Exploring the Fjords

I taste the silence in the mornings.

As the sun broke through the clouds on Wednesday morning I pulled on my sneakers and snuck out the front door, careful not to wake those still recovering from the feast the night before. My feet quickly found the path to the mountain top Oda and I had taken on my first day. I was actually impressed that I remembered the routes. There is no system with the roads; many twist and turn, some run dead, and others go in circles.

There are many houses puckered on the hillside. I call them picket houses, because they resemble the pointed shape. White and red seem to be the most common colours. Everything is red: the houses, the flags, the cars. Most houses will proudly fly the Norwegian flag. That bright red seems to pick up the muted landscape.

I only made it to the fringe of the forest this time, as I had scheduled a busy day ahead. My feet carefully avoided the crevices in the mountain side, where the earth had been gutted by erosion. It has taken me a few days to adjust to the latitude; and the air, which was sparse at first, now tastes thick and sweet. I took a few minutes to explore the forest with my camera, then I returned.

Shop ’til you drop

Shopping in a foreign place is always a bit intimidating. Most of the brands are unfamiliar: I don’t know what is good quality or what is a rip off. Oda was my saving grace! We found this cute cottage like store that housed raincoats. I needed a raincoat.

To clarify, you do not get rain coats in Cape Town. You get rain resistant coats. People in Bergen really know how to dress for the rain. We tucked into the store and I tried to make a practical decision on what coat to buy.


Taller than the average Norwegian from back in the day!

“It’s an investment,” Oda educated me. Always take a size slightly bigger, because then you can layer.

“The yellow is very trendy,” she said as I admired the bright yellow raincoat in the mirror. It’s all good and well in Bergen, but I would stick out like a sore thumb in Cape Town. I settled on a beautiful khaki coat. The material is different to anything I’ve felt. It was rather thick and waxy, but I guess the Norwegians know what they’re doing.

Then the hunt began for boots. Apparently I look very Norwegian. Everywhere I go people talk to me in Norsk, and I feel very apologetic to tell them I only understand English. But apparently I am so Norwegian that I cannot even find a single pair of boots my size; they were all sold out. Somehow, although I’m a size 5 shoe (which is small in South Africa), I am exactly the same size as EVERY NORWEGIAN FEMALE.

Oda and I filtered through five shoe shops, and in every single one I fell hopelessly in love with a pair of boots, only to be heartbroken. Eventually, she rushed off for an appointment, and I was left alone for the first time to navigate Bergen to find stockings. I went to Gallereiet Mall and looked around at Lindex, a store that has all sorts of underwear, including bathing suits, nightgowns, and apparently a great sale on bras. Then I met another realisation: I share the same bra size as all Norwegians because I couldn’t find any in my size.

My saving grace that day was that I did manage to find a little shoe shop, tucked into a corner on the third floor that supplied a size 38 pair of beautiful brown leather Vagabond boots from Sweden. It was love at first sight, but more expensive than a first date. I took the plunge, telling myself it was an investment (which it was!).

Oda finished her appointment and we headed to tourist town to take a cable train up to Fløyen. We managed to skip the queue when by buying tickets at a coffee shop nearby and stocking up on fresh coffee and buns. Lots of buns. We had also visited a local restaurant to get fish cakes, a very Norwegian dish I am told, and absolutely delicious!

Cable Carting up Fløyen

Forty minutes later we were on Fløyen, peering over the heads of hundreds of tourists to gaze down at toy land. It really was a refreshing perspective of the city. It honestly looked like a game board that had been laid out, with picket houses and small, meandering roads. The bright colours only aided the illusion.

Unfortunately, we did not get much time atop Fløyen, as we had another date with destiny, called Goldie. We descended into toy land and climbed aboard the bright red bus to go to Eidsvågveien. Bertil (Oda’s father) told us to meet him there at 4pm so we can take the boat out to explore the fjord. I was squirming with excitement. Oda and I had arrived a little prematurely and we had to jump the gate to get inside and prepare the boat. I am not proud to say it took me several tries. I think I have found a new goal in life.

I’m on a boat!

The dock was beautiful. Bertil and his guests soon arrived and anchors away! We set off on a tour along Eidsvågveien’s coastline to venture all the way into Bergen’s big harbour. I was so lucky: I had managed to see Bergen from a whole range of angles today.

Bryggen looked even better from the sea. The colours flared and flags flapped proudly in the breeze. The sun even played along and leant a hand, illuminating the town in a most gorgeous way. I was in awe.

We escaped the docks to go deeper into the fjord. Oda and I suited up in the big jackets on the boat and clambered onto the front. We sat there, perched at the very front of the boat and huddled in Titanic style. The wind whipped about powerfully as we got into an open area. Ron was in charge of the wheel, under careful guidance of Bertil. He slid the speedboat into the centre of the fjord and opened up, pushing the throttle fully forward.

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I gazed at the vista, trying to drink it all in. Houses were hidden in the hillside, tucked between trees and around corners, just visible by the fisherman’s boat. The faces of the mountain looked like gnarled reptilian skin, cracked and baked from years of erosion and being gauged by ice. The landscapes looked like a Christian Dahl painting, with glimmering sunlight and a cloudy sky that watched over a bristled landscape.

Fjord at Holmestrand by Norwegian artist Christian Dahl. 1843.

 I still struggle to fathom the forests in Bergen. Trees stand tall and upright, with branches that fork viciously into the sky. We continued sailing north in the North Sea and Bertil pointed out where Heidi (Oda’s mother) and he had grown up. The sea here is warm, usually about 18° Celsius due to the warm gulf stream that travels up from the equator. The water is particularly warm when the wind blows from a southerly direction. We curved between peninsulas and passed under bridges. The entire time Oda and I sat right in front, the wind blowing strongly in our faces. But I wouldn’t have given up this view for the world; only for a bathroom.

I was also educated about Norway’s forestry programme. Apparently, until recently, Bergen wasn’t home to as many coniferous trees as it is now. It was all part of a reforestation plan launched by the government. However, it was only recently discovered that these trees are not indigenous to Bergen and it had corrupted the eco-system. Yet, even more recently, Norway had announced its ban on deforestation law, so now the trees will stay put.

My body was telling me it was getting late, even though the sun still hung high in the sky. The small rumbles in my stomach let me know it was dinner time. We headed back to the docks.

It is precious how timeless summers in Norway are. People are unfettered by solar time constraints that dictate activities in Cape Town. Here, there is no deadline to be home by dark. You get to stay out hiking or swimming for as long as you want. It is very freeing. I suppose winter presents the opposite scenario.



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