Eight Hours in Oslo

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 
Overview: What could one possibly do on an eight-hour layover in Oslo, having never stepped foot in Norway before? Rather than wait around in the airport like some travel n00b, I braved public transport and went in search of the weirdest piece of Norwegian art I knew of.

After traveling to Iceland in 2013, I became fascinated with Nordic culture. Unfortunately, no Scandinavian countries are on the Remote Year agenda, so when I had the option of paying $60 more for a flight with an eight-hour layover in Oslo on my way to Prague, I snagged it. I could have easily entertained myself in the airport, but unburdened by my suitcase, which was waiting to be sent to Prague, I couldn’t resist exploring. Unless I’m on a journalistic mission (or I’m coordinating with other people who get nervous without a set itinerary) I prefer to let a new environment engulf me like in phagocytosis rather than follow the dictates of a tourist guide. So I went in search of the weirdest piece of Norwegian art I knew of: a massive obelisk made of interwoven naked human sculptures. Luckily for me, it happened to be located in the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen.

The bus driver dropped me off at a side entrance of Frogner Park and I wondered if I’d be able to find my way back to the airport in time with no phone service, but I decided to cross that bridge when I got there. It was perfect weather and Norwegians were frolicking everywhere.

I passed a gaggle of toddlers in lime green vests, an adorable display of excessive safety.

Pods of teenagers conducted quiet discourse, and I marveled at how subtly civilized this was compared with the traditional group behaviors I’ve witnessed (and participated in) in Americans that age. I passed a couple tossing a football back and forth like it was a cantaloupe, and for a moment I was tempted to intervene with proper instruction, but I just smiled and continued my quest for the monolith. As I crossed the jade green expanses that I’ll forever associate with Norway, I calculated deadlines for all the different scenarios that could play out in the time until my next flight.

At the main fountain, I was introduced to the work of Gustav Vigeland, the man who spent 23 years of his life transforming this park into the world’s largest sculpture installation created by a single artist. Chinese tourists were systematically taking pictures in front of every statue, from every angle, selfie sticks abound. A little girl quietly contemplated the activities of the nude figures with a friend.

The statues portrayed humans, distinctly Scandinavian in their features, at all ages, doing everything from the mundane to the sinister. Though all the figures were nude, there was nothing shameful or sexual about any of their interactions, but rather just emotional. They were adoring each other, consoling each other, playing, and plotting wicked things. It was the cycle of life, so natural in its purity, with dashes of the artist’s own bizarre and fully-relatable skepticism of small children speckled throughout. Especially odd were the fountain panels intermixing infants and death.

I’ll admit it delighted me to see babies being regarded as something other than a crowning culmination of all life’s purpose, and as more of a mischievous burden that hopefully grows into an acceptable adult. Before I left New York, a guy I was seeing bet me I would come back from this trip pregnant. I grimaced and told him I’d toss it in the Pacific on the way back before I let one of them interrupt my life at this point. (I love all your kids, dear readers, but my maternal clock is running slow.)

The three rings of sculptures surrounding the monolith portrayed similarly touching and sinister themes.

Some were basic pillars of masculinity and femininity, and others weird positions I never thought to entwine myself in while naked with another person. Though brimming with neutrality, I suspect such depictions would be balked at by typical American homophobic culture. Nudity is so feared in the US that it may seem unfathomable that plenty of people everywhere—not just the cave people of yesteryear who didn’t have clothes—culturally engage in nude activities where arousal isn’t even considered until a connection is established on some other level and consent is provided. I’ve experienced this on the beaches of Balearic islands, in Japanese bath houses, and sort of at Burning Man, and there is nothing more freeing—especially when contradicted to the common experience of being sexualized and threatened while fully clothed.

Finally, I walked up to the main obelisk. I’m no art critic, but while it’s so literal in its phallic symbolism, yet bluntly self-aware, I would categorize it as a post-Freudian obelisk.

I sat in the grass nearby and smoked half a joint I’d forgotten I’d put in my cigarette box before I left the US, absorbing it all. I was mad at myself when I realized I went through two airports with it, but everything was fine and I wasn’t about to go through a third with it—or allow my unknowing risk to have been in vain. I wrote in my journal, soaking up the sun, resting. I was glad I’d decided to leave the airport, that I’d finally made it to Scandinavia and it was everything I’d ever hoped it would be.

An innovative way to transport the elderly rolled past.

Satisfied and ready to carry on, I got up to leave but had no idea which direction I entered the park from or how to get the airport bus back. Time to talk with some Norwegians. I passed some 20-somethings having a limbo contest and laughed at them, but didn’t want to disturb their activities to ask. I walked past a Chinese man taking a picture of his wife taking a picture of herself with a selfie stick and found myself shaking my head. I came across some tulips and smoked a cigarette on this bench, thinking about how the Dutch had once tried to turn tulips into a viable currency. I’d never believed it before until I saw this color. I’d trade some writing for a few bulbs.

Finally I stopped a Norwegian woman who happily pointed the way to the tram. This statue, maybe my favorite one, bid me adieu. It reminded me of one of my best friends whose marriage is currently crumbling because his wife asked him for kids and he doesn’t want any, ever.

I still had 3.5 hours before my flight, so I decided to book it to the Kon-Tiki museum, named after the Academy Award-winning movie based on the story of Norwegian explorer and platinum author Thor Heyerdahl.

Between his love of travel, his appreciation of parrots, and the fact that he risked his life to prove to everyone who poo-pooed his theory that South Americans sailed across the Pacific to Polynesia on a balsa wood raft powered by ocean currents that they were wrong, he’s basically my dream man. I mean, he’s dead now, but when he was 33… babesville.

I couldn’t read the map so I asked a couple who was also looking at it. They were German, but told me where they thought I should go. I tried to buy a ticket and my card didn’t work, so I asked the conductor if I could pay him. Sensing my n00b vibes he told me to just go ahead. I got on going the wrong direction. Waiting for the correct train, a mini black lab bounded up to me attached to a hot Norwegian guy. I pet his dog and flirted with him, then got on the train without a ticket and rehearsed what I would say if they did a random ticket sweep.

I got to the Kon-Tiki museum and saw the famous raft Thor built and sailed across the Pacific on with five dudes and a parrot that everyone said was a death trap.

He spent most the rest of his life exploring the mysterious giant statues on Easter Island, a few of which he brought back to Norway (or replicas, maybe). I bought some post cards with shirtless Thor on them.

Eight hours after landing in Norway, I was basically a pro at the public transport system, so I made it back to the airport with enough time for a beer. Given the irony of the options available there, I obviously picked the Norwegian one.

It was the perfect layover on the perfect day in Oslo. Next time you find yourself wondering if you should leave the airport or hang out “just to be safe,” you know what to do.

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