So why Norway. That is what everyone has been asking since I said I was going; I admit, it is a bit different from my normal Ireland/UK jaunts. The main reason is wanting to explore somewhere different, and somewhere with stunning natural beauty. Iceland totally spoiled me in terms of how gorgeous the country was; and that was sort of a throw-in, visit a new country on a short layover, when my actual destination was London. And then I absolutely loved it and it was my favorite part of the whole trip! So I wanted somewhere that would have the same 'wow' factor in terms of the landscape. And Norway really fits the bill, or it is supposed to! I haven't seen terribly much yet, but tomorrow that should change.
It was a bit of a journey getting here: first had to fly to JFK in NYC, then onto Amsterdam, and then finally to Bergen. And I got my first stamp in my new passport! I have to really stop talking to passport control people; when the guy took my passport I commented that it would be my first stamp in this new one. He starts scrutinizing it, asks how often I travel, why I travel, and what I'm doing in Amsterdam. I have no idea what comes up on a screen when they swipe your passport - is it a list of all the places you have traveled with it? I promise I'm not trying to sneak into your country to work, plus I was heading to Norway! Next time I will keep my mouth shut and not try to make small talk.
First view of Norway as the plane was coming in to land:
Norway has thousands upon thousands of lakes, not to mention the fjords that jut inland from the sea. And yes, it was grey because it was raining. All day long its been raining in a steady drizzle that gets slightly heavier at times. Except for the 10 minutes it took for me to walk from the bus station to the hostel, it didn't rain then, and I was thanking whatever Norwegian god is in charge of the rain for that!
Speaking of the hostel, it is interesting in that it is a full floor of an apartment building, so to get to it you have to go up to the 4th floor. I'm in a 10 person all female room, and as of right now there are just three of us in there, so its very spacious and pretty nice. Upon arrival I was happy to find out that my room was ready, so instead of just going and dropping my things off, I decided to take a little rest. Which is so unlike me, normally I'm ready to head out, but it had been a really long two days of travel and with the rain I just felt like relaxing a bit. After a short nap I felt so much better and was ready to start exploring.
One of the main reasons I chose to visit Bergen was because of the historic section of the city, called Bryggen, which means wharf. This is where all the fish merchants would unload their goods, and a huge trading post sprung up beginning in the Middle Ages. The buildings were mostly destroyed in a fire in 1707, so these aren't the original ones, but they are still about three hundred years old!
I popped into a bakery in the while building in the picture, and had a delicious cinnamon and sugar roll called a skillingsboller. And yes, I was a total tourist and took a picture of it:
The hot chocolate was actual chocolate pieces at the bottom and hot frothy milk, which I had to stir together. It was a perfect pick me up for the wet rainy day.
I love how Scandinavian countries (am I allowed to make that generalization after only visiting two? maybe?) decorate for Christmas. Maybe it is because it gets dark so early and they like the lights twinkling in the night, or maybe they just like celebrating. Whatever it is, I love it - there were trees scattered around the downtown area, lights strung across streets, large while snowflakes dangling from buildings, and lit garlands running along alleys.
I wandered around the harbor area for a bit, til I got tired of being in the rain, so I went into the Bryggen Museum, which shows exclusively items found in the Bryggen area, many of which date back to the 13th and 14th centuries. It was a nice museum but did not have very much posted in English; the temporary exhibit had no English translations, which was disappointing because it meant I couldn't get the most out of the visit.
Oh I have to post this picture of the most American restaurant in a traditional looking building:
After drying off back at the hostel, I headed out again for dinner. It was still raining, but the streets were all lit up and pretty:
Not terribly much, but it was just the first day. Plus if it hadn't been raining I think I would've gone more places. There is a funicular that takes you up above the city, and the view is supposed to be lovely. I was trying to decide first if I should do it at night, and see everything lit up, or during the day...and then I thought when I got up there, it might be hard to see things due to the rain, so I'm skipping that for now.
Tomorrow I am planning on doing a self-guided tour called 'Norway in a Nutshell.' You take a train through the mountains, a ferry through a fjord, and then a bus back to Bergen. It is still supposed to be raining; I'm hoping it won't be foggy because I want to be able to see everything!