Friday, December 11, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Award Cermony in Oslo

On Tuesday, Kirsten emailed us asking if we wanted to go on a last minute trip to Oslo to be part of the Nobel Prize celebrations on Thursday. Fly in the morning, fly back at night. March in a torch parade. The more we thought about it, the better it sounded. Tickets were cheap. Tuesday night, we bought tickets for Pam Maggie and me. Wednesday we made hasty arrangements for Peter and Anna while I planned our itinerary and loaded maps onto my iPod. We would fly to Rygge, take the train to Oslo S station. From there we'd visit the new opera house, the festning (fortress), the exhibits, get lunch, march in the parade, go to a party, then come home in the evening. One day only. Unknown adventure.

 At Thursday at 7 am we were off to the airport, breezed through check-in with only a bagpack of snacks and extra socks. All the flights on SAS to Oslo Gardemoen airport were delayed at least an hour, due in part to Obama's arrival at that airport that morning. We were flying Norwegian Air to Rygge, our flight was on time. The newspapers were full of Obama news, we were full of anticipation. We met Kirsten and daughter May Helene at the gate. May Helene is in Maggie's class, both are taking off school for the event, but it's okay especially since they're traveling with a teacher!

We flew into Rygge, an hour from Oslo. In the airport we helped out a group of Turkish students who brought only euros and couldn't change them for kroner because the airport didn't have a bank. Without kroner, they couldn't pay for  Our kindness caused us to miss the shuttle bus to the trainstation and it wouldn't return for an hour. Instead, we found a bus we could take... and the bus turned out to be cheaper than the train anyways! Ha!

On the bus we pored through the newspapers. Adressavisen carried a detailed map of the city with events listed – perfect! Our route still looked good.

Reading the newspaper on the bus. Håpet, the headline reads – we were hoping we'd have a good day! At the station a giant poster directs us to CHANGE.

We arrived at the central bus station and walked down to the new opera house that just opened a few months ago. Located right on the water, it is made to look like a glacier. Like all things in nature in Norway, one is encouraged to walk on it. Natur er for å bruker, they say. How fun! Afterwards we went inside and explored a little. Certainly a world-class opera house. Well done, Norway! We headed off along the water.

Following along the water, there was much to see for the first stretch, only cruise ships and construction. Around the bend was an unexpected surprise: the famous Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. It was parked next to the king's ship. Smartly uniformed young sailors carried things in and out, apparently preparing the ship for a voyage.

Just up the hill above us was Akerhus Festning, the medieval fortress in downtown Oslo. Usually it is closed during the week, but they had just started their Christmas tours, complete with candlelit decorations. It was a challenge getting to the top and discovering the entrance to the fortress. On the way, we looked down on a field where they had set up a gigantic screen showing TV coverage of Nobel events. Commentators were discussing the prize. We continued to the top, took the tour and it was really very cool, and a good length. As we left, Obama's speech began. We stood on the wall of the fortress and watched. A large crowd gathered below us. On the streets we saw convoys of police vehicles. A group of 30 police officers marched past on foot. To the east stood the towers of the Rådhuset, the city hall where Obama was giving his speech. Awesome.

An interesting stable on the lower festning grounds. Statues of Faith and Charity. Who's missing from this trio?

Banquet hall in Akershus festning. Watching Obama's speech live from the fortress wall.

Looking to the east, the Rådhus where the speech was taking place. President Obama's motorcade leaves city hall.

After his speech, we ran to Rådhuset. We could hear speakers and applause coming from the upstairs windows as the event wound down. We pushed our way through the crowd and found a place where we could see people exiting. Police everywhere, military personell with AK-47s. Crazy! Later I would read that many people found the security measures distastefully unNorwegian. The president's motorcade left city hall to cheers!

 Tight security. The newspapers would called it "svært unnorsk" (very unNorwegian).

We found an 'O'. Maggie was a linselus, sneaking into the background of a TV interview.

By this time, we were quite hungry. I'd thought we'd eat at the Akersbrugge, the waterfront mall/restaurant, but the crowds and the excitement pushed us in different directions. We needed food fast. Last night, I'd indentified several Chinese restaurants throughout the city and I had that data with me. We checked out a series of them: the Lemongrass (Carribean, not Thai), The Fjord (claims to serve Szechsuan with a very bad name for that; turned out to cost a million dollars), and finally Beijing Palace, was just right. We relaxed with cold sushi and warm comfort food. Maggie and May Helene sat at their own table, cracking themselves up. The sushi was good, the chinese was just okay, but the atmosphere was perfect. The waitress barely spoke Norwegian and no English, so it that was interesting ordering, but it great to be chatting with Kirstin. She comes from the U.S. and has a great story of how she met her husband and moved to Norway to be with him after having known him only 2 weeks. We felt recharged and headed back out. There was time for a little shopping, and then we visited the Nobel Prize exhibition.

The Nobel Prize center's exhibit is right on the water next to Akersbrygge, the waterfront mall/restaurant row. We'd planned to check out the mall, but the crowds had pushed us in different directions.A strange light-up tunnel in  honored Obama and MLKJ, as well as all the other Nobel Peace Prize winners. It was very well done, including a freakily lit room of prize winners. The dark room had glowing lights, eerie electronic tones, and a floating video screen showing all the peace prize winners. It was like some kind of futuristic graveyard.

Nobel Peace Prize Center entrance.

The exhibit. Yeah, we hung out with Obama. He's shorter than he looks on TV.

Nobel wallpaper. Order yours today!

Trees with wishes for the world.

Wishes from all over the world. The messages were much the same.

Maggie adds her wish.

From there we had to run clear across town to get to Youngstorget where the torch parade began. The path was complicated by closed streets and thick crowds in central downtown. We made it in time to buy torches (I read later they had expected 5000 and so had 6000 torches available... and they ran out). The air was electric. Performers played over an audio system. We found a large group of Americans. From Texas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Alaska, California... they had come. There was a fine group of African-American women from Baltimore who were campaign organizers for Obama's election last year, so excited to be Norway!

The excitement in the torg before the parade was electric!

The parade begins!


Finally, the crowd began moving! We lit our torches and marched along the streets of Oslo. As far as the eye could see forward and back was a sea of torches. Small children holding fire low made it a little dangerous at times, but we made it to the center of the city outside Obama's hotel. I put Maggie on my shoulders, and we managed to catch him on video waving to the crowd. It was absolutely crazy!

It was like a river of fire. Obama waved from the window – we barely caught him on video!

Amazing camera zoom!

Afterwards, we made our way to the hotel Rica Victoria, where the group Democrats Abroad had organized a banquet. We sat on a couch, ate pepperkake (gingerbread cookies) and drank gløgg, a traditional Norwegian drink of hot wine mulled in spices and served with raisins and chopped almonds. We met more people here in a festive environment.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay for the banquet, as we needed to catch the 8:37 train to the airport. All that was left was a walk through the happily illuminated pedestrian streets back to the sentral stasjon, and the train, plane, and car rides back home.

We collapsed in bed right at midnight, feeling very satisfied and very much like we were a part of history.

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