The flight from London to Bergen was a little bit shy of two hours. As we flew over the first bit of southern Norway my heart jumped. The landscape is beautiful and I can see how Bjork wrote Anchor Song on a Cruise from Iceland to Norway…its entirely gorgeous. The landscape reminds me of a mix of West Coast Canada with a bit of Viking lore and Muskoka Cottage country thrown into the mix. On the plane I got my first shot at Norwegian cuisine with the luxurious on board menu including cream cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches, Reinsdyrpolse (Reindeer Sausage) and Elgpolse (Moose Sausage). Everything in Norway is bloody expensive but totally worth it for the fantastic views and rich culture. I feel like I am actually living in a Viking (pronounced Wiking) village, perhaps I’ll see a troll or two! Some history; Olav Kyrre, King of Norway from 1066 to 1093 founded Bergen making it Scandinavia’s first capital city in the 13th century. Bergen was Norway’s largest city for 600 years and is now second to Oslo at a population of about 250 000 people. In the summer (right now) it never gets dark…the sun gets weak at around 11pm but it is still easy to walk around…no dark alleys here. The sun comes back at around 2am in full blast so the night is practically non existent.
The city is built around a harbor which is filled with huge expensive yachts and power motor boats. I took a harbor walk and passed the main square where you can see both sides of the harbor to your left and right, a Ferris wheel on the left and to the right the famous fish market. Lots of lobster, shrimp, salmon and dried lutefisk was for sale at the stinky market of marine culinary gastronomic delight. Many of the stands also sell crafts namely decorated plates and the famous Scandinavian blown glass. I tried the Norwegian signature foods at a sausage stand. Moose, Whale and Reindeer sausage. All I can say is that after trying all three consecutively I had to chew a piece of gum for an hour to get the odd taste out of my mouth. The market also has several tourist spots for buying reindeer antlers (I will be passing on those) as well as seal and wolf pelts made into summer vests! I had to take a picture of that as it is not every day you see people trying on seal vests and purchasing Wiking helmets at the same store! I would have loved to have bought an authentic Norwegian sweater…they are decorated so nicely and made of the softest wool but can only be fetched at a staggering 110 euros! The streets are also full of specialty shops that sell everything from Norwegian badges to miniature trolls and Viking swords and helmets. This place is magical. I walked on the right bank which is the Medieval area of the city which was built by the Germans when they invaded in the early 1200s. The street is called Bryggen and is absolutely stunning architecture; pointy flat facade buildings painted with bright colours line the street front.
I took the Floibanen funicular to Floyen which is 200m above sea level and provides a stunning view of the city. The funicular literally goes 90 degrees up an incredibly sharp cliff so it is important to close your eyes in order to not lose your lunch. Once at the top I took several pictures of the amazing panoramic views of the city center, harbor and the 7 mountains that surround the city. The best picture was of me dancing with a troll statue 2 times the size of me as the wind blew a huge Norwegian flag behind me. I did the BIG MAC test today. The best way to compare expenses in any city is to compare how much a Big Mac Meal costs. In Canada it is 5 dollars…in Norway it is 70Kro or 10 euros or 15 Dollars!
I then took a stroll to the grocery store and purchased 20 euros worth of food supplies for my next 2 days in this historical UNESCO World Heritage city. The grocery store was full of little odd treasures. I bought two of the traditional Norwegian buns that are the colour of Pumpernickel bread and are covered in seeds and oats. I then bought some gala apples and a nice tub of garlic whipped cream cheese. To finish off these wonderful sandwiches I also bought Kylling Salat (chicken salad) and Pepperskinte (peppered ham). During my dinner I met a girl from Montreal and she and I decided to go for a walk around the town before bedtime. We walked to the famous pond called Lille Lungegardsvann where I was able to look 360 degrees around myself and see huge mountains with little Nordic cottages (we’ll call them Hobbit Houses from here on in…they actually grow grass on their roof its like a fairy tale!) We then walked back in the direction of the town square through the University and Johannes Kirken a famous old Nordic church. The architecture is starkly different from that of France or Spain. Amongst the University streets are a gathering of suburbs which are entirely adorable. All of the houses are Nordic little cottages painted bright yellow, red, orange, green and even pink. If you stand in the middle of the cobbled streets and lift up your arms you can literally touch the sides of both houses!
I was awake at 7am this morning thanks to the shrieking fire alarm that was set off by a Frenchman making crepes without attending them with great servitude. As I looked out the window onto the town I could see it had rained all last night. Bergen is the wettest place on earth, it rains here on average 320 days a year! The entire region today was damp, cloudy, misty. Norway is like a fairytale, no wonder they believed in trolls, elves and giants! On that note I would like to read you experts of my friends travel guide regarding the history of these fascinating creatures…
The troll emerged after the Ice Age and lives in gloomy forests, moon lit lakes, deep fjords and roaring waterfalls). They live in the shadow and darkness as direct sunlight turns them to stone. They can live for hundreds of years and have a strange predilection for harassing billy goats and a violent aversion to the sound of church bells. Trolls all have 4 fingers and toes, long crooked noses and some even have multiple heads with up to 3 eyes! The giant is a larger ancient troll. It is said that a giant by the name of Ymir of Joturnheimen created the world when he was killed by Omen the God of the sea.
Elves live stream side and sites of their nocturnal festivities and dances can be seen when marked by luxurious rings of grass. Other fond fellows are the Hulder who steal milk from summer pastures, the frightening Draugen (a headless fisherman who for tells drowning’s with a haunting wail).
Another interesting cultural note: Russing around, the tradition of students graduating from high school called “russ”. They don red overalls and beret and are permitted for a time to raise all sorts of holy hell. Unrestrained noise, partying, graffiti and general obnoxiousness abound and is encouraged several weeks at the end of each school year!
After I adjusted to the alarm screaming in my ear I set out for the train station for my Norway in a Nutshell 12 hour train, ferry and bus trip which left at 8:40am. The entire tour cost a staggering 566 Kroner! Here is a play by play of the most fabulous 12 hour trip I have ever taken…
The train left from Bergen and sped to Mydral about 2 hours east. The scenery was beautiful as every few minutes the train would emerge from the black darkness of the tunnels (we traveled through the fjord mountains to get to our destination). As we got a glimpse of the country side you could see huge cliff faces, mountains full of green brush and thousands of kilometers of waterfalls, rapids, rivers and shimmering lakes. As we took this trip through the heart of Scandinavian geography I plugged myself into Bjorks Homogenic album with Joga on repeat (emotional landscapes as the chorus chants). We got off the regional train at Myrdal and got onto the Flam railway. This is a famous railway as I was soon to understand why. The entire trip was 2 hours to Flam where I can only describe the inside of the coach as photography blitz. Cameras were clicking for 2 hours straight! The train climbs the Sognefjorden the world’s largest fjord! We climbed 800 meters and basically spun 360 degrees up the mountain through caves. Every time the train had a short glimpse of the scenery it was breathtaking! HUGE waterfalls like you won’t believe, deep valleys surrounded by shimmering lakes and rapids. At one point the train stopped for us to all take pictures of the famous Kjosfossen water fall. As we left the train we got drenched, it was like having a shower and I couldn’t help but smile as I had come to the right place it seemed. The falls were huge and winding and to our surprise music started to play in the tradition of Viking battle hymns and 3 ladies in blue traditional attire could be seen to the right of the falls dancing in and out of a medieval building! I couldn’t believe my eyes, the Norwegian tourism board actually pays these actors to show up every day at the same time to dance like mystic elves for the entertainment of tourists! Fantasy land indeed!
Once arriving in Flam we were given an hour to eat and walk around as we waited to board our 2 hour ferry trip through the steepest fjords in Norway. Flam is beautiful and when at the port, if you look up, it seems as though you are sitting at the bottom of a toilet bowl as yet again 360 degrees around you are towering cliffs with 17 distinct waterfalls creating a rainbow mist across the cloudy sky. There were many little tourist shops with noteable items for sale such as: Seal fur vests, 600 Canadian dollar wool Norwegian sweaters (shocking I know), Viking helmets and my favorite being the collection of postcards (many traditional touristy postcards then me and my friend noticed a whole slew of postcards with nude men standing under fjord waterfalls or nude men standing together with Viking helmets atop a fjord staring down at the valley). This unanticipated nudity was hilarious and I think is engrained in their culture as the strong blond haired Nordic Viking man symbolizes much of the tradition and vigor of the people of this country. If you are asking yourself, yes I bought three nude postcards (but they have good views and will provide great amusement to many).
The fjord ferry was breathtaking and I don’t want to rant about it forever as only pictures can really explain how awesome the experience really is. In short, you wind down incredibly steep cliffs and stare up into the sky at over 980 waterfalls! It is just incredible, mist, waterfalls, mountains and many small little villages with farm animals splattered across the steep country side. The one annoyance was the China Air travel group. They decided to feed the birds…seagulls. I hate seagulls, at one point there were so many Chinese tourists throwing food to the birds that you couldn’t even see the view. I’d say about 100 birds or more were circling the boat and squawking. The girl next to me from California had the balls to scream at one point and that got the China Air passengers settled down a bit. A few senior citizens actually got shat on unfortunately and blamed the entire nation of China. This was funny indeed, I love to observe peoples odd behavior as I sit and stare at the most beautiful scenery on Gods green earth!
The ferry finishes its journey at the small town of Gudvangen where we all hopped onto a charter bus and took a 1 1/2 hour zig zagging trip BACK UP the fjord to get back to the other side on our way home to Bergen. When I say zig zagging I literally mean that the bus driver was constantly spinning the wheel for the entire duration of our climb. I was exhausted just looking at him working his way up the steep and winding streets. The view was incredible as you can imagine and some of the best Norwegian waterfalls are located on this stretch of the highway so I continued to look down in awe at the marvelous landscape. Arriving in Voss we had one hour until the next train to Bergen arrived so we walked down to the harbor and took a picture of the lake and snow capped mountains as well as an ancient monument that was erected in 1023! We proceeded to a famous church that was built in the 1300’s as it started to rain down on us. We just sneaked into the church before it was closing for the day so we were happy to be able to get a glance inside! I have seen several different churches throughout Europe in the last month and nothing compared to the quarky decorations and architecture within this church. Wood carvings galore and a very interesting alter piece. It was as if I was standing in a long Viking ballroom with iron chandeliers above my head. The train to Voss was an hour and I choose to nap as I was exhausted from my 12 hour visual extravaganza! I tried to stay alert the entire day in order to absorb every bit of beauty that lay as a panoramic fold across the horizon.
I saw Fjord Norway and realized that Bjork is correct, Scandinavia is full of emotional and moving landscapes!