One of the first things H. said to me when I arrived in Oslo yesterday was “This is a perfect summer day, the kind we’re lucky to have here.” Oslo’s been having a mild, wet summer this year, but there was no sign of that when I got there yesterday morning. Blue skies, 20 degrees C (about 70 Fahrenheit), a slight breeze off the harbour. After a grey week in Helsinki, it was a welcome change.
I was in Oslo for the weekend, taking advantage of being in Helsinki for work to get a cheap flight there. It was also a chance to catch up with my friend H. We’ve been friends since high school, and these days we see each other every few years, whenever we’re in the same corner of the world. Over coffee we discussed what we wanted to do for the day. “How do you feel about museums?” H. asked. I said something non-committal. “Oh good, I don’t want to waste today inside a museum either!” she replied.
We decided the best way to get an overview of the city was to literally look over it, so we took the T-bane (Metro) up to the ski jump ramp, in the hills behind the city. The view over the city and the water was spectacular on a clear day, but I was distracted by the problem of how to get a photo of the ski jump tower that gave a sense of how high and steep it was. I couldn’t find a good angle for it, and looking back at my photos it looks like an oversized playground slide.
My admiration of the view was also punctuated by the whoops of people rushing past down the zipline that runs over the ski jump. I tried to keep an eye on who was flying past, since on the metro there had been a hen’s outing, the bride-to-be with a floor-length veil (well, an old lace curtain!) and a blindfold. It looked suspiciously like her friends were taking her to the top of the zipline before taking the blind-fold off, but I suppose she wouldn’t have been allowed to keep the veil on while ziplining, so I wouldn’t have recognized her anyway.
The view from the hills really emphasized that Oslo is by the water, with the sea stretching off to the distance and islands scattered in the harbour. So after lunch and a quick stop at the Vigeland statues in Frogner Park, we went down to the ferry terminal and took a commuter boat to Hovedøya, the inner-most island of the harbour.
The sun was out in full force as we walked across the island from the pier to the beach on the other side. The single-use barbeque disposal points were full of aluminium trays of charcoal left over from peoples’ lunches, and groups of people lazing in the sunshine were scattered over the park in the island’s centre. It really was a perfect summer day, the kind you’d be lucky to have anywhere in the world, not just Norway.
At the beach, parents played with their children at the water’s edge, and a group of teenage girls splashed around out in the water. “I wish I’d brought my bathers with me,” I said. I paddled my feet for a few minutes. It was cold, but not as cold as I would have expected. “If it’s sunny tomorrow, we should go to the beach,” said H. We laughed at the idea of it being sunny like this a second day.
On the way back to the city, we took a selfie from the deck of the ferry with the city behind us, and sent it to a mutual friend who had spent some months in Oslo a few years ago. “Nice!” she replied. “You visiting Zoe in Italy, H?”
“Maybe she never saw a sunny day here, and she can’t recognize the place” said H.
The next day (errr, this morning!) was clear and sunny again. “Beach!” we exclaimed. We decided to go to Bygdøy peninsula, a short bus ride from the city centre. The beach was a short walk from the end of the bus line, on a path through the woods. A breeze was picking up while we walked, but the sun was warm. As we came out of the woods and onto the sand, we could hear a child squealing as she ran into the cold water. Near her was a man in a wetsuit, setting off to swim further from the shore. A pontoon bobbed in the water about 20 metres from the shore, guarded by two gulls.
“If I don’t go in now, I never will,” I said, as I pulled off my jeans. With the breeze, I would have much preferred to keep the jeans on and add a sweater, but when would I next get an opportunity to swim in the North Sea? And I’d swum in the Indian Ocean plenty of times, and that’s pretty cold, right?
In some ways, it’s easier to get into very cold water — your feet go numb before you have a chance to think about how cold they are, and then you just have to push the rest of yourself in. I dunked my head under, because I’m not convinced swimming counts if your hair stays dry. I gave two thumbs up to H., who was very sensibly sitting on the shore.
I didn’t last very long in the water, just enough to swim to the pontoon, pull faces at the gulls, and turn back to shore. I was gasping, the way you do if you try to run on a cold day, and the water was getting choppy. “I’ve got goosebumps just sitting here,” said H. when I sat down next to her. I felt slightly dizzy from the change in temperature, but also — cliche but true — a sense of exhilaration.