There's more to Bergen than fjords and train rides (the great coffee, for one)
After commencing my trial as solo traveller in Oslo, I caught the train west to Bergen for a dose of fjords and colourful wooden houses. The famed train journey was the main reason I ended up here, but I soon realised that there were plenty of other incentives to stick around, especially for a Scandiphile like me.
Bergen is Norway's second largest city (population: 265,000) and not short of excellent things. Alongside its seven mountains and seven fjords, Bergen is perhaps best known for Bryggen, the UNESCO listed series of colourful Hanseatic commercial buildings, but it's not lacking in culture either. Coffee fans can take a trip to Blom for an astoundingly good espresso (I preferred it to Kaffemisjonen, although that was still way above average), and there's more than enough great art and food to take in on one visit.
I spent my first two nights in an Airbnb in the residential Skuteviken area, right next to the water, for £88 a night. The place is no longer available, but it was pretty great. If I'm ever in need of a fjord haven again (likely), I'll seek out another room with windows overlooking the water and a view that captures as many inches of sunset as possible. Although I will add that exiting the building each morning was a labyrinthine task - I didn't even get close to mastering that.
The Airbnb came equipped with a handy visitor's guide to Bergen, which included the host's recommendations of the best local hikes. There were two chilled hikes for most levels of fitness, and then there was the only-if-you're-mad-or-Iron-Man recommendation. So I went with that one.
Stoltzekleiven is the favourite local fitness challenge, consisting of 801 stairs up 302 metres from the city centre up to Sandviksfjellet. I conquered it in 25 minutes, not bad for a semi-fit person, but was occasionally embarrassed by horrifically fit runners (yup) hurtling past.
I told myself they were probably training for the annual race every September, which currently has a record of 7 minutes and 58 seconds for men and 8 minutes and 35 seconds for women. Saying that, the man who got to the top shortly after me and spent a good five minutes on the floor with his dog (in an equal state of suffering) probably had a bit more training to go.
The views are worth it. I went up on a cloudy day, but that didn't matter much. You get a brilliant view of the city, the fjords and surrounding mountains, and after the hike you can conveniently double up recuperation with taking it all in.
Once you've snapped a few photos and bathed in your hiker's glory for a while, follow signs to Fløyen. You'll soon get to this beautiful lake, which you can then turn right at (don't go over the bridge) and continue for about half an hour through woodland. There was some sort of triathlon going on when I visited, which slightly diminished the peace, but I still had an excellent walk.
At Fløyen, you can either get a funicular or hike all the way down (you might as well, right?) I did notice there were a lot more people around from Fløyen onwards, but after a relatively peaceful morning that was totally fine for me.
Once you're down, you could always do what I did and head over to Det Lille Kaffekompaniet, a cosy and popular little coffee shop, to treat yourself to caffeine and a pastry.
A crash course in meeting people (yup) in hostels
For nights 3 and 4 in Bergen, I left Airbnb life for Marken Gjestehus, the hostel in the centre of Bergen. It was a super friendly place to be, which was probably down to its size. When you're packed in like sardines and don't want to sit on your bunk, being social (or at least sitting in the room next door with other people) actually begins to make sense.
Upon arrival, I swiftly became Washing Machine Instructor for one Australian fellow guest, having demonstrated apparent expertise with my own laundry and Danish Krone coins. I then settled down for a read in the communal area, before being interrupted by the most illusive young American I'll probably meet.
He was called Mike, he was reading Atlas Shrugged (a gift from his grandmother who wanted to teach him hard work), and was an ex-economist, upcoming-Otolaryngologist, and all-round baffling human who was in Bergen for no real reason (ok, sort of makes two of us). I'm not sure if anything that he said was true. But he was certainly reading Atlas Shrugged.
After an exchange of increasingly nonsensical details, I stealthily changed reading venues, settling for a sofa opposite a seemingly non-violent and non-Atlas-Shrugged-reading male. He wandered off before returning with a burger - something that had clearly required a more complex supermarket trip than my own bread-only feast.
"Thanks for not stealing everything I own."
Ah, he speaks. Oh shit, a Scot.
A yogurt followed the burger, and we got talking as he feasted. Talking went on for a while, and at 1:30am I went back to my room then promptly locked myself out again. I acquainted myself with the Marken Gjestehus sofa until reception opened at 9:30am.
Editor's note: Somehow the Scot and I became Bergen buddies, and he became a feature of subsequent adventures (yes I know, so sweet). He will now be referred to as Chemistry Boy, the Scot, or perhaps his actual name eventually.
Bergen has culture too, you know
After my night on the Marken Gjestehus sofa, I chose to take it easy for a day. I headed over to the KODE Art Museums, a series of four (four!) museum buildings in Bergen city centre that come together as one of Scandinavia’s largest centres of art, craft, design and music.
You can't easily get through four buildings in an hour, especially if they're full of Edvard Munch, J.C. Dahl and Nikolai Astrup (and a gift shop), so I'd say give it at least a morning.
KODE 2 had a super collection of contemporary stuff when I visited, with one memorable piece being Toril Johannessen's brilliant Words and Years series. Johannessen is interested in how science, art and academia come together and relate to the public, and in this series she searched journals like Science and Nature for the appearance of certain words, which she then mapped out in statistical form. "Miracles in nature and Science" is pretty great.
Next door, KODE 3 houses the Rasmus Meyer Collection with one of the world's best collections of Edvard Munch’s masterpieces (featuring a whole lot of redheaded ladies - anyone know why this is?)
You can also see A Street in Oslo 1911 by Harald Sohlberg in KODE 3 - a beautiful painting by an artist I'd like to find out a whole lot more about. Here's another by him, called Natt:
All in all, I'm certain I want to go back to Bergen for more art, more coffee, and a wishful project to climb all seven mountains. But for now, my next stop is Stockholm.
Airbnb (no longer available) for 2 nights (£88/night) and at Marken Gjestehus hostel for another 2 nights (£27/night).
Hiked Stoltzekleiven, visited the KODE Art Museums, and let cinnamon kanelboller become the staple of my diet.
Drank coffee at Blom (5/5), Kaffemisjonen (4/5), and Det Lille Kaffekompaniet (3/5 for coffee, but a nice little place)
Reading material of choice was Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.
Arrived by train from Oslo and went on to fly to Stockholm from Bergen airport.