When I travel some place, I observe and learn. I like to write about what I discover for myself when I travel. When I am in a foreign country, like presently, where I am in Norway, I observe prices and people. Here are observations from my first day in Norway on Thursday, September 4.
One of the first things I learned upon arriving in Norway is the exchange rate for US dollars when I discovered the Oslo Gardermoen Airport NSB train ticket kiosk was not working for credit cards.
My choice was get some cash to buy a 90 NOK ticket for the NSB slow train or pay 170 NOK using my credit card at the Flytoget Express Train ticket kiosks. The NSB slow train was departing in 25 minutes. Flytoget fast trains run every ten minutes and reach Oslo Central Station in 22 minutes. NSB slow train reaches Oslo in about 30 minutes.
There was a bank ATM machine in the airport near the train ticket kiosks.
$1 US = 6.00 NOK at the DNB Bank ATM exchange rate. The NSB train ticket kiosk accepts 200 NOK as the highest note. I took out 2,200 NOK for about $367 in spending cash. [Sep 6 update – I purchased another NSB ticket today at Oslo Central train station and the machine accepted a 500NOK note. Also, the xe.com exchange rate is $1 USD = 6.28 NOK. I tried to check the exchange rate at a downtown Oslo bank ATM and the machine spit out my card. After reading the comments, I guess Norway just does not like my credit cards. Perhaps I should stop trash talking banks.]
NSB slow train OSL Airport to Oslo S (Oslo Central Station) = 90NOK = $15 USD.
Flytoget fast train OSL Airport to Oslo S (Oslo Central Station) = 170 NOK = $28.33.
Most people take the Flytoget train from the airport to Oslo. I traveled slower.
I checked into a suite at the Clarion Royal Christiana Hotel across the street from the train station at 11:30am, took a shower and slept four hours. Hotel review to come.
Very Important Advice: Be sure to get a PIN number for your credit card before leaving the USA. American credit card transactions rarely require a PIN. European retailers including hotels demand you have a PIN for most transactions just as if you were using a debit card at an ATM machine in the USA. It does not matter if your card is chip enabled or not. It is standard practice to require a PIN entry for credit card purchases in Norway.
Warm Oslo Summer Afternoon
Oslo sunset was 8:11pm giving me four hours to walk around the city before sunset. I filled up a water bottle and hit the streets. The city was definitely in summer mode under warm and sunny clear skies with the temperature 21C/70F. People were lying on the grass, sitting on benches and soaking up sun in every space not in shade. Every outdoor café was packed.
I was a fashion eyesore dressed in loose shorts, baggy t-shirt and sneakers. I live most of the year in California wearing shorts and t-shirts and I feel comfortable in my clothing, even if I stand out as clearly as a Buddhist monk in orange robes among fashionable Oslo residents.
One of the fashion trends I noticed were many women wearing long loose sweaters, even though it was a warm 70F day into the evening.
Oslo is a cosmopolitan city of 634,000 and the largest city in Norway. The city is one of the fastest growing major cities in Europe having experienced a population increase over 25% since 2001 with the immigrant population comprising around 30% of the total Oslo population. Wikipedia shows the largest immigrant groups are Pakistanis, even outnumbering Swedes. Somalis outnumber Poles and the remaining top ten immigrant populations are non-European with Sri Lanka, Iraq, Turkey, Morocco, Vietnam and Iran.
A film crew were working on a Bollywood style dance scene near the Norway Parliament building with a crowd of onlookers. I saw this crew in two different locations but never caught the dancers performing. Show business is a lot of standing around.
On a warm day I gravitated to the waterfront.
Oslo fjord short cruise tours are about 200 NOK ($36 USD). There are also ferries for transportation to towns along the fjord.
One of the interesting signs I read stated Oslo citizens were invited on New Year’s Eve 1999 to submit postcards and letters in time capsules in the Town Hall Square. These items were placed in gas-tight laminated bags with oxygen removed and sterilized by radiation. The time capsule was constructed from Titanium grade-2. On Oslo’s 1,000 year birthday May 15, 2000, the time capsule was placed in the Kavringen Lighthouse in Oslo Harbor to remain there until the year 3000 when it will be opened on Oslo’s 2,000 year birthday.
That is optimistic forward thinking.
I found myself in the upscale Aker Brygge Marina waterfront section of Oslo near The Thief Hotel, a Nordic Choice Hotels Ascend Collection member. The Thief is the TripAdvisor #1 rated hotel in the city.
The Thief, Ascend Collection Hotel left background on Oslo harbor waterfront. I will be staying there before I depart Norway.
The bridge I was walking on led to a sculpture garden surrounding the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.
The museum building design is by Italian Pritzker-prize winning architect Renzo Piano. The Pritzkers are the Hyatt Hotels family and the Pritzker prize is one of the world’s premier architectural awards.
Sculpture Garden on the harbor beach sand outside the Astrup Fearnley.
There was beautiful art and beautiful people to see around the sculpture garden. There is a swimming platform, but nobody was in the water at the time I passed by.
Walking around Oslo for several hours on a warm summer day revealed thousands of people soaking up sunlight.
It was relaxing and refreshing walking outside in the city to experience my first day in Oslo, Norway and walk off the jet lag of a day flying from San Francisco, California.
Oslo is an expensive city. Walking is free and there is plenty to see.
I came across a grocery store in the Aker Brygge Marina residential area and I walked in to find something to eat. One small banana for 3 NOK (50 cents US) was one of the most affordable items. I have seen a few tourists these past two days also leave a grocery store having purchased one banana. A quarter leg/thigh hot chicken in the market was priced at 60 NOK ($10). I was not feeling that hungry.
I walked a couple more hours beyond the Royal Palace into the upscale historic Frogner district of the city and made my way back to the hotel by sunset.
Most people I spoke with about Norway over the past few months had no idea it is one of the most expensive countries in the world for a tourist. I will be writing about the prices of transportation, activities and food as I live frugally for the next two weeks in Norway.
Morning breakfast is a meal few hotel guests skip. Most hotels include breakfast in the room rate which is why hotel rates are priced higher for two guests. The buffet breakfasts I have had the past two mornings would cost $50 or more to buy in a restaurant. All the hotels I have booked for Norway have breakfast included and half my nights are at hotels that also offer an evening light buffet. Selecting the right hotel offers hundreds of dollars in added value. There will be more to come on Nordic Choice Hotels as I move on to my third hotel today, a spa resort 70 miles south of Oslo where I will settle in for a few days.