Bergen in Fall

A lot of people might think the most ideal time to visit Bergen, Norway might be spring or summer, when hiking up to a view of the fjords isn’t accompanied by torrents of rain and the harbor is clear skies only. This would definitely make for better pictures, the kind you see on postcards, but I think Bergen in October is a truer Bergen. The second largest city in Norway, it is also one of the rainiest places in the world, which is the Bergen I experienced on my week off from classes when I took a small trip there.

Picture of Bryggen, a row of colorful houses along the Bergen waterfront
Bryggen, the colorful houses Bergen is known for

During the rare moments when the rain lightens up, or even pauses entirely, Bergen city center is a wonderfully cobble-stoned area to wander, full of the classic colorful houses Bergen is known for, including the historical site Bryggen. Additionally, a history fan like myself can even wander further up the harbor to see the Bergenhus Fortress, a historical fortress with roots in the 13th century.

Bergenhus Fortress, a stone fortress, against a cloudy grey sky
Bergenhus Fortress on a rainy day

What this grand amount of rain means is that there is no shortage of indoor ways to experience Bergen. The most obvious of them being the KODE museums— four art museums surrounding a large lake and quaint gazebo (also beautiful tourist attractions) that showcase some of the best Norwegian art has to offer. Two were open during my visit— the first an exhibit of Paul Cézanne hosted in a Renaissance Revival mansion and the second a whole gallery of famous Norwegian artists, most notably Edward Munch.

a green landscape painting by Paul Cézanne
Farm in Normandy by Paul Cézanne

My favorite way to pass the hours indoors, however, was the University of Bergen’s Cultural History Museum. To put it lightly, it is easy to get lost in there for hours. The collection is endless, from Viking-era jewelry to a glass replica of a Norwegian stave church to a modern-day collection about plastics in the ocean and Norwegian plastic consumption. Every floor and every room offers something new.

Cady West

Into The Woods

The waning September month has been marked, for me, by adventures into the Norwegian outdoors, most notably by trips that scream “NORWEGIAN CULTURE”. One of the first things I learned about Norway is the popularity of cabins— second homes, not too fancy, out in the woods that people can escape to. My class took an overnight trip to one to explore storytelling and folklore in a classic setting: around the campfire. A mere five mile trek up the hills through well-traveled trails brought us to a two story cabin, with a well and outdoor bathroom to complete. Just nearby, a designated fire pit sat, waiting for us to use. But outside of our academic goals, this trip taught me a lot about Norwegian culture in connection to nature. For example, all people have the right to hike, explore, and camp on uncultivated Norwegian land, even private land (with few exceptions and regulations). It is through this belief and law that the world opens up to hikers, not needing to worry about trespassing or camping outside of official camping grounds. Additionally, in exploring a forest that had been lived in for centuries by Norwegian and Sami people, it was important for us to learn how the land was used and how folklore arose. We stopped at every new tree to identify it and learn what it was used— building houses, chairs, for instruments? And each rock formation or cliff side was carefully analyzed— could we see trolls (the most notable and classic Norwegian folk creature) in the rocky shapes?

Through this, even in a short time period, we developed a conversation with the woods around us. The same way we spoke fairy tales from our native countries around the fire, the forest spoke back to us.

A large wooden cabin with two students sitting on the porch.
Norwegian outdoors
A view of a sunny hiking path surrounded by green trees
Oslo Climbing Park

Next, my exploration of the Norwegian outdoors took me to Oslo Climbing Park, a vast collection of ropes courses and zip lines far up in the trees, with several of my classmates. We made it just in time for one of the last good days of the season. While it was a tad rainy, and our hands felt frostbitten as we walked ourselves across wooden planks, these next few weeks are the last time to walk these courses for the next several months. In October, the park will become a winter park, where they plan for the ropes courses to be unusable, but snow to fall freely, and park-goers can enjoy a variety of snow sports like skiing and snowboarding.

For me, this trip was about facing my fears:  for a long time, I was scared of heights and had to give up ropes courses and zip lines at a job I loved. When I stepped onto the first platform, what drove me to take the next step was the idea that I hadn’t come here, to Norway or to this climbing park, to let a childhood fear stand in my way of something I knew would be really fun and exciting. The first ropes course made the world open up to me, knowing I was making the most of my time abroad and taking chances I might not otherwise. It would be easy for me to have stepped back, told my friends I would find something else to do, but now I’ll always look back on that trip as the time I faced my fears.

The view from the top of a ropes course, with a student on the platform across the obstacle
View from the top of a ropes course.

Cady West

The Start Of A New Semester

As my first week of classes comes to a close. I already know this semester will be unlike any semester I have had before. For one, I only have a single class at OsloMet, called “Fairytales and Creativity”, and we meet for several hours every day. Second, every day we have different teachers and different classrooms, depending on what topics we are covering that day. Spending so much time focused on one subject— telling stories— allows us to explore an endless amount of mediums for storytelling (music, acting, radio, stop-motion animation, to name a few examples) as well as different subjects regarding storytelling (heroes, monsters, the dynamics between storyteller and audience).

If we are focused on storytelling and group activities, we might occupy a drama classroom. For lectures, a wide auditorium. For the day we spent six hours learning about telling stories utilizing music, we occupied one of the music rooms (rooms that are open to all students, even after hours). My favorite part of the school day, however, is the thirty-to-forty minute lunch break we get, in which my classmates and I swarm the dining hall for coffee and then dutifully turn our our faces to the sun while we sit outdoors, eating packed lunches like we’re children again, and comparing our different lives in different countries.

Two students holding drums in a music classroomA line of students holding drums in a music classroom

But, in addition to school, my classmates and I have found a variety of other things to do in Oslo for the hours we are not acting out fairy tales. Hiking, including urban hiking like city tours, are a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and international students who do not know anyone in the city are always looking for something social to do. This means exploring every bakery within walking distance (of which there are many), or taking a boat out to one of the many nearby islands for a relaxing day on the water.

One thing I’ve learned is that Norwegians spend as much time as possible outside— taking a quick walk or going to the grocery store means passing an endless series of parks, full of joggers, athletes and kids running around. It’s refreshing to see, mostly because I know these areas will quiet down once the weather turns cold. For now, though, I love taking in a city that is so beautiful and so alive.

The sunset view from a rocky beach on Hovedøya, an island right off Oslo
The sunset view from a rocky beach on Hovedøya, an island right off Oslo