I spent the weekend in Oslo which was an interesting experience.
Travel books: It was quite hard for me to find a decent travel book on Oslo. My usual standby the TimeOut city guide series didnt cover the city at all so I relied on the Rough Guide to Norway. Fortunately the local tourist authorities do provide pretty reasonable maps.
Arrival: Oslo is apparently serviced by three airports though some of the more idiotic airlines fly into Sandefjord which is over 70 miles away from downtown Oslo. It’s kind of like claiming that Norwich is in central London. The main international airport is Gardermoen. This has a great speedy train link into central Oslo. One of the clever things I noticed on this service is what they called e-tickets. You pay by credit card for your travel, then swipe your card at the gate when you get on and off the train. They save the cost of printing a ticket and provide the consumer with a corresponding discount.
Payment systems: Outside of the UK, I have never seen a European country which is so credit card friendly as Norway. It has ever been so easy to use an Amex card in London, as it was in Oslo. It is more expensive than London, but not excessively so, the service in shops and the hotel was generally very good.
Culture: I didn’t remember Norway having such a strong influence from US culture as I experienced this time. The proliferation of 7Eleven stores, McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut stores; radio that seemed dominated by US music and a love of jumbo-sized pick-up trucks, hogs and custom cars based on 1960s Detroit iron. On the other hand you have a wealth of native architecture and design which is self evident from a stroll down the street. An advantage of this is that English is almost universally spoken.
Getting around: Oslo is a small enclosed city in comparison to London, but its transport system is the match of what I’ve seen in Hong Kong and Singapore. Buses and trams move you around above ground and an underground rail system covers bigger distances. The airport express train along is a high-speed train similar to the Virgin intercity trains.
Personal safety: In comparison to the ridiculous health and safety things we see in the UK the Norwegians take a more common sense approach. You were warned not to be stupid in the signage around the opera house and cabling was well taped down in the museums however it also relied on the individual to keep their wits about them.
Unwired: Scandinavia is known for being the most wired corner of the earth, however I was surprised to pay for internet connectivity in the hotel: 50 NOK (just over 5GBP) for four hours access in the hotel and 60 NOK for an hours access in the business lounge of Oslo airport.
If you don’t have much time in the city I would recommend a stroll up Karl Johan Gate which takes you from the central train station past the parliament, the national museum and a bevy of museums down to the royal palace where there is a regular changing of the guard ceremony for tourists. You can get a feel for it all by checking out the pictures that I took over there.