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Published: July 29th 2012
These old wooden Hanseatic warehouses are the pre-eminent sight of Bergen.
The idea of an 'hermit holiday' is for a group of friends to meet at an airport on a Friday evening, knowing that they will be flying somewhere for the weekend without knowing where exactly they are flying to. Another friend not travelling that weekend would have bought flights for each person, with each flight going to a different destination. The participants only find out where they are going, once they get to the airport.
Everyone flying is then required take a video camera with them to record their experience.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I have lied about my next blog being from Norway not just once
, but twice
Sag and I were meant to travel to Bergen all the way back in March, but was postponed until May because Sag's passport was with the UK Home Office pending a visa renewal application. Two months later, when it was time to fly out to Bergen, Sag had still
not received his passport back.
Without wanting to shell out further to rearrange flights once again, I was left with no choice but to have my own hermit holiday, albeit with my experience captured by blog rather than
Lake With A View
The mountains above Bergen provide awesome outdoor opportunities and some stunning scenery to boot.
Why Bergen of all places? To be honest, I may not have bothered if I wasn't a huge Kings Of Convenience
fan. But I have heard good things about it - a more relaxed, bohemian, cultural, youthful and less serious version of Oslo
. I love Scandinavia in general as well, so what could go wrong?
Norwegian Airlines had screwed us over a bit with the flight rearrangement and we ended up paying a lot more money than we thought we should've. I will give them props however for their extremely efficient self-service check in.
The flight over was fine too, although I slept most of it having been knackered from the week's work. The cool sight of thousands of occupied and interconnected islands on Norway's western coast greeted me as we came in to land.
Touching down at Bergen Airport and withdrawing some krone
, I got talking to a local girl on the bus into town. Her name was Heidi and had come home to visit her boyfriend and family from Oslo. She was friendly and a keen chat, and we talked about everything from retail management, different Norwegian dialects, South Dakota, and wool. Having been to the US,
Bergen's pretty harbour.
she said that she loved South Dakota but hated New York. Definitely a country girl then. Wool entered the conversation after I told her I was from New Zealand, and I was surprised to learn that there are different dialects of Norwegian. I also learned that there is quite a sizaeble Norwegian community in the US, that still speak Norwegian! I found Heidi's eagerness to engage a refreshing change from London. Her English was generally excellent although it was occasionally amusing when she didn't know the specific word for something, like calling a funicular a "rollercoaster". Mind you, my Norwegian sucks.
The hostel I was staying at was the most unusual I have ever
For a start, the vague directions made it difficult to find, but once I found it, the method of getting in was strange indeed.
Basically your key to the place is your phone. All guests were instructed to call a number which would unlock the front door automatically. Not everyone that calls the number would be let in however - when booking the hostel, guests are required to register their mobile numbers. There must be some system at the end of the number
Look how still the water is. Reminds me of Fiordland in the South Island of New Zealand.
dialled that identifies the number making the call, and matches it against a list of guests' phone numbers. If your phone number is on the registered list, then the door unlocks. I would be very interested in knowing exactly how this system works.
This left me with a dilemma however. I usually bring an adapter with me on holiday but this time I had inexplicably forgotten to bring one. My iPhone was just about dead but I needed it alive to open the door! Just as well I was on holiday alone then, since I would have to leave my iPhone off at all times so not to use up what battery I had left. Thankfully, I also had my work Blackberry with considerably more power to use if I needed to text or call. Wow, how did we ever get by without mobile phones?
The place itself looks like an old coffee shop downstairs with one single 12-bed dorm upstairs. I suspected that there might not be anyone at the hostel when I arrived, seeing that I arrived at around half past midnight, so I brought a towel with me, which I never do. Good thing I did too
Streets Of Bergen #1
The cute streets of Bergen.
as there wasn't a worker in sight. Oh, and the place had one of those dreaded push-button showers.
Despite being pretty tired, I had a shit night's sleep.
I was experiencing the early throes of a cold and had a runny nose all night that continually blocked up my throat. Also the room was drafty, and the exit light in the dorm was so bright that it illuminated the whole room. You couldn't turn off the light because there are no switches for exit lights, ever, and there was no-one around to turn it off either - I never saw a single staff member there throughout my entire stay. The light wasn't even above the exit, it was actually above the door to the bathroom. Useless. The fact there was no staff at all also meant that there was no way I could change my registered mobile number - I had to hope my iPhone 'key' would last the duration of the stay or else I'd need to buy an adapter somewhere.
Bergen is set against quite a stunning backdrop.
Right on the sea with access to the western fjords, behind the city are the "Seven Mountains" that
Bergen's famous fish market.
allows for some great hiking possibilities. Wanting to give myself sufficient hiking time after an initial exploration of the city, I got up at the relatively early time of 11am (yeah I know).
OMG, things are so expensive here.
Even though I already knew Norway was expensive, I was still shocked. Perhaps I was thinking Bergen wouldn't be as dear as Oslo.
Anyway, the fish market right on the harbour offers the fresh catch of the day for lunch and you can buy all manner of seafood from crab, scampi, prawns, crayfish, scallops, and of course, fish.
Now I know a lot of New Zealanders will hate me for doing this, but I did it in the name of trying local delicacies. I bought two tiny open sandwiches for lunch (which set me back about £9 with a drink!) - one with salmon, and one with whale
. As much as I hate to say it, the whale actually tasted quite nice. It tasted slightly smoked, and a little peppery, and the texture was like a tough, thick piece of prosciutto.
Disappointed as I was that my initial flight here in March was postponed, the one good thing that
Alleyway inside Bryggen - often buildings are connected over the alleyway by a skyway.
it brought was absolutely perfect weather. There was a heat wave over most of Europe (including London) that weekend and there was no exception in Bergen - glorious 25-degree sunshine and brilliant blue skies. Ironically, Bergen is known for it's shit weather - it normally rains 275 days of the year here. I got pretty lucky in the end.
Licking on an ice-cream, I explore Bergen's pretty harbour of which its highlight is Bryggen
, the old medieval quarter.
Originally set up around the 14th century the entire block is made of long timber and all the old warehouses are connected. Alleys, some of them semi-covered by the buildings above, lead you through the array of museums, shops, bars and restaurants that live here now. Pretty cool. Bryggen's façade evokes Copenhagen's Nyhavn
I then walk around the narrow pedestrian streets of the old residential area in the city centre which is full of cute, coloured, wooden A-frame houses, a common feature of Scandinavia. The city gives the impression of having a very relaxed vibe and an appreciation of outdoor pursuits such as hiking, running, sailing and DIY. I like it and imagine that it is a nice, peaceful place to
The funicular ride up Mt Floyen.
It was then time to do some hiking in the mountains.
At the top of the funicular, or the Floi-banen
, is an unbeatable panorama of the city. I've been to quite a few lookouts, but this one seemed to be at the perfect height and proximity and was completely unobstructed. It was perfect - one of the best views I've ever seen.
I then set about walking the trails marked out on my map.
I set out trying to follow certain trails but kept getting distracted and making detours. Quite a few times, I went 'off-piste' in search of more exciting terrain that would test my climbing and jumping skills as well as my walking ones.
There are a couple of lovely lakes up there and locals have rocked up with barbecues and kids are swimming around in the water. A lovely family day out on what must be a rare hot day here.
I end up going down a rough path that leads me about 20 minutes later to a hut and a gorgeous view of the mountains and the city. From there I continue along another path, not exactly sure where I am going.
Idyllic spot to reflect or contemplate.
is starting to catch up with me and I am getting hot and tired, wondering if I should turn back. I am determined to keep going however, and continue up the mountain eventually getting to a dam. The water looks so inviting but I remember signs on the way up instructing people not to swim in the water - it may be drinking water after all I guess. Beyond the dam I see a hut of some sort which seems like a good target to try and get to. I had not seen anyone for a while now, so the hut looks like civilisation!
There is no longer any path to follow at this stage, and I am clambering up rocks and trying to avoid dipping my feet in marshes as I try to get to the hut. Often you have to test the ground before stepping on it, in case it's just water underneath.
Eventually I get onto a path and see other people! The views out to the water from up there are breathtaking.
Off the path by the reservoir, I see a huge white slab. It can't be snow can it? It's 25 degrees! I have to
Up the top of Mt Floyen
go down to confirm - sure enough, it's snow! How it hasn't melted I'll never know. I gently rub the snow onto my arms and my neck to cool me down.
The hut that I eventually get to marks the junction of several paths that go towards other mountains. This must be the summit of Mt Floyen
and the views from up there are amazing. Perhaps on another day I would have continued onto the other mountains but with my throat sore and muscles aching, I make my way back down to the funicular, where I enjoy an ice cream at the look out.
After a short break admiring the view, I decide to walk rather than take the funicular and it takes a good 30-40 minutes to get down and I get a bit lost once I re-enter the city. Not for long however, as I eventually recognise a street that runs behind Bryggen.
It was a fantastic hike, and something that can be enjoyed just as much solo, as well as with friends.
Back at the hostel, I take a shower and then am absolutely knackered.
I normally like to have at least one night out when
Lake up the top of Mt Floyen.
I go away, but in my condition I'd almost be quite happy to skip it. But I thought that I'd better explore the city's night life at least a little - the Norway vs England football match was on that night so that would at least give me an excuse to go to a pub.
I then even managed to get some company in the form of two of my dorm-mates - Tobias, a German agricultural student studying in Oslo, and an Indian guy whose name neither myself or Tobias could ever quite pick up despite him repeating it to us several times.
Walking through the city at 8pm, the sun was still inconceivably hot and it still felt like 4pm in the afternoon. On the way to a pub, we talked about how weird our hostel was. Tobias thinks that it is quite a clever idea as it means that the hostel owner doesn't have to give up any time looking after the place or its guests. It was like a self-service hostel. With things so expensive in Norway, the hostel owner probably can't afford to hire anyone to look after it. So from an economic perspective, the
Streets Of Bergen #2
Pedestrian street in Bergen.
hostel's business model was brilliant; although from a customer experience standpoint, the whole thing just feels a bit empty and impersonal.
I had noted an area on my map that seemed to have a lot of pubs, but when we get there, we couldn't find one. Some friendly locals direct us to a 'sports pub' which is pretty much an Irish pub. They're showing the game though (ITV's coverage funnily enough) and it seems every ex-pat in town is here. The atmosphere is anything but raucous however, which is not helped by the game itself, which is a pretty dour affair. Played in Oslo, Norway in fact dominate most of the possession in the match which is a little disconcerting if you're an England fan but Ashley Young's goal seals the win for England though neither set of fans seem to care particularly much given it was just a friendly.
It was around 10:30pm when the game finished but there was still a ridiculous amount of light outside - it hadn't even started getting dark.
Walking down to Nordnesparken right on the water, all three of us had a lot to talk about. Tobias was a good guy
Sunset At Nordnesparken
This picture was taken at 11:30pm.
and we seemed to share the same attitude to life - travelling to new places, trying new foods, trying new beers and appreciating the value of money. The Indian guy was agreeing with absolutely everything that we were saying , but seemingly more as an effort to fit in rather than in true agreement. It was starting to really annoy me to be honest, almost to the point where I wanted to say something really controversial just so he would disagree with me on something
The sun finally set around 11:20pm but the sky was still a hue of dark blue that never went completely black.
Back in town, we grab a hot dog from a Narvesen - a 7-Eleven type store I got very familiar with when I was in Oslo. We then went into a pretty cool bar called a Havana for a couple of drinks. I wasn't sure if my obligatory night out was going to happen tonight but it did and it wasn't over yet.
While Tobias decided he had had enough, the Indian guy and I asked some locals where we could carry on. They suggested a pretty cool place by Lille Lungegardsvannet
Lake and mountain in the middle of town.
hexagonal lake and fountain in the middle of town. Closer however, was a place called Feliz, that we sauntered into.
It was a snooty place to be honest, complete with a roped-off VIP section, a David Beckham look-a-like, and £9 beers. Should've gone to the alternative place instead.
It wasn't all bad - with fluoro-white tables and pink and purple lighting, the place was nicely done up, and the music was fairly standard, but it just wasn't that busy and people were there more to pose than to have a good time.
And the Indian guy was getting really annoying now. He started talking more and more shit the drunker he got and just seemed to be trying so hard to be cool. Without trying to sound arrogant, you know when someone is cool and is comfortable with themselves and this guy just wasn't. I felt I could've said that Nazis are cool and he would've agreed with me. He seemed a bit of a know-it-all too. I remember mentioning how attractive the girls in Serbia are and he agreed, saying "Oh yeah the girls there are great".
"Oh, so you've been to Belgrade then?"
"So you know some
Street that the hostel was on is lined with shops and cafes although none of them are open at 4am.
Serbian girls then?"
"Then how do you know the girls there are hot? They don't all look like Ana Ivanovic, you know."
He then went on a spiel about how he knows a lot of international people, though admitting he'd never met a Serb.
Anyway, I had had enough, time to go back to the hostel. It wasn't the greatest night out I have had on my travels, but I am still glad I tested it out.
The next morning, I wish I'd had more sleep as I zombied my way on board my fjord cruise at 10:30am. My calves were killing me from the previous day's exertions and I could hardly walk properly with both of by calves sore and stiff. I checked out of the hostel without paying, because there was no-one around to collect my money. Not my problem. It will probably come off my credit card.
The Indian guy had come with me but couldn't buy a ticket before the boat left the pier, and was left behind. Not that I was complaining, he was so clingy.
The cruise itself was nice - the weather was beautiful again as we cruised out
Apparently pirates used to hide out on this cliff face. Lord knows how.
of the harbour and into the fjords. The crew would give us commentary of what we were seeing as we drifted by. The fjords definitely provided some dramatic scenery with the cliffs dropping straight into the water. There are some better ones further inland, but unfortunately you needed to go on a full-day trip to see those, a full day that I didn't have. There are also cute little villages and holiday homes on the land we sailed past, little kids running out onto the jetties and waving at us before diving into the water.
The cruise was worthwhile doing - but probably not for the £50 I spent on it!
After buying a fish(cake) burger and an open prawn sandwich for lunch from the fish market, I pretty much ran out of things to do. I had 30NOK (about £3) left to spend and I had planned to spend it on entrance to the Theta Museum, a hidden room in Brygge that had been the heart of the anti-German resistance during WWII. It appeared to be closed however and the weather was far too good to spend an hour locked away in a hidden room, so I ended
On the fjord tour.
up spending my last 30NOK on ice cream and my last hour reading my book in a park I had stumbled across yesterday, where it became apparent to me that hot weather and Norwegian women are a wonderful combination. Not that I was looking, of course.
Overall I thought Bergen was a very pretty place with a unhurried pace and a youthful exuberance. I wouldn't go as far to say that it was absolutely amazing though I think that the circumstances surrounding my trip out here and the amount of travel I have done in the last two months may have had an effect on my experience.
Although you can see Norway becoming more cosmopolitan (Norway's striker against England was a chap called Mohammed Abdellaoue) it perhaps isn't cosmopolitan enough yet for me not to feel like an outsider here. Not that I wasn't comfortable in Bergen, far from it - just personally, the more cosmopolitan a place is, the more comfortable I feel.
While Norwegians are relatively friendly, I don't think that they are perhaps as open or approachable as say, the Swedes.
Nevertheless it was nice to get away and enjoy some brilliant weather in another new
Farm houses in the fjords.
Vi sees senere!
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