships clustered in Bygdøy. But it is one of the more impressive, and you can even go on deck.

Next to these is the famous Norsk Folk Museum filled with brown farm buildings with grass roofs. You will probably want to spend a little more time here, to take in the living history demonstrators who bring the place to life, by, for example, offering you lefse baked on the medieval hearth in a farmhouse.

I’m pretty sure we did all of this before lunch.

After that, we took the boat back and walked toward the t-bane (subway), which allowed us to spot half a dozen points of interest at least enough to point at them. Ooh! The palace! Right here in the middle of the city, you say? Neat!

We took the subway to the Munch Museum, which is also pretty small—but mandatory if you’re into art at all. “The Scream” is in the National Gallery of Art, but since it was a theme Munch returned to over and over, there is also a Scream at his museum—the exhibit does change, but this seems to be a constant. After all, that is really what people are coming to see.

We hopped back on the t-bane and went to Frogner Park, which contains Vigeland Park, which is also mandatory. I don’t care how short your visit to Oslo is; go see the creepy iconic work of Norway’s best-known sculptor and take selfies with the statues.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun From the top of Holmenkollen you can see all of Oslo, looking shockingly far away.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
From the top of Holmenkollen you can see all of Oslo, looking shockingly far away.

Our last stop on that visit was all the way up to Holmenkollen, the ski jump that looms over Oslo like the launch pad for a spaceship. It hosts a small museum of ski jumping and of course the view from the top of the jump, which is to say the view of all Oslo.

Our assessment was that we’d seen the crap out of Oslo. Not bad for a day’s work.

My second visit, I was on a mission: to research articles like this one, yes, but I also had meetings in various parts of the city that disrupted the flow of my sightseeing. One thing I discovered early on was that, even though it was theoretically the height of the tourist season (early August), things close early. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t much happening in the center of the city. Many attractions are closed on Sundays, or on Mondays, so plan your route with that in mind. Save parks for the evenings, at least when long summer daylight allows. Because for some reason, everything else closes at either 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Nils Anders lets out his angst in Marina Abramović’s sculpture, intended as a frame for the scenery of Munch’s “The Scream.”

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Nils Anders lets out his angst in Marina Abramović’s sculpture, intended as a frame for the scenery of Munch’s “The Scream.”

I started with Ekebergparken, a new sculpture park on the east side of town. One of the area’s claims to fame is that it is the view Munch used for “The Scream” and other of his works. Marina Abramović’s sculpture, a frame at the edge of a platform, gives you the chance to be your own Scream. You will have to hike a bit to get there. Yes, farther than you think. Make a left at Tony Oursler’s “Klang,” an A/V hobbit house wall (described by the park’s website as a “video grotto”), and eventually you will get there, even though it doesn’t seem like it!

My first full day in Oslo looked something like:
• wander Karl Johans gate from Stortinget to the palace
• head toward the harbor but instead run into the Ibsen Museum and decide to stop
• meeting
• find myself at the Nobel museum and decide why not?
• by-appointment viewing of Emanuel Vigeland’s mausoleum (more on this in another article, I promise!)
• wandering, dinner

And my second day went:
• Gustav Vigeland’s museum
• Frogner park
• meeting, other meeting
• Munch Museum
• realize that there’s still time to get to the National Gallery, so go
• wandering, dinner

On both days the theme was one of being able to see more than I’d expected to. I wouldn’t be certain if there was time to properly see something, like the Ibsen Museum. But having the Oslo Pass emboldened me to give it a try—I knew it wouldn’t cost anything more if I needed to come back again, and I also never worried about spending money to visit a museum only to stay for a short time. Aside from E. Vigeland’s mausoleum, the Oslo Pass covers everything I did.

Also, and I say this with no disrespect, these are not overly large museums. Even the National Gallery’s permanent collection is possible to get through in an hour, and it has a more impressive Munch collection than the actual Munch Museum—not to mention other Norwegian artists. So maybe it’s not a museum to shock and awe visitors, but I find that a refreshing change of pace from one that takes all day, or many days (I’m looking at you, Louvre) to see properly.

That will perhaps change in the coming years. Three new museums are set to open soon—a new National Museum, which will combine the current National Gallery and History Museums, a new National Library, and a new Munch Museum in a whole new location (literally—the location is currently water in Oslo’s harbor). In the years after that, the expanded Viking Ship Museum will also come online.

So if you’re inclined to rush though Oslo, my advice is to rush to Oslo first, before its museums grow too big to handle.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Iceland in winter, part 4: What goes up must come down

On day six we got back into the car for the “golden circle.” The first stop was Þingvellir, which is apparently the continental divide between North America and Europe. A big crack in the earth. Many trolls watching from the rocks. Very cold and slippery.

You can't tell me these aren't trolls.

You can’t tell me these aren’t trolls.

We stopped next at Gullfoss, where it was blizzarding. We ate and shopped in the store at the top–sharing bottomless soup and coffee–and then walked down partway. It was late enough that we were already losing the light and so we made it a quick trip. Big waterfall! Largely frozen!

Gullfoss. Most-photographed waterfall in the world?

Gullfoss. Most-photographed waterfall in the world?

The last stop was at Geysir, which ended up being hilarious. We walked around and saw the hot, bubbling water, and Mer made fun of Chris because when they’d been there before he’d been attacked by one of the geysers. This time we were all attacked by Strokkur. It blasted up into the air, and I judged that the water was going to come back down on top of us, so I ran out of the way. Well, not ran, because it was icy. I shuffled like a cautious velociraptor out of the way. The others didn’t. The hunkered down and got pretty soaked, and we laughed and laughed about it. None of them were sure they weren’t going to be horribly burned (the water erupts from the earth at a high temperature!), but still they just waited for it. Meanwhile, I was sure the water would cool fast in the frigid air; I was only afraid of being drenched–and I ran like a ninny.

We decided not to do Big Dinner that night; some of us went to a supermarket (sort of like an Icelandic Wal-Mart) and I bought a lot of cocolate to give out as gifts. Then we went downtown to the Hlöllabátar sandwich place that Bunny and Crow had loved so much on their last Iceland visit–we had been hearing about them all week–and took them back to the hotel room to eat. Good sandwiches, though maybe not as incredible as the hype.

Day seven was about wandering Reykjavík. We started by driving to Perlan, which really does have the best view in town. Would like to eat there sometime when it’s light late. Surely it will be next time we’re in Reykjavík.

We dropped the rental car off in a full-on blizzard, and got them to drop us in town, where it was only mildly snowy. We wandered the main street of Reykjavík, which I will always love. Tourist shops, coffee shops, book shops. Iceland loves books. I love that about it.

It was almost time to decide about Elfschool. Elfschool is the “famous” (in my circles it is, okay? don’t judge me) brainchild of Magnús Skarphéðinsson. I’ve known people who’ve gone to it, or have it on their bucket lists. It’s right at the intersection of being a fantasy writer and also being the editor of the Norwegian American Weekly and traveling with our little mascot, a “nisse” called Nils Anders Wik. I wanted very much to go. The others were on the fence about it, and I was on the fence about whether it would be fun to do it without them.

But first I made everyone tromp all the way back down to “Moby Dick on a Stick” (Sægreifinn / The Sea Baron), which as it happens is much bigger than I ever knew. We sat upstairs (there’s an upstairs!). Whale continues to be delicious (I’m sorry people, but it is), though I was less impressed with the lobster soup this time than last. Maybe it’s just the season.

Okay, but then it was really time to decide, and I decided I wanted to go to Elfschool. Everyone else bailed on me, so I went alone. I hailed a cab, and almost started crying because it felt so weirdly sad to break off from the herd.

Magnús is a character. I took a lot of notes, but it was really just tales and anecdotes that he’d collected. He is very sincere, and blames the decline in Hidden People relations on the Enlightenment. Our group had the second-ever Icelandic person to go to Elfschool, which was a really nice addition. They chatted amongst themselves, mostly in English. The pancakes were fantastic. Magnús had a tendency to pause in his ramblings for a long time and then sort of start over. We had to remind him of his place several times. His husband was also a character. They’d talk in Icelandic and Magnús would run off for long periods. I wish I knew what they were saying. I may have to learn Icelandic once I get a grip on Norwegian. But did I learn about Elves? Not really. I’m sorry, Magnús.

Magnús and Nils Anders.

Magnús and Nils Anders.

There were so many new friends at Elfschool that Nils Anders didn't even get to meet them all.

There were so many new friends at Elfschool that Nils Anders didn’t even get to meet them all.

Afterward I split a cab with the Irish couple and met the rest of my folks at Kex, which turned out to be a very interesting bar in a hostel. Very loud. But everyone was in a good mood and there was a Scottish band who played one terrible, cliché set of mopey songs–“love is the key that unlocks every door”–and then their second set, as we were leaving, was much better. It was the kind of place I would have loved to stay in my younger traveling days. Or live in. Whatever.

And then the trip was over. This morning we had our last smörgåsbord breakfast, packed our over-stuffed bags, and hit the hotel’s spa. It’s no Blue Lagoon or Mývatn, or even Akureyri pool, but it was a fine way to wrap up our stay in Iceland.

We drank a lot of booze on the way back to the airport, and then bought a lot more booze in the airport, and basically had a really nice time until we had to say goodbye to Chris and Mer and get on our flight. Ugh, flying. My TV doesn’t work so Jeremy and I split the sound to watch Man of Steel on his screen. My neck hurts from it. Also that movie makes no sense. Also also, Jeremy took the window seat. Oh yeah, and we’ve already eaten our meals and are still quite hungry. There are still four hours left of this flight. I have never looked forward to ordering a pizza and watching some TV more.

Oh, travel. It’s amazing to go and amazing to return.

Iceland in winter, part 2: Akureyri and the hole in the earth

On day two we got up early for the hotel’s fairly epic breakfast, then fought a crowd of other people who had purchased the same cheap deal as us for cabs to the Reykjavík airport (a view of which I had from my window). I really feel this transportation should have been included, since it was a bit of a logistical issue getting so many people there. The airport is tiny, with zero security. It took about a minute to get us checked in, and Darin’s lack of a passport was no issue.

The flight was pretty great. The sky was red with sunrise literally the whole flight, though the sun didn’t officially rise until well after we’d landed. There was about two hours of sunrise. That is the thing I didn’t realize about these near-arctic winter days–though there are only four hours or so of “daylight,” add another hour or more on either end for truly epic sunrises and sunsets, during which time it’s light enough to see: bright twilight. The light, therefore, is totally magical for most of the day. I remember my Norwegian grandfather saying that the thing he missed most when he first moved to the U.S. and lived in California was long sunsets, and I had no idea what he meant. Odda is not as far north as we are now, but I think now I understand.

The day was clear, which was a boon because this was the day of our volcano tour!!! I really don’t have the words. We flew in a Cessna, and it would have been beautiful without the volcano, but holy shit, there was a volcano there. Orange magma bubbling and shooting up out of the earth’s vagina. Not hugely, like in the early days of the eruption, but still visibly, trailing out into a long lava field bigger than Manhattan. Steaming and smoking. Clashing brutally with the vast expanse of snow all around it. Blotting the sun to a red ghost. The eruption is on a very flat landscape, save the cone it’s building, which has risen to about 70 meters. It shows no signs of stopping.

The volcano from a distance.

The volcano from a distance.

The only time I'd seen a sun like that before was due to forest fires. This is a much better cause.

The only time I’d seen a sun like that before was due to forest fires. This is a much better cause.

The earth's vagina.

The earth’s vagina.

After that we checked into the hotel in Akureyri and met Chris and Mer for lunch. We ate at this adorable, campy burger place called Hamborgerafabrikkan. Decent lunch, but the aesthetic is what really sold it. I kept their fantastic menus. It is also interesting to note that I’ve been very impressed with how much knowing a little Norwegian helps with reading and hearing Icelandic. Sure, the languages are quite different, but since Icelandic is basically Old Norse, many of the basics are the same. Though spelling or pronunciation may be a bit different I’ve been making very good guesses.

"Hyggelig" cow in Hamborgarafabrikkan.

“Hyggelig” cow in Hamborgarafabrikkan.

The last item on Day Two’s agenda was our Northern Lights tour, and the night was fairly clear–hazy, I’d call it. We drove and drove while our tour guide ranted about the people from the south–it seems like a friendly, possibly one-way rivalry–and periodically checked to see if he could see anything. We ended up at Goðafoss, but it was pitch black so we couldn’t even tell we were on the edge of a waterfall. It was also freezing, and after a while it seemed we weren’t going to see anything, but finally we did. It wasn’t the spectacular lights I was hoping for. It wasn’t even as strong as what we saw from the plane. A faintish green band that moved sluggishly. But it was the Northern Lights. We had hot chocolate (mine with a splash of rum), and then chatted with the tour guide for quite a long time, then drank more and finally went to bed around three in the morning.

Nils Anders Wik makes a friend in Akureyri.

Nils Anders Wik makes a friend in Akureyri.

Day three was a free day, so we got up early for breakfast then went back to bed for a while. Then most of us walked around Akureyri and looked in the little shops. Later we spent some time in the Akureyri pool, which was very relaxing, then walked up to the grocery store and bought a picnic dinner. It wasn’t Fud brand food (when you’re in the Yucatan, choose Fud brand food), but it was very nice. The thing about the cold weather is that after wearing all that clothing I really want to get out of it. Pools are good for this. Note to self about traveling in Iceland in the future: bring a towel.

Iceland in winter, part 1: Day one

Oddly, it was my idea to visit this northern country in the dead of winter. A special popped up somewhere: airfare, hotel, etc. for a reasonable rate. I sent it to Bunny and Crow, who are as crazy as we are. “Who’s up for Iceland in January?” They were. So were their friends, Chris and Mer, and since we’d all traveled before, if only as far as Las Vegas, it seemed a perfect plan: three couples, all of whom had been to Iceland before. Never in the winter.

But hey, we are tough. And Northern Lights are pretty, or so we had been told. And a cheap trip is a cheap trip. I wasn’t entirely sure that my work could do without me for a week, but I booked it anyhow. In the four weeks leading up to the trip I managed to do almost five weeks’ worth of work, and away we went.

But whoever said getting there is half the fun never traveled economy class. And long flights are made infinitely longer by having the wrong seats. Memo to Icelandair: two aisle seats (which the Husbot and I had) do not count as “sitting together.” Nevermind being anywhere near Bunny and Crow.

However, about two-thirds of the way into the flight, Northern Lights were spotted off the right side of the plane (my side), and my seatmates generously tore themselves away from the window for a while to let me look. I got a few minutes of the shifting green lights and I am very grateful. Nice people, as it turns out, even if they did wake me in the one minute I was drifting to sleep to go to the bathroom.

We arrived in Keflavík early in the morning. We met up with Chris and Mer, who’d had an even longer travel day from Mississippi, and we still had a couple of hours left until our tour bus to the Blue Lagoon. Those were long hours. Airport hours.

IMG_3039

Nils Anders Wik at the Blue Lagoon.

The pre-dawn snow was coming down sideways in blizzard-like conditions when we boarded the bus. At the Blue Lagoon there was more confusion about the storage of our belongings, but eventually we made it into that weird weird water. The water wasn’t quite warm enough in most places—the currents of hot and cold that were fine when we’d been there in the summer led to a lot of cold times, and a lot of hot ones too.

When we first swam outside (or scuttled, keeping as much under the relatively warm water as possible), it was still snowing like crazy and the sun was just finally empinkening the clouds between hills. The snow made our faces and ears and necks cold, and we had to wipe snow off our eyelashes. A very intense experience. By the end it was sunny—or at least it would have been if the sun had risen above the low surrounding hills. If the Lagoon is more pleasant in summer (and it is), it is more intense in winter; the contrast really adds to the experience. We spent a long relaxing time in that lagoon.

After bussing and checking in to our hotel rooms, we had about an hour before the Taste the Saga tour that Bunny and Crow had gone on when they visited Iceland before. For us it was just enough time for the Husbot to shower while I called the front desk to get our room’s electricity working and watch the epic sunset over the hotel’s industrial backyard. But the Husbot’s light-free shower was by far not the greatest of our worries.

IMG_3042

The view from our hotel room in Reykjavík at sunset.

Getting off the bus from the hotel Crow had a sickening realization—that he didn’t know where his passport was. An hour later, having torn through all his bags and clothing, he knew for sure that he didn’t have it. Yikes! Maybe he lives here now.

So Crow wasn’t feeling up to the tour of Egill Brewery, which was a real shame because it was fabulous. Our hostess was Olof, and she was adorable. She taught us about “lateral explosions,” the angry duck sound two l’s make at the end of a word that none of us can mimic to save our lives. But she also taught us about the quirky alcohol history of Iceland. In a nutshell: a 1909 temperance movement started prohibition. Voters (landed males only, at the time) approved it, but nothing happened for years. Then the country decided to act on prohibition in 1913, agreeing to drink up all the alcohol by 1915. All alcohol was banned except for what doctors prescribed (liberally) and what was available for communion. At some point hard alcohol was reintroduced, but not beer. Then during WWII, foreign soldiers (British) demanded beer, so there was a shady economy of “exported” beer that was made by Egill and distributed on bases in Iceland. And then beer was finally legalized in 1989. Iceland beer and the Berlin wall. Same year.

Or something like that—my memory of the history is fuzzy because we were given a very generous amount of beer. Whole beers in most cases, not tiny tastes like you get on so many US brewery tours. We hadn’t really eaten (not since the plane in our case and not even then for Bunny and Crow. The Husbot got sick as soon as we got back to the hotel, vomiting in the hallway (sorry, hotel people!). He was too sick to eat that night, sadly.

I have to go on record as saying that I was against the ambitious first day plan from the start. As wonderful as the Blue Lagoon was, if we’d saved it for a different day we could have gone straight to the hotel from the airport, not waited for 90 minutes with nothing to do. We could have eaten and rested, which I think would have eased some of our other problems. Crow might not have lost his passport (in hindsight, yes he would have—it turned out to be at the airport). Husbot would surely not have puked.

Still, I had a great day.

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