Oslo is empty. There are five cars, four of which are Nissan Leafs, which drive about perpetually so that it looks like someone’s home.
The inhabitants are a friendly bunch. Well, one presumes them to be. Conversation’s tricky as they’re usually travelling past at a clip; running, cycling or, if you’re in the hills (I was informed a mere 1,350ft does not a mountain make) cross-country skiing. In short, the 20 or so people that inhabit Norway are all 6ft 5 environmentally friendly athletes. My friend Ali and I, on our recent adventure to this magical land, were most definitely the Hobbits at the party. I don’t doubt for a second that any one of the natives could stylishly surf on a shield down a wall to put out an orcs eye with an arrah.
We were – in hastily knocked up t-shirts – representing Southend Soup; at the first ever Soup in Scandanavia. (Something else I learned – Finland, which has a Soup, isn’t Scandanavia.) This was the result of a conversation on Twitter that went something like this:
Oslo: We’re very excited about our first ever soup!
Southend: That sounds great! Wish we could come over for it! Ho ho ho!
Oslo: Well, you should.
Southend: Maybe we will, at that.
(Goes away to check prices. Finds them to be cheaper than a train ride to London.)
Southend: We’ve booked.
This is why I fail at Life. Visit my home (don’t) and find a distinct lack of hot water, heating, plumbing, food, and, in some places, ceiling, but, if there’s a whiff of a chance of adventure, I’m off faster than a dysenteric The Flash in urgent need of a Water Closet.
Immediately on arrival, we discovered people hadn’t exaggerated their warnings about the cost of Middle Earth goods. Expect to pay a fiver for a coffee, £6 to £10 for a sandwich and £9 for a pint. However, we were delighted to find a reasonably priced juice/soup bar called Torst – (yes, yes it does sound like Geordie toast.) The typical (tall, athletic) friendly local introduced us to healthful foods (we’ll not speak about the frog spawn. They were chia seeds, Ali, chia seeds!) and recommended we take a train up to Frognerseteren – the aforementioned HillnotaMountain. So we did. If ever you find yourself in Oslo, take the trip. About 30 mins to an idyllic pine landscape. Islands of snow cling tenaciously to the slopes. Snowmelt waterfalls trickle through the trees. All there is to hear is birdsong, and, from the one fancy restaurant/café, English tourists exclaiming over the price of tea.
Long-suffering Ali trailed in my wake as I did an astonishing impression of my exuberant dog. COME ON! OVER HERE! LOOK! LOOK! THERE’S A STREAM! IT’S HARDLY MUDDY AT ALL! THIS WAY! NO OF COURSE WE WON’T GET LOST! NO IT’S NOT DEEP SNOW! IT BARELY COMES UP TO MY WAIST! COME OOOOOON!
Needless to say, because ADVENTURE, we ended up a fair distance from the train station. However, everyone is friendly and speaks good English, so I stopped a couple of lads to ask for directions. Transpired they were Parisian engineers, and fellow tourists. However, they were in the car and would we like a lift back to town? I didn’t discover til later that Ali had had reservations about this. In my many travels around the world I’ve found that pretty much everyone one meets is ‘nice’. Far more people are willing to help you than would hurt you. (Often going out of their way to be helpful, I’ve found.) The odds generally are that a person offering a lift is doing just that. I trust my instincts when it comes to people. And these two young, beautiful, intelligent French men seemed just fine to me.
Oslo’s quite a small city so we managed to navigate our way to night-before-soup drinks easily. At the bar (very long, music, expensive – take that as read) we were met exuberantly by the international crew that is Oslo Soup: Tara (US), Lo (UK), Giulia (Switzerland) and Janine (Switzerland/SA). (And Janine’s lovely Mum and Tara’s super hubby, of course.)
The evening was passing pleasantly enough, until someone spotted a chap hauling himself out of the deluge of a river rushing past the venue. As he sat there, on a tree root, in the centre of the rapids, shivering, vomiting and generally looking rather unwell, someone remarked; “now that, is the very definition of ‘Norwegian angst'”. They’re a stoic lot. Some drama happened and he and, as it transpired, his three inebriated mates, were rescued and everyone went home for tea and medals. Hurrah.
800 words before we get to the Soup bit. Still with me?
The Soup Bit.
The next day we took a pleasant stroll to the riverside bar – Syng (also Karaoke) – where Scandavia’s first ever Soup was to take place. Lots of young, hip looking folks chattered happily in the sunshine outside, along with equally hip looking dogs. (I always notice the dogs.)
Inside, all was very organised. It was a sold out event, so if your name weren’t down, you weren’t getting in. Fortunately, given that we’d come Quite a Long Way, our names were down, so we handed over our 50 kroner for a voting slip. It’s a nice problem to have – especially at your first ever event – having to turn people away, but a shame for those that missed out. (Especially those who, due to a misunderstanding involving one of the presenters, thought there would be cats. There were no cats.)
The Soupers continued the international theme. We met Italians, Spaniards and Swedes alongside Norwegians. It was all jolly continental. Like being in one of those old Hands-Across-The-World coke adverts.
Once everyone was crammed in, the presentations began without further ado. Ali and I liked the pitching box, although all the presenters declined to stand upon it.
First up, we heard from artist Jessica; concerned about the plastic consumed, discarded and photo-degrading to form beautiful but toxic jewels around the fjords. Her intentions included books about her findings and trips for school children to show them how the waste was accumulating.
Second, a group of students spoke about their plans to create a website and app to help others find things to do, on a budget, on a Sunday around quiet Oslo. (I should point out at this point: ooh the questions from the audience were testy! Tough crowd.)
Third, Swedish chef (not the one from the muppets) Oskar told us about his plans to produce healthy meals for kindergartens using waste food from supermarkets. A win all round. (Once again: barrage of tough questions about the practicalities of this.)
Finally, the pitch that many had heard about in advance: The Cat Cafe. A popular concept: enjoy coffee and cake whilst receiving purr therapy – from cats in need of adoption.
As ever with Soup; four great projects. Artist Jessica scooped the prize, taking away the equivalent of around £500 to begin her journey to battle plastic. You can follow her progress through her website.
Oh, and we also heard from a wonderful project (not pitching for funds) – Solidaritetsnoster – that connects Norwegians with asylum seekers through the joys of yarn. Female prisoners also get involved.
As for the soup, it was bloomin delicious. Even though I was only served, sloppily, half a cup. (I’ve got your number, Janine…) And there was ample cake (vegan and veggie) cooked up by the organisers and volunteers: enough that we had to take some away with us For The Journey.
A wonderful time was had by all, and nary a Nazgul to fight. We were happy to return to the Shires, to our hobbit homes, pipes, slippers and dogs but will surely be returning for the second installment in the not too distant future.
And of course, Southend Soup warmly welcomes Oslo to our humble seaside town anytime.*
* except for Janine. +
+ oh alright then. But don’t expect a full bowl of soup.