Open House London 2017 ~ That History Girl’s Guide!

Open House London celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! That’s 25 years of making architecture free and accessible to Londoners and the 19 million tourists who visit this beautiful city every year.

The first Open House London was organised by Victoria Thornton on 7th November 1992. It comprised of just 20 buildings. This weekend over 800 homes, museums, schools, palaces, embassies, and many more will open their doors to the public for free! The range of buildings available is simply astounding, and a little daunting when it comes to choosing where to go first, so I’ve made a list of some of my favourites, some of the essentials and some more unusual buildings slightly off the beaten track!

My top tip for the weekend is to volunteer! You get to explore a new building that you might not have chosen otherwise, and to contribute to such a wonderful, educational two days of fun! When you volunteer you also get a badge that lets you queue jump at other sites (except those with pre-booked tours, or public ballots). Trust me, it’s worth it, especially when venues such as The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can have queues going around the block! Oh, and did I mention the volunteers party, where you can meet other like-minded architecture nerds! Sign up here!

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The Durbar Court at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Open both Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a must-see! Built in 1861 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and Matthew Digby Wyatt the gorgeous Durbar Court will have you gazing around in awe (it’s also highly instagrammable, for those of you that way inclined). The Grade I listed Victorian building has plenty to see and do, see if you can spot all 12 signs of the Zodiac in one of the ceilings! It’s a fantastic insight into the running of our government, and not usually open to the public, so don’t miss out!

 

 

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The Ceiling of the Grand Staircase at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Crystal Palace Subway

 

The Crystal Palace Subway in Bromley was originally built as a passageway leading directly from High Level Station to the Crystal Palace, which burnt down in 1936, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1854. The subway itself was constructed in 1865 under architect Charles Barry Junior. Not normally open to the public you can step into Victorian life! The subway is open all weekend from 11am-4pm, however a capacity of 80 means queues are likely!

Lloyd’s Register Group

Perhaps one of the most photographed and shared buildings in the City, although I swear there’s a new building popping up every week! The original late Victorian building, designed by Thomas Collcutt, was extended by Richard Rogers Partnership, winning a RIBA award! Although only limited areas are open to the public you can hear a lecture about Richard Rogers’ expansion every half hour. Download the Open House app to see all the other buildings nearby to visit while you’re there! N.B. Lloyd’s Building is only open Saturday 10am-5pm.

 

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A view of The Hackney Empire from the stage. 

Hackney Empire

 

Hackney Empire was somewhat of an accidental discovery! I signed up to volunteer late last year, and figured as a somewhat of a theatre-holic it would be interesting to see it behind the scenes! What a wonderful surprise! Built the same year as the original Lloyd’s building (1901) Frank Matcham’s Hackney Empire is considerably different inside, see how many Art Deco features you can spot! The Hackney Empire was built and used as a Variety Theatre before falling into disrepair. Only 1 tour is running this year, at 9am on Saturday. Book here.

 

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A Hall from a 1630s Middle Class Home at the Geffrye Museum.

Geffrye Museum

 

The Geffrye Museum is situated in Hackney, and open Saturday 10am-4:30pm, a perfect secondary location to visit after a tour of the Hackney Empire! The Geffrey Museum is situated in an old Alms house, and currently houses a museum dedicated to the history of the middling class, and how their homes have changed over the past couple of centuries. Usually free to enter, the staff are running object handling sessions.

 

 

 

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Roof of the Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue, the shape was inspired by the hull of a ship.

Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue Wanstead

 

The Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue is open Sunday from 10am-4pm. The Synagogue building was originally part of the Merchant Seaman’s Orphan Asylum, designed by Somers Clarke, dating back to the 19th century. The rest of the Asylum has since been converted to flats. The building used to house the chapel, and the signs are evident in the architecture and embellishments around the walls. It was converted into a synagogue in 1995. The volunteers here are extremely knowledgeable, and it’s a nice, unusual building.

 

The Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge.

Another slightly out-of-the-way building, but a must-see for any 20th century history enthusiasts! It was built in 1939, and was part of the main control centre coordinating one of the greatest aerial battles in history! Open both days, 10am-5pm pre-booking is required so check out the Open House website for more details!

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Inside Crossrail Place Roof Garden

Crossrail Place Roof Garden

This year Foster + Partners are celebrating their 50th birthday this year, and the Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a shining example of their beautiful architecture! Situated in Canary Wharf, atop the new station, it is a beautiful partnership of architecture and nature. The garden was a collaboration between Foster+ Partners and landscape designer Gillespies Landscape Architects. Gillespies are hosting hourly tours between 10am and 4pm on Saturday.

 

 

Trellick Tower

Designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1972, Trellick Tower has become a sacred site for Brutalism enthusiasts! Now a Grade II listed property it encompasses exhibition and education, housing a woodworking workshop, as well as a furniture showcase. Trellick Tower is open Saturday 10:30am – 6pm, and Sunday 11am – 5pm. If you’re a fan of Brutalism you could also check out the Embassy of Slovakia, a RIBA Award winning Modern Brutalist building also situated in Kensington and Chelsea.

I hope you found this mini guide helpful! Let me know what your favourite buildings were this weekend, and any I should add to my list for next year!

Happy Architecture Hunting!!

If you liked this blog please do like my FB page!

 

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2017 Serpentine Pavilion by Francis Kéré

Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Bjarke Ingels and Ai WeiWei. These are just 3 of the 17 world-renowned artists and architects who have been invited to design a Serpentine Pavilion since the initiative began in 2000, with Hadid’s famous structure.

Every year an architect who is yet to design an England-based project is invited to create a pavilion in Hyde Park, next to the Serpentine Gallery, and this year Francis Kéré joined their ranks.

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Kéré’s 2017 Serpentine Pavilion. 

Francis Kéré, who was born in Gando, Burkina Faso in 1965, works for Berlin firm Kéré Architecture. Kéré moved to Berlin to train at the Technical Academy, and has since contributed work to exhibitions at MoMA and Royal Academy, London, as well as solo exhibitions at The Architecture Museum, Munich and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Over 250,000 architecture enthusiasts visit the pavilion every year, and Bjarke Ingels 2016 structure was one of the Top 10 London Free Exhibitions. After the success and complexity of the 2016 Pavilion, I’d heard from a quite a few friends that this year’s structure fell a little flat, so I have to admit I went in a little skeptical, secretly hoping to be wowed. I wasn’t disappointed!
It is certainly true that the structure itself is fairly simple when looked at as a single entity. But the beauty of the structure I believe comes from the simplicity matched with the balanced detailing. Kéré’s inspiration for the pavilion is drawn from trees. Trees are often a central social hive in Burkina Faso, providing shelter and a social space for residents. The pavilion echos this with its wide blue base and golden canopy that funnels rain water, and shelters those beneath it all made from wood.

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Detailing of the wooden panels that make up the base of the pavilion.

I was lucky enough to visit the Pavilion during a torrential rain storm (although it didn’t feel that way at the time, having failed to bring either umbrella or rain coat, thank you English summer). Underneath the canopy is dry, but the design of the roof streams the rain water into a waterfall in the centre of the structure; it is beautifully soporific.

Despite every inch of covered space being filled by patrons sheltering from the rain, having coffee, reading and drinking in the atmosphere, the rain dampens any noise except the waterfall in the middle. The happy shouts of children playing in the rain cut through the quiet, which I’m sure Kéré would love.

 

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An Entrance to the Pavilion

Burkina Faso has one of the worst rates of education and literacy in the world. One of Kére’s projects there was the construction of Gando Primary School, which like the Serpentine Pavilion had a canopy to provide shade, and was designed to allow cool air to circulate throughout the structures. The school was built to house 150 pupils, and now has over 1,000 students!

It is true to say that unlike previous structures this pavilion isn’t designed to wow, or impress, it doesn’t push the boundaries of architecture, and for that it has received criticism. Having said that, I believe it is a great success. It is true to Kéré’s style of architecture, and has succeeded in providing a social area for people to gather and relax in all weather conditions, and for that reason, I really enjoyed it!

The 2017 Serpentine Pavilion is open until 8 October 2017, entrance is free. While there it is worth also checking out the Grayson Perry exhibition The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! at the Serpentine Gallery, entrance also free.

Communist Sofia ~ A Concrete Jungle 

20161204_124647.jpgArriving in Sofia, it is immediately recognisable as a city with a communist past. Concrete flat blocks rise up before you, and every street boasts Stalinist architecture all along its length. Walking through Sofia however, there are no statues of Lenin, or red stars visible, having been ripped down in 1990 when the Communist state fell.

Having decided to take a 4 hour walking tour exploring the Communist history of the city it was clear that even today opinions vary hugely across the population.

Bulgaria’s military history during the Second World War is a fascinating one, with their allegiance changing multiple times over the course of the war, including a period when they were technically at war with every other fighting country in Europe. By the end of the war they had sided with the Red Army. Thus began their communist era.

Championed by Georgi Dimitrov, The Bulgarian Communist Party took power in 1946. Bulgaria then became known as People’s Republic of Bulgaria, a title which would remain until 1990. Before the war Bulgaria, had been known as the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Their rise to power was preceded by a bloody assault on the monarchy. On 1st February 1945 the Regent Prince Kiril, along with hundred of officials who had been prominent in pre-communist Bulgaria, including an ex Prime Minister were accused of war crimes, and around a quarter were subsequently executed 4 months later.

 

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Busts of the Communist leaders of Bulgaria and Karl Marx

During its early years The Bulgarian Communist Party began to outlaw religions. Whilst not explicitly legislating against citizens rights to practice religions they used scare tactics. Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and Temples were hidden away by new buildings, purposefully built around them to mask the existence of sacred buildings. Members of the police, or uniformed members of the party would hover outside said buildings at the times of services, observing those attending religious ceremonies, never acting with hostile intentions, but instead scaring members of the congregation until few people attended organised religious services. The paranoia still exists today; when we visited The Church of St George (a beautiful redbrick rotunda) I took a photo of the exterior and a lady going to a service asked to check my photo to ensure her face wasn’t in the picture.

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Painting of Lenin (Nikola Mirchev)

When Dimitrov passed away in 1949 Vulko Chervenkov suceeded him as leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party, whilst not popular within Bulgaria, his main supporter, Stalin had enough influence to allow him to maintain his position for 6 years. After Stalin’s death in 1953 Chervenkov only survived a year before he was replaced by Todor Zhivkov. He stayed on as Prime Minister for another 2 years before Anton Yugov took that position from him too.

Todor Zhivkov had a notably long stay as head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, leading it for 33 years, and in 1962 he also took up the position of Prime Minister, he monopolised control of Bulgaria. One of the biggest controversies of his rule came in the form of the infamous murder of Georgi Markov, a previous friend of Zhivkov, who had been exiled to London following publication of anti-communist works. Markov was murdered in London after a member of the KGB used an umbrella to stab him with a ricin infused pellet on Zhivkov’s birthday in September 1978.

img_20161204_111607.jpgThe Communist government of the Bulgarian people was based near Serdika (now a fantastic site to find Roman ruins) and the party headquarters were adorned with the large red star seen below. This was rumoured to have been made of rubies, however when it was torn down at the end of the Communist era it was found to only be coloured glass. Originally the 12ft statue of Lenin was erected far across the Piazza surveying his Communist Head Quarters, now however this has been replaced by a statue of Saint Sofia. Both the star and the statue can be found at the Museum of Socialist Art which is a little way out of the city center but definitely worth a visit!

By January 15th 1990 the Communist Party was officially no more. It was the end of an era of governing that had cost between 50,000-100,000 lives. Zhivkov’s daughter, Lyudmila Zhivkova, had been responsible for the start of social liberalization in the country and was a force for cultural freedom until her suspicious death in 1981. By Mikhail Gorbachev’s election as President of the Supreme Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR and the Communist movement were losing momentum. In June 1990 Bulgaria held its first multi-party elections in 51 years, The Republic of Bulgaria was born, and the Bulgarian flag no longer included the Communist emblem. The Communist reign in Bulgaria was over.

Pretending to be Lenin

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 5

Our final day in Oslo had finally arrived. With a flight in the evening we decided to save the Armed Forces Museum till last as it was one we were both interested in, we wanted lost of time there, and it’s free!

2017-01-28-21.13.51.jpg.jpegHoused within the grounds of Akershus Fortress, the museum is huge! Outside cannons, tanks and ambulances greet you as you arrive. The ambulance, it turns out came from the UK, and was on loan for their temporary exhibition on the medical corps.

2017-01-28-21.16.38.jpg.jpegThe museum takes you through military history in Norway, from the Vikings through to modern day conflicts and WWII. The first room focuses on modern conflicts, and Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan, and work with the UN.

Upstairs the rooms are filled with cannons, and models of castles from around Denmark-Norway, as the pairing was then called. Christiania (now Oslo) was the Norwegian capital, whilst Copenhagen was the capitol of the whole country. The models also include castles such as Kastellet, found in Copenhagen on a star shaped island.2017-01-28-21.19.22.jpg.jpeg Medieval weapons, defenses and uniforms are displayed, however some rooms do not have English translations, but have QRS codes which unfortunately don’t work. This room was full of military uniforms, with rank slides and honours which are still a total mystery to us, which was  a shame as it was something we were both interested in!
Returning downstairs there is a very detailed exhibition on how WWII started, and how Norway became 2017-02-15-09.31.20.jpg.jpeginvolved  with the fight. The Resistance Museum had more information on Norwegian citizens  and their actions throughout the war. Having been a neutral state from 1814 to 1940 they only had a 20,000 strong army to defend against the German Army. The Norwegians had been keen to stay out of the fighting across Europe they were not prepared for the advancing German Forces. Had they started recruiting forces earlier they could have increased their forces to 120,000 people. 50,000 Norwegian Men were said to be fighting for Norway during 1940, compared to Germany’s 4.5 million. The final permanent room looked into modern conflicts with the UN, the Cold War, including a mini bunker, the Navy, and ground forces in Afghanistan.

2017-01-28-21.20.24.jpg.jpegThe final room of the museum was an exhibition on Military Medicine. The exhibition housed various pieces of quintessential pieces of medical equipment such as first aid kits, stretchers and technology developed for the military.  Horse drawn ambulances from the first world war, along with modern ambulances used in combat were displayed here.

Tearing ourselves away from the museum, we headed to Hard Rock Cafe for our final time (they have an awesome lunch deal). Our planned afternoon of souvenir shopping was rather disrupted by Spencers/Portico deciding whilst we were thousands of miles away was time to try and sort our broken heating (After we’d waited 6 months for them to get their act together). A delicious lunch later, we headed to the airport.

2017-01-28-21.22.15.jpg.jpegIn 2014 a redevelopment of Oslo Airport was announced. Designed by Gudmund Stokke, under architectural firm Aviaplan. The new departure hall is beautiful! The building is light, airy, with golden fairy lights draped around every pillar. The whole building is clean and very Scandanavian, even the security staff are lovely, when you forget to take your 1l water bottle out of your hand luggage!

After a lovely but exhausting week, it was time to head back to London. Even staying for 5 days I felt there were things I could go back to do/see. I’ll definitely be back! Probably in summer…and when I actually have money!

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 4

Day 4 in Oslo was our final day with our Oslo Passes, and we each decided to go to museums of personal interest.

2017-01-23-17.16.11.jpg.jpegI started my day visiting the Jewish Museum. Jewish history throughout Europe is an area I find fascinating! Each city I go to I visit the Jewish museum, and discover such a varied history and experience each native Jewish people have lived through. Norway is not widely known for its involvement in WWII, however it suffered a huge loss of Jewish citizens during the war; of over 2,000 Jews living in Norway before the war, only 25 survived.

During the war, countless children and families were saved by the Carl Fredriksen Transport Project. A group of rebels saved families by transporting them to Sweden, hidden in trucks, under covers, the children often sedated to keep them calm. Named after the Norwegian King Haakon VII (who’s birth name was Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel) the operation transported over 1,000 refugees to Sweden.

Although a small museum, there is plenty to do; the bathroom is certainly worth a visit, all around the walls are stories or jokes, in Norwegian, English and Hebrew, left as momentos. The building is quite hard to find, hidden away behind gates, you have to be buzzed in, but it houses a fascinating history. The museum was originally a synagogue, however after the war it became a Muslim school, and eventually a Gay Bar!

2017-01-23-17.18.58.jpg.jpegThe Museum of Architecture and the Museum of Contemporary Art lie next to one another geographically and are part of the National Galley collections which will soon be housed together in a single building.

The Museum of Contemporary art is one of the larger museums in Oslo, and spread over 2 floors. Downstairs was a temporary exhibition by Sidsel Paaske; “On the Verge”. Upstairs houses the permanent exhibitions of Louise Bourgeois and an environmental exhibition spanning most of the upper floor with interactive rooms where you can make model jelly fish, watch films and learn about conservation projects around the world.

img_20161222_105438.jpgThe museum’s interior is beautiful, with golden gilt additions to ceilings and gorgeous arches its architecture itself is worth seeing.

Just across the road from the Museum of Contemporary Art lies The National Museum – Architecture. Housed in the old National Bank Building, and redecorated by architect Sverre Fehn the Architecture Museum contains 1 permanent exhibition and 2 temporary exhibitions at any given time. The permanent exhibition focuses on architecture in Norway and major projects managed by Norwegian architects, such as their Opera House, designed by Snohetta2017-01-23-17.17.26.jpg.jpeg.

The smaller exhibition, housed in the vault of the old bank focussed on the bank robberies carried out by Ole Hoiland in 1835, which led to his imprisonment in Akershus Fortress (and his subsequent 11 successful escape attempts).
The final exhibition, “Baking Bad” exhibited works from an annual gingerbread baking competition for school children. They were utterly fabulous!! The photo (left) shows one of the winning entries, a gingerbread model of the house from “Up”. All the entries were inspired by TV or films and ranged from recreations of King Kong hanging from the Empire State Building, to Hagrid’s cabins to Walter White’s infamous meth lab. In the corner was a small station where you could build your own mini sculpture.

2017-01-23-17.23.09.jpg.jpegThe National Gallery lies about a 15 minute walk from the Architecture and Contemporary Art museums. Admittedly our main purpose of visiting the museum was to see Munch’s Scream, following the disappointing lack of Scream at the Munch Museum. Thankfully it was no Mona Lisa moment and the painting was large, and uncrowded. Our favorite paintings however were by Norwegian painters Christian Krohg and Harald Sohlberg.

2017-01-27-16.24.35.jpg.jpegOur final stop for the day was the Reptile Park; definitely one of our favorites. I’ve always loved snakes, as a child most of my birthday parties were animal parties, concluding with a boa constrictor using all the guests stomachs as a transport medium. It was even the highlight of my 18th birthday party, and the snake deciding my little brother looked like a yummy dinner, and beginning to entwine itself around him only made it more entertaining. 2017-01-23-17.27.13.jpg.jpegAdmittedly the Planet Earth 2 Iguana vs Snake scene made me more wary, but getting to hold a snake was a definite highlight!

2017-01-23-17.26.33.jpg.jpegThe range of animals at the reptile park was huge! From Marmoset to 10 species of snake, black widow spiders, turtles, alligators and frogs there’
s something for everyone!

If you come at the right time you can see the animals be20161220_150905.jpging fed, and sometimes hold some of them. Even if you arrive too late for this the animals really wake up afterwards! One of the snakes was on a mission to escape, which he kept doing for about half an hour, trying to fit through the small gap in the glass (it was about 1cm wide, no way he could get out).

The marmosets are very friendly, and will come up to the glass and interact with you, even start talking to you too! They live in an enclosure with a beautiful golden dragon. I may have spent a lot of time befriending the monkeys!

Our evening ended up in Hard Rock Cafe, again. Seriously Oslo, vegetarian food needs to be a thing!

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 3

Our third day in Oslo marked our excursion out of the city center and to Bygdoy on the other side of the quay. This area houses all the museums related to Norway’s seafaring past. The Oslo pass includes free travel within zones 1 and 2, which includes Bygdoy. A door to door bus ran from just outside Anker Hostel, taking around 30 minutes to get us from A to B.

2016-12-19-20.43.37.jpg.jpegThe Viking Ship Museum houses 3 restored Viking Ships, as well as the items found within various Viking Burial sites unearthed by archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson. The ships are beautiful and striking, and housed within what appears to be an old church, any noise echoes throughout the whole building; it creates a peaceful atmosphere.

The three ships (Gokstad, Oseburg and Tune) each represent an important aspect of Viking archaeology; Tune was the first viking ship ever to be excavated whole in just two weeks, the dig headed by Oluf Rygh. Oseburg was used as a burial ship for 2 noble women in the 9th Century, and its excavation provided crucial information into Viking Death. Filled with weapons, clothes, shoes, carved animal heads, and several animals. Gokstad was also used as a burial ship for a young man killed in battle. His grave contained 12 horses,  8 dogs, 3 small boats, ornate game boards and 2 peacocks.

Although a small museum it is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re interested in history or archaeology!

2016-12-19-20.40.38.jpg.jpegThe Folk Museum lies about a 10 minute walk down the road from the Viking Ship Museum. It was by far the largest museum we had visited! The interior museum was split over 2 floors and 2 building, taking visitors on a long journey through a history of crafts, furniture, weapons and Christmas.

The majority of the museum is outside, so make sure to bring lots of layers, it can be quite biting! The outside portion of the museum houses an imitation of a traditional Norwegian village, with thatched outhouses, some open to the public to show an example of guest houses, kitchens, stables and living rooms. Also within the grounds are a beautiful wooden church (pictured right), and a large house showing the living standards of Norwegians from the 60-90s in the form of model flats.

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A short way down the road 3 museums exist on the same lot; The Kon-Tiki Museum, Maritime Museum and the Fram Polar Expedition museum. Unfortunately when we went to visit the Maritime Museum was closed.

2016-12-19-20.35.49.jpg.jpegThe Kon-Tiki Museum was Emily’s favorite! It followed the 2 expeditions of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) and his voyage across the sea on the Kon-Tiki balsalwood raft (pictured right), and his subsequent trips on Ra and Tigris, boats formed from reeds, based on an Egyptian design. For a man with a phobia of open water, he spent an awful lot of time sailing the oceans on vessels scientists promised would not be seaworthy. The museum houses both Kon-Tiki and Tigris, and also has model Easter Island caves, and shows the Oscar winning Kon-Tiki documentary. For a relatively small museum there is plenty to do!

20161219_152813.jpgOur final stop for the day was the Fram Polar Expedition Museum. Billed as the ‘Best Museum in Norway’ we left it till last so we could spend as long as we wanted there. Like Moulin Rouge, we discovered it was grossly oversold. I’m sure if you’re doing a PhD in Polar Expeditions it would be highly engrossing, but given neither of has a particularly deep interest the pages and pages of 20pt type wasn’t particularly gripping. Positives now though! The museum is gigantic, and housed across two buildings, the main attraction in each is a huge polar expedition ship. The larger ship, Fram can be boarded, and a small number of the rooms / cabins / galleys explored. Every 20 minutes, from the deck of Fram a Northern Lights show can be watched, projected onto the white roof of the museum, and a sail, fashioned into a screen.

Visitors can also try out the arctic simulator room, which exposes you to sub zero temperatures. I’m sure in summer this is more enjoyable than winter, when outside temperatures were around -3 degrees to begin with, tho it’s novel none-the-less. Our favorite part of the museum was the kids section, where you could try and navigate using only the stars, and a fake duck shooting range to try your arm at shooting.

The gift shop here is vast, and fairly reasonably priced, a perfect place to pick up your last minute souvenirs, postcards and trinkets.

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 2

After a pretty decent nights sleep (we were out like lights at 10pm) and despite a rather noisy dorm mate, woke up refreshed and ready for our 8am start.

Having bought an Oslo 72 hour pass (£50 for students) we were keen to visit as many museums as possible.

We arrived at the Munch Museum bright and early for its 10am opening time, hoping to see Munch’s famous painting The Scream. Unfortunately, having been stolen in 2004 and sadly damaged before its 2006 return it wasn’t on show, rather disappointing given every poster bore it’s unmistakable features. Nevertheless, an exhibition on Munch and his contemporary, Jorn, provided an interesting hour.

The highlight for myself and Emily was the colour by numbers section of the exhibit; we had a competition on FB to decide the best one. Emily won. I’m not bitter. 

After the Munch Museum, Emily and I parted ways, she went to the Natural History Museum, whilst I headed to the Astrup Fearnley Modern Art Gallery, which focused on both art and Architecture.

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The building itself is a beautiful work of architecture, divided into two halves, one containing the permanent collection, the other housing temporary exhibits. The temporary exhibition “Los Angeles – A Fiction” was by far my favorite,  featuring many American artists including Alexis Smith, David Hockney and Charles Ray.

The permanent collection was much larger, with a wider range of mediums, however I found it rather bland. Bisected baby cows in preservative, and crucified sheep are not art. They are simply cruel, hideous and unnecessary. The highlight of this half was a 10ft high bookshelf sporting large grey lead books, by artist Anselm Kiefer.

After my brief trip to the modern era it was time to go back to ancient times and visit the castle or Akershus Fortress.

Within the fortress walls also lies the Resistance Museum which catalogs the struggles of the Norwegian Resistance throughout the 2nd world war, through continued fighting, underground publications and refusal to fight. Whilst not the largest museum, and mostly in Norwegian (although there is a good guide English guide book) it tells the stories through the medium of models.

A20161218_143301.jpgs with all or Norway, it seems, the castle itself was closed for the winter. Ordinarily the interior of the castle, as well as the Mausoleum and Chapel are open to the public, however when we went only the visitors center was available.  The visitors center itself was essentially a museum, with 2 rooms focusing on the history of the castle and relations between Norway-Denmark and its battles with surrounding countries, and another room on the castle’s previous function as a prison.

Still an active government / military base, visitors can watch the changing of the guard, raising and lowering of the flag at sunrise and sunset (about 3pm in December), as well as enjoy a beautiful walk around the castle grounds.

Our final stop was an evening visit to the Film Museum, housed on the ground floor of a large cinema complex. With late opening hours, and free entry, we tacked it on to our itinerary. The museum is small, and whilst an English information sheet is provided, it rarely matched up to the pieces on show.  It’s a quaint museum fairly close to the castle, so a good one to visit if you find yourself nearby with half an hour to kill.

After another dinner at Hard Rock Cafe (yes it’s the only place that serves vegetarian food) we were back at the hostel to read and relax (and enjoy the US netflix options Norway gets) it was sleep time again!

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 1

Day 1 of our Christmas holiday, and we’d just landed in Norway! After an hour delay at Stansted it was more early afternoon than late morning! 1st things first, getting into central Oslo from the Airport. There are 2 routes, either by tube or an express route. The express route, run by flytoget, takes you straight to Oslo Central, but costs about £20 return. The metro also runs, it takes longer, but I believe it’s cheaper.

20161217_143133.jpgWe were told to buy flytoget tickets, not knowing any better, and proceeded to take the metro. Don’t do it, your tickets aren’t valid, and the conductor may give you a talking to when he inspects them. It’s fine, I think the Norwegians don’t think the British are the brightest, it’s fairly easy to play the dumb tourist card.

As soon as we stepped out of the heated airport and onto the train platform the cold biting air was upon us. Sub-zero temperatures needled at us until we donned our scarves, hats and gloves, much to the amusement of the surrounding locals as they stood remarking as to the ‘mild temperature’ of the day.

20161217_171741.jpgNorwegian winter days are rather short; The sun rises at about 11am, and sets by 4pm, although I’m not sure if you can call it sunrise or sunset, we didn’t see the sun once over the trip, just slightly different shades and brightness of grey sky. By the time we wandered to the hostel and left our bags, it was firmly night time, at about 5pm.
Too late to visit any museums, we decided to walk through the city center and up to the palace, via some dinner. Norway truly do get into the Holiday Spirit! Every street was lit up with beautiful lights, Christmas trees were abundant, and trams chundered past with fairy lights draped elegantly from the roof. The Christmas market with Ferris Wheel and Ice Rink was packed with tourists and locals, searching for a last minute Christmas gift. Unfortunately, by our final day in the city the market had been dismantled, following the horrific terrorist attack at a similar market in Berlin.

After a long day of travelling we were looking forward to our first meal in the capital. Neither myself nor Emily eat meat, which has never been an issue travelling before. Unfortunately, this was going to prove to be rather an issue. After pottering round for some time, searching for options we found the Norwegian answer to Pizza Hut. £26 for a medium pizza was not to be. Vegetarianism does not seem to be a thing in Norway. Precious few restaurants have a veggie equivalent, and virtually none affordably. McDonald’s, our last resort, had even removed their Veggie Deluxe from the menu, and Subway had a 200% price increase.

Hard Rock Cafe, usually an expensive option, proved to be our saving grace! With affordable food, a whole page of vegetarian options and bottomless drinks, it was a jewel in Oslo’s crown!

A 20 minute walk later, and we were tucked up in bed, exhausted from our 3am start and excited for our 1st full day of exploring.