Monday, 19 July 2010

Norway in a Nutshell - Part 1...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. We're BAAAAAAACK!!!!! Okay so first off, let me state the obvious - NORWAY IS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!! Seriously - if we'd had a week, this might have reigned supreme as THE BEST one week destination we've ever hit. However, as we only had 4 days (one of which was 12 hours of travel), we feel we must relegate it to THE BEST long weekend we've ever had. Why, you ask? Well, I'm glad you did. Let me explain... :-)

Day 1: Now THAT is a sunset - at 11:30 PM...

So the work day was good. I got a run in, which I deemed crucial given that I was about to go on my usual drinking and eating binge for vacation (remind me again why that's any different than any other day or weekend?). Also, the work day was productive, even if it ended with the following (CLASSIC) insult from my new boss (whom we'll call "Big Cat" on the blog).

Sam: "Hey man, I'm about to sign off. Anything you need from me before I roll?"

"Big Cat": "I think we can survive without you for 2 days, Sam. After all, we survive the other 12 weeks that you take vacation."

Full marks, brother. :-)

So I rolled to Gatwick via the Express, and Muffin Puffin met me there at 6 PM. From there it was an easy check-in with Norwegian Air, and then we rolled to security, where a (slightly deranged) man BLEW UP at the security gal when she asked to search his bag. Given the disability, I don't feel it appropriate to make light of the situation, but let's just say it ended with the guy hitting the security guard on the arm before throwing his clothes, followed by about 156,000 policemen surrounding him. Why did I see all this, you ask? Because Muffin Puffin was lucky enough to be part of the "FRET NOT THIS IS RANDOM" search population. Good times...

After clearing security, we were the last folks to secure a table at the Flying Horse for some grub (Fizzy - it's the same place where we got brekkie before flying home in December). We broke the AFD fast, and I scarfed down a burger whilst Pumpkin nibbled on a starter (perhaps that explains why she's teeny and I'm big as a damn house - but my burger did have Stilton and onion rings on it - SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD..peppy cheekies).

The flight over was easy. I finished Child 44 (Deano - AMAZING recommendation - simply BRILLIANTLY written), and better yet was treated to both an AMAZING sunset and a beautiful arrival into Bergen. The sunset was JUST STUNNING. Picture a pink orb surrounded by purple, orange, and pink clouds, slowly descending into the clouds below (and NO - I'm not gay...). Follow that with a descent through the clouds, opening up to the North Sea and what felt like a BILLION gorgeous, rocky islands hugging the Norwegian coast, and you have a FABULOUS start to the trip.

The journey into town was easy - we caught the "Flybuss" into the city center and saved ourselves about 15 billion dollars. Seriously - I'll get to costs shortly, but I hope that you're all sitting down. All the same, the 20 minute bus trip in was $25 a person...and that's JUST getting started.

The good news was that EVERYONE spoke English better than we did, so getting around was no problem. And so, at 12:35 AM, we walked up this TINY ASS little street to meet Matt, our host at the Bergen Guest House. He showed us to our (UBER-CUTE) room, where we promptly passed out around 1:30 in the morning.

Day 2: You did WHAT to that whale?

Dawn comes early in Norway. And by early, I mean....oh, I don't know... THREE THIRTY IN THE MORNING. And if you had American style blackout curtains, this would be no issue. Intead, we had material thinner than my boxers (so most of you can guess what that means) and no air conditioning, meaning that the windows were open to the sounds of birds singing their lungs out at 4 AM. We managed to doze until 9, but we were out the door at 9:45 to see the sites of Bergen - gateway to the Fjords.

First things first, we went to the tourism office and booked our trains and ferries. There's a popular tour of Norway called (appropriately enough) "Norway in a Nutshell," and we basically followed that route (but, thanks to Muffin Puffin's brilliant planning, we elongated it). That meant that we only had 1 day in Bergen, but it proved to be enough. And so, hungry at 10:30 in the morning, we rolled over to the first stop on the tour - the Bergen Fish Market.

Now granted, this place is smaller than expected, but DAMN do they have tasty food. We are talking lobsters and crabs crawling every where, as well as fresh shrimp, salmon, tuna, and anything else you want (Old School Cool - don't worry - there was herring EVERYWHERE). I saw what I thought was sushi grade tuna rubbed in pepper and asked to try some. The girl looked at me and asked, "Have you ever had whale before?" In that moment, 2 thoughts crossed my mind:

1. I will never be able to join Greenpeace in good conscious. However, I never really planned to join them anyway.

2. Rice's car in high school - the Toyota Tercel we called "Shamu." Now that I think about it, I thought about his class ring as well ("Ours to Save" if I remember).

However, the "when in Rome" push was too strong, and 2 seconds later I was DEVOURING WHALE MEAT. And let me tell you - IT WAS GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD....

We then walked over to the Bryggen area, a collection of 61 buildings dating back to 1702. They have largely been recreated using Medieval techniques (they apparently represent Norwegian city life after the Vikings), and they are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To us, they were a shopping playground and our lunch destination.

Okay, so the weather had been on and off all day, but suddenly the sun appeared and we found a GREAT little cafe (that was 300 years old, for the record) to eat outside. The menu offered "Norwegian tapas," which I found intriguing. 2 minutes later, we were drinking 2 beers and enjoying the sunshine. A word on alcohol in Norway (sorry, Grimshaw - I will NOT surprise you this time) - IT IS A FORTUNE. Each beer is (without fail) around 9-10 pounds a pint (so $14-17 USD a glass), and so it is an EXPENSIVE proposition to get hammered in the Nordic countries. Consequently, JT and I were well behaved...this day at least. Tune in tomorrow for the Paul Harvey version of the trip.

Lunch was a TINY plate of 3 tapas: smoked herring, marinated whale, and cured sausage. It was enough to feed a 3 year old who's just gotten into solid foods, but it cost us about $60 USD. That being said, it was TASTY. We then rolled over to the fish market, where we devoured samples of whale, salmon, and reindeer & elk jerky before picking up the snack for the day - pepper and herb rubbed smoked salmon. Honestly, it was probably in the best 10 things I've ever eaten in my ENTIRE LIFE.

We then wandered around Bergen, sitting by fountains and lakes, visiting churches and walking the water, and basically taking in the city. It was SO RELAXING, and I was at peace in a way I have seldom known. In short, I WAS ALREADY IN LOVE WITH NORWAY.

We then caught the Funicular (that would be tram to us Americans) to the mountain overlooking Bergen, where we were treated to AMAZING views of the city, the harbor, and the nearby fjords. It was JUST spectacular - even though JT and I were almost kidnapped by this troll. Mum - I couldn't help but think of you and that troll you used to have as a kid - CLASSIC.

We walked down off the mountain (the Norwegians don't believe in things like "switchbacks" or "safety" on their trails - your ass walks STRAIGHT DOWN A PATH 2 INCHES WIDE. If you die, they will just blame the trolls) and did some more shopping before rolling over to the harbor, where we tried a pair of Hansa beers (yes - $35 for the pair of pints) before hitting the dinner spot that night. Where did we go, you ask? Why, we had traditional Norwegian, of course! And by that, I mean - WE WENT TO A MEXICAN RESTAURANT. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, the Taylors went Santa Ana and hit up a "Mex-Tex" restuarant called Skibet. There we gorged on fajitas and nachos, and JT even had a margarita (on the rocks, for the record - which the waitress had NEVER HEARD OF - AWESOME). All in all, it was GREAT.

We then rolled back to the flat, where we went to bed at 11:00 PM. I should mention at this point that IT WAS STILL LIGHT OUTSIDE. Honestly, I don't know how these cats do it.

Okay, I know that's just getting you through the first 2 days, but I'll wrap it up tomorrow with the rest of the trip.

Lastly, I should mention that I finished "The Witch of Portobello" tonight. Much like "The Alchemist," it was SIMPLY FANTASTIC. I'd like to thank Chris Hamilton for turning me onto Paulo, as he's bloody BRILLIANT. I definitely don't think this will be the last of his books that I read.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

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