OSLO, Norway — To sit in the Summit Bar atop a major hotel in the late afternoon, as the yellow sun sinks from a darkening sky, streaked to either side in shades of red, orange, purple and blazing gold, and to watch the dancing yellow lights reflecting from the waters of the fiord, is to seem as close to heaven as is humanly possible.
Besides the beauty, Norway is a country of fiercely independent people who consider courtesy, kindness and cleanliness an integral part of life at a time when terrorism, hooliganism and disease are spreading in other parts of the world at an all too rapid pace. Drop your wallet on the sidewalk of Oslo and more than likely someone will pick it up and return it. Ask someone for directions and you stand a good chance of being escorted to your destination personally.
Such are the values of Norwegian life.
Strolling around Oslo is the most pleasant way of getting to know the city and the feel of the magnificent natural surroundings into which it is nestled. Between the Royal Palace and Stortinget (the parliament building) runs the main thoroughfare, Karl Johansgate. On either side of this bustling street rise a series of shops, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, churches, museums, libraries and art galleries. Nearby are narrow little streets with old wooden houses in which live artists, musicians and writers.
There are parks, outdoors cafes and public gardens with fountains. On the harbor side of Karl Johansgate is the Town Hall, a brown strangely constructed site which looks more like a huge industrial cotton mill than a government building. Inside however, murals, frescoes and paintings cover the walls, and a guided tour of the rooms is recommended. Crossing the street from the Town Hall one is at the water's edge where you can buy freshly caught shrimp by the bucket-load and other assorted seafood.
Akker Brygge, once occupied by hundreds of men in the various stages of ship building is now used as a marketplace. Little shops, stalls, cafes and pubs seem to be a gathering place for people from all walks of Oslo life. The goods on display are a feast. Fresh hot bread, pastries and buns are oozing with assorted jams and fresh cream. Tea and coffee from all parts of the world, ice cream, fresh fruit and vegetables abound. In one corner a Chinese fast-food counter sells egg rolls, dumplings and fried shrimp. Gift shops provide pottery, jewelry and knickknacks. One stall displays those distinctive handmade Scandinavian sweaters to keep out the cold Arctic winter winds.
Oslo is not a difficult city to become acquainted with, what with an abundance of buses, trams and taxis. Vigeland Sculpture Park is a tribute to the extraordinary work of Gustav Vigeland whose incredible creations capture the human condition in a beautifully touching and sometimes bewildering fashion. Men and women from the very young to the very old are carved into every conceivable expression of everyday life. Angry, anxious, thoughtful and violent moods are caught in his works.
Southwest of Oslo, and easily accessible by bus or ferryboat, the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdoy renders a priceless glimpse into Norway's past when fearless Viking warriors set out to ravage and plunder distant lands. Here a collection of artifacts and the Viking ships have been miraculously preserved for more than 1,000 years in airtight chambers beneath the earth. Originally designed as tombs for chief warriors and royalty, these ships have been restored to their original splendor.
For the castle romantics there is a walk through the grounds of Akerhus Castle to the battlements, where one can enjoy a fine view of the city and its harbor. The winter sports crowd would no doubt enjoy Holmenkollen ski jump and the surrounding area where the 1982 World Skiing Championships were held. There is a lift that takes you to the top of Holmenkollen. Most hotels offer full and half-day sightseeing tours by bus or boat or by a combination of both.
Now to food: I think the air makes you hungry in Oslo. I was ravenous all the time. On my first evening I was treated to a traditional Norwegian dinner in a restaurant called Tostrupkjellerren just off Karl Johansgate near the Grand Hotel. One goes down some stairs into a crimson atmosphere with a soft romantic setting. There are side-to-side booths, for romantics.
My Norwegian friend of several years suggested Pinekjott M/kalrabistappe which, as far as the extent of my Norwegian is concerned, could have been boiled polar bear claws. To my delight, I discovered a tender lamb dish prepared ritually, giving it a flavor the likes of which I have not enjoyed before. The lamb is slaughtered in early September when the ribs are put into salt water for a few days, hung for two months, then dried and salted.