"The big city with small town charm"
I saw that quote on a postcard and it totally summed up my thoughts on Bergen. It is only when you look down on the city that you realize how big it really is. On street level it is positively charming, even in the rain.
But first we (Ellen and I) had to get there, which takes about 9 hours. Unfortunately we had to take a train two hours east, wait there an hour, and then go west. If a train went directly from Bø to Bergen it would probably take around 4 or 5 hours. We tried not to dwell on this fact too much.
We met at 9pm to go to the train station. We had decided to take a night train because there wasn't room available in the hostel on the 16th. I actually kind of enjoyed traveling at night. Even though we had bought our tickets separately, we ended up having seats next to each other on the first train. For some reason we both got pretty motion sick, but we talked to distract ourselves. Then in Drammen we had to wait for a little less than an hour for the train to Bergen. Luckily the station was pretty big and we could do some good people watching. On the next train we were in the same car, but on opposite ends. It was a lot more crowded then I was expecting.
What I love about Norwegian trains is that if it is a time of day when they expect most people to want to sleep, they provide sleeping kits in each seat. There is a blanket, an inflatable pillow, an eye mask, and ear plugs. It's great. I slept solidly from midnight to four. When I awoke at four I looked outside and was blown away. We were high in the mountains where the snow created a weird, soft light. There were large expanses of snow mixed with peaks and trees and houses. Houses. Up in these mountains. With nothing around. Every time I saw one I just thought "why?...and how??". It is also pretty incredible that there are train stops up there. But I guess that's how people go skiing. Anyway, it was the best 4am of my life. But after half an hour of staring I decided to try to sleep some more.
We arrived in Bergen at 7am on the 17th. After eating breakfast at the station we quickly found our hostel as it was only 3 minutes away. However, it did not open until 9:30, so we went back to the station and got coffee and slept in the cozy coffee shop. I was awakened by a member of a marching band who had reserved the space. At this point we decided to just go wait the remainder of the time at the hostel. As we were freshening up in the bathroom at the hostel they cleaned our room which, allowed us to check in way early, which was really nice. We relaxed for bit before heading out into town with a map and a schedule of events in hand.
May 17th is Norway's national holiday: constitution day. In Bergen there was a parade, a carnival, concerts, booths, and just a lot of people, mostly in bunads. First was the parade. It took us a while to figure out where to go, but eventually we found people who appeared to be waiting for a parade, so we stood with them. The parade was kicked off by canons being fired up on a hill. The parade was different than American ones because there weren't any floats. It was a lot of bands and people in bunads and suits. But since it was raining a lot of people had umbrellas or ponchos. It was fun for a while but we got really cold just standing there so we went into a store and then back to the hostel to warm up and nap. Ellen was also kind enough to let me borrow her shoes as I had discovered that one of mine had a hole in the bottom.
When we went back into town we went through a little park area where there were a lot of stalls with food and toys. Speaking of toys, apparently air horns count as toys on the 17th. There were so many kids with all sorts of really loud noise makers. Anyway, I got a pølse med lompe which was delicious, of course, and Ellen got cotton candy. We explored the area a little more, running into choirs and other performers. Once again we were cold and there wasn't much to do, so we went back to the hostel with a plan of having an early dinner and then going to the church concert that night.
Menus were limited for 17. mai, so it was difficult to find something vegetarian but we ended up at a Thai restaurant. It was pretty good. However, having taken extra time to find somewhere to eat, we were not done in time for the concert. We went up to another church where there was going to be some sort of event, but while standing in line we decided that it was probably a church service which neither of us was very interested in (mostly because we were confident we'd fall asleep). There was a nice view from the church area, though, and it was near the university area which is where we wanted to go the next day. We got ice cream and then went back to the hostel yet again. It's a good thing our hostel was centrally located. We made absolutely sure not to miss the next event, which was a torch procession to the main square. While we were looking for the starting point, which we never found, we stumbled on the fish market. We were on one side of the harbor when we saw a bunch of torches on the other side. It seriously looked like an angry mob was storming the town. We scurried over and then followed them to the end where awards were given out to the parade participants. The crowd was enormous! The torch people all went around the pond thing and we were waiting for them to do something as a crowd formed, but then fireworks starting going. It was a nice surprise. Then it was back to the hostel for the last time that day where we talked to a Taiwanese girl in our room who told us how to get up to the building on the mountain which we had seen that night.
When we awoke the next day we were glad to see that it wasn't raining! Our first stop was the station for the Fløibanen which is a cable car that goes up to Fløyen. It is one of the most popular attractions in Norway (which was evident by the line) and we now understand why. The view is incredible! We couldn't stop looking and taking pictures. You see all of Bergen and water and mountains. It is beautiful. We stopped into the souvenir shop before walking back down like the Taiwanese girl suggested. It was really nice to be in the woods. There were a lot of little streams and waterfalls that made me really happy. Ellen was bursting with joy the whole way down. We both finally had our "I love Norway" moments, after 4+ months of being here. We decided that we would totally move back to Bergen. We even found the building that we'd want to live in.
The next stop was the fish market for lunch. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of fish and other various seafood products. I ended up getting fish and chips from a Mexican guy who had lived in Seattle for 6 months and in Oregon for a little bit. I also had a sample of smoked whale. Let me just say that I do not condone whaling and will never eat it again (mostly because it was gross). It is really similar to red meat. I'm glad I tried it, but that was that. Next we went up to the university area which has a lot of free museums. The first one we found was the Natural History Museum, and since we were low on time we just went in. Fun fact: I absolutely hate stuffed animals (the real kind, not teddy bears). This is part of why hunting stores are my least favorite places to be. This museum was basically just a bunch of stuffed animals. I was sufficiently creeped out. It just seemed like a really boring and creepy zoo. But there was a narwhal, so that was cool.
Outside of the museum were nice gardens where we wandered a bit before heading to the hostel to collect our luggage and catch our train home. The ride home was nice because it was light out, but sadly I was on the side of the train with less spectacular views. I, and I think Ellen too, felt like it would have been more fun to have been in Bø with our friends for the 17th, but the 18th made up for it. Bergen is a great place. I hope to return someday.