This morning at work, as I sipped on my morning cup of coffee trying to wake up, my friend and coworker Lisa suddenly said, “Have you heard anything about Oslo?  Twitter is going crazy!”

I quickly did a news search and was saddened to see news reports that earlier today, Friday, July 22, 2011, a giant explosion happened in downtown Oslo.  According to reports, one blast happened near Prime Minister Stoltenberg’s office, and another occurred close to the Norwegian parliament.  So far Oslo police have not confirmed whether or not it was a terrorist attack, but they did tell reporters that at least one person is dead and several are injured.

My mind raced to my friend Sonja, a close friend whom I had met at church in London during my graduate studies there.  She is half Norwegian, half Northern Irish, and her family still owns property in Oslo.  Sonja works in London, but since she often travels to Oslo and has family there, I sent her a quick text to make sure she was okay.

It is always sad to see a place that you enjoyed visiting hit by tragedy.

I visited Oslo almost exactly a year ago, during what you could call a burst of spontaneity.  I had been in a bit of a slump at work, it was before Leon came into the picture and I had decided to take a break from dating, and I felt like I was lifelessly going through the motions of the D.C. professional routine.  While chatting with Sonja and Julie, another close friend who is American but also lives in the U.K., on Skype one day, they mentioned that they were planning a girls’ weekend in Oslo.  The plan was to get away, relax, and enjoy Sonja’s family’s flat in the city.  I told them that their plan sounded amazing, and that I missed them and wished I could go.

Now, as many travelers have experienced, before I knew it the “I wish I could go” somehow turned into, “Hm, I found a good deal on Expedia for those dates….”  I knew that it was pretty spontaneous, but I had never been to Norway, and when else would I have the chance to visit friends there?  Before I knew it, Sonja and Julie were clapping over Skype as I grabbed the tickets.

And off to Oslo I went, for a long weekend.  It was wonderful to see friends, of course, and having a girls’ weekend in a new country made it even more special.  I fell in love with the calm yet vibrant atmosphere of Oslo.  It is most famous for being the site of the Nobel Peace Center, but it offers so much more than just medals.  My friends and I took a rail car up to Holmenkollen, home of the giant Olympic ski jump where we saw people training for the winter Olympics (or, as I saw it, flinging themselves down the slope at scary speeds).  We strolled through the grounds of Akershus Slott (Akershus Castle), which sits on top of a hill overlooking the sparkling fjords that make for perfect photographs, and stopped by the visitor’s center to brush up on Norwegian history.  After our history lesson, we headed downtown for some great shopping, coffee, and mouthwatering Norwegian smoked salmon (now, I’m not really a fan of smoked salmon, but I savored an entire plate of it there–another example of how sometimes you have to try a food where it’s from to appreciate it).

During the weekend, aside from having girl talk, we explored the Oslo sculpture garden, took pictures in front of the royal palace, and had a mini snowball fight (it was snowing late for the season, so we took advantage of having fresh powder to make snowballs).  It was a fantastic weekend.

Oslo is a great city to visit, as it is less hectic than other European capitals, but it still has great history lessons to offer, great sights, and smoked salmon that will make you a fan even if you don’t currently like it.  I hope that the Norwegian police are able to find the individuals behind today’s explosions and hold them accountable for creating tragedy in such a wonderful place.

Downtown Oslo at dusk