November 10, 2014. Nightly walks to detox after long days at work have given us a decent introduction to our neighborhood. We’ve scouted out the local watering holes — lots of quaint bars and pricey restaurants in the area — and determined that anything related to American-style burgers is the latest hot trend. Even McDonald’s boasts a “New York Burger,” whatever that is (never really thought of NY as the beef capital of the U.S., but okay ….)
When I was feeling particularly nostalgic one day, I stopped in for a quarter-pounder meal and found myself $15 poorer, but wiser in the ways that McDonald’s “classes up the joint” with fancy interiors for the European audiences. Matthew’s favorite joke is now, “Let’s go eat at that fancy Scottish place down the street.” We never eat there at home, but now that we’re living in Oslo, where a burger, fries, and drinks at a regular restaurant are usually around $50, a $30 McDonald’s meny for to (“full menu for two”) is about the only dining out experience we can afford.
Another trend of note: coffee is clearly key in a land with little winter daylight. Fantastic coffee bars, both chains and small mom-and-pop places, abound on every corner. Some have the typical coffee snobbery you find at Intelligentsia back home in Chicago, but most are laid-back, local gathering spots for folks looking to chat and caffeinate. One of my favorites, chiefly because it’s on my way to work and serves quite decent latte in giant French-style bowls, is the Starbucks-like chain Kaffebrenneriet. I have a running game with one of the baristas, who every day asks me to attempt pronouncing something from the menu in Norwegian, then laughs uproariously at my bad accent.
Like many restaurants and coffee shops, Kaffebrenneriet also has great outdoor seating. That’s another big Scandinavian thing: many places keep their outdoor patios open all winter long. Customers huddle beneath heat lamps at quaint cafe tables sporting chairs swathed in lambskin guaranteed to keep your bum warm. Thick wool blankets drape the back of each chair, so folks can bundle up when the thermometer dips below 30° Farenheit (0° Celcius — I’m still trying to get the hang of this Celcius thing.) Even on the one of the coldest days last year (5° F/-15° C), when I visited around Christmas, I saw tons of Norwegians (often die-hard smokers) dining al fresco.
They may love eating outdoors, but Norwegians staunchly defend their limited working hours, and we’ve been hard-pressed to find restaurants open late night and on Sundays. That has probably been the hardest adjustment we’ve had so far. Since Matthew and I are working for an American company that keeps American hours, we don’t benefit from the strict, 7-hour Norwegian workday. Our days begin at 5:30 AM and we’re rarely home before 7:00 at night. Most stores close by 6:00 PM on weekdays and 3:00 PM on Saturdays, and absolutely nothing is open on Sundays, including most restaurants. See the problem?
Since we often work half-days on the weekends, our pattern has become that Saturday afternoons are spent grocery shopping and errand-running while things are open. Sunday p.m.’s are reserved for cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, and catching up on other household chores. If we’re lucky, we can squeeze in a visit to a park or a museum (they’re two of the few entertainment venues open on Sundays.)
One of our favorite spots to visit is Vigeland’s Parken, right down the street. It’s filled with hundreds of works by sculptor Gustav Vigeland, a local-boy-who-made-good (and also happened to possess a hotly debated reputation as a Nazi sympathizer.) His socialist leanings are evident in both his subject matter — the Human Condition — and his style, which depicts stoic and rather stocky nude men, women, and children engaged in everyday interactions, such as playing, fighting, loving, and dying. Supposedly the park has more naked statues than any other outdoor display worldwide.
Fascist or not, Vigeland’s work is pretty powerful and some of his portrayals are intentionally quite humorous. One of our favorites is a guy engaged in the act of violently shaking off four clinging babies, which Matthew has entitled: “Deadbeat dad attempting to avoid his child-support payments.” Probably the most famous and locally beloved sculpture is the “Angry Baby,” which depicts a toddler in the throws of a temper tantrum. The gift shop sells bibs emblazoned with a line drawing of the cranky lad, and I’m tempted to buy it for every new mother I know.
Other highlights are the not-to-be-missed fountain, which is surrounded by trees depicting the stages of human life, and the towering and decidedly phallic monolith made up of entwined human bodies. Stopping at Vigeland’s studio is also a must — I’ve learned more there about the truly fascinating art of creating bronze, plaster, and stone sculptures than I’ve ever absorbed in any museum. Vigeland’s Parken is also part of Frogner Park, the grounds of an old farmstead, and several of the outbuildings from the farm are still standing. Some have been converted into beer gardens and cafes that are actually open on Sundays — imagine that!
Our walks home typically conclude with window shopping, people-watching, and a glimpse of the Oslo fjord at the end of our tree-lined street (see top photo). I’m looking forward to the day when we’re home early enough to actually shop and dine in some of the places that now have windows bearing our noseprints….