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December 13, 2016, Oslo, Norway

Oslo’s old soul

Norway’s capital has a modern face but its culture has deep roots

Douglas Chew

BEAUTIFIED by waterways and lush greenery, Oslo is home to a blend of architectural masterpieces complemented by historical buildings.

A visit to the Norwegian capital’s city centre is not complete without stopping to marvel at Oslo’s Opera House.

Reminiscent of a snow-covered mountain, its white polished slope invites theatregoers and visitors alike to scale its summit for some splendid views of the city and the harbour.

Opened just eight years ago, the exquisite building is home to The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, with three main performance spaces and more than 1,000 rooms.

We did not watch a show that day but that did not stop us from walking through the elegantly designed foyer, where even the cloakroom looks like a piece of modern art.

We did, however, catch a performance put on by none other than Mother Nature herself, when we watched an exquisite sunset from the roof of the Opera House, with the sky splashed in glorious streaks of red and yellow.

Days later, when we visited the National Gallery and viewed Edvard Munch’s The Scream, we better understood where he got his inspiration from to paint the sky in such lurid colours.

Art adventure

Art lovers will delight in Oslo’s offerings. The National Gallery has the country’s largest collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures.

While the works of Munch, Norway’s most famous artist, are a key reason to visit, do not miss the many other notable works including those by Cezanne and Manet.

If contemporary art is more to your liking, head to Tjuvholmen, one of the city’s newest boroughs.

The sense of urban renewal there is strong, with brand-new, fashionably designed apartment and office buildings facing the waterfront.

Suitably located among the new is the Astrup Fearnley Museet, a private museum of modern art that presents a series of rotating exhibitions featuring today’s leading artists.

Its permanent collection counts as one of the most important of its kind in the world, owning iconic works from Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer and Jeff Koons.

We were fortunate to catch a Hirst retrospective when we visited last October.

You will understand why Hirst is known as the enfant terrible of the art world when you see his “Mother and Child (Divided)” — a bisected cow and a calf preserved in formaldehyde, split literally across four glass tanks — or his diamond-encrusted skull titled “For the Love of God”.

If your appetite is still intact, take a stroll from the museum towards Aker Brygge.

A popular district for al fresco wining and dining, Aker Brygge is also the place to go if you want to switch from tram to boat to visit Oslo’s archipelago of islands.

Nobel Peace Center

Also in the vicinity is the not-to be missed Nobel Peace Center, a showcase for the Nobel Peace Prize and the ideals it represents.

While the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Economic Sciences are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, the Peace Prize is given out at Oslo’s City Hall, across the road from the Center.

The Nobel Peace Center presents the work of the Peace Prize laureates.

The topics on exhibition are a solemn meditation on war, conflict resolution and peace.

All tough subjects, but do not shy away from taking your children to this place.

Not only can they visit free of charge, it has fun activities catering to the young ones.

They may also learn a thing or two from Malala Yousafzai, who received the Prize in 2014.

Born in Pakistan, she is the youngest-ever laureate, and has been fighting for the right to education for girls since she was 11 years old.

Viking ships and folk museum

Both children and adults will also enjoy the Viking Ship Museum.

The Vikings were seafaring Scandinavians who raided and settled coastal sites in the British Isles and beyond, between the ninth and 11th century.

Three wooden Viking ships are on proud display. While the best preserved is the Gokstad ship built around AD850, the Oseberg ship is the one you picture when you think of Viking vessels, with its upward curling stem and elaborate carvings.

The Tune ship was the first to be excavated among the three in 1867, and while it is in comparison with the other two rather broken down, it still ranks as the third-best preserved Viking ship in the world, according to the University of Oslo.

Just next door are the sprawling grounds of the open-air Norsk Folkemuseum.

A museum of cultural history, the site has 160 buildings representing different regions of Norway from 1200 to the present day.

With a bit of imagination, walking through the area is a journey through time, as you can enter many of the structures to get an insight into how the people of those times lived.

As we returned to the city that evening, it struck me how Oslo may have a young face with its dashing and bold architecture, but it has an old soul, with the blood of the Vikings still flowing in its people’s veins.

GuideLines

We flew from Singapore to Oslo on Finnair via Helsinki.

■ Viking Ship Museum: www.khm.uio.no/english/visit-us/vikingshipmuseum/

■ Norskfolkemuseum: http://norskfolkemuseum.no/en/

■ Nobel Peace Center: www.nobelpeacecenter.org/en/

■ National Gallery (Norway): http://nasjonalmuseet.no/en/visit/locations/the_national_ gallery/

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