One benefit of flying the cheapest possible airline is that you often become very familiar with the major hub-cities of the airlines you fly most often. Our trip to Finland brought us to the Oslo Airport for only 4 hours, which my dad spent sleeping while I wandered from overpriced cafe to overpriced cafe, stopping at the duty free to find my favorite Scandinavian liquor “Gammel Dansk” where I calculated how many Norwegian Krona, and more importantly how many US dollars, it would cost for me to fill my backpack with it.
Between our return flights between Vilnius and Oslo and Oslo and New York, we had an extra two hours in Oslo airport. So, my dad talked me into taking the train into Oslo (a half-hour trip), just like we did the first time we took a father-son international backpacking expedition. At the train kiosk, I bought the tickets and was surprised to see that a two-person, round-trip ticket to downtown would be over sixty dollars. Even with getting a student fare for myself! Had the price been the same two years before? Perhaps I just didn’t notice in the wanderlust of a first overseas disembarkation. I reluctantly slipped my travel rewards credit card into the machine and made a mental note to factor in my student discount when I settled up with my dad at the trip’s end.
Once on the train, which left the station at precisely the scheduled time, I began flipping through the must-sees of Central Oslo. I realized we had not seen the city’s museum of cultural history, which we both assumed would talk about Norway’s national history and culture. While I wasn’t too enthusiastic (after all, we had learned so much history so far on this trip, and I was not eager to learn more), I decided I would humor my dad, who loved museums that have artifacts, clothes, war implements and the like. While the museum had some of these, the scope of the museum was more general, focusing on various different cultures of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Thankfully, I was able to talk my dad into just visiting the exhibits on Northern Europe and Scandinavia as well as the Inuits. The latter exhibit was a truly fascinating look into indigenous cultures across the North, from the Saami of Scandinavia to the Inupiat of Alaska. The exhibit had a small set of kiosks where videos of Saami people talked about their culture, language, and the difficulty of living in a ‘white’ Scandinavian culture and holding onto their native culture. One kiosk, which was particularly powerful, projected an interview of gay and lesbian Saami, who felt as if their sexuality was discriminated against in their ethnic community, and their race was discriminated against in their national community.
As one who feels ever aimless in a museum setting, I realized this was the epitome of what I’d learn in any museum setting. There is a current context for every historical exhibit. While it isn’t always relevant, the Saami exhibit offered tle unheard. Western culture is often defined either in relation to itself, or in relation to the East. The West is rarely defined in relation to the North. The story began with the mass extinction of the widespread disease and genocide of the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere, and recalled the beauty of a life North of West. Curated exhibits displayed both the history of fishing and igloo architecture, but the tragedy of a near-global culture decimated and struggling to find its place in an even newer world than the one they were said to inhabit. I found myself asking the travel-obsessive question of “whay the heck is Greenland like?” I have admitted before that I cannot learn anything from museums. However, museums can get me asking questions, the answers to which can potentially be enlightening. In the “coins across history” exhibit, I dwelt somewhere between coins from the classical and prehistoric eras, scouring the internet for flights to Nuuk, Greenland, and Googling what life there entailed. As is the point of this blog (and my life, in essence), I figured I could visit every formal country and get a comprehensive idea of the many variations on the human experience that can be witnessed in 2019. Greenland, as many of my fellow geography nerds well know, is not an independent country but rather an overseas territory of Denmark. The consequences of this were fascinating, according to my Google search. For instance, a recent program has made it so that dangerous criminals in Greenland are sent to high-security prisons in Denmark. This means that Greenlandic felons, who may not have knowledge of the Danish language, are placed into long-term incarceration where they do not speak the language. Aside from the questions the museum spawned, I felt I learned nothing from the museum itself and remained steadfast in my opinions that I cannot learn from museums. Honestly, I just get sort of bored.
Next, we made a beeline east to Kaffistova, a cafeteria-style-yet-upmarket restaurant that sold three entrees: moose meatballs, normal meatballs of mystery meat, and salmon. The experience still fresh, we ordered moose and the glorious Scandinavian meatballs with lingonberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy. Under the umbrella term of “Swedish Meatballs,” it turns out, meatballs can take on any nationality in Scandinavia and still taste incredibly delectable. The Finnish-Swedish Meatballs exceeded expectations, while the food truck Swedish-Swedish meatballs I had tried in Stockholm nearly two years before tasted indifferentiable from New Haven-Swedish Swedish meatballs that can be acquired any day of the week from the Ikea across from Long Wharf. However, the genuine lack of pretense that Kaffistova’s Norwegian-Swedish meatballs provided was genuinely pleasant (if a touch expensive). I slurped down my prized mystery-meat and felt utterly satiated by Scandinavia’s most impressive addition to global cuisine.
From there, we walked a few cloudy blocks to the Ibsen museum, which was tragically closed for renovations. We still had several hours until our flight to New York, so we headed to the frigid March harbor where we witnessed mentally ill Norwegians not only relaxing on a sauna-boat hybrid in towels, floating in the cold harbor, but also jumping into the Nordic Spring water in between stretches in the sauna. Wild. Though not one to gawk at half-naked blond Scandinavian men, I felt myself glued to the spectacle. Did they not feel the cold? Were they robots? Or are Scandinavians simply descended from some amphibious early ancestor of humankind that does not die when literally frozen? I don’t know the answers, but I bet 23andme.com is hiding some information that would help answer them.
After growing tired of freezing by the Norwegian waterfront, my father and I decided to put an end to our adventuring and hop the next train to the airport. After all, Norway was not a new country and each museum, meal, and practically each moment we spent there we spent a fistful of American money. When the plane left Oslo I wondered about the efficacy of layover tourism. I have always been a fan of the New York Times’ ‘36 Hours’ column, wherein an hour-by-hour breakdown of a 36-hour vacation in a given city is detailed along with maps and pictures of that city. The only problem is that few actually take 36-hour vacations, especially internationally, as a day and a half is much longer than the typical layover and no one I know will pay for a round-trip flight to a given location to only barely spend half a weekend there. Despite the impracticalities, I reaffirmed my belief that the layover trip to a random city is one of the greatest cheap opportunities that global travel affords us. Though the cost of leaving an airport should be a line that anyone draws in this circumstance, I realized that the re-experiencing of Oslo offered some insight into how far I had come as a traveler and how little can often be absorbed in a first look around a city. Not to mention, the first time I visited Norway’s capital I had been so jetlagged that I slept over 12 hours in my Oslo hotel upon finally falling asleep following a day of sightseeing. In high school, one of my social studies teachers defined documentary as “film that shows what you are not supposed to see.” I believe a layover trip does the same. We are not meant to leave the airport on long, indirect trips. However, is it not part of the experience to enjoy the journey—not just the destination—involved in going to a place? I may sound like a commercial for an airline when I write this, but my truth is that even flights, layovers, and long waits in airports should be regarded as part of the trip because it assumes that travel is not just vacation, but a method of learning to enhance life. This should not just be done on a beach in the Caribbean, or in a yoga retreat in the mountains of Guatemala, but at all times.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.