The Best Capital in Scandinavia & the Nordics...
A few short weeks ago I paid a visit to the final Scandinavian capital city, Copenhagen, Denmark which means I am now fully qualified to make some sweeping judgments.
In case you don't already know the "Scandinoricas" include Iceland(Reykjavik), Denmark(Copenhagen), Sweden(Stockholm), Norway(Oslo), and finally Finland(Helsinki). In full disclosure with a Finnish spouse and having lived in Finland for a number of years there could be some bias but I promise you the pros and cons will even it out. Of course I'm using a scientific method right?... Remember though that this all is coming from the point of view of a photographer.
Ranking Categories used in my Analysis: again this is totally scientific ;)
- Value (0-11 pts) - How do I feel about what I get given what I spend. (0-11 pts)
- Accessibility (0-11 pts) - How easy is it to get around and find help if needed. (0-11 pts)
- Photographability (0-21 pts) - Interesting sights available without obstructions.
Total (43 pts possible)
First up is the City of Oslo, Norway
never felt quite so poor.
Oslo, Norway is one of those cities that I just decided quite randomly to visit while I had some extra time during the summer. I knew very little about the country and even less about the city before planning the short 4 day trip. The only information I had was that Oslo is expensive.
Other than that I went with a completely untarnished "city visiting palette".
Before the flight I booked a room for 1 person in a budget but new and centrally located hotel near the walking street of Karl Johans Gate (more on that later). This street fills up with tourists and features all the typical sites and sounds you experience in any of the Scandinorican countries during summer including street performers, sales people, and street vendors. The mood felt pleasant around me as I strolled around casually photographing the buildings, people, and nature. As the morning went on during this first day i eventually had the familiar gurgle in my stomach which told me it was time to look for breakfast.
Restaurant after restaurant I looked at the menu, my eyes would get as large as the moon upon seeing the prices for even the most simple of meals causing me to move on to see what was next. Eventually after reading countless menus I decided that I would only get more hungry which would add to my bill so I settled in to my small patio seat in the sun and waited patiently for my menu to arrive. It took me at least 5 minutes to pursue the menu and calculate how I could part ways with as little of my money as possible while still being satisfied. This is when I realized that cheap is a state of mind and not a price that can be measured. I humbly ordered 2 eggs over easy, with toast and an orange juice. The food arrived quite quickly, I ate and then the moment of truth when the bill arrived...285 NOK which at the time was about 35 euro! I took a deep breath, put down my debit card to pay and tried to forget about what just happened.
A couple hours later....GUrGLE! OH NO!! Lunch time!
I again searched menu after menu and again was greeted with the idea that my wallet would soon be empty while still on day one. I ended up at a MAX Burger on the main street which was dirty and grossly overcrowded with people who just wanted to eat without taking out a bank loan. Price? 18 Euro!
By this time I was actually quite stressed because I never go on vacation and intend to eat in fast food restaurants. Ugh, okay, I put it out of my mind for a little while so I could explore more of this beautiful city. I walked kilometer after kilometer taking in the sights from every possible vantage point.
After deciding to skip dinner following a long first day roaming around the streets of the Norwegian capital I finally got back to my hotel. As I settled into bed I realized how truly small my room really was with my height being a snug fit for the total length of the bed and I'm not very tall... If you've never traveled to very expensive cities you may not be aware of what are called cabin hotels. These are hotels that essentially are modeled in the same way as the cabins of a cruise ship and we aren't talking 1st class cabins but more like "luggage class" in size. That being said this room in particular was well appointed but just small. I think I've had hotel rooms in the US with closets that are larger!
In the following day after my marginally less expensive hotel breakfast it was more of the same regarding the supreme struggle to find affordable food in this city. I revised my food strategy and decided to check out a local grocery store to get some wallet relief. There were many different grocery stores within walking distance of my hotel. I ended up buying bread, sliced cheese and meat and even so the price was astronomically high considering what I was use to back home. I started my day by making a to-go sandwich that I packed away in my camera pack for later.
Today's plan was simple, to find new areas of the city to explore and try to capture some interesting sights. I opted to walk instead of using public transit to get where I was going. After a 30-40 walk I ended up in a beautiful neighborhood a bit outside of the normal tourist section of town. I found a beautiful open field wedged between countless apartment buildings and a suburban river cascading down a hill surrounded by trees and bricks. The river area was busy with younger adults reading books, chatting on benches and overall just enjoying a sunny warm day. The grass areas were quite wet due to rain overnight so they remained people free. I can't imagine this is too common in an area like this so I'll count myself lucky.
I spent many hours walking around this neighborhood before finally heading back to downtown in search of dinner. Clouds had rolled in by the time I reached the main street again and I was eagerly looking for a covered place to sit and enjoy a beer with dinner as rain was predicted in the near future.
I ended up with a satisfactory meal for dinner and blindly handed over my credit card again to pay for the obscenely expensive food for one. On the way back to hotel I came across a very unique fountain which begged for the use of a nice wide angle lens which I happened to have with me.
After returning to my hotel I was tasked with a tough choice due to the high expenses I was incurring by being in the city of Oslo. I ended up deciding that it would be more economical to fly back to Helsinki one day early with a one-way flight and forfeit a night at the hotel rather than pay for 4 more meals. This decision was made easier due to deteriorating weather conditions foretasted in the coming day. I slept the night and prepared for one more half day in the city before heading to the airport. On this last day I walked around some of the familiar places in that I had seen before but focused a bit more on enjoying the sun and less about taking photos. That being said I still made an attempt to capture an interesting shot of the cities opera house which is a beautifully simple gathering spot on a sunny day. You can walk on the roof as it slants up to higher and higher levels which only increases its attraction with locals and tourists alike as a spot to hangout. This of course made for a quite long wait in order to get a photo without people. The opera house is conveniently located at the harbor just adjacent to downtown.
Overall, Oslo was a wonderful place to visit as a photographer with a mix of new and old architecture, high and low places, and plenty of color to bring photos to life. However, it has an Achilles heel for anyone that doesn't have an unlimited budget. It is easy to get around and people are generally helpful and speak English well which helps with interactions and navigation. I have not returned to Oslo since Summer 2013 and to be honest haven't considered it purely due to the barriers to entry. This is sad because I would really love to visit again with my much refined and updated photography skills but it is just too expensive.