Priyadarshini Paitandy got a chance to roam the streets of the pretty Scandinavian city before it got scarred by a mass killer
Twenty-third of July, the day trouble brewed in the little slice of paradise that is Oslo. The laid-back Norwegian capital and its inhabitants, enjoying their much-awaited blink-and-you-miss-it summer, would have had a general premonition of the weather forecast for the day, but were scarcely prepared for what it had in store for them. Little did they know that shortly after noon a bomb and a gunman would rip through the tranquillity of the city.
My rendezvous with Oslo had taken place a few weeks earlier, much before this serene paradise was still safe to potter about on the cobblestones, lost in thought, without having to cast suspicious glances at every second stranger. My day had begun with a delicious Norwegian breakfast — open-faced ham sandwich, smoked salmon, eggs, bacon, pickled beet and cucumber and a variety of cheese. With my stomach full and a promising schedule to look forward to, I slipped on my coat and boots and set out to explore this city of fjords.
As we drove on, the imposing Akershus Castle loomed ahead with its fortress running along like a faithful aide watching over its master. There was something hauntingly beautiful about this structure from the 13th Century. Maybe it's because it has withstood numerous sieges: several members of the Norwegian royal family now lie buried within the mausoleum, perhaps even now guarding the precinct with their shadowy auras.
We made our way uphill to The Hollmenkollen Ski Jump. The meandering roads offered a panoramic view of the city. If you get lucky you might even see elks languidly helping themselves to plants in people's gardens. It was misty and as a result the starting point of the skiing area was shrouded in a haze, looking like what I thought a stairway to heaven would, if at all it existed. Inside the ski museum were displayed of various types of sleighs, skis and even a reindeer and polar bear. By now it was pouring outside. Given the city’s erratic weather it is considered advisable to keep an umbrella handy. My mother gave me the “I told you so look,” and I sheepishly looked away. To squeeze in an extra pair of footwear in my bag, I had left my umbrella back in Chennai. I regretted it, deeply, when I shelled out 70 Norwegian Krone for a Plain Jane brolly at the museum. But just as we stepped out, the rain stopped.
When the overcast sky cleared up, we thought it was a good time to visit the open-air Vigeland Sculpture Park. I remembered the travel brochure had some fantastic photographs of this place. Even before getting here I had already imagined myself trying out wacky poses with the sculptures. Sprawled across 80 acres, the park, named after sculptor Gustav Vigeland, has around 212 statutes in bronze and granite, all created by him. Each captures a different emotion that depicts the journey
from childbirth to death. A 60-ft monolith structure on a citadel enjoys prime importance. Carved on it are 121 figures of infants, men and women. Another striking feature is the fountain surrounded by 20 structures that represent the tree of life around it. Each in the shape of a tree but beneath the leafy crown stands a man in various stages of his life. The last one shows the man giving in to death. Little children, ironically, were choosing this particular installation to pose in front of.
All the walking around had now made me ravenous. So it was only right that we headed to Karl Johan street, the main avenue of Oslo. It looks nothing like Edvard Munch’s “An evening on Karl Johan Street”, which paints a nearly deserted road, dotted by a few houses and a handful of men in dark coats and tall hats. But that was in 1892, much before the now stylish capital had heard of Gucci’s, Zara’s and McDonalds. Today, the streets are flanked by shops and cafes. The good thing is that no vehicles are allowed here.
It started drizzling, despite which people continued to saunter about on the rain soaked street, some with umbrellas and some oblivious to the rapidly increasing pitter-patter of rain drops. A busker was playing at the crossroads. Children in coloured boots scampered gleefully trying to catch droplets in their mouths, while their mothers herded them to the safety of umbrellas.
It soon got colder and we rushed into a cafe, wrapping our frozen fingers around a steaming cup of coffee, sitting by the glass window and watching the world go by. Cheerful faces in bright outfits lit up the grey backdrop of rain, clouds and thunder — blissfully unaware of the grim tragedy that was lurking around.