I love this place. I am having a wonderful time here, and I love my new-found family. I feel so well-cared for and so at home here. If it weren’t so expensive and so cold in winter, I might move to Norway. I admit I am tempted to suggest it to my husband anyway. It’s beautiful, the Gulf Stream keeps it at a livable temperature, and the people are friendly and have a good sense of humor. They try to do things the right way the first time.
After Oslo, I took a train to Bergen, and it went through some of the best scenery on a train anywhere in the world, according to those in the know. Starting at the town of Al, we began our climb from sea level to 1220 meters at the town of Finse. It went from 16 degrees C to 6 degrees C in less than one hour. I saw some tundra (pronounced “toondra” in Norwegian) and a whole lot of snow. I am told that this year the winter was very cold so there is a lot of snow still left in the mountains. View the photos if it’s hot where you are – they’ll cool you off just looking. When I arrived, I was met by my distant cousin Lars and we drove to his house, one that has been in our family for maybe 100 years. I am staying there with him and his wife and their two children, which has started to feel like home. I am looking forward to telling my family in California about our family in Norway! That night, we talked about my itinerary and Lars helped me find out about boats to the fjords and possibly the Jostedalsbreen glacier. The glacier is the biggest one in continental Europe and while it is melting, it is still very special. Unfortunately, that would have eaten two days of the four days I am here, so I needed to do something less ambitious. I went on a long there-and-back-again boat trip through the Sognefjord. It was clear out and sunny, and as it turned out the best weather I had in Bergen through my stay, so it was a perfect day for the journey.
What can I say about the Sognefjord? It was magnificent. The fjord was about clear, clean water, steep rocky mountains rising on both sides, tiny beautiful towns dotting the mountainsides, farms that make you wonder “how did they put that up there?” and so many waterfalls. I saw a part of the glacier after all, from afar near the town of Balestrand. We docked in Flam for lunch, and that is the “end of the line” for the boat; after that it turns around and returns to Bergen the way it came. Many people left the boat at Flam for the Flamsbahne train up to Myrdal. I came in that way from Oslo, which is why I decided to stay on the boat for the return trip. As a result, I sort of made friends with the bursar. He asked if I wanted to go up front to see the captain and the steering house. Do I? Uh, YEAH! I love boats. I spent a couple of hours on the bridge where I learned a lot about the country and the politics, and also that the captain likes women. He’d lived in South America for a few years so I got some travel information too. I went up to the wheelhouse again later as we made our approach to Bergen and saw the beautiful town as the sun was low in the sky and shining on the rooftops. I couldn’t ask for better, and it just shows how warm those Norwegians can really be.
The next day, I took the bus into town to see the museum and meet my other cousin Lars Odd. The Hanseatic museum is in the oldest part of town, and is one of the listing timber houses that line the front of the harbor. It was built by the Hanseatic League of German traders in medieval times, and made Bergen part of a large network of European trading. Bergen’s main product was dried cod from all around the coast and fjords of Norway – it could keep for a long time (years) and provided a necessary food (fish) during Catholic Lent. A lot of Europeans and Russians ate Bergen cod in those days, and the wealth of the league meant that the Hanseatic merchants basically ran things around Bergen for 400 years. Some of the buildings in this area do not burn easily because they were so completely soaked with salt over the centuries, but generally this wooden waterfront had a lot of fires. Now there is a thorough sprinkler system in the quarter’s buildings.
From the museum, it was a three-minute walk to the Fish Market to meet Lars Odd, but I had a few minutes first for a yarn shop. Knitting is big here – nearly all the women do it, and the shop had items that we cannot get at home except by expensive mail order. The patterns are all sold individually (much more affordable that way – at home we have to buy a bound book of patterns even if we don’t like them all), and there were stacks of pattern binders. I wish I’d had a couple of hours to look through them, honestly, but I couldn’t take the time.
Instead, I met Lars Odd and we had some fish for lunch. We walked through the market and got to know each other, and then we drove out to the local stavkirke, a.k.a. stave church. It is a special architectural style of church, and very old, from the first days of Christianity here. Most stavkirkes are 800 years old or so. The one we saw was an exact replica of an ancient church that had burned down in 1992. But it was beautiful still, both inside and out. They used the same building techniques that were used in the old days, kept alive through tradition. Lars Odd told me that the wood craftsmen themselves had selected the trees to be used, and had to wait for the wood to dry before being certain of the final selection. The huge columns are tree trunks, and they are twisted because the trees turn to find the light as the years go by. The columns have a sort of spiral grain. From there, we went to Lars Odd’s home to meet his (and my) family. I cannot say enough about how proud I am to be related to such good people as Lars Odd and Lars B, and their kind wives and kids. We talked about our common ancestors, figured out how we were related to each other, and generally had a great evening. We went back to Lars’ B’s place and we had all had supper together. Have I mentioned that Marianne is a wonderful cook? I ended up in the right house, for sure – we talked about food for days. My hostess gifts of fresh vanilla beans, Darjeeling tea, and Zanzibar spices went to exactly the right person.
The next day, I toured Bergen with Lars & Lars since the ladies were working or otherwise away. We went to the old town, and the fort and we had a good lunch of fish soup. From there, we went to the Floibahn (the funicular: a cable-pulled car that goes up a steep hill), and up one of the seven mountains that surrounds Bergen. From the top, I could see the whole city and more bodies of water and islands than I could count. It was beautiful. We left just as it was getting cloudy and headed back to Lars B’s home for some talk, a snack, and a walk to the lake near the family farmhouse. Marianne finally let me help her cook and we had dinner in front of the TV as we watched the world cup and saw Spain win their match. It was my last night, and it felt too soon. I had such a good time, I felt so at home, and I made friends. It was hard to leave. I am writing this from my hotel in Amsterdam, and it feels cold here even though it’s a warm day. Being around the corner from drug shops and sex museums doesn’t compare to the family home and hearth in Bergen by a long shot. I hope I get back to Bergen before too long.