From Finse our next stop was Bergen, over on Norway’s western coast. The second largest city in Norway (after Oslo) and Norway’s capital in the 13th century, today it is an important commercial port and major tourist destination. The historic buildings on the eastern side of the old city harbor known as Bryggen form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.First though, we had to get here from Finse. We’ve traveled by train a lot in Europe and we’ve come to expect reasonably timely service, reasonably comfortable service, a reasonably easy trip. OK, not so much in Norway. Our train was some 45 minutes late getting into Finse, it stopped a few times en route to Bergen due to technical problems, there was no café car, and we’d been warned that at the penultimate stop we would have to get off and transfer to a bus.
OK, things go wrong. But when we got off the train to finish the trip by bus … there was no bus. The signs all pointed to the place to catch a bus, but there was no bus. I just assumed they would have that all arranged but … not so much. Now eventually we only had to wait 10 or 15 minutes, but then the bus didn’t have enough seats for everyone so some people had to stand the full 30 or 35 minutes it took us to get to Bergen. Not exactly what you expect for Europe’s train system.
Eventually, though, we got to Bergen. The first thing to note about our stay here was that the weather was not normal. You know those European heat waves you’ve heard about recently? Totally missed Norway. Mark was here 36 years ago in August and he remembers normal summer weather. Our three-night stay was all rain and fog and cold and more rain. You’d look at the forecast on your iPhone and see that there was a high chance of rain, and sure enough it was raining. You’d look at your iPhone and see there was zero percent chance of rain and … it was probably raining then anyway.
One result was that the tourist stores along the harbor were full of tourists buying rain coats and rain pants and sweaters and coats and gloves. And when I say “tourists,” of course I’m referring to Mark and Jim. And Bart and Ann, who joined us here for the three days. And as you walk around the city you can see all these tourists who, just like us, have the nicest, cleanest, newest cold wet weather gear on. Quite the sight.
What’s to do in Bergen? Parts of it are really beautiful, you’re surrounded by water and mountains, and with all the precipitation the greenery is practically exploding. So you walk around (in your rain coat and rain pants, maybe an umbrella) and enjoy the moody beauty. A funicular takes you high above the city where there are great views and beautiful trails.
But there’s only so much of that you want to do in the rain. So there’s always laundry to do. Mark had done the research and found the service where you can drop off your dirty clothes in the morning and pick up clean, folded clothes in the afternoon. Sadly, though, the owners were on their summer holiday so instead I had to schlep some two miles north of the city center to a laundromat. Not ideal, but there’s little that makes us happier than a suitcase full of clean clothes.And then spending time with Bart & Ann. Walking around, laughing, joking, finding places to eat. Talking politics and catching up on stories of the people we know but don’t see anymore. And playing Hearts. Lots of playing Hearts. Mark was the big winner if you’re wondering.
Now the sun is trying to poke out so it’s time to get the heck out. From here we board a boat and will spend six days sailing up through the fjords, up past the Arctic circle to the very northeast edge of Norway. Despite what one might think after reading about our two weeks on a boat in Croatia and now this trip, we’re honestly not cruise or really even boat people. But I didn’t want my first fjord experience to be some cheap day trip, and the chance to get that far north just seemed too good to pass up. So here we go.