Offbeat Euro Getaways: Bergen, Norway

Whims are a traveller’s best friend.

One day, on a whim, I checked flights to Norway from London. Turns out flights were £30 for a return ticket. It was April so the snow seekers had returned and the summer lovers hadn’t left yet: this worked to my advantage.

Norway is not a budget destination – more on that towards the end- but in short, if you’re on a money leash you’re going to have to take some cash saving measures. Luckily for me, I had a friend living in Bergen and luckily for you, there is Couchsurfing. Come to think of it, my Norwegian buddy Hannah and I met through Couchsurfing too when she’d crashed on my couch while travelling in India.  Fast forward six years into the future and there I was making my way to her comfy couch (which turned out to be a bed) in Norway.

“Are you free next week”, I called and asked. She was and a week later I was standing in her parents’ hallway shivering and under-dressed for winter as I always am. The Sinnes family home is in Haugesund and after spending some time there we headed to Bergen which was only three hours away by bus.

Bergen is a nature lover’s playground. The city centre sits on a fjord and is surrounded by mountains which also give Bergen its name (berg: mountain). The hiking opportunities are excellent and once you’re up high on the mountains it’s easy to forget there is a hub of culture right below you. That’s right, Bergen also happens to be one of the most culturally relevant cities in Norway. Lots of popular Norwegian bands, authors and artists come from this university town. Bergen’s tourist tagline is “Gateway to the Fjords” and rightly so . You know all those stunning photos of Norwegian Fjords you come across? Chances are most of them are within a 100 km radius of Bergen.

For the hikers amongst us, the easiest way to get right down to business is to take the funicular up to Mt. Floyen. Once there depending on how time you have all you need to do is pick a trail. Even though I was hiking solo- my friend had to be at university- I felt extremely safe. Camping in this neck of the woods is not allowed so you have to start early to make the most of your time. The snow had just begun melting when I was in Norway and the green was starting to make an appearance. I walked past frozen lakes, recently awakened waterfalls, pine forests and moss covered stones just forgetting time and myself in the Narnia like beauty of it all. One of my favourite things about travelling solo is that I can be alone with my myriad of ridiculous, confusing and rarely poetic thoughts.  If I can add exquisite views and challenging hikes to that, even better. For the non-hikers, going up the funicular to Mt. Floyen is still worth it for the views, a short stroll and the troll park. That’s right, they love trolls in Norway and you’ll find plenty of them hanging out on Mt. Floyen.  If you forgot to take a picnic along and want some grub or if you get cold, there is little cafe to keep you well-fed, warm and toasty.

Once you’re back in the city there are plenty of cosy cafes to snuggle in with a book, a person or a cat…whatever is available. My top choices out of the lot are Bastant because I love soup and Krok & Krinkel Bookcafe because I love books. Both are located on the same street meters away from each other. Bastant has extremely friendly service and the heartiest soups made out of love and organic ingredients. After a long day’s hike nothing beats a belly full of warm soup served with a thick slice of sourdough bread. They also do the most unique lemonade flavours, for instance: strawberry and basil. Yum. Coffee at the Book cafe ties for first place because I could go all day sitting on comfy vintage couches, drinking latte and reading a book while being surrounded by a sea of books. Yes, most of them were in languages I couldn’t comprehend but let’s not get hung up on technicalities. Books are beautiful no matter where they come from.

Another Bergen highlight is Bryggen, the row of colourful wooden buildings that grace nearly all of the postcards sent from Bergen. Now declared a UNESCO world heritage site Bryggen used to once be the hub of trade. Nowadays with its restaurants, art galleries, souvenir shops and street performers Bryggen is ideal for a leisurely wander.

If you’re an art aficionado then remember to visit Kode, Bergen’s Art Museum. The gallery spans a fair few periods and art movements which might feel a bit befuddling but for those who like a bit of everything, you will like it here. Needless to say, the Museum is home to several of  -Norway’s most famous artist- Munch’s works. Head to Kode even if it is to only see his evocative and psychologically stimulating work. After all he is the man who made art out of screaming in 1893. That painting is in Olso and eventually went on to inspire other great works like Ghostface.The best (and most reasonable) way to explore Bergen is by walking around and while you wander you’ll come across several interesting sights, markets and views. There are the well maintained remnants of an old 13th Century fort which nowadays also serves as a city park: ideal for a summer picnic but too cold for the time when I was there. Then there’s the historically relevant Fish Market which for centuries had been the centre of fish trade but now functions mostly as a tourist spot. The prices are quite high for not enough quality I’m told.

To get to Norway, Norwegian and Easy Jet are the two most affordable airlines. I flew with Norwegian Airlines because they do amazing deals during the off season. They are a comfortable airline and even have onboard wifi (what?!!).  You might get there for mere pennies but remember activities, fuel and food in Norway are all extremely expensive. If you ever want to know what being punched in the stomach feels like go to a Norwegian supermarket and read the prices. At first you might think there is a hidden camera somewhere and it’s all a big joke; then when no one comes out laughing at your perplexed face from behind the aisles, you’ll feel the wind knocked out of you. Welcome to Norway!

When I’m hiking, I stick to a certain type of Granola bar and had carried two boxes of them for my trip. They ended up being 90 percent of my meals while I was in Norway. Just joking, only 85 percent. Budget backpackers, yes, Norway is hard on the wallet but as always there are ways around it. Seriously if you’re really broke take food with you but whatever you do, don’t leave without finding a couch surfing host or a Norwegian friend. If all else fails take a tent with you, Norway like most Scandinavian countries has the best non-rules on wild camping.  “Freedom to roam” is every man’s right to public property and even some private land for recreation and exercise. All Hail Allemannsretten!

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