COUCH SURFING IN BERGEN
We arrive in Bergen (which we soon found out is pronounced Behhgan not Burgin) bearing two overloaded backpacks, a heap of my mom’s banana bread in a carry-on bag, and a dogged will to conquer our jetlag by exploring the famous city.
We get off the airport bus at the fish market and walked about 100 meters to a Hostel, where they agreed to hold our luggage for a few hours (always a great way to travel a city when backpacking). After unloading our packs, we walk straight to the market. It’s a bright sunny morning, multi-colored umbrellas blanket the wharf like a patchwork quilt and beyond the harbor, you can see the pink, blue, green old wooden houses lining the right entrance to the vast harbor. The fish market is swarmed with tourists; in between snippets of French, German and Norwegian, you can hear the fishmongers calling out their products to the tourists. The stands sell fruits, souvenirs, and all different types of novelty meat and fish; whale meat, reindeer sausage, clams, dried cod, devilfish, and so on. Anthony and I try cooked and cured whale meat and reindeer sausage. The cured meats taste like hearty chunks of prosciutto, which I enjoy, but the cooked whale meat tastes like a pungent tuna and has an oily aftertaste. I swallow out of appreciation.
The fish market and its surrounding area is not the traditional experience we look for, being packed full of souvenir tents, restaurant tents, and their supporting assortment of international tourists. However, it is still a novel experience and serves as great entertainment on our way to Old Bergen or “Bryggen.” Bryggen is comprised of 61 tall wooden houses styled from the pre-Hanseatic periods and is listed as one of the “World Cultural Heritage Sites” by UNESCO. Because of numerous fires that have repeatedly afflicted the old wooden city, only about a quarter of the houses in Bryggen date back to the early eighteenth century; the remaining houses have been restored.
After a few hours of exploring old Bryggen and the nearby medieval Bergenhus Fortress, we decide to check out the accommodations that Anthony had arranged through Couchsurfing. We grabbed our backpacks and bussed it across the famous Askøy Bridge, arriving at Ask Free School on Askoy Island. The bus from Bergen lets us off at the base of a large hill. After some huffing and puffing, we reach the top of the hill and walk into a driveway lined with gorgeous plush trees giving entry to a large white mansion, overlooking strawberry fields and the sea. A young man walks down to greet us and introduces himself as Stian, our host. He then guides us to the entrance of the big white mansion and opens the doors inviting us in. My jaw drops as I begin to understand that I am staying at this glorious manor for free. I look at Anthony, who smiles and winks in response to my amazement. Two free nights of stay and the opportunity to meet people from all over in one of the most expensive countries in the world…our trip is definitely starting out in the best way possible.
Stian and two colleagues started Ask Free School as a social entrepreneurship project for “students” to come to stay at the “school” with the obligation that if they were a student they would also have to be a teacher. Whether you teach juggling, English, cooking, or whatever, you are invited to be a part of the learning experience. During the week you learn from the other students and help out at local farms and in return, you are given room and board at the school. Ask Free School is a great concept. Although we arrived at the school during its onset, we are excited to see where they take it!
Our time at the School was very enjoyable; when we weren’t planning our upcoming trip; we hung out, cooked, played music, and swam in the nearby lake. We met various people during our stay, watched the World Cup together, and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning talking by candlelight…it was like a dream. Everyone we met at the school was really excited about Made with Love. They all invited us to stay in their homes if we decided to visit their countries and gave us advice on which foods we needed to document when we do visit.
With two days to spare before arriving at the farm we agreed to volunteer at, we decide to leave Bergen and head east toward Oslo. We wake up early in the morning and take the bus back to Bergen. Rather than taking the Fløibanen funicular, we hike to the top of Mount Floyen for a bird’s eye view of the city and ocean. Back to ground level, we stop at a reindeer sausage stand and order a reindeer pølse with spicy lingonberry sauce. The sauce tastes like sweet and sour mustard while the meat tastes like a mixture of great tasting cow and lamb meat. Continuing with our spontaneity, we decide to stop in a random town for the night somewhere between Bergen and Oslo. The representatives at the train and bus stations give us no convincing arguments of where to go, so we decide to buy a train ticket to Gol (Germany’s World Cup Victory was probably the influence).
Between frustrating blips of the Internet on the train ride to Gol, Anthony attempts at finding a place for us to sleep. I decide to nap rather than be frustrated by the inconsistent Internet connection. I wake to an excited Anthony, who explains that he has found and contacted the most interesting hosts on Airbnb; an entrepreneurial farming startup, inviting guests to take part in their day-to-day lives. Upon opening his computer, we find that his message went through and that we have an invitation to stay with exact details of how to get to their farm! One problem: the farm is about an hour out of the way and we would have to stay on the train for 4 extra stops. Anthony convinces me to follow him into the café car where the train conductors might be more relaxed about checking tickets. I timidly sit down, get on my laptop and pray that the conductor will not notice us or remember which stop we are supposed to get off at. I clench my teeth as we pass Gol and look at Anthony taking a big bite of a juicy nectarine. How is it that he can stay so relaxed when breaking the law? Suddenly a train conductor catches my eye, shakes his head and angrily approaches us. My palms begin to sweat, my armpits tingle and I am a millisecond away from blurting, “we are so sorry, we got lost,” before the conductor says “please! No eating other food in the cafe cart.” PHEW!!!
We make it to Hønefoss, a Norwegian ghost town, without being arrested. Since it is light out for twenty hours a day during the summer, our 9:00 pm arrival looks like 5:00 pm, except every store is closed and all the streets and squares are empty. We head to the bus station where we encounter two older bus drivers sitting in front of a bus on fold-out chairs. We say hello and ask if they know where we could grab some food. They are very excited to find out that Anthony is from New York City; one of the drivers tells us that he has been there three times and saves his money to take his wife. Very cute! They point us in the direction of a kabob place, one of the only open establishments in town. Anthony sees a picture painted on the wall of an old man with an apron and the word “babol”, so he started chanting, “babol, babol”. The owner behind the counter instantly smiles. He must be Babol. Very excited to practice his English and joke with us, he loads our kabobs, gives us 25% off, and tops us off with some free ice cream. Still feeling hungry after finishing the ice cream and kebob, we remembered that we had banana bread that my mother had packed for us! What better way to enjoy the hour bus ride after a long day, than with some of Pamela’s Banana Bread, Baked with Love!