As the plane dipped lower into the clouds veiling our destination, thin, spidery tendrils of ice started to climb the windows. The water droplets that had knitted together to form the cloud were frozen solid. The air sparkled. I decided I was going to like Norway very much.
Oslo in winter has more than a touch of the fantastical about it. The cold is the first thing you notice; prickling at the base of your neck, twitching in your fingertips, sweeping the tiredness from your lungs. Oslo is so cold that even time seems to freeze. Snowflakes hang static in the air, clinging like feathers to scarves and lips and eyelashes. The pale sun barely scrapes above the horizon, bathing everything in perpetual milky twilight, which clashes incongruously with the violent blue of the sky. The light comes from the carpet of snow as much as from the sun. Strings of fairy lights hang on every surface, glinting with impossibly huge, comic book icicles. The fjords which plunge into the city are vast, moving sheets of ice; cold fairy tale mirrors. Looking around at the sharp beauty of the ice and the gloom lurking beneath the snow-laden pine trees, it’s easy to see why Roald Dahl chose Norway as the home of his Witches.
Arriving somewhere so strange and impossible is disorientating. Niall and I wandered through the streets, joints creaking in protest at the dipping temperature, breath hitching in our throats. We faltered as we walked, the desire to stop and stare at the beauty around us fighting a losing fight against the call of a warm hotel bed. Stepping into the lobby of the hotel, I felt like I was physically thawing, like I’d been wrapped in a film sheet of frost that was cracking and melting around me. A fire dominated the reception area, even in the middle of the Witching Hour. Warm gold and wooden furnishings wrapped us up tight after our frigid walk. When I booked the room, I had asked if we could have one with a pretty view and they delivered on that in abundance. A huge window stretched the full length of one wall, showing the city of Oslo below and the fjords shining in the distance.
We fell asleep almost immediately and didn’t wake again until the morning light started to tap on our windows at around 9am. We were only in Oslo for one full day, so we had decided not to put any pressure on ourselves to visit everything, instead opting to just wander and see whatever we’d see. Having spent a grand total of 25 minutes in the cold the previous night, we knew we’d need all of our strength to survive a full day outdoors. I prepared by eating 43 chocolate croissants and squeezing myself into five layers, including a toasty thermal layer.
Oh yeah. I’m bringing sexy back. I believe this is what the Daily Mail is talking about when they refer to “pouring your curves”. Fiona pours her curves into snuggly thermal longjohns. Form an orderly queue, admirers. (And take thermals if you are going to Oslo. You might actually freeze if you don’t.)
Bundled up in so much clothing that the two of us resembled the Michelin Man, we left the hotel and headed round the corner to the square which houses the city’s impressive parliament building on one end and the national theatre on the other.
Confession: Oslo has a great number of very beautiful buildings and I don’t have photos of any of them because I was too busy gambolling around in the snow with the grace and poise of a newborn calf, so Niall took photos of that instead.
The parliament building is like an enormous fairy tale castle looming over the square. The circular central building is guarded on either side by its curving sisters. Wrought in pale stone, she looks especially beautiful covered in snow. The theatre is the gigantic classical theatre of my dreams. Adorned with Roman pillars, watching statues, a huge dome and the names of Norway’s famous playwrights, it looks like an illustration that has fallen off the page. I took great pleasure in walking up to each statue and declaring knowledgeably “Oh, this must be Ibsen” until I eventually landed upon the right one. Between these two buildings, the square was filled with skeletal trees and an ice rink, on which a trio of ice dancers were practising. This walked that fine, gorgeous line between being utterly beautiful and slightly comical that synchronised swimmers do, so we stood and watched them a while.
I am somewhat obsessed with water. Seriously, if I am ever feeling down and you don’t know what to do with me, take me to stare at some water for a while. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a duck pond, a trickling burn or the sea, it invariably makes me feel better. So we left the square in search of the fjord that had winked at us from our hotel room. When we came upon it, I literally gasped. The water was utterly still and half frozen, crackling sheets of ice spread underneath snowy ships. The Oslo town hall stretched high above us, looking eerily like what I’d always pictured the Ministry of Love to look like. The Akershus fortress ran along one side of the dock, watching disapprovingly as I confidently stepped into a snowdrift and promptly got stuck.
This is the strangest thing about Oslo: it is a city of amazing contrast. The buildings veer wildly between romantic, fairytale architecture and stark, imposing fortresses. The terrifying town hall is filled with the most beautiful bells which, on the stroke of the hour, played John Lennon’s Imagine. The fortress looks over a promenade dotted with statues of beautiful naked women, adorned with wrinkles and folds and rolls. If you look carefully at the freezing sky in my photographs, you can see that a tiny rainbow hung over the spire of the castle within Akershus.
At the base of one of the statues, we found a headless snowman, which Niall proudly rescued.
We entered the fort and climbed to the highest point, to get a proper look at the docks slumbering below.
It was very romantic, so Niall threw a handful of snow at me and then we took this photo.
By this point, we only had a few more hours before the sun slunk behind the horizon again, so we jumped on the Metro to go do the only thing I refused to leave Oslo without doing: the Korketrekkeren sledge run. This would be worth doing even just for the train ride there, which takes you through the forests and mountains that surround Oslo, past endless rows of picture perfect winter lodges and silvery treetops. After about 45 minutes of pressing my nose against the train window like a child, we arrived at the top of Korketrekkeren. The sledge run is two kilometers long and drops 255 metres in that time. A non stop ride takes about 10 minutes and then you can catch the Metro right back to the top.
Because we were there on a Saturday afternoon, the queue for sledge rental was so long that we almost gave up but I am SO GLAD that we didn’t. Flying down the track at a frankly unsafe speed as the setting sun stained the trees around me burnt, rusty orange is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
By the time we reached the bottom of the sledge run, we’d been out in a temperature of -11 for about seven hours and my fingertips were starting to feel like they had a touch of frostbite to them. We headed back to the hotel with the intention of warming up, grabbing dinner and heading back out to see the square at night time.
Reader, we didn’t even get out from under the duvet for another two hours. I’m sure that Oslo at night is very beautiful but after a day of wandering in the cold, we were content to snuggle under the duvet with a bottle of Baileys that we picked up in duty free and watching it through our window. This, by the way, is a great tip if you’re thinking of visiting Oslo. Everything is massively expensive but I especially noticed it with the alcohol prices. Grab a little bottle of something on your way through the airport. All too soon, our day had come to an end and we returned to London to find that the temperature here had also plummeted into minus figures. Oslo is an amazing, confusing, contradictory dream. Go.
We stayed in the Radisson Blu Scandinavia hotel and I can’t recommend them enough. This post isn’t sponsored or affiliated with them in any way, they were just aces enough to deserve a shoutout.