Today I hit some of the big sites of Oslo. I started by doing a lap around the Royal Palace, a vaguely impressive building undergoing some reconstruction work. I gather you can do tours through the building, but it didn't particularly appeal, so I just roamed through the surrounding park for a while before heading back down towards the harbour.
I was aiming for the Nobel Peace Centre, but accidentally wandered into the town hall instead. The building, with its marble floors, impressive murals, and a painting by Edvard Munch, made for a quick but enjoyable visit. I gather it's where they present the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, so it was actually related to where I ended up next: the real museum, which was right next door.
The museum is less concerned with telling you about the history of the prize, and, a little to my surprise, more about global connectedness and exhibiting projects that inspire thought about world issues. The ground floor housed two impressive photography collections. The first, Infidel, covered an American army squad deployed in Afghanistan, and was sadly one of the last works of Tim Hetherington, who was killed in a grenade blast while in Libya.
It was a fascinating examination of the culture of the troops over there. Hyper-masculine, with a mix of camaraderie, testosterone and terror. There were depictions of the hazing that squad members would undergo when leaving for home, or arriving, or for any other reason that the group decided was appropriate. Despite the smiling faces of many of the men, there were photos that revealed haunted looks and a kind of disbelieving shell-shock when they thought the camera wasn't on.
The most remarkable series within the exhibit was photos of the men sleeping. Despite all the braggadocio and chest-beating, when in their bunks, they just look like kids. Little boys wrapping themselves in khaki blankets, with innocent faces. It was, in a way, utterly horrific and terrifying. Without the ability to posture, put forward a facade, or play an act, you just see the young faces of people in a war zone. It was juxtaposed with footage of the men in action and was disquietingly revealing.
There was another collection of media about women in Afghanistan, ranging from videos filmed by young women given cameras, to a photo series of women in the community. The videos were somewhat interesting, mostly in the way that the men around the women shot dirty looks at them for brazenly walking around, laughing, and listening to music in the car. Sadly, they were subtitled only in Norwegian and thus I couldn't engage with what they were saying. The other part of that series, the photography, was interesting but not as insightful or compelling as the army troop.
Upstairs there were some displays on last year's Nobel Peace Prize winners - three African women that had brought to light the hardships that their gender face in their countries. The displays were static and rather dull, not quite successfully conveying their trials and triumphs. The next room, with a supposedly interactive book that used a ceiling-mounted projector to transform blank sheets into pages of information that reacted to your touch. Sadly, it was a concept that didn't succeed in the real world, with lag and poor image quality just making it a frustrating gimmick more than a useful tool to learn more about Alfred Nobel himself.
The 'Nobel Field' room consisted of a field of glowing light stalks, some of which had screens on the top that displayed previous winners of the prize. Again, despite the cool concept, it was an entirely static display and you had to wait on each screen for any information to scroll past, and thus was ineffective at communicating its message. Looked cool, but failed on a practical level. That summed up the museum as whole really, despite the fantastic ground floor exhibitions; everything upstairs was hampered by poor execution.
Next, I decided I needed to go up to Frogner Park, which had been recommended as a cool place to chill out. I'd arranged the day poorly, as it turned out to be twice as far out of town as the Royal Palace I'd already visited. So I retraced my step past the palace and continued up into the rather lovely green suburbia beyond. The park was really pleasant, and filled with people and families enjoying their Friday afternoon in the sun. At its heart is a stepped monument with a large, phallic monolith, surrounded by naked sculptures. It's slightly odd in the context of a public park, but enjoyably so.
My last stop for the day was the Opera House, and - again, poor planning - was back at the waterfront a little further along from the town hall and Nobel Peace Centre. It was well worth the hike, though. The building is magnificent, and kind of like a modern Sydney Opera House. It's angular, like a giant iceberg or ship drifting through the sea, and an off-white. The slanted roof is actually pedestrian accessible, so you can climb the steep sides in front of the great glass facade and wind your way up to a great view at the top. They are still finishing the road and connections around it, but as an architectural achievement it is already brilliant.