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NORWAY | An Epic Travel Experience

GLOBETROTTING

by Richard Nahem

Last year, over dinner and lots of wine at a local bistro in Paris, my sister-in-law asked my partner and I if we would like to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

From attending the Noble Prize ceremony in Oslo to cruising to the Arctic Circle in search of the Northern Lights, Norway was an epic travel experience.

My sister-in-law Berit Reiss-Andersen, who lives in Oslo, Norway, is an incredibly accomplished and gifted lawyer, best-selling author of two crime novels, and a former politician. Perhaps her biggest accomplishment in an already brilliant career, Reiss-Andersen is the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee which ultimately decides who wins a Nobel Prize. Every year when the Nobel Peace Prize is announced, Andersen gives a speech, praising and congratulating the recipient; I watch the speech, and I am awed by her intelligence and grace, sharing it on my social media, and of course exclaiming that she’s my sister-in-law.

I live in Paris and Berit usually visits once or twice a year. Last year, over a long dinner and lots of wine at a local bistro, Berit asked my partner and I if we would like to attend the awards ceremony. Astounded by her generous invitation, we accepted immediately. For months on end, I shared my good fortune with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. The Nobel Peace Prize is always awarded in Oslo on December 10, the date of Nobel’s death in 1896. (the other Nobel prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden on the same day). On December 9, we flew to Oslo and our suitcases were packed with thick wool sweaters, long underwear, and Heattech turtlenecks, bracing ourselves for the cold. We also brought with us dark suits, dress shirts, ties, and shoes with hard soles, as we had to be dressed for the occasion.

The next day we donned our suits and ties and we walked to the Oslo City Hall to attend the awards. We arrived a few minutes before noon, as we had to go through check-in and security. There was a brief coffee and pastry reception before the awards and finally we took our seats in the grand reception hall, a cavernous room lined with handsome murals with the stage festively decorated with leaf sculptures in foliage colors.

Promptly at 1 P.M. the ceremony began, as it was being telecast live around the world. Four soldiers wearing red uniforms descended the stairs from the balcony, blowing their bugles to welcome the royal family, the prime minister, Berit, and other officials.

Nobel Peace Center (Photo by 365 Focus Photography)

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 was awarded to three recipients, an unusual occurrence: the Russian human rights organization Memorial, Ales Bialiatski, a human rights activist from Belarus, and the Ukrainian human rights organization, Center for Human Liberties. Berit gave a comprehensive speech, passionately praising the winners by emphasizing their indefatigable and selfless work to uphold the human rights of their people and to criticize their governments when they fail to do so. The speech also focused on the common approach of each group who expose oppressors and perpetrators of war crimes by finding evidence of past and present crimes with the purpose of holding the perpetrators accountable, honoring the victims, and to prevent the crimes from happening again.

After Berit’s speech, each recipient delivered their own speech. Since Ales Bialiatski was under extreme restrictions in Russia, he couldn’t attend the ceremony. His wife Natallia Pinchuk delivered a sobering speech and also read from previous texts and statements from Ales acknowledging other political and human rights activists and journalists, political scientists, and trade union leaders who have been jailed for stating their views publicly.

Next, Jan Rachinsky, accepted the prize for Memorial, a thirty-five-year-old, human rights organization from Russia, which studies and examines human rights violations and crimes from the Stalin era in Russia in the early 20th century along with current Russian human rights abuses, particularly in all Russian military operations. Rachinsky spoke about the organization’s purpose and its ongoing work plus pointed out the challenges of important issues of the day.

The third recipient, was the Center for Civil Liberties, and Oleksandra Matviichuk, a young Ukrainian human rights lawyer accepted the award. She eloquently and pointedly spoke about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and asked five questions about how the world can find a resolution to the atrocities. We were incredibly moved and inspired by the ceremony, and the important work each of the award recipients are doing to bring about peace.

Harbor and City Hall in Oslo (Photo by Anna Jedynak)

When we first planned our tip to Norway, we added a few extra days to explore Oslo. Since it was the holiday season, we visited the Jul i Vinterland Christmas market.

The festive square had charming stalls filled mostly with local merchandise and handicrafts. We stocked up on hand knitted wool scarves and hats, adorable wood toys, and cool Christmas ornaments to give as gifts. We drank hot chocolate to warm us up and enjoyed homemade donuts. The market has a mini- amusement park with a carousel and a Ferris wheel, plus an ice-skating rink.

Munch Museum in Oslo (Photo by Danne_l)

The new Munch Museum had just opened, and we had the privilege of visiting. The impressive, 13 story building was designed by Spanish architect Juan Herrero and has 11 galleries spanning 280,000 square feet. We spent a few hours viewing an entire floor of Munch’s works, including the original “The Scream.” The museum also curates’ exhibitions of contemporary, international, and local artists in addition to hosting concerts, performances, art talks, and lectures. After we left the museum, we strolled the along the harbor which provides great views of the city.

On another day we were given a private tour of the Nobel Prize Museum and introduced to the director Kjersti Fløgstad. Our excellent guide gave us an informative tour that included Alfred Nobel’s vision and the ongoing commitment of the foundation to promote peace around the world through its prizes, exhibitions, school programs, lectures, and dialogues. Photos, artifacts, videos, and interactive displays tell the in-depth history of the Nobel foundation.

One of Berit’s favorite restaurants in Oslo is Chez Colin , a French bistro in a charming, 19th century cottage house. Luckily, she was able to snag a last-minute reservation for us. The cozy atmosphere with low lighting and a fireplace was perfect for the cold evening. We enjoyed a delicious and filling spätzle with grated comté cheese, peas, and forest mushrooms, and turbot fish served with garden peas, spinach, and crayfish, followed by a spectacular crème brulée, which was as good as any I’ve had in Paris.

On Sunday afternoon, we went to a lively street, Olaf Ryes Plass, home to fun boutiques, vintage clothing shops, and cool restaurants and cafes. We enjoyed an American style lunch at Lokka Deli, and  feasted on hot pastrami piled on rye bread with tons of mustard, a tuna melt, and root beer.

Havila Capella at Sea (Photo by Havila Voyages)

I’ve always desired to experience the Northern lights, and Norway is one of the premiere destinations to see them. After much research, I booked a 3.5-day cruise from Havila Voyages, a company that specializes in fjord cruises. They recently launched a new, state of the art, green ship Havila Capella, which cruises the Bergen-Kirkenes route in northern Norway. The Havila Capella is a relatively small ship, with 9 decks and capacity for 680 people.

We flew from Oslo to Tromso, a city just north of the Arctic Circle. The main part of the city was festively decorated for Christmas lights gleaming everywhere. We took the Fjellheisen Cable Car 1400 feet above the city, and the views of the fjords, snow capped mountains, and the deep blue waters were spectacular. Luckily, our hotel was just down the block from one of the top-rated restaurants in the city, Mathallen Tromso. Chef Gunnar Jensen prepares an eclectic menu using local ingredients, including a wonderful array of seafood from the Arctic waters. We had the 4-course tasting menu, with delightful and unusual pairings we hadn’t had before. Mathallen Tromso also has a more casual café and deli next door offering Norwegian meat and cheeses, as well as fresh caught fish.

View of Tromso, Norway from the Fjellheisen Cable Car (Photo by Dmitry Chulov)

We boarded the ship the next day about 6 P.M. and we settled into our cozy, but well-appointed cabin done in soft, neutral shades with a sea view, a desk and chair, and mini sofa. It also included free Wi-Fi, which worked well, USB posts on both sides of the bed, a mini fridge, and a large, flat screen TV.

The overall décor of the ship was understated luxury, not the expected ritz and glitz of bigger ships. The cuisine is locally sourced, and the herring and other seafood was superior and fresh, and the menu added new offerings at every meal.

Since it was mid-December and we were so far north, it was only light for about two to three hours a day with mostly gray skies. We loved the quiet atmosphere of the ship and spent the first two days completely relaxing, reading, playing cards, dining, watching movies, and frequently peering out the window to see if we could spot the Northern Lights. Other activities and recreational offerings include a sauna, outdoor Jacuzzi with views of the fjords and mountains, a café, gym, and a gift boutique.

On day three, we had cabin fever and decided to leave the warmth of the ship and go on an excursion. That day the port was Kirkenes, a small town in between the Finnish and Russian borders. We decided to be adventurous and took a dog led sled ride. Although it was freezing, it was quite invigorating, and the pure white snow and beautiful landscape made it a blissful experience.

The Bar at the Snow Hotel Kirkenes (Photo by Richard Nahem)

After we warmed up for a while after our sled ride, we visited the super cool, Snow Hotel Kirkenes. We put on extra heavy coats that the hotel provided, and walked through the frozen wonderland, marveling at the various hotel rooms with ice and snow sculptures, ice beds with thick fur blankets, and ice thrones. The bar had ice bar stools and a humongous snow sculpture of a reindeer with antlers carved out of a wall of ice.

Northern Lights over Tromso, Norway (Photo by Muratart)

Unfortunately, the overcast weather didn’t permit the Northern lights to be visible during our entire voyage, but the good news is that Havila gives a full credit for the same cruise if the Northern lights don’t appear if you take a cruise between October 1 and March 31.

You May Also Enjoy

In Search Of The Northern Lights

In Search of the Northern Lights in Norway

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