Approaching the Rådhus in Oslo, Norway on a steel-gray day you get the impression this building has charm limited to its institutional brick Functionalist architecture. In other words, not much. Oh, but isn’t that giant clock cool!
In Norway, first impressions should always be set aside. So, move in a little closer and you’ll start to see some of the artful embellishments and know there’s some cultural expression to be explored here.
Statues and carvings depicting sagas grace the brick walls, invite the visitor to pause and take a closer look, perhaps even go inside. You enter and are overwhelmed with colors and patterns – everywhere!
Tiled floors with dramatic geometric shapes contrasting with muraled walls of bright and dynamic historic scenes. A shocking surprise. The sterile shape of the building’s exterior gave not a hint to the fantastic eye-popping interior.
This theme was also repeated at the Viking Ship Museum where rough-hewn wooden Oseberg ship sits on display. It not only had gracefully crafted and carved gunwales but the contents found within were elaborately decorative; gold-inlay harnesses silk, gold, cloisonné enamel, and other luxury items were found buried with this ship. Not entirely the crude or uncultured 9th Century Viking society that I previously imagined. Sorry, but for some Americans the comic, Hagar the Horrible, is the unfortunate Viking history we’re exposed to. What a surprise awaits those who take time to visit this museum and learn that there was more to this culture than animal skin capes and clubs.
Ultimately, this dichotomy of austere and outrageous came to be analogous for how I felt about the Norwegian people I met. Serious at first glace but full of humor and grand stories once you cracked through their exterior. Certainly, surprising but a wonderful discovery and one of the reasons it’s so important travel: we all need to be reminded now and then that first impressions and stereotypes aren’t always telling the truth.