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Wintertime Fun in Oslo

Having a (Snow) Ball in Norway's Capital City

Sure it snows quite a bit in Norway and if you're going outdoors during the Norwegian winter you'll need gloves, a warm hat and a snuggly scarf. But that doesn't mean that Norwegians stay inside by the fireplace all winter; in fact winter is the favorite time to come out and play in Norway. So don't expect deserted streets when you visit hip Oslo during winter; to the contrary you'll find that smiling (and rosy) faces greet you everywhere in the easy-to-explore city where everyone is out relishing the season.

Most of what you'll want to see in Oslo is in the part of town called the City Center, easily accessible by train from the Oslo airport. The City Center is adjacent to Oslo Fjord where the cruise ship terminal is and where ferries to other parts of Norway operate and where you can find fisherman selling the catch of the day right off the back of their boats. The Radhuset (city hall) is centrally located in this area; easily spotted from blocks away it can serve as a good landmark for orienting yourself although there's little chance of getting turned-around here anyway. 

The old and the very new mesh nicely in City Center; walk one direction along the fjord and you'll come to Akershus Castle, built in the 13th century (tours available) but walk the other direction and you'll be in the still-developing Tjuvholmen entertainment district that's full of cool shops, restaurants and shiny new apartment buildings. You'll find whimsical statuary and art throughout the area including a giant mural of Michael Jackson and his pet chimp Bubbles that adorns the site of a soon-to-open museum. 

Just a few steps from where Tjuvholmen ends is the not-to-be-missed Nobel Peace Center. Most of the Nobel prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden but the Peace Prize is always awarded in Oslo and the museum at the Peace Center commemorates every winner since the award's inception. Besides memorabilia and information displayed in the manner you might expect, the Peace Center has a stunning display called the Nobel Field where past laureates are honored in a darkened room where flickering fiber-optic lights attached to Plexiglas rods sprout from the floor like so many blades of grass. Also in the City Center but a little bit farther away is the new Oslo Opera House where its angular design allows you to walk up a ramped part of the building, outside, all the way to the roof for a panoramic view of the city and the fjord. A bit further away but still walkable is the Munch Museum which houses Munch's famous painting "The Scream." 2013 will be the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch's birth and the museum will be celebrating with special events all year long. 

To really top off your visit to Oslo's City Center hop aboard the sightseeing mini-cruise operated by Batservice Sightseeing. Operational on most days, the cruise of Oslo Fjord lasts about an hour and a half for the round trip but it is also a hop-on/hop-off cruise making numerous trips a day. So you might want to disembark for awhile at Bygdoy where you can visit the Kon-Tiki Museum to see the famous raft that Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific Ocean in 1947. The Fram Museum is across the street; here you can actually climb aboard the Fram, the Norwegian ship that explored the Arctic in the 1890s and that Roald Amundsen sailed to Antarctica a couple of decades later. The Viking Ship Museum is also nearby (about a 15-minute walk) and it is full of artifacts from the Viking era including an almost completely intact long ship. Not in the City Center area, but well worth seeing, is the Vigeland Sculpture Park featuring more than 200 sculptures created by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland. All the sculptures show people in various stages of life and celebrating or bemoaning various situations; one of the most popular pieces is that of a very unhappy baby. 

And this is, after all, skiing-happy Norway---bring your gear with you and hop the bus to Holmenkollen where you can ski or snowboard to your heart's content. Located within the city limits, Holmenkollen just hosted the World Snowboarding Championships earlier this year.

A good place to stay in the City Center is the Grand Hotel, itself another landmark of Oslo. Central to all the above-mentioned activity, the Grand is also across the street from a square where special events are held; during my visit I saw a concert by local rock band Kickback Cirkus there. English is widely spoken throughout Norway so you won't have any language barrier to worry about and hotels throughout Oslo will provide you with city maps and touring advice. Ask about the Oslo Pass; purchase one and you'll save on admission at many attractions So get your boots on and get ready to have a ball in awesome Oslo!

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