Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. Norway is expensive. I mean eye-wateringly, wallet-numbingly expensive. Let me put it in perspective. Norway and the Czech Republic both use a currency called the crown. Things are more or less exactly the same price in crowns in both countries. The difference is that there are roughly 9 Norwegian Crowns to the British Pound and 30 Czech Crowns. That means things are approximately 330% more expensive in Norway compared to the Czech Republic. For those of you who don’t live in Prague, this translates into roughly £11 or $17 for a Big Mac Meal. Should you drink alcohol, the price differences become even worse because of the local tax regime. The second downside is the trolls, of which more later.
We arrived in Oslo last Friday and stayed in the Comfort Grand Central hotel. If you’re planning a lot of rail travel in Norway I recommend the place, not only is it stylish, the staff are friendly and it’s inside the Central Station. It is comfortable, and much to my suprise, quiet. When you have finished the ultra-swift 19 minute rail journey from the airport, you can sleep overnight and be 5 minutes walk from the platform for the express to Bergen. It’s also 5 minutes walk from the city centre and the National Opera House, a particularly impressive building.
Now I know you are looking at my photograph and thinking, Bill, it’s just a glass block sticking out of the side of some white concrete, but you are missing the big picture here, which is the thing I cannot give you because my photograph was taken while walking up the side of the National Opera House. It holds the distinction of being the only iconic building I have ever strode up the side of to get to the roof. The building is like a large concrete iceberg rising from Oslo harbour.
Or perhaps more accurately, with all of its sharp lines and glass extrusion, it resembles an Imperial Star Destroyer partially submerged in Oslo harbour. Let’s face it, this is the sort of architectural statement any modern nation ought to be proud to make. Should Scotland gain its independence I vote that our National Opera House be a concrete (fully operational) Death Star partially sunk in the waters off Leith. We’d just be following a trend. London has already gone this route— once the great burning eye is in place over the Shard, Sauron will have a fine new town house and let’s be honest, you couldn’t find a better symbol for the City of London financial district.
The National Opera House in Oslo is strikingly lovely, and a great place to lounge on a summer evening. It’s a brilliant setting for sitting on the edge of the water, with the waves coming almost to your feet and boring your kids with tales of your youth misspent around Stranraer Harbour. That’s what I did, anyway. Time well spent.
Next day we headed across Oslo Harbour by ferry to visit the Viking Ship Museum where they have two and a half-fully reconstructed 9th Century Viking Ships dug out of burial mounds by archaelogists along with the grave goods. The oddest thing about the ships is how lovely they are. They are sleek and deadly looking and beautifully carved like big bits of old wooden furniture sitting in the middle of the museum rooms. They are exactly 29 of my paces long and 6 of my paces wide.
For scale, the picture has a 6 foot tall Scottish Fantasy writer standing in front of one. It is a bit boggling to imagine crossing oceans in one of these, but, of course, that is exactly what the Vikings did. And I’ll tell you something, I would not want a boatload of berserk Norwegians showing up at the foot of my garden in one of these things to the present day. A boatload of trolls now, that’s a different thing…
Our hunt for trolls was finally rewarded on Saturday evening. We found one, and what a letdown, as you can probably tell from the picture. I came to Oslo expecting a good battle with a monstrous night creature but when I produced my battle-axe it was all over in seconds. The thing didn’t put up much of a fight at all. It must have had some sort of strange mind control powers though because the local shop-keeper called the police as I did mortal combat with the fell beast. And here was I doing him a favour too, freeing him from the troll’s spell. What an ingrate.
I can now report from experience that modern trolls would not last 30 seconds in a Glasgow bar on a Saturday night. And Tolkien got it wrong, when exposed to sunlight trolls don’t turn to stone, they turn to plastic although that’s may be just evolution at work.
Anyway, now seemed like the time to flee Oslo and head out into the wilderness. Next stop, Hoth.