Last weekend I made my virgin trip in the Norwegian capital Oslo. In my mind I expected to see a mini version of Stockholm: beautiful high arched older buildings in the heart of the city and in the outskirts gigantic highrises, mainly 70s housing projects of the Million House Programme.
Instead I encountered completely different scenery. My first impression was that nature and urban space seemed to co-exist in balance with each other. During our train journey from the airport to the city I could see small communities here and there existing in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature.
Exploring the city later, I realized that Oslo is filled with neo modern architecture which often uses elements of Feng Shui.
So my impressions when comparing Oslo to Stockholm are:
As I just said the city is an oasis of architectural projects that you normally would not expect to see in a place that small (the population of Norway is half of Sweden). In this sense you get to see buildings that stand out, instead of buildings that(like in a place like conformity loving Sweden) all look the same. Generally there was the impression of a more European sense of individuality and uniqueness so unlike Sweden where you strongly feel you should either adopt the ways of the north or die.
Oslo is more expensive that Stockholm ( at least 20%). Yes, I know we are talking about one of the richest countries in the world. I was amazed when on two occasions the waiter in the place we had dinner appeared to be expecting us to leave a tip. I am sure he earned a huge salary, was fully insured and received something like 2 months of paid holiday leave from his job. (ok I am exaggerating a bit but he surely must suspect that many of the tourists he serves food to are poorer than him. This weird thought struck me after waiting in the queue at a Trip Advisor endorsed restaurant and chatting with two American ladies behind me, who after learning that I am Greek they bluntly observed how expensive this restaurant must be for me. I was too polite to make the same observation about them. )
Norwegian people are friendly and smile to strangers. This is a first in Scandinavia. In Stockholm smiling or talking to strangers makes you a loony. (as it does back home but for slightly different reasons, you are supposed to assault them instead or at least give them angry looks). The people we met seemed so genuinely kind and helpful, even people who looked like they had immigrant backgrounds (and thus kinda expect them to look glum and reserved) seemed chatty and relaxed and spoke to us. (On one occasion in a Middle Eastern supermarket four different people came and spoke to or stroked our baby.) In general people looked happy, there I said it. Also Norwegians had something that I cannot explain well in words, a kind of positive vibe. (Except from that mean security woman at the airport on my way back who declared I was chosen for a random security check and gave me the most intrusive, hostile hands search, she even put her nasty hands in my jeans).
The food was more expensive but it was better. We tried everything, from the expensive to the middle eastern pizza. The bad was much better than the bad in Stockholm and the good was top marks. Whoever says that Norway has no variety of food in the supermarkets because it is not a member of the EU speaks nonsense. We went two times in two different markets and the variety of things like fruits and veg was the same as Sweden. (In the middle Eastern supermarket it was much better in fact.)
Alcohol is not sold in the supermarkets. Exactly like Sweden’s Systembolaget, there was a special governmentally owned chain that sold anything over 4% of alcohol. Shame, it make you suspect that this sunny fun loving culture transforms into snow covered red eyed monsters in the Winter strolling through the streets in the darkness of the day in search for comfort booze.
We were blessed with excellent weather so maybe that was also a crucial factor shaping the positive experience.
The city center was filled with happy crowds and even a day after the bank holiday it still felt completely like a holiday. (No business looking people walking around and offices were empty, I am best guessing EVERYONE had informally taken the day off, ha!). The parks in the city center were filled with artists and several choirs who performed for people.
An interesting fact about working in Norway that I found out recently: There is a compulsory unpaid 4 week summer shutdown in July as everyone is supposed to be away on holidays. The staff is however encouraged to save money by having a part of their salary withheld during the year especially to cater for this month.
To be fair with Sweden there seems to be many lifestyle similarities between the two countries from the info I get from expat blogs about Norway. The majority of expats complain about the same things that almost all expat here complain about: They never make local friends as locals sticks to their high school friends, in the workplace people avoid confrontation and instead take problems directly to the boss, and generally people shun initiative and individuality.
So is it a favorite holiday destination? Definitely. I would visit Oslo again if I had the chance in the future and I would make sure to pick a warm month of the year so that I could enjoy this beautiful city one more time.