OSLO, Oct 29 — We are walking on the roof of the opera house. No, not the one in Sydney — I doubt the Aussies would take kindly to us stomping on top of their country’s most famous landmark. No, we are strolling on the roof of the Oslo Opera House and the Oslovians are just fine with that. In fact, half the people on the roof with us are locals!
There’s a reason why we’re all here — besides the opera house’s award-winning design and spectacular views of the Oslofjord — and that’s the cost of this activity: It’s free.
Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. A small bottle of water costs about 25 Norwegian krone (or RM13.25), for example. A vacation here can be quite pricey. However, there is plenty in the Norwegian capital that can be enjoyed without spending a single krone, making the city an excellent option for a day-long stopover.
To begin, it only takes us 20 minutes to get to the city centre from Oslo’s Gardermoen airport. The Flytoget shuttle train goes straight to the Oslo Central Station, and from there it’s an easy six-minute walk to the Oslo Opera House by the harbour.
The Oslo Opera House (or Operahuset in Norwegian) is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet so for those with more time (and money to spend), catching one of the performances would make for a wonderful evening. For day-trippers such as us though, a trek up slope of the opera house’s roof is quite an adventure already.
Designed by architecture firm Snøhetta, the exterior surfaces of the Operahuset are angled to resemble iceberg-like cliffs. The use of white granite and La Facciata (a white marble from Carrara, Italy) furthers the illusion of snow and ice, especially from a distance. As we approach, the entire structure seems to rise up from the waters of the Oslofjord, thanks to weaving patterns of the white aluminium tower designed by Løvaas & Wagle. Quite breathtaking.
There is more than one way to walk up (and down) so part of the fun is making your own path up to the top. Just when we think we’ve reached the summit, there’s another slope around the corner, enticing us with more panoramic views of Oslo. Ships come and go, both gigantic cruise ships and more traditional wooden sailboats.
Across the harbour, a sculpture floating on the water draws our eyes. Called “She Lies”, this striking glass iceberg is designed by Italian artist Monica Bonvicini. What is astonishing is that it isn’t a fixed artistic installation — the sculpture will move on the water as the tides turn and the wind blows so visitors get to see a different side of it as the hours pass.
Down by the harbour, we stumble upon another stunning structure that looks like a cross between a pyramid and the skeleton of a house built in the woods. Known as the Arctic Pyramid, this wooden construction designed by Sami Rintala is a super-sized homage to hjell, a type of rack used to dry fish in northern Norway. We are but tiny ants on the seaside promenade beneath the humongous fish rack.
From the Operahuset, it’s a pleasant walk to the Akershus Fortress. Believed to be built in the late 1290s by King Haakon V, the Akershus Fortress is a medieval castle that is the symbol of defence, protecting Oslo from outside attacks. Several cannons are left behind as reminders of this; tunnels and changing of guards recall its use as a prison and palace in earlier times.
Within the Akershus Fortress courtyard, we feel as though we are transported back to the Middle Ages. Time stands still and this is a good spot for reflection. Outside, due to the elevation, we get a different view of the Oslo harbour. In Norway, one is almost always surrounded by the sea and the fjords. It’s very calming, frankly.
Even as we walk away from the sea and into the urban park of Grünerløkka, we are not far from water. The Akerselva or Aker River winds through much of Oslo, with nature trails for jogging, salmon spawning in the upper part of the river at Maridalsvannet, and many small waterfalls such as the Møllerfossene. It’s a verdant wonderland.
We walk across Åmodt bro, a suspension bridge originally built in 1851 from cast iron chains. A cryptic inscription reads “100 MAND KAN IEG BÆRE, MEN SVIGTER UNDER TAKTFAST MARSCH” that loosely translates as “100 men I can bear yet I fail under a swift march.”
Our final stop before evening falls is the Vigeland Park, the world’s largest sculpture park created by a single artist. More than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland is on permanent display here.
Vigeland also designed the architectural layout of the park, which was completed in 1949.
We enter through the main gate and are welcomed by the Bridge where playful statues of young people showcased Vigeland’s views on the relationship between men and women. Further in, the Fountain is encircled by 20 tree-and-human sculptures that represent the four stages of life: infancy, youth, parenthood and old age.
Walking up a flight of stairs we are awestruck by a nearly 18-metre-high obelisk. Called the Monolith (Monolitten), the single granite block has 121 figures carved into it, all struggling to reach the heavens. There are 36 other sculptures surrounding the Monolith, each entangled in their own dramas.
The search for divine meaning continues as a closer look at a sundial deeper into the park reveals all signs of the Zodiac. And at the end of our walk, waiting at the summit, is The Wheel of Life (Livshjulet). Four humans and a baby are floating in an endless circle, the very essence of eternity. Vigeland passed away in 1943 before seeing the final version of his park but we can’t help but wonder if he isn’t looking down at his masterpiece from somewhere beautiful.
This, here, is perhaps the gem of all Oslo’s gems: beauty, eternity and free for all to experience.
Oslo Opera House
Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 0150 Oslo, Norway
Exterior open 24 hours
(The Oslofjord and Arctic Pyramid located nearby)
Akershus Festning, 0150 Oslo, Norway
Open daily 6am-9pm
Åmotbrua, Grünerløkka, 0554 Oslo, Norway
Open 24 hours
Nobels gate 32, 0268 Oslo, Norway
Open 24 hours