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25 Things You Should Know About Oslo

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Within Oslo’s city limits are 40 islands, 343 lakes, and an entire forest, yet it’s only the third largest Nordic metropolis, behind Stockholm and Copenhagen. But it's the melding of urban and natural landscapes that gives the Norwegian capital its distinct appeal. Notable art is showcased in the parks and woods, and modern landmarks pay homage to the country’s scenery. Say hei to 25 more facts about this Scandinavian city.

1. The original city was founded around 1050 by King Harald Hardrada, but destroyed in a fire in 1624. So Christian IV of Denmark-Norway set up a new town further west, and changed the name to Christiania. The spelling was switched to Kristiania in 1877, but Parliament reverted to Oslo in 1925.

2. In 1814, Norway’s first constitution designated Christiania as the official capital.

3. Oslo is Norway’s most populous city with 647,676 residents as of January 2015, comprising 12.5 percent of the country’s total population.

4. If Oslo's average temperature of 22°F in January feels a little chilly, you should just go ahead and blame yourself: “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing choices,” as a popular Norwegian saying goes.

5. Norway’s King and Queen live at the Royal Palace, located at the top of Karl Johans Gate (essentially Oslo's Main Street). Construction began in 1824; the palace was first used in 1849 by King Oscar I. Foreign heads of state also stay here when visiting the capital on business, and the public can tour the royal residence during the summer (ticket sales for this season started earlier this month).

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6.
There are actually four existing versions of Edvard Munch’s most famous work, The Scream. An 1893 tempera-and-crayon one hangs in Oslo’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, or Nasjonalmuseet, while a 1893 pastel and a 1910 painting are at the city’s Munch Museum, or Munchmuseet. The fourth, produced in 1895, which bought for around $120 million at a Sotheby’s auction.

7. The Scream depicts the vantage point from the hilltop of Oslo’s Ekeberg neighborhood, with the fjord, town, and hills below.

Edvard Munch's The Scream, Google Art Project //Wikimedia Commons


8.
Get lost in the 62-acre sculpture park Ekebergparken, which was opened in 2013 by philanthropist and collector Christian Ringnes. As of today, 34 sculptures are peppered throughout the grounds, including works by Salvador Dali, Auguste Rodin, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. A highlight? James Turrell’s Skyspace: The Color Beneath, which changes hues, thus altering the viewer's perception of the work—and his or her perception of "the sky above," as the work's description reads.

9. A naked man juggling four infants, an angry stomping baby, and a 46-foot high tower of 121 humans are just a few of the more than 200 art pieces at Vigeland Sculpture Park located inside Oslo’s biggest greenspace, Frogner Park. Sculptor Gustav Vigeland made every one of the sculptures himself and also designed the architecture of the 80-acre park, which was finished between 1939 and 1949.

10. The sloped marble top of the Oslo Opera House, designed by architecture firm Snøhetta, resembles an iceberg jetting out of a fjord—and visitors are encouraged to climb the roof all year long. The 414,411-square-foot building, which opened in 2008 and cost $665 million to build, sits on the Oslo waterfront, and is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet.

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11.
Just a 15-minute metro ride inland from the capital’s center is a forest, Oslomarka, completely within the city limits of Oslo.

12. As a kid, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl used to spend his summer vacations visiting his grandparents in Oslo.

13. Every year since 1947, Oslo has given London its Trafalgar Square Christmas tree as a thank you gift for the UK's support during World War II. The city has also given Reykjavik one annually since 1951. But in 2014, Fabian Stang, who was then the mayor of Oslo, said they would no longer be gifting a tree to the Icelandic capital because of the high costs involved. After then-mayor of Reykjavik Jon Gnarr fired back, the tradition was reinstated without a break.

14. The city’s Viking Ship Museum houses three historical boats: the Oseberg, made of oak in the year 820; the Tune, which was the first Viking ship to be excavated when it was found in 1867; and the world's best-preserved Viking ship, the Gokstad, discovered in a burial mound on a farm in 1879.


15.
A noble date: Every year on December 10, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in the presence of Norway’s King Harald V at Oslo City Hall. The other Nobel Prizes are presented in Stockholm.

16. The Akershus Castle and Fortress, which was used during the Middle Ages, still serves as a military base. Look familiar? There's a replica of it at Walt Disney World’s Epcot in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

17. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen worked in theaters in both Bergen and Oslo, but moved to Germany where he wrote his most famous work, A Doll's House. Later in life, he returned to Oslo, where he died on May 23, 1906.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


18.
In February, Oslo’s Maaemo restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars, making it the only restaurant in the country with the honor. The inspectors said the cooking at the restaurant, whose name means "Mother Earth," is "intricate, original and visually stimulating with some sublime flavor combinations.”

19. The Oslo Airport is the first in the world to offer biofuel to all airlines, and Lufthansa was the first to use the Air BP aviation biofuel in an Airbus A320 on January 22.

20. Music lovers visiting the Norwegian city have a wide variety of events to choose from. There's the Inferno Metal Festival in March, and the Norwegian Wood Rock Festival in June. Oh, and then the Oslo Jazz Festival in August, the Oslo World Music Festival in November, and the Oslo International Church Music Festival in March.


21.
Who said bigger is better? The city’s Mini Bottle Gallery is the only museum of its kind on the planet. It contains 53,000 bottles, 12,500 of which are on display across the 16,147-square-foot space.

22. The Holmenkollen ski jump hosted competitions annually from 1892 to 2008, and was even the site of the World Championships in 1982. A new jump was built in 2010, and Holmenkollen is now known as the world’s most modern ski jump, featuring 1000 tons of steel over the 440-foot long hill. The observation deck provides panoramic views, and more daring visitors can zipline down the hill for about $70.

23. The big cheese in town: Brunost, which translates to "brown cheese." But the tan-colored slices aren’t actually cheese at all. The fudge-like texture and sweet-yet-salty taste comes from the caramelization of goat’s milk whey.

24. Oslo was ranked the most expensive city in the world in 2013, but this year it dropped out of the top 10, coming in at number 13.

25. Play more than 100 video games from 1972 to today at the Game On 2.0 exhibit at the Norwegian Museum of Science & Technology, or Teknisk Museum (through January 29, 2017). Visitors can challenge each other to the original arcade versions of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and more.

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Neighborhoods
How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

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Big Questions
Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?
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New York City has been called many things—“The Great American Melting Pot,” “Gotham,” “The City that Never Sleeps”—but its most famous nickname is “The Big Apple.” So just where did this now-ubiquitous moniker originate?

MAKING A BIG APPLE

Over the years, there have been many theories about how New York City came to be called “The Big Apple.” Some say it comes from the former well-to-do families who sold apples on the city's streets to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Another account posits that the term comes from a famous 19th-century brothel madam named Eve, whose girls were cheekily referred to as her “Big Apples.” But the nickname actually springs from a catchphrase used in the 1920s by The Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. Fitz Gerald in his horse racing column, “Around the Big Apple.” Beginning on February 18, 1924, he began every column with the header, “The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York.”

At the time, the jockeys and trainers of smaller horses were said to want to make a “Big Apple," which was their term for the big money prizes at larger races in and around New York City.

Fitz Gerald reportedly first heard "The Big Apple" used to describe New York's racetracks by two African American stable hands at the famed New Orleans Fair Grounds, as he explained in his inaugural "Around the Big Apple" column: “Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the ‘cooling rings’ of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation. ‘Where y'all goin' from here?’ queried one. ‘From here we're headin' for The Big Apple,’ proudly replied the other. ‘Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core,’ was the quick rejoinder.” Fitz Gerald nabbed the colloquialism for his column, where it quickly took off.

CATCHING ON

Once the term entered the vocabularies of society up north, its popularity slowly spread outside of the horseracing context, and everything from nightclubs in Harlem to hit songs and dances about the city were named after “The Big Apple.” Most notably, New York jazz musicians in the 1930s—who had a habit of using the nickname to reference their hometown in their songs—helped the nickname spread beyond the northeast.

Throughout the mid-20th century, it remained New York City's nickname until it was officially adopted by the city in the 1970s. The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau hoped that using the moniker would brighten the image of an economically downtrodden and crime-ridden city in decline and revive the tourist economy. In 1997, to give Fitz Gerald his (somewhat unjust) due, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation naming the corner where Fitz Gerald and his family lived at West 54th Street and Broadway between 1934 and 1963 “Big Apple Corner.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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