Baltics Day 4: The sleepy town of Oslo

Day 4: Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

The ferry has an automatic wake up system at 8am wherein a pre-recorded announcement tells you to get up and spend money on breakfast, if you so wish.

I packed up my things, left them in the room, and went to the upper deck. There were tons of people up there, watching the ferry approach Oslo, as the other parts of Norway surrounded us on all sides.

The ship pulled in and I returned to my cabin, which automatically unlocks upon arrival, so the door was wide open with all my stuff on the floor. Thanks for not stealing anything, people! That would’ve sucked.

When we arrived, there was a sort of passport control, but only if you got picked out of the hoards of people exiting the ship. I was one of them, and the woman only asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Oslo. What, the blue hair didn’t make me blend in the crowd?

I walked to my hostel from the port, which was only about 15 minutes away. The hostel is basically a hotel that has a handful of dorm-style rooms on a couple floors. Thus, the vibe is very low-key, feeling more like a boutique hotel than a hostel.

I was too early for check-in at 10am, so I instead used the free hostel wifi to plan my sightseeing and research, then locked up my stuff in luggage storage.

First stop was the tourist information center and currency exchange to turn my Danish Krones to Norwegian Kronas. I successfully exchange my bills to Norwegian bills and coins. Yay, now I have $32 in useable currency! I then used some of that money to get super-expensive yogurt and apples (one yogurt cup and two apples cost $6). Outside the tourist center they were filming something, so there was a big crew and tons of security, as well as the army? There was a giant tank that I don’t think was part of the scenery they were shooting. They take filming seriously here, apparently.

Next I went to the city archives to do some family research. My maternal grandmother’s family is from Norway, but we can’t trace anything beyond my great-great-grandfather, Magnus. We don’t even know if he had any siblings.

I go to the correct address, but there isn’t a building that is labeled as the city archives. It’s in what appears to be a business complex, and the security guard speaks no English (The first I’ve come across!). I show him the address and website on my tablet and he looks around, makes a phone call, then wanders off in the complex, leaving me behind. He eventually returns as some woman walks by, and he starts talking to her in Norwegian and she talks back. In the little I understand of Norwegian (literally nothing), I realize he thought “archive” meant “architect” and so I say the correction aloud. The woman says “ahhh! Archive is right over there!” Off to the archives.

I go to the city archive building and immediately discover that this is only for Oslo. Since Magnus is from a different town, there won’t be any records here. However, she said I could go to the National Archives building (Riksarkivet) which is nicely only a subway ride away, and conveniently right next to the station. “It’s a building behind some trees!” How simple.

I buy a 24 hour train pass for around $12 and I’m off to Sognsvann (pronounced sohn-sahn). Their trains are super efficient, arriving regularly right on schedule, with the hum of electric power. I get on the train and there is a man near me serenading a disinterested girl in Spanish, then Arabic, then what I would assume to be Norwegian. She gets off the train, then the dude’s two friends come over from the other side of the train and sit with him as he takes selfies wearing sunglasses. Subway people, amirite? Same everywhere, I guess.

I arrive and even though there are several signs pointing down roads that say “RIKSARKIVET” I cannot find it. I wander into the nearby campground and ask a student. I ask the ice cream stand vendor. I ask a local woman eating ice cream. I ask a mother packing her groceries into the car. I ask the man at the Olympic training facility. Finally I find it. It was literally RIGHT next to the train.

The building is under some serious lockdown. They’re concerned you will steal archival documents, so you first have to turn in all your bags. You’re allowed to bring in cameras to photograph items without flash, as well as computers, tablets, etc. You can bring in basically anything except your actual bag, and you put it all in the provided clear plastic bag. They scan my passport and provide me a card that lets me into the archives for the next five years. You then have to read a two-page-long guide explaining how you can use the archives, which is basically however you want. You can photograph anything without flash, just don’t steal the archives, and don’t eat in the reading room. That’s what the 2 pages says, basically. Those two sentences, just over and over again. It’s actually written in a very friendly tone and also points out that please, you should ask for help at any time!

I go up the stairs and enter, and the guy behind the counter first guides me to the online archive system, which I’d already accessed from home. The convenient part now, though, is he can help translate everything and decode the Norwegian handwriting on documents from 1865.

With his help and guidance, I uncover Magnus’s five siblings and his parents’ names, as well as his father’s occupation. I also discover that Magnus’s father changed Magnus’s birthdate in the baptism records when Magnus was 40 years old, and had already moved to the United States. It was super odd, and even the archivist said he’d never seen anything like that before. The strange thing, though, was that he only changed the birthday by one month.

It was so fascinating that I ended up staying until the office closed at 5:30pm.

I headed back to my hostel on the train and checked into my room. I hung out in the lobby for a while and finally connected with Anna that I met in Copenhagen, who realized our missed connection and messaged me. Success!!! I got way too distracted and decided around 9pm that I needed to eat dinner. I went to Spotted by Locals which recommended Café Laundromat, which is hopping on any night of the week.

I took the tram up to the café, and along the way noticed the city was somewhat lively for a Tuesday night. I was a bit surprised. The café itself was also super lively, with a cool soundtrack of 2000s R&B music, as well as a blend of other 80s pop and 90s trip-hop. This is a restaurant where you can do your laundry in the back laundromat while also enjoying the food and atmosphere of a hip café. The ceiling is turquoise, the walls are maroon, there are vintage telephones decorating the walls, mismatched furniture and dimly lit table lamps everywhere. It’s a perfect place to hang out or eat dinner, or use wifi, as I wanted. I was so hungry after just one granola bar and yogurt for the day, and I ordered the “get laid burger” with pineapple salsa and sriracha aioli. Everything in this town is SO expensive and this burger was no exception. Despite it being one of the cheapest options I picked, the burger cost $23 and the local organic flower-flavored soda I ordered was $5.

The $28 alcohol-free dinner.
At 1am they closed, so I packed up and walked home as the tram was no longer running. It feels very safe at night and I was never concerned about taking peeks at my map while wandering home so late and alone.

I slipped into my room around 1:45am to the sound of my sleeping roommates and went to bed.