Winter in Norway: Snowy Oslo

We woke up the next morning to board our train to Oslo. I dreaded the thought of leaving Flam after only one night. I felt so connected to this rural land, so drawn to it. It’s how I always feel when I’m immersed in the mountains, but once and a while that magnetic pull is especially strong. I had to wrench myself away physically, until the poles were sufficiently separate.

The scenic Flamsbana train is the only route in and out of Flam, so we got to ride it for a second time in the other direction. It was snowing today, and the view was a piercing, blustery white. We stopped in Myrdal to transfer trains for Oslo, and everybody crowded into the tiny station to shield themselves from the blizzard outside. Neither the café nor tiny gift shop in the Myrdal station was operational for the season. Even the aging vending machine was void of product. So, we huddled inside in the quiet, awaiting our connection, in a town with no roads leading to it. At one point I stepped out onto the platform to catch a video of my surroundings, and the wind was so fierce that it nearly knocked the phone from my hand. All around me was a violent, swirling white, and I felt so still inside of it. Like the eye of the storm.

We had 5 more hours to Oslo once we boarded our connection. The train contains a family car with a kid’s play space, complete with TVs playing cartoons on repeat. The doors in the family car don’t open automatically when you walk up to them like they do in other cars, so that kids can’t go wandering out. It was an unexpectedly thoughtful concept for a long-haul trip, and sadly I doubt that it would ever happen in America.

At one point as I stared out the window, I thought I was looking onto a big snowy field. But upon squinting my eyes, I could see boat docks poking through it and a few rowboats tied to the ground. It was a lake, so frozen and covered in snow that the docks looked like they led into an abyss. Ghost docks.

We arrived in Oslo to a busy and bustling city (compared to where we came from, at least). Snow whipped through the streets, blowing so much powder that you couldn’t tell the difference between the sidewalk and street. The occasional car comes trudging through the deep slush as pedestrians shuffle out of the way, and people wear reflectors on their arms to remedy the blending of pavement. Pulling suitcases through the streets was like participating in Iron Man.

The next day we decided to venture up to Nordmarka, a forested area just 30 minutes north on the city’s metro system that is home to hiking and cross-country ski trails. Lacking skis, we decided to attempt a “snow hike” along one of the area’s trails. Arriving in Nordmarka felt like being in an entirely different part of the country, even though we’d traveled just a brief distance. The proximity of Nordmarka to downtown is one of the most unique things about Oslo.

After hiking for only 45 minutes in pure fluff, the snow started to get a bit too deep. We hadn’t seen another person on our path since we encountered a girl ice fishing about 30 minutes earlier. It gave us enough pause to throw in the towel, though standing for a few moments on a whisper quiet trail that was void of shoeprints was a nice pause. We went for lunch at Frognerseteren where they serve cheese fondue, but only during lunchtime. Inside it felt like an old Swiss lodge, and we quickly warmed our toes and filled up on melty gruyere. Outside, tobogganers slid down a massive sledding trail that leads from the Metro stop and down to a second one, so that sledders can hop the train back up to the top for another round. I told Katie I was too scared of sliding into a tree to give it a try. But after walking outside, she promptly fell down a frozen stream that we mistook for a path, and I realized we might have been better off on sleds.

On the ride home, a group of teachers boarded the train with around 20 toddlers in snowsuits. Each time the Metro made a stop, a parent would be waiting on the outdoor platform to fetch one of the toddlers as he/she was lifted over the gap. This continued until all the toddlers had been plopped, and it was clearly operating as a replacement for a school bus. Only in Norway.

The next day we ventured around downtown Oslo to see the city a bit better. The famous Opera House by the water reminded me of Reykiavik. The water was icy and slate grey, almost the same color as the sky behind it. It was peaceful and mystical. Later we paid a visit to the Resistance Museum to learn about the history of Norway’s role in WWII – a lot of which was completely new information for me. Surrounding the museum are a collection of historic buildings that one can wander through, having it nearly all to yourself.

I realized today that I’d grown so used to the cold that I was barely noticing it. I started to enjoy the act of bundling up each day before an activity. Of always being cozy. The snow in Oslo really is whimsical and light. Despite the slushy streets, and lack of snow shoveling, it doesn’t evaporate or get horridly dirty like it does at home. It stays beautiful and fresh, like a quintessential winter.

That night we had dinner at Vaaghals, a fancy setting where you can get family style small plates. After dinner, we grabbed a few bougie craft cocktails at Himkok in the Grunerlokka neighborhood, a hidden speakeasy with a wild price tag. Oslo’s cocktail game is well played and hard to beat, even if it’s a bit harsh on my wallet. By late in the evening, we were wandering through the neighborhood by our hotel, where holiday lights still adorned buildings and trees.

After we turned in for our final evening, I went and pushed open our hotel window the entire 2inches that it would allow. Out those small cracks you could hear melting snow tapping on the glass ceiling below our inner courtyard. It smelled so crisp, a distinctive sign of winter. It filled me with nostalgia. The window became cold after only being open a minute, but I left it ajar just long enough to imprint that sound and scent. We’d be home before we knew it, returning to our routines, and that magnetic draw between my body and this land would weaken in strength. For a while it would be okay, but eventually, my mind would wander back to those mountains and I’d need to be off again, to connect the two poles. Until then.

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