I woke up to a beautiful, beautiful morning. The sun pierced through the curtain, casting a curtain-shaped shadow on the 50-bed dormitory. (seriously, I am still mesmerized by the fact that this is considered humane) I hopped right off bed and started exploring the city. My hostel was conveniently situated by the side of the plaza, and the famed fish market was right on it. I was immediately captivated by all sorts of seafood on display, and they certainly made damn sure that they cover almost every single way of eating seafood there was in this whole world.
a paella spot in Bergen fishmarket
However, for it being seafood, and for it being Norway, the price was brain trauma-inducing. “No need to dwell too much here”, I immediately said to myself, and quickly it became clear that the entire market was so touristy that there was nothing too much Norwegian left on this plaza. I generally follow 2 rules when it comes to food places like this: 1. only go to stalls with locals in it; 2. when you see multi-language menus, run the other direction. Look at this, this is no place for a budget traveler!
can you take my kisses too~? pleaaaaaaaase~?
the only menage a trois I will get in my life… wait I cannot even afford it
I got away from the place as fast as I could, and followed the locals rushing off the buses to another shop just around the corner. It was a little but clean place, specializing in some fish products since the name had the word “fisk” in it. (my 1 year study of crappy Danish finally was put to use!) The menu certainly caught my attention, and I saw locals infesting the entire place indulging in giant blobs of fish cakes like it was the end of the world. I, of course, joined the long queue without hesitation.
just look at this place! It’s important to choose where to dine wisely, folks!
The lovely lady helped me pick their signature dish, despite our enormous language barrier, and within seconds I was handed a full plate of deliciousness. 6 giant fish pancakes covered with a fish gravy with a potato stew garnished by cranberry sauce, or as I would call it, my birthday wish 3 years ago. I almost cried, as I just saved myself another night in the hostel, and probably got a better meal than all the others falling for that tourist trap. I was also happy that I was finally not eating shwarma for fucks sake.
oh my love, I will finish you so quickly today
After being so intimate with fish, so intimate that they went inside my stomach, I ventured into the mountains. There is a hill to the north of Bergen city center called Mt. Fløyen, and it must had an amazing view from the top on such a beautiful day. Most of the people take a funicular, similar to the one I took in Bogota a few months back, but I wanted to climb the mountain instead, since I am a natural climber (yeah, right, sure). I started walking uphill on the road, and I passed by several alleyways that was so beautiful that I had to stop for a while and enjoy. (I promise I was not using it as an excuse to rest, I promise!)
I just wish I live on this particular alley, and I can sip coffee until sundown…
The little community to the north had its own little plaza, with little fountains and little kids playing in it. It was charming and of such pure beauty, as I mentioned in the last part, that I suddenly felt a rush up to my face. Maybe it was because I was falling in love with this place, or maybe I was having a deep appreciation of this world that I was lucky enough to live in… I wished that I was Norwegian, so that I never had to deal with my turbulent childhood upbringings, and have a little bit more peace in my mind.
ah! what a place to fall in love with/in!
The climb up was very, very gentle, as compared to Kilimanjaro, or Torres del Paine. It was mostly just cobble stones and the dense forest brought shade and birds, making the ascent even easier. I walked past wild flowers, hopped across little streams, tip toed on log bridges, and yoddled by steaming waterfalls. It was such a nice climb, and I was in such a nice mood, that it seemed like there was nothing that could be a problem in this world, and there was nothing that could worry me at all. I guess that is what other people describe the love among them, but for me, I think I just fell in love with nature.
a small waterfall
I made it to the top within 45 minutes, while the trail suggestion said 2 hours. I looked down the city of Bergen, and I felt a fresh breeze, though slightly salty coming from the ocean, brushing against my face. I opened my arms, embracing both the wind and happiness it brought me, and took a deep breath. It was a good day. It was a damn good day.
looking down at Bergen
After soaking myself up with the Nordic sun, I walked around the compound on top of the mountain. There was a gift shop and some areas for kids to play, and there was a glass platform facing the city as well as the funicular stop. The funicular itself was nothing special, but the scenic backdrop it offered was definitely making it one of the best in the world. I slowed my heart down, watched people got on, got off, and got on…
funicular of Mt. Fløyen, Fløybanen
I then decided to treat myself an ice cream because there needed to be some kind of reward for climbing up the hill. I sat down on a chair, and watched the Norwegian flag flapping in the wind. Though the country had left me a good impression in general, but my slightly-numbed heart from all the travels had not been seriously ignited until today. It was definitely one of the happiest moments in my life, realizing that I made a right choice to be at that place against all odds and misfortune. At that moment, I really, really, loved my life.
Norwegian flag flying with the wind
I ran down the mountain on the trail, I walked past wild flowers, hopped across little streams, tip toed on log bridges, and yoddled by steaming waterfalls. I was in downtown Bergen even before I wanted to be there! I started exploring old town on the other side of the fish market, and I was instantly surprised by its beautiful wooden architecture. Back in the days, German traders always made their way up to Bergen in order to trade goods with the thing that Norway is always famous for: fish, and more specifically, dried cod. Thus, they have a lot of other non-fish things stored in Bergen so they would be able to come back for it some other time. These storing houses that have beautiful facade and a hook on the top floor lined the streets. First floors were usually used as shops, and upper floors were filled with goods lifted by the hook with ropes. This has since then become a Bergen signature street sight, and I hereby present it to you, the little area called Bryggen.
beautiful Bergen harbor
of course street width was not a concern back then
I sneaked in some houses and overheard a tour group coming off a cruise. That is why everywhere was crowded with tourists! It was because Bergen was an important cruise ship stop and each one of those gargantuan monsters could offload 5000 souvenir-hungry grannies and grandpas! I got to learn a bit history of this port city. The city was established in 11th century as a capital city, after the Viking era ended in the Battle of Hastings, and German traders had always been a significant power in the back-then largest city in Norway. Then you got the standard wars, battles, black plague, fires, Nazi occupation, etc. Not too much of it remained, and Bryggen was rebuilt to restore its Hanseatic style. One of the only thing remained was St. Mary’s church, dating back from 1200s.
St. Mary’s church
I walked all the way down to the cruise terminal, and sat for a snack break on the grassy field right in front of Bergenhus Fortress, a 13th century castle nowadays housing a museum about the city during WWII. I sat on its boundary wall, and enjoyed some packed food I made myself, since eating anything else would kill my budget and my calorie count. I watched people passing by, rushing to get to the cruises, giving me jealous stares as I appeared relaxed as fuck. I looked into the horizon, where the bright blue sky blended with dark blue ocean, and I silently sent off a few cruise ships leaving the harbor.
I got home quite exhausted, having experienced one of the best days in my life. I slept all the way past check-out time, but the girl in the reception was more than happy to help me out. Why are Norwegian people so nice? I don’t understand! I guess there is a rule in the heavens that miserable bastards like me should never have 2 good days in a roll, and it started pouring down rain bigger than the power of my shower. I stayed back in the common area and waited for the rain to pass, except it never did. I had my lunch and started walking towards the special ferry terminal for Hurtigruten.
I was already completely soaked in the rain as I walked into the terminal, and then, it dawned on me that I must be an oddball here. The entire terminal was lavishly decorated and the every corner was more modern than all airports in USA. Velvet curtains and giant crystal lights adorned the walls and ceiling, and all staffs were dressed in suits, ties and professional skirts. Hurtigruten was supposed to be the express ferry connection linking all the little villages that were inaccessible via roadways, and had been a lifeline for many people for decades. It started in 1893 under government contract to help out linking people along the tortured coastline in Norway, venturing into poorly-charted waterways simply to deliver mail and supply basic necessities for the people in need. It was a particularly difficult journey, made tremendously trying during the polar night, but they had to do it: it was people’s lifeline. Potatoes and toilet paper came in, and sick patients and mails got out. It was the single most important ferry line in the world. However, recent years had seen a shift in Hurtigruten’s primary goal, as lots of tourists started to find out that this was likely the most beautiful cruise journey in the world, and the invisible hands of capitalism started tainting the route. Trust me when I say I am not against capitalism: I am a business student after all! However, it typically is not supposed to be like this when it comes to a basic form of public transportation and cargo link, especially in Norway, where the price tags can go to infinity, and beyond. In 1980s, the government subsidies subsided, and the last two company operating the lines competitively merged into Hurtigruten ASA, a corporation with monopoly on the route. Eventually, in 2015, the company was completely acquired by a private equity group and started operating exclusively for tourism. They even expanded to cruise business in Canada, Svalbard, Iceland, and Antarctica. The era of the historic journey venturing the fjords had ended, and in its place a modern, lavish, yet somehow inferior experience: I guess the secret ingredient of this journey is not comfort, but its historical background.
looking at my ship, MS Nordnorge
As a result, the amount of money people pay to be on this ship is simply jaw dropping. The ship makes the entire journey from Bergen pass the northernmost point on the Scandinavian peninsula called Nordkapp, and end in the border town next to Russia called Kirkeness, which usually takes 11 days there and back, stopping at over 40 towns along the way. A full itinerary with the ship up north and down south in a basic room without ocean view in the summer (the only times suitable to see anything) can set you back $10000. Yes, ten thousand motherfucking dollars. I usually would recommend them to rob a bank instead, but this level of greed was way beyond that. As a result, the only way for me to afford the bucket list of being on the Hurtigruten was to do a boat trip from Bergen to the next big town, Ålesund. This journey would only take 12 hours, and since it was so short, I could book a sitting ticket and avoid the crazy cabin costs. What made it more worthwhile was that the ship makes a detour into the Geiranger Fjord, likely the most beautiful fjord in the entire world, in summer, for free! As a result, I got almost 20 hours on the ship for a measly 72 dollars. (I must be an idiot, when I think sleeping on a sofa justifies that price.) I got on after the safety demonstration, and I got a card with my name on it as my charge card on board. The cruise had the interior decor of more of a luxurious yacht than an actual commuter express (which the name Hurtigruten was supposed to mean). I settled down in a leather sofa, and looked into the distance. Before too long, the cruise started cruisin’, and I made a few friends who were also fellow sofa-dwellers for the night. To be honest, that sofa was a bit better than a few beds I had experienced in hostels… I woke up to a rather gorgeous view, sadly with overcast skies. The ship was meandering through the islands, and misty shrouds covered them in layers.
We called at the port of Ålesund at about 9 a.m., and suddenly the ship was filled with hundreds of more tourists, which was threatening to my personal sofa. After a few sharp turns, we started our penetration of Geiranger Fjord. This is not the longest fjord, sitting at 15 km in length, but it is lined with small and big waterfalls, and some abandoned farmhouses dotted the sides. Cliffs on both sides tower over the calm turquoise water, and dolphins and whales loved to hang out in front of the scenic town Geiranger at the end of the fjord. Well, the day was gloomy, so maybe you have to apply a black-and-white filter on everything I just said, because I was such an unlucky bastard.
Geiranger Fjord, must be breathtaking when the sun is out
Within an hour or so, we were approaching the first fork into the the main branch. After another hour, we started seeing so many small waterfalls along with farmsteads. Before too long, the famous waterfall named Bridal Veil was within sight. It was a full spectrum of thin strands of water falling from a headland, and supposedly, when it was lit from the back by the sun, looks like a thin layer of mist as if it is a bridal veil of mother nature.
And then we started approaching the most epic part of the fjord. This narrow part was surrounded by two major waterfalls. On one side you have the Seven Sisters, and on the other Suitor. It was said that the Suitor had been drinking one day, and tried to lure the Seven Sisters. I was simply too amazed by all the actions surrounding me that I stopped caring about the backstory.
Of course, the Seven Sisters was a large waterfall divided into seven major parts, and each one of them flew down gracefully from the top of the cliff into the tranquil waters. Meanwhile, Suitor was a gigantic but much shorter waterfall pouring vehemently into the other side. It was definitely a sight to behold.
Suitor across from Seven Sisters
After all that waterfall drama, we slowly approached the town of Geiranger, where the ship was going to dock and return back to Ålesund. The town sits at the end of the fjord, and is connected by a steep jagged roadway to the outside world. It is mostly a touristy town, as the fjord is one of the most visited attractions in Norway.
the jagged road leading to Geiranger
We stopped for a short while, before backtracking all the way to Ålesund. On the way back, we slowly passed the waterfalls, exit the fork, and backed to the open ocean. It was a memorable cruise down the most beautiful fjord Norway could offer, but I was slightly saddened by the fact that there was no sun, and that could have made a huge difference. But what else could I do? I booked the trip way ahead in advance, and had no idea if it would be sunny or snowy!
Seven Sisters on the way back
I got off the ship at Ålesund as it was called at 5 p.m., and walked towards the hostel. This one was slightly better, since I was not sleeping in a 50-bed dorm, but the price was sky high. I explored around the area to look for food, and had to settle down with more kebab. I could not make any friend in the hostel, as the other occupants were all couples busy making out, so I had to endure more loneliness on this slightly windy day. I slept soundly, making up for the hours of sleep lost on the sofa last night. I woke up to another beautiful day (wow, it must be my birthday!), and I was more than happy to explore the city. The hostel faced the mountain at the backdrop of Ålesund called Aksla, and from what I learned in Bergen, that was gonna be super fun.
looking at Aksla
I made it up the 497 steps quite easily, and saw the entire city under me. The deep blue water and light blue sky reflected the art nouveau style architecture typical here, and the trees brought in some shades of green to balance the color palette.
on top of Aksla
I had a small sip of juice I brought myself, and looked into the distance. It was such a nice day to think about anything negative, so I just enjoyed the moment. My head was blank, without any trace of thought, good or bad. After a while, I decided to climb down the hill, for that I still had a lot more to explore! I backed down to the city, and proceeded to the waterfront. Ålesund was destroyed by a great fire in 1904, and the entire place had to be rebuilt, and the people decided to have it in Jugendstil style, also known in other places as art nouveau. The waterfront is nowadays one of the best example of that style in the world.
Ålesund waterfront art nouveau style buildings
I kept wandering in the city afterwards, and came across a little street by the bay. It led me to the fishery museum, but it was unfortunately closed due to it being Sunday. However, the view from there was gorgeous, so I decided to stay for a bit longer.
The little dock from the museum led me to a little platform in the middle of the bay, facing the entire city as the boats came and went right beside me. I sat down, pulled out my chocolate milk along with my lunch, and sat there quietly. Sun was reflected off the calm water surface, blinding me indirectly, but I did not care. I watched people rolled by, fish swam pass, and boats glided through. I was enjoying my afternoon to the greatest.
harbor in Ålesund
I continued to Ålesund church. It was a stone structure and there was not too much to be offered; however, on this sunny day, its cemetery was exemplary. The sun gilded the leaves to a bright gold color, and the small cemetery was filled with flowers blooming to the fullest. It was such a great shift of tone from the dull grey-on-grey violence I had yesterday, and I could not have loved it more.
Ålesund church graveyard
the front of the church
After walking around the church aimlessly like a ghost appreciating the beauty, I decided to further explore the neighborhoods to find out what art nouveau truly felt like. I am not too much of an art connoisseur, but at least I know that it was the popular form of art when the town was being rebuilt between 1904 to 1907. The style mainly emphasizes on natural items and their curves, so flowers like roses and animals like birds were widely embraced on all buildings. You can find a lot of these motifs on the buildings in Ålesund. It was quickly replaced by Art Deco and out of style in 1910, but now it is making a comeback. While wandering, people all greeted me with smiles, seeing me with my giant DSLR camera. Some even recommended places to go take the best photos.
owl says whooooo?
the little patches of flower decoration on a blue building
I returned home dead tired, having thoroughly looked through every single building in this city that was more of an art museum as a whole than a normal town. I made myself fatter with more kebab, and dozed right off to sleep. This part of my journey is likely a more relaxed one. Due to the frequent bad weather, I learned how to appreciate good times and good places, hopefully soon I will learn how to appreciate some good company. Bergen was simply spectacular, and similarly, Ålesund was not to be trifled with as well. Both cities were the epitome of how a Norwegian city should look like in my mind, and definitely were two of the best cities I had ever had the pleasure to be part of. The Hurtigruten surprisingly saddened me for it being such a touristy operation. However, Geirangerfjord was spectacular nonetheless; the waterfalls were stunning, and the tranquility was unmatched. I can guarantee that I will come back, and definitely in the dead of July under the Nordic sun. I promise myself that.
a small building in Ålesund
I woke up early and headed for the central bus station. It was 4 a.m, and I caught the 4:20 a.m bus before I froze to death. I was hauled to the tiny airport of the city, and checked in for my flight. I was bound to fly to Oslo, and transit to the place I had only dared to dream before this day. I never thought I would actually be going to that place, because that place would be further north than Iceland, further north than Russia, hell, it would be even more north than Greenland! And by the end of today, I would be sitting at 78° N, under the sun that would never set, and surrounded by polar bears. That, is the island of Svalbard, and I could barely believe I was actually gonna do this, holding tighter on my boarding pass. On it, the destination says: Longyearbyen.