Summer sun, something’s begun
But, oh, oh, these summer nights
Jim Jacobs & Casey Warren
Sometimes I hear people talking about the wheelchair as some sort of torture instrument or object of negativity. They assume that people who are dependent on one, naturally hate their wheelchair, as they must hate their destiny and their limited life. We are ‘condemned to life in a wheelchair’, ‘tied to the wheelchair‘ or even chained to it. And I’ll be the first to admit that being a wheelchair user, can sometimes be a pest. People have all kinds of weird attitudes towards you. There are physical challenges and practical hazzle because of inacessability. But fortunately the latter is slowly getting better in Oslo after the ADA-laws came in 2010.
And now I’ll let you in on my dirty little secret: I LOVE my wheelchair! Yes, it’s true! Both my manual wheelchair and my Permobil C500 are fantastic mobility aids. And with lots of new construction going on in Oslo, this is slowly making the art of wheeling easier in the capital of Norway. Even if I do hate construction work – it usually means improved access as a result, which gives me the opportunity to explore the city in ways that was earlier unthinkable (or at least took a great deal of planning ahead).
Yesterday I decided that it was time to explore Ekebergparken – an area of the town I had not been to before. And that has a very logical reason. The park is situated on a steep hill overlooking the city. And it was earlier covered with forrest, with small narrow paths, making it inacessible to wheelchair users. Like most forrests are.
However, a few years ago, the slightly eccentric art-loving owner of Ekebergrestauranten (Christian Ringnes) offered to sponsor a sculpture park open for the public in the Ekeberg forrest. I don’t remember all the details, but he donated the sculptures and some of the costs of creating the sculpture park. The area also includes relics from ancient times, like grave yards and rock art. And those were more or less hidden from the public until this point. And you would think that the people of Oslo would cheer and say thank you, because of this wonderful gift? Oh no, there was a huge outcry! Because this would totally RUIN this recreational forrest (that few people used anyway). It was also an evil act of a man, who surely wanted people to come eat in his slightly isolated up-scale restaurant.
And perhaps that was the main motive of Mr. Ringnes? But you know what? When one of my outraged environmental activist friends said:
“Don’t you agree? It’s a shame that they are destroying this pristine green area, by chopping down trees and building asphalt paths around the forrest!”, I didn’t show any enthusiasm.
I just told him:
“You know what? I have never been to this forrest. It is my impression that many people don’t even know it is there. And you know WHY I haven’t been there? Because it is not accesible for wheelchair users. With this new sculpture park, I presume that the area will be adapted for people with disabilities to the extent that is possible. I think it’s great! It’s a gift to the city and disabled people will have a new area for art and recreation.“
My friend decided to shut up after this.
After the park was finished, many of the critics have also decided to shut up. And yesterday I wanted to check it out for myself. And I had decided to do so by ‘walking’. I had no idea whether it was possible to get to the park by wheelchair from my home (with pavements, curb cuts and all), but I was going to give it a try. Even if it included walking for an hour or more.
I started the walk through another area they have made accessible recently, which is called Svartdalsskogen. This is an area with untouched forrest, where they have made a universally designed path along the Alna river running through the Eastern part of Oslo. And it’s a very nice area for a short walk in the woods, that even includes a suspension bridge strong enough to hold a power chair. Alas, they haven’t made the southern 200m accessible. So if you are not a daredevil, you must turn around and take the same way back or find the steep gravel path to Etterstad South in the middle.
I might be a daredevil, but I don’t have a death wish. So I left the forrest via the path to Etterstad South, crossed the universally designed pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks and headed down to Kværnerdalen. This is a new housing area that used to be an industrial site. I passed Kværnerdalen, and with my phone’s GPS I had figured out that if I walked the hills up Konowsgate, Vallhallveien and Ryenbergveien, this would eventually lead me to Ekebergparken. It would even take me past the view point where Munch got his inspiration for the famous painting Scream. And you know why I knew when I was at the right spot? Japanese tourists of course! Having their Kodak (may they rest in peace) moments, silently screaming in front of the view to Oslo’s new skyline in Bjørvika.
Even if it was not a perfect area to walk in, it worked out well. I followed the signs to Ekeberg camping, where the sculpture park begins, just below the camping site. This is propably the ‘wrong end’ to start. But regarding that the area consists of some rather steep hills with sandy paths, I guessed it was easier to walk downhill than uphill with a power chair. A manual chair or a small power chair, would definitely face problems even if the paths have even surface. It is just too steep. But with a C500, it was no problem at all, in dry conditions. I also recommend downloading the Ekeberg park app before you start the walk. It has a convenient map telling you how far you are from the different art pieces, and that can be quite useful. I managed to take a wrong turn several times and the app told me I was heading in the wrong direction. Ekeberg Sculpture park is covering a quite big area, although most of the art pieces is rather close to Ekeberg restaurant. No wonder…
Perhaps 2 or 3 of the art pieces demanded some off road driving, so I decided not to take a closer look at those. I didn’t have rescue team with me, and the GPS had eaten most of my cell phone battery. Instead of getting stuck in a ditch, I decided for a break (kunstpause as we say in Norwegian) at the famous funkis restaurant. It must have one of the best views in Oslo.
Lucky for me – even on a sunny summer Saturday night, there were several available tables at the front patio, where they serve small courses. I decided for a shrimp sandwich and a glass of chablis. Good choice! Even if the prices were stiff, the quality and amount of food was perfect. And the location even better. And after some investigation from the cute helpful Swedish waitress, I also found the accessible toilets. Because the restaurant (inacessible as it looks) has a wheelchair friendly entrance at the back. There you’ll find a lift that can take you to the different levels, including the wheelchair friendly toilet in the basement. Since there was a wedding going on inside, there was no point in trying the indoor sightseeing. But I had more art to see and places to explore this summer night.
After a stroll in the restaurant garden, I also learned that:
- It’s not always easy to know what’s art and what’s not
- There is disabled friendly parking – but it is small.
- The Karlsborg Spiseforretning (another restaurant in the park) also has a ramp to enter, even if the building looks very old fashioned and inacessible
- Taking nice photos in afternoon sunlight is hard!
From Ekebergrestauranten it is possible to walk down to the city centre again via Kongsveien, leading you past Middelalderparken and the medieval ruins in Oslo (Gamlebyen), followed by Bjørvika with the Opera and the main train station. If you are not a wheelchair user, you can take the tram. The bus is also an option.
Since there are not too many warm summer evenings in Norway, I decided to do some more sightseing before I headed home. I had read that there was some kind of veteran boat festival going on in Bjørvika (on Sukkerbiten), that even included veteran boats from my homeplace Stord. And there is always a lot going on around the Opera House in summer, because NRK tapes their evening summer shows there, with live concerts and happening.
And there were people. And boats. And viking ships. And more people. And oars (200 of them actually). And wine. But nobody I knew.
So after a glass of rosé, taking in the vibe and the distinct aroma of old wooden boats, and watching a group of people doing the jenka to some Norwegian reggae band I had never heard of, I decided to walk myself back home in the wonderful sunny summer night. With my wonderful wheelchair…