Allow me to paint a picture for you.
It’s 3:37am. It is dark, and it is raining. Not proper rain, of course; just that horrid grey drizzle, the kind that sits innocently in a layer on top of your clothes for ten minutes…before reaching critical mass and soaking in, drenching you more thoroughly than if you had run around in a proper storm. I am stood in the garish purple glow of the lights outside the Premier Inn, Gatwick A23. I am wearing – as usual – camouflage combat shorts and skate trainers, and for the first time since March, I am actually feeling like I may have misjudged my wardrobe.
I was waiting for a taxi, which was getting progressively later. I was due to fly out to Oslo that morning at 5:55am, and while my logical self had looked at the timescales and was doing its best to reassure me that everything was going to be fine, my risk-assessing self was remembering the horrendous queue to get through security on the way to Copenhagen, and the fuck up with the boarding passes on the way to Montpelier. The background whine of anxiousness was getting louder and louder.
After a disproportionately polite telephone call to remind the taxi company that I was waiting, a car arrived and whisked me off to the South terminal. The driver complimented me on travelling light, which instantly soothed my ruffled feathers, since it’s a bit of a point of pride with me; if it doesn’t fit in one rucksack, it’s not going.
I trotted through the terminal to security…where there was one person in front of me. Despite the fact that I forgot to take the liquids out of my backpack (because, you know, I don’t travel enough to remember…) meaning that the security staff had to go through my bag – very nicely, and almost apologetically – I was through in 4 minutes.
So much for worrying about not getting through in time. Fuck you, risk-assessing brain.
I took a slow amble around the departure lounge, and fuck was it hot in there. I’m not sure if they try to deliberately encourage germs to breed or what, but it was quite unpleasant. Most of the shops weren’t open at that stage, but there was a Costa Coffee and there was the bar, with the warm shiny lights and sports news. I decided that I wasn’t going to have a beer, which would have been traditional, and was very pleased with myself. Granted, it was only 4:10am, and that’s probably a little bit early, even for me.
I spent the next hour sat with my massive coffee, charging my phone, and quietly judging people. A mid-30’s couple with a pushchair sat down by one of the departure boards. She was very pale and tired looking, with her blond hair pulled back into an “It’s-4am-who-gives-a-fuck” ponytail. She was staring vacantly into the pushchair, looking largely incapable of thought, let alone conversation. He on the other hand looked positively relaxed. He was wearing a neatly pressed pair of bootcut jeans, with pointy slip-on brown shoes, a snappy polo shirt with a pair of wrap-around sunglasses hanging backwards off of his neck, and a hat that he had clearly stolen from the Man from Del Monte. He slid his arse forward as far as he could on the seat, sprawling his legs out far enough to be a trip hazard, casually leaning back with his hands clasped behind his head, taking a nap while his partner sat motionless, staring at the baby.
I bet he’s a prick.
Ooh, on a side note, in the hotel room last night, I had discovered a Gideon’s bible. I didn’t realise they still did that these days, but I casually tossed a challenge out to my friends via the medium of Facebook.
The response was fairly overwhelming, with some excellent ideas, but in my sleep- and coffee-deprived state, I settled on writing a new Foreword and Disclaimer.
Anyway, departure gate 51 was called and I headed off on a completely uneventful mooch. Flight boarding and takeoff was absolutely by the numbers, with the only unpleasantness being the woman sat on the other side of the aisle. She was really small and quite old, with exceptionally short hair. She looked like a Squirrel Monkey in sandals, and she was cheerfully picking at the skin on her feet throughout the safety demonstration.
Speaking of safety, apparently there are no calm and orderly departures from Norwegian airline planes…
No fuss, no trauma, no turbulence, no screaming children, and even the old lady stopped picking herself. It was all to the good, because my brain – being its usual assclown self – had woken me up at 0:50am and there was no way I could have coped with any level of stress whatsoever.
We touched down in Oslo Gardermoen in absolutely glorious sunshine. It was warm and bright, with a cool breeze, the sky was a crystal clear azure blue, and the drizzly misery of that morning was rapidly burned away. I bounced through the airport, grinning my tits off… and did in fact laugh loudly as an escalator slowly swept me down past a massive poster which appeared to show a load of statues in a veritable orgy of oral pleasure. I am perfectly prepared to accept that it might just be my mind interpreting it that way, of course.
I had pre-booked tickets for a bus to and from Oslo bus station, and I stood around the place where the timetable had suggested the bus would be going from. There was a large group of staff from one Finnish company all gathered around in the same place, although they weren’t waiting for the same bus I was. After the best part of 20 minutes had passed, risk-assessment brain was clearing its throat and saying “…are you sure you know what you’re doing?”.
Of course, the bus turned up on the dot of when it was due, the ticket I had downloaded onto my phone was absolutely fine, the bus was relatively empty and comfortable, and also had free Wi-Fi.
Fuck you, risk-assessment brain. I really need to learn to trust my own judgement more. Unless I’m very drunk. Then I shouldn’t do that at all.
I was struck by how much the outskirts of Oslo – where there was a load of construction work taking place on what looked like it might be some funky new office complex – looked really like the outskirts of Bergen. There is obviously a very specific style of building that is popular at the moment, all clever and full of shapes.
My ticket was supposed to be to the bussterminalen. I pressed the stop button (which didn’t light up, but I didn’t want to press it again, because I am a fool) and picked up my bag, shuffling to the edge of my seat in anticipation of the bus stopping. Which it didn’t. The bus driver slowed to a crawl, ready to stop, as I was poised to get up. Both the driver and I were waiting for SOMEONE to commit to an action. In any case, he drove straight past, and I ended out getting off at the next stop like that was what I meant all along. As it happened, it was way closer to my hotel, so I am taking that as a Win.
I was staying at the Smarthotel on St Olav’s Gate. I took a walk up to see if there was any chance I could check in early. There wasn’t. I guess I should have paid more attention to the “Want to check-in early?” option when booking…
Anyway, I went off to go and familiarise myself with the local geography. Oslo centre is remarkably easy to navigate, and once you know a few street names, it’s almost impossible to get lost. I sat for a little while in the sunshine by the fountain in Eidsvolls Plass, feeling utterly at peace with the world.
Utterly at peace, but for one statue, which was challenging my British sensibilities to their utter limits. The statue was of a satyr. With his knob out. Not just OUT, but also really happy to see everyone. There were streams and streams of tourists taking photos and posing with it, but I was way too busy politely ignoring it. I have therefore resorting to stealing someone else’s picture.
I… well, ahh… ahem… I still don’t know exactly what I am supposed to think about this. What is the correct response? Am I supposed to be aroused, intimidated, amused, admiring? I am too British to deal with this, damnit.
Something else that really struck me was the sheer volume of people begging for money. There were genuinely loads of them, you couldn’t walk 25m in any direction without seeing someone begging or trying to entertain for cash. They fell into two very distinct groups; 1) guys dressed as clowns and 2) the wives of Papa Lazarou.
The first time a guy walked past me going “Beep beep!” I was delighted. I thought that I had finally found a place were people were free to wander around and be clowns if they wanted. I figured out what was going on as soon as I laughed…and he immediately homed in on me like a magpie after Shiny Things. I gave him a £2 coin. Good luck with that, son.
I wandered through the town and down to the waterfront and the Opera house. You could actually SMELL the sea, and it’s funny how you realise that you missed something like that once you have it again.
Oslo itself reminded me a lot of Copenhagen in terms of the architecture, and little details like the pedestrian crossings, but it was really very different in the atmosphere and the way it felt. Copenhagen gives off the impression that is has been designed, like some kind of model village. Oslo has a much more organic feel to it, like it has grown up around the people and evolved into the space, much more like the slightly cramped and alive feeling you get from London.
Except Olso is clean.
In Biology lessons, we would occasionally use a piece of equipment called a quadrat. The idea was that you take it outside, lob it around, and wherever it lands you count all the insects, plants and animals you find inside as a measure of bio-diversity.
If you chucked a quadrat around in a town in the UK, inside it you would expect to find;
1 brown and greasy McDonalds bag
4 cigarette ends
1 crisp packet
24 pieces chewing gum, crushed
1 discarded lottery scratch card
12 pieces of broken glass
1 shattered soul
In Oslo – nothing. I genuinely looked, and all I could find were some cigarette ends, and that was seriously only a few, and all around benches where people would naturally be sitting. I even looked up at one point and the fucking PIGEONS were taking a bath.
There was a bit of military parade, with uniforms, horses and a marching band. I simply cannot hear a band like that without expecting them to break into the music used on the Monty Python TV series. I am fairly sure that marks me as one of a slowly dying group. Nevertheless, I was delighted that they had obviously chosen to honour my arrival with such a magnificent spectacle.
During my wanderings around the town, I spotted a pub called The Scotsman. Well, it would be rude not to!
I actually really liked it in The Scotsman. It was nice, and dark, and the beer was good. There were a couple of kilts up on the wall, and I am sorry to say I think I recognised the tartan. It might even be the McDonald tartan, but I don’t want to investigate that any closer. This pub really reminded me of a local pub in Northampton called the Racehorse…or at least how the Racehorse used to be many years ago, before it smelled overwhelmingly of piss.
The menu made me smile. Bangers and…potato salad? We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.
While I was sat there, I saw two different kinds of uniformed personnel ride past the front door on horses. It was a bit surreal actually. I am sure it’s more common in London, but in Northampton you only ever really see horses when they are being ridden down country roads – literally and figuratively – shitting themselves as cars have to pass them on tiny bends, which make you question the riders’ 1) judgement, and 2) will to live.
I was due to meet up with a friend in the evening, but I successfully managed to squeeze in another pint before going and checking in to the hotel. I did have an interesting conversation with one of the barstaff about language before I left, which made me challenge my own perceptions a little bit, but I will go into that in more detail at another point.
My room at the Smarthotel was small but perfectly formed. I, of course, utterly filled it with crap at the first opportunity. I had a bed, a desk, a shower, toilet and TV. It was clean and comfortable and cheap, plus the hotel was really conveniently located close to shops and public transport, and I would highly recommend it to anyone planning on going to Oslo.
All things considered, it had been an odd little day. Not least of which was probably due to having been awake for about 7 hours longer than normal. Ignoring that though, Oslo quite unexpectedly didn’t feel all that very different from home. Yes, of course there were differences in the details; the weather was brighter, the city was cleaner, the buildings were EPIC, and the beggars were just skating on the sinister-comedy side of reality. Also, I will genuinely never get used to cars actually stopping at pedestrian crossings. Freaks me the hell out, just wandering into the road and trusting that no-one is going to take your legs out.
It was easy to navigate, comfortable, and familiar. Part of my agenda for the trip to Oslo was to see if it was a place that I could live, and I could certainly easily do that. However, I hadn’t fallen in love with it in the same way that I had Bergen. I suppose that is obvious thinking about it, since Bergen is a) so very different to anything you can experience in the UK, and b) utterly, chest-squeezingly, fucking beautiful. I wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions though; I had another four days to spend in the city and see how I got on with it.
Anyway, later that evening, I had my first experience of the T-Bane, which is the Oslo metro system. It smelled just like the London Underground and I LOVED it. The hot, greasy, mechanical, recycled air smell… it’s just…phwoarr… excuse me for a few minutes…