Norway, September, 2017 (Part 1-Oslo)

Sunday, August 27-Monday, August 28, 2017

Getting older isn’t good for much, in my opinion.  Wisdom?  Maybe.  Some perspective?  Okay.  The only really redeeming merit of a big birthday is the convenient excuse it affords to celebrate with a BIG TRIP.  The birthdays ending in zeroes fall into this category, definitely.  When Steve turned 47, I said “If we haven’t made it to Africa by the time you turn 50, we’re going for your 50th birthday.”  So, when his 49th birthday rolled around and we hadn’t made it there yet, that was my cue to schedule us for 3 weeks in Kenya the following year.

A decade has passed, time for another momentous birthday.  Yes, 60!  This one would be celebrated far away, with friends, in Norway.  Our trips to Antarctica had awakened an appreciation for austere, icy landscapes.  We wanted to see more glaciers and hopefully, polar bears in their natural environment, especially given the environmental threats to their habitat.  On our last trip to Antarctica, our expedition leader was Morten Jorgensen, who was accompanied by his Japanese girlfriend, Nozomi Takeyabu.  Morten and Nozomi now had their own company leading trips to the Arctic and elsewhere, called NozoMojo.  When a well priced expedition to Svalbard appeared in my inbox, I jumped on it.  I had been pricing trips to this remote destination north of Norway for years.  They started at $7000 and went up from there-this was $4000-4500 for 9 days on a 30 passenger sailing ship, the Antigua.  Greg signed on and brought his girlfriend Sarah.  Our diving friends Gerry and Nancy, Bob and Debbie and Lauren and Brad signed on too.  Suddenly, we were 1/3 of the group.

Complicating the preparation for this trip was the fact that we had squeezed in a trip to Wyoming the week before, for a chance to see and shoot a total solar eclipse in Grand Teton was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity (this confluence of events will occur next well after we are long gone).

The weekend of departure was a packing marathon.  I managed to finish an eclipse epilogue article for Photo Focus, but had to skip book club at Sandy’s Julian retreat (I hadn’t even started the book, The Graybar Hotel by convicted murderer Curtis Dawkins, having only managed to download it).

Driving north with George Sunday evening to LAX, the worst traffic was actually within LAX itself.  This was our first trip on Norwegian Air Shuttle, in Dreamliner 787 planes.  Our Premium class ticket bought us entry into the One World Alliance lounge, where peach bellinis were waiting at the entrance.  The food is consistently better in this lounge than in American’s lounges.  Our flight was reasonably comfortable, in semi-reclining seats, where I watched the emotionally gut-wrenching movie, “Manchester by the Sea”.

The train into town was an easy 1/2 hour ride to National Theater Station, $23/person; then a short $20 cab ride to our hotel, The Thief, on Thief Island (the alternative is a $125 cab ride from the airport). The hotel is a stylish, art-filled enclave, studded with contemporary art offerings, from a huddling figure by Antony Gormley at the entry to a larger-than-life Marlboro cowboy, repurposed by Richard Prince from magazine ads.  A Niki de Saint Phalle winged creature encircled a seating area in the lobby.  Sculptural offerings awaited those who ascended the stairs, while Julien Opie video pieces accompanied passengers in the elevators.

The lobby of boutique design hotel The Thief on Thief Island in Oslo is filled with pieces by big name contemporary art stars; here, a fantastical bird by Niki de Saint Phalle presides over part of the lobby.

Brad and Lauren arrived within an hour of us.  We met up on the rooftop deck before decamping to the 2nd floor restaurant, sharing pork belly tacos with pickled cucumbers and elote on rutabaga tortillas, a quinoa, tomato and beet salad, king crab, roasted cauliflower, and a tomato and mozzarella salad. Gluten free Lauren found the burger to her liking.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Nice hotels in Scandinavia seem to compete to offer the most sumptuous, lavish breakfast buffets, and The Thief’s was exceptional.  Just as we were mobilizing to head out, Greg arrived, sans Sarah.  This was not expected.  He had a rueful “Don’t ask” look on his face as he explained she’d be arriving the following day.  We headed out with Lauren and Brad, down to the City Hall to catch the ferry to Bygdøy. At the hotel, we had bought 3 day Oslo passes,  good for museum entries and transportation on ferries and trams.  We made good use of ours, starting at the open air Folk Art Museum, then on to the Viking museum and the Kontiki Museum.

Oslo’s Norwegian Folk Art Museum is open air, a nice place for a stroll among traditional structures transplanted here from all over Norway; this wooden stave church dates back to around 1200!

Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum houses remarkably well preserved examples of these vessels in a purpose built structure, due to be expanded in the coming years.

This regal vessel housed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, with richly carved decorations, is a burial vessel. Remains of 2 women of elevated status and burial artifacts were recovered with the ship.

At the Kon-Tiki Museum: the Ra, a reed vessel built using ancient Egyptian boat-building techniques, one of the improbable vessels used by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl to test his theories of human exploration via current-borne early crafts.

Back across the harbor, we sought out Fuglen, meaning “bird” in Norwegian, a coffee shop and mid-century Norwegian design emporium.  In the evening, the coffees give way to cocktails.  At a design show in New York a few years back, I was chatting with several Norwegian mid-century design enthusiasts who were exhibiting, who mentioned they had a coffee shop in Tokyo.  Last year, we visited a related enterprise, Bar Zingaro, a collaboration between the Fuglen team and artist Takashi Murakami.

A nice place to relax in Oslo, close to the National Gallery, coffee shop by day, cocktails at night, surrounded by mid-century Norwegian design for sale, Fuglen means bird in Norwegian and has an outpost in Tokyo.

Once revived by our coffee house sojourn, we walked to the evening’s restaurant of choice, Kontrast.  Unfortunately, we found ourselves at the restaurant’s OLD address, so had to catch a cab to the new location.  Once there, after considerable discussion whether there was enough on offer for no-raw-fish and gluten-free Lauren, we settled into enjoying an excellent meal, with wine pairings.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

We walked north with Lauren,  Brad and Greg, to the National Gallery, where we marveled at Munch’s malaise. From there, we took a coffee break at Fuglen, where iced mochas were the drink of choice. it was a beautifully fresh, breezy, crisp, thoroughly delightful day.

From there, we walked west through the lushly planted royal palace grounds to the Vigeland sculpture park in Frogner Park, the monumental life work of famed Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland(1869–1943).

Gustav Vigeland’s monumental life work, the largest sculpture park in the world by a single artist, is in Frogner Park, where Vigeland also lived and worked during the last 2 decades of his life, in a building (now museum) loaned to him by the city of Oslo in return for him leaving the city his artistic output of this period. The park is a very popular destination in Norway now and an exceptionally pleasant place for a stroll or an afternoon.

In his 30s, Vigeland traveled in Europe and spent time with French sculptor Auguste Rodin in his studio in Paris. They both focused their artistic output almost exclusively on the human form.

Gustav Vigeland’s work includes humans of all ages, from babies to the aged, often with a circle of life theme incorporated, sometimes quite literally, as here in The Wheel of Life, from 1933-34.

Greg headed back to the hotel to meet Sarah, while we hopped on the tram heading east, disembarking 10 stops later near the Opera House.  It is an impressive, angular structure, evoking an iceberg, a beach and a mountain all at once.

A new type of beachhead, on the waterfront of Oslo, where a major public works project is underway. The Opera House pictured here is completed, with a new Munch Museum and a public library underway.

The name of the responsible architecture firm also derives from a Norwegian mountain, Snøhetta.  Floating off-shore is a faceted glass sculpture by Monica Bonvicini called She Lies which directly draws its lines from a Casper David Friedrich 1823-24 painting of a shipwreck in heaped up sea ice, The Sea of Ice.  

As it happens, our travels in recent years have taken us to a number of other Snøhetta projects, from the improved “pedestrianization” (if that’s a word) of Times Square, to the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York last year to the SFMOMA expansion in January.

From the Opera House, we took leave of Lauren and Brad, thinking we had a 10 minute walk to dinner with Greg and Sarah at 3 Michelin star gastronomic temple Maaemo (#80 on this year’s Top 100 restaurant list). It turned into over an hour odyssey, an After Hours type nightmare, trying to extricate ourselves from the maze of bridges, bus and train stations, and shopping centers which intertwine at this nexus. Eventually, after asking at several hotels and one Irish bar, I gave up on asking local intelligence. We called Greg, who handed over the phone to one of our servers, who for the next 20 minutes, talked us toward our destination.  On one side, it was a traditional building,  contemporary on the other, a building we had actually noticed earlier crossing the bridge. Steve was ready to give up the quest, but we did end up having a phenomenal, as well as phenomenally expensive, 20 course series of exquisite tastes, with wonderful wine pairings. It turned out that at least part of Sarah and Greg’s hour-long wait for us was occupied with an emergency wardrobe repair. Exiting the cab, the spaghetti strap of Sarah’s crochet-topped dress gave way, resulting in a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe failure. Arriving at the restaurant with Greg holding up 1/2 of her dress, one of the servers was pressed into service with a sewing kit to do an emergency repair.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Our final day in Oslo, with an evening flight to Longyearbyen.  It was back to gray clouds, cool, but not uncomfortable, drizzly but not a full-fledged rain.  Lauren and Brad departed for Longyearbyen before we materialized at breakfast.  I called the spa as soon as it opened at 8 am, to maximize my chances of using the spa credit Lauren had transferred to me.  I hoped for either a scrub or a massage, and happily, was offered both, each for 25 minutes, at 5 pm, which was after the nearby Astrup Fearnley Museum normally closed and before we had to leave for the airport-perfect!

Strangely, I actually sustained a minor “theft” while staying at The Thief.  I’m sure it was inadvertent…as usual, we traveled with thermal insulated mugs for coffee and tea while on the boat.  We had recently upgraded to an amazingly lightweight Zojirushi version that keeps hot beverages at temperature for hours.  Mine was black and disappeared from our room one day.  I noticed it bore a strong resemblance to the thermos with hot water for tea that housekeeping left in the room with cookies each afternoon.  I suspected housekeeping took away my cup by mistake, so inquired at the front desk and by phone, sure it would be located and returned.  Just before our departure, with The Case of the Missing Mug still unsolved, the head of housekeeping appeared at the door offering apologies and a The Thief-embossed thermos as a consolation prize.

At the Opera House the day before, we had procured tickets for the daily 1 pm English language tour, so we took our time packing and storing the luggage, and set off slowly on foot via the fortress between Thief Island on which we were staying and the Opera House.

The anchor of a major reconstruction of Oslo waterfront, the Opera House, housing the national opera and ballet companies, is designed by the firm Snøhetta.

Inside the Oslo Opera House, the use of wood to sheath the theaters, warms the space and acoustics.

Close up of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s contribution to Oslo’s Opera House, a geometric sheath which sinuously delineates interior spaces.

Our Opera House tour was given by free-lance pianist Sarah, who took us behind the scenes, into the “factory”, where the costumes are sewn and the stage sets constructed.  These windowed offices are oriented to a courtyard in the production half of this complex.  700 people are employed full-time, including 60 ballet dancers and 60 opera singers, supplemented by 1000-2000 freelancers.  The theaters themselves are cloaked with a warm oak sheath, which quiets the lobbies and imparts a warmth to the acoustics.

Our timing was lucky, in that a rehearsal for The Magic Flute, scheduled to premiere the next night, was nearing its end.  Many in the cast for the final number were in costume, including a trio of white Martians.  The Queen of the Night zipped around on a Segway type device, concealed by her voluminous skirt.

Steve and I parted ways afterwards, me heading back towards the hotel and he heading toward the Design Museum.  The Astrup Fearnley Museum is adjacent to the hotel and is another spectacular Renzo Piano museum design.

Astrup Fearnley Museum of Contemporary Art on Thief Island in Oslo, another spectacular Renzo Piano design.

The building is cleaved in sections which are spanned by pedestrian bridges, with a soaring arc of a translucent roof overhead.

Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo houses a stellar collection of contemporary art; Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince were prominently featured during our visit.

One half was occupied by a show of contemporary Chinese art from the collection, with the other half showcasing selections from the permanent collection. A large gallery was filled with 2 pieces by Ai Wei Wei.  The walls featured a wallpaper on which war scenes were depicted, while the floor sported stacks of inner tubes, beautifully rendered in black, white and grey shades of marble.  I took a rest from being on my feet at the water-view cafe, which offered a vegetable wonton soup as part of a summer menu of Chinese-influenced offerings in conjunction with the current show.  In the permanent collection,  Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman were prominently featured.

It was all too soon time for my treatment over at the spa, which was exquisitely rendered by a young genial giant of a man with a shaved head and strong but gentle hands.

At the airport, we found Bob and Debbie, and Nancy and Gerry already at the gate, having spent the prior week circumnavigating Iceland.  I had worried (a little) about leaving for Longyearbyen this late, but was swayed by the fact the 9 pm flight was one of the few non-stops.  I also preferred spending an extra day in Oslo (temperature 15-17 degree C) to Longyearbyen (temperature 0 degree C) and reasoned that we could still make our afternoon boarding time flying in the following day, in the unlikely event something went awry with our flight.   I was relieved to see NozoMojo leaders Morten and Nozomi on the same flight.

We were off to Svalbard-finally!  At long last, here’s a link:

Norway, September 2017 (Part 2-Svalbard)


For more logistical specifics, see my Photo Focus article on Olso here:

If you missed our eclipse adventure, catch up here:

For more on photographing an eclipse, check out my Photo Focus articles:

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