- written on a train headed back to Oslo from Bergen -
Wow. What a trip. I seem to start every post with version of "wow," but with scenery like you see in Norway, it's only appropriate. Our time in Bergen was all too short - the vibe is completely different from Oslo. Less stuffy, rich, refined, tempered; more raw, artistic, of the sea, in wild fjord country. I much prefer the latter, though I would still love to live in either city. I often judge a city by the graffiti: it is the people's art, accessible to everyone, seen by all, and often conveying very deep messages and societal issues in beautiful and poignant ways. There was one area where the graffiti was extremely colorful in Bergen - around where Jenny and I went to a bar our first night there, right off the train from Oslo. They were playing Indie music. There was a DJ. Random vintage and retro things filled the space. We sat on an old green, velvet sofa that was all but completely sunken in. They had TANK 7 (a major win for any place in my book) and a very good local beer simply titled "Bitter" (though, I'm not one to discriminate; I like all beers - hoppy and biting, stout and thick, light and unfiltered). We met with some characters, an extremely drunk guy and his wonderfully interesting friends who knew way too much about classical music. I acquired a body guard, a kind gentleman who protected me from a very drunk girl who mistook me for the pounder of the bathroom door behind which she was drunkenly fornicating with extremely drunk guy. Despite combative intoxicated and horny women, it was a very inviting scene, with the friends of extremely drunk guy being co-owners of the space and offering places to see, mountains we should be sure to climb (and DID), and clubs to maybe visit the next night (ummmm, not so much after CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN).
Bergen is driven greatly by the tourist industry. An entire building by the port/fish market is dedicated to overlooking the city and providing information about sites both nearby and in Bergen. It's a double-edged sword: things are open later, on Sundays (gasp!), and there's more variety of food and people speaking English - GREAT for Americans used to Foodler and 24/7 availability mentality (don't get too excited, Europe still doesn't have anything near Foodler). Though, some of the charm and mystique usually disappears with this capitalistic convenience. I'd have to say this is somehow not the case in Bergen. At the place we stayed (Airbnb, unfortunately not the best experience), regardless of the time of day, it was always very tranquil and still. Sunday was a ghost town, except for the ever-pervading feeling of life that surrounds you in Norway thanks to its relentless and intoxicating nature. The tourist center was very helpful, filled to the brim with pamphlets and maps I couldn't help but hope were made from recycled material (by now, I'd have to say that I trust Norway in the nature-preservation regard).
At this point, it think it's important to say that almost the entire reason we (Jenny and I) ventured out this way was to see the fjords. "The gateway to the fjords," they said. All along the Western cost, they said. Well, they forgot to mention a few small points that if you want to see the fjords, this is NOT a small task at hand. "Just head to the city and there are shuttles and ways to hikes there." EEEEHHHH wrong. Just head to the city and slowly see people trickle off the train as they take connecting rides to the Norway in a Nutshell (an option we purposefully didn't choose as there is zero hiking involved), to Adventure Land Train or whatever the hell it's called, and to Finse (in t-shirts fully aware that everything is covered in snow). So you wanna go to Troll's Tongue? Three and a half hour drive from Bergen. Pulpit Rock? Five hours. The really famous one with the boulder death-defyingly dangling between the crevices where people hop on and raise their arms as if to say, "Look, honey! I wouldn't really miss you if I died because all of this is SO GOD DAMN BEAUTIFUL!"? Seven. Hours. Yeah, so go ahead and travel to the "gateway to the fjords"… to rent a car. To drive further South. Or North. Or East. And end up staying at a hotel at the head of the trail. Because it ain't no day trip from Bergen - unless you're reeeeeeally into climbing mountains for six hours and then sitting in a car for eight.
So, the fjords were out. But god dammit, I wanted my nature fill. My time away from it all - away from Boston and all the stuffy, rich, graffitiless walls that enclosed my existence these past two years. What was left? "Well," said our new bar friend who strangely looked like my dad's brother in the 70's with long, flowing, flaxen hair, "Mount Ulriken is a good hike. Best view of the city." A good hike? Best view? Done. Mount Ulriken was our nature destination.
Fast-forward fifteen hours hanging on to a loose unwieldy hand rail in the freezing rain with no waterproof clothes or gloves in 30-mile-per-hour winds on rocks where a waterfall is currently making its way under your sneaker-clad feet. I look back at Jenny, whom I just learned has an acute fear of heights (good to find out mid-climb), then back up at the mountain in front of us - an almost vertical climb in rain that just won't quit. The elements are completely against us - we were completely against us in our choice of clothes - and my only partner in this basically fears mountains. Looking back, something catches my eye - something distant wearing a neon yellow rain poncho, something very small and also in non-hiking-appropriate clothes. Something that could easily be… a six-year-old boy. Doing the same hike as us. In the same conditions. Except not 24 years of age. Not having "more experience with life," having done countless hikes in Colorado, Hawaii, Canada, Germany. He's gaining on us - this six-year-old boy is about to catch up, and here we are holding on to this damn sketchy rail for dear life. This. simply. will not. happen.
With all the reserve mental strength I can muster, I take a moment to unthaw my hands, then continue climbing up the mountain, my dignity slipping away from me as my feet are sliding on slabs of Norwegian death stone. After I feel I've gained a little bit, I get to a vantage point and take a moment to look out. And then it hits me. There are simply no words to describe the rush of looking out above the clouds, down to the city below, the feeling of blowing wind and the sound of distant sheep bells, and to especially see all the tourists taking the funicular up the mountain, naively thinking they'll "just hike down." Pshyeah. You-whom-I-saw-with-flip-flops. Just start the hike and see how things pan out. Your girlfriend in slip-on shoes, too. Just goooooooo for it. Yolo!
Jenny and I persevere, making good time up the rest of the mountain, the ever-motivating funicular and radio tower in sight. There were patches where the rail hysterically wasn't there, oddly enough at transitional moments in terrain and rock. Good-natured people we are, we took a moment to laugh at this and then continued our climb (the six-year-old now far behind us, heh!).
Towards the very end, it got more difficult, but by this time we simply didn't care anymore and were totally in the zone. "This is an exercise in fearlessness!" I told the IU grad, and I must say she realized and changed her perspective of fear beautifully (Jeff Nelsen would be proud). Finally, after almost two-and-a-half hours of hiking (we went the wrong way up the mountain and had to go all the way back down), we reached the top. And boy, was the view magnificent. We rejoiced, screamed in a girly way only American girls can, and took some celebratory selfies (breannaellisonmusic and jenny_benny Instagram, just fyi). We went inside to the nearby building and discovered the possibility of hot chocolate (Ben Zander would be proud) and carped some diem. In the midst of our recovery, a herd of children, headed by the neon-yellow six-year-old, enter the building. He looks wholly unfazed, calm, and upon seeing our enjoyment, kindly requested of his siblings some hot chocolate. Twenty-five kroner and a conversation with his mother later, we're really admiring this little fellow whose Norwegian upbringing was clearly showing in his trail-blazing abilities. Jenny and I get our second hot chocolate, this time with espresso (25 kroner well spent), and go outside one last time to take in the view. I had heard these little guys, even smelled them, but had no idea I'd be seeing them RIGHT NEXT TO THE FUNICULAR. Sheep. Little sheepies with their adorable and hypnotic bells were casually grazing in the field behind the funicular and restaurant. It was at this moment something else hit me. Besides my undying love for green fields and soft animals with bells grazing in said fields, I became fully aware of this wonderful dichotomy, this fantastic paradox that the Norwegian way is all about. Here we are at the top of a tourist (and apparently local's) attraction, next to this restaurant our sweaty, rainy selves dare not enter, and then here's this field of sheep. Just grazing. Right next to where humans do their thing. I'm from farm country, in the very middle of the United States, where everyday I would see cows and horses and fields and obnoxiously slow combines making their way while taking up over half of the road. And animals were always separate. Fenced in. Not trusted whatsoever. This is a general underlying theme in Norway. Trust and responsibility. There is a great deal of responsibility the citizens of this country feel, and you can see it in their public transportation, their parks, their roads, their beautiful, floor-heated homes, and especially in their nature. Nature, to them, is more powerful than they are. And they realize this. They don't fight it, they simply learn from it and prepare for it. ("There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes" should be written at the top of every doorway when you're about to go out in Norway.) They treasure their heritage and their country. And they should, it's abso-freaking-lutely beautiful. This respect for the land, and therefore for life itself, is something greatly missing in America. We like to parade around the world in these bubbles of responsibility and righteousness, but really we have no true idea what the word means. This means not contaminating our water supply. This means honoring the animals whose flesh we eat. This means honoring the plants and crops we grow and the soil they need to exist by not filling it with chemicals. This means living through altruism and awareness of actions and realizing that there really is no such thing as separation. What we do now has consequences in the future. We are all connected, and in this life we all share responsibility together. We're not all alone, and what we do does greatly affect others.
"Breanna! The funicular is here!" Jenny brings me back to reality. I give one last attempt at petting a sheep, but end up with our eyes locked, having a silent and intimate exchange. I bid the sheep farewell, take a few more pictures, then join Jenny in line for the funicular.
"This is going to be worse, isn't it?" She looks apprehensively at me, then at the straight drop down the mountain following the cable. But before I can agree, one of our young friends makes an announcement:
"YOUR FART SMELLS LIKE EGGS!"
Jenny and I lock eyes, a look of amusement that betrays our fatigue passing between us. "Yes, Jenny. I think this will be much worse."