Cities / Towns Visited: 40
Countries Visited: 13
Steps Taken Today: 15,749
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,457,558
I’d say we woke up to sunshine, but to be honest we went to sleep to it as well, and we had been, and would continue to be, told by almost every native Norwegian during our stay that this weather was unseasonably warm and sunny. We may have been the only two people in the country to be less than excited about that fact, however unfortunately it is not really practical to try and do extensive travel in the wintertime, especially in places where things freeze or get snowed in. Thus off into the sunshine we marched once more, down the impossibly steep hill and through the streets of this beautiful fjord filled location.
Reaching the dock, it wasn’t long before we had located and climbed aboard the vessel which would be taking us on the morning’s adventure. Now, it is a well know fact that Norway is home to a great number of fjords, which wind their way through the spectacular scenery of this great northern land, so it seemed only fitting that we should travel along these ancient waterways in order to better acquaint ourselves with the land we would be calling home for a week. As the boat set sail on our three hour return cruise to Mostraumen, with us sitting in the warm morning sun on its top deck, we slowly drifted away from the safety of the harbour and off into the wilderness. The further we strayed from civilisation the better the view became; with mountains undulating off into the distance, and huge stone cliffs which drop drastically to the depths of the fjord, with trees clinging impossibly in their every crevice, it was hard not to be in awe of nature’s power and resilience. It took me back to our adventure to Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand which we had visited a few years ago, and we sat gawping now, just as we had then.
As we continued to drift we occasionally came across small pockets of houses, or simply a single residence; tiny isolated towns, hidden in any small cove or landing that the cliffs allowed; powered by precariously places mountaintop power lines. It made me smirk to see the ingenuity and persistence of the human race. Perhaps it is because I could see myself looking at such a secluded yet beautiful position and insisting whole heartedly that I must live there, no matter how inconvenient and difficult it would be to make that happen. This was made doubly as comical by the fact that one of the ship’s guides explained that if you live permanently in a house here, no matter how remote, the government is obliged to run electricity to the property, although it is often at great expense to the owner.
As the tour continued we were told that the last part of the cruise is along a section of the fjord which up until just a few decades ago was not accessible by large boats, such as ours, due to its shallow depth. However, as the power of nature goes, flooding caused the fjord to surge with water and cleared a deeper path along the riverbed, meaning that they are now able to take people past the tiny school which used to service the small nearby village (I imagine before transport became easier, and they were able to attend larger, and, I am assuming, somewhat better facilitated schools), and continue on to the very end of the fjord. Finally we neared the turning point, where sits a secluded village, tucked idyllically in the safety of the valley between two rocky mountains, and flanked on one side by a spectacular waterfall. As the boat neared they played the kind of song you would expect in an epic battle scene from a major motion picture through the speakers, adding to the sense that you were almost in another world entirely.
The return journey was equally as gorgeous, with the added benefit that a lot of the other passengers went downstairs into the cabin to escape the chill of the wind as the boat chugged along, meaning that we had more freedom to move around and take photos without the threat of our seats being commandeered immediately by the unlucky ones left to stand, due to the fact that they had been the last to board. As the ship pulled back into the dock, we alighted with a little joy in our step, Norway had delivered on its end of the deal, and we were hungry to explore more.
Scurrying back through the waterside market we had passed through on our way in that morning, we paused to buy a little lunch before continuing. Now the beauty of travelling comes not only in the sights, but also in the ability to try foods you simply cannot source at home, and for us this involved buying reindeer hotdogs. As expected they tasted similar to venison, but slightly gamier and fattier; and coupled with the crunch and astringency of the fresh and fried onions, and the bite of a little mustard it was a fine way to fill our stomachs before continuing.
Next stop on the agenda for Bergen was a little history, at the Bryggens Museum. For those of you who have not been fortunate enough to visit this distant part of the world, Bryggen is the historic district of the town, and consists of a number if rows of old wooden houses, brightly coloured, rather precariously leaning, and fronting directly to the docks (you can see them clearly in the first photo of this blog). This area was ravaged by fire several times throughout its history from medieval times until present day; a fact that is hardly surprising considering the fact it was and is made almost entirely of wood. It was improved over the centuries, and for the long period when it was home to the Hanseatic German Merchants, they put in place a ban on any sort of fire in the houses (including candles and gas lamps, as well as fire for warmth; a stark thought in a place with spends a lengthy portion of the year in long nights and biting cold), meaning the only way the men could get any warmth, light, or a hot meal was to spend their time in the cookhouses and dining hall located at the end of each row of residences.
The museum itself houses the foundations of some of the old wooden houses which were destroyed by fire, that they found in an archaeological dig of the area. They also have a fascinating display of the layers of earth they discovered, in which you can see a black line of soot from every time the town burnt down, which to be honest was a few too many times for my liking. Surely after the third or fourth fire they should have committed to building stone houses; I know they’re more expensive initially but surely its cheaper in the long run than rebuilding your town almost once or twice a century. The exhibition also shows a number of other archaeological finds, including a large number of everyday items like leather shoes, bone and wood combs, jewellery, metal tools, and a few skulls for good measure.
Moving upstairs, they have an exhibition dedicated to the work of the Frithjof Saelen, a Norwegian cartoonist and illustrator who is famed for his political satire drawings, as well as the much loved Norwegian children’s comic ‘Snorri the Seal’. It was amusing to find out that the book was banned for a while as it was written during the Nazi occupation in Norway and the characters in it quietly represent the political situation with different characters representing different powers of the day; a rather Soviet polar bear, a couple of S.S. soldier-esque seagulls, and a powerful and rather fatherly whiskered Walrus who seems ever so British. After getting lost in the world of this talented man’s work, we made out way up to the top floor, in which there stands an exhibit of paintings by Norwegian artists. The majority were stunning landscape works, depicting the enviable surroundings of this nation; there was a goodly number of maritime based paintings; along with a few slightly more offbeat pieces, like a painting of cupid with the head of Rambo, and a canvas painted in a single shade of blue (something I cannot bring myself to accept as art, call me uneducated if you will, but to me that’s just a giant paint swatch).
Finally we returned back to the street, and still feeling a little peckish we headed back to the market to buy some fish and chips, perching next to the water to eat, and commenting at how this is exactly what we had wanted Norway to include. At this point, the idea of walking back up the dreaded hill to our accommodation threatened to put a damper on the day, thus we concluded that instead of walking, or waiting forever for the bus, we would instead take the funicular up the mountain, and walk down the short distance from there. Reaching the station and hopping aboard we were whisked away up the steep incline, along with the crush of other tourists, including a rather rude American woman who literally addressed the Asian tourists in the carriage as ‘you people’, and whom I was very glad to be away from when we disembarked. As we wandered out onto the viewing platform we were delighted to find a stunning view down over the town below, and at this point we sat and drank a couple of ciders we had bought at the bottom, and which we had known in our hearts wouldn’t last the entire trip home.
Having drank in enough of the view, we decided to take a short walk along one of the trails to a nearby lake, which I am happy to say did not disappoint. It is the kind of picturesque lake you expect a horror movie full of rich teens being slaughtered to be set around; or, you know, a chick flick style romance film if that’s what you’re into. With such secluded and enchanted looking forests its not hard to see why its common folklore that trolls live in these woods; to be honest when you’re standing in it, I don’t even think you’d blink if you saw one pop out from behind a tree or from under a bridge. Eventually though, it was time to make our way home for a homecooked meal, and a little r&r before the adventure continued the next day.
As I lay in bed, my mind drifted back into the seemingly semi-fictional world of Norway’s almost impossibly picturesque landscape. It was in this moment that I took the time to be truly awe-inspired by the brute force, yet careful hand of nature; her ability to tear through rock, and carve out waterways with easy, while also being able to blow the softest breeze; one which barely moves a hair on your head. The wonders of her towering cliffs, and the unexplored depths of her oceans; her ability to create life which can thrive in all of these conditions which would so easily defeat our somewhat feeble bodies. She is a fierce and nurturing mother; strong yet forgiving; both harsh and gentle in equal measure. She giveth life, and she taketh life away. I do not believe in god, but I bow before the power of nature, and beg her forgiveness for the damage we cause her. Without her we are nothing, without her we cease to be, and yet we take her for granted each and everyday. We tear down her forests, and dig up her earth; we tap her veins for our own selfish wants; we torture her, then ask her why she injures us with her wrath. We must endeavour to live in harmony with her, to respect her, to love her, as we do with our own mother’s; for without them we would not exist, nor would we without mother nature. For many of us, we feel as if our lives are shattered by the passing of our mothers, or those who have filled that void, yet we continue to survive despite our pain. There is only one mother who’s death would assuredly result in ours. Remember this as you pass through life, in your fleeting existence, and remember that although she is strong she is not invincible, eventually she will become too weak to heal the wounds we inflict on her, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.