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International Travel: The Quintessential Guide to Traveling to Oslo, Norway in December

Traveling the world is one of my favorite things to do. I love to immerse myself in new places and cultures different from my own and where I come from. Whether that be people, history, food or experiences, I want to dive head first into the places I am lucky enough to visit. The world is an immense place and with 195 countries in total there is a lot to see and do. This is my first trip to Scandinavia and of all things, to keep in the spirit of Christmas, I decided that December was the best time to go. The whole region is supposed to be beautiful during the summertime and that happens to be high-season, but I would argue that winter is the perfect time to explore. Although the major cities such as Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm are very much abuzz with activity, there aren’t the large crowds and lines that summer brings. If you want to visit museums or other major tourist attractions or smaller, lesser known parts of the city that only locals can point you to, then winter is your jam. Plus who doesn’t love snow on the ground and a chill in the air for Christmas?

Getting There, Getting Around and Places to Stay

I happen to be based in Denver, and traveling anywhere internationally involves some finagling and a bit of time travel. The easiest thing to do is to get to one of the coasts and then depart in earnest from there. For this trip, that involved a flight to JFK airport in New York, a layover in London, Heathrow and finally arriving in Oslo, Norway after a 32 hour travel day, or two, if you count leaving on the 25th and arriving the 26th… Once at Gardermoen Airport, with baggage in hand, there is just a quick train ride to Oslo Sentralstasjon in the heart of the city and that is where my adventure begins.

The FlytoGet Train is the easiest and cheapest way to get from the airport to the middle of Oslo. Coming out of customs, just follow the signs for the train and you wind up at a attended kiosk station that lets you buy tickets (196 NOK or $22 USD) for the direct train to downtown Oslo that leaves every 10 minutes from Track 2 or 3 usually, and only takes 19 minutes.

There are plenty of hotels and hostels throughout the city, but if you are planning on exploring a bunch or perhaps traveling to more than just Oslo, I would suggest Comfort Hotel Grand Central.  It’s located right inside the train station, the hotel rooms are clean, the staff, especially Hans Andreas and Mo, are amazing and the price won’t necessarily break the bank at $125 – $140 USD or 1,100 – 1,250 NOK (Norwegian Krone) a night. Of course there are cheaper options but I am a little older than I once was. I don’t need uber fancy, but I prefer my own room and bathroom at this point as well as the ability to lock said door with all of the camera equipment I travel with at any given time. That’s not to say bad things will happen, I just prefer the better safe than sorry attitude. This particular Comfort Hotel is also amazing because it puts you right on the main shopping district with straight shots to the Norwegian Parliament building and Oslo Cathedral as well as the most popular Winter Holiday Market in the city. It also has one of the main public transportation stops for both the tram and the bus system that can easily take you all around the city in a matter of minutes. One of the best breakfasts I’ve had while traveling is also included with the room. Fresh food each morning as well as some amazing additions such as ginger shots to keep up your immune system and Norwegian brown cheese, which is slightly sweet.  If you want something a little cheaper then you can check out either Saga Poshtel Oslo Central or Anker Hostel, both start around 495 NOK a night, or $56 USD.

Once settled, and depending on your length of stay, I would suggest considering the Oslo Pass. If you have the time, there is a Oslo Visitors Center right inside Central Station before you exit and a super convenient place to pick up said pass.  You can also go online and deal with it as well in a digital version. The pass is available (2020 Prices) for three different time periods, 24 hours (445 NOK or $50 USD), 48 hours (655 NOK or $74 USD) and 72 hours (820 NOK or $93 USD). Not only can it be used for all forms of public transportation within the city, including buses, trams and even ferries, there is a list of attached free museum and attraction entries as well as discounts on a number of other attractions, restaurants and more. Personally, I would say in order to make the pass worth it there should be about three activities per 24 hour period that you want to check out. Otherwise just pick up the varying one hour to seven day public transportation pass.

A Smattering of Things to Do and Places to See While in Oslo

 

There are plenty of things to do and see while in Oslo. Depending on the length of your stay you can definitely hit a variety of amazing experiences. Here’s what I did over a couple of days….

 

Vigeland Sculpture Park (Vigelandsparken)

The Vigeland Sculpture Park is chock full of sculptures from artist Gustav Vigeland. With more notable and famous sculptures such as The Angry Child, The Monolith and The Wheel of Life, the park is nestled within the larger Frogner Park. It is free and open to the public all year round and the easiest way to access it, at least from Oslo Central Station, is by the #12 tram. It is full of more than 200 bronze, granite and cast iron, mostly naked, sculptures from the artist and is one of the top tourist destinations with over a million visitors each year.

Take a Ferry from Aker Brygge to Hovedoya Island

Again take the #12 Tram from Central Station to Aker Brygge, the main transportation wharf for Oslo at City Hall, and grab the B1 ferry to Hovedoya Island, the first of five stops along the route that takes about eight minutes to get to but will take about an hour round trip so plan accordingly. Once on Hovedoya, take a stroll along the hiking trail that first leads you to an old cannon battery that overlooks some of the smaller islands. After taking in the views, follow the trail down to Hovedoya Beach (Playa de Hovedoya) to get an up-close look at the coastline before heading over to Hovedoya Kloster, the ruins of a centuries old monastery. This is a super popular destination during the spring and summer months, however, during my trip in December there were a total of six people on the entire island which was awesome for a chance to shed the bustling downtown atmosphere and get in a little solitude. Although it was overcast, there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground and the silence, outside of the crunching of my footsteps through the winter blanket, was a much needed reprieve.

Oslo Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset)

I love the #12 Tram. Take it from Central Station or hop on after visiting the islands at Aker Brygge, and ride it to the Solli stop. Get off and hop on a #30 bus to the Vikingskipshuset stop and viola, you’re there. Inside are three large viking ships found in various states of preservation from the late 800s to early 900s, as well as other artifacts found within the dig sites around Oslo. There’s a movie, Vikings Alive, which I highly recommend, that runs about every 20 minutes and is a visually immersive experience in one of the ship halls. Watch how a Viking ship is built, sails along the Norwegian fjords and the ocean, before ending its days as a grave ship for a king.

Oslo Opera House (Operahuset Oslo)

The Oslo Opera House is an architectural beauty both inside and out. A couple of minutes walk from Central Station, the building is glass and steel and right on the water. Make sure to take the time to walk up the slanted pathway to the roof to get some views of the city and fjord. But most of all, spend a few hours watching an actual performance. While there, I was able to grab a last minute ticket to watch a revamped, Kubrick-esque, telling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel”. The sets were stunning and the performers voices were marvelous. With the help of a small screen attached to the chair in front of me, the Norwegian script was translated into English, but even without I could pretty much follow along the ages old story of a cannibalistic witch and the brother and sister duo who foiled its plot to devour them for a meal.

Food and Drink in Oslo

Like most European cities, there is a menagerie of places to eat and drink in Oslo. From fast food chains, that I am all too familiar with from my childhood and early adulthood, to classic Norwegian cuisine and everything in between. Let me say, first and foremost, I love to dive into a country’s traditional food scene. Trying dishes that I haven’t had the opportunity to taste before excites me and in my opinion there is no better way than to explore a new country than through its food.

I have a couple of recommendations that I highly suggest, and will get there, but first I need to tell you that pizza is a thing in Oslo. There are way too many places to grab a personal sized pie and my first thought was “seriously?” On the outset I did not come to Norway to eat Italian food. A little miffed, I was forced, because of timing and poor planning, to resign myself to eating a pie (if I am to be honest, actually two) one night at Cafe Cathedral. But Norway, first let me apologize because I stand corrected.  The super thin and crunchy crust from a wood burning oven topped with locally smoked salmon or the razor thin sliced reindeer meat with buffalo mozzarella are two of the best pizzas I have ever had the opportunity to shove into my mouth.

Now on to more traditional Norwegian fare….

Vaaghals

If you love food like I do then there are few places better to offer up a multi-course, Norwegian-born tasting menu within Oslo than this restaurant. Intimate dining with an open kitchen concept that allows views of the three chefs preparing dishes. I recommend the seven course Skifte which includes starters of meats and cheeses, rising through fish and pastas to the main course and then desert followed by coffee and small petit fours.  The meal will cost 725 NOK or around $80 USD. A wine pairing can be tacked on for another 695 NOK with five selected and procured vintages that bring out even more flavor in each course. Don’t feel like wine? Well gin is also a thing in Norway, and the bar program is well stocked with local distilleries as well as a smart selection of tonics. My suggestion, pick your gin and let your bartender pair up the tonic.

Himkok

Prefer a more liquid diet while traveling? Himkok is a hidden away speakeasy with no signage per se. Just a blue light above the non-descript wooden door and a small stamp with the letter H entwined by a snake are all that tell passersby that something lies hidden beyond. Walk inside though and a moodily lit room greets you as well a friendly cocktail expert. You are handed a book of drink descriptions and your libation experience begins. Himkok distills their own gin, vodka and aquavit, a grappa-like alcohol specific to Scandinavia, and they pair these with Nordic ingredients like pine and lingonberry to make some truly wonderful cocktails that are hard to find elsewhere.

The Winter Holiday Market Experience

Oslo has plenty of holiday markets and December is the perfect time to celebrate a Scandinavian winter and look for a gift for a loved one. The experience of walking past stalls stuffed with woolen hats, gloves and socks, glass ornaments, meats like moose and reindeer and local cheeses is a fun way to pass an evening. And then there’s the glogg. Sweet, hot, delicious glogg. Mulled wine and port mixed with clove, cardamom and cinnamon in a steaming cup warms the heart on a cold winter’s night. One of the most popular winter markets in all of Oslo is a short jaunt up Karl Johans Gate near the Spikersuppa ice skating rink. The park and rink are transformed into a winter wonderland with lights, a carousel, ferris wheel, merchant stalls, a pair of bantering, Norwegian-speaking moose heads and the outdoor rink.  Although I packed plenty of warm clothes, I couldn’t pass up a fleece lined woolen hat and a couple of cups of glogg as I watched people ice skate around statues and Christmas lights. With new hat in place, I warmed myself further, sitting next to an open pit wood fire listening to those bantering moose for a bit before making my way to Sir Winston’s Public House for a pint of delicious Carlsburg beer to cap off the night.

 

Small Business Portraits

I am really excited with the results of some portraits for two small business owners that I photographed recently. Richard Escobedo is a real estate agent working in the Denver area and Christina Bekhova runs an event planning agency also based in Denver. Both recently approached me about getting updated headshots and, as a small business owner myself, I am more than happy to oblige. If you’re a professional living and working in the Denver area, a great portrait really helps let you stand out from the crowd.  Feel like it’s time to update your headshots? Please feel free to reach out!

2019 1940s White Christmas Ball

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Denver and to start off the holiday season I put on my fanciest digs and headed downtown to attend the 1940s White Christmas Ball! This is by far, one of my most favorite events in the Mile High City. I’ve had a chance to check out the World War II era ball thrown each summer in Boulder as well. I must say it did not disappoint. There were big bands, impersonators, dancers, food, singers, “gambling”, photo sets from It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, shopping, a balloon drop and much, much more.  Attendees dressed in their finest 40’s attire, hair was fine tuned with curls upon curls and the magic of Christmas came to life in a big way!

Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar

Khao Soi is probably my favorite Thai dish of all time. It stems from the Chiang Mai province in the northern part of the country and it is absolutely, 100 percent delicious. For the past two and a half years, I have pined after the dish that stole my heart and although some restaurants have come close, it seems I was relegated to making it myself, until now. Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar in the Highlands has some of the most authentic dishes I have tasted in the Denver area, and not just northern dishes, but from all over the country of Thailand. Whole stripped bass that has been deep fried from the south, of course the khao soi from the north, but also kang ped duck, lamb massaman curry and kai kem poo (crab meat) to name just a few more. A native of Thailand, Ounjit Hardacre Prior heads up the kitchen as the executive chef. The bar program is also stocked with fun, bright and colorful cocktails that, not only have playful names, but excite the taste buds with complementary flavors.

Somebody People

Taken from the lyrics for David Bowie’s “Five Years”, Somebody People opened its doors off of South Broadway in the Platt Park neighborhood of Denver. Touted as a vegetable-forward dining experience, owners Sam and Tricia Maher, have created bright and in-depth dishes using whole vegetables. The flavors don’t just appeal to the vegetarian and vegan-minded as the creative plates and fun atmosphere can even have a meat lover in vegetable heaven. Dishes such as grilled romaine, oyster mushrooms and funghetto are on the menu. The restaurant also follows a zero waste initiative, which means no disposable containers. So if you are looking for a cup of coffee to go, which they offer, you’ll need to bring your own mug.

American Elm

American Elm is a neighborhood bar and eatery in the West Highland neighborhood of Denver serving up elevated American cuisine. The bistro, owned by Bob Reiter, is styled after his time spent in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and is named after the giant elm tree that resides on the property of the restaurant. The food program is run by Executive Chef Brent Turnipseede, previously of Guard & Grace fame, while the bar is headed up by Jesse Torres, who came over from Poka Lola. The restaurant serves up elevated favorites like steak frites, seared scallops and bucatini carbonara in a relaxed atmosphere. The space inside is a great place to grab a meal but the main attraction is spending some time under the branches of the giant American Elm.

2019 Supernova Digital Animation Festival

I’ve been a fan of digital animation since I was a child. Many a Saturday morning was spent watching cartoons and many a late night in college, and afterwards, spent watching anime.  So it was with great joy that I found the Supernova Digital Animation Festival coming to Denver. Artists from all over submitted their entries and the resulting short films were simultaneously broadcast on large screens throughout the cities of Denver and Toledo.  Denver in particular had numerous locations where passersby could stop and watch the films. The 16th Street Mall, Denver Performing Arts Complex, and the Denver Convention Center were just some of the stops, as well as Next Stage, and different areas along Champa and California streets. The festival also brought students, amateurs and professionals together all for the love of digital animation.

Westminster Butterfly Pavilion

The Butterfly Pavilion is nestled in the town of Westminster, Colorado and is home to hundreds of species of invertebrates like butterflies and other insects. The pavillion is the first stand-alone, Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited non-profit invertebrate zoo in the world and a leader in invertebrate knowledge, inspiration and connection.  They offer all sorts of hands-on experiences as well as educational classes for both children and adults. The Rocky Mountain Butterfly Consortium, who founded the space, is also a champion of the PACE program. Pollinator Awareness through Conservation and Education (PACE) is a global initiative led by the Butterfly Pavilion to increase awareness of the importance of pollinators and promote habitat and species conservation. PACE programs include habitat restoration projects, education programs for adults and children, citizen science opportunities, and more.

Walk through the doors of pavilion and be transported into a tropical paradise full of fluttering insects of all different shades and hues.

Little Man Ice Cream Factory

The summer months are still in full swing and what better way to relieve some of that heat than to grab an ice cream cone. Little Man Ice Cream Factory in the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood of Denver has you covered in that respect. The 6,000 sq. foot production kitchen and ice cream tasting room has lots of space to spread out and spend some time taking in the sights and smells. Watch through the large windows as Chef Claire Fields and her team whip up baked goodness and frozen treats as bakery items and buckets of ice cream are made before your eyes. Try to decide between the science lab worth of toppings to go along with your cone of house made ice cream. Flavors are listed on a rotating, ice cream scoop lit, menu board. Follow large buckets as they  move between the kitchen and the counter by means of a conveyor belt. It’s organized chaos in the best way.

2019 Cheesman Park Art Festival

For the past six years, the Cheesman Park Art Festival has been bringing together a wide variety of artists in a fun and family friendly atmosphere. They say that art is in the eye of the beholder. If that is the case then there was some amazing pieces being displayed from the 150 artists that hail from 22 different states. In its seventh year, this particular festival is still one of my favorites around the Denver area. In case shopping for art isn’t enough, there’s also a slew of live music, food trucks and children’s activities during the weekend as well.

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