Reflections of an Ancient Nordic Capital

Trip Start Jun 27, 2008
1
8
Trip End Jul 06, 2008


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Flag of Norway  , Western Fjords,
Sunday, July 6, 2008

Reflections of an Ancient Nordic Capital (Hukommelse av en gamle norske hovedstad)

Bergen, Norway

        Averaging 260 days of rain a year, Bergen is homologous to Seattle and is nicknamed Paraply-byen, or "The Umbrella City" in Norwegian. In spite of its dampness, its mist-shrouded hills and straggling islands confer a charming ambience. Once belonging to the exclusive economic club called the Hanseatic League, an alliance of trading guilds, including Stockholm (Sweden), Hamburg (Germany), Lübeck (Germany), Bergen (Norway), Riga (Latvia), and Gdansk (Poland), that monopolized Northern Europe's commerce from the 13th to the 17th centuries, Bergen attained a sophisticated elevation in its financial status. Remnants of its Hanseatic past still lie in the historic district of Bryggen. This once was the site of medieval prominence, consisting of a string of wooden and stone warehouses with distinctive gables facing the waterfront, a stopover for sailors in search of libation and licentious one night stands.

       In order to experience its historical glory days, I chose to stay right in the heart of Bryggen at First Marin Hotel, www.firsthotels.com/marin). Very conveniently located on the water-front, this accommodation, however, had its drawbacks. Despite its inflated rate, there was endless noise emanating throughout the night from the boisterous harborside cafés and restaurants; in addition, there was no air conditioning (the temperature did reach 80F during my time in Bergen). Aside from these two detracting attributes, it was pleasant to walk outside and find myself immersed in an array of restaurants, bars, shops, and bustling activities. All of the main attractions of Bergen also were a stone's throw away. 

Note: The cost of living in Norway is VERY high. The expenditures for hotels, restaurants, supermarket foods, and transportation tend to be much higher than in the US or European Union (Norway and Switzerland, as of 2008, are the two prosperous Western European nations not belonging to the EU). Be prepared to have pocketbooks as deep as the Norwegian fjords and be ready to spend more than $125/night if wanting to stay in a Motel 6-like accommodation in Norway. The average rate for a decent hotel can start at $200/night. When dining in restaurants, one main course and a glass of wine can average $50/person. Taxi rides can average $8/mile. Random local supermarket items in Bergen (based on my biased, uncontrolled-unmatched, non-scientific research):
    * one 8-oz bottled water is $4
    * one 300-mL (8 oz) bottle of Pepsi is $7
    * one small (28g or 1 oz) lunch-size bag of potato chips $5
   
* one pound of shrimp is $40
    ** In addition, gasoline is $10.80/gallon! (13.47 NOK/liter)

       I didn't understand very well why the prices in Norway were so much higher than in the rest of the developed world. According to the Monetarist Theory of Inflation (proposed by US Economist Milton Friedman in 1956), the general price level of consumer goods (P) is equal to the aggregate demand for consumer goods (Dc) divided by the aggregate supply of the goods (Sc), or,
       P = Dc/Sc,
        which implies that the general price level of consumer goods would increase if the demand were to increase or supply were to fall. Perhaps due to its relatively small size and 3% arable land, Norway's supply of consumer goods might be relatively small (low Sc), thereby leading to a greater aggregate demand for imported goods (high Dc), thus leading to a higher price of consumer goods (high P). Or the situation could be totally different...

         Despite its overpriced cost of living, Norway is still a beautiful country deserving of a visit for those in search of pristine nature and the midnight sun. Bergen is one such city in Norway that should not be missed. Filled with robust cobblestoned streets, magical hillside villas, a tranquil forest trail 320m (960 ft) above the city on Mt. Fløyen, a medieval fotress built in the 1300's from the post-Viking era, an endless array of colorful flowers sprinkled all over the green parks, Bergen exudes its extremley charming seduction on me.

From Russia With Love

       One aspect of traveling I greatly enjoyed was to get lost in a city and to try to find my way around by interacting with the locals in their native language. So for the first time in Norway, I decided to leave my portable GPS back at the hotel and started traipsing around the Fish Market (Torget). Suddenly, a woman in her 60's approached me with a camera, and she was mumbling in a language that did not sound like either English or Norwegian. Oh yes, I suddenly recognized it. It was Russian, and she was asking me in Russian if I could take her picture in front of the famous, bustling Fish Market of Bergen. I responded in Russian to her that I would do it under one condition, that it would be quid pro quo, or reciprocal -- that she would also take a picture of me. She agreed. Later, I asked this tourist from St. Petersburg why she approached me in Russian of all languages. I did not appear very "Russian" to anyone's eyes. She answered proudly in Russian, "Why not? Is Russian not a world language?" I politely refuted her, "No." "Then how come you could understand me?" she retorted. Good point...

        Tip: When getting lost anywhere in Norway, English is really sufficient unless you really want to practice your Norwegian. Almost everyone in this country has a perfect command of the English language, with an American accent and dictum. One time, I got lost near the train station in Bergen, and I asked a janitor for directions in Norwegian. She answered back to me in clear, fluent, perfect English. When she asked me where I was visiting from, I responded, "Texas." Then, she started sharing with me about how much she loved Austin and the musical scene on Sixth Street, where she had been three times. Small world, indeed.

        Tip: For the best sunset view, take the funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen (35 NOK, $7/one way) and do what the Norwegians usually do -- sit on the steps of the viewing platform and watch the radiant orange-yellow gleaming sun cast its luminous reflection over the shimmering fjords and majestic mountains. In the summertime, the sun does not usually start setting until 10:45PM-11PM. Then, instead of taking the funicular down, I would highly recommend taking one of the many peaceful, pleasant hikes through the Norwegian woods at twilight back down to the city center (30-45 minutes if taking lots of pictures) for a late dinner. Restaurants, cafés, pubs, and bars are open around the touristy Bryggen district until well after the sun rises again at 3-4AM.

Lessons Learned

       In summary, my short week-long vacation to Europe this summer was extremely pleasant. From partying with my Italian friends in Capri to the wonderful wedding in Naples to the active vacation and escape to nature in Norway, I really had an unforgettable time. Italy and Norway, two very distinct countries with their own respectively strong cultures and histories, in the end, offered me an understanding of how antiquity could live side by side with modernity. Although the memories of the past, incarnated by the ancient ruins and remains of buildings and fortresses were sprinkled across the modern landscape of buildings and cars, there was a great sense of pride, resilience, and determination from both nations to move forward.

       I also learned a lot about traveling alone. On the one hand, it could sometimes be lonely, but on the other hand, it offered me the opportunity to really leave my home behind and truly exist in a foreign country. It forced me to immerse in the languages and cultures of the places I was visiting instead of speaking English with fellow travelers or depending on the biased opinions of the tour guides. It also forced me to be open with the customs and the standards of living of the foreign countries. And in this adventure, I learned a lot about human understanding. Even when the Russian or Japanese tourists could not communicate well in Norwegian or English, I found that they were not afraid to express themselves. They found some support, guidance, and understanding because they tried. And when people are struggling to convey their ideas across, that is the moment when they will find how empathetic and supportive the rest of the world could be.

       Until next time, happy travels and enjoy the pictures! (Note: None of the pictures in these travelblog entries have been retouched or altered. The colors are all natural.)
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