Akershus, Oslofjord & Russefeiring

The next few days were decidedly tame, especially considering Sara and I were still making up for the 6 months we’d spent apart.  But, we decided if we were really going to make it to Copenhagen and back we should have at least a few nights where we didn’t make it back to the hostel at 4 am.  We strolled around Karl Johans gate once more, marveling again at the way Norwegians live, even in the center of town.  Children ran through the central green, their parents trailing meters behind.  In the States (even the small town I’m from) nobody would dare be more than 10 feet behind their child, lest something unimaginable happen.  Yet all across the United Kingdom and Europe—even, it became clear, in Norway—letting your kids play unrestricted is completely normal.  And I love it.  But more on why raising my as-of-yet non-existent children in Europe is a dream of mine later.  We eventually made our way to the water, and decided there was no better time to explore the fortress.

Before I confuse you too much, a quick recap on European capitals and fortresses: they are abundant and beautiful and oftentimes difficult to keep in order.  I’m actually impressed that Norway has two fortresses in its capital area (if there are more, please correct me! We only made it to Akershus and Oscarsborg), though given the country’s history of peace and therefore slight military presence, it doesn’t come as a surprise.  Akershus Fortress sits along the fjord in Oslo, whereas Oscarsborg lies in the middle of Oslofjord and is accessible by ferry from Drøbak, about a 45-minute bus ride from the capital.  I haven’t lost you yet, have I?  Sara and I navigated the public transport system to Drøbak successfully, but that comes much later in this series.

Akershus Fortress
Courtyard in Akershus Fortress

Exactly when the fortress began to take form is unknown, though there are written references to it in 1300.  Akershus has been used as a castle, prison, and fortress, withstanding all sieges.  Given the Scandinavian countries’ tendencies to push their own nations’ boundaries, Akershus Fortress’s ability to remain untaken for 7 centuries is quite the feat.  There was that one incident where it was surrendered to Nazis during WWII, but only after delaying the invasion long enough for the king to escape to safety.  The point is, Akershus has never been taken by force.  Considering I can’t even protect my breakfast from the jaws of my beagle-boxer mix, color me impressed by the Norwegians once again.

I may not be able to keep dates straight (I’m lucky if I place the correct president into his corresponding century) but history has always fascinated me, all the same.  Winding through the paths of Akershus, treading across the same footsteps as countless others before me, looking onto Oslofjord over the same battlements that have stood watch for centuries was truly awe-inspiring.  Please excuse the close-up in the photo below; I had a strange urge to capture what it would have looked like to view the harbor & possible opponents from just behind the cannon line.

cannon at Akershus
Overlooking Oslo’s harbor

If you have a spare afternoon, I would highly recommend visiting Akershus Fortress.  Sara and I only walked around the outside, as this was early into our trip and we were still wary of the currency exchange, but when I return I’ll definitely do the tour of the buildings.  For 50NOK (roughly €5,70 or $6.40) you can take a guided inside and outside tour, no pre-registration required.  VisitOslo has fantastic resources for the fortress, including opening times and extra history:

http://www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/attractions/?TLp=14911&Akershus-Fortress-Guided-tour

On our way back to the main drag we came across a pub, The Dubliner, which promised to air English Premiere League games.  Since Liverpool was playing in the next few days we made a note to return.  Of course, upon closer inspection we also saw a note saying they didn’t serve anyone under 23…which was great for Sara but my birthday was still two weeks away.  So in true former-collegiate fashion, we decided when the time came we would try anyway.  After all, restrictions like this are more guidelines than actual rules, right?

 

Monday rolled around, and as our last full day in Oslo before our brief jaunt around Copenhagen, we figured we should sort out what we wanted to do when we got back, and actually find out where everything was.  What better way to do that than to take a ferry tour of Oslofjord?  Kidding, a ferry tour of the fjord is not the way to see the city.  It was, however, absolutely stunning.  Brilliant skies, scores of firs and pines lining the pebbled beaches, and countless summer homes right along the water.  These houses, whose quaint beauty I had seen in photos but never truly appreciated until I sailed past them, were the result of Norwegian families boating out to familiar camping spots over the summer.  To compensate for the relatively unpredictable weather they began building small houses with accompanying boat slips and bathhouses.  Each home is painted a certain color, with the bathhouse to match, and nowadays you actually have to get approval from the Norwegian government to repaint.  It’s also illegal to build any more of these houses, and families pass them through generations rather than sell them, so it looks like I’ll be renting one out whenever I have an urge to spend a summer under the midnight sun.

 

Bathhouses along the fjord
Bathhouses along the fjord

Two hours later, the ferry tour was over and we were dying to stretch out our legs.  And get Sara her coffee fix.  We ducked into a little cafe on the harbor, warmed up a bit with steaming bowls (seriously, they were enormous) of coffee & tea, and wandered toward Aker Brygge.  Along the harbor, about two or three new islands have been created for additional housing and entertainment.  Here are splendid views of the fjord, ladders attached to the pier for when you just want to jump in and cool off, and the most expensive apartments in the city.  The architecture in Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen is beautifully modern, a far cry from the traditional buildings that surround Karl Johans Gate.

As we made our way to the end of Tjuvholmen, we spotted some Russ kids headed toward the fjord.  I’ll make a separate post about Russefeiring, but essentially these teens are about to finish their high school (or secondary equivalent).  For a month leading to graduation, around 20 April until Constitution Day on 17 May, these kids party, complete “challenges,” hand out badass business cards that are like American senior yearbook send-offs but better, and drink.  A lot.  They also wear killer overalls, traditionally red but sometimes other colors (more on that later).

One of the challenges Russ kids can complete is to jump in the fjord before summer, or 1 May.  Personally, I still don’t believe that early May can kick off their summer season, as it hardly broke 65 degrees and was windy and rainy at least an hour every day.  But to each their own, I suppose.  Quick reminder that the fjord water was not warmer than the air outside, as Sara and I can attest since we insisted on dipping our hands in it the moment we could.  So what did this gang of Russ kids decide to do?  Strip down to their (coordinating) underwear, run into the shallows of the fjord, and splash around for a few minutes.  Just as Sara and I got over our shock at these girls willingly subjecting themselves to what we imagined were subzero temperatures, the one guy in their group got a running start and dove off the pier into the fjord.  As in, completely submerged himself before lazily swimming back to the ladder.  This simply confirmed that I have absolutely no Viking blood in me, as merely witnessing the Russ kids dripping with fresh fjord water sent chills all over my body.  Sara and I got over our surprise just in time to ask for a photo with the boy, because we knew nobody would believe us if we simply told the story.  That said, I can’t find it on my phone right now so posting it will have to wait until my Russefeiring post.

Even on our tamest days in the city, we learned that Norwegians like to have fun and unwind on the weekends.  Kids running rampant, Russ teens jumping into the water for fun, and well-occupied bars staying open until 1 am, proved to us once more that we made a fantastic choice in flying to Oslo.

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