A Glimpse of Oslo: Vulkan Bee Garden

Seeing Vulkan Bee Garden at Mathallen was high on my wishlist for this summer’s visit to Oslo. These urban beehives are not your ordinary beehives. They are an art installation as much as a beehive. The Vulkan beehives were designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta, the same firm that designed Oslo’s National Opera House, New York City’s National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion, and so many other interesting projects around the world.

I remember reading about Oslo creating the world’s first highway for bees a couple of years ago and feeling great pride that my country was doing that. The bee highway’s aim was to “give the insects a safe passage through the city” by providing food and shelter as they traversed the city from one end to the other. This was not a government initiative, but rather one by ByBi, an urban guild of beekeepers. Participants in the project are varied – businesses, schools, associations, and private individuals. Everyone is encouraged to build bee-friendly feeding stations and accommodations in the city.

The Vulkan beehives were installed in 2014. As explained by Vulkan on their page about the bee garden, “The natural honeycomb geometry was the inspiration for the form and pattern, along with the bees own production pattern; the hexagon-shaped cells bees store their honey in. Using a light colored wood with a finish that is honey in tone makes the hives look like big hexagon jars of honey.” Inside the structures are standard foam beehives.

So I made plans to meet my aunt for lunch at Mathallen, a food court with specialty shops and cafes, and a lovely lunch we had. It wasn’t until we were on our way out that I discovered where the beehives were. Next time I’ll see about enjoying my lunch outside Mathallen instead so I can appreciate the beehives a little longer than just passing by. It would also be fun to buy some Vulkanhonning, honey from the Vulkan beehives, while I am there.

On a related bookish note, I am currently reading a Norwegian novel called Bienes historie by Maja Lunde that I highly recommend. It will be released in the USA as The History of Bees on August 22. The novel includes three storylines which all revolve around the importance of bees, or lack thereof. The first storyline takes place in England in the mid-1850s when beehives are being improved, the second one in USA in 2007 when there is an increase in the number of colony collapse disorders being reported, and the last one in China in 2098 when humans have had to resort to hand-pollination due to the total collapse of bees. I’m really intrigued by the book and am happy that English readers can also enjoy it soon. I encourage you to check it out.

For some insight into the beekeeping at Vulkan beehives, here’s a short video. It is in Norwegian, but the images are worth your time.

The New & Less Traveled Oslo

new and less traveled sightseeing in OsloAre you headed to Oslo this summer, and maybe you’re looking for something besides the normal tourist sights? Here are some newer sights and hidden gems to consider.

Harbor Promenade – Havnepromenade

Oslo has a very new harbor promenade to explore. It runs 9 kilometers (about 5.5 miles) along the waterfront and hits many of the main sights of Oslo including Tjuvholmen and Aker Brygge, the inner harbor with City Hall and Akershus Fortress, and the Opera House.

I look forward to exploring this route by bike with the family. I may finally have a chance to get a close-up look at the Opera House with its dramatic architectural features. I also hope to include a swim at Sørenga Seawater Pool and a meal at Vippa (a huge warehouse recently named one of the “10 hottest new restaurants in Oslo” according to eater.com).

Hovedøya

A few years ago, a cousin of mine recommended a visit to Hovedøya, an island a short ferry ride from the city center known for its beaches, forests, and cultural heritage sights. There you can explore the ruins of a Cistercian monastery from 1147. In 1532, the monastery was pillaged and burned down, and the ruins weren’t excavated until 1840’s. You can also see two canon batteries from 1808 and two gunpowder depots from when the island belonged to the Norwegian army. It would be a nice excursion on a day with beautiful weather. Bring swim gear and a picnic (or eat at one of the cafes) and spend the day exploring. It also has plenty of geocaching opportunities (see map above with all the geocaches!) which is always a fun addition to an outing.

Viking Ship Museum’s Vikings Alive Film

I have been to the Viking Ship Museum on several occasions, but somehow we have not yet managed to take the kids. It used to be that the main attractions were three Viking ships, one of which is completely whole, along with a display of Viking Age artifacts. Now, there is a new attraction: the film Vikings Alive. It’s a film that takes the audience on a unique visual journey into the history of a Viking ship. A Viking ship is built and sails along the Norwegian fjords and on the ocean, ending its days as a grave ship for a king. The film is projected onto the vaulted ceiling of the museum. On our next visit to Oslo, this will be a must-see attraction.

Museum of Oslo

Museum of Oslo is another museum I’d like to take the kids to. It’s located right in Frognerparken which makes it a convenient bike ride from my parents’ home. It presents the city’s history through models, paintings, and photographs. The museum’s exhibitions are mainly in Norwegian, but a free audioguide of “1,000 years in 20 minutes” is available in English, French, German, Somali, Punjabi, Polish, and Arabic as well as Norwegian.

What piqued my interest in bringing the kids was that the museum offers a special family activity called City Detectives (recommended for kids age 5 to 12). It’s an augmented reality app that allows visitors to get a glimpse of Oslo’s past. The goal is to find 10 historical stations in the exhibition “OsLove – City History for Beginners”. With the app, participants visit the 2-bedroom apartment of a big family, experience the power of Aker River, and see how the main street of Karl Johan has changed over time. The app is only available on site. You can borrow ipods or download the app to your own Apple device. You do not need to know Norwegian to use the app.

Special Exhibit at Munch Museum

Every summer the Munch Museum puts on a special exhibit. This summer visitors will have a chance to experience Edvard Munch as seen through the eyes of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård. The exhibit, Towards the Forest – Knausgård on Munch, will feature many paintings, graphic prints, and sculptures that have never been exhibited previously. As described on the museum’s website, “the exhibition takes the form of a journey from light and harmony through darkness and chaos – returning finally to a controllable reality.” I’ve read and enjoyed Knausgård and like Munch so I’m curious to see this exhibition, something probably done more enjoyably without my children. Exhibit is on display from May 6, 2017, to October 8, 2017.

Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum

I learned about Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum from the book Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. We are certainly familiar with the work of his brother Gustav Vigeland whose bronze and granite sculptures are on display in Frognerparken, but I did not know about Emanuel.

The mausoleum is part of Emanuel Vigeland Museum. The museum’s main attraction is a dark, barrel-vaulted room, completely covered with fresco paintings. According to Atlas Obscura, “entering the mausoleum is a solemn, even haunting, experience. Even the quietest footstep echoes across the barrel-vaulted ceiling for up to 14 seconds. A flashlight is needed to reveal the room’s dark, painted walls.” I think this “hidden wonder” is best explored without kids due to the paintings that show “life from conception till death, in dramatic and often explicitly erotic scenes.” (Note: The museum is only open to the public on Sundays. Summer hours are May 15 through September 15, 12pm to 5pm.)

Damstredet & Telthusbakken Area

Damstredet and Telthusbakken are two roads known for their well-preserved and inhabited wooden houses built in the late 1700s and the 1800s. They are located near each other in the St. Hanshaugen/Gamle Aker area in central Oslo. There are other sights in the area as well, so a visit to the area can make a worthwhile self-guided walking tour. Very nearby is the medieval church Gamle Aker kirke (Old Aker Church), oldest building in Oslo, as well as Vår Frelsers Gravlund, the cemetery where writer Henrik Ibsen and painter Edvard Munch are buried. This excursion is easily combined with visit to nearby Mathallen, an interesting food court with specialty shops and cafés. And while at Mathallen, you can see if you can spot the Vulkan Bee Garden, which is two huge beehives on the rooftop between Mathallen and Dansens Hus next door.

Stay tuned for a report on how our exploration of these new-to-us places and hidden gems of Oslo goes!