I took a wonderfully pleasant four hour ferry from Stavanger
to Bergen on the most beautiful day since arriving in Norway. Clear, sunny
and an achingly perfect 75 degrees. The “ferry” turned out to
be a high speed, shockingly maneuverable catamaran. Ultra-quiet, we whisked
over the water at what must have been 60 miles per hour. I used the time to
read and make off-line updates to my web site in between long gazes at the
While in Bergen, I stayed at the Steens Hotel, which was a short
walk from the city center. The Steens was small and pricey, but very clean
and quiet and three out of four of their desk clerks bent over backwards to
help me with any requests, including surfing the net to nail down the cheapest
way for me to get to Bodø. The fourth clerk, a skinny sullen man, appeared
to have been trained in his customer service skills at the Icelandic Service
Industry Academy. But whereas if goaded, Icelanders would indeed help you
the best of their abilities, the only response that this guy had was, “Why
don’t you call and find out yourself?” Thanks to his lack of desire
to do much of anything, I raked up a 160 kroner ($23.36) phone bill in two
days calling all over the country to get travel information that Mister Surly
could have found on the internet in two minutes if he would have been willing
to simply turn his ass around and look.
My first two days in Bergen were absolutely picturesque. Sunny,
mid-seventies and not even a hint of a breeze. Despite being week days, people
all over the city sprinted out to Bergen’s many parks, shed most of
their clothes and warmed themselves in the sun. This seemed very much like
Minneapolis during it’s first pleasant stretch of weather each year,
when even if it is only in the low sixties, people everywhere can be seen
wandering around half naked and even going to the beach.
I found out why Bergen had such a strong reaction to this short
stint of perfect weather. Apparently, Bergen gets more rain than just about
any other major metropolis in Europe. So much that they even have vending
machines all over the city that sell umbrellas for a relatively fair
price of 60 kroner (about $8.75). What with the first two days being so beautiful,
I kidded around with the locals when they told me it was never that perfect.
They were right, after two days the rain clouds regrouped and the city was
a wet, drizzly puddle for the remainder of my stay.
Bergen is one of Norway’s more colorful cities, full of
neighborhoods with the classic, two to three hundred year old itty bitty wooden
houses and dauntingly, narrow, ridiculously steep cobblestone streets. Bergen
is surrounded on three sides by seven huge mountains, which I’m told
are so tall that they keep moisture-filled clouds trapped over the city, thus
all the rain. There are plenty of places on these mountains to clamor up for
a gorgeous view of the entire city. The most popular viewing platform is atop
Mount Fløibanen. One has two ways to reach the top. Take the calf blasting
walking path comprised of numerous, steep, stone steps up the 960 feet to
the viewing platform or for a mere 50 kroner, you can ride up in the “funicular,”
a rail vehicle that goes straight up what I swear is a 45° incline. While
you are at the top, you can take numerous panoramic shot with your Canon S400
to be stitched together later into one huge, impressive picture. (see below)
The viewing platform has the basic tourist necessities such
as a gift shop, an over-priced cafeteria and a playground featuring a giant
troll with his arms out, making for an inviting photo opportunity.
Back in the city, free entertainment was everywhere. A girl’s
handball tournament was being played in two courts, right off the main fountain
and park area with a DJ keepin’ it unreal with some horrible Euro-pop
songs in between announcements. I personally didn’t have this problem,
but if you got tired of watching teenaged girls running around bashing each
other, the main square is a people watching orgy of fun. With the weather
being perfect for two days, the place was crawling with countless, distracting
side shows. The requisite statue guy was getting a good crowd. There were
two brass bands playing at opposite ends of the square and a group of boys
were throwing down some impressive break dancing moves.
The square is definitely the best place for random encounters
with the natives. While I was tottering around the square, suffering from
sensory overload, I was stopped by two girls. They were young and beautiful,
flaunting their tease appeal with their T-shirts. One had two big melons,
one over each breast with the phrase “Hands off my melons!” scribbled
on the bottom. The other had a frog placed squarely over one nipplular area,
with the message “Kiss the frog.” After admiring their T-shirts
and breaking through the language barrier, they explained that they were doing
a “class project” that required them both to get a hug from me.
This was clearly a scavenger hunt task, so I obliged and wished them luck
on their “studies.” Two minutes later I realized that I should
have asked them if they could get extra credit if we smooched. My best ideas
always come two minutes too late.
Exiting the square and heading into the harbor area, I simultaneously
saw and smelled the fish market. Living in Minnesota, there are very few opportunities
to eat really fresh ocean seafood, so every morning I would make the rounds,
getting free samples from each booth and denying having been there the day
before. “No sir, I wasn’t here yesterday. Is that crab?”
I was in heaven sampling seafood caught that very same morning. Each vendor
sells their own personalized sandwiches. Despite the fact that even the Norwegians
think that these snacks are over-priced, I treated myself to fresh fish treats
and sandwiches for lunch every day.
At this point, it was hard to continue ignoring the attention
I was getting when people over-heard me speaking English. Despite being over-run
with tourists, the Bergeners eyed me like I had two noses when they heard
me speaking English. I never quite figured out what the drew all of the looks.
Eventually, I just came to the conclusion that it was because I am so cute.
While I was in Bergen, I went through a brief twang of doubt
about my trip to Bodø. I sat down and crunched the numbers and figured
out that I was going to be dropping some serious coin to travel north and
meet up with the unicyclists on their Norwegian tour. I started to call the
whole thing off, but then I went out and got drunk and had the epiphany that
there was no way that I was going to be able to write a proper article about
those guys without meeting up with them, quizzing them in person, getting
some quotes and taking some action pictures. The next morning, I called off
the call-off and bought my bus ticket to Trondheim.
Go to Trondheim