Chill of the North vs Sun of the South: Vacation ideas for Oslo and Rome

Or as my fiancée changed the title after reading my story: “What happened to me at Eilefs?”

Well, in advance: I was able to experience the real Oslo, and there were two Norwegian girls who helped me with that. Don’t laugh, just follow my lead.

Start from the beginning

Or, to be more specific, with me: a guy, who was standing in front of the campus after his graduation without having a clue about what to do next. So, I decided to hit the road with my backpack for a couple of months. I picked a triangle as a warm-up: from New York to Oslo, and then to Rome. That would be my Bermuda where I want to get lost. Little did I know that it was more about rediscovering myself.
Why I chose Oslo and Rome? One is a destination in the Nordic, the other is a trip to the Eternal city, which was destroyed a couple of times during the history, but hey, I wasn’t the one who named it Eternal. But do you know what’s common between Oslo and Rome?
It’s that one day is not enough to absorb the local culture and explore what’s under the surface. I was lucky enough to visit both places, but I only had 5 days to do the task, and while it was a rush, I was able to get what I wanted. A solid glimpse of two different lifestyles.

How can you choose between two exciting destinations?

You can’t. And thanks to good fortune, I didn’t have to. You are probably thinking about picking only one, because

  1. you are like the guys from the North, who embrace the world of the Vikings
  2. you are desperately looking for some romance and warmth in Piazza de Barberini

I decided to run with both options, without looking for any vacation ideas. Go there completely blind, just go with the flow, and hope for the best. And the best came. Now I know that if you are looking for an adventure in Europe, these two can probably cover your inmost needs.

Oslo awaits

My landing in Oslo couldn’t have been any more mystic. The plane was completely swallowed by fog, so the ultramodern Gardermoen (which was renovated lately) only popped into my sight on the last few hundred yards.

View of Oslo from the airplane on the approach to Gardermoen Airport, Oslo, Norway

A bed is the only thing that even the most experienced traveler can wish for after a 16-hour flight, and arriving to the airport there was still like 25 miles between me and that bed. The main airport of Norway could not have been located further away. At that point I even cursed the designers, but a few days later… well, that’s another story.

Thanks to Flytoget, which is the local airport express train, I got a fast and comfortable ride to the center. I was able to get to the National Theater in 22 minutes, not regretting taking the train instead of a bus or a taxi.

Boarding Flytoget, the high speed train connecting the airport to the city, Oslo, Norway

No matter where I turned my head in this vivid region, I felt like I’m in a fantasy world: behind me stood the Royal Palace, the National Theater was in front of me, there was the Norwegian Parliament in the distance, and the fabled Karl Johans gate, which is the main street of Oslo, lied to the left. Ladies and gentleman, this was the moment I realized I’m in love with this European jewel box. My room was a bit further, across the Ring, but walking 10-15 minutes in the chilly night was particularly pleasant. It woke me up, and during the walk I noticed Eilefs Pub for the first time, which was also a love at first sight.

A night at Eilefs

Imagine a pub amongst the neoclassical buildings, rimmed by narrow streets with jingling trams and modern cars. The 21st century blended with hundred year old buildings and the feeling that I would only get from an Andersen’s fairy tale.

Night life is pretty diverse there. Just picture this: in this little block you can find London Pub, a place for LGBTQIA commune and Per på Hjørnet, which is more like a headquarter for conservative folks and older Norwegian men. For those who have seen enough in their life and never forget to tell you their big stories. Per på Hjørnet is like a pub from a whale hunting movie, but the beer was good everywhere. You are surprised? I was too. The prices however were exactly as shocking as I’ve heard before. Oslo is not a typical backpacker destination for people who want to save some money for the return.

During my first visit at Eilefs I ordered Ringness beer (who knows how many) and a steak with baked potato and bearnaise. Checkout: approx. $70 and I think it wouldn’t have been that hard to spend even more.

But before leaving, I got to know Lisa and Sabine, two typical Norwegian girls with blonde hair and a unique smile. They were university students at the time, and as there were no exams within sight, Lisa and Sabine offered their guidance to me. We had two days left to check out the most exciting places instead of the traditional destinations.

Never-ending fun at the Marina

Eilefs was about dancing and having fun in the traditional way, but the girls wanted to show me something more modern, so we went to discover the Marina, which was full of trendy young Norwegians. The chilly spring night was refreshing, and the places were indeed resembling the popular bars in Lower Manhattan. Almost everyone spoke English, so it was easy to communicate and get along with others.

Akker Brygge Marina, Oslo, Norway

You can imagine that I had a good sleep after a performance like that. So, the next day we visited Astrup Fearnley Museum and the Opera House. ’You can tell at home that your trip wasn’t only about drinking and having fun’ – they said. I was a little disappointed however, because most museums closed early. So here’s an advice: don’t start your day late if you are interested in Norwegian culture and heritage. It was educational by the way, and I really liked the collections of Matthew Barney. Then we ate a nice steak at Schrøder, and before leaving the city we checked the bathhouses along the seaside. I made a discovery sitting there.

National Oslo-Opera House, Oslo, Norway

That’s what I call a sterile diversity

Oslo is the city of diverse architecture and people. On the surface it seems to be a sterile and apathetic lifeform, but the coexistence of old and new buildings and the mixture of friendly people from all around the globe always surprises me.

I was expecting something like this from Rome, but Oslo was a pleasant disappointment. To catch my early morning flight, this time I took the bus. It took me through magnificent landscapes, so I was able to see the other face of the country.

Route E6 was almost completely empty on that Sunday morning, and the rural Norway revealing itself after a blue dawn presented me a spectacular view. One of my fellow travelers showed me some photos of the same landscape in winter, covered in snow and surrounded by pine trees. I realized I should come back during wintertime.

In the Eternal City

Getting to Rome from Oslo was easy, unlike getting to my room from the airport. It all started with the taxi drivers being on strike. Because of that and due to the fact that I had a good experience in Norway, I decided to take the train.

Well, the careless Italian attitude showed itself there as well. The train was delayed, so I missed the appointment I made with the owner of my apartment. I had to get the keys somehow, but as we’re talking about an apartment, there was no receptionist, and I didn’t find anybody at the place.

I tried to call the owner, but only my second call was answered by a nice, light-headed voice. It turned out that he left to drink some wine with his friends, because I was running late. He wasn’t mad at me at all, so the famous Italian carelessness came in handy this time. “Okay, I’ll be there in an hour” – said the guy. He wasn’t running late so much, only 30-40 minutes. It turned out he was only one block away.

I chose a small apartment to stay at, which was in walking distance from the Vatican. It was clean and cozy with friendly staff. The owner helped me with printing my ticket to the walled city, so I didn’t have to wait in the line for hours. Booking ahead is an advice, I highly recommend doing this for everyone, because you shouldn’t spend your valuable time waiting in queues.

St Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy

I already thought on the plane that unlike Oslo, Rome will be more about discovering things alone. Yeah, I needed some time alone after my noisy days in Norway. I decided to rent a moped and overcome my fear of the Italian traffic culture which I heard so much about.

I was able to achieve this more or less, but my first impression was a bit strange. With Rome being a destination for couples, I felt myself being an outsider walking around like a lonely warrior. This wasn’t a problem during my visit in the Vatican, because the city inside the city is more shocking in real life than we would anticipate it based on the photos. But during my visit of Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and Palatine Hill, I could really use some company, just like when eating pizza on lonely evenings.

Sitting in Antica Taverna da Paolo & Vitoria, while the wind was bringing me some enchanting Italian music, I was wondering if Rome was better than Oslo.

Because of the Mediterranean mood, which is present through the whole year, I got into a totally different world within only a few hours. While the charm of Oslo came from its attractive, yet sterile image, Rome offered some full-blooded relaxation.

Street cafe in, Rome, Italy

I spent two days there, but during the first day I was mostly just riding my moped around in the city and saw that Rome was more than a photo taken in front of the Colosseum, the Pantheon, or the Roman Forum. More than a gastro journey in the sea of pasta. For me, the small streets were the real jewels of the city. It was there where I felt that Rome jumps off the popular postcards and sneaks into my memories, where it will remain.

Vacation advice for Rome?

I have plenty. My first advice is to be bold enough to explore the city, because that’s the only way you can experience new impulses. You can have a coffee wherever you want, even if the waiter doesn’t speak a word in English. Make sure you have your coffee standing up at the bar, if you sit down, they will charge you much more.

My second advice is to forget the guidebooks, or just read them on the plane. Maybe you can find something interesting, but don’t let guidebooks influence you! You should only use your phone/carry a map at most, to be able to get back to your room.

Third: make room for fashion. I got shocked at the stores, where I was able to get fashionable clothes really cheap. I was not expecting that. Okay, I knew I wasn’t in Milan, but can you guess what stopped me from buying more clothes? It wasn’t my financials, but the fact that there was no room left for more clothes in my luggage.

While writing this article, I’m wearing a T-shirt I bought there, while looking at the photos I shot amongst the ancient walls of the Vatican. The photos from Oslo are mostly cloudy, while the ones from Rome are filled with sunshine.

I’m glad that both of my journeys and both cities gave me diverse experiences. I’m glad I didn’t get the tour from the textbook, but mixed feelings and memories instead, where everything from the 21st century coexists with living history.