We managed to make it to the hotel breakfast this time, and found it was a pretty decent buffet. It was similar to the cruise ship one in that it had scrambled eggs and bacon for the Americans, small sausages and baked beans for the Brits, and sliced cheeses, meats, and fresh vegetables for the Scandinavians. There were also yogurts, cereals, and fresh fruits. Not a bad breakfast.
Our first stop of the day was the royal Palace and Gardens. We chose to walk the 20 minutes there to get more of an overview of Oslo. The palace is set up on a hill with a view looking down over the streets in front of it. And the gardens are apparently open to the public all day everyday which they said makes them unique among royal gardens in Europe. We walked around and enjoyed the area for a short while before continuing on.
The next stop was the Gamle Aker Church. Built in the 1200s, it is the oldest building in Oslo. We did go inside briefly, but it was very dim and very warm so we didn’t stay more than a minute. From what I read it is actually an active church and has weekly services. Nearby the church is a very large graveyard that we also walked through and found the grave of Edvard Munch there.
The third stop of the morning was to the Oslo Jewish Museum. It was a little hard to find, down a side street, and from the approaching view it is only marked with a blue “חי”. We walked toward it and found a locked iron gate, even though the opening hours posted on it showed that it should have opened 30 minutes earlier. We couldn’t even see the museum building from the locked gate and we wondered if it was closed or gone. We decided to push a button that looked like it might call someone to open the gate. Indeed someone inside buzzed the gate open and we went inside. We had to walk a little ways down an alley first and then on the left we saw a small building labeled as the Oslo Jewish Museum. We went inside and found a small gift shop and an old man who spoke both English and Norwegian and was happy to let us in. There was nobody else in there at all so we just took our time reading the exhibit.
It was all in one medium sized room. The first half was dedicated to telling the stories of all the Norwegian Jews who were arrested, deported, and/or murdered during the war. Most of them ended up in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. There were photos, letters, belongings, and detailed family trees there. The museum aimed to make sure the families and stories are not forgotten. They spent a lot of time talking about who the people were, what their families did, how the people felt during that time period, and what their lives were like. There was a lot less time spent on what happened after they were removed from Norway, only the briefest sentence about whether they survived or were killed in a camp. I found that part of the museum really amazing because so many others focus on the parts of life after the people were removed from their homes. Those are important, too, but it was nice to experience a museum that preserved and told the stories of who these people were before their identities became only victims.
The second half of the museum educated visitors about Jewish religion in general. They had big boards explaining all the major Jewish holidays and also Shabbat, with photos and items that go with each one. They had small boards on basic Jewish history such as the temple destruction and the diaspora. And in the center was a beautiful wooden ark with a Torah scroll inside. There was no information on the Torah scroll so on the way out I asked the old man where it came from. He said this building opened as a synagogue in 1931 and the Torah was a gift for the congregation at that time, but he didn’t know who gave it or where it came from before that. I asked if it had been here the whole time since 1931 and he said he didn’t know where it was kept during the war, but that the important part is they had it back now. He did say it was damaged and cannot be used anymore, but they will keep it for the museum anyway. He was so excited to have interested visitors and wanted to talk for a while. He told me the original synagogue in the building had been orthodox and had the second balcony for women so the structure had been much much taller before. He said the current active synagogue in Oslo is also orthodox and they think that’s best because then everyone can attend. He said their congregation has “everything! Well, if a rabbi and a chazan is everything.” He also said they would love to someday restore the museum building to its original height with the balconies, and they keep adding to the collection as they can.
I mentioned to him it was hard to find the place, and he said yes he hears that a lot. When they opened the museum they intentionally tried to keep it secluded because they didn’t know how the reception would be, but it seems that it has been going very well so far. They had a few awards hanging in the shop there that he was proud of. He asked where we were from and asked if we had known much about what happened in Scandinavia during the war, and I said no we mostly learn about the rest of Europe, but not really about the Nordic Jewish communities. He said that’s why this museum is important, and that he is glad we found it. Sadly even though we were there most of an hour nobody else came in or out.
As we left we popped into a convenience store where I bought a couple more candies and Eric bought an Urge. He was very excited for this because the soda Surge was discontinued in the US after a while, and he didn’t realize that Norway was the originator of that same soda under the name Urge. It is still going strong here!
We decided to try a burrito shop here for lunch called Freddy Fuego to see how they compare to burritos at home. I ordered their vegetarian burrito without modification to see how it was. It came with sweet potatoes, black beans, roasted peppers, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and choice of salsa. I took the most spicy option. The least spicy was plain pico, then a salsa verde, then a medium level salsa made of marinated onions, and finally a fiery red salsa. I wanted something more spicy than pico, but I don’t care for salsa verde generally and I really didn’t just want a bunch of marinated onion bits. So I took the spicy one. It was wicked spicy. My poor mouth was painfully throbbing from it. Given that traditional Norwegian food is quite bland, and that this was not an authentic Mexican burrito shop, I really didn’t think a fast food place meant for the locals would have such spicy salsa. Overall the burrito wasn’t bad. It was just unusual ingredients combined together. Sweet potatoes and guacamole? Hrm. I think I’ll stick to the burritos back in California.
We walked back to the hotel to regroup and use the bathroom. Unfortunately we laid down and fell asleep for an hour and a half. Oh well. Eventually we got back up and figured out the street tram system to go to Vigelands Park. It was actually a very easy ride and went door to door for us.
We had not originally planned to come see the park as its main attraction is sculpture artwork which we are not super into. We ran out of other things to do, though, so we decided to check it out. We were very glad we decided to go see it because the park was way more than just a sculpture garden. It was an absolutely massive gigantic multi-level public park with tons of flowers, green space, fountains, and also sculptures. Tons and tons of people were visiting, sunbathing, relaxing, and we even got to watch a happy little dog jump into a fountain and swim around to cool off. We spent a while lounging in the park before deciding to get the tram back to the city center.
Back at central station it was time to pick up our tickets for the travel planned for the following day. We had pre-booked at home, but had to collect all the necessary tickets in person. The process was significantly easier and quicker than I had imagined it would be and just like that we were set for all the trains and busses of the journey between Oslo and Bergen.
After another short rest in the room we chose a spot for dinner and set out on a 15 min walk to get there. We picked a place called Cafe Elias that served modern takes on traditional Norwegian recipes. It was a tiny little place tucked away off the main drag and even though the hostess asked if we had reservations, which we did not, there were only a couple other parties there the whole time we were eating. I tried the apple parsnip soup, salmon with roasted vegetables, and Trollkrem (egg whites whipped with lingonberries). It was outstanding. And expensive. And filling. And then we had to walk 15 mins back to the hotel where I laid around digesting until bedtime. Early bedtime was acceptable in this case as we had our early morning the next day.
This was our last night in Oslo and thinking back over it I believe my first impression was correct. I liked Copenhagen better. Oslo is large, modern, diverse, and has a somewhat big city feel to it. I generally don’t care for big cities. Copenhagen just felt smaller to me, it retained more of its old buildings and old charm. The pace of life felt a little more relaxed, and even though it was just as crowded with residents and tourists, I felt more comfortable and cozier there. Maybe it reminded me of Boston in some ways.