To the people of Bergen and the world

Clay and I have found the people of Bergen, Norway to be very warm and “mighty neighborly” as we say in the South.    In fact, we have found that just like back home, you have the remarkably good people, as well as the godawful types.  But, more often than not, it is the good guys that we manage to meet that make such an positive impact on us.  Bergen was no exception to that rule.

We started our lust for travel years ago though our jobs which took us all over the world. But, what we found was that work related travel wasn’t the meaningful travel that both of us yearned for.  (Weirdly, our companies wanted us to work – not play tourist – imagine that!)  We found our travel cravings satisfied only after we retired and opened ourselves to home exchanging, and now Airbnb apartment rentals where we could stay for longer periods of time to get to know the city, country, and especially the people better.  We have met the most amazing people that we now call friends from those stays.  People like Ellen in California that we have home exchanged with so many time that we have lost count; the lovely couple from Australia (Molly and Tony) that we exchanged homes & cars for an entire month, and of course the Walking Tours of England which introduced us to Odette, Ron, Patti, and Kathy; and of course more recently the lovely couple, Andras and Timea (now married) that we met in France, but caught up with again when we visited “their” Budapest last year.

Here in Bergen we accidentally ran into a wonderful man who was a sailor in the Norway equivalent of the Merchant Marines who walked us to our destination instead of just giving us pathetically lost tourists directions.  In the process we learned about his past and his many adventures.  We also met two interesting men at a local pub that invited us to join them at the permanently reserved table for the locals.   They captivated us with the stories of their lives, and facts about Bergen and Norwegians in general that we had not observed or read about in any tour books. One of the men had been to Houston and Galveston when is he was working on ships.   When he learned we were from Austin, he talked about his love for music, SXSW,  and Austin musicians.  He appeared to know a lot more than some Austinites know about the live music capital of the world.  He scored some real points with us when he mentioned his love of Stevie Ray Vaughn! He had actually hung out with Jimmie and the Fabulous Thunderbirds on one of their tours.

It would not be fair to share only the good stories, but we have had a few negative experiences, but ironically it is with tourists – not the locals.  On the train yesterday to Flåm, we met four obviously wealthy, large, and rude Russian tourists. Unfortunately, we kept running across them during the rest of the day.  During our stop in Flåm, we ate at this lovely restaurant, and of course, here they come with no reservations demanding a table (which they got 😦 ), and then proceeded to be very rude to the waitress.  She was almost in tears several times and we could see her quietly telling the other staff members how rude they were.  They ordered the most expensive item on the menu, and later we saw it being delivered to their table.  Hope they left her a good tip because she deserved it.  Later, getting on the boat back to Bergen, they were rudely breaking in line, but stopped just behind us.  Clay and I were holding our ground, and they must have sensed that I would have called them out for cutting in line.

Of course, we had to run into a rude American tourist at a local 7/11.  She got up to the counter where you pay with nothing to buy, but plenty to say – loudly of course.  She kept insisting she wanted a diet coke – not what they had in the store.  Some lovely local woman tried to convince her to buy Coke Zero, but “no!” she wanted a regular Diet Coke – not Coke or Coke Zero.  Finally when she gave up on a Diet Coke, she left in a huff, leaving me there as the lone representative of America –  embarrassed for her and my country.

I don’t want to leave this blog on a negative note, so I will continue on briefly to say the following.  We love the differences in our cultures, the languages, the foods, and the interesting quirks of the multi-national people that we meet. Lord knows – the world would be a much more boring place if only people like Clay or me were in it.  Thank you to all the lovely people we have met along our adventure.  You have been the “super stars” of our vacation time.  Yes, your museums are beautiful, your scenery is breathtaking, but you are the perfect examples of humanity that makes earth such a wonderful place to visit and explore, and that, my friend, is exactly why we travel.

 

 

 

 

To the people of Bergen and the world

Bergen

There’s a lot to like about Bergen. With a population of less than 300,000, it’s about half the size of Oslo – big enough for there be a lot to do, but not overwhelming. The tourist attractions are mostly crowded around the port, so once you walk a couple of blocks up the hill, it’s just you, the residents, and a few other AirBnBers like us. If you want to see the tourist sites, you just wait to hear the ships’ horns blow the cruise passengers back home, and then you have your run of the harbor, too.

The main tourist attractions in Bergen are the fish market, the old buildings that make up Bryggen in Bergen, hiking on Mount Fløyen, and of course the harbor itself.

The fish market is small, but has a little of just about everything you could want. Cod,  halibut and every other kind of fish that swims in the North Sea of course, but also king crab, mussels, shrimp, squid and lobster. If fish isn’t your thing, you can get reindeer or  moose sausage. You can even get whale, if you must, although we didn’t. I have a hard time eating an intelligent animal. I admit that’s irrational, since whales are smarter than some of the people I’ve met, and I wouldn’t eat them, either.

The main attraction to Bryggen in Bergen is the Hanseatic Museum, a replica of what the old part of the city was like when Bergen was a trading center between the cod fishermen of the north and the German merchants to the south. Commercial cod fishing has been has been going on for centuries, but the current buildings date from right after the great fire of 1702. It’s interesting to wander through the old rooms – the buildings have been a museum since 1872, but the faint odor of cod still lingers in the air. The old wood must have soaked up a lot of cod liver oil.

Cod is a big deal in Norway. Because of the short growing season, Norway lacks a lot of the fruits, vegetables and grain that make up a balanced diet, so they traded all that for dried cod. Unbelievable numbers of dried cod. Hundreds of thousands of tons per year. Way back when, cod fishing was done by hand out of small boats, but now it’s on an industrial scale, by huge purse seiners. I spite of the enormous harvest, cod are being harvested sustainably, so go ahead and eat all you want.

If the weather allows it, you can take off for Mount Fløyen, to ride the funicular railway and hike the trails. At the top of the mountain is a park for families and kids, where you can have a picnic, go swimming and let the kids loose in the playground or they can ride the little zip line. The hikes start with easy walks of less than a mile and go to all day journeys, up the funicular and down the cable car, eight miles away. It was pretty muddy the day we went, so we chose one of the routes at the top end of the Easy range, about 2-3 hours. At the top of the funicular railway, we started in the clouds, leaving the families and kids behind, walking through an enchanted forest. It’s the kind of place where you look for trolls, and find them (actually little troll statues hidden on purpose, but the effect is still there). Everything is really well marked – we only took one wrong turn, and figured it out right away – so you don’t have to be an expert to have a good time.

Besides the in-town attractions, Bergen is ideally located to be the starting point to explore the fjords of western Norway: you can take a day cruise through one of several in the local area, including the Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway. We took the Flåm railway, on of the steepest railroads in the world,  then hopped on a boat down the fjord and back to Bergen.

We saw a lot of spectacular sights, but we didn’t see the Nærøyfjord, the Jostedalsbreen glacier, and the Vettiflossen waterfall. Too much to take in on one trip, in spite of our slow travel style. The world is just too big and too amazing to take it all in. I tell myself the even professional travelers like Rick Steves and Andy Bourdain must have the same problem. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes me feel better.

 

Bergen

Good Bye Oslo

After 2 1/2 weeks in Oslo, it is time to travel over to Bergen, Norway for more adventures.  The train leaves early Saturday morning for the 6 hour trip that so many people have told us is incredibly beautiful.   Our time here was spent here with the usual tourist things like museums, but also spending time at local pubs and coffee shops  interacting with the locals as much as possible.  Luckily they speak English very well in Norway – not as well as the Swedes we met in Stockholm last summer, but English still is commonly spoken.

Our last night here was spent walking around our the neighborhood of our AirBnB apartment and picking up some fast food at a local Middle Eastern take-out restaurant.  We have learned how to avoid the tourist restaurants with their average food and high prices.  Yes, it is expensive in Oslo, but if you get an apartment you can cut cuts with breakfast at home and going to restaurants where the locals go, as well as “take out” places with very healthy foods.

Some things about Oslo we were prepared for by reading in advance,  but again there were a few surprises too.

  1.  The weather was a little cooler than we were expecting.  Highs in the 50, 60’s, and a few days in the 70’s for the time we were here.  Rain – it has rained much more than we had anticipated.  Oslo folks keep telling us to be prepared for rain when we go to Bergen.  What?  What was that stuff falling to the ground so often while we were here?  Hint, hint, it wasn’t snow.
  2.  The ethnicity of our neighborhood! Norway has taken in a lot of refugees, and we were pleased to see the diversity that it has brought to this city. From 1990 to
    2015, 738,000 people immigrated to Norway from countries outside the Nordic region, and 141,300 of these were refugees.  Norway has refugees from over 169 different countries.
  3.   The people are incredibly nice!   They seem generally kindhearted, but there is still this culture of not looking strangers in the eye that I feel a little disconcerting.  Being a Southerner I find it comfortable to smile, say hello to total strangers, but you don’t see that here.  Hugs?  Don’t even think about it, Maggie.
  4.  Diversity of food –  we were pleasantly surprised to see the diversity of food – we had Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, French, Italian as well as outstanding local Norwegian seafood – OUTSTANDING!  No, we didn’t feel the need or even see any restaurants that served Lutefisk.  We did see brown cheese in the grocery store, and I regret not at least tasting it.
  5. Weird liquor laws which, every country seems to have.  In Norway, you can only buy wine and liquor from government liquor outlets called Vinmonopolet.
  6. Fathers pushing baby carriages – we’d seen this in Sweden – it’s due to the generous family leave policy that the government mandates. It was good to be reminded that there are ways that a country can encourage strong families that the U.S. hasn’t begun to explore.
  7. We read that in Norway it’s not considered rude to bump into someone at the supermarket and not apologize. We experienced that ourselves. Some visitors consider this to be impolite, but this is nothing but a cultural misunderstanding.  I stopped saying pardon me or I’m sorry after the first week to blend in better.  When in Rome……
  8. Prices – yes everything is more expensive, but grocery store prices are not as outrageous as restaurant prices.  Wine – about what you would pay at Whole Foods (I mean Amazon – snigger), but beer prices were absolutely ridiculous.  $12/pint at most places.  No Trader Joe’s here, but some pretty moderately priced grocery chains.

Leaving Oslo, Clay and I had time tonight to reflect upon the marvelous museums that we visited while here.  We enjoyed sitting down tonight and “voting” for our favorites.  Our favorites were very similar, but we both compromised a little and came up with –  in order – our favorite museums.  Check out our blog if interested in finding out more about our impressions of these. Please understand that we did not dislike any of the museums , but wanted to order them, as any good engineers (retired) would do.

  1. The Fram Museum
  2. Kon Tiki Museum
  3. Maritime Museum  (#2 and #3 a real toss up)
  4. Vigeland Sculpture Park
  5. Norwegian Resistance Museum
  6. National Gallery
  7. Norsk Folk Museum
  8. Nobel Peace Center
  9. Munch Museum
  10. Ski (Holmenkollen) Museum
  11. Historical Museum
  12. Viking Museum

I know that Oslo is not on everyone’s tourist bucket list, but we honestly enjoyed our time here, and  if ever by change or design you find yourself in Scandinavia, I would recommend considering Oslo too!

Good Bye Oslo

Four Quick Museums

We finished off our touristy activities with trips to four small museums: the Viking Ship Museum; Historical Museum; Munch Museum; and the Nobel Peace Center. Some of these are on the tour book and TripAdvisor short list of places to see in Oslo, but for one reason or another, they fell to the end of ours. Having seen them, I’d say we were right in some cases, but wrong in others.

The Viking Ship Museum is just that: the remains of three Viking ships that were unearthed and put on display here. They were used for Viking funerals: buried in the mud with their owners, along with the appropriate armor, weapons, jewelry, horses and dogs to see them through the voyage to the afterlife. (Not burned, as legend would have it.) Most of the accoutrements have been stolen by grave robbers over the centuries, so there isn’t much left but the boats themselves and a few hand tools, weapons and a little jewelry that the robbers overlooked.

At the museum, there isn’t much information on the artifacts they do have. We got some insight into the lives of the Vikings from the intricate wooden carvings (which have survived because of the mud blocked out any access to oxygen, so shipworms and other tiny creatures couldn’t get to the wood to chew it up). From the sophistication of the carvings, we go the idea that there was a lot more to the Vikings than the bloodthirsty warriors that we’ve been told. That”s understandable: most of those stories we’ve heard came from the English monks that the Vikings plundered in their raids. We can’t blame the surviving monks for not recording the artistic qualities of the weapons they were threatened with.

You might think that the Historical Museum would bed filled with Norwegian history, but it’s not. The bottom floor is devoted to an explanation of the causes and effects of global warming – a vitally important subject, but not what we came for. They had a good exhibition of Norwegian art from the Middle Ages, and an exhibit of the Sami people, the indigenous people of the Arctic part of Scandinavia. This part was fascinating. Their lives are so different from ours, it’s like they live on another planet – but in reality, it’s not that far away. The fur coats they wear in the winter were on display, but it didn’t look like enough to us. I don’t think I’d survive five minutes without Gore-Tex® and PolarTec™.

Oslo-NorwegianHistoryMuseum (9 of 12)
Keep in mind that kayak is in ice-cold water.

The Munch Museum is devoted to the artwork of Edvard Munch. There are a lot of his paintings here, except for the ones you know about: The Scream, Madonna, Sick Child and the other most famous ones are all at the National Museum. Still, it was interesting to see some of his lesser known work, especially since many of them were unfinished, so we got some insight into Munch’s laborious method: paint, scratch, paint, scrape, paint some more, on and on until he was satisfied. It was also cool to see his sketches – the man could really draw, which is not always obvious in the finished work.

Of these four, the most inspiring is the Nobel Peace Center, devoted to the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Reading the words and hearing the stories of people from all walks of life who devoted themselves to peace was truly uplifting: we stood in awe of Martin Luther King, Jr., Fridtjof Nansen, Malala Yousafzai, and Rigoberta Menchú Tum. The list is also heartbreaking, that some of these organizations need to exist at all: the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Jody Williams, Doctors Without Borders, and many others.

Leaving the exhibit, we longed for the rest of the world to be influenced by the work of these people, so that everyone would realize, in Lincoln’s words, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Four Quick Museums

A Fine Day Out

Another sunny day, so we rode the train to Holmenkollen to see the ski jump. The size of this thing is hard to comprehend, so here are a few shots to give you some idea.

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From the top we got gorgeous 360 degree panoramic views of the city and the Oslo fjord.

The little town of Holmenkollen is beautiful in itself. There’s an old hotel, an eternal flame of peace, and places to get a cup of coffee and enjoy the view.

The zip line down the ski jump was closed that day, removing any temptation to ride it. There was a ski jump simulator, but it was one of those pods that they load full of people, then it rocks around while you watch a movie from the POV of the ski jumper – so no thrill of victory or agony of defeat for us.

The ski museum was pretty interesting, even for non-skiers like us. They had remnants of skis that dated to  about 600 CE, plus examples that showed the development of skis through the centuries. As you can imagine, the skis from a couple of hundred years ago were long, heavy and intricately carved. Ski poles were similarly heavy and beautifully carved. Skiers only carried one pole until the beginning of the 20th century, and they were often multi-functional: the handle could be carved into the shape of a drinking cup, or a spear point for hunting bear. The Norwegians are justifiably proud of being the developers of the Telemark ski, which has a concave bottom for greater maneuverability, and of their ski-based army defeating the Swedish army in 1716 and holding off the Nazis in 1940.

All in all a pretty good day – we’re glad that the Scandinavian summer is finally here (the locals said they were still getting snow this May: 20 cm in Oslo in one storm). Today looks really nice. We might even leave our jackets and rain gear behind — for a day, anyway.

A Fine Day Out

A Day in the Sunshine

Monday (June 12th) – Clay and I were getting a little tired of the weekend with rain every day.  Happily we awoke Monday morning to beautiful skies and temperatures.  We never really plan our day until after our morning coffee and breakfast.  That works better because we can take the latest weather conditions into account.  Much needed in Oslo!

We decided that 2 perfect outdoor places would be the Vigelandsparken (Vigeland Park), and the Oslo Botanical Gardens.  The gardens are a short walk from our apartment so we decided to go the Vigeland Park first, and then take in the gardens near our apartment if we had enough time.

We took the bus up to Vigeland Park, and now understand why it is Norway’s most popular tourist attraction.  It is a rather unique park that contains more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and forged iron.  It represents the life work of sculptor, Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943).  We learned that he was known as a man with creative imagination, and also known for his exceptional productivity. (I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but Clay and I knew very little about him beforehand.)

The park is free and open 24hrs daily – 365 days a year.  We both got lost in our own thoughts as we walked along the pathway with many of the statues on each side.  Later, we both admitted that we were trying to wrap our heads around Vigeland.  We found ourselves trying to analyze what he was thinking when he produced these sculptures. Take a look at some of his work and see if you find yourself doing the same thing.  Below are some of our favorites.  This is only a small fraction of the 200 that are on display there.

Clay VP1

Clay VP2

Clay VP3Clay VP4Clay VP5

V oneV twoV3V fourV fiveV6

Botanical Gardens:

The Botanisk hage (Botanical Gardens) are in the center of Oslo and just a mile from our Oslo Apartment.  We read that there are 7500 different plants in the gardens.  Combined Clay and I could probably name 12 – so don’t expect a lot of plant names on the photographs.  🙂  The gardens are open every day of the week!  How convenient.

Below our a few photographs from the park.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day in the Sunshine

Things we have done right

Clay and I put a lot of planning into this trip, but I was still expecting that some things would go wrong.  Fortunately for us anyway, we managed to get to Oslo and survived the first 2 weeks here – quite well, thank you.  We also realized that we really packed well for this trip.  Last year’s travel had us coming up with a list of “I wish I had brought this” –   then just the opposite – “why did I bring this?”.  This year we have been pleased to realize “we did it”.  Actually, we only packed for one week, and do laundry at our AirBnb apartments.

Another thing we learned from last year’s trip is that we love the 2 weeks in one place.  It takes that long to get to know a city, and to get around easily on public transportation.  We actually start feeling “at home”.  I remember when we were both working and our pitiful 3 weeks of vacation each year.  It never was enough.  Two weeks is just right for us.

Things we have done right