Norway 2006: Day One (Bergen)
I never really feel like I’ve arrived in a city until I’m standing on the streets of it. That’s the problem with airports. By necessity, they’re in the middle of nowhere, and usually so big that it feels like you have to leave one city then enter a new one!
With the flight delays it was around 2:30 when we finally checked in to our hotel (the Hotel Augustin – rather nice place), dumped our stuff and gone out to see the sights of Bergen.
Being on the coast, maritime has naturally played a huge part in Bergen’s life as a city and nowhere is that more noticeable on the ground than at the city’s famous Fish Market – a few minutes walk from our hotel.
Although featuring a few stalls selling jumpers to tourists, the market is best known as a gastronomic delight – especially for its fresh fish stalls, although there is a sizeable number selling seasonal fruit and veg as well.
The guidebooks will tell you it’s a great place to stop for lunch, and indeed I spotted plenty of (pre-made) prawn sandwiches and a fish and chips stall to boot. Unfortunately when it comes to catering for vegetarians, well the fish market isn’t really the best place to look. And not having had any lunch, food was certainly a necessity.
Walking along the front didn’t seem to help either. Few places seemed to be particularly veggie friendly – if the menus were readable anyway. By change Catherine spotted a sign for a vegetarian restaurant she’d read about on the web back home – the only one that seemed to exist in the city. Well if you’re with a vegetarian, and you’re looking for some vegetarian food to eat, well that seems likely place to go.
Strolling up a little cobbled street, crossing a road, and we were confronted with the strange sight of… Viva Las Vegis.
Bright green, yellow windows, a logo that looks mysteriously like an upside down set of golden arches, and a great big, nay giant, picture of Elvis on the side… Err… Yes. Next door was black so it was obviously a theme for the area.
On the menu, several versions of soya burgers and, well, not a lot else. Man this place loves its soya burgers.
To be frank, I’m not a big fan of soya, and my Spockburger didn’t exactly do much to change my mind about the way it can be extremely bland and tasteless. Indeed the lurid pink mayonnaise (presumably made with beetroot) didn’t exactly add much to the equation for me either. It felt a bit like I was eating something, but my taste buds had gone on strike. Still, it’s an experience if nothing else… After all, how many places do you get to sit outside on neon green stools whilst the white jump-suited one looks down on you?
Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains with the highest being Ulriken at 631 metres above sea level. However it’s not the most visited. That honour goes to the fourth highest – Mount Fløyen, which comes in at 399 metres high.
The reason for it’s popularity is no doubt partially due to the Fløribanen – a funicular railway that is one of the most visited attractions in the whole of Norway. And, after a brief visit to the Tourist Information office, we helped boost those numbers by two.
Opened in 1918, the Fløribanen is a rather swish operation, with automatic train gates which count down how many more spaces there are left in the car. The line is single tracked, bar a short passing loop in the centre.
There are two cars – a red one called Rødhette (which appears to be the Norwegian equivalent of Little Red Riding Hood) and a blue one called Blåumann (I’ll let you guess what that translates as) – and five stations. During the day, most of the trains run non-stop between the central station at the bottom, and Fløein station at the top, but two trains an hour in each direction are stopping trains, calling at the intermediate stations.
As well as dispensing tickets, the ticket office also provides a free hiking map showing the walking trails around the top of the mountain. Catherine’s intention was to get a single ticket to the top, then walk down along them.
The ride is reasonably quick – within minutes you’re high up above Bergen and admiring the view for miles around. Admittedly so are the other hundred people who’ve just got off the train!
Which is why, if you want some peace and quiet, you just have to go for a small walk…
Up on a hill
See, the standard thing to do at the top of Mount Fløyen is the following:
- Get off train
- Gawp at view
- Have a cigarette
- Get in the way of other people who are trying to take photographs
- Have a coffee in the cafe
- Have another cigarette
- Have your photograph taken with a giant woodern troll
- Look at tacky troll-based souvenirs in the souvenir shop
- Have yet another cigarette
- Go back down to the city
As soon as you step away from all that tourist bustle, the place is absolutely deserted. Within a few minutes, despite being very close to the station, you’ll hear a pin drop.
The paths are wide and well marked, and not before long we found ourselves next to Skomakerdiket – a lake area, complete with a little wooden shelter and a barbeque area. Despite being full of amenities there were few people around, although the wooden shelter did come in handy when it started to rain.
Another stroll on and we had reached another, prettier lake known as Revurtjern, although the tranquillity was slightly spoiled by two “hikers” who were taking a break and just being a little noisy about it… There was even a radio playing at one point…
Revurtjern also had a slightly odd but pleasing wooden animal “thing” going on, featuring as it did, a giant wooden bear (more the teddy bear type) at one end, and a giant, happy looking fox at the other.
Following the paths (so well marked, they had lampposts…), we headed back towards town via a route that appeared to take us next to a big giant arrow according to our map. There was naturally no explanation of what the arrow was, but things did make a little more sense when we stumbled across its real life equivalent.
Obviously walking up to one of these things is an every day occurrence in Norway, as there was no explanation of what it was. It was only after that we found out that it was a giant weather vane, used by the boats in the harbour.
Rain, rain and more rain
Bergen is famous for its rain. Given it’s geography, this isn’t exactly surprising. A coastal city surrounded by huge mountains is inevitably going to be a bit wet, and naturally it had to rain whilst we were on our way down a mountain. And rain it did. Big style.
We’d begun to approach the town by now – not far from one of the Fløribanen stations in fact – and we found shelter with a handful of other, wet walkers in the (wide) porch of what looked like a closed ice cream shop.
Alas a speedy shower it was not, and it was some time before the rain ceased bouncing off the pavement, and we could make a damp, but speedy march down the narrow pathways into town.
An expensive pint
Such wetness required some warming liquid once we’d returned to sea level, and we retired to Scruffy Murphy’s – an Irish theme pub like any other Irish theme pub you’ll ever see, but with two key differences.
First is the cost. At eight pounds for a pint of Murphy’s, it’s by far the most expensive Irish theme pub I’ve ever been in. And secondly, the toilets. They were… well I just don’t know how to say this, but, well, nice! Spotlessly clean, gleaming white. A far cry from a branch of Finegans Wake or O’Neils in the UK, where the tiles will be cracked, the urinals filthy, and taps non-functional. These Norwegians clearly are amateurs when it comes to Irish theme pubs….
Paint the whole world with a rainbow!
Whilst bland, the Spockburger had clearly been filling, as by 8pm, neither of us was particularly hungry. We decided to trudge round, see if we could find something light, but edible. It was not to be, so, still very damp, we wandered back to the hotel to see if they had anything.
At that point, an element of sun came out and a beautiful rainbow appeared. Or at least, so I see from Catherine’s photograph, as I’m afraid I was very damp, feeling very cold and in dire need of warming up – my mind was, to be frank, elsewhere, which was why admiring rainbows wasn’t on my priority list.
We returned to the hotel for a much needed warming up session (ah, lovely hotel showers) and did a quick trawl in search of food.
Alas the Augustin wasn’t exactly snack orientated, featuring as it did either full meals, or nuts from the wine bar, or indeed from the very reasonably priced mini-bar (compared to Norwegian prices anyway), so we settled down with a coffee in the lobby. By now it was about nine o’clock, and having been up since 5am UK time, a late night in the cellar wine bar wasn’t exactly on the cards. Besides, we had another early start awaiting us the next day…