I wanted to immerse myself in Norwegian nature -- fjords, mountains, coastal fishing villages -- but I had to spend a few days checking out the capital of Oslo before heading into the wild so I checked into Hotel Guldsmeden, a hip, eco-hotel ten minutes from the city center.
My first stop was Tjuvholmen, an up-and-coming waterfront arts area that is home to the Renzo Piano-designed contemporary Astrup Fearnley Museum, which just opened in September. Tjuvholmen abuts Aker Brygge, an entertainment district with a lively stretch of open-air restaurants along the Norway Fjord. In the distance are the twin brick towers of City Hall where the Nobel prizes are awarded and beyond that on a promontory lies Akershus Fortress, they city's medieval castle built by King Haakon V.
I packed in a lot those two days, checking out versions of Munch's Scream in the National Gallery (I also enjoyed the landscapes from Norwegian artist Johan Christian Dahl) and in the Munch Museum (if you're in New York, a version will be on display at the MoMA until April 29, 2013). I strolled through trendy Grunerlokka and visited the Grand Hotel where celebrities and dignitaries stay (I found out the crowd of teens outside were waiting for singer Rihanna). In the Grand Café, where Grieg and Munch once socialized, I lunched on open-faced salmon sandwiches and took in the great people-watching. Other restaurants of note include the two-Michelin-starred Maaemo and one-starred Statholdergaarden. In Tjuvholmen, I had an excellent seafood meal at Tjuvholmen Sjomagasin overlooking the museum.
Not long after my flight landed in Kristiansund on Norway's western coast, I found myself on a harbor cruise, gliding by its mustard yellow and barn red homes tucked into the hillsides and old fish warehouses used to dry and salt cod. Cod was once its biggest export; today the town is a hub for supply boats for the gas and oil industries (oil was discovered in the North Sea in 1969/70 making Norway an extremely wealthy country). At Smia Fish, a traditional 18th century wood-beamed cottage I ate a bowl of bacalhau, a hearty cod stew.
It was from here that I set out to drive the coastal Atlantic Road, one of Norway's 18 designated National Tourist Routes. The road zigzags over small islands jutting into the sea connected by a series of bridges (back in the day, boats were the only way for residents of these isolated communities to get around).
I overnighted on the charming island of Haholmen, a 13-acre former fishing village and trading post with just a handful of red and yellow cottages, many dating from the 18th century, where visitors can stay. To reach the island you take a replica Viking ship. There's a small dining room and a wood-paneled bar decorated with old fishing and boating equipment. There's also a museum dedicated to Ragnar Thorseth, the famous Norwegian adventurer who owned the island until the late 80s. He is most known for sailing a replica of a 1,000 year old Viking ship, the Saga Siglar around the world. It was destroyed on the final leg of his journey and now the some of the salvaged pieces have been reassembled and are on display.
Another highlight was the town of Alesund, known for its many Art Nouveau buildings and spectacular city and water views from atop Mount Aksla. But what's not to be missed is a cruise along the Geirangerfjord. You depart from the port of Hellesylt for the hour-long ferry ride which takes you through some of the country's most beautiful scenery--cascading waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, huts from long abandoned farms. You disembark in Geiranger, a pretty tourist village where you can stock up colorful wool sweaters and other local souvenirs. After dinner at the Hotel Union, a family-owned hilltop hotel dating from 1891 with fabulous fjord views, I took a tour of the basement car museum, which has a rare collection of vintage automobiles, originally used during the 1920s and 30s to show tourists the fjords. Today, there is a collection of pristine-condition vehicles including a Studebaker, a Ford and a Cadillac (they can be rented for special occasions).
My last stop was Bergen and I couldn't think of a better place to cap off my whirlwind trip. Many travelers have told me that Bergen was their favorite city in all of Norway. And with its pretty harbor, colorful Hanseatic buildings, laid-back vibe and fun nightlife, it's not hard to see why. Join locals down by the recently renovated fish market for a Hansa beer and a shrimp sandwich and simply take in the beauty and peacefulness that is Norway.
For more information log onto www.visitnorway.us