A Visit to Norway
June is high season in Norway and between tourists and business travelers it proved difficult to obtain hotel reservations a few weeks in advance of our planned trip. Instead of flying from Paris to Oslo, as originally intended, we flew Paris to Oslo (Air France, 2 hours and 15 minutes), then two hours later, flew to Bergen (SAS, 50 minutes). Bergen is the gateway to fjords and mountains that National Geographic has described as one of the most beautiful nature destinations in the world. The reader should be aware that Norway is very expensive. It is not a member of the European Union and its currency, the kroner, is strong. The nation’s wealth is due, in considerable measure, to the oil and natural gas beneath the North Sea.
In Bergen, we opted for a stay at the Radisson Blue Hotel Norge in the center of the city. Our double room had a lovely view of the city’s central park, with its beautiful fountain, elegant sculpture and several museums, located around the periphery of the park. The hotel has a health club and an indoor pool. The location could not have been better: a few short blocks from the Bergen Tourist Office, where information can be obtained and tickets purchased. Also, within walking distance to the famous Fish Market and beyond to the Bryggen Wharf. We had arrived in the late afternoon and opted for a light la carte dinner at Ole Bull Restaurant in the hotel, a vegetable platter prepared with hoisin sauce (used with Peking duck)--and a fish soup. Both dishes were first rate. It turned out that this was the same dining room in which a terrific buffet breakfast, included in the room rate, was served. On the same floor and next door is the more formal dining room, serving 3, 4 or 5 course prix-fixe meals, available with wine pairing. Having come from five days in Paris, we were looking for simple dining, and lots of fresh fish.
Next morning, we were off to the Tourist Information Office where we purchased tickets for a three-hour bus tour of Bergen, which included an excursion to Troldhaugen, and the Edvard Grieg Museum. You can also purchase a Bergen Card which will provide discounts and admissions to museums and sightseeing attractions. You can also do currency exchange. The bus tour left at 11 AM and the trip provided an excellent introduction to Norway’s second largest city, dating back 1000 years. The guide spoke in English and German, providing pertinent information along the way. She pointed out the Fish Market (very close to where the tour began and which we would later visit on foot), the Hanseatic Museum (the old trade house for the Hanseatic League of German merchants, trading grain and fish (1360-1754). It is the oldest and best preserved wooden building in Bergen. Music lovers will, of course, be delighted to visit the home (now museum) where Edvard Grieg wrote his Piano Concertos and Peer Gynt Suite. His Steinway (dating back to the 1880’s) sits in the living room (and is played at intimate concerts at various times during the year). If you are a music lover, be sure to inquire as to whether one of those concerts is on the calendar. The tour provided views of the Bryggen Wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the University, the Harbor and its cruise ships and the old town, its houses set high in the hills overlooking the city. Following the bus tour, we ambled through the fish market (with a stop nearby for an Illy cappuccino and some delicious gelato). We were tempted to buy several jars of the very reasonably priced wild salmon roe, but given the travel ahead, we passed on the deal. Norway is the major producer of domestically farmed salmon, but wild salmon is also caught in the far North of the country. Interestingly enough, we did not see much fresh salmon on restaurant menus (except as smoked salmon). We did some shopping for casual clothing for men and women at Cubis, a discount department store down the block from the Radisson. In contrast to the hotels and restaurants, we found that prices were extremely modest. That evening, with the help of Frommer’s Guide to Norway (your bookstore or www.frommers.com), we dined at Ristorante Stragiotti (Vestre Torgatae 3), very close to the Radisson. We shared a pasta dish and a steamed Halibut with vegetables. Both were well-prepared, the pasta al dente and the halibut moist and flavorful.
Next morning, we made our way to the Fish Market at the waterfront for a four-hour fjord tour on The White Lady (our tickets had been purchased at the Tourist Office the previous day). Happily, the weather held. Sit on the top deck (blankets available, if cold), and view the harbor, islands, bridges, snow-capped mountains and cliffs as you pass through the fjords. The views are dazzling. Bring your camera!! Refreshments are served on board, or you can bring your own lunch and order beverages.
A visit to the Bergen Fine Art Museum was the late afternoon activity—paintings by Edvard Munch (more about that later) and the discovery of 19th century Norwegian artists like Harriet Backer (whose work is suggestive of Vermeer light).
We shopped at a discount department store (Cubix) up the block from the Radisson, where attractive men’s sports shirts and women’s long sleeve shirts sold for under $20 each. We dined at Wesselstuen, a Bergen fixture, on smoked salmon, fish and beer, served by Nina, a friendly and helpful wait-person. As we were leaving, two musicians, in town for the festivals, performed for the diners.
We had arranged from New York, through Fjord Tours, (www.fjordtours.com)
and the ever-courteous and helpful Solfrid, to do “Norway in a Nutshell”, staying overnight at the Hotel Stetheim in Flam and continuing on to Oslo by train the next day. A meeting required a change of plans and we extended at the Radisson for one night instead. “Norway in a Nutshell” is a splendid ten-hour experience of Norway’s mountains and fjords, by train and boat. You can leave from Bergen—or from Oslo. It is a MUST!! There are two morning departures from Bergen. We opted for the ten-thirty AM and left from the Bergen train station for the first leg: Bergen to Myrdal. Comfortably seated, we enjoyed the beautiful views of mountains and valleys during the two-hour journey. At the station in Myrdal, we grabbed a coffee, while we waited for the Flam Express and the dazzling 40-minute ride. It has been described as an incredible feat of engineering, as it winds through the mountain passes on its way to Flam. We arrived in Flam and during our wait for the boat that would take us through the fjords, we did get a chance to see the Stetheim Hotel. It is a beautiful hotel, well worth a stay in the mountains.
The boat-trip from Flam to Gudvangen was even more beautiful than that of the previous day on the Bergen fjords, with the cliffs more precipitous as they plunged down to the ever-narrowing fjords. Again, we were blessed with a beautiful day—and at one point, a flock of white birds followed the path of our boat in quest of “eats.” The kids on the boat were ready with bread, snatched from their willing hands by the lovely white birds. The two-hour boat ride was an endless source of visual delight.
We arrived in Gudvangen, where we got on a bus for yet another adventure. The bus from Gudvangen to Voss is a one-hour journey down the mountain through thirteen hair-pin turns (without railing) and breath-taking views all around us. The bus-driver, speaking alternately English and German, kept us informed and amused as he negotiated the turns. Once in Voss, we caught the train for the hour and a quarter ride back to Bergen, tired, but exhilarated by what we had experienced. We opted for a return visit to Wesselstuen,and a double order of smoked salmon for each of us.
A good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast and we still found time for a visit to the Museum of Decorative Arts, close by the Radisson, before check-out, a cab to the airport and a mid-afternoon, forty-five minute flight to Oslo. In Oslo, we had chosen to stay at the Oslo Grand Hotel (www.grand.no), centrally located on Karl Johns Gate, within walking distance of the Palace, the Parliament, the National Gallery and the waterfront as well as overlooking a central park. It proved a terrific choice; comfortable accommodations and the Grand Café (which the great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen visited twice daily—his table is still reserved—and don’t miss the mural on the back wall). Sumptuous breakfasts (included in the room rate) are served in the Grand Café. We’ve heard from others that the Hotel Continental, a few blocks away, is an equally fine choice among luxury hotels—with its historic TheatreCafeen (theatre café). Women traveling alone, for pleasure or business, will find a floor of the Grand Hotel, designed by and for women. I was given a tour and was impressed by the tastefulness and fashion of the décor.
Our first night, seeking a break from serious dining, we sought out a hamburger at a “café” down the block from the Grand—which turned out to be TGIFriday, the US chain. We’d never sampled their food in New York, so this was a first. The restaurant was crowded with young people, very noisy with music and conversation, but the hamburger and fries were excellent.
Next morning, after breakfast, we set out by cab for a museum in the countryside outside of Oslo. This was the Henie Onstand Art Center (www.hok.no) . Movie buffs and students of the Olympics will remember the name Sonia Henie. An Olympic ice skating star and Gold Medalist from Norway, she became a Hollywood film star, then retired, married a Norwegian shipping tycoon—and together they built a world-class collection of late 19th and 20th century works of art, over 4,000 pieces. They provided for the creation of this beautiful, world-class museum, located on the shores of the Oslofjord. You can enjoy the works of art indoors, step outside and view the outdoor sculpture, then stroll along the beach, enjoying nature’s art as you gaze out at the fjords. There is also an outdoor café. You can purchase an OsloPass on-line for museum admissions: www.visitoslo.com
We had made the acquaintance two years earlier of an American woman living in Oslo with her Norwegian husband. This couple, in short order, soon became dear friends. They took us to dinner that night at Lofoten, a waterfront seafood restaurant (www.lofoten-fiskrestaurant.no) The food was delicious, the company even better. And next morning, they joined us for a visit to the Munch Museum (www.munch.museum.no). The collection was bequeathed to the city by Edvard Munch. Munch was an incredible painter whose style was ahead of his time and whose subject matter was often sorrow, grief, anxiety and separation, reflecting the trauma that he suffered during childhood, with the illness and death of loved family members. The museum collection consists of 1100 paintings, 4500 drawings and 18,000 prints. Obviously not all are on display. The museum is open every day from 10AM until, 6PM. Don’t miss it!
If you’re traveling with children, you’ll want to visit the Palace for the Changing of the Guards at 1:30PM. Other places of interest are the Resistance Museum, Akurshus Castle (circa 1300) and Fortress(1580) and, of course, The Viking Ship Museum. A burial mound from 1100 years ago was uncovered, revealing a Viking Ship, now restored and on display. There is also the Nobel Center, well worth a visit. Please note that it is The Nobel Peace Prize that is awarded in Oslo, while the other Nobel Prizes (Physics, Medicine, Literature, etc.) are awarded in Stockholm. There is also small Holocaust Museum that, unfortunately, has not as yet translated the descriptions of its collection from Norwegian into other languages.
The National Museum of Art (or National Gallery) should not be missed by the art-lover. It was pleasant walking distance from our hotel, at Universitetsgaten 13. Open Tuesday to Friday from 10-6; Thursday 10-9, Saturday and Sunday 11-6. Closed Monday. We were impressed with the beauty of paintings by J.C. Dahl (landscape), Christian Krohg , Gude—and again (as in Bergen) Harriet Backer. We did not make it to the Vigeland Museum (www.vigeland.museum.no) but it is on our short list for a return visit.
Our last two evenings in Oslo, we had superb meals: first, at Feinschmecker (French gourmet), www.feinschmecker.no and then, in the Grand Hotel at Julius Frizner (read about it on the hotel web site at www.grand.no) Ambience, service, décor, and most of all the food, were top of the line. Both are expensive.
The visit was memorable.
Back to Top
Resources for Planning Your Trip to Norway:
Frommer’s Guide to Norway
National Geographic Traveler
Back to Top