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Pricey, pristine, peaceful Oslo

Norwegian coast

I sat in the waiting room at Heathrow airport in London, England with a room full of tall blonds. A two-hour flight northwest over the North Sea brought me to Oslo Norway. Norway occupies the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. It borders Sweden, Finland, and Russia with its famous fjords coastline facing the North Atlantic Ocean. Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, while also being the most peaceful – Global Peace Index ranked it as the most peaceful country in the world in the 2007 survey. Oslo, with about half a million residents is the country’s capital and largest city.

What first struck me when I arrived in Oslo was an overwhelming feeling of peace and tranquility. It was not the tranquility I found on the Greek Islands, which was mostly about the ocean and the sun. The Norwegian tranquility emanated from the people themselves.

Hedda picked me up at the airport with her new hairless dog Spike. I couldn’t help but wonder how Spike made it through the Norwegian winters. Hedda and I met while studying at UCLA in the summer of 2002. She had invited me to spend a week with her in her hometown. Her house was beautifully nestled in the woods. She had assured me that I could make my way downtown while she was in school during the day, but I didn’t see any evidence of a city in the vicinity. Her house, and most of the other houses in Oslo looked like life-size dollhouses scattered in deep woods. I found out later that these houses in the woods were only a couple of miles from the city center.

Vigeland Sculpture Park

As Hedda headed out early the next morning for class, I walked two blocks down to the tram station and waited. I felt like I was in the sticks. Not a soul was in sight. Two stops and five minutes later I was miraculously in downtown Oslo. The city looked classically European with a mix of old architecture and new trendy stores, restaurants and cafes. There was one noticeable difference – a lack of tourists. Norway is in my opinion one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but it is also one of the coldest, temperature-wise, and the most expensive. Though Oslo doesn’t attract as many tourists as some other major European cities, as I stopped strangers on the streets to ask for directions I was pleasantly surprised that everyone spoke near perfect English.

The city was lovely. I walk to the Royal Palace, built in the first half of the 19th century, which housed the Royal Norwegian Family. After a few minutes of imagining the Palace was my home, I walked down the hill and through the streets, exploring the University of Oslo and the National Theatre.

I met Hedda at the Vigeland Sculpture Park – one of Oslo’s main attractions. It is Norway’s largest park occupying 80 acres with 212 bronze and granite sculptures by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures are all of men, women and children in motion. The most intriguing piece is the monolith at the top, carved from a single piece of rock and standing 14.12 meters high. It portrays 121 human figures lovingly embracing each other while rising towards heaven.

Oslo Royal Palace

Sadly, the Munch Museum, dedicated to the work and life of Norway’s most famous painter, Edward Munch, was closed for construction. It holds over half the artist’s entire production of paintings, including his most famous works The Scream and Madonna.

Hedda brought me to the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. It is a truly terrifying slope that only the supremely experienced should consider. It extends 60 meters above ground and 417 meters above sea level. It was also used for the 1952 Winter Olympics and four World Ski Championships. I did not have the guts to climb to the top, and missed a magnificent panoramic view of the city.

What was most prominent about the Norwegians was their spirit for a healthy and active lifestyle. It is no wonder they are so beautiful. They are passionate about it, and they have designed their cities to accommodate it. They do not let the weather get in their way. There are numerous stunning hikes and ski slopes just 5 minutes from downtown and a few tram stops away.

Norwegian food is fresh, healthy and hearty. The water in the shower is so soft it feels like silk. They don’t count calories as many are burned on the ski slopes. They eat a special brown goat’s cheese for breakfast called Brunost. It looks strange but it will put any cheesoholic into cheese heaven. It is sharp, strong and sweet like caramel. And though it is probably terribly fattening, I indulged splendidly. As far as I know, there is only one store in Los Angeles that sells this delicacy, and it is far beyond my budget at the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop.

We spent our nights downtown with Hedda's friends at some trendy bars.Everyone spoke perfect English. It was early October. The streets were quiet but the bars were full of life. Drinks were expensive at $10-$15 per cocktail. I was told the best time to visit is late June. On June 21, the longest day of the year, the sun does not set and the parties last for 24 hours.

With its life-size dollhouses, majestic mountains, and heavenly goat cheese, it’s no wonder Norway is one of the healthiest, wealthiest and peacefulcountries in the world.

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