August 1, 2014

Oslo, Norway: Personalized Cab Tours -- Better, Cheaper, and Safer than the Ship's Group Tours

Our ship -- the Crystal Symphony -- heads into the Oslo harbor, our next-to-last stop on the cruise. Oslo is the capital of Norway, considered one of the world's most expensive cities, and thought to have the highest quality of life of all European cities.

Terrorist Threat
As we headed into port, the city was on its highest security alert, as authorities reported credible evidence of a planned attack by an extreme Syrian Islamic group. The Royal Palace, City Hall, and Jewish museums were all closed. Twelve soccer teams stayed home rather than participate in the Norway Cup games scheduled to begin that weekend.

The ship's officers just announced -- without details -- that passengers might face tightened security when disembarking. News of the threat spread quickly, as passengers got emails from concerned family members. Some changed their planned city excursions and stayed on board.

Living in Washington, DC, where security alerts are not uncommon, I decided long ago not to let rumors about terrorism affect my plans. Besides, the two places I wanted to visit -- the Vigeland Sculpture Park and the Holmenkollen ski jump -- seemed less likely targets for terrorists than the harbor filled with cruise boats and probably military ships and installations as well.

Group Tour or My Own Tour?
I mentioned in my blog post on Bergen that -- as much as I love my travel companions -- I prefer touring on my own. I need a slower pace than youngsters in their fifties. I've never liked tour groups and now I have this new reason to avoid them.

You might think that touring by cab is much costlier than by tour bus, especially in this expensive city. The cheapest city tour offered by the ship was $79. My three cab rides did cost more, about $140. But had my two travel mates joined me, the taxi tour would have cost less per person than three of the ship's tour tickets.

What makes do-it-yourself touring most appealing to me is the benefit of choosing what to visit and for how long. Group tours seem to spend too much time visiting places that don't interest me. They usually linger too long at places I like. Those bus tours typically unload their passengers at a gift shop somewhere along the way, another group tour feature I dislike.

The Vigeland Sculpture Park
I thoroughly enjoyed this visit. The unique sculpture park -- completed in 1949 -- is Gustav Vigeland's life work, and features more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron. Vigeland was also in charge of the design and architectural layout of the park.

All the sculptures were modeled in full size in clay by Vigeland.

I concentrated my visit on the bridge bedecked with 58 bronze figures of men, women and children:

The most popular sculpture is Angry Boy:

Here are some of the many sculptures on both sides of the bridge:

I got as far as the fountain at the end of the bridge, but decided not to climb the hill to the great spire at the top, where 121 figures are sculpted out of one solid block of granite. 

Here's the fountain....

.... and here's a professional photographer's shot of the great spire:

After a nice lunch at the park's cafe, I ordered a cab and headed off toward the second and last stop on the Schappi Tour of Oslo.

The Holmenkollen Ski Jump
The Holmenkollen Ski Festival is the oldest in the world, and more than a million people attend the annual March event. Holmenkollen Sunday is Norway's second national day after Constitution Day. When the new ski jump opened in 2010, thousands of Norwegians spent the night outside in the cold to get a good view of the action.

I viewed it on a warm July day:

The ski jump is perched at the top of Oslo and offers nice views of the city:

Turns out you can go to the top of the ski jump and come down at 25kph in a harness attached to a wire. 

For a brief moment, I thought "If President Bush [the good Bush] can jump out of a helicopter at age 90, why shouldn't I try this at age 85?" 

Clearly time to get a cab and return to the ship.

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