Jet lag & Kulturhuset

The second day of our Norwegian adventure saw me and Sara sleep in until 11 and, upon realizing the time, dash around the hostel room in a panic, trying to get ready as quickly as possible so we didn’t waste any more of our time in Oslo.  After making ourselves as presentable as possible we wandered down to Karl Johans gate, the main street in central Oslo, in search of hot tea and a bite to eat. The beautiful thing about traveling with your best friend is how much you learn about each other, when you thought you knew everything already.  For instance, I thought I learned how much caffeine Sara could consume within an hour when we spent countless days holed up in our apartment senior year, prepping for finals and practically setting up coffee IVs.  Turns out she can drink even more than I suspected.

Anyway, we managed to find a quiet place along one of the side streets by Karl Johans gate.  It was a fantastic, relatively nondescript cafe with wonderful outdoor seating that we rejected in favor of sitting inside.  A bit darker, but much warmer.  Even with the furs, blankets, and heat lamps (yes, really) restaurants provide for the outdoor tables, it was still too brisk for our liking.  Don’t worry, we did eventually brave the night air and sit outside for dinner, just not for a week or so into our trip.  Midway through our meal and Sara’s second cup of the hour, more and more people began filtering in.  Mothers pushing strollers, Russ kids (who deserve a post of their own), and athletes of all ages pressed into the ever-shrinking room until we finally decided to see where apparently the entire population of Oslo had come from.

We worked our way out to Karl Johans gate where, I was elated to find, we stumbled upon Sentrumsløpet, a series of races held in the heart of Oslo every April.  It’s been years since I competitively raced and I’m just now getting to the point where I can again, but watching hundreds of athletes of all age and ability is a constant source of inspiration.  We arrived by the starting line just in time to watch the 10k begin, took a few snaps for our snapstory, and waited.  Once the starter gun smoke cleared and the sound of shoes slapping pavement faded, we followed the runners’ path up the rest of Karl Johans gate and ascended the stairs to the Royal Palace.

Norway’s Royal Palace, or det kongelige slott, is a beautiful yet rather unassuming building that overlooks Karl Johans gate and much of the central city.  A myriad of windows, cream & gentle yellow facade, and only guards-no wrought iron fencing-separating the public from the entrance, make the palace one of the more inviting royal homes I’ve seen to date.  Admittedly, as much as I love visiting Buckingham Palace, the swarms of tourists and imposing fences always create a tiny knot in my chest.  Det kongelige slott, on the other hand, granted me a sense of serenity and calm as we gazed out onto the city it overlooks.  Of course because we were feeling equal parts silly and curious, we decided to try our hand at garnering some kind of reaction from the guards.  A few awkward questions, poses, and flyaway hairs later, we got a photo and our chosen guard cracked a grin.  100NOK says he would deny it if you asked, though.

After wandering around the perimeter of the palace for a while, we descended the stairs back to the main drag of Karl Johans gate.  The races were still going on, though the crowds had dispersed considerably.  Then, Sara pointed out something that made my heart stop.  In the middle of the square, between Karl Johans gate and the Henrik Ibsen museum, sat the most beautiful building I had seen in a long time.  With sandy walls, celebrated writers’ names carved above archways, and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson sanding sentinel near the entrance, the National Theatre was a welcome sight.  We crept in, unsure if we would be asked for tickets or turned away for wearing denim, and made our way through every room possible.  I would still love to see the house and stage itself, but if the lounges and front-of-house areas are anything to go by it’s a gem that’s well worth the time to explore.  Had tickets not been so pricey and the language one I couldn’t hope to understand, I would have bought a tickets to a show my last night in town.  As it was, the National Theatre was added to my ever-growing list of theaters to return to so I can enjoy a performance.

When we finally made it back to the hostel after dinner we broke out our map from the day before.  Remember Capish? Our waiter helped us find some places to go out, bars or clubs that wouldn’t be packed but still have a good crowd.  We found one that intrigued us, Kulturhuset, marked a few blocks from our hostel in the center of the Sentrum nightlife area.  We’d passed the building before during the day; at that point it was a relaxing cafe.  When we got there around 11 pm, though, it was an entirely different story.  The bouncers questioned why two Americans were in Oslo of all places and, when we replied with traveling for our birthdays, we discovered the head bouncer celebrated his birthday the day before, as well.  Without further delay we were swept into what quickly became our favorite Norwegian night spot.

There was a distinctly different feel to each bar (we found 3) though the space itself had a rather open floor plan.  To the right groups talked and debated; on our left was the most laid-back bar with an outdoor smoking space; beyond the bathrooms and coat check we discovered a rowdy room with shuffleboard of all things.  We reacquainted ourselves with our beloved Bulmer’s (seriously Maryland, you gotta work on getting that here over other ciders) and had a look around, and promptly fell into conversation with a group of Manchester United & Liverpool fans.  I say conversation, but it was more a fiery debate that escalated as drinks emptied and the clock progressed.  Luckily bringing up Washington DC or Los Angeles tends to quench any arguments over footy teams pretty quickly, and when one of the guys asked where we were from we quickly delved into trying to explain modern Americana.  We also learned that shuffleboard is actually a pretty popular pastime for nights out.  Who knew?

Spoiler alert: we made it back to Kulturhuset one more time before our trip ended, and I would absolutely love to return again.  On that note, can anybody explain the (seemingly) arbitrary age limits bars place over there?  While looking for places to go we found some bars with the standard 20-year limit, while others had 23- or even 27-year limits.  I’m intrigued and confused.

Royal Palace, Oslo

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