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!

What I’ve Read: Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) by Roy Jacobsen

Recently, I read Roy Jacobsen’s Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) for my Scandinavian Book Group. I always make a point of reading a Norwegian book in anticipation of (or during) our annual summer trip to Norway to brush up on my Norwegian, but I don’t often read another beyond that. I’m grateful for discovering this book group because it’s given me an added incentive to search out new (to me) Norwegian authors and carve out more time to read Norwegian.

I first became aware of Roy Jacobsen when I was home in Oslo during the summer of 2016. A Roy Jacobsen book, Hvitt hav (published 2015), was on the display of top 10 paperbacks at a local bookstore, and another of his books, De usynlige (published 2013), was on a table of popular books on sale. I was happy to find a contemporary Norwegian non-crime author who wrote novels set in Norway, and I made a mental note to consider him for a future read.

When it came time to pick the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group, the other members of the group were happy to make the next pick a Norwegian one in my honor (it was my first meeting with them). The only requirement was that it had to be available in English, and they preferred a non-crime book. They had already read Jacobsen’s The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles (Hoggerne, published 2005), so I suggested Child Wonder (Vidunderbarn, published 2009). The description and reviews sounded interesting, and it had received the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009 which made it even more promising.

Child Wonder takes place in Norway in the early 1960’s and is about 10-year Finn who lives with his working mother in an apartment complex in a working-class suburb of Oslo. He is a boy who does well in school and enjoys playing outside with his friends. He and his mother get along well. Then their world begins to change. First, they convert Finn’s bedroom into a room that they can rent out, and soon a lodger is staying with them in their apartment. And he brings along a television that ends up in the shared family room. Next, they welcome Linda, Finn’s unknown 6-year old half-sister, into their family.

The book looks at their life together for a little over a year through the eyes of Finn. We see Finn’s relationship with the lodger take shape. We see Finn being a surprisingly mature support and help to his new half-sister. We see his relationship with his mother progress. We see Finn wonder about his worth and place in the family. We also begin to understand that the mother is struggling with something unknown to Finn.

My favorite part of the book is the summer they spend on the island of Håøya, the largest island in the inner Oslo Fjord. The lodger lets them borrow his 6-person tent that is set up on the island. Finn and his half-sister spend a few weeks there enjoying the “green paradise”.

One of the things that makes this book interesting is that Finn is an unreliable narrator. He is young and obviously doesn’t know or understand everything yet. He also doesn’t share everything he experiences. We are left to question and wonder about what we read, in particular about the half-sister (there’s something not right about her), the lodger and the mother’s relationship with him, and the nature of the mother’s struggle. It makes for a good discussion with others who have read the book.

I actually read part of the book in English (the e-book is available through Los Angeles Public Library). Jacobsen’s writing style consisted of very long sentences with very few periods and it slowed down my reading pace, so I had to switch over to English for a few chapters to get through it a little faster in order to finish in time for the book group meeting.

It was interesting to read part of it in translation. It was a British English translation so I had to think twice about some translated words and phrases. In particular, the British word “estate,” used very often, did not suggest the right meaning to me, but I understood what was meant. I found the translation to be consistent with Jacobsen’s writing style. One thing that shocked me, however, was that the translator didn’t just translate, he actually added to the English text. I noticed it in one case, but since I only read a small part in both languages, it made me wonder what other additions or changes the translator may have made in the rest of the book.

I enjoyed the book very much. This was a character-driven story that was both heart-warming and heart-breaking at times and that kept me questioning and wondering, even after finishing the book. I’m open to giving one of his newer books a chance. Norwegian readers, please let me know if you have a recommendation – whether it’s one of Roy Jacobsen’s books or another Norwegian read.

Book Details:

  • Norwegian Title: Vidunderbarn
  • Author: Roy Jacobsen (born 1954)
  • Norwegian Publication Date: 2009
  • English Title: Child Wonder
  • Translator: Don Bartlett with Don Shaw
  • US Publication Date: 2011
  • Awards: Norwegian Booksellers Award (2009)

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A Glimpse of Oslo: A Picasso Mural

Oslo_Fiskerne_Picasso_NesjarMy husband and I were leisurely making our way by foot from the food hall Mathallen to the center of town to take the metro back home. I wasn’t very familiar with this part of Oslo. Suddenly, we found ourselves in the area pictured above. I didn’t know anything about it but thought the view worthy of a picture before moving on.

Once back in the States several weeks later and catching up on back issues of the Norwegian American Weekly newspaper, I suddenly saw a photo of the mural we’d seen on our walk. I quickly searched through my photos from the summer to look more closely at it.

The article was about the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar who as it turns out had created the mural in 1970 based on a design by Pablo Picasso. Nesjar had passed away at the age of 94 on May 23, 2015. The mural is called “Fiskerne” (The Fishermen) and is on a government building known as the Y Block. (The church to the left is Trefoldighetskirken, or The Trinity Church, consecrated in 1858.) And now I understand why the street was blocked off and I could cross it so easily to take my picture—it was the government quarter targeted in the July 22, 2011, bombings. The Y Block along with the H Block next to it sustained heavy damage in the bombing.

As I learned from the Norwegian American Weekly July 3 article, Nesjar “was for many years Picasso’s chosen fabricator, the artist who took the master’s drawings and models and gave them physical form as immense public sculptures.” Nesjar and Picasso began working together in the 1950s and continued until Picasso’s death in 1973. Their collaboration resulted in many sculptures and building decorations around the world: Norway, Sweden, France, Spain, Israel, The Netherlands, and various university campuses in the USA (Princeton, MIT, and NYU).

There is another Picasso-designed, Nesjar-created mural called “Måken” (The Seagull) in the reception area of the Y Block. Sadly, the future of these Picasso/Nesjar murals is uncertain. There are discussions to demolish the building as part of a redevelopment plan for the government quarter. The murals would be secured and preserved, but there were no plans for them beyond that. There is public debate about the issue so we’ll see what eventually happens.

I wish I knew all this when we passed through the area this summer. I would have spent a little more time looking at the mural and taking it all in. I’m very grateful for coming across the article in the Norwegian American Weekly and having the chance to research Nesjar a little bit more. Now I have a much greater appreciation for that area for the next time we pass through.

Celebrating America’s Fourth of July in Oslo

I always make a point of celebrating Norway’s national day, the 17th of May, here in Los Angeles. This summer I actually had the chance to do the opposite, celebrate USA’s national day in Oslo. Having experienced Norwegian culture on display in Los Angeles, I thought it would be interesting to see what aspects of American culture would be highlighted abroad.

ACCN_Festival_Area

Every year the American Coordinating Council of Norway (ACCN) organizes an Independence Day Celebration in Frognerparken. 2015 was actually the 30th anniversary of the event. The celebration started off with all due pomp and circumstance with Opening Ceremonies where the acting ambassador (since the US has had trouble finding a qualified candidate) had some opening remarks and the Marine Guards from the US Embassy presented the colors.

Festival_Stage

Then the day proceeded with folks visiting vendor booths and activity areas, browsing a classic American car exhibition, and enjoying American food, all while they were entertained by live entertainment on a big stage in the middle of it all. A Norwegian bluegrass band was on stage first and a rock band continued later with Norwegian cheerleading squads performing in between.

Baseball_throwing

Sonny and Doobie were immediately drawn to the American sports area where baseball and football were featured. We were given gloves and balls for a lesson in how to throw and catch a baseball. We chuckled when the volunteer started to explain since baseball is a sport we’re quite familiar with. She seemed relieved when she didn’t have to explain any more. When the batting cage opened, the kids were quick to get in line. They were a little disappointed, though, since the pitches were very weak and low, and they weren’t able to show off all they could really do.

Baseball_hitting

The American classic car exhibition took up as much space as the rest of the festival. There was an interesting and varied assortment of cars and trucks. We especially enjoyed the ones with unique paint jobs and interesting interior detailing. There was something for everyone to enjoy.

Classic_Car3

And of course, there is no cultural festival without an abundance of food to choose from. Various American restaurants in Oslo were on hand offering sought after meals—The Nighthawk Diner, Texas BBQ Cafe, Opland Burger & Steak, and Domino’s Pizza were some we saw offering such items as burgers (BBQ Bacon Cheddar and Santa Fe), rib plates, pulled pork, and chili dogs…

Photo Credit: Facebook/ACCN Community

Photo Credit: Facebook/ACCN Community

We ended up at Domino’s Pizza (which I learned first opened its doors in Norway in August 2014), not the most exciting for us but it had the shortest line. To drink we had none other than American Coca-Cola, and for dessert, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Festival_Tables

There was a baked goods booth, too, of course. I thought it funny that they included Norwegian specialities in addition to the bagels, cookies, muffins, and brownies. Apparently, there was a cotton candy stand too, but we missed that. And a watermelon eating contest which happened after we had left.

Baked_Goods

In addition to indulging in American food favorites and admiring classic cars, folks could discuss politics at the Democrats’ and Republicans’ booths and browse the used book booth for their next English read. And kids could have pony rides and participate in hands-on activities provided by Oslo Children’s Museum. The ACCN made sure to have something of interest for visitors of all ages and nationalities. I’m sure American expatriates and folks interested in American culture were thrilled at all the offerings.

Democrats_Abroad

Republicans_AbroadA highlight of the festivities was the raffle ticket sales and drawings. There was an impressive list of prizes, and the sale of raffle tickets was brisk. Grand prizes were 2 sets of round-trip tickets from Oslo to USA. Other prizes included a hotel stay, food and candy (from Heinz, Wrigley, Mars, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola just to name a few), restaurant certificates, vacation tour tickets, and various other gifts and services. For those who wanted to guarantee a win, there was an instant win Lucky Wheel, and this appealed more to Sonny and Doobie. They were thrilled to walk away with Pringles cans and an assortment of American candy (and relieved that they didn’t win Heinz ketchup and BBQ sauce bottles).

Festival_Crowds

It was a fun and relaxing outing to the park, especially since the park was so close to my parents’ home and we could ride our bikes. We had just come from the US a few days earlier so we weren’t as homesick for American culture as many of the people there, but we still thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And it was a lovely summer day which makes all the difference, too.

Festival_Picnics

Reconnecting with my roots

Every summer we return to Norway to see my family. Each trip tends to be very similar to the last one—we spend time at the same places, we do the same activities, we see the same people, we eat the same foods— but that’s what we’ve come to expect and look forward to.We're back

We try to plan our visit so that our time overlaps with my sister and her kids’ visit. Both my sister and I want to have some time for all of us to reconnect and make new memories together, but we also want each of our families to have some quality time alone with our parents as well. When all the cousins are together, we love seeing them enjoy each other’s company. When each set is by themselves, we value the special time they have alone with their grandparents.

Arriving at island home via boatWe usually spend about half our visit at our parents’ summer home on an island in the Kragerø area (3 1/2 hours by car south of Oslo). I can’t imagine a summer without spending time there. It’s how I grew up, every summer spending weeks at a summer home on the coast, and I want my kids to experience the same. Continue reading