CITY BREAK: OSLO:FORGET TRADITIONAL CITY breaks. The latest way to work a metropolis is to explore its underbelly with a crime thriller tour – a new genre of walking tour in which the city plays a principal role in the story. It’s a perspective that lets you see the sights and the lesser known bedrock of a city. Scandinavia in particular is profiting from the popularity of crime novels set there.
In Stockholm, you can take the Stieg Larsson Millennium tour. In Copenhagen, the tourist board is making a killing from tours it hosts hooked on the success of TV drama The Killing. Oslo recently cashed in its crime chips with a Harry Hole tour, which ran during the winter season. In a city that ranks fifth most expensive in the world, savvy weekenders are now doing a DIY version, following for free in the footsteps of the country’s most celebrated detective.
Detective Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad is a character created by musician-turned-author Jo Nesbø. After the success of the Millennium trilogy, Nesbø is the latest Scandi author to become hot in Hollywood. Martin Scorsese recently signed up to direct the film version of Nesbø’s book The Snowman featuring the much-loved Hole. Headhunters, a film based on another Nesbo book, but not featuring Harry Hole, opened in cinemas here yesterday. In tourism terms, crime certainly pays.
It is the fictitious Harry Hole that is Oslo’s latest attraction. To see the city through his eyes, start by ascending to the 21st floor of the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel. From the Summit Bar you can see where Hole lives at Sofie’s Gate, as well as some of the locations in his novels. From the top, the yellow painted Royal Palace is visible as is the island-littered Oslo Fjord, which both feature in The Redbreast storyline, in which Hole must find the owner of a rare Marlin rifle. That book’s plot oscillates between old and neo-Nazi storylines – themes that resonate with contemporary Norway as the trial of far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik, responsible for the Oslo bombing and the shooting dead of 69 people on the Island of Utoya last July, starts on April 16th.
Ask politely, and you may also be able to visit Oslo Courthouse, where Brevik’s trial will open. The courthouse plays a minor role in several Hole books. Inside, extracts from the Norwegian Magna Carta face an internal column, and if you are allowed, take the lift to the top, where the views are stunning. The second floor is being remodelled to accommodate the numbers expected for the forthcoming trial.
Nearby is the still-boarded-up site of the Oslo bombings where eight people were killed last July. Newspaper headlines from that day hang behind glass as a memorial. Adjacent to it is Oslo’s Supreme Court building, where Brevik’s case will most likely end up.
A five-minute walk from here will take you to Sehesteds Plass, home to Aschehoug Publishing House, where Jo Nesbø sent his first manuscript, The Bat, under a pseudonym. Aschehoug also published Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Across the square is another publishing house, Gyldendalhuset, whose sister publishing arm in Copenhagen first put Ibsen in print.
Egertorget Square is a few minutes’ walk away and home to a historical neon Freia chocolate sign and clock. This “small piece of Norway”, as the brand’s tag line goes, is referenced in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Dahl was born in Britain, of Norwegian stock. Freia is also said to have sustained Roald Amundsen and his South Pole team. In Norway, there is a cross-country skiing tradition of taking chocolate and oranges with you for sustenance. But for Hole fans, this is where a Croatian hit-man kills a Salvation Army officer in The Redeemer, Hole’s fourth book translated into English.
Somewhat off the beaten track is Hole’s favourite hang-out, the old-fashioned Restaurant Schrøder, a dimly-lit, burgundy-walled eatery that has no interest in jumping on to the Harry Hole tourist phenomenon. Paintings from the 1920s hang on the wall, as does a sign warning diners that they’re not allowed to use laptops, play chess or cards. Apparently they sell less beer if you engage in such activities. There is no photography allowed.
This restaurant was originally located in the city centre and while under occupation, it was a meeting place for Nazis. This bastion of old Norway cuisine is now being run by a Pakistani immigrant – a sign of the times. The rising number of immigrants into Norway is a fact of life and an ongoing storyline in Nesbø’s books and in many other Scandinavian thrillers.
Hole lives nearby, at number five or number eight Sofie’s Gate – depending on which book you’re reading. Confusingly, he has two addresses at number five. The one at Dovregata, around the corner from Sofie’s Gate, is actually the correct address. On the day this writer called, there was no one home.
Oslo’s Sculpture Park is a dramatic setting and offers another vantage point from which to drink in the city’s views. It contains 192 full-size sculptures by artist Gustav Vigeland, who designed the Nobel Peace Prize medal, as well the architectural setting and the layout of the grounds. Frognerbadet is a stylish lido set in the middle of the park. The complex has three heated outdoor pools, water slides, a diving tower and children’s pools. The bath’s diving boards makes a gruesome appearance in The Leopard.
Not surprisingly, several graveyards feature in the Harry Hole series. Vestre gravlund (Western cemetery) appears in The Phantom, which has just been published in English. Number 15 Ullevalsveien is where the opening scene of the The Devil’s Star takes place. It overlooks Vår Frelsers gravlund (Our Saviour’s Graveyard) the final resting place of playwright, theatre director and poet Henrik Ibsen, writer and Nobel laureate, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Symbolist painter and printmaker Edvard Munch.
On the outskirts of the city is Holmenkollen, a hill on the edge of a forest that is a starting point for summer and winter hikes. It is also home to Oslo’s top tourist attraction, the aluminium-clad cantilevered Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Ski Jump Tower. The new jump was opened in 2010. Inside its steel and concrete exterior is the Ski Museum. It tracks the sport’s 4,000-year history, as well as the Polar expeditions of Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen and Winter Olympics memorabilia. The location features in The Snowman.
Landmarks such as the opera house, completed in 2008, should also be visited. Situated on the Bjørvika peninsula, overlooking Oslo Fjord, it is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. It has a marble roof that forms a large public space where Oslo natives like to bask in the sun. From it, you can see Akershus Fortress, which dates from the 13th century.
At the Grand Hotel Café on Karl Johan’s Gate, you can pay your respects to Ibsen, who came here daily to sip his specially imported German beer. A selection of his best-known works are embedded into the pavement opposite and lead, like literary breadcrumbs, to the writer’s apartment, which is open to the public.
Detective Harry Hole may have put Oslo back on the tourist map, but no visit to the city is complete with a trawl through past highlights. This includes the national gallery and the Munch Museum, both scenes of Munch art heists, and compelling in the context of Headhunters, the Nesbø movie now on release. It mirrors the real-life thefts with a fictitious contemporary art heist of its own.
When Munch died in 1944, among the works he left to the city of Oslo were not one, but two oil paintings of The Scream. They differ slightly; the national gallery’s version is nicotine-hued in tone. The version in the Munch Museum is brighter and more lurid in colour. Both are worth viewing.
Oslo Where to . . .
STAY: High-end:First Hotel Grims Grenka is a boutique hotel situated in the city centre with high-tech lighting control, iPod docking sound systems, and obligatory Bang and Olufsen LCD televisions. Rooms from €174. First Hotel Grims Grenka, Kongensgate 5, Oslo, Tel: 0047-23-107200, Firsthotels.com
Mid range:The Harry Hole tour starts at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel. Sip cocktails and spy Oslo landmarks from the Summit Bar on the 21st floor. Rooms from €132. Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel, Holbergsgt,30, 0166 Oslo. Tel: 0047-23-293000, radissonblu.com
Cheap: Comfort Hotel Xpress (rooms from €80), is popular with weekenders. It’s at Møllergaten 26, 0179 Oslo. Tel: 0047-22-031100, choicehotels.no
EAT:Sample typical Norwegian fare at Restaurant Schrøder – Harry Hole’s home from home. The menu serves dishes such as Fesk kokt Skrei, boiled cod served with cod’s roe, cod’s tongue, with cod liver oil used in the sauce. This dish is what Norwegians eat at Christmas and is usually washed down with a glass of red rather than white wine – for Norwegians cod is akin to a red meat. Restaurant Schrøder, Waldemar Thranes gate 8, 0171 Oslo. Tel: 0047-23-22605183, restaurant-schroder.no
DRINK: Around the corner from Restaurant Schrøder is the Underwater Pub, another establishment Hole frequents. The two-story drinking spot has an aquarium-style interior, raftered ceilings and a bar that dates from the 1880s. It is run by Englishwoman Margaret Herron, and Hole fans are welcome. This is where Hole retires when he thinks he’s unwelcome in Schrøder. There’s free opera on Tuesday and Thursday evenings – one of the few free things in the city. Oslo ranks fifth of the world’s most expensive cities, according to a recent cost of living survey, by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Dalsbergstien 4, 0170 Oslo. Tel: 0047-22-460526, underwaterpub.no
SHOP: Norway Designs offers creations by a selection of rising talent. Stortingsgt, 28, Oslo. Tel: 0047-23114510, norwaydesigns.no
HOW TO GET THERE:Scandinavian Airlines fly Dublin to Oslo, fares from €146.90 one-way. See flysas.com/en/ie. Ryanair flies to Oslo Rygge, an airport 50km outside the city. Tickets from €45.99 each way. See Ryanair.com. A free shuttle bus runs from the airport to the train station. It is is a 55-minute journey to Oslo’s central station. Tickets, €18.50 each way.
Norwegian.comflies from Dublin four days a week from €52.50 each way