Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Logbook: Oslonomics

When I have a long-distance travel day ahead of me, I have developed a routine of making arrangements in advance for the first night at my destination. It's a good routine that I recommend, because the risk of booking in a bad place and having to move the next day is easily outweighed by the convenience of not having to hassle with looking around immediately upon arrival and the peace of mind that comes from knowing you've got a place to stay lined up. During my rainy days in Copenhagen I tried to execute this plan for my arrival in Oslo, but I was unable to find anyplace online that was in my price target range. Knowing that I would be arriving here in Oslo relatively early in the afternoon, I decided to try the "wing it" approach and find a place when I got here. So, after a pleasant train ride through lovely Swedish/Norwegian countryside, I arrived at Oslo central station and stashed my gear in the baggage room then hit the streets to find a place to stay.

For about an hour I scouted around the central station area and inquired at hotels of all shapes and sizes, pretty quickly discovering that the reason I couldn't find a room in my price range online is that there don't appear to be any such rooms here. I finally took a room at about twice my usual rate and chalked it up to "just another little surprise" on The Voyage. After checking in I hit the streets again to find some dinner and experienced even more sticker shock. A steak dinner would have cost me $100 at any number of so-so looking restaurants, and I have no idea what it would have cost in a fancy one. By the time I'd looked at a dozen places it was getting late -- and I was hungry -- so I settled for a glass of wine and a plate of food for $70 at a pub.

Prices in Oslo aren't just high, they are crazy high. At first I thought I must be doing the currency conversion math wrong, but I after double checking it with my calculator I found I'd done it right. To give you an idea of what I mean about prices, here are some of the results of my investigation: A medium sized Burger King Whopper meal costs $15. A mass market paperback book is $18. A current trade hard cover book costs between $50-$70. A cup of coffee is $5 and a bottle of water will set you back $4. Really, I'm not making this up. If these were the prices quoted in a MasterCard ad, the closing line would have to be: "Getting out of Oslo with anything left in your wallet... Priceless!"

Oslonomics1If you do the math on the sign in the picture, you will calculate that gas here costs over $8 per gallon. Gas has been in the $6-$8 a gallon range throughout Europe, but the over $8 price here is the highest I've seen anywhere. What makes this odd is that Norway has massive amount of North Sea oil and is one of the world's leading exporters. I did some research on this and found out that the government keeps the price of gas high to dissuade people from owning cars and driving as part of its long term energy and finance programs. Along the way, I found out a lot of other little tidbits about economics around here -- including that the government has put some of the oil revenue in a "trust fund" to have available when the oil runs out -- but I don't want to get too much into what you can easily Google if you are interested here in the Logbook. I'll just say that Oslo is the most expensive place I have ever been in my life, and this had an impact on my appreciation and enjoyment of the city.

Oslonomics2Thankfully, walking is free here. I have spent much of the past two days walking around the city, getting a feel for its urban atmosphere. Although Oslo isn't a "big" city compared to many I've been in, it certainly has a big city feeling to it. There is a lot of hustle, bustle and noise, and there seems to be a lot of construction going on. The buildings are a mix of big new steel and glass high rises along with smaller, older stone edifices that are probably destined to be torn down. There also seems to be a very diverse population, not just the prototypical blondes legend would lead you to expect. I don't know how much of Norway's 4.6 million population lives here, but I suspect it is a pretty large percentage.

Oslonomics3On the positive side, Oslo has some green spaces and historical sites that offer relative peace and quiet. Also, it is next to the water and from the bluffs of the old fortress you can get a beautiful view that inspires you to go explore it. All in all I can't say I really like Oslo, but I can't say I don't like it either. I do have to admit that the cost of being here dissuades me from wanting to spend more time checking it out. So, early in the morning I will take what is claimed to be a very beautiful train ride over to Stockholm. I am looking forward to visiting with my friend Inga who claims to have arranged a variety of Swedish exploration opportunities for me!

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