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Culture

Chasing The Scream: 48 hours in Oslo

Many moons ago, I wrote my A Level History of Art dissertation on the amazing, angst-ridden Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, and ever since then I've longed to see his paintings up close and personal. So, after six years in Sweden, I felt it was time to pay our respects to our Norwegian neighbours and make a little weekend trip to Oslo.

A six hour train journey from Södertälje later, I dragged my family through howling wind and incessant rain to the Munch museum, thrilled at the prospect of finally getting to see works like Madonna, Young Woman on the Beach, the Dance of Life and, of course, The Scream.

Postcards from the gift shop: the closest we got to seeing any of these paintings

We queued up and paid our money and worked our way round the exhibition "The Swan Princess: Russian Art 1880-1910", which was full of paintings by Russian and Nordic artists like Mikhael Vrubel, Carl Larsson, Anders Zorn, and, yes, the odd painting by our man Munch. But no Evening on Karl Johan Street, no Summer Night, no Jealousy and very definitely no Scream.

In the final room I asked the guard "Is that it?" "Oh, you want to see The Scream", he answered wearily. "Well, yes, that would be nice, but also all his other paintings." "They're in storage in the basement," he helpfully informed me. "But you can see them next year when the new Munch museum opens. And you can see another version of The Scream and some of his other works at the National Gallery." "Great, we'll go there then."

But before I dragged my distinctly unimpressed family back out into the rain and over to the National Gallery, I checked their website. Closed until 2020. 25 years of waiting and I was a year too early. I did a little silent scream and moved on to see what else Oslo had to offer.

Oslo highlights:

  • Street art. Oslo has a slightly rawer, more edgy feel than Stockholm and some fantastic street art, particularly around the Tøyen and Grünerløkka districts.

  • Kon-Tiki museum. If you've never read the book or seen the film about Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl's epic crossing of the Pacific on a balsawood raft, The Kon-Tiki, do it now. A truly inspiring adventure.

The actual raft used by Heyerdahl and his crew on their 1947 expedition

Ferry across the Oslo fjord to the Bygdøy peninsula and museums (Pic: Joe Maclay)

  • Palmyra Cafe Masala Dosais and mango lassis at this great value Sri Lankan restaurant in Grønland were a taste of the tropics on a rainy day in Oslo.
  • Vigeland Sculpture Park. An easy walk from our Airbnb in Majorstuen, I didn't expect my children to get too excited about a load of sculptures but actually they loved it (possibly because of the nakedness).
  • Holmenkollen Ski museum On our last day, we took the underground (which is mainly overground) up into the hills to the north of the city, past suburbs of gorgeous wooden villas with views over the fjord, to Holmenkollen.

After admiring the terrifying downwards views from the top of the slope and out over Oslo from the jump tower and watching tall, fit Norwegians dashing about on cross country skis for a while, we walked about half an hour up to the restaurant at Frognerseteren which is worth a detour not so much for the food as the views and the traditional, tar-scented wooden building.

Oslo: you were a delight in the winter sunshine but you've left me not only pining for the fjords but screaming for my Munch hit. I'll be back.

A good book and a hipster brownie

I had high hopes of fulfilling my intentions of embracing winter these past couple of weeks and writing inspiring things about wholesome activities like long-distance skating, cross-country skiing and ice bathing.

However, an absent spouse, grey skies, a broken washing machine, too much/not enough snow and a nasty case of head lice have put the kibosh on that so instead I'm going to write about the two things that are really getting me through the days at the moment: books and brownies.

These rawfood vegan brownies (or hipster brownies, as Joe calls them, slightly disparagingly, before scoffing another one) are ridiculously quick and easy to make and the best thing is my children don't like them enough to eat them all in one go, so there are plenty left for me. Here's what to do:

Whizz up 200g pitted dates, 3 dl oats, 1 dl cocoa, 1 dl nut butter, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a food blender with enough water (about 1 dl) to make the mixture soft enough to spread out into a shallow dish.

For the icing, don't bother to wash up the bowl, just chuck in another 80g of dates, 1/2 dl coconut oil, 1/2 dl cocoa and 3/4 dl water. Blend together, spread over the brownies and let it all chill in the fridge for an hour or so before sprinkling over some sifted cocoa, sea salt and/or dessicated coconut. Grab a handful and retire to a quiet spot with a good book.

My current bedside table book tower is in danger of collapsing and, while Marie Kondo may not approve of the storage method, all these books are sparking plenty of joy so I'll share my tips before dismantling it:

  • Half Of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria during the Biafran War in the Sixties. It's skilfully written, touching and heartbreaking.
  • I recently re-read The Poisonwood Bible and am now working my way through Barbara Kingsolver's back catalogue. She writes brilliantly about nature and particularly the effects of climate change in Flight Behaviour.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees is funny and fascinating. You'll never walk in a forest or look at a tree in the same way after reading this.
  • If you only ever read Steinbeck as a set text in school, give The Grapes of Wrath - and all his other books - another go. His female characters aren't particularly positive or inspiring on the whole but he's a master storyteller and his themes are just as relevent today as they were in the Forties. In my top ten books of all time.
  • Even if you're not a fan of spiritual/self-help books, everyone should read The Power of Now. And then re-read it regularly, whenever you need some perspective or your ego's getting a bit out of control. Life-changing, literally.
  • Swing Time: Love Zadie Smith. Her books make me nostalgic for London and her characters are funny and real.
  • A Little Life: I can't decide whether I enjoyed this or not. It's long, traumatic, difficult to read and I couldn't relate to any of the characters but I couldn't stop thinking about it for ages afterwards.
Re-open: The National Museum's new lease of light

It's been a long time since I last visited the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. The fact that it's been closed for refurbishment for the past five years is one good reason, but my memory of it as a somewhat gloomy old building stuffed with Old Masters wasn't pushing it to the top of my To Do list.

I was tempted back, however, when it re-opened last month as I was curious to see the results of the £100 million refurb but also to visit the huge, specially-commissioned glass chandelier I had seen being made at The Glass Factory in Boda last year in situ.

 

Ten glass designers, including Åsa Jungnelius and Carina Seth Andersson, collaborated on the project and each element was hand-blown at The Glass Factory. Photo credit: Tina Stafren/VisitSweden

Admiring the assembled chandelier before it makes the journey from Småland to Stockholm Photo credit: Tina Stafren/VisitSweden

 

Modern Swedish glass design and craftsmanship at its best: the eye-catching chandelier in its new home in the museum restaurant

The Old Masters are all there, of course, re-displayed against walls painted in surprisingly un-Scandi rich jewel colours. Artworks are also now collected by period rather than genre - so paintings and other decorative arts from, for example, the 17th century are now exhibited together which provides a nice simple cohesive timeline for lowbrow visitors like me.

Oddly, Sweden doesn't actually have a dedicated museum of design (there is a virtual one, though: Swedish Design Museum). But the National Museum has its own impressive collection and the furniture, glassware and other objects specially commissioned for the re-opening serve as a living, interactive lesson in contemporary Swedish design - the cutlery used in the restaurant was designed by Note, hand-blown glass vases by Carina Seth Andersson and chairs by Matti Klenell and Peter Andersson.

The totem-like "Venus in glass" by artist Frida Fjellman, specially commissioned by the Bengt Julin fund for the museum re-opening

Whatever bizarre thought process led to the rooms at the front of the building being used for offices and storage in the "old" museum has thankfully been reversed and the glorious, light-filled space with views over the water and the Royal Palace is now occupied by the restaurant. More than 300 windows have been opened up and the rooves over the two atria have also been replaced by glass-panelled ceilings, filling the sculpture park in the southern atrium with light and triangular-shaped shadows.

Photo credit: Nationalmuseum/Bruno Ehrs

Photo credit: Nationalmuseum/Bruno Ehrs

The new museum has blown away all its cobwebs and brought a new lease of life to two of the museum's (and Stockholm's) most important resources - its design credentials and stunning natural light.