I arrived in Bergen at 3am not out of choice but because, as a general rule, planes do not work properly when I am on them. Bits fall off, flaps malfunction, things start to smoke…. that kinda thing. Today it was the windscreen that shattered on aircraft number one and the de-icer that called it quits on aircraft number two. Amongst other things. Here’s a full account of what happened, if anybody’s interested!
By the time I got to the hotel, Alex had been there for hours, but had somehow remained awake after his journey from Chicago and still had enough energy for a nice.. catch up. He’d also brought some Death’s Door gin from Wisconsin and put it out to chill on the snowy roof where it was joined by some beers I’d picked up in Amsterdam. We’d anticipated extortionate Norwegian alcohol prices, and in the freezing North, fridges are for losers. We didn’t have one anyway.
We slept pretty late, but because this is Scandinavia and it’s winter, the sun was just coming up over the mountains when we opened the curtains, and we discovered we had a pretty nice view of the city from our velux.
There were five different types of fish available at the breakfast buffet, along with five different types of cheese, a selection cold meats, many pickled things, some unusual-looking breads, and boiled eggs of varying consistencies. Very interesting.
The streets nearby our hotel (Klosterhagen Hotell) were narrow, steep and super cute, making for a picturesque saunter down to the waterfront.
With the colourful Hanseatic buildings of Bryggen in front of snowy forested hills, Bergen’s waterfront vista is urban Scandinavia at its most quintessential. If you send a postcard to your mum from here, it’s probably going to look like this.
As pretty as it is, your view of Bergen need not be limited to this, because like all good mountain cities, Bergen has a funicular. A very popular funicular. Apparently the weather in Bergen is usually rainy and grey, but they just had a fresh dump of snow and the sun is shining so 86% of the population of the city are heading up into the hills to frolic/cross country ski. The views from the top are pretty good.
I thought we would just get to the top of the hill (called Fløyen), admire the view, then get the funicular back down again, but turns out it’s an actual winter paradise at the top of this thing, with snowy tree-covered mountains that go on forever. So we set off on an adventure.
Our wandering took us through the pine forest from your Narnia-themed dreams…
The climb got pretty steep at points, and there really wasn’t any other people on this part of the mountain, until we got out of the forest and a couple of other hikers joined the path to the summit from other trails. Including one man with a tiny dog up to its face in powder. In Norway, even the fancy little dogs are mountaineers.
Up, up, up. The landscape has totally changed at this point and we’re mostly above the tree line. It’s also about the middle of the day, and the sun is so low in the sky the light is amazing. Kind of like an all day sunset.
There was a little stone hut at the summit and people were cooking sausages over an open fire and it was all very Norwegian… And the view from the top was worth every inch of the hike.
Doooown the mountain we went, then doooown the funicular, then we walked mostly aimlessly around the city center for a while before resorting to Yelp to find us a traditional establishment in which to have lunch. The app delivered, and we landed in Pingvinen, a cosy bar/eatery that wasn’t too touristy and had a decent selection of local food and beer. Alex had mussels and some sort of meaty soup thing. I had a fish pie that had surprise macaroni in it and was truly marvellous.
To digest the above, we explored some more of the city, and the coloured buildings of Bryggen and elsewhere. For a usually-rainy northern city, they do know how to make the best of it. If Aberdeen had multi-coloured facades like this instead of its monotonous grey granite I’m sure more cheerful people would want to live there without having to be enticed and retained by six figure oil industry salaries. I digress…
You know how much I love a good tall ship, so was pretty stoked to see this three-masted beauty moored in the harbour. Built by Germany in the First World War, Statsraad Lehmkuhl was, and still is used as a training ship. Opposite the ship there is a castle, Bergenhus Fortress, parts of which date back as early as 1240, and which is currently used by the Royal Norwegian Navy to house troops.
Because Alex is a boy, we ended up in Bergen’s premier football-watching premises, Fotballpuben, watching Liverpool play Manchester United. But it wasn’t all bad cause that basically involved sitting out on the deck under a patio heater drinking the delicious local nectar that is Hansa with our gloves still on, occasionally cheering at men in shorts.
Because Alex is a boy and also American and also, more specifically, from Wisconsin, we spent the latter part of the night watching the Packers play the Cowboys in the NFL playoffs. With American football not being broadcast in Norway, we managed to find a link to a live stream on Reddit. We were skeptical about this at first, but turned out to be absolutely perfect. No buffering, no glitching, crystal clear pictures… basically we opened a portal to the actual stadium, plus we got to watch all the American TV adverts which I realised I had kind of missed. Hang on whilst I grab a chilled beer from the roof. Happy days.
We may have been watching American football and drinking gin until 4 am (sorry for all the yelling, neighbours), but we were out of the hotel by 7:30, on our way to the station to start the all-day Norway in a Nutshell tour.
This excursion deserves an entire post to itself, which I have gone and done for you. If you don’t want to read that, here’s a wee video I put together to give you a taster of what went down. I honestly can not recommend this tour enough. It’s self-guided but you get all the tickets at the start when you book, and it’s really easy to get from train to bus to boat to train to other train. Plus there’s lots of other people doing the same tour too which is fun. Sometimes they have a bottle of Russian Standard which they are happy to share with you.
The tour dropped us back in Bergen, along with a gaggle of new friends with whom we immediately went out for burgers. Burgers which turned into pitchers of Hansa at Sjøboden, a pub in one of the old Bryggen buildings, which inevitably turned in to sitting in an Irish pub until it closed (yes, it is a holiday faux pas but it was the only place open).
In the morning we headed for the station again, but not before stopping for a reindeer sausage hot dog which almost cost us making it on to the train (I had also over-estimated how fast I can run with a wheelie suitcase and a snowboard bag). We are stopping off at Hemsedal for three days of snowboarding, but again, that’s another post! Our final destination is Oslo, and since this post is about Bergen and Oslo, I’ll jump right in to that.
We arrived in the evening, and went straight out to eat. Alex had chosen a place, which he was keeping kind of secret, but had made the decision based on their selection of interesting Scandinavian meat options, which seemed like good call. The place was called Rorbua, a cosy kind of nautical/arctic themed place filled with rope and fire and, sure enough, the menu is packed full of reindeer, moose, whale and the like. Two things on the menu really stood out:
So that’s what we went for. We shared the whale platter, and had a moose/reindeer stew each. And some Mack beer, from the world’s most northerly brewery, all the way up in Tromsø.
Holy shit, the food was good. Everything on the whale platter was amazing, especially the whale (the black stuff in the bottom corner – minke whale apparently). Never tasted any kind of whale before, which is a bit of a travesty, and I kind of expected it to be fishy, but I guess since it’s not a fish, that was an unfounded assumption. It’s not fishy. It is delicious. The meat stew was also so. damn. good. But also the heaviest, richest, most filling plateful of anything I’ve ever had. I admitted defeat about halfway through, which is a rarity for me, and also extremely sad because it was, again, so. damn. good.
What was definitely needed after that was a massive walk somewhere. Good thing we’ve just arrived in a new city that appears to be quite pretty and nice for getting all ambulatory in.
In addition to taking us past four TGI Fridays (one of which we had to stop and have cocktail in because it was getting ridiculous), our ambling took us to a cool semi-indoor street called Strøget that was chock full of interesting-looking bars and clubs. We found one called Wurst that we liked the look of and local beers were had.
In the morning we took the subway to Frogner Park to see the famous Vigeland installation. Apparently the largest sculpture park in the world by a single artist, it is also probably the strangest. Definitely the most naked.
We walked through the park and out the other end taking in all the nudity. Then we got on another subway (of the non-sub variety) which took us up the hill to Holmenkollen – home of the Holmenkollbakken, Oslo’s olympic standard ski jumping hill.
I’m a snowsporting kinda girl who infinitely prefers the Winter Olympics to the (comparatively overhyped) summer spectacle, so I was pretty excited to get my eyes on this beast – the site of many a ski jumping achievement but also a dazzling feat of engineering in itself. And you can climb up it for insane views of the jump ramp. I’m all for throwing myself down steep slopes at high speeds for thrills, but looking down this was something else…
There’s also a museum of skiing and snowboarding inside, which is interesting if you’re in to that (we were), but now we’re hungry so we’re getting back on the train. Eating occurred at the Fiskeriet, in the tiny restaurant area of Oslo’s buzzing fish market, where I enjoyed some delightful faceless fishcakes while watching Alex rip the heads of 83 anguished-looking prawns. We both enjoyed our meals though, which is what matters – and the atmosphere in this little place (and that Hansa) was great.
Post-luncheon wandering took us down to the waterfront in time for sunset, and we got a good look at Oslo’s famous new Opera house with some of nature’s best mood lighting. The sea water in the dock area was nice and frozen, and it was all very picturesque. Note the ice in this picture. Does it look safe?
We’d been admiring the sleek angles of the Opera and watching the sun go down for about five minutes when Alex was asked by an Australian couple to take a picture of them as they ventured out on the ice.
WHAT. ARE YOU CRAZY?! YOU’RE AUSTRALIAN, DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT ICE IS!? I’S BEEN A MILD WINTER!!
Alex obliged these clearly insane individuals in their quest for the ultimate Norway pic for their Insta feed, and I watched alongside, waiting for them to plunge to their deaths in the freezing, dark sea, and not looking forward to having to attempt to rescue them.
Except they didn’t plunge anywhere, and every step further out they took made me want to join them in their (indeed very photo-worthy) lunacy. So we did – we tiptoed out on to the ice, gaining courage each time a foot hit the ice and did not go all the way through. And as soon as we were about 20 steps out, another couple joined us, no doubt rationalising that, since we’re all going to die one day anyway, they may as well join in all this ice-based frivolity under one last lovely sunset. And then another couple did the same. Foolhardiness is apparently something expressed in pairs.
By the time we headed back to solid land about 15 minutes later, there were about 20 people all milling around on the frozen surface of the sea (yes, this is sea. saltwater, rogue currents, well below zero). I personally have never needed much encouragement to do reckless things, but watching this all unfold was an interesting insight into human behaviour, and of how quickly regular people get brave when they’ve seen one person do something incredibly stupid and not die.
If it was a thrill we were after, this certainly delivered. There’s nothing quite like wondering if your next step is going to be your last to get the heart racing. And the Australian couple got one thing right…
The photos were quite cool.
After that we definitely needed some Hansa, and one last, very expensive meal before catching some Zs ahead of our early flights.
So that was Bergen and Oslo, and I am absolutely terrified of getting my credit card statement at the end of this month, but I’m going to say with absolute certainty that whatever shock I am presented with will have been worth it!