We stood open mouthed in amazement as they went past us, legs pumping, arms waving and neon lights flashing. At first, it was only a few, we assumed they had come out for an evening jog in the crisp Oslo air yet suddenly as if a switch had been flicked the numbers thickened. We were surrounded on all sides as an endless stream of runners crossed the illuminated bridges while a line of unguarded small lanterns burned merrily on the pavement. Marshalls held blazing torches aloft, carrying more unlit sticks in their backpacks, as they shouted encouragement to the passing athletes who were oblivious to the curious stares directed at them. It didn’t matter that a million health and safety rules were ignored, or that the runners had to dodge late night shoppers, confused tourists and elderly dog walkers. It didn’t even matter that they looked like electric Christmas trees because it was so quintessentially Norwegian.
There is an innate sense of community and compassion, of looking after yourself both mentally and physically so that you can do your best for others. It runs, as do its icy waters, throughout the whole country, even onto the bustling city streets. At the palace, carnival goers dressed in dramatic costumes and colorful eye masks pose happily for photos and strangers help each other down the slippery pathways. In Norway, if you leave something in a bar, in this case, my glasses, you return for them only to see that the owner has carefully placed them in a box behind the counter and gently smiles when you ask hesitantly if she has seen them.
Local pubs are lit only by candlelight, delicious homemade cakes are on display, and ornate wooden chairs are covered in soft, rich velvet. Introductions are made quickly, tables are easily moved, and extra chairs appear as if by magic. Handshakes, not hugs lend a sense of formality to the occasion as people eagerly share their own experiences of London or talk wistfully of English television.
Oslo is a city of contrasts- a rich fusion of traditional Nordic values and European style and sophistication. It captures the imagination and intrigues the heart, as well as being home to the Nobel Peace Prize and the celebrated Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
The long, dark days of winter and dull grey skies are repelled by ‘Koselig’, an innately Nordic concept of trying to retain a feeling of cosiness at all times- both inside and out. February in Norway means open fires, warm blankets, endless candles and twinkling golden lights threaded through tree branches that give a festive feel to the pathways. Groups of friends gather in coffee shops, and families around the kitchen table to share in the warmth, laughter and love that sweeps away sadness in the colder months.
Out in the quiet harbour, the boats rock gently from side to side, the hillside fortress across the water stands guard and the sky gradually turned to a midnight blue. Ahead, expensive riverside apartments tower majestically above the street, exuding a luxurious warmth and elegance as their lights are reflected in the frozen Oslo Fjord below.