Jeff and Brett were the two Americans I met on the train from Oslo. Brett has been working in London and knew Jeff from college. Jeff has been living in LA. I had a guide book, and Brett had a cell phone so we joined forces to set up our accommodation for the night. We chose the Albertine Hostel attached to the Anker Hotel. Later Ellen, a local, explained is the worst place in the entire city—full of seedy, shady types. It wasn’t a bad hostel, a quad with a bathroom en suite. Once we settled in I rang up Alex, a friend of Nick’s whom I had met in Prague. Nick had been writing for the Let’s Go for the summer and the two of them went to school together. Alex, an Oslo native, picked the three of us up in his car and took us on a four-hour tour of the city (met his dad, went to the ski jump which looks out over the city, orientation and nightlife tips, and sushi). While Oslo is not a large city with 500,000 people, many of the more interesting parts are far from the center. If it had not been for Alex I would not have appreciated Oslo nearly as much. So often the people you meet in a place can determine how much you enjoy it.
The next day Brett and Jeff took a day tour of a fjord while I bought an Oslo card for admission to the city sights and transportation for the day. In rapid succession I saw the fortress and castle, the town hall (Radhus) with its mural covered walls, and hopped a ferry to the museum peninsula.
The Vikings occasionally honored their dead by burying them in ships. Dressed in finery with all the things they might need in the afterlife, these ships were sometimes floated out to sea and other times buried on dry land ship and all. Items included pots and pans, grain, clothes, weapons, even carts with horses still attached (apparently farming is a fine afterlife activity along with fighting and cooking). Three exceptionally well-preserved graves have been excavated and are now on display in this unique museum.
The folk museum was next mostly to see the stave church that has been preserved there. Buildings from around Norway were either relocated here or meticulously replicated using the same building techniques. The stave church is the highlight, built from wood in the 1200’s. The biblical paintings around the altar have runic inscriptions underneath, while the wooden columns have been painted to look like marble.
While the folk museum is an excellent example of Norwegian lifestyles through the years, folk museums feel a bit like amusement parks to me, so I moved along to Vigelasand Park. The city of Oslo provided an artist named Vigelasand with a place to live as well as a studio and materials for his art. In return the city gained a park full of the artist’s work. When it is sunny people flock in droves to relax, play, take romantic walks, or gather for outdoor aerobics. I had walked enough this day that I did not feel the need to join the circle of people bicycling their legs in the air to pop music. The park is a great outdoor place for the people of Oslo, part rec center part art gallery.
While Jeff and Brett caught their train out of town the next morning, I managed to sleep through mine. Ever flexible I reversed my route and headed north toward a fjord I had heard about from two separate Aussies in Stockholm. The tracks were closed from Dombas on, so at four a.m. I transferred to the express bus to Andelsnes (and points beyond). I awoke about forty minutes after my next bus was to have left the stop I had missed. Lesson learned—set your alarm clock for ten minutes before your connection! There was a silver lining however; the scenery was spectacular. The bus was twisting and turning along the fjord littered northern coast of Norway. Imagine snow capped mountain ranges that drop straight down to the water and come right back up the other side—throw in a few waterfalls and you’ve got it. I truly realized for perhaps the first time how self-sufficient I am with all my stuff on my back, it was easy to relax and enjoy the ride. After twenty or so minutes of breath taking scenery I asked the bus driver how I could get to Geiranger and got off the bus.
Geiranger is a small town at the end of the Geiranger fjord. Unfortunately it began to rain as we climbed the last hill, though we could still see the fjord below through the mist. I dropped my bags at the hostel and climbed up the hill to see a waterfall that you can climb behind. I would have preferred the sun to be shining, however I knew I had to be in Copenhagen soon and the weather was supposed to be gloomy for a few days. So I trudged up the hill for an hour and a half in mud thinking about the great things people had said about the experience. It did not disappoint. In the middle of the rain clouds I walked behind a powerful torrent of cascading water, marveling at the power of nature’s kinetic energy.
Tired from a long day I got plenty of sleep that night, though not enough to prevent a cold from catching hold. With the poor weather holding the next day I decided to push on to Bergen, so I caught the ferry to Hellestryn which traverses the 200 meter deep Geiranger fjord. Occasionally you can see abandoned farms from the last century along the steep slopes. They are a testament to the hardiness of the folks who eked out a living from the land. The last one was abandoned in the 1960’s.
Arriving at Hellestryn I had some time before my bus so I stopped by the local grocery store. I ate a feat of a picnic lunch looking up at the falls that divide the town in two with the fjord to my right. Here you can see enough food to choke a horse: a bizarre spread called “Prim” which seems to be at least part cream cheese but is brown and quite sweet (no one in Norway could explain it to me), a tube of fish paste deceptively called “Kaviar,” yogurt, smoked salmon, pear soda, bread, and chocolate. The Vikings never ate so well.
After several ferries I arrived in Bergen, a university town with more charm than Oslo. At one point it was the largest city in Scandinavia. For several centuries up until 1754 it was one of four regional offices of the league of Hanseatic merchants—essentially a German trade monopoly in northern Europe. This distinction made Bergen a center of trade for Scandinavia. It also affected the architecture as the Germans had their own quarter along the harbor and though fire destroyed parts many old pretty buildings still remain.
Bergen is the Seattle of Europe, its northwest port. It has a good harbor and a few large islands. You will find a great fish market downtown along the waterfront and even a totem pole made by North American Indians and given to the city by Seattle. One other similarity of note is the weather… it rains a lot here, though I was lucky enough to catch a few sunny days. Bergen feels more like an old European city than Oslo with windy cobblestone streets and colorfully painted houses.
I spent my first morning walking around the town through the German quarter and then down to the park on the opposite side of the inner harbor. Then I caught the funicular up to the top of the large hill that dominates the city. I had a bird’s eye view of the city and the sound. After a hike back down I stopped at the fish market for an open face sandwich of salmon, shrimp, and caviar, before ducking into the well preserved main office of the Hanseatic merchants. This gave a glimpse of what life was like; tiny wooden box beds for the apprentices, dried salt cod hanging from the ceilings, and barrels for water stored all over to put out any fires.
After a surreal evening with locals at a piano bar by the pier, I managed to sleep through my train to the Naeroyfjord (=narrow fjord), which I had planned to see on my way back to Oslo. Time to get another alarm clock I think, one that can’t be switched off when I roll over it in my sleep. Luckily the train station refunded most of my ticket, and I caught a train to Oslo to catch my night train to Copenhagen. The train ride was again spectacular through the mountains with rugged hills and plunging valleys.
Norway had not been in my original plan, but it turned out to be one of the most naturally beautiful places I have been and with very friendly people to boot. Though expensive it is definitely worth adding to any itinerary.
Next stop: Copenhagen