Friday, March 06, 2009

Bergen (Pt. III)

Note to readers: This is the third part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part II here.

Our train rolled in to Bergen in the fading light of day. We caught the bus from the railway station to the foot of a steep hill. At the top, somewhere up in that gray drizzle, our destination: a youth hostel.  Exhausted. Nothing for it other than to shoulder our heavy packs and start the climb.

Nelson (youthful idealist) tucked the map into the shoulder strap of his pack. I toted my guitar; the case held together by bungee cords purchased way back in Amsterdam.  I was haunted by dismal images of my six-stringed friend and companion tumbling out, meeting an untimely demise on cold Norwegian pavement.

After a long climb to the top of the hill we arrived at the hostel and checked in. "Sorry, gentlemen, the bellboy is off tonight,"  said the innkeeper, with a wink. I managed a tired smile in response. Hauled pack and guitar to a cold but clean room; collapsed onto bunk. Out like a light.


The next day we met Jorge (smooth, image-conscious), from Florida. Jorge seemed always to behave as if he were on television.  Jorge had been roaming around on the Eurail network all alone, looking for someone with whom he could share it all:  all the wonders, all the experiences of travel. When Nelson and I set out to explore Bergen that morning, Jorge came with us.

Author, Jorge, and Nelson on the steps of the Bergen library
These Norwegians are fishermen! So we set off to see the fish market, in the cold and wet (just like Oregon) open air. I had never seen so many fish for sale. When they saw us, the good-hearted merchants offered us samples to taste. Herring, cod, salmon. "Try this," said the smiling merchant. Nelson and I tasted. "Very good," I said. "What is it?"

"Whale," said the merchant. Positively Machiavellian, that grin. Nelson and I looked at each other. "Whale," I repeated. Ah, well . . .when in Rome. . .
Bergen fish market
The buildings along the waterfront were as brightly-hued as madness. We wandered around, unable to shake the oppression of that leaden North Atlantic sky.  Ecuadorians were playing folk music in the public square.  "There is no money or work for them at home," said Nelson. He could not see the joy in the music; the burden of his wisdom caused him to look beyond the woolen sarapes, sikus and the ocarinas to the poverty and injustice that spawned it all. (He was from Brazil, yes?)

Bergen waterfront
We found the funicular that took tourists to the top of the spiny ridge that overlooked Norway's second city, and stood and looked out over the harbor. The man behind the counter in the kiosk told us about trolls that were said to have lived there in the long ago. Then Jorge, Nelson, and I hiked down the ridge along a trail back to town.

Somewhere along the way, we found an old Viking church, went inside, and had a look around. I left without my hat. Hopefully, it found its way onto some Norwegian pate on some rainy North Atlantic day.

To be continued...

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