The Viking Ship Museum In Oslo, Norway

Norway is famous for its breathtaking fjords and Viking heritage. A hundred years ago at the Oseberg fjord, archaeologists discovered a Viking ship burial containing the bodies of two women. The ship was so well preserved that it could be entirely reconstructed. Now it’s the centerpiece of Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum and one of the country’s most popular attractions.

The Oseberg ship is 21.58 meters (70.8 feet) long and 5.1 meters (16.73 feet) wide. It had a single square sail and fifteen pairs of oars for when the wind wasn’t favorable. Researchers estimate it could achieve a speed of up to 10 knots and was built in the first decades of the ninth century A.D. Its prow and stern are elaborately carved and have graced the covers of many books on the Vikings. Check out the photo gallery for some close-up shots.

The identities of the two women found with the ship are a mystery. One was 60-70 years old when she died, the other about 25-30. Some researchers believe the old woman was a Viking queen or other noblewoman, and the young woman was her slave, sacrificed to accompany her into the afterlife. Others say they were female shamans. One outfit included silk imported all the way from China. Buried with them were household items, a cart and agricultural tools.

%Gallery-157476%The Viking Ship Museum has two other ships. The Gokstad ship is 23.24 meters (76.2 feet) long and 5.20 meters (17.1 feet) wide. It had 16 pairs of oars and a single square sail. Archaeologists estimate up to seventy people could sail in it. Like the Oseberg ship, it was a burial and contained the remains of an elderly man. It’s almost as well preserved as the Oseberg ship and only a little younger, having been made around 890 A.D. Some adventurous Norwegians made a replica of the Gokstad ship and sailed it across the Atlantic to visit the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

The Tune Viking ship, dating to about 900 A.D., is also housed at the museum. Although only about half of it survives, it’s still impressive to see.

Besides the ships, the museum houses many of the artifacts found with them, including weapons, clothing, gold and silver, and furniture.

Now curators are worried because they have found the preservative used by the archaeologists who first worked on the Oseberg ship is slowly deteriorating the wood fibers. The race is on to save this precious survival from the early Middle Ages.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Airbnb: Six awesome experiences

Last autumn, after having tracked the Airbnb buzz for a while, I finally took the plunge and reserved rooms through the site in Panama City and Bogotá for my two-stop December jaunt.

About a half-hour into my first pit stop, it was already clear to me that the service was a perfect fit for budget-conscious travelers. (For the record, I’m not the only Airbnb fan at Gadling. Check out my colleague Elizabeth Seward’s Airbnb post published earlier this year.)

For those unfamiliar with it, Airbnb is a rental service. House or apartment owners list their spare beds, rooms, or entire living spaces for rent on the site.

What makes Airbnb distinct? First of all, owners are paid 24 hours after the reservation begins, a delay that helps weed out dishonest landlords. Another important detail: if there is a problem with a rental, guests can contact Airbnb to void payment. I was comfortable with Airbnb from the outset in light of these consumer protection safeguards, and the fact that everyone is encouraged to evaluate one another following a stay was icing on the cake. Landlords can’t get away with false advertising, and poor behavior on the part of a guest or host will also be exposed through reviews. Good hosts and guests can both build up positive profiles via strong reviews.

Overall, Airbnb is pretty scamproof if used as directed. In a review of comments and criticisms of Airbnb online, it appears that some people have been scammed after making a payment on a rental outside of the Airbnb payment system. Payment via the Airbnb payment system, it should go without saying, is a much safer bet. Here’s a tiny piece of advice: If any property owner you contact through Airbnb urges you to bypass the Airbnb payment system and directly wire them money, cut off contact and report them.

Overnight, I became a fan of Airbnb. Seldom had I found such cheap accommodations in such comfortable surroundings, and with the added benefit of an instant social network of locals taking an interest in my welfare. I’ve experienced just two annoyances of the most minor sort: a host in Panama City who never messaged me back and a hostess in Tel Aviv whose room was not available despite being advertised as such.

But where did I stay? What were my accommodations like? And what did they cost?Panama City. In the Panamanian capital, I stayed in a high-rise in a wealthy neighborhood just down the street from the US Embassy. I had my own bright bedroom and a private bathroom. My host introduced me to some of his favorite restaurants and dined with me on two of my three nights in the city. An American expat, he was full of helpful tips and friendly asides. The damage: $72 per night.

Bogotá. I lucked out here, with a beautifully swank apartment near the center of the city (see above for a balcony-level photo of the street in front of the building.) My hosts were phenomenally kind. They served me breakfast, drove me around, gave me advice, and introduced me to their friends at elaborate dinner parties. It was here that I had the incredible experience of sampling homemade ajiaco, a delicious Colombian potato soup. The damage: $60 per night.

Amsterdam. I stayed in the funky neighborhood of De Pijp over the week of Christmas, first by myself for a night (sharing the space with my hosts) and then with my family for a week (by ourselves). De Pijp is an exciting, dynamic neighborhood. The apartment was beautiful if small and the only downside was its draftiness, particularly noticeable due to the frigid temps. The damage: $62 for a single room; $243 per person for seven nights for the entire unit.

Oslo. Before my February visit, I was terrified of Oslo’s price index, and justifiably so, as it turned out. What made Oslo affordable was my rental room, a quiet little space in an apartment about a kilometer from the train station. I shared kitchen and bathroom with the very friendly owner. The damage: $76 per night.

Tel Aviv. I stayed in the superhip neighborhood of Noga, next to Jaffa. My temporary studio, a factory conversion, had high ceilings and a pleasingly post-industrial decor. I had the entire studio to myself for two nights. On my final morning in Tel Aviv, my hosts showed up, chatted with me about a number of topics, and then drove me to the train station. The damage: $119 per night.

Jerusalem. I stayed in a hilly, residential part of West Jerusalem. I had a tiny apartment of my own, an annex to my hosts’ apartment, with a bathroom, a little kitchen, and access to a back garden. My hosts, long-term peace activists, were wonderful for conversation, information, and mid-morning coffee. The damage: $84 per night.

Airbnb has been in the news recently. Ashton Kutcher was announced as an investor and advisor in late May. Last week, it was revealed that contact salespeople working for Airbnb surreptitiously contacted property owners advertising on Craigslist to expand listings.

Fuglen, Oslo: The world’s most stylish cafe-furniture shop

After a few days wandering around Oslo in the middle of winter, I felt as if I’d hit upon the city’s essence. In a frenzy of reductive resolution, I decided that the Norwegian capital is best described as a city of winter sports-crazed jocks.

My evidence: the many locals who made it abundantly clear that they couldn’t wait to drive to their cabins in the mountains for a skiing weekend. That and the absence of the sort of local design scene that characterizes the other continental Nordic capitals. Jocks and design are sort of opposites, right?

Other Nordic countries are leagues ahead of Norway as recognized sources of contemporary design. Norway doesn’t have the design heritage of Sweden, Denmark or Finland by a long shot. Even Julie Ann Seglem, the charming proprietor of a shop called Mitt lille hjem, bemoaned the absence of a stronger domestic design scene in conversation with me. She sources many of her shop’s items from Denmark.

On my February visit to Oslo, I studiously walked the streets of Grünerløkka, Grønland, and central Oslo looking for evidence of contemporary design. I found some cool stuff, certainly. The most interesting blocks of Oslo, retail-wise, are along Markveien in the commercial heart of Grünerløkka, where second-hand stores and cute personality-driven boutiques make for a distinctly local atmosphere.

Standouts here include Brudd, a collective-run shop that sells handicrafts, some very beautiful, by Oslo-based artists. Especially captivating, I thought, were the delicate cups by Sara Skotte. Markveien is also home to Chillout TravelCentre, a small chain that started in Bergen. Chillout covers lots of ground. It is a travel gear shop, a bookstore, a café, and a branch of Kilroy Travel. It’s an exciting store concept, one I’d love to see replicated elsewhere. And there’s also the aforementioned Mitt lille hjem, which pursues an attractive vintage cottage chic approach to home decor.

But there was no sign of a shop with an aesthetic powerful enough to seduce visitors with its very vision. This was no big deal. I was already convinced that Oslo, a city of snowmobiling jocks, was operating with something of a design deficit.

And then I chanced completely randomly upon Fuglen and I realized that I hadn’t quite gotten things right.

Fuglen is a café and furniture store in central Oslo. Every last detail has been worked out, from the modernist logo on up. The café so successfully replicates an early 1960s den that it was recently hauled into service as a backdrop for a Mad Men-esque photo essay featuring Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister.

Fuglen was originally opened as a café in 1963, though its current hybrid cafe-shop incarnation only dates back to 2008. It has three proprietors: Einar Kleppe Holthe, vintage furnishings expert Peppe Trulsen, and barista/bartender Halvor Digernes.

Fuglen serves fine pastries and very fine coffee drinks, and the lounge areas of the café spill out across several rooms. The space transforms into a cocktail lounge on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.

The furniture and the objects on the walls, mostly very beautiful vintage pieces, are for sale. Most interestingly, a huge number of the outstanding items on display were created by domestic designers. Norwegians Birger Dahl, Fredrik Kayer, Cathrineholm, Arne Halvorsen, Erik Pløen, Torbjørn Afdal, and others receive their due here. The Norwegian design legacy, it turns out, is quite a bit more impressive than the attention it receives.

And yes, there are hipster ladies at Fuglen chatting softly, wearing big glasses and looking not unlike their compatriots in Portland or Hackney. And hipster gentlemen looking aloof and pulling off their trick of managing to look neither straight nor gay at the same time.

So where does this leave the city of weekend jocks? Might Oslo be the sort of city whose jocks also enjoy snapping up vintage enamel ashtrays to crown their Alf Aarseth dining tables? Whatever the answer to these questions, there is no debate around the recognition of Fuglen as a design beacon in Norway. In fact, just today, Fuglen received special recognition in the form of an award from the Norwegian Design Council.

[Images: Eirik Sand Johnsen for Fuglen]

Launchpad London: Oslo budget strategies

In hindsight, Oslo was probably the worst possible inaugural destination for a budget travel series. And in fact my first few hours in Oslo, though a great deal of fun, were a budget traveler’s nightmare. An hour in and $90 down, I had to wonder if I would be able to come up with any useable Oslo budget strategies at all.

A one-way journey on the airport express train, which sets off from a vast concrete bunker-like station at the airport, costs 170 NOK ($29). Ouch. While cheaper than a taxi, $29 is a bruising amount to shell out for an airport train.

Never mind. There is lunch to eat. My first stop is Grünerløkka, a hip neighborhood and the home of Delicatessen, a tapas restaurant on my advance research list. Delicatessen is a very appealing place. Lighted candles–a standard feature in Oslo restaurants, it turns out, at least during the darker months–grace every table. Heavy wooden tables give the place an almost rustic feel. The waiters are friendly. I took my time with the menu, ordering a chorizo sandwich, a small salad, and finally a crema catalana. For a moment, I forgot about the objective of my journey. The chorizo, from La Rioja, was delicious. The bill was not. With tip, my meal plus coffee cost 350 NOK ($60).

Clearly I needed to rethink this whole restaurant thing. I had to get to a supermarket. At the discount chain Rimi, I bought a peppery salami, two rolls, some yogurt, bananas, and mineral water for 125 NOK ($22). Again, not cheap, but the haul was big enough for my dinner and breakfast the following day. For lunch on my second day, I ate a vegetarian smørrebrød at Café Tekehtopa on St. Olav Plass in central Oslo, relatively cheap at 79 NOK ($14). And then, in a stroke of unplanned luck, I was treated to dinner by Oslo resident Sam Daams of Travellerspoint, whose acquaintance I’d made via Twitter.

But if I thought I was going to close the evening without another moment of sticker shock, I was mistaken. We met several of Sam’s friends, all foreign men involved with Norwegian women, at the newish Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, a lively cellar microbrewery and bar in Grünerløkka, and I bought a round of beers for the crew. Four pints came to 292 NOK ($52). I gazed off in a miniature stupor, trying to figure out precisely how much I’d just spent, while Sam and his friends laughed in recognition. This was, after all, an experience they’d all had previously.So where are Oslo’s budget-friendly bargains?

Several museums are free, including the Oslo Museum‘s three museums (Oslo City Museum, Intercultural Museum, and Theatre Museum); the National Museum – Architecture, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, the National Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (all of which fall under the authority of the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design); the National Library; and DOGA (the Norwegian Design and Architecture Centre).

On the retail front, things are grim for bargain hunters, although the Marita Stiftelsen charity shop on Markveien had some funky second-hand goods for 5 NOK ($1).

How might my costs have been lowered? I could have utilized the services of a regional train instead of the airport express train for the airport-center link. The regional train runs 110 NOK ($20) for a one-way journey, a roundtrip savings of $18 against the airport express. And while I slept in one of Oslo’s very least expensive beds, booked through airbnb, a more serious budget traveler would find cheaper accommodations in a private room booked through the tourist office for as little as 300 NOK ($53) per night. A campground site (during the summer months only) would be cheaper yet, and free accommodation options like Couchsurfing are of course the cheapest of all.

Sticking exclusively to supermarkets for food and drink is the safest bet, as even the fast food kebab spots that provide budget meal relief in other parts of Europe are pricey in Oslo.

Check out the introductory post in the Launchpad London series.

Launchpad London maiden journey: Midweek jaunt to Oslo

London is one dizzyingly well-connected city, uniquely positioned as a hub for air travel around Europe and beyond. The city has five airports–Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and London City–six if you count tiny Southend. In 2010, over 127 million passengers were carried through these airports. By way of contrast, Paris, the next biggest city in Europe in terms of passenger numbers, saw 83 million people pass through its two airports in 2010.

With this post, Gadling launches a new series designed to call attention to London as a launchpad for travel around Europe and beyond–from daytrip locations just outside the borders of Greater London to destinations as far afield as Dubai. We’ll provide an overview of transportation options and also provide a budget-minded navigation of each destination.

First up: OsloSeveral airlines fly from two London airports to Oslo. From London Heathrow, British Airways and SAS fly to Oslo-Gardermoen, the city’s main airport. From London Gatwick, Norwegian Air Shuttle flies to Oslo-Gardermoen and Ryanair flies to Oslo-Rygge, a secondary airport south of the city. When I searched for fares on Kayak, Ryanair’s flights to Oslo-Rygge were cheapest, though I decided against this option in order to avoid having to deal with the lengthy transit time between the center of Oslo and Oslo-Rygge.

The cheapest flight I found to Oslo-Gardemoen was flown by Norwegian Air Shuttle, a Norwegian low-cost airline with good reach across Europe and an especially strong network throughout Scandinavia. My flight ran £95.60 ($153). I booked it just six days prior to departure.

My accommodation, organized through airbnb, cost me $152 for two nights. The $76 nightly charge breaks down as follows: $68 for the room plus a $16 airbnb service fee. Budget watchers will observe that I’ve spent $305 before arriving in Oslo.

My accommodation via airbnb amounts to one of the cheapest beds in Oslo, though single rooms at Ellingsens Pensjonat, the least expensive Oslo guesthouse I came across during research, are cheaper at 400 NOK ($70) per night.

Bargain-hunters can find relatively low rates in private accommodation. Rooms in private homes can be booked at the train station tourist office on the day of requested accommodation. These rooms begin at around 300 NOK ($53) per night, and there are dozens of private Oslo rooms on offer depending on season.

Want more options? Bed & Breakfast Norway lists the following accommodations with single rooms available for under 400 NOK per night: the centrally-located Den Blå Dør for 400 NOK ($70) and Enerhaugen for 370 NOK ($65); and Ambiose Bed & Breakfast for 370 NOK ($65) and Bed & Breakfast Poppe for 250 NOK ($44), both of which are located on the outskirts of Oslo. During the summer, camping is another budget-friendly accommodation option. From June 1 through September 1, sites for one or two people can be booked at Ekeberg Camping‘s Oslo City Camp starting at 180 NOK ($32) per night.

I set off with a backpack containing two changes of clothes, my passport, a small present for my hostess, a notebook, a print-out of my ticket, my researched list of museums, neighborhoods, and restaurants, and my iPad. And my heavy winter coat, which I had to drag out of storage.

My objectives are straight-forward: to explore Grünerløkka, Grønland, and the city center; to hunt for good things to eat (especially hearty, rustic Norwegian fare and, if I’m lucky, some good Pakistani grub); to explore the local design scene; to avoid frostbite; to run into Stella Mwangi; and lastly, to remain financially solvent.

For another look at how a new home base opens up travel destinations, check out Gadling contributor Meg Nesterov’s Weekending series. In this series, the author details her travels from her home base in Istanbul to Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Lebanon, and around Turkey.

[Image: Flickr | Hyougushi]