Thursday, 24 July 2014

72 hours in Oslo - Part Two

We made great use of the Oslo passes on our second day in the city by trying out the transport network. It's a very straightforward system but the Burgess family still managed to get it wrong by not realising there were two entrances to the T-bane (Metro) at the National Theatre: we were standing on the eastbound platform when we were planning to travel west. A quick exit followed by a short dash to the other entrance and we had cracked it. From then on, it was a breeze. The trains were efficient and regular, even on a Sunday and, as expected, spotlessly clean. Such was my excitement and eagerness to capture this on film, I whipped out my camera to take a photo of my boys sitting opposite. I sensed from their expressions that they were not happy. They are used to me snapping away on holiday but I broke a rule, apparently, by using it on public transport. Just look at their faces, and the chap behind who seems to agree that I had committed a serious faux-pas.

If looks could kill...

Our stop was Holmenkollen, location of the world's most modern ski jump. Going to see it in the summer is to be recommended as the views from the top are superb plus, if you're an adrenaline junkie, they have a zip-wire attraction at weekends so you can fly down. Unsurprisingly we passed on this but it was great fun to watch other people. Seeking a small thrill, we had a go in a ski-jump and slalom simulator and I embarrassed my boys yet again by squealing throughout the whole ride. We also visited the Ski Museum here and managed a quick, inexpensive lunch before descending.

First place for...erm...observing?
Can you spot the person on the zip-wire?

Having spent a morning up in the hills, we took the Metro back to the city and alighted at Majorstuen in order to visit Frogner Park: a beautiful expanse of public space that is a magnet for residents and tourists alike. In the middle is the Vigeland Installation, the most extraordinary collection of over 200 bronze and granite sculptures designed by Gustav Vigeland. The bronze figures located on the bridge were delightful, happy, carefree figures - family groups, parents with children, lovers, old and young - together forming the 'Human Condition' theme. Along the bridge is Oslo's famous Angry Boy whose left hand has been touched so much, it glows oddly against the green patina.

Vigeland's sculptures including the Angry Boy

Further into the centre of the installation is a totem-like monolith, surrounded by other granite works to demonstrate the Circle of Life. These figures, like the bronze ones on the bridge, are quite remarkable in their accuracy and, indeed, quantity - the lifetime's work of an artist whose ability to capture the human form was quite astonishing. Using our Oslo Pass we had a quick canter round the the Vigeland Museum to find out more about how Vigeland created his pieces.

Two examples of the granite works by Gustav Vigeland
Keen to try another form of transport in Oslo, we hopped on a tram just outside the park and that shortened the journey back to the hotel or at least it would have if we hadn't turned the wrong way after getting off. Just a small diversion...

Chill time back at The Thief before the usual 'where shall we go for dinner?' routine. Having had a blow out the previous evening, we plumped for just one course at Jacob Aall in the harbour. Sitting outside once again as it was still balmy, but enjoying the sheepskin throw snuggling into my back nonetheless, we had excellent burgers and chips and an enjoyable chat with the waiter who used to live in Somerset. They served Caipirinhas too and as that's now my favourite tipple following our Brazilian meat-fest in London, I pretended not to notice the price...and sucked the lime wedges dry.

The Oslo Pass gave us free transport on the metro and tram, free entry to the Vigeland Museum, plus the Holmenkollen attraction and discounted rates for the simulator. For details about the Oslo Pass, please see previous post : 72 hours in Oslo - Part One


Monday, 21 July 2014

72 hours in Oslo - Part One

We may have splashed out on a fancy hotel, The Thief,  for our short break in Oslo but we saved money elsewhere by choosing a reasonably priced Ryanair flight and only taking hand luggage. Yes, the airport we flew to, Olso Rygge, is a little way out from the city centre, but it was a breeze to hop off the plane straight onto the coach which was waiting for us. About an hour later we were in the city, ready to explore.

Keen to discover as much of the city as we could in three days, I contacted VisitOSLO before we left and they offered us a complimentary 72 hour Oslo Pass which would give us free access to many museums and free transport. This would normally have cost us 535 NOK each (about £50). We often deliberate about whether such city passes are worth buying and, in most cases, we have found they have had a very positive impact on our holiday, mainly because, once purchased, the city's doors are open to you. Plus, if you are in a museum and you're not crazy about it, you can leave rather than battling on just to get your money's worth out of it.

As we didn't use the pass for the first afternoon, preferring to get our bearings on foot and soak up the atmosphere, we would probably have purchased a 48 hour pass (£40) to cover us for the two full days we had in the city if we had been buying it ourselves. Either way, it proved to be of great benefit to us. The attractions we visited would have cost 570 NOK each, and that's without the ferry, tram and metro savings we made.

We could have had the pass in paper form but opted to try out the app instead which completely flummoxed my technophobe husband, as we had to wave the QR code on our phone under special machines in museums. We had only installed the app on one phone, mine, so all three codes were on one device. This was feasible but slightly complicated as it required much swiping back and forth for each code and necessitated 'handing the phone to a teenager' to work it. If all members of the party have a smartphone and know what to do with it, I would suggest you would be better installing the Oslo Pass app on each phone or, if you are idiots like us, maybe the paper version is preferable.

We walked our socks off that first afternoon in weather which was surprisingly warm and muggy. I had come prepared for it being a bit chilly but we were melting in our sturdy shoes and jeans. Oslo was basking in the overcast heat, everyone was sitting outside at restaurants and bars, packing the waterfront at Aker Brygge, watching the boats coming in and out of the harbour. We walked as far as the Opera House, which dazzled us from its position in the bay, like a contemporary, angular wedding cake, with tiny figures appearing to slide down its roof. It's a magnificent building and just as beautiful inside.

Opera House Oslo
Opera House, Oslo

There is a significant amount of new building going on in the city, particularly along the waterfront. My eye was drawn to a series of office blocks, each one trying to outdo the other in wackiness. Named 'The Barcode Project' there has been much public debate about the size and shape of the buildings. I think, once that whole area is complete, they will be a stunning addition to this forward-thinking capital city.

barcode project oslo
The Barcode Project

We ended our first day in Oslo at one of the main restaurants in the harbour: Onda. There were two parts to the restaurant - Onda Sea or Onda Grill. We opted for Onda Grill as it had a mixture of both meat and fish dishes. We had an enormous four-course sharing menu with fabulous seafood, shellfish and grilled meats. We had steeled ourselves for expensive food and drink prices in Oslo and, blimey, yes they made your eyes water, but we were sitting on the dock of the bay, with the sun gradually setting, eating delicious food so perhaps it was worth it....

Onda Sea or Onda Grill?

Disclosure: VisitOSLO gave us the 72 Oslo Pass to try out as an app for our phones. All opinions are my own. 


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Mum's gone to review The Thief Hotel, Oslo:

What better way to escape the ominous arrival of my 50th birthday than to jet off to Oslo and lock myself away in the seriously chic Design Hotel, The Thief.

We have stayed in two other Design Hotels in recent years: The Hotel Urban in Madrid and the Nobis Hotel in Stockholm. Both hotels exude quality and style in huge measures. The Thief, young whippersnapper that it is, having only opened in 2013, is already stealing people's hearts with its contemporary architecture, luxurious furnishings and stunning waterfront location.

Its owner, billionaire Petter Stordalen, has a passion for art that has made this hotel truly unique. A collaboration with the new Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art next door has enabled Stordalen to acquire many superb pieces which adorn public areas as well as bedroom walls.

An Antony Gormley figure can be seen just outside the entrance; a £1.7m Andy Warhol painting looks down on diners in the Fru K restaurant; and in the lifts, Julian Opie's huge, colourful video installations blink at you in a rather unnerving way as you travel up to your room.

Breakfast in Fru K restaurant with Andy Warhol painting.

Two photos of Julian Opie's video installation in one of the elevators. 
She blinks and her ear-rings gently sway. (Apologies for husband's reflection)
The lobby is vast and yet there are quiet corners where the lighting is subdued and the sofas are squashy and inviting, ideal for reading a book, having a coffee or a game of chess. All the furnishings are, naturally, very chic but are comfortable and seductive at the same time.

The Thief's lobby and lounge area
The bedrooms are stunning with the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Wooden floors, thick rugs and warm blankets are unmistakably Scandinavian but the rich red of the wardrobe interiors and the chocolate brown and gold walls give a nod to somewhere steamy and hot. It's a very sensual room.

The Thief doesn't just provide a mini-bar, it has an eclectic selection of items it reckons its guests might want to purchase: socks, underwear, tights, nail polish, cuff-links with tractors on them, a shirt and discreetly packaged condoms. If all that Norwegian fresh air has exhausted you, however, the turn-down service offers a flask of hot water and a Night Time organic oatflower, lavender and limeflower tea to aid sleep. The thick, ultra-soft, mink-coloured bathrobes are divine: never before have I coordinated perfectly with a room while wearing a dressing gown..

The Thief bedroom
The main restaurant, Fru K, was closed for a few weeks during the summer when we visited so we weren't able to try it out but it's seen as one of, if not the best restaurant in the city. At least we were able to have breakfast there and experience its enveloping chairs while enjoying an extensive Norwegian buffet and freshly-made cappuccino.

We didn't manage to make it to the spa either but I gather it has brought together the best of Turkish, Moroccan and German rituals in surroundings influenced by the Norwegian landscape. I can imagine this would be the perfect way to spend a day in the dark winter months but as the temperature outside was a balmy 25 degrees plus, we made the most of the long summer days and evenings outside.

The Thief is located in Tjuvholmen (Thief Island), an area notorious for crime in the 18th century. Now it's part of a rejuvenated waterfront, with restaurants, office buildings and apartments, all sharing modern, striking architecture. Although it's an excellent choice for a business hotel, The Thief is perfect for leisure breaks as the ambience is very chilled: people saunter along the board-walk and sit outside at the numerous restaurants looking out into the harbour. In the hotel, all rooms have balconies, so there's a definite feeling of being on holiday. Deluxe rooms have a view through to the fjord.

View from balcony of Room 510

Service is unstuffy but attentive. Our only complaint was a faulty TV which we reported but had to contact reception again after nothing had been done after a day. But this was minor. Who needs to watch what's happening in the real world when The Thief has transported you to another world of luxury and decadence.

Disclosure: We chose The Thief Hotel for our celebratory break but negotiated discounted rates in return for a review. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

While you're waiting....

We've just got back from a fabulous three day break to Oslo. I have so much to tell you about our stay in this beautiful city but need to get my thoughts and photos together first.

In years gone by, we used to watch the Test Card on the TV while waiting for programmes to start. Here's my version: instead of the girl with the blackboard and the creepy clown, I'm sharing my latest column offerings if you fancy a gander.

First world problems here, sparked off by a noisy new kettle.

Blowing fuse over beeping machines

Our annual shindig at the Spalding Midsummer Ball

When the BATFAs came to Spalding

Giving readers an idea of what blogging is all about.

Blogging: it's more than an online diary