Sunday, May 8, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Norway Days 3 & 4: "Now that is a Diana sized door."

These past few days have been absolutely amazing. I have seen and done so many things and met so many lovely people. Madly exploring a different country for four days is going pretty well so far—even if I did get knocked out for a few hours with motion sickness as a result. We took a trip to the island of Osterøy yesterday and explored downtown Bergen today. The weather has been perfect for walking around and seeing the sights, though, so I am not going to leave any unseen!

Yesterday started off very well. We ate another great breakfast and then set off with a packed lunch for the large inland island of Osterøy. This particular island is where Diana’s namesake homeland Kleiveland comes from, so it was first on the list. We drove the car down to the ferry dock and got our spot. The ferry was painted with an Ole Bull mural, who was a violinist from Bergen in the 1800s. That ride took about ten minutes, and then we drove off to explore Osterøy.

The drive up to Kleiveland was a rough road for me. I’m usually the first to get carsick, and today was no exception. By the time we rolled up to the side of the mountain, I was ready to get out of the car and get some fresh air. Kleiveland means “steep hill”, or something like it, and we think that steep hill might have been the very sheer cliff just to the left of the farmstead and boat dock. There was an older lady putting out her clothes to dry, but she did not seem too bothered that we were walking by on what was seemingly her property. In quite the surreal experience for me, we opened the gate to the sheep pen and walked down the hill toward the boats.

I made some friends with some sheep along the way, and then started a little at how beautiful the landscape was once we got down to the water. The sea air filled my body and took any sickness away. I was brought back to the mountains in the distance, perfectly aligned into a v in with a hazy white peak in the middle. The water sparkled, the wind blew. The boats rocked in the water as the waves peacefully rolled in on the little beach. The steep hill loomed up over where we stood, putting everything into perspective. I really did not want to leave that peaceful spot, even if it has nothing to do with my family or me.

From there, things got a little hairier. The goal was to find the Osterøy Museum, which documented life on the island fifty to one hundred years ago. Three quarters of the way there, we stopped the car for me to get some air. That’s how winding these roads were. In about twenty minutes, we arrived at the museum… to find that it was closed. Or rather, the sign said Open and the additional sign on the door said under construction, but the door was locked. Even after all that trouble, I would have liked to see the museum anyway! But sadly, it was not to be.

Once we knew for certain it was closed, we drove back up to a church that had a nice sunny bench where we could sit and eat lunch. The food sounded good and I thought it would calm my stomach, and I think it did for the most part. We had these amazing homemade cinnamon sweet bread braids that were absolutely delicious. I had two with a cup of tea and I was a happy traveler again. I took some pictures of the church and the graveyard and got back in the car.

The road back to the mainland was not so bad after that, but still enough to bring back some of the sickness. I was coherent enough to hear that the bridge we crossed over is apparently know to oscilate in extreme wind like the Golden Gate Bridge, so they installed safeties underneath it to prevent it from doing that. I know I had heard of that before, so I couldn’t believe I was driving over something so infamous. Luckily it was a clear day with no moving cement in sight.

Back on the mainland, we headed to a shopping center for a quick stop at the shoe store. It was actually really cool to see the inside of a shopping mall that wasn’t American or Irish—I feel those two are pretty similar, and this one was a little different. The stores were laid out much in the same way, but something about the atmosphere there was different. I think the place felt smaller, more like a collection of indoor shops rather than a covered mall that has an open-air feel. Nonetheless, I liked being able to walk around and see the different stores. So many cute things live there!

It was back home after that, and I unfortunately did not make it much longer. My headache had reached full force, and I could not accompany Diana on her evening adventure to find more family. She went to see someone who had a horse farm, though, and they had a young colt she got to play with. I’m glad she got to do that, because I am sure I will have more chances once I get home. Babies really are the best, though, and I am sad I missed it all.

Today started off much better than the previous night. I woke up to a vengeful stomach that was upset I hadn’t fed it properly at dinner. All set to go, we got in the car and headed in to downtown Bergen!

After walking around a little bit, our first stop was the Fløibanen. It’s not really a cable car, but a train on a cable that pulls both train cars up or down the mountain simultaneously. The cable is connected to the ground but the car looks like a tram. It was pretty cool no matter what it was, though. We got our tickets and then queued up to ride to the top. The car slowly descended and let the others out. We took our spot among the many people going to the top. The ride was steep and weird because though I needed to ride looking forward (aka upward) to not get sick, everything interesting was happening behind me. So I kept having to turn around to look at the city, but then having to look back up because I was getting dizzy.

But once we arrived at the top, everything got better. The view was stunning. The viewing platforms provided such a wide reaching view of the city that we could see everything that we would later be doing. We saw the large pool of water that used to be connected to the ocean, the Grieg Hall, the entire harbor area and the ferry docks, the troller dock, the university district, everything. I have never seen anything quite like it before, and I know I will have to come back some day and see it again. There was even a little fence at the top in the shape of the Bergen national anthem, which looked out over Bergen. Everything about that spot was very memorable—so memorable that I want everyone I know to be able to see it, too.

We took the car back down, but this time, we got the whole thing completely to ourselves. I took some more pictures and sat right in the front so that I could take it all in. It was like a roller coaster but better, since we could actually see where we were going. Once we touched down again, we walked along the colorful houses called the Bryggen (wharf). The museum we wanted to go to would not open until noon, so we spent some time walking through the shops and buying a couple things as souvenirs. I got two key chains and this awesome placemat with the Swedish Dala horse on it. I asked if this was a common symbol in Norway as well, but he said it was not. It was so strange to me that they would be selling traditionally Swedish things in a Norwegian gift shop, but I did not push it any further. It’s simply a beautiful art piece and I am going to appreciate it forever. As badly as I wanted a Norwegian sweater, they were fairly expensive and I did not know how I would get it all the way home—my suitcase is already full to its limit!

 Noon had rolled around, so we walked the little ways up the street to the Bryggen Museum. This focused mainly on the wharf front and the settlement of that area over time, all the way back from Viking days until the present. The Viking exhibit was quite cool. It had a model Viking ship, a bunch of household artifacts like combs, jewelry, shoes, and pottery, and even some skulls. I learned that archeologists can tell when there were fires because of the ash layers left behind. Because the wharfs and the houses there were made from wood, fires were fairly common. The wharf also kept expanding during those times, which added to the risk of fire and fire spread. St. Mary’s Church, however, has been standing since the creation of the settlement and still stands today.

The upstairs was a continuation of the Viking exhibit—an extensive collection of runes written on pieces of wood. Many of them are poems, letters, business trading documents, or even magical inscriptions. Religion also played a part at this time, because some of the pieces are written in Latin but inscribed in runes! Ancient scholars also had a written code, as we have many codes today. Just the idea in general that I am looking at a piece of written history that is so old and once so important to someone’s life is what keeps me believing that language is a valid field of study. We would not have gotten this far without it, and we certainly would not live into the future without learning from things written about the past. Seeing the little pieces of wood and remembering that made me really happy to be a part of that greater story.

The final floor of the museum was a centennial exhibit on the Bergen fire of 1916. The last of the major fires to burn Bergen, this one started in a warehouse and blazed much of the city center on a very windy day. The wind and cold weather worsened the spread so that much of downtown was lost completely. It was really helpful to have the mental picture from the top of Fløibanen in my head when I looked at the pictures so that I could see exactly how immense this fire was. Rebuilding happened quickly, but with temporary tenements called barracks that were never in the same spot as before. Many say that though Bergen never looked quite as good as it did before the fire, it is still one of the most beautiful architectural cities in all of Europe.

Finished with the museum, we looked around some more behind the Bryggen. We had seen all of the shop fronts, but the back side of those shops is where the movie set-like construction emerges. Doorways are placed seemingly at random, second stories jut out into open courtyards, buildings sometimes meet and sometimes not quite like they should. Everything is leaning in an odd direction. Lots of things are on stilts. It was really magical, actually. I loved walking around and looking at all the shops and how they have each used their unique spaces to create an amazing collection of stores.

We all started to get hungry, so we hunted down a restaurant that wasn’t too busy. We settled on one called Egon’s and opted to sit outside under the large umbrellas. By this point, the rain was mostly gone, but it was still nice to be a little protected at least. Every chair came equipped with a sheepskin rug warmer, and there was even a space heater! We had no worries of being cold. The name of the restaurant apparently comes from a famous Norwegian comic series in which Egon is the moral criminal leading a team of cronies to do the wrong thing, but with a touch of lovable flair. I like that in a criminal. It makes things more interesting.

Thankfully, we were given an English menu to look over. Diana and I each chose the chicken burger with aioli and Brie cheese. It arrived and I could not wait to eat it. My stomach finally realized that it had not really eaten that much in the last twelve hours, and that burger and fries was gone pretty quickly. During our meal, the day slowly turned from partly cloudy to sunny and warm. It was great way to eat a meal in Bergen—looking out onto the marina with the sun shining down and the people bustling about on such a nice day.

After lunch, we took a quick walk across the street through the farmers market and the new fish market. The farmers market sold things like cheese, honey, lots of lamb and sheep products, and household items like plates, bowls, and silverware. I always love a farmers market, so this was a great chance to see one in a different culture. The fish market was also amazing—everything smelled so good and I wanted to sample everything. Fish prices in Norway prevented that, however—some of the fish equaled to over $100 per kilo!

To end our day in town, we walked over to the Grieg Concert Hall. This is the local classical music venue, named after Ervard Grieg and shaped like a grand piano. We got to see that from the skydeck earlier. To get there, we walked through one of the large parks in Bergen. A small natural lake called Lille Lungegårdsvannet sits in the center of this. There was a marathon going on that required runners to circle the lake 100 times. I applaud those who could do that, but we definitely kept walking. There is also a statue of Christian Michelsen in the park. He was the first prime minister of independent Norway, and today, he had a seagull perched directly on top of his head. Pretty awesome.

The Grieg Hall was a short distance from there, nestled amongst some other buildings. It has a beautiful water feature in the front with a giant pillar, as well as two statues of Grieg. One is a very unflattering bust, and the other is a much more flattering full body statue. We took some pictures and made sure to say hello to both of the Griegs present. It was surreal to see a concert hall still in the middle of a city, but with a mountain in the background.

From there, we walked back to the car and drove on to meet more of Diana’s family. They had a tea spread all ready for us, complete with an ice cream roll perfect for such a hot day. When it was almost time to go, one of the family members handed Diana a tin Viking ship that he had cast and soldered himself, as well as a large salad spoon with the famous Borgund Stave church. They were truly beautiful pieces. But then he handed me a fork of the same design. I am not even related to this man in any way, but he and his wife insisted that I take this piece. I was a little dumbfounded with disbelief and gratitude. I hope that even though they do not speak English that my expression conveyed how truly thankful I was to have that fork. On this trip where Diana is discovering her roots and I get to sit back and watch, that was really the most memorable moment for me.

We said goodbye to the family and drove another five minutes to the burial mound of King Håkon the Good Hearted. He was king of Norway from about 933 to 960CE. Though this mound is not the original, which was lost to damage long ago, it is a newly dedicated site from 1961. It is in this location because it is thought that Håkon grew up in the nearby town of Seim. He was also the first one to try to introduce Christianity in Norway. When he was mortally wounded in battle, his followers buried him and put up the mound in his commemoration. That is a whole lot of history that we have absolutely nothing like, so it was so great to experience something like that just down the street from where someone lives.

After that, it was a long day finally done. We piled back in the car and went home to pizza for dinner in front of the TV. That is a ritual I really miss about home. Though we have another awesome day planned tomorrow, I can’t help but keep the timer going in the back of my head: 23 days until I go home. I am going to live as much as possible until then. But I am still looking forward to going home soon.   

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