Right… I’m having a somewhat lazy evening in Helsinki and thought I would use a bit of free time to post a bit of a catch up on my Norwegian exploits.
I arrive in Oslo at around 8AM after my overnight train from Malmö, Sweden, only to find that my hotel had an even more outrageous check in time (4pm) so I had the best part of the afternoon to check out the City. I picked up a few guides to give me some ideas about things to do and hit the streets. A backpackers budget guide to Oslo which warned me straight off about how expensive Oslo is, a comment I didn’t pay much attention seeming that I am used to pretty expensive cities having lived in Hong Kong and London. In reality Oslo makes London and Hong Kong look relatively cheap. Being a traveler, I’m not really concerned with taxes or the general cost of living as a resident but instead the backpacker essentials such as food, entertainment and beer. After paying nearly £6 for a sandwich and some orange juice for breakfast (from a 7-11 no less, hardly Michelin starred service) I decided I would do well to watch my wallet very closely. As such I decided my best bet would be to rent a bike and simply look around for the day and try my best not to buy anything unless I was starving to death.
The bicycle rental system in Oslo is clever and surprisingly cheap; you pay 60Kr (around £6) and you receive a smart card which works on bicycle racks which are scattered across the city for 24 hours. When you put your card in a rack, a simple bike (4 gears, two wheels etc…) is released which you can ride around for up to 3 hours before having to replace it at any of the other racks in the city. Using this cool little system I just pedaled around seeing the typical tourist’s sites. The most impressive of these is probably The Vigeland Sculpture Park. I don’t know much about the artist in question but the park has hundreds of cool sculptures in a picturesque setting. Otherwise, I have to admit that Oslo didn’t provide a great amount to excite me. Maybe it was because I was feeling a little down. I’m not totally sure why. Maybe I was just being a big girl, maybe it was because I miss my little puppy Chili or even just because I am a tight bugger and spending so much money was stressing me out, but either way Chelsea losing 2-1 in the last minute to Mark-Bloody-Viduka-Boro didn’t help. Fortunately, I was heading to Bergen the next morning and it turned out that it was exactly what I needed (even though I didn’t know it yet…)
Before heading on this trip I had heard that the Oslo to Bergen railway is one of the most impressive in the world. It is. Only an hour after leaving Oslo the first signs of a leaving the city and entering the great outdoors are apparent. Then suddenly, the fairly standard issue countryside lakes and forest scenery are swept into the darkness of a fairly long tunnel. When you emerge, the world changes. I don’t know what sort of odd portal we went through, but the next 4 hours were spent with my face/camera stuck to the window devouring the epic landscapes along the route. It’s easy to forget that the world outside the frame of the window is actually there and as countless lakes, mountain vistas and even Glaciers pass it would be easy to become desensitized (in a television violence kind of way…). However, I can honestly say it was the first long train journey I have taken where the traveling was more enjoyable than arriving. Pictures fail to capture quite how amazing it was, but I tried to take some none the less. The town of Bergen, though, turned out to be a quite a match to the train journey there.
My hostel was conveniently located right by the fish market in the center of town, and after checking in (finally a hostel with a sensible check in time!) I headed out to see what I could see. Bergen is small, but what it lacks in size and things to do, it more than makes up for in charm and beauty. Instead of wondering what activity was next on the list I was more than content just walking around and looking at things from the port and fish market, to the old wooden buildings to the tips of the 7 mountains surrounding the city. One thing I did notice about Bergen that day (aside from the fact it wasn’t raining, which it supposedly does 90% of the year) was the number of metal head touring around the city. Though I fit right in with my At the Gates t-shirt and general attire I couldn’t help but wonder why I had seen more pasty arms and legs, dodgy black t-shirts and even dodgier black hair today than in the rest of my trip combined. The answer was only a beer away. As the sun spectacularly set on my first day in Bergen (see pic above) I decided to find a place to have some food and some fizzy golden travel fuel and on the advice of a girl in a rather fetching Morbid Angel t-shirt I went to a bar called the Garage. It was Hole in the Sky festival. Tonight, under this very bar, would be a metal-stravagaza with bands such as Necrophagist and Morbid Angel playing. What’s more is that this would continue for 2 more days with Celtic Frost, Witchcraft, Satyricon and even Atheist playing. As I tucked into a horribly overpriced beer and complained that I couldn’t find a ticket and American accent beside me muttered “Hell, we are playing tomorrow night and we can’t get downstairs”. Turns out even if you are in one of the headline acts you couldn’t get in if you weren’t playing that night and so began my evening of drinking with the guys from Atheist.
I awoke refreshed by a night of beer and death metal, and determined to conquer one of the mountain peaks surrounding Bergen, however, the famous Bergen rain was to dash my hopes for now. The highest peak (Ulriken) was engulfed in clouds and they didn’t look like moving. I waited the day out to see if it would clear up but by lunch time it became clear that I would have to settle for visiting Floyen and small peak closer to town. I can’t imagine what Ulriken was like because the view from the top of the Floyen funiculaire was spectacular, but I had my sights set on a long walk up to a higher peak. Armed with a bottle of water, jacket and MP3 player I headed through the rain up a 3km trail to a nice looking lake. A few hours or so later I was still walking and couldn’t seem to figure out if I was still on the right trail. What I did know though is that I was heading up, and that was good enough for me. The weather was deteriorating, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn back as every corner revealed a new perspective down the mountain to Bergen, a nice lake or some forest older than time itself. At this point, I may have already seen my original lake (there were so many it was hard to tell which one was the right one) and I abandoned my quest replacing it with a newer one. To make it to the top of this wall of rock if it killed me. Never in my life have I been happier to be tired, wet and hungry on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
I came back down a new man, the slight sadness of the previous days was behind me and I didn’t even care that I didn’t have enough money to eat a nice meal when I got back down. I was exhausted. I bought some supermarket pasta and sauce, cooked it at the hostel and fell asleep almost instantly. Tomorrow was to be the start of a busy two days of traveling in which I would make my way from the west of Norway to Finland by means of train, bus and even a ship. Sleep was just what I needed then, and it is just what I need now.