Friday morning found us hustling. After a very early breakfast at the Guesthouse, we were lucky to get a ride to the airport as a group. Thanking the hostess for the transfer, we made our way to the check-in, keeping a small carry-on for the next couple of days and the rest safely checked-in.
Unlike other cities, the couple of stores we shopped at in Iceland were very good at attaching VAT related documents with our receipts. VAT refunds are allowed for a one time total purchase greater than ISK 6000. After check-in, we had sufficient time to get in line and process these refunds.
The 2.5 hour flight to Oslo was uneventful. We landed just after midday and had to wait for a while for our luggage to come in, but this time we picked up all of them and headed to our hotel.
We chose the Comfort Hotel Grand Central, for two reasons. Its proximity to the historic center of Oslo meant we could explore this area by walk. More importantly, our launch site for the Norway in a Nutshell trip was from the Oslo S train station where this hotel is located. A ten minute walk to the platforms at 6:15 in the morning was more appealing than taking a taxi from somewhere else.
Before heading to the hotel, the kids’ hunger first led us to the airport food court in the arrivals hall. Peppe’s Pizza offered big hearty slices of vegetarian pizza that tasted very good. Turns out, Peppe’s is the largest Scandinavian pizza chain. Just so glad they had something good for us to munch on.
There are several ways to get from the Oslo Gardermoen Airport to Oslo S station. The Flytoget express train is commonly sought after for its 32 minute ride with few stops. Naturally, this train costs more than the local ones. Children under 16 are free but 16-20 year olds pay half price. The NSB has local trains with more stops but are less expensive for a family of four and take about 33 minutes. We chose the latter since it saved us about $15 per family per trip.
We purchased the tickets at the self-serve kiosks located in the main arrival hall close to the platform access. The process was very user-friendly and there is an agent to help if one should run into problems. Then we made our way down to the platform to await our train.
The train ride to the hotel was comfortable despite carrying our luggage. The hotel is situated in one of the corners of the station and it took us a few minutes to get there. There are plenty of eateries and coffee shops available right next to the hotel. In fact, the hotel has an attached restaurant on site that serves Italian food.
The hotel itself is well decorated, with a small check-in area and a comfortable lobby and a gym. Now since the hotel has been incorporated into the old station, the access to the rooms dips and turns a bit at times. The check-in staff was very friendly, offering us use of a free router if we wanted to take a walk in the city that afternoon. She also offered to pack a breakfast us for the next morning since we had a very early departure.
There were eight of us with two kids over 15, so we had to reserve a separate room for them since most rooms could accommodate only 3 people. Needless to say the children were thrilled at the prospect of their own room, away from the prying eyes of parents! Two of the rooms were decent sized, the third had a sloping roof that took up most of one side of the room. A definite head basher for most adults, if they weren’t careful. The rooms all had different wallpapers with varied characters. Overall, very functional and tastefully done.
After resting for a bit, we decided to walk the Karl Johan’s Gate from right outside the hotel entrance all the way to the Royal Palace. The day was cloudy with a hint of rain. After enjoying coffee and hot chocolate at the coffee shop right outside the hotel, we headed out. There was a Ferris Wheel right outside the hotel in the large courtyard and the children had a wonderful time riding the dizzying wheel. The walk itself was a lot of fun, done at an easy pace. The street is shut off to traffic and lined by restaurants and shops. Great place for people watching!
We stopped at the Oslo Domkirke, Norway’s first church and a historic and religious icon. The green copper tower of the cathedral looms tall over the city. We enjoyed the architecture of the building and its surrounding halls before moving on to the interior of the church with its beautiful painted ceilings and its massive organ.
Walking further, we joined a procession of people from different Scandinavian countries, marching to the City Hall. The walk path is lined with huge pots filled with colorful flowers and adds a layer of charm to the city. The city was alive around us with people shopping, eating, talking, artists playing instruments in the middle of the street and the brightly colored store mannequins enhancing the vivacity of the surroundings.
Next we stopped to shoot pictures of the Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament, which has been the seat of the Norwegian National Assembly since 1866. Guided tours are available but we didn’t take advantage of them, being in the area far later in the day. A grand view of the Stortinget can be had from the Eidsvolls Plass, the square and park we visited next, just west of the Parliament building. The park offered flowers in vibrant colors and a large pool of water with a central fountain. This is a pleasant stop en route to the palace and turns into a skating rink in winter.
As evening turned to dusk, we passed the National Theater and the University of Oslo buildings. The red brick buildings of the Oslo City Hall or the Radhuset is only a short walk away, but we didn’t quite make it that far. Instead we continued the walk to the Royal Palace where the street ends and walked up the steps to take in the palace, its equestrian sculpture of Karl Johan and the parks that surround it. As palaces go, this official royal residence is a modest one where the changing of guards takes place in the afternoon at 1:30 pm.
After lounging on the steps a while and appreciating the view from the hill, we slowly made our way back to the hotel. We were famished by now and focused on finding a good place to eat. We came across an Indian restaurant called Jaipur. As we were considering it, we saw another one tucked away a few yards down the street on Ovre Slottsgate that offered a wide variety of vegetarian options and at a slightly more reasonable price than the first. As the drizzle turned to rain, we sought food and shelter at New Delhi restaurant. This appeared to be a family run restaurant and while the wait was a bit longer than is usual in US restaurants, the decor and the lively chatter around us kept us entertained.
Not surprisingly, the group dug into the food with great relish. The colorful, appetizing hot food made for a nice departure from the gray and the chill of the evening. The prices were definitely were justifiable for a family of four.
We walked the short distance back to the hotel and checked in for the day. We were on the the threshold of the much awaited Norway in a Nutshell trip and totally awash in excitement.