A $100 Weekend in OsloBy SETH KUGEL The New York Times http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/26/a-100-weekend-in-oslo/ Tell people you’re off to spend the weekend in Oslo with $100 in your pocket, and the warnings start flowing. Some came in the form of legitimate research like the UBS report that has ranked Oslo the world’s most expensive city for the last three years; others were shock-and-awe anecdotes, like “Food in Oslo is so expensive you can actually buy half a cucumber.”
I’m not easily spooked. Seven previous $100 weekends in pricey places like Paris and Rio de Janeiro have shown me that such cities can be enjoyed, even on a pittance. But I’m also not stupid. On my way to the airport in Copenhagen I bought a dense loaf of softkernerugbrod, soft-seed Danish rye, and stuck it in my bag. Good thing, too. By the end of the weekend, it was gone.
Budget: $100, or 585 Norwegian kroner
Low budgets usually mean greasy meals. Not this time. I started off the weekend by filling up on salad, hummus, bean casseroles, potato gratin and fresh-baked bread at the 100-kroner all-you-can-eat vegetarian lunch buffet at Vega, a restaurant housed in an old building full of character just a few blocks north of the main pedestrian drag, Karl Johans Gate. One hundred kroner (about $17 at about 5.85 kroner to the dollar) counts as dirt cheap for a bountiful sit-down meal in Oslo, where the most inexpensive sandwich in a Starbucks-like cafe is about 70 kroner.
But my healthy resolve was soon put to the test during the 30-minute stroll from Vega to Frognerparken, home of the Vigeland Sculpture Garden. Walks are typically healthy affairs, but for some reason Oslo was filled that day with young Norwegians handing out small packages of chocolately snacks like Sjokiklem biscuits, Popsy toffee nuggets and something called Smash! Bites. I pocketed some for a nighttime treat and headed toward the park.
I’m as easily bored by sculpture gardens as the next guy who only took Introduction to Art History because his mother wanted him to. But it’s hard to imagine any human, age 3 to 100, who couldn’t happily kill an hour or two exploring Vigeland Park, a pedestrian mall filled with more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland.
The human figures, in bronze and granite or some woven into the parks’ wrought-iron gates, exhibit the gamut of human experience, from playful to pensive, graceful to awkward, loving to violent. And they are all nude. (There is a sculpture museum nearby in the building where Vigeland once lived. While the park is free, the museum is 50 kroner.)
Free lodging is practically required on $100 weekends. In the past I’ve turned either to CouchSurfing.org or to the kindness of Facebook connections to find a host, but Oslo has a surprise: a free campsite on the island of Langoyene, 15 minutes away from downtown by ferry. (One-way tickets are 30 kroner; I also bought a 75-kroner 24-hour transit pass to use the next day.)
Because I was there in mid-June the last ferry left at 6:45 p.m. (as of June 18, there were later departures), so I headed to a local supermarket for supplies. Despite the mind-boggling prices, I managed to buy cheese, fruit, a Greek-yogurtlike product called skyr and a couple of beers for 85 kroner. Together with my Danish rye, that would serve me through lunch the next day.
As you might expect, those waiting for the boat were a motley bunch: a Norwegian family, two young guys with fishing equipment and two immigrants down on their luck — Elder from Portugal and Luis from the Dominican Republic.
What were they doing here? Thanks to the Spanish I learned living and working in Dominican neighborhoods in New York, I learned that Luis was from the small town Padre Las Casas and recalled that it was also the hometown of the merengue star Kinito Méndez — an otherwise useless fact that provided plenty of bonding material. Soon Luis was telling me his story: he had met a Norwegian woman on vacation in the Dominican Republic, married her, moved to Norway, had a daughter and divorced. The economic crisis has been tough on immigrants, so now, homeless, he camps on Langoyene.
It’s a calm, safe place, he said. Many Norwegians spend the season out there (by choice, unlike Luis), and it was generally safe to leave your less-valuable possessions there during the day. I set up my tent near some family groups and spent a peaceful night, though I could have used an eye mask; in Oslo, the June sun sets after 10, rising before 4.
Money spent: 215 kroner ($36.75)
Money left: 370 kroner ($63.25)
I would have happily stayed there another night if the ferries ran later, but instead arranged for a place to crash Saturday, this time resorting to friends of friends of friends when CouchSurfing failed me.
After dropping off my stuff and having a cheese sandwich for lunch, I hopped onto the tram (where I encountered a Norwegian bachelorette party swilling wine) and wandered around downtown, checking out the National Theater and the gorgeous Oslo Opera House, opened in 2008. I had planned on taking a free tour of the Norwegian parliament next, but had the times wrong, so instead hopped a ferry to a museum that celebrated a much cooler group of Norwegian rulers: the Vikings.
The Viking Ship Museum (at 60 kroner, my one paid cultural visit) focuses on three Viking ships recovered from burial mounds around Oslo about a century ago. Two of the three are in magnificent shape, but just as interesting are the intricately carved wooden sleds and other artifacts retrieved from the graves. No offense to the Munch Museum (95 kroner) or the Nobel Peace Center (80 kroner), but I had made the right choice.
And I would get a taste of those two anyway. The Nobel Peace Center is just off the ferry dock, and who was speaking to a crowd of thousands as I arrived? The Burmese dissident and former political prisoner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in town to pick up (finally) her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. I stayed around for her short and gracious public appearance, amazed at my good timing.
It was getting toward evening, and time to cross the river to east Oslo to check out two of the city’s more interesting neighborhoods: the immigrant-filled Gronland for dinner and the hipsterish Grunerlokka for a drink.
Immigrant neighborhoods are usually bustling and lively, and Gronland was no exception, boding well for a spicy, hearty meal. I’d been told to try Punjab Tandoori, where the nightly special was 69 kroner (about $12). In a similar American neighborhood that price would mean a feast fit for a glutton. Here, I was given two moist and tasty but pathetically small pieces of chicken on a molehill of rice accompanied by a piece of naan and a microscopic salad topped with two paper-thin slices of cucumber. This place, clearly, bought its cucumbers by the half.I had heard Gronland did have the cheapest fruit in town, and it was true; an apple and an orange cost just 4 kroner total. I also had a 24-kroner café cortado at Cedar Sunrise, a Lebanese-owned shop that serves as a gathering place for Somalis and others; that evening, they were absorbed in a Czech Republic versus Poland soccer match. I joined them, not even noticing initially that the announcers were speaking Arabic, not Norwegian.
From there I walked to Grunerlokka and strolled up Thorvald Meyers Gate, the main drag, replete with all the trademarks of cool neighborhoods everywhere: a bustling tapas bar, grungy-looking music club, young people dressed with deliberately casual flair, and (there goes the neighborhood) a branch of L’Occitane en Provence.
I had 121 kroner left, which I figured would be enough to have a drink at what everyone said was the best cocktail bar in town, Bar Boca. It, too, was up to speed: tiny and crowded with a menu of creative takes on old-school cocktails and bartenders (one with suspenders) who labored intensely over sprigs and twists and juices. The menu credits several drinks to New York bars, but New York name-dropping (or recipe-poaching) doesn’t impress me too much, so I chose the Remember the Maine, adapted from a 1930s cocktail book. It was a bracing and savory mix of bourbon, vermouth, cherry liqueur and pastis for 106 kroner. (That’s a vaguely within-range-of-reason $18, especially considering no tip was expected.) I then caught the tram home.
Total spent: 570 kroner ($97.44)
Total left: 15 kroner ($2.56)
I brought my remaining foodstuffs — that apple and orange and the last chunk of rye bread — for a brunch picnic on the lawn of Slottsparken, the park around the Norwegian royal palace. I was set for a midday activity: a visit to the National Gallery, free on Sunday. Which raised the issue, what to do with the last 15 kroner?
I couldn’t get a small coffee (around 24 kroner, or $4) I couldn’t get a Coke (20, if you’re lucky) or a Snickers bar (19). My hosts had suggested a lottery ticket, but I’m not the gambling type.
What I could do, it turned out, was use the 10-kroner coin as a deposit for a locker at the museum, allowing my backpack-weary shoulders a rest. The extra mobility came in handy as I slithered through a crowd of Japanese tourists to catch a glimpse of the museum’s most famous work, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. Which, if my brief art history education still serves, depicts
a budget traveler after a weekend in Oslo.