Steve and Leslie's 2010 Baltic Sea Vacation

Day 1, August 4, Oslo, Norway

We flew out on August 3, first from Boston to Newark and then Newark to Oslo. I booked on United but the outgoing flights were operated by Continental - this was before the merger. I managed to snag a really good deal on a discounted Business-class fare, and I knew that the added comfort would make the travel much easier. Continental has what they call "BusinessFirst" - so we effectively flew FIrst Class out. While this sounded very good in practice, and the seats on Continental's 757 to Oslo looked like they would be comfortable, the reality was that they were agonizingly awful and we got little or no sleep overnight. So much for good intentions. Luckily the return trip promised better. We arrived in Oslo at around 9:30 in the morning, local time.

The Oslo airport is stunning, classic Scandinavian design- it was all wood and glass, with many sculptures and artwork along the path from the gate to Customs. It was also the first time I had seen so many tall blond(e)s in one place! We collected our luggage, presented our passports at the immigration control and, then.. we were out. No barrage of questions, no forms to fill out, no drug-sniffing dogs - just walk out. Amazing.

A representative from Cruise West met us at Arrivals and drove us to our hotel in Oslo. Cruise West put up incoming guests at the Hotel Bristol in Oslo the night before the cruise started, and we paid them for two extra nights. The Bristol is an old-fashioned hotel in the heart of downtown Oslo on Kristian IV's gate (I learned that "gate", pronounced GAT-uh, means "street" in Norwegian. The major streets in Oslo are named after Norwegian kings.) The Bristol has been remodeled and expanded - you can see where the old and new parts join in the hallways as there is a slight difference in level.

The Bristol has an "old world" feel, which was just fine by us. The room we were assigned was in the newer wing and was small but nicely laid out. Even better, it opened onto an inner enclosed area and was quiet. After unpacking, we set out to explore the area. We first walked down towards the port area, pausing to look at the small parks and assorted statues we found along the way.

Oslo fountains

Statues and fountains in Oslo

We saw a number of interesting looking decorations and saw signs indicating that the Mela World Music Festival would be opening in two days. There were many booths being set up, and when we returned later some were open selling foods and clothing from around the world. We browsed Indian silks and Kenyan wood carvings, chatting with the proprietors who tended to live locally but be immigrants from other countries.

Then we came upon this apparition...

Mela World Music Festival, Oslo

You can see more of this, um, vehicle in my Oslo Flickr set.

We then decided to walk up to Karl Johan's gate, which is the main shopping street in the city. For several blocks, it is pedestrian-only, though vehicles are allowed on cross-streets. It was filled with shops and restaurants of all kinds, and many street performers. A popular sub-genre of these were "human statues", often made up in paint to look like stone or gold and who would hold still poses until someone came up to them. Most had a funnel attached to the base they stood on to accept donations.

Human Statue, Karl Johan's Street, Oslo

Human Statue, Karl Johan's Street, Oslo

Karl Johan's Street, Oslo

Karl Johan's Street, Oslo

Before we arrived, I had purchased two "Oslo Passes" for us. These are available in 24, 48 and 72-hour versions and provide significant discounts on many attractions and activities. Most museums are free with the Oslo Pass, as is public transport within the city. The 72-hour pass, which I bought, also provides free access to the "Hop-On, Hop-Off Mini Cruise" which cycles between the port, Bygdøy Peninsula where many museums are, and the Opera House. The Oslo Pass also provides discounts at a number of restaurants, and we ended up at one of these for a late lunch, of all things, a T.G.I. Friday's! I highly recommend the Oslo Pass to anyone who visits Oslo. It may seem expensive, and it is, but Oslo itself is extremely expensive - one of the, if not the, most expensive cities in the world, and it will save you money if you use it only twice in a day. (Later in the trip I would hear one of the cruise staff comment that Oslo was going to start losing tourist business if they didn't do something to rein in prices.)



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