City of my Heart!
All the way to the wreck I kept wondering: how is he going to dive with us in just a track suit? We were sitting in our dry suits all ready to dive into the freezing waters when I suddenly realised that our dive master was simply not coming along. “The line will take you straight down to the stern of the wreck, the top deck is at 28 metres. Drop like a stone, there´s a strong rip. If you get caught up in it you you´ll end up over there in before you know it,” Oryan says, pointing to a rock jutting out in the middle of the fiord about 800m from where we are. “You´ve got 75 minutes for the dive, if anyone doesn´t surface by then I´m calling a rescue helicopter. Have fun!” he adds with a slight smile after his extensive instructions. I plug my hoses into my dry suit with a blissful feeling: back with people who call a spade a spade.
Hard to say what people come to Norway for. Some for its endless fiords, for the solitude, others for the fishing and now and then there´s the odd fool wanting to weigh his words and use them sparingly. And so I´m back again. This time in Bergen. Wandering about in search of taciturn Norwegians (naturally, there are exceptions), and loving it. In his book Odd Borretzen offers the best explanation for the frugal nature of Norwegian conversation by explaining how for centuries the Norwegians enjoyed the advantage of having a fiord or the foot of a mountain just for themselves, for a single family. So there was no particular reason to communicate. When someone really felt the need and couldn´t do anything about it he would engrave a runic message into stone. For example: “I, Halgrim, carved here.” But since carving was a tough job he might end up with only: “I, Halgrim!” of just “I …” And that´s the way it is with many Norwegians to this very day. And you know what? Thank God for every word that is kept.
OVERCOMING WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMPS
The simplest and quickest way to cure your addiction to this country called Norway is (if you live in the Czech Republic) a direct flight from Prague to Bergen. You disembark at the very gateway to the fiords and everything is within reach. Culture vultures may not even wish to venture out of the city, whose old quarters have been under UNESCO patronage for decades. There are just so many opportunities … The more adventurous go to stock up at the local fish market and then immediately set off for the fiords – with all sorts of records at their fingertips. Sognefjord, which lies not far from Bergen, is the longest fiord in the world. Jostedalsbreen glacier is Europe´s largest glacier. The nearby railway track Flam is one of the most curiously located railway tracks on the old continent. You can board any old vessel, try a sea kayak, you can go wreck diving to World War II relics, ride mountain bikes, go trekking or cram a parachute on to your back and do a couple of high-quality base jumps from sheer fiord walls several hundreds of metres tall. It´s all here for the taking.
BERGEN OR WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
It is not difficult to fall in love at first sight with a city like Bergen. It makes no difference where you are when you see it for the first time. But your most beautiful images will probably remain associated with water, as in my case. Without water Bergen would probably be just a smaller city of lesser significance. Water has formed the history of this city and continues to do so to this very day. Out of 11th century fishing settlements the city has grown into the country´s major port and the most important city in Northern Europe. The German Hansa League set up one of its four largest branches here. À propos: water doesn´t merely surround you here but very often has a tendency to descend down upon you as well. The otherwise not particularly garrulous Norwegians possess an inordinate range of expressions for rain. I have completely forgotten how to say “horizontal rain” but presumably it will be some form of transcription describing getting soaked to the bone in a single minute. In other words: strings, ropes or hawsers of water descending from above have become a sort of trademark for Bergen; this is a city where rain falls on average 213 days of the year. Another “rainy” record lists the number of days in a row, raining non-stop: all in all, 90! I think the saying “There is no such thing as bad weather, only badly dressed people” must have originated here.
BUT WHEN IT'S NICE!
There´s nothing like a small beer in Bryggen! Just sit down somewhere in the historic centre of the city; to your right you have the bay with the city moorings and to your left probably the most valuable part of Bergen, Bryggen or the old town. The wooden facades of the houses seem to be propping each other up and when illuminated by the late afternoon sun they imprint their near golden and carmine presence right into your heart. Norwegians have always tried a lot to preserve this traditional character of their buildings because wars and various fires have destroyed most of the houses. Fires have forced Bryggen to be continually rebuilt but according to tradition it has always been rebuilt in the same spirit. Before you´ve had your five beers and bled your purse empty (Norway is not the cheapest land for tourists) don´t just make do with the facades but plunge into the narrow lanes winding between the small houses which are so gently bent and crooked that they seem to be about to topple down on you. Within the old town you will also find Bryggen Museum and learn lots more about its history.
The fish market seems to echo with the sounds of all the languages of the world: one could easily surmise that some sort of international trade is underway here, albeit on a purely consumer´s level. Whatever you, the pilgrim, buy here you usually end up consuming here as well. He who strolls through the market without tasting something is an ignoramus, an agnostic or is allergic to seafood, and a pitiful soul into the bargain. Giant prawns, crabs, cod, salmon, whale meat specialities, caviar, shellfish and shrimps, white sturgeon and flounder – served up in every which way possible. Endless aromas assault your nose, preventing you from leaving. Resistance is futile! On top of it all, thanks to the enduring unemployment crisis, the fish, shellfish and shrimps are often cooked up by Spaniards or Italians who along with torrents of words and smiles have also brought their recipes which while not typical for the region deserve their fame! Think of me what you like but if you were to limit yourself just to the 300 metres between the beer in Bryggen and the seafood delicacies offered by this market you would have your work cut out for you for two or three days.
KING OF THE NORWEGIAN FLEET
Once you have put some 500 metres between yourself and your beer and those wonderful garlic shrimps you´re in for another thrill - even if you don´t happen to be an expert on old vessels. This is where the most beautiful and oldest fully functional Norwegian boat lies at anchor. Well, originally it wasn´t actually Norwegian to begin with, but so what? The three-master barque Statsraad Lehmkuhl was discovered by Norwegian minister Kristofer Lehmkuhl in Newcastle, England. This originally German vessel had been anchored there after World War I as military booty. The minister presented the ship to his country as a gift and it was presumed that this is how things would stay. The three-master survived a short period of German occupation during World War II but its downfall almost came at the hands of some local functionaries who in 1966 secretly tried to sell it off. The people of Bergen, for whom it had been “their vessel” for decades, took to the streets in protest! In the end it was sold, but to one of the local rich ship-owners who donated it back to the city. It would be hard to imagine Bergen of today without the white hull of the Statsraad Lehmkuhl. Here it lies at anchor amidst a beautiful backdrop of the old fortress, right in the middle of the city and on the occasions when it is out at sea one really has the feeling that something is missing in its place. To watch it berthing with the cadets standing on its spars is wonderful but an even better experience is to board it yourself and explore this fully-functioning museum piece. In spite of the fact that it is a floating museum, it can still boast some sensational results. In 2008 the ship won the Boston Teapot Trophy for the greatest distance covered under sail in 124 hours – it achieved an incredible 1 118 nautical miles. Last year during the legendary Tall Ships race (an event for old sailing ships) the King of Bergen took second place.
MAY 17TH OR: SEE SOMETHING YOU´VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE!
One has to experience Norway´s National Day in all its many forms. It is wonderful to see a city celebration and no less exciting to witness a parade with flags and local or school orchestras in a smallish town or village. Family and friends get together early in the morning, often they share breakfast then set out either to participate in a parade or watch a procession. On the 17th of May, 1814, during the period of the Swedish-Norwegian Union, the first Norwegian constitution was signed, a document which with some modifications remains valid to this day. Constitution Day is celebrated for 24 hours. If we remain where we began, meaning in Bergen, we can gaze in amazement as the harbour in the city centre fills with boats. By evening you can be sure that you can walk across the entire harbour without getting your feet wet simply by stepping from one boat to the next. Appropriately merry Norwegians ply you with beer and lots of other types of alcohol and if you´re not careful you can wake up the next morning instead of in Bergen then, for instance, in Skjolden – “shanghaied” by a rather jocular crew. And that´s good news, really good news. Because that is precisely one of the ways for a traveller to overcome his withdrawal symptoms when leaving Norway. At least for a while.
HEARTCORE´S NORWEGIAN VOCAB: A couple of unforgettable Norwegian expressions.
Tap to show the translation
a hut or small cottage, if possible in the wilderness. Preferably wooden, sparsely furnished and as far away from civilisation as possible. As time marches on, the new generation of Norwegian children are refusing to visit them for they lack television and there is no entertainment for miles around. So their parents, in an attempt to keep the peace, replace the earthen floor with a wooden one and install a satellite dish. Of course, they do this while making sure that it looks as if it isn´t part of the house. Ask a Norwegian where his or her need to remain an unspoiled son or daughter of Nature comes from, and he will simply shake his head.
Dag for eller etter bevegelig helligdag
should you espy this sentence on a timetable (e.g. for a ferry) then you´d better start looking for accommodation. It says that the boat goes only on the day before or the day after a movable holiday.
a dried fish which looks phenomenal alongside hundreds of others while undergoing its traditional drying procedure (after being soaked in lye). Once on your plate, however, it looks more like the clone of a well-dried alien straight out of an American movie. Unless you´ve been brought up on this from childhood forget the idea that it could possibly taste good. But it does make for an excellent gift from Norway. Serve it up to your friends with some beer and discretely study their facial expressions. If they are up to swallowing Lutefisk then they can certainly cope with Life´s other bitter moments: heartbreak, an overblown phone bill or getting the sack from work.