DUBAI: If the cooler climes of Scandinavia aren’t enough reason to counter a long, hot summer in the Gulf with a trip to Oslo, then consider the ease: It’s the only city in the world where I’ve taken a train ride from the airport that ended at the doorstep of my hotel in less than half an hour.
And not just any hotel. Recently named one of the Top 100 places in the world to visit by Time magazine, the newly opened Amerikalinjen is a passion project that reflects not just the maritime history of Norway’s capital, but also the growing number of reasons to visit its revitalized waterfront.
Located at the doorstep of Central Station, the Wes Anderson-inspired boutique hotel takes its name from its Neo-Baroque premises, the former headquarters of the Norwegian America Line, which ferried passengers and cargo between Norway and the United States beginning in 1910.
Opened in March by Nordic Hotels & Resorts, the historic building has been redesigned to pay homage to that era, from the jazz bar in what was once the luggage room to the old-fashioned room phones that allow you to dial “Tales from the Sea” from a former ship employee.
“Travelers today, they want to be part of history,” explains Martin Andersen, the hotel’s commercial director. Historic documents, including the menu from the line’s maiden voyage in 1913, are displayed in the Heritage Room library and in frames on the walls of the rooms. They take their place among a well-curated art collection through the hotel, which includes Shepard Fariey’s famous “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama, and of an American Muslim woman, titled “We the People.”
The redesign comes with modern touches — lights that turn on automatically when you step into the black-and-white-tiled washroom and a boxing gym connected to a Finnish sauna in the basement. It would be tempting to spend the day in my deluxe room, sitting in a mid-century Scandinavian chair staring up at the blown-glass pendant lamps and original moldings on the ceiling, but the city beckons. Opening up my Juliet balcony doors onto the building’s balustrade, I can see the Oslo Opera House, a glass box that juts out of angular marble walkways, across the fjord.
Saudis who know and love Dhahran’s Ithra building will be drawn to this modern architectural wonder (which kickstarted the waterfront revitalization in 2008), because they share the same creator: Norway’s Snohetta. It’s clearly a hit with the locals, who gather to sun themselves or stroll on its striking slopes.
It’s a five-minute walk from Amerikalinjen, and from there I take the Harbour Promenade, past floating saunas and moored ships to the Vippa food hall, a collection of indoor street food vendors. Passing the stony walls of the majestic 14th-century Akershus Fortress, I wind up at the Nobel Peace Center. A guide takes visitors through the history of the annual prize, awarded in the City Hall across the street. The Royal Palace isn’t far away, and after walking through its grounds I stroll down the main boulevard, Karl Johanson, back to the hotel, stopping in to shop at the nearby Steen & Strom department store.
The next day, I venture out a little farther, to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. With more than 200 truly eccentric sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, the Norwegian artist who also designed the Nobel Peace medal, it’s worth the 20-minute tram ride from the hotel.
The Munch Museum — home to the painter’s “The Scream,” stolen from its premises in 2004 and recovered the next year — is also a bit out of the way, but not for long. Next year it will move to its new premises next door to the Oslo Opera House.
At the end of the day, I make it back there to see the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet’s production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Upon returning to Ameriklinjen, I’m delivered freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies before bed. As I fall asleep, listening to the lone call of a seagull, it’s hard to imagine a better, or easier, place to be.