Magical Norway Part 1: Oslo

You made it! And just in time, the ferry just pulled out of Nordhavn and we’ll be in Oslo by morning. It’s going to be a long ride, but don’t worry, it will be worth it — we’ll make upcycled coffee ground body scrubs, see a centuries old wooden church built without nails, bake bread with a sheep and pig farmer, ride through the foggy valley of Ryukan, hear tales of WWII espionage, relax in a sauna, and of course have lots of (mostly) plant-based food along the way. Don’t stay in your cabin, let’s go to the top deck to watch the scenery go by!

Norway was love at first sight! When I was flying to Copenhagen back in August, I had a stopover in Oslo where I saw the country for the first time: it was covered in green forests cresting and falling like waves over the mountains, and the hills and valleys sparkled with lakes mirroring the morning sky. I was glad to have the opportunity to visit Norway on my long study tour with my Sustainable Food course and the country did not disappoint.

After Bornholm, we had high expectations for Emmanuel. We students had it easy though, because the DIS study tour team and Emmanuel did an amazing job with the planning and logistics. After a hectic week of midterm projects, I was ready to just enjoy the ride and the journey there was no exception — in order to reduce our carbon footprint, our class took an overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo. I loved it and thought it was a much more relaxing experience than flying, even though the cabin decks really resembled the ones in Titanic.

Goodbye, Copenhagen! (Can you spot Copenhill on the right?)

17 hours sounds like a long time to be stuck on a boat but there was plenty to do. Deck six was sunny and shielded from the wind, perfect for watching Sweden drift by. Feeling tense? Have a soak in one of the outdoor jacuzzis under the moonlight. There was even a duty-free store where you could purchase anything you might have forgotten and stock up on Norwegian candy bars. For the rest of the night, you could dance at the Columbus Club, listen to live music at one of the bars, or just read a book and get cozy in your cabin.

Between Sweden and Denmark.

The morning we arrived in Oslo, I found much of our class on the top deck at sunrise as we sailed into Oslofjord.

The closer we got to port, the more I could see of the autumnal landscape – it was like we had stepped through the wardrobe but into fall instead of winter. As you already know, fall is my favorite season so I didn’t mind breaking out my winter coat to experience the weather.

Arriving in Oslo.

The morning we arrived, we had a historical walking tour and visited various cultural sites. Oslo’s city hall was my favorite for its beautiful murals. It’s also the venue for the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony but no one knows why only the Peace Prize is held outside of the home country of the Alfred Nobel, Sweden.

After lunch, we visited Økern Portal (website, Facebook, Instagram) to tour its mostly-edible roof top garden. In addition to running a community garden and CSA program, the garden supplies some of the restaurants below with fresh produce.

“Healing our inner child,” as Emmanuel would say, while we waited for the tour to start.

The head gardener explained that the rooftop is a microclimate with unique challenges, notably the blustering winds that plants like aronia berries, lavender, and absinthe, seem to be okay with. The garden’s soil is also unique consisting of an extremely lightweight blend of porous rocks and gravel to. To be self-sufficient, the garden makes compost from the canteens and restaurants in the building and stores water for dry spells.

I was surprised to learn that the sustainability-minded, multi-use building was funded by Oslo’s pension fund — even after living in Copenhagen for more than two months, Oslo still wowed me with its renewable energy program and ambitious sustainability goals.

For our free time in the afternoon, most of us went to the Munch Museum which I had admired in passing on the walking tour. I got a little lost on Oslo’s public transportation whose bustling crowds of commuters, much more talkative than Copenhagen’s, reminded me of New York.

After walking in the rain, the museum felt like an oasis. I had heard of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (Skrik in Norwegian) but was surprised by his other drawings, prints, and paintings. There were pastels that melted into globular visions like lava lamps or warped stained glass, drawings that could fit into the palm of your hand, and grand murals.

A page from a haunting story he wrote and illustrated about two characters, Alpha and Omega.

On the top floors of the museum, built consciously with a recycled aluminum façade, Passive House standards, and more, there is a gorgeous and very hygge restaurant/bar. From here, we could see the sun began to set.

The sky had been blanketed all day in clouds like thick sheets of wool. But now, the sun dipped below the cloud cover, illuminating the monochrome cityscape in yellow and desert gold. Monk had depicted the sun setting or rising in many of his works; with this view of the real thing, we got more than we expected with our student-discounted tickets.

“The Sun”

And then, on our way to dinner…

First the golden foliage, beautiful art, surprise sunset, and now a double rainbow! The Norwegian sun is low, making all the fall colors stand out on the hill across the water. Even though it was drizzling and we were late to dinner, we couldn’t step away. No one was stopping to watch, and I wondered if dramatic sunsets and double rainbows were normal here. Later, after around, we learned that we did in fact have a very special first day in Oslo.

The next day, we visited Gruten, an urban mushroom farming operation. “Gruten” means “grounds” in Norwegian and that’s because the 2.5-person-business grows oyster mushrooms in coffee grounds, pioneering Oslo’s circular economy.

It’s much more difficult to do this in Norway than in the Netherlands because there aren’t any tax incentives for this kind of business and labor and real estate are expensive. According to the founder Siri’s slideshow, only 2.4% of Oslo’s economy is circular versus about 24.2% in the Netherlands. However, Siri has pushed forward to repurpose this valuable and abundant resources. Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, cellulose, and more, making it good for growing mushrooms and crafting skincare products! I can vouch for the latter because we tested it out ourselves in a bodyscrub-making workshop, a Sustainable Food tradition.

Orange and coffee scented – a heavenly combination.
The cargo bike Gruten uses to collect coffee grounds from around Oslo.

After Gruten, we saw more of Oslo’s landscape, surprisingly sprawling, as we headed to the Agency for the Urban Environment. They are the people responsible for bringing sustainability goals to Oslo’s public canteens in schools, offices, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the chocolate, coffee, and bananas the agency procures are all fair trade!

Walking and taking public transportation to the agency.

In our free time before dinner, some of my classmates and I visited the 13th century Akershus Fortress with Emmanuel and Jade. The sun had come out and we had a clear view of the fjord, even spotting our ferry docked in the distance. I got coffee with a classmate, visited the Nobel Peace Center, and the National Museum (Nasjonalmuseet) right next door. I could have spent all day wandering through the National Museum’s beautiful art galleries and can definitely see myself returning to Oslo in the future (by ferry, of course).

After dinner, my class went on an evening walk to Oslo Opera House‘s rooftop to admire the city. Before turning in for the night, some of us visited Deichman Bjørvika, the coolest public library ever (see for yourself).

The nicest student housing ever.

The next morning, we traveled into the countryside to experience a completely different side of Norway that you’ll see in the next post. I know this was a long one so thanks for reading — I got a little overexcited (and it gets even better from here)!

– Zoe

Hunkering down at Seks.

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