The Hotel Continental was a great home base. Family-run for four generations, it's over 100 years old and I was super psyched to find it listed as one of the Leading Hotels of the World. It's all old-world elegance and Euro-charm with a touch of kitsch to brighten things up. Like orange velour polka-dot pillows. Love.
Having pulled an all-nighter before we left, I prepared myself to dive into the big fluffy bed. Oddly, the comforter was only half the size of the bed.
There was also only a single set of towels in the bathroom. At first I thought it a bit bizarre, but apparently they take conservation quite seriously around here so we took this opportunity to do the same and rationed the towels between ourselves.
I'm pretty sure I got the better end of that deal
The first of two lovely surprises was that they stock my favorite bath products. Yay!
The second was a bouquet of flowers from my husband.
I carried them with me all the way to Finland.
In the early evening we walked down to the harbor in search of food. The twilight was spectacular.
Dodging the herds of ferry commuters, we meandered down the boardwalk at Aker Brygge. The enormous lifestyle complex is the most visited destination in Oslo, home to 70 shops, 40 restaurants, a cinema, a plethora of other businesses and some really stunning residential complexes. Clearly touristic but elegant, sophisticated and a surprisingly lovely place to hang out - kind of what Navy Pier could have been if it chose to cater to a more cosmopolitan crowd.
For a moment, I actually thought I could live here.
Drawn in by furry seat covers and heat lamps on the outdoor patio at Druen, my now-favorite wine bar, we snuggled up and ordered some wine. Although "stylish" is not a word I would free-associate with Scandinavia, this town has some serious world-class shopping and people-watching.
As I looked wistfully at the people in the wine bar enjoying the company of friends by the fire, I felt the tiniest twang of jealousy as I thought of all our good friends back home - in both countries. Sigh.
After our little warm-up we abandoned the comfort of the heat lamps to explore all the side streets and alleys, tracing the path of a long line of bras that were strung up the length of the boardwalk.
We found out later that it was an installation to promote Breast Cancer Awareness. Cool.
Since we only had two nights here (and it was too bloody cold to venture out too far) we walked a little further trying to find another restaurant that looked equally inviting.
We could have wandered around all night and I think not found one we liked better.
Amazing how a single meal can make or break our impression of an entire country.
Although we didn't have a chance to see much of it, we fell in love with Oslo and will return...
But preferably in the summer next time.
Scandinavian Seafood Bisque
We had an on-going obsession with fish soup while we were here and ordered it every chance we got. Although it's not necessarily specific to this region, seafood bisque will forever conjure up memories of Oslo's bra-lined boardwalk.
2 cups dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
2 celery stalks
1 lobster, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds (optional; you can use cooked lobster as well)
12 medium-size shrimps, in shell
24 mussels, well scrubbed
12 sea scallops
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 cup fresh spinach, well rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup grated carrot
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Combine the white wine, bay leaf, onion, garlic and celery in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the lobster, cover the pot and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the lobster, set aside and cool. (If you use cooked lobster, cube it and add it in at the end.)
Add the shrimps to the boiling broth, cover the pot and steam for 5 minutes. Remove the shrimps with tongs, set aside and cool.
Add the mussels, cover the pot and steam until they open, also about 5 minutes. Remove the mussels with the tongs, extract the meat and discard the shells. You can leave a few in-shell for garnish.
Add 2 cups of water to the liquid in the pot, bring to a boil and add the scallops. Cover the pot, and steam for 3 minutes. Remove the scallops with the tongs.
Extract the lobster meat, reserving the shells. Peel and devein the shrimps, reserving the shells. Chop the meat into bite-size pieces, cover and set aside.
Throw the lobster and shrimp shells back in the broth and add 2 more cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the broth and return it to the pot. Discard shells.
Bring the broth to a simmer over low heat. Add the cream, milk and herbs and simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.
Add the seafood and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the spinach and carrots and simmer another 2 minutes to just wilt the spinach. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Enjoy with your own favorite memories on a crisp fall evening.
Preferably with good friends.