I have always wanted to visit Scandinavia, and while I had a vague idea of the landscape that was waiting for me, I am ashamed to say that my knowledge of the area went very little beyond the capital cities and the magical show of the Northern lights. So when I finally had a chance to get up there to visit my very good friend Christina, I was truly excited and ready to see a lot of beautiful people, a lot of sunshine (I went in the summer) and a fair amount of alcohol. I have to say I got that and so much more (minus the sunshine maybe…)!
My trip took me to Bergen, a small city in the West of Norway, with a tiny population just under 280.000. Once the country’s capital city, Bergen (or Bryggen) is surrounded by 7 mountains and beautifully overlooks a fjord. It is really easy to see how the city is listed as a UNESCO World’s heritage. Besides the dramatic scenery, which you can truly appreciate from above, Bergen has become a symbol of the cultural heritage of Norway, vis and vis the more industrial Oslo.
What made my experience in Bergen so special was my amazing tour guide Christina. I was lucky enough to experience Bergen as a true Norwegian, eating fresh salmon, baking traditional pastries, and believe it or not, even hiking (this really doesn’t happen very often)!!!
After all, not hiking is simply not an option in Bergen. Norwegians LOVEEEE sports. There is an old saying that Norwegians “are born with skis on their feet” and winter sports comes naturally to Norwegian babies as walking and pooping our pants comes to any other toddler around the world. Wherever you look you are surrounded by beautiful and slightly intimidating boys and girls, rocking the tightest and brightest lycra pants, and ready to rock the crap out of one (or all) of the 7 mountains. Every year, the city hosts the so called “7th mountains hike”, a long (12 hours) and exhausting hike that remains a very important symbol of health and fitness within the community.
Safe to say my hiking skills dictate that I am not there yet, but to get me prepped for next year Christina took me for an “easy” hike during my trip. A bit daunting at first, it was completely worth the wonderful view of the city and the fjord that was waiting for me. And I have to say there is something extremely soothing and refreshing of walking and climbing, immersed in the wild, without a care in the world. If you are not too much into hiking but don’t want to miss the view, you can walk or take the funicular up to Fløien (not as steep as many of the other routes, plus you get to see the troll!).
When you are done hiking and getting lost in the view, and you want to explore the city, the old town should not be missed. Just next to a lively fish market, you can see the traditional wooden houses, also knows as Tyskebryggen (German Wharf). They used to be commercial buildings at a time where the city was one of the most important trading centres of the area. Fires destroyed many of them, but around a quarter still dates back from the early 1700s. In the area, a maze of adorable narrow streets hides a wide range of very cool designer and vintage shops, alongside eateries and bars that will satisfy even the pickiest of hipsters.
And of course all of this walking and climbing and shopping must have made you a little pekish… Lucky enough, Norway produces and exports the best salmon in the world, so fish lovers out there, you are in for treat. Norwegians usually serve their salmon with cucumbers, potatoes and sour cream (yum), but surprisingly enough (for an Italian) the North has much more to offer than just salmon, with a lot of up and coming Nordic chefs in Norway, Sweden and around the world. If you have a sweet tooth, you also HAVE to bake Skillingsboller. These wonderful and absolutely delicious pastries can easily be found across the country, but come from Bergen, where they were originally sold for one schilling (hence the name). Fancy a try? Here you can find a recipe in english, but leave out the nuts and raisins to be faithful to the original recipe, which truly does not need improving.
Before I forget, there is one little thing you should know about Bergen before you go there… It rains, A LOT. A staggering 269 days a year to be exact, so be ready to grab your umbrella, or get wet, depending on what school of thought you belong to. The mountains and the sea create a rain-inducing microclimate, which makes it pretty normal to experience 4 seasons in one day, with bright sunshine alternating with heavy showers throughout the summer. The rain doesn’t discourage locals to get out there and make the most out of the beautiful landscapes that surrounds them, and it definitely should not discourage you!
I can't wait to head up to Bergen again, train for my up and coming participation in the 7th mountains hike and Norwegian bolle’s bake off, and maybe relax by the fire in a traditional Norwegian cabin… see you there!