Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Trip to NORWAY: Day in OSLO 2: Fjord Cruise, Opera House, Kon Tiki

April 29, 2017

Our second day in Oslo was a Sunday. After breakfast, I walked over to the St. Olaf Church near our hotel to hear Holy Mass. The 8 am mass was in the Polish language, but I stayed on to finish the rites. (English masses were held at 10 am and 6 pm at this church.)

At about 9:30 am, we walked towards the wharf area, which was about 15 minutes or so away from our hotel. Along the way to the harbor, we saw the Oslo City Hall (with its sweet sounding carillon) and the Nobel Peace Center (a museum I tried to enter twice during our stay, but failed to do so both times). 

The City Hall of Oslo

The Nobel Peace Center 
(Photo Credit: Alexander B.)

We arrived just in time for the departure of the boat called Helena, which was to take us on a  cruise around Oslo Fjord. Geologically, a fjord is an inlet with steep cliffs along its sides formed by erosion by glaciers. 

The Opera House, "She Lies" 
and the buildings of the Barcode

Sailing on the Helena

We saw the various islands around the fjord with those aesthetically-appealing houses painted in bright colors. We passed the Oslo Opera House and the sculpture of steel and glass called "She Lies" by Monica Bonvicini floating in front of it. The place where Edvard Munch painted his iconic painting "Scream" was also pointed out. The hot choco with cream I had on board for 33 NOK was excellent. 

Truth to tell though, after the initial thrill of the boat ride and the chilly sea wind, there was not really much places of interest to see around this fjord. The two-hours we spent on the boat felt very long. We had our lunch of salmon at the Hard Rock Cafe along the main Karl Johans Gate street, after which we had to rush and catch our 2 pm appointment for a tour inside the Oslo Opera House. 

The Opera House Exterior 
(Photo Credit: James T.)

The Opera House is a white building on the waterfront, inaugurated last 2008. The slanted sides allowed people to walk up to the roof to view panoramas of the city. The lobby is surrounded by tall windows of glass to view the water. Like what we saw in the airport, the interior had accents of light-colored oak panels. 

The Lobby

During the intermission of the opera playing that afternoon, our guide took up to the balcony of the main auditorium to see the stage. The oak panels inside was acoustically treated, giving it a darker hue than the oak panels outside. On its ceiling, there was a very big oval chandelier made of handmade crystals. An interesting feature of the seats were monitors for the electronic libretto system translating lyrics in Norwegian and English. 

The Main Auditorium

Then our guide took us backstage to peek inside the costume department and the scenography departments, all richly endowed with very impressive equipment and inventory, obviously generously supported by the government and its patrons. During this whole tour, I was wishing that someday our very own Cultural Center of the Philippines can also have the budget to be renovated like this.

Later that afternoon, we were brought by bus to picturesque Bygdøy, a peninsula within Oslo city limits that is the site of the summer residence of the King of Norway, as well as five national museums. We went to one of those museums this day -- the Kon Tiki museum. 

The Kon Tiki

I was familiar with the tale of Thor Heyerdahl and his Kon Tiki expedition because of the recent Oscar-nominated Norwegian movie of the same title (MY REVIEW). This museum contains the Kon-Tiki, a raft of balsa wood of pre-Columbian model used by Heyerdahl used to sail from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. It is also houses the Ra II, a vessel built of reeds used by Heyerdahl to sail from North Africa to Barbados in the Caribbean in 1970.

A Real Oscar Statuette!

For a film lover like me, a high point was seeing the actual Oscar statue Thor Heyerdahl won in 1951 for his documentary about his Kon Tiki expedition. There were also film showings of this documentary at the museum but sadly we did not get to watch it. 

Before dinner, we passed by the Magic Ice Bar. The gimmick of this bar was the -5 degree Celsius inside. You can choose alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. For me though, the novelty wore off quickly after taking some photos inside that blue-lit room with ice sculptures. My roommate and I stepped out to purchase some souvenirs before walking over to the wharf for more photos and dinner at the Louise restaurant.


Epilogue:  We were not given the chance to climb up the roof of the Opera House when we went there. So on the last day, I took the opportunity before the airport shuttle arrived to hike on over there (about 20 minute walk from the hotel) to do this climb. It turned out to be quite an exhausting climb than I was expecting, but this final Oslo photo of mine was well worth the effort.

On the Roof of the Opera House

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Trip to NORWAY: FLAM: April Snow and Fjord Safari

April 30, 2017

We left Oslo at around 7 am for our five-hour long trip to Flam. It was raining that morning, but during our bus ride, it began to snow, and snow heavily. The further we went away from Oslo, the thicker the coat of snow on the ground, trees and cars around us. There was a long traffic holdup along the highway that kept us stalled in place for about two hours. Our tour guide allowed some of our more daring tour group mates to step out into the snowy field beside our bus to throw snowballs at each other. Eventually the traffic moved and apparently there had been an accident that caused the jam.

Roadside Snowscapes

The road to Flam passed through mountains that were already thick with snow. When you look left, right and ahead, you see nothing but a coat of white over everything. There came a surreal point that it looked like our bus was passing through a tunnel of pure white. I cannot see anymore the edge of the mountain and the sky, everything around our bus was just white. It was something you have to experience to feel. I could not capture this phenomenon in a simple photograph or video.

Endless Sea of White

After that exhilarating stretch of road on the mountaintops, we drove through a winding road going downhill. Our bus went through a series of long tunnels through mountains. Every time we came out of one of these tunnels, there was less and less snow around, with more and more green grass. It was as if we see winter turn into spring with each tunnel we passed. I can only describe it in simple words, but it was incredible to witness unfolding. 

Inside Laerdal Tunnel

We passed through Laerdal Tunnel, said to be the longest tunnel in the world. It is 29 km long and takes about 20 minutes to drive through at the speed limit of 50 kph. Because of the possible claustrophobic effect the driving through a long tunnel like this, psychologists were consulted on how to make the experience less dangerous. Every 8 km, there is a stretch lit with blue light to make it seem like you've emerged into sunlight. Interesting.

Fjord Safari Boats

When we reached Flam at around 4:30 pm, we went straight to the waterfront where the Fjord Safari staff was waiting for us. We were oriented about the activity by a guy named Thor, whose name drew a gasp among our tour mates when he introduced himself. We were divided into groups of 12, as each safari boat can accommodate only so many passengers at a time. 

In Full Battle Gear

Getting the safari outfit on was one laborious task. We were already in our warm clothes. We put on another wool coat and pants. Over that, we put on a waterproof overcoat. Then we put on a woolen cap with ear flaps as well as waterproof booties on top of our shoes. There was also mitten-like waterproof gloves, but they looked unwieldy so I just relied on my own leather gloves (which also allowed me to click on my camera during the ride). Frankly, we could hardly move around at all in that outfit.

Ben orients our group

Our group was under a tall young native Norwegian guy named Ben. His driving of the watercraft was very smooth as he took us into the fjord. The beauty of the fjord and the mountains around it is very hard to describe in mere words. Ben mentioned that it was unusual that there should be snow in the mountains at this time of the year. Again, words and photos do not give justice to the magnificence of God's natural beauty in this place. 

Charming Undredal

We stopped over in some points of interest, such as various waterfalls, a township called Undredal (supposedly the inspiration of Arendell in the film "Frozen") and the World Heritage Site called Nærøyfjord (where Viking cultural artifacts were found). Too bad we did not see any seals nor porpoises, but we did see an eagle in flight. Maybe because it was already past 6 pm when our group took off.

Mystical Nærøyfjord

We returned for a sumptuous dinner and a comfortable room at our stately hotel called the Fretheim Hotel, located just at the foot of the mountains. They had a sitting room with a burning fire and glass ceiling there at the lobby of the hotel. I guess this if for people who were lucky enough to catch the Northern Lights there. Since we went in April, it is already considered off-season for the lights. Ideally, it should be from February to March. I guess I still have a reason to visit Scandinavia again in the future.

Elegant Fretheim Hotel

Sunday, April 30, 2017


May 1, 2017

Here is a summary of what our tour group did during the five days that we were there in far-off NORWAY. Click on the LINKS to read the details and view more pictures.

1. Day 1 April 22: OSLO
Holmenkollen, Frogner Park (LINK)

2. Day 2 April 23: OSLO
Oslo Fjord, Opera House, Kon Tiki (LINK)

3. Day 3 April 24: FLAM
April Snow, Fjord Safari (LINK)

4. Day 4 April 25: BEITOVEGEN: 
Dog Sled Ride and Wilderness Meal (LINK)

5. Day 5 April 26: OSLO: 
The Fram, Viking Ship, National Gallery Museums (LINK)

My Trip to NORWAY: BEITOVEGEN: More April Snow and Dog Sleds

April 30, 2017

Hiking Down to the Lake

We left our hotel in Fram early right after breakfast to make another three hour bus trip to our next destination. Too bad we did not have time to ride the famous Flåmsbana Railway through the mountains there. After passing through the Laerdal Tunnel again, we went off to another fork in the road that seemed to go around the fjord itself. The trip gave us more picturesque views of snow-capped mountains and the water -- scenes we thought we would only see in calendars. The houses we see along the roads going to Beitovegen were so desolate with nary a sign of human life. 

On the Frozen Lake

After a quick bathroom break at nearby supermarket in Beitostolen, we turned back to our destination for the day: Beito Husky Tours. We were met by a friendly Spanish lady named Elena who introduced their place to us. We then hiked down to the frozen Lake Oyangen where our husky sleds were waiting. Lucky my hiking shoes (not really meant for snow) were able to keep me upright during the long hike down the slippery snowy slopes. (Those who could not hike down could take a car down.)

Riding Elin's Sled
(Photo Credit: Alexander B.)

When we reached the frozen lake covered with a thick layer of freshly fallen snow, we had to wait for our turn for the sleds. Each sled pulled by a team of 8 Alaskan (NOT Siberian) huskies can only take 3-4 riders depending on the size of the riders. While waiting, we used the time taking photographs in this winter wonderland -- fun shots, action shots, snow angels, jump shots, dramatic emo shots -- the works.

View from the Sled

When the turn of my group came, we were assigned to the sled driven by a girl with golden braids named Elin. The dogs may look thin and wiry, but they were all very energetic in running on the snow and pulling our sled along for the ride. The surrounding scenery was breathtaking with the snowy mytical mountains of Jotunheimen National Park. The ride was done in what felt like 15 minutes only. We did not get to experience handling or actually driving the dog sled ourselves, as we were expecting. Nevertheless, most of us feel that this snow ride is THE main highlight of our trip to Norway

The Wilderness Meal is Served

After everyone had their turn at the ride, we all settled into a wooden structure with a fire burning and food cooking inside. This was called the Wilderness Meal, which consisted of a tasty sausage-vegetable soup with a main course of deliciously tender venison. I was very nervous about this meal at first, but after tasting it, I count it as one of the best meals I've had in Norway. After the meal, we all trudged all the way back up the mountain to the buses for our 5 hour trip back to Oslo. 

The Resting Huskies

My Trip to NORWAY: Day in OSLO 3: The Fram, Viking, National Gallery Museums

April 29, 2017

We visited the Akerhus University Hospital (or Ahus for short) in the morning. We were met by an RN in charge of these hospital visits who gave us an overview of the hospital, which was inaugurated in 1961. We also heard a talk by the MD in charge of infection control. After these short lectures, we were toured around the hospital proper. 

Ahus Exterior View

Ahus Interior View

The interiors of this hospital were also marked by the use of glass sheets and wood panels in their design, much like the airport and the opera house.  They used a number of robotic platforms in the transport of laundry and supplies, which were amazing to observe. They used robotic arms to move specimens in the laboratory. Their laundry system for the white coats used by the staff was also very impressive. 

Aker Brygge

For lunch we went to Sorgenfri, a restaurant in another section of the Aker Brygge wharf area, to dine. Like the other Oslo restaurants we ate in before, this restaurant also had ornate designs inside with a number of unusual bric-a-brac (including some pretty creepy dolls and mannequins) decorating its walls and ceilings. The salmon steak we ate here was exceptionally tasty.

Interior of Sorgenfri

In the afternoon, we returned to Bygdoy to visit two more museums there. The first one was the Fram Museum. Inside, we can see the Fram, a ship used in expeditions of the Arctic and Antarctic regions by Norwegian explorers Nansen, Sverdrup, and Amundsen between 1893 and 1912. According to its plaque, it is said to have sailed farther north and farther south than any other conventional sea vessel. In another section of the museum, they displayed the Gjøa, the ship used by Amundsen when he and his crew of six traversed the Northwest Passage (through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago) in 1906.

The second museum we visited was the Viking Ship Museum. It was exciting to see actual Viking ships there, along with a number of genuine Viking articles. However, there was little else to see in this place. There were not much display detailing about the Vikings themselves, how they looked like and how they lived.

After this, while the other members of our tour group were brought to the shopping district, I went on my own to a place I really wanted to visit -- the National Gallery. It was only about a three-minute walk from our hotel. The entrance fee to this museum is 100 NOK, similar to the other museums we visited today.  (This museum is actually free on Thursdays, but I did not want to take the risk of missing this chance of going there.)

Exterior of the National Gallery

All the paintings were only on the second floor, which was divided into 24 galleries, color coded according to period. The red rooms were for artworks from antiquity to the 17th century Baroque. The light blue rooms were about 19th century European Romanticism. It was in these rooms that I was astounded by the masterful realistic landscapes of Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857).

"Shipwreck On the Coast of Norway", 1832

"Hellefossen Near Hokksund", 1838

The dark blue rooms displayed the works from the late 19th century Impressionists. Of course the main highlight of the museum were the works of Edvard Munch in Gallery #19, which includes his two masterpieces: the unsettling "Scream" (1893) and the mesmerizing "Madonna" (1895). The yellow rooms were for Modern Art from the 20th century to 1950, which included three Picasso pieces. 

I went through the entire collection three times during the one hour that I stayed inside. There were also a couple of dramatic Gustav Vigeland sculptures ("The Dance" 1896 and "Mother and Child" 1907) I also liked very much. 

Our dinner this night was at the Egon restaurant near the Oslo Central Train Station. This place had a multi-level interiors, ornately decorated with musical instruments of all kinds. I realized that this area was the end of Karl Johans Gate street where a lot of shops were located, actually walking distance from our hotel about 15 minutes away by foot. The Opera House was just across another street from the train station.

Plaza Outside Oslo Central Train Station

One End of Karl Johans Gate