Bring Yer Wellies

Last week marked the half-way point in my adventure abroad.  To say it’s going by quickly is an absolute understatement.  In one week I’ll be studying for my finals, which seems so strange considering the fact that exactly two weeks ago I was studying for midterms.  That experience was, well, interesting.  I always find it so hard to just sit down and study in the first place, but trying to do so in another country is infinitely more difficult.  Yes, I know.  It’s called studying abroad, but isn’t exploring a foreign city studying in its own right? (Don’t worry, Mom. I studied.)

An hour after my last midterm, I loaded a bus for Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, where I would spend the long weekend.  It all worked out quite well. The Norwegian History that I had been tested on only hours earlier was still rolling around in my brain, which made touring the Bergenhus Fortress and the rest of the Hanseatic City that much more meaningful. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

Now I’m not exactly sure, but I figure the bus ride to Bergen to be about seven and a half hours, and since I’ve given up on trying to understand and utilize the metric system, I have no idea how many miles. Fortunately, we broke up the ride by stopping at Borgund Stave Church, the best preserved stave church in Norway. Somewhere along the way we lost track of time and as a result our tour guide had to speed through her presentation. I was lucky enough to still get some amazing pictures of the stave church and the bell tower, which happens to be the last remaining bell tower of its kind in Norway. From the stave church, we headed to our hotel in the sweet little town of Lærdal.

Borgund Stave Church

Bright and early the next morning we loaded the bus for Flåm where we would depart for our fjord boat ride. This seems to be the blog post of understatements because once again, saying I took a lot of pictures would hardly begin to describe the amount of pictures I did in fact take on our two hour tour. After landing in Gudvangen we headed over to Stalheim to eat our packed lunch (matpakke.)  The view, originally immortalized by Johan Christian Claussen Dalh in 1842 (a little Art History factoid for ya) was truly incredible.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Norwegian landscape is that it never gets old. You think you’ve seen your share of fjords and a few sod houses by the river and then you turn a corner or climb a mountain and once again your breath is taken away. As sad as it was to leave, we boarded the bus and headed toward Bergen.

The fjords in Gudvangen

Upon arrival, we were greeted with a tasty meal. Curried duck with steamed veggies graced my plate followed by a delicious chocolate mousse with strawberries.  This was a far cry from the rice and fish that I’d been eating everyday at the Blindern dorms. Sorry Blindern, but this lady can only take so much rice! The rest of the night was ours, but the exhaustion from traveling forced an early night.

The next day was jam-packed with sightseeing, starting off with a tour of the Bergenhus Fortress, which has been around since the 12th Century.  While the fortress has experienced a lengthy history, what impacted me the most was the devastation it witnessed during WWII. Coming from a family of history buffs, and being a slight one myself, I’ve been exposed to the history of WWII my whole life; however, it wasn’t until I was standing in Haakonshall at Bergenhus Fortress that this whole idea really hit me. I was in a European country that was immediately affected by this crippling war. Their history gone, their loved ones wiped out in minutes as a result of the accidental explosion of a Dutch ship under German control.  While the walls had been rebuilt and the surrounding area had been “fixed” since 1944, I realized that there were parts of Haakonshall, parts of Bergen that had never been able to be recovered.

Haakonshall
The famous Hanseatic shops of Bryggen

In the afternoon we were free to tour the city and met up for dinner.  Again the night proved to be a quiet one.

The next day was our “parade of homes,” as we went to see the summer villas of both Norwegian musician Ole Bull and Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.  I was quite amazed to learn that Edvard Grieg was a very little man, about 5 feet to be exact. Well, I guess what he lacked in height he made up for in talent. Seeing as this was our last day in Bergen, a large portion of the students headed to a karaoke bar Saturday evening, which is apparently the place to be in Bergen on a Saturday night. Who knew Norwegians were so into karaoke? But I’m proud to say that several students represented Oslo International Summer School with their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Our ride back to Oslo was long, but we broke up the time by stopping at Steinstø fruit farm. When we arrived, we were greeted with homemade apple pie, coffee and fresh apple juice. From there we stopped at Vøringsfossen waterfall for lunch before the bus finally pulled into Blindern at 9:30 p.m. I feel like I’m missing something here. Oh yes, in Bergen it rained. The city experiences an average of 89 inches of rainfall a year, so it was indeed a rainy trip. I’m not exaggerating when I say this; the weather would change every five minutes. From sun, to rain, to cloudy, to sun, to rain and sun, then back to cloudy…the whole weekend. I’m so glad I brought my rain boots!  Despite Bergen’s oceanic climate, the experience was unforgettable. And that, my friends, is an understatement.