To get to Norway from Rome one may have to fly through Germany to get there. On Tuesday when the email arrived notifying us that the pilots for Lufthansa would start striking at midnight no one was going to travel through Germany to get anywhere. My first thought was that this strike somehow couldn't put a damper on OUR flight. Who really ever gets screwed by this stuff anyway? When Heidi's next email read "WTF?" in the subject line I thought a little more about it. Apparently 800 flights would be affected by this strike. Including ours, of course. Making rescheduling a new flight a nightmare. Heidi quickly jumped on the phone to United to find most of our options were already full. Long story, short. We made it. There was some stress and freaking out involved but nothing too dramatic to write about.
A couple quick flights, via Zurich, put us in Oslo in just over a 3 hours. We chose Norway for our Thanksgiving vacation mostly because I had never been but it was also a country Heidi wanted to revisit. The quick travel time to and from Rome had also been a factor. We'd only have about four days to visit and do the traveling we wanted to do within Norway. Four days is obviously still a short time to see Norway but we managed to fill our time with plenty of great experiences.
The first evening in Oslo was pretty standard. We jumped on a quick train into the city from the airport, walked over to our conveniently located hotel near the train station and ventured out to see the city. We had a few dining recommendations to work with and after a spy of the Christmas market we made the jaunt to a street food pavilion. This pavilion had just about every food covered. Noodles, tacos, fish, pasta, rabbit, you name it. Deciding to go with the local fare of fish for this trip we chose the fresh fish and chips along with some delicious raw oysters. Still a bit hungry from the long journey from Rome, we stumbled upon a seedy taco joint for our first Mexican fare since leaving the states. The margs and guac really hit the spot. The tacos still needed some work. Can't have it all I guess.
Our first adventure of the trip would take us through the dramatic landscapes of Norway to the city of Bergen. Some consider this one of the best train trips in Europe. Norway isn't in the EU but you know what I mean. We boarded an early train in Oslo on Thursday and arrived in Bergen just before the sunset at 3:45pm. The ride through Norway's southern interior was brilliant. The scene started with rolling hills, lakes, rivers and perfect Norwegian villages which gradually turned into snow capped alpine terrain of the Hardangervidda plateau. Here the snow started falling and the views grew even more grand. By the time we reach Finse we've climbed to 1222m. This rail line is also one of the world's highest. As we passed the many ski areas peppered throughout the Telemark region we made note that a return trip for the skiing will be a must. As we descend towards Bergen the terrain begins to return the green hues, unfrozen water and gorgeous fjords.
Rain welcomed us to Bergen. Which wasn't any surprise. Bergen is one of the wettest cities on the European continent. Even with the rain the feeling of Norway was present. Locals were dressed head to toe in rain gear to walk or ride to their next destination. The huge wharf dividing the city was full of ever seaworthy vessel imaginable from sailboats to huge fishing liners with helipads on the bow.
We only had one night in Bergen because the railway was closing on Saturday for repair. Giving us about 24 hours to explore Norway's second largest ville. One thing we're finding when visiting these strange cities is that having a strong restaurant/bar recommendation to go with is invaluable. While wondering into those "hole in the wall" joints can be super exciting and spontaneous, having a place to start really helps narrow down the bad choices and wasted money.
Our next recommendation came all the way from Minnesota. Why wouldn't it. There's just a bit of Norwegian heritage there. The Pingvinen (Penguin), is a must if you find yourself in Bergen. We would have never found or wondered into this place on our own. From the outside this place was just another pub. Inside the menu was off the charts. Locally raised, farmed, harvested, grown, whatever, food that was simple but over the top in flavor. I knew we were in the right spot when the bartender had a festive green and red sweatshirt on with Indiana written across the chest. Having no connection to Indiana he just smiled and said the liked the retro look.
Staying with the local fare idea we ordered the fish pie and plate of fresh deer (maybe Rudolph) sausages. I've never had fish pie before and probably won't order it anywhere other than in Norway but it was incredible. Seriously? Fish pie, incredible? Sure was. The Rudolph sausages were in the same category.
Over our tasty dinner and local beverages (which Norway has a ton of) we decided our nightly entertainment would be the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. It was this or the world's biggest Gingerbread House display, it was a not brainer. Tchaikovsky was on the bill and the venue looked amazing. We finished up at the Pingvinen and made the quick walk to the concert hall. Having just missed a lady giving away tickets, we bought a pair for the back of the house and enjoyed a beautiful performance for the rest of the night.
The following morning we woke up to more rain and wind but couldn't be bothered in letting it stop our adventures in town. Although, a pair of rain pants would have helped with the precip our umbrellas couldn't shield from our legs. We'd venture around the city most of the morning before we visited one of the four KODE art museums located in town. We chose this particular building because it housed an exhibit of Edvard Munch. Munch was a late 19th century Norwegian painter whose most popular pieces focused on various psychiatric themes. His most popular piece is probably The Scream. It was quite interesting to observe how his paintings changed over time as his own mental health deteriorated. The experience was a nice change from the older 14th to 16th century art we've seen in Italy.
With the sun already on its way down for the day, we had one more stop to make before we had to start preparing to leave Bergen. That's right. Back to the Pingvinen for lunch and the open faced sandwiches we missed out on the previous night. We'd order two and plan to share. Feeling adventurous, we had to try the pickled herring sandwich with a white cream sauce and also the pork pate with bacon option. The herring wasn't the worst thing I've ever had, probably not even close, but it's definitely an acquired taste. Heidi choked down her sample and left the rest for me to enjoy. The double pork plate was well....double pig. How could you go wrong with that.
Back in Oslo, for the remaining two days of our trip, the weather was incredible. Blue skies with a winter chill made for perfect wondering weather. With the public transportation being so efficient and easy we hopped on the tram to Frogner Park for a morning stroll. This park is home to over 200 bronze and granite statues made by just one man, Gustav Vigeland. The statues are situated throughout the length of the park and are themed around the Human Condition. The statues are all fairly plain in detail but somehow express the theme perfectly.
The last evening in Norway would be a perfect conclusion to our trip. We started with an afternoon hockey game between the local club Valerenga, verses the visiting Sparta club. After a quick subway ride from the city center, we found the historic Jordal Amfi arena. This arena opened in December of 1951 for the 1952 Winter Olympics hockey tournament. Originally the arena was built without a roof and seated 10,000 people. In 1971 the current roof was built and cut the seating down to only 4500 seats. It was quite a difference watching a game in this arena verses the modern day arenas. This cold, dark and dank arena had plenty of character and fit the bill for a Norwegian hockey experience. There were probably 1000 people in attendance for this game but the playing was still just as exciting as any NHL game. We had heard rumors that the home fans have the potential to get pretty rowdy with the opposing team's fans. So we naturally bought tickets in the visiting teams section. Once inside, we noticed that we were essentially caged into our section and had no access to the home team's fans. Luckily (not really) for us they don't serve beer at the games so the night remained tame with no injuries to anyone in attendance.
We still had one more food recommendation we hadn't explored, making the dinner choice pretty easy for our last night out. The text read "Very funky Japanese whiskey bar and restaurant. One of my favorite little secret spots". Well, we like Japanese food, whiskey, and being let in on a secret is always exciting. Izakaya it was. The description was spot on. We would have walked right past this place if we hadn't seen the lights on in the basement of the building. No sign, no door facing the street, no lights, notta. A hidden secret. Once inside it was clear that this bar was the place to be. Almost every chair was occupied and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even before I could curse myself for not making reservations the bar keeper was showing us to our table.
The atmosphere in this place was alive. Littered with retro Kung-fu movie posters, Japanese toys and art the vibe was indeed funky. The space was close and comfy. This joint sat about 40 people and the 45 who were there were having a great time eating and drinking this incredible food and beverages. I think I remember the folks sitting next to us high fiving at one point. The food was simple. Served only on small plates or bowls. Cold chicken, mushrooms, dumplings, and spinach pancakes are the items we chose off the 8 item menu. Even did the chicken twice. I'm not going to hype this place up for you. I have to keep some things a secret but If you're in Oslo (or Tokyo) just go. You're guaranteed to leave with a huge smile on your face. If not from the sake and ginger drinks it will most definitely be from the food.