Postcard from Oslo 2008

Cathal’s cameo captures the carat that is Oslo – August 2008

Ullevål Stadium in the rain
Downtown Oslo
The Nobel Center
The Scream by Edward Munch

If the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living survey is to be believed, I am writing to you from the most expensive city in the world: Oslo.

It has certainly had an effect on the numbers travelling. Even allowing for the fact it is only a friendly, there are definitely fewer Ireland supporters attending than normal. Those of a cynical bent might say this is due to the high cost of beer in Norway. Hard to argue because a night out in Oslo is not cheap. A pint will set you back about £6.00. A simple bottle of water is around £3.00, even a meal at a Burger King will give you little change from a tenner.

Make no mistake, Norway has some of the world’s highest tax rates. To be fair, it is plain for all to see where the money is going. Oslo is spotlessly clean. Even in the city centre, the air is fresh. Greenery is everywhere, public transport is efficient and the Norwegian welfare system is as good as their Scandinavian neighbours.

A stroll from the Central station, through the main Karl Johan’s Gate pedestrian road, past the Parliament building (surprisingly small), the Norwegian National Theatre (in the middle of a park full of statutes, presumably of Norwegian thespian types) and up the hill to the Royal Palace (similar to Buckingham Palace, also has a changing of the guard parade) shows Oslo to be a hilly city with very low buildings and enlightened urban planning full of open spaces and squares uncongested by traffic.

There are so many museums in Oslo it was impossible to do them all. I went to those dedicated to two of Oslo’s most famous sons. The Nobel Peace Center (and they choose the American spelling, the clods) nestles on the waterfront between the City Hall and the swanky Aker Brygge district. This is the most modern hi-tech museum I’ve been to. Full of interactive exhibits that can sense human presence and trigger off, telling not just the story of Alfred Nobel, but also of all the previous Nobel Peace Prize winners. To its credit, The Nobel Peace Center does not attempt to dismiss the contradiction of a peace prize sponsored by the inventor of dynamite. Nor does it deny that some past winners like Henry Kissinger or Yasser Arafat were less than universally popular choices. The Yasukuni Shrine could learn a thing or two from here.

After The Mona Lisa, The Scream is probably the most famous painting in the world. Fortuitously, it is now back on exhibition at the Munch Museum after restoration following its theft in 2004. The museum also exhibits the whole gamut of Edward Munch’s paintings, sketches and etchings (from dark to really dark!). As for The Scream itself, well, like the Mona Lisa, it is smaller than you would imagine, and it is also a surprise to learn it was painted on cardboard. Not exactly the most lasting of materials, Edward.

It was pouring down for pretty much the entire duration of my stay in Oslo. So much so that I feared the match being postponed, but it did go ahead at the Ullevål Stadium, a football ground seemingly built in the middle of a shopping centre in the north west of the city. The weather put a dampener on the attendance and only about 16,000 turned up to witness Robbie Keane putting Ireland ahead just before half-time. By then, the heavens had really opened and the downpour became torrential. Had this been a competitive match, it would have been abandoned at the interval. Instead, Tore Reginiussen’s equaliser on the hour, killed off the game as a spectacle as both teams slogged it out for the remainder of the match without any real conviction.

So there you have it. Another hugely enjoyable excursion on the European continent. Yes the taxes are high and the price of everything is expensive. However the locals, far from complaining, seem to accept it as the costs enable a higher standard of living.


next article