Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bergen (Norway)

Having enjoyed our jaunts to Denmark, Iceland, and very briefly, Helsinki, we thought we'd give Norway a go. Flying into Bergen, the shuttle bus is an easy choice into the city center... All the more easier with only half our luggage. Unfortunately, we spent the first part of our holiday wondering when or if my pack, with all its technical gear, would join us. The situation was more agonizing when we realized, yes, Norway is as expensive as everyone says, and shops could be closed for Sunday by the time I found out. Here's hoping the jacket and trousers I purchased for 2-3x what it'd cost in the U.S. gets reimbursed by the airline!

We quickly discovered the weather in Norway is very changeable so layers with water- or wind-proofing are essential. We imagine the city is pretty when the sun is out, but we also heard that Bergen typically gets about 20 days of sunshine a year. Visiting in August did mean that even on a cloudy day, there was good light well into the evening, with dusk beginning around 10:30 pm. This was handy as shopping delayed the start of our hiking on Mount Fløyen, one of the seven hills of Bergen. Catching the funicular near the city center, we hiked about 5 km of trails around little lakes and in the mossy forests 320 meters (~1050 feet) above Bergen. It was great seeing families setting off rain or shine with tiny kids in Goretex coveralls, climbing into canoes or swarming over ropes courses.

A haven from the cold and wet are the KODE museums, one of the largest art and design collections in Scandinavia. The docent persuaded us to join the free tour of Edvard Munch's works in KODE 2, and it was amusing to hear her obvious annoyance that Oslo insists on retaining all 3 copies of his most famous piece, The Scream.

Our favorite break from the weather came from a guidebook's interview with one of the members of the Norwegian band Kings of Convenience. We may have missed out on one of his guest dj spots in the city, but Eirik Glambek Boe knows his coffee. Kaffemisjonen served us up the best cups we've had since our trip to Italy, and his recommendation for a local roaster had us looking out for the brand elsewhere in Norway.

Bryggen is the historic quarter of the city, hearkening back to its days as a trading powerhouse in the Hanseatic League. Buildings in warm reds and yellows, dating post a 1704 fire, but in the style of the 12th century, line the eastern side of the wharf with wooden alleyways containing craftsmen workshops and plenty of souvenir shops. Directly opposite lies the Torget Fish Market, a fancier version compared to many we've seen. A selection of caviars, shellfish, and other treasures from the sea were on display. A salesgirl at one counter proffered curious tidbits of Norwegian land-based cuisine. We tried smoked sausage made from elk, reindeer, moose, and a small, furry weasel-like creature Google suggests might be a pine marten. Chewing on a greasy piece of whale sausage brought back terrible memories of hakarl (Icelandic rotten shark). For more al fresco dining, there were fishmongers - mostly Spaniards it seemed - in pop up tents selling seafood plates from the grill or flat top.

Bypassing these options, we struck gold with a restaurant recommendation from the bus driver. Although the prices were shocking, the presentation was decidedly upscale and the food superb. From the first bite, we knew we were in the hands of a master: arctic char with beautifully crispy skin on a bed of melted root vegetables, tender wolffish, creamy fish soup (a Bergen specialty), and a light and airy pavlova (meringue dessert) made with cloudberries (an amber-colored relative of raspberries that grows in the arctic wild in Norway). Compliments to the chef, indeed!

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