Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Posted on 7/2/03

A fountain off the main square.


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 scenery.

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.

it's true, umbrella vending machines

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)



What I wouldn't have given to be that troll.

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.






I think that there's a statue guy in every city in Europe Music on art.

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.

Yummy! I have no idea what this is, but I know I'm not eatin' it.

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

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