2014 – A Year of Travel In 65 Black and White Photographs

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the abandoned lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude in North Western Jutland. Upon the sand berm the individual posing is my younger brother. One of my goals this year was to work on my portrait photography and to add people into some of my shots. Hopefully you enjoy the result!

The View From Assisi – Weekly Travel Photo

Assisi - Cathedral and Fields

Situated in the heart of the rich Umbrian countryside the hilltop town of Assisi embodies the aura, charm, and personality of Italian hilltop cities.  The view from the historic city is enchanting and takes in a vista that includes carefully manicured fields, Assisi’s new town, Italian villas, vineyards, and a number of historic buildings including perfectly maintained cathedrals that are several hundred years old.  Despite the grandeur of the view, it is all flavored by the humble ideals and mentality of the Franciscans, who have served as the city’s dominant religious group for hundreds of years.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Oslo Culture Clash – Weekly Travel Photo

Oslo Fjord - Norway

Today’s feature highlights an interesting cross-section of history. Snapped in the Oslo Fjord, it is of a small fisherman’s church (or shrine, I’m not sure which) *Scratch that, I’ve been told it is a converted lighthouse that is now a restaurant – see the comments for more!* situated on a tiny piece of rock.   I took the photograph as our ferry passed it, steaming within a few meters of it and apparently quite confident that the rock didn’t reflect a submerged outcropping. I can only hope the model-sized church reflected a prayer and general tribute, and not a memorial to another vessel that wasn’t so careful, well informed, or lucky.

The ferry (more like a small cruise ship) was out of Copenhagen and proudly flying the old Danish colors.  Something that no doubt annoys the Norwegians as much as accomplishes any regulatory requirements that may go with it.

If you find yourself on a boat navigating the Oslo Fjord in Norway, make sure to keep an eye open for this great little landmark.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and it oozed its own special charm.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Dinner and a Sunset in Assisi

Storm Clouds Over Assisi

For the three days of the conference, I found myself periodically staring out the window of my room over a perfectly manicured vineyard at the unusual city and ancient structures that dominated the nearby hillside. I felt longing – while located a mere 15 minutes outside of Assisi, our schedule was busy and largely confined to day-trips to near by cities or events at the resort.  This meant that it wasn’t until the final day of the conference that I had an opportunity to join a small group of other travel bloggers for a free-form trip into Assisi.  Our goal was simple – to enjoy a few hours around sunset walking the city before ferreting out a place for dinner and local Italian wine.

Assisi - Cathedral and Fields

We reached the town late in the afternoon just in time to enjoy an hour or so of solid light before the day began to give way to dusk lit by stunning clouds.  The view out from the city was full of rich fields, beautiful trees, and at least 20 hues of green.  The spotted clouds cast shadows across the landscape and broke the light, softening the view.  The soft rain which had fallen earlier in the day wet the soil, slicked the roads, and deepened the verdant hues that stretched out from the hilltop upon which Assisi rests.

Assisi - Fortifications

The city of Assisi is an old one. While it is unclear just how old – historical indicators suggest that the city’s roots date back around 2,500 years. Possibly earlier. Located in Italy’s breadbasket, it held a powerful strategic position for nearly 2,000 years and was incorporated into the Roman Empire during Rome’s infancy.

Assisi - Pigeons on a Rooftop

Our exploration of Assisi started at the main bus park.  A humble beginning, but none-the less a convenient drop-off point for our taxi.  From there we surveyed our surroundings before opting to head towards the city’s primary landmark and defining characteristic:  The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.

Assisi - Lone Tree

The street curved and flared out, teasing us with a sweeping vista over the countryside as we looked out from beneath the Basilica compound’s castle-like arched supports.  As I glanced out over the country side I was greeted by a view I never quite get tired of. ..a solitary tree standing alone amidst a well-kept field.  I find there’s just a certain poetic charm to the sight. One that nags at me to pause, reflect, and to slow down.  No small challenge given the fairly hectic pace I tend to set for myself in my day-to-day life.

Assisi - City Streets

Soon though, the overlook/street dove through a fortified gateway and we found ourselves pulled in toward the city’s heart.  After ascending a brief but steep street we wound around, navigating more by landmarks than by any actual plan or idea where we were going.

Assisi - Rooftops

As I mentioned in my Perugia post, one of my favorite things about Umbria’s historic hilltop towns are the irregular roof-lines.  Assisi is no different with a veritable maze of unique structures, all at different levels and facing in a variety of directions.  At times it reminds me of the drawings of M. C. Escher.

Assisi - Cathedral Square

Quite suddenly we found ourselves passing through a gateway into the lower plaza of St. Francis. We had traded the narrow, steep, winding cobblestone streets for the large open area that serves as the Basilica’s welcome mat.  The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to 1,228 AD. The complex consists of two churches – creatively named the Upper Church and the Lower Church.

Assisi - Stairway to Heaven

The structure serves as the mother church for the Franciscan Order, also known as the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor.It was erected in part to honor St. Francis who began and ended his life in Assisi.  In an interesting twist, many reports note that the hill where the Basilica was erected was initially used to execute criminals and went by the name of the hill of hell.  After it was gifted and re-purposed by the Franciscans, the hill has since found redemption and is now hailed as the hill of paradise.

View from Assisi - Green Fields

A fitting name given the hill’s location on the spur of the large slope where the town of Assisi resides. I imagine that the fresh air circulating around the Basilica was a wonderful boon to its inhabitants in medieval times and the location on the hill overlooking the warm plain below kept it cool and bathed in gentle breezes even during the most humid and muggy parts of the year.

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

By the time we reached the entrance to the Upper Basilica the light had begun to change and fade.  As if on command, the sky let loose fantastic rays of light in every direction which framed the Basilica in a near-halo.  I’m not a religious person, but it was the type of view that renews my love and wonder for the natural world around us. I can definitely imagine that it would have been a moving moment for the faithful.

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

When I’m in a hilltop town I always feel inclined to go up…And up….And up. It makes navigation simple and usually takes you toward some sort of central square, fortification, or view port.  In this case we wound around the large green yard in front of the Upper Basilica, past a rather forlorn looking statue of a knight on horse,walking along the city’s exterior wall toward a small gate.

Assisi - Winding Streets

With the gate and the ruined tower that sat vigil over it behind us, we paused at a steep hook in the road and watched as the sun slowly began to sink toward the horizon. The town was largely silent outside the the occasional squeak as a passing car’s wheels desperately clung to the slick cobblestones accompanied by the rhythmic noise of feet shuffling along the cobblestones as an elderly couple or two two made their way down into one of the lower parts of the city. Enticed by the rich scents billowing out into the streets from the numerous restaurants around us, we couldn’t ignore the sound of our rumbling stomachs as our bodies roared in protest.

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Eager to get one final view of the Basilica and the sunset we paused along a small walkway near the city’s exterior wall and then set to the task of finding an affordable  restaurant. Quite often no small challenge in a city like Assisi which is known as a significant tourist destination. Still, with our stomachs growling, we overcame the challenges of making a group decision, and quickly settled on a small place just around the corner.  We entered and piled into one of the side rooms.

Eating in Umbria

Contrary to what I expected (expensive food and small portions), the waiter suggested one of the evening’s specials – pork shank with potato wedges for 10 Euro.  Still skeptical, I expected a small shank served on an equally small bed of potatoes.  What showed up was a massive, fist sized, shank and a hearty serving of potatoes that was full of flavor and cooked to perfection.  Everyone’s food looked fantastic and came in hearty portions.  The place was Trattoria Al Camino Vecchio on Via S. Giacomo, 7 and I’d return there in a heartbeat the next time I find my way back to Assisi.

Assisi - Winding Streets

We finished our meal and met up with another large group from the conference in the basement of a nearby restaurant. It was offering 2 Euro 50 cent pitchers of house wine.

The wait to see Assisi had been well worth the it. Even though I only got a brief taste of the city’s winding streets and delicious food selections, I was thoroughly enticed and rewarded by the offerings of the city.  I look forward to returning to Assisi and exploring it in greater depth.  I would love to tour the fortifications, re-visit the inside of the Franciscan friary, and Basilicas which I remember vaguely from my visit as a child of 11 in 1994.

If you’re considering a trip to central Italy, I hope Assisi makes the list of places you intend to visit. It’s a charming city with a rich past and one can only hope a bright future. Have you been?  I’d love to hear your personal stories of times spent exploring Assisi in a comment below.

Hagia Sophia and The Sultan Ahmed “Blue” Mosque

Hagia Sofia at Night

Hagia Sophia

Every art and architecture student has studied the beauty and wonder of  Hagia Sophia. It is a premier example of Byzantine art and construction. This fortress-esque structure has stood as a testament to human ingenuity since 537 AD.  That’s not a typo.   This massive sprawling citadel to God is just under 1,500 years old and has played a pivotal roll in human architectural history.  Some reports suggest that it also held the title of largest cathedral in the world for nearly 1,000 years.  No small accomplishment.

Hagia Sofia in the Snow

Amazingly the entire structure was built in less than 10 years, reportedly by a work crew of some 10,000 people, by the decree of Justinian I of Constantinople. It was the third basilica to be built in the location and the largest of the three. Unfortunately, the structure was severely damaged less than 20 years after it was completed by a series of earthquakes which collapsed the main dome. Resiliently, the dome was re-built, re-structured and raised some 20+ feet. These enhancements were completed quickly and done by the year 562.

Hagia Sofia in the Snow

The church stood as a shining example of Christiandom until 1453 when the Ottoman empire conquered Constantinople. The church was immediately converted into a mosque, a process which resulted in the removal of most of the holy relics, altars, and bells. Interestingly, instead of removing the old Christian mosaics, the Ottomans decided to paint over them.  The interior was re-decorated to serve as a mosque and the building’s four large minarets were added.  The majority of the building’s interior (as seen today) dates back to this period, with the exception of several large christian mosaics which were recently uncovered.

Hagia Sophia (Recovered)

The building served as one of the largest and most impressive mosques in the Muslim world for the next several hundred years. The mosque’s design and appearance was mirrored in other Ottoman mosques and served as inspiration for Istanbul’s numerous structures. It served as the key model for the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which is now commonly known and recognized as Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.  In an interesting turn of history, Hagia Sophia ceased to be a mosque in 1935 when the then newly elected President Ataturk decreed that it be converted into a museum.

Hagia Sofia in Istanbul

The interior of the structure is truly fascinating.  The sheer scale of the open space in the main area will leave you feeling tiny.  The mosaics are beautiful and reflect the periods in history during which they were created. The mixture of cultures, religions and periods in history is evident in all aspects of the structure creating an eclectic mixture that while somewhat cold, still manages to be very rich and engaging.   Stay tuned for video from inside Hagia Sophia in future posts.  Beyond that, you’ll just have to visit yourself!

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Snow

Sultan Ahmed “the Blue” Mosque

The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616 and sits immediately opposite Hagia Sophia.  The mosque embodies the epitome of Byzantine-influenced Ottoman construction. It relies on heavy inspiration from Hagia Sophia, but the building’s lines and domes are enhanced while simultaneously integrating a series of six minarets into the original design.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Snow

From the start, the goal while creating the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, was to create one of the greatest mosques in the world.  The structure was built on a massive scale and can accommodate 10,000 people during prayer.  It was created to be a purely Muslim structure, in contrast with Hagia Sophia which had a mixed heritage.   It was also fairly controversial initially due to its 6 minarets, which was a violation of accepted policy at that point in time-typically all mosques outside Masjid al-Haram in Mecca were limited to four minarets.

Blue Mosque

Unlike Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is still in active use and faithful are welcomed to attend for daily prayer.  However, don’t fret – the mosque remains open most of the day for tourists, who are welcome into the mosque and given free roam of just under half the ground floor.  If, that is, you’re willing to leave your shoes at the door and have made sure to dress appropriately.

Interior of the Blue Mosque

The mosque’s nickname comes from the beautiful blue tile work that decorates its interior. This is accentuated by more than 200 blue stained-glass windows.   The tiles and beautifully painted calligraphy work has made the Blue Mosque one of Istanbul’s leading tourist attractions.

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Every inch of the building’s interior is covered in rich, padded carpets, beautiful stained-glass windows, or intricately decorated Islamic decorations and calligraphic script. The amount of time and energy that went into these decorations is staggering and an amazing testament to the might, wealth, and glory of the Ottoman Empire at its peak.

Interior of the Blue Mosque

For people familiar with calligraphy, many of the tiles depict beautiful flowing script, which are verses from the Qur’an and were created by Seyyid Kasim Gubari – one of the greatest calligraphers in his era.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Snow

The interior of the Blue Mosque is absolutely gorgeous.  However, it is also slightly overwhelming making the structure feel somewhat smaller and significantly more cozy than Hagia Sophia.  If planning a visit to Istanbul, I highly suggest visiting both structures and dedicating ample time to each. While it is easy to assume that the two will be very similar, the reality is that the experience varies significantly from one to the other.  The Blue Mosque will awe you with its beauty, with its polished architecture and wonderful lighting.  Hagia Sophia will captivate you with its size, scale, and odd mixture of religious and cultural history.

Mosque in Istanbul

Other Mosques Abound

As a first-timer to Istanbul I expected that the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia would be the only two large religious structures in the city.  Especially after seeing the incredible size and scale of the structures it made it hard to imagine that the city could have ever supported a third, fourth, or fifth building of similar scale and scope.

Istanbul at Sunset

So, perhaps you can understand (and share) my surprise at discovering that Istanbul’s skyline is decorated by the impressive domes and needle-like forms of towering minarets from at least half a dozen large mosques.

Have you visited Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque?  What were your favorite parts?  What surprised you?

**Bonus – While visiting Hagia Sophia, there is a free (and separate) series of tombs which can be accessed from the external side of the building.  These serve as the eternal resting place for a number of the region’s influential rulers and religious figures, in addition to boasting their own wealth of beautiful tile and mural work.

The Day I Fell In Love With Copenhagen

Cathedral and Lily Pond - Copenhagen, Denmark

The day started off well.  After an absolutely fantastic evening out on the town, during which my friend Kevan introduced me to Danish nightlife I rolled out of bed and headed to the common area. There I ate breakfast, changed and then set out to meet Kevan at the nearby 7-11. Yep, that’s right. I said 7-11.  Believe it or not they’re everywhere in Scandinavia.  When you think about the primary focus and business model behind the company it makes perfect sense, but you can imagine my shock.  McDonalds? Subway? Burger King?  Sure. Those are expected. But some of the others were definitely a surprise. 7-11 was the main one, but TGI Fridays in Norway was a close second.

A Tall Ship - Copenhagen, Denmark

Kevan had volunteered to play guide and show me around the city.  We met up mid morning and then set out down the main shopping boulevard.  We wound down past city hall, through several large squares and then eventually paused at Tivoli Gardens.  Tivoli is a world famous amusement park located in the heart (and I do mean heart) of Copenhagen.  The park opened in 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world. Impressive right?  From Tivoli we continued along the boulevard and quickly arrived at the central train station.  The station itself is beautiful.  A large sprawling building, it has most of the traditional charm of early turn of the century trains only unlike many of its peers the station’s massive ceiling is built from and supported by intricate wooden timbers.

Fountain and Cathedral - Copenhagen, Denmark

After making special note of the train station’s location (I’d arrived through the airport, but would be departing by rail) we cut down towards the harbor.  The route wound through ancient cobble-stoned streets, most of which were lined by trees and periodically ballooned into small squares. As Kevan shared random tidbits of Danish history and lessons in local culture we wound past parliament and the new opera house – a beautiful building located along the central waterway which feeds København’s picturesque deceptively named ‘New Harbor’ which was completed in the mid- 1600s.

Main Cathedral - Copenhagen, Denmark

As we wound past the harbor I was left with what seemed to be a perpetual grin stuck on my face.  The whole area is a historic district dedicated to old “tall ships”.  As a result, every open space available along the canal has some sort of aged vessel moored in place.

Cathedral's Dome - Copenhagen, Denmark

Some 5-10 minutes later we arrived at Frederick’s Church which is also commonly called the Marble Church.  A large cathedral, it looks and feels very similar to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and boasts the 4th largest dome in Europe as well as the largest dome in Scandinavia. The Cathedral was bright and beautiful with a very clean build and a massive organ. As with most of the great cathedrals throughout Europe and Scandinavia it leaves visitors feeling small, insignificant, and awed.

Local Food (The Smorgasbord) - Copenhagen, Denmark

With stomachs rumbling Kevan and I headed back to one of the cafes along the new harbor.  Over the course of our walk the topic of local foods had come up.  To my surprise we’d pieced together that the origin of the US slang smorgasbord (an extremely diverse set of options), has its roots in the Scandinavian Smörgåsbord and more regionally the koldtbord in Denmark.  Kevan suggested a restaurant with a spectacular view of the harbor and then introduced me to a beautifully presented Smörgåsbord.  It featured a delicious dipping sauce, fresh beef, bacon, and fish as well as a delicious chick/potato salad.  Good food is always a plus…good food, a bit of history and an incredible setting? A rare delight!

A Gargoyle - Copenhagen, Denmark

With fully belly’s we struck off towards the Gefion Fountain. A beautiful fountain that depicts the Norse god Gefion in a chariot pulled by a number of large animals.  The fountain sits beside a beautiful small church and a stones throw away from Copenhagen’s old fortress Kastellet, or the citadel.

The Old Fortress - Copenhagen, Denmark

The old earthen fortifications are still visible and well maintained.  The wide moat which surrounds them boasts a picturesque mixture of goldfish, swans and lily pads.

Dog with Geese - Copenhagen, Denmark

As we wrapped back around the fortifications and moat towards the main entrance to the fortress we paused briefly to watch a dog at play.  Set to the backdrop of the cathedral, the dog slowly tried to herd a small group of lounging geese.  The geese, who were anything but concerned, slowly made their way into the moat and then floated just out of reach taunting the frustrated dog.

Old Fortress - Copenhagen, Denmark

After crossing a wooden bridge which included a draw-bridge esque component, we passed through the Kings Gate and entered the inner compound.  The compound is still an active military facility with service men on site. As Kevan explained some of the history associated with the fort he also explained that he’d served a portion of his time in the Danish armed forces as a guard – which was a fun insight.

Canon and Bench - Copenhagen, Denmark

Enjoying the brilliant summer weather we continued along the top of the fortification, pausing to take in various sights. Some (like the photo above) reminded me of civil war era-fortifications along the North Eastern part of the U.S. while others were decidedly more modern. The most comical was a view from the fortification wall of the found Danish mermaid statue. Not overly interested in the statue from the get go, I wasn’t terribly disappointed to learn that it had actually been shipped off to the world fair where it was a piece of the Danish pavilion. I was, however, extremely entertained to learn that to make up for it, a webcam had been set up and was broadcasting an imagine of the statue into the harbor where the statue would normally sit.

Windmill - Copenhagen, Denmark

Chuckling, we wrapped along the back half of the fortress wall and paused to take in a large windmill, which dates back to the 1840s and is still operational. The mill was built in case of a siege to aid in the milling of supplies such as flour and rolled oats.

A Swan at Rest - Copenhagen, Denmark

Starting to feel a bit footsore we wound back the way we’d come, pausing briefly when we stumbled on a gorgeous swan resting along the banks of the fortress moat.  If you could train wild birds for picture perfect moments, the swan would have been a prime contender.  As I paused to snap a series of photos the swan largely ignored me, focused on its grooming and enjoying the afternoon sun.  It was the perfect addition to what was already a picturesque backdrop.

The Old Opera House - Copenhagen, Denmark

Our next destination was the Freetown of Christiania. Our path wound us back past the new harbor, through a large central square, and in front of the original opera hall before we crossed a bridge and wound towards the small section of the city occupied by Christiania.

Locals at Rest - Copenhagen, Norway

The walk towards Christiania was gorgeous.  It took us over the main bridge, and across a second smaller canal which was awash in people resting, socializing and eating.

The Canal - Copenhagen, Denmark

Though slightly less picturesque than their Dutch counterparts, the Danish canal system is absolutely gorgeous and adds a lot of beauty and extra character to Copenhagen.

City Streets - Copenhagen, Denmark

As we neared Christiania I realized we were near one of the more unique fixtures of the Danish skyline: the Church of our Savior.  To my surprise Kevan mentioned that you could climb the external spiral, which seemed like too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

View from the Spiral - Copenhagen, Denmark

The rout to the top was a long one, but well worth it.  The first half wound through the internal workings of the cathedral, including a large room which holds one of the largest sets of bells in Europe.  From there it broke free into the spiral which starts out fairly wide and slowly wraps upward.  The higher you get the narrower the stair becomes before it is literally absorbed into the top of the spire. While rather difficult to navigate, especially given our collective size (we are both over 6’4″) the view was well worth it.

The City from Above - Copenhagen, Denmark

After taking a few minutes to enjoy the fresh air, and view of the city we wound back towards the organized chaos of the city. Eager not to get stuck in the bell room when the hour struck, we hustled down the stairs, dodging rafters and ducking past old wooden supports before pausing briefly to watch the massive mechanical clock mechanism slowly crank away.

City Streets - Copenhagen, Denmark

As the afternoon began to slip towards dusk, we reached Christiania.  The area – about the size of a city block is an odd thing. The buildings were originally a Danish military facility which was abandoned in the 60s.  By the 70s, local hippies moved into the area and began to lay claim.  The area has continued to evolve and was largely left alone by the local government. It has developed its own flag, currency, culture, and set of laws. Additionally, it is partially protected by a law passed in 1989 which transfers responsibility for the supervision of the area to the Danish government, instead of the local city.

The City from Above - Copenhagen, Denmark

As a hippy mecca, the area is most famous for having a lax/largely unregulated approach to soft drugs (though all hard drugs have been banned via a local law) and in many ways acts as the Danish equivalent to Amsterdam’s coffee houses.  Weed and Hash are openly sold along the central street from freestanding stalls.  That said, there’s far more to Christiania than just soft drugs.  The area is awash in art, music, crafts and food.  As we walked through the small area, there were a series of musicians performing, sandwiched between shops selling everything from silly tourist knickknacks to a plethora of Christiania-specific items, most of which sport the local flag: A red bar with three yellow dogs. The district even has its own branded beer which is available for purchase.

A Swan at Rest - Copenhagen, Denmark

With mention of things like Dutch Coffee shops and street vendors hawking tubs of marijuana it’s easy to assume that the area would be dangerous, or family unfriendly.  Interestingly, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  The area is a creative commune first and foremost, built around mutual respect, investment and cooperation.  As a result, it’s mostly family friendly and not uncommon to see parents with young children at one of the local eateries relaxing, listening to music and grabbing a bite to eat. Hungry, Kevan and I found an open picnic table in an open area, sandwiched between a sculpture from Arthurian legend of a sword in a stone and a large oriental obelisk.  For just under $10 USD (which by Danish standards is dirt cheap) we ordered a delicious flank steak served in a thick portobello mushroom sauce with a side of egg sized boiled potatoes.

The Old Harbor - Copenhagen, Denmark

After a hearty meal, it was time to wind our way back towards the hostel.  First, however, we paused at the new harbor where everyone was out and about relaxing and listening to a jazz singer performing at the foot of the canal.

The Old Harbor - Copenhagen, Denmark

The golden light of sunset brought out the color in the buildings and boats, and put everything into a magical twilight. As we wandered casually through the crowd, we paused again at one of the small courtyards off of the main harbor.  In the entrance to one of the small museums in the area, another set of musicians were set up and performing.

The Old Harbor - Copenhagen, Denmark

Exhausted, we headed back to the hostel to collect a few of the girls, before heading back out on the town to explore Copenhagen’s night life.  Kevan was a fantastic guide and host who offered a special insight into the city.  I can’t wait to find my way back to Copenhagen and can easily say it is hands down one of the most delightful, friendly, and enjoyable cities I’ve been to.  As far as national capitals go, it is easily one of my top three favorites in the world.

If the opportunity presents itself, don’t hesitate! Head to Copenhagen and enjoy everything the city has to offer!

Bergen, A Scenic Seafood Picnic and Local Fjords

The Old Warehouse District - Bergen, Norway

Still a bit giddy (silly but true) after the previous day’s spectacular adventure on the Flam Railway and through the Nærøyfjord I opted to spend my final day in Bergen and the nearby fjords. After a relatively late start Anna and I once again set out together to aimlessly wander the city.  As usual the first stop was back down along the harbor and the warehouse district, but that didn’t last long. We were eager to get into parts of the city we’d yet to explore.

Comedy and Tragedy - Bergen, Norway

The first stop was just off of the central square. Up a green boulevard and around a few statues we found the city’s opera house/theater. A fun building with a series of beautifully cast and carved figures. Some, like the flowing bronze in the image above, captured the classic imagery of theater. While others had a more unique/Scandinavian feel.

National Theater - Bergen, Norway

The building was decorated with a series of masks which took on the shape and appearance of animals, but done in an art-deco sort of powerful, but rudimentary form. The lamp posts each had extra metalwork which wrapped around them showcasing viking ships and marauders.  The whole venue had an air of character to it, which made me wish that I had time to catch a show.

A Cathedral - Bergen, Norway

From the theater we wound our way through back streets and quiet alleyways before eventually marching up a large flight of stairs. The stairs dumped us out in front of one of Bergen’s main cathedrals. A large, beautiful building that showcased a beautiful wooden roof, set with subtle but elegant wooden highlights and fine artwork.

Cathedral - Bergen, Norway

As we wound our way through the city we could not help but enjoy the skyline. Norwegian cities offer an interesting mixture of styles and a beautiful combination of greenery and ancient architecture.

An Old Lamp Post - Bergen, Norway

From the Cathedral we wound our way down the other side of the hill and over towards what we later found out was the local University.  There we paused briefly for a quick snack before winding back down towards the main lake – a large man-made rectangle which rests right in the heart of Bergen just off the central square.

Odd Art - Bergen, Norway

The  square featured a series of interesting sculptures. However, the one that I found most interesting was a large aluminum (or stainless steel) cube which looked as though its surface was cast out of water caught in the midst of a rainstorm.  It was odd, stood out, and ordinarily would have clashed with its setting.  For whatever reason though, perhaps the nature of the northern weather, it seemed to fit and in an odd way reflected and captured the region’s moody weather.

Child With Balloon - Bergen, Norway

The day was a gorgeous one.  Flowers in bloom, a few clouds in the sky, a slight northern crispness to the air, and the warmth of the sun all set to the backdrop of rich blue skies. As we wandered through the city’s streets and parks, I paused briefly and chuckled. I can’t fathom where the balloon came from, but the little girl pictured above was at play in the park with her younger brother, both with floating balloons in tow.  For some reason, set against the gazebo and blooming flowers they seemed to embody the spirit of late spring and early summer.  In truth, they embodied life, youthful energy and the essence of positive spirit.

Sunken Pink Boat - Bergen, Norway

From the park it was back to the harbor where Anna and I had decided we’d pick up some local seafood for lunch, then hop on the local fjord cruise which left twice a day, lasted 3 or so hours, and was fairly affordable. To our surprise there was a fair amount of commotion in the harbor.  Somehow, the cute pink fishing ship I’d observed and commented on the previous day had sprung a leak.  As the ship sat, partially submerged and resting on the harbor floor a large barge was brought in with a sizable winch.  The plan appeared to involve divers in dry-suits, the barge, and a large cargo winch.  From the general approach the locals were taking it must have been a somewhat common occurrence.

Seafood Lunch - Bergen, Norway

Hungry, Anna and I decided to splurge a bit and both went on a small buying spree, planning to pool what we picked up in a two-person potluck once we got on the boat.  The region is famous for its seafood, especially for its smoked salmon, fresh arctic shrimp and dare I say it – whale.  Anna went for the healthy route and picked up a carton of fresh strawberries and raspberries. It’s worth noting that I was surprised how many small fruit stands were selling strawberries and cherries in Stavanger and Bergen. They were everywhere, dirt cheap, and absolutely fantastic.  They were fresh, sweet, and a deep rich color with a strong strawberry scent.  The type of strawberries you only find in the US at local farmers markets.

Seafood Lunch - Bergen, Norway

In addition to the strawberries and raspberries, Anna picked up a lightly seasoned piece of smoked salmon and freshly cooked combo plate which had a few skewers of shrimp and a piece of whale meat.  I opted for a pound of fresh crawfish, cup of fresh cherries and a more heavily spiced/slightly dryer piece of Salmon.

Local Foods - Bergen, Norway

The meal was absolutely spectacular.  The salmon was delicious – well spiced, perfectly smoked and a great mixture of flavors. Mine was more like traditional smoked salmon while Anna’s rode the middle and was far closer to lox. The crawfish and shrimp were both extremely flavorful while the strawberries and raspberries were perfectly ripened and some of the most flavorful I’ve had in a long, long time.  I have no doubt I’ll take some flack for it, but I also opted to try whale.  While opposed to their hunting, curiosity and hunger for new culinary experiences won out.   It sounds silly, but i was quite surprised by the taste.  I was expecting something fishy, which given that whale is a mammal is a bit daft.  Instead the flavor was extremely gamy and almost had a liverish taste to it.  The liver taste was more pronounced in the smoked version I tried, while the thinly cut BBQ’d piece was fairly good, but nothing special.  Truth be told it was like a gamy carne asada.

Fjords Near Bergen, Norway

The cruise left Bergen Harbor and wound its way out towards the main bay/fjord. There we passed near a series of beautiful suspension bridges and motored past a number of sailboats out enjoying the nice weather.

Fjords Near Bergen, Norway

About an hour or so into the trip we started to leave the more densely populated coastline behind.  It was replaced by small lighthouses, boathouses, and the occasional home and small village.

Fjord Tour Near Bergen, Norway

The whole area is incredibly picturesque.  From the architecture, to the rich mixture of colors used on their buildings the small towns each have their own unique character. All set against a rich green backdrop.

Fjord Tour Near Bergen, Norway

The coast/fjord is also home to a series of small waterfalls and impressive cliffs.  However, in comparison to my previous day’s adventure, most seemed fairly small and plain.  Which is not to say that they were not gorgeous and incredibly beautiful.  Rather, the cruise from Bergen gave me the opportunity to enjoy architecture and human’s footprint set against a majestic backdrop.

Fjord Tour Near Bergen, Norway

Eventually the day wound to a close as we slowly completed our long loop and headed back towards Bergen.  Just in time, I might add, as the weather had slowly begun to change.  The clouds had thickened and spread and the temperature slowly dropped.  As a fresh sprinkle cleared the dust from the air, I took one final, deep breath, enjoyed the beauty of the fjords and prepared for my last night in Bergen.  The following day promised grand adventures and my first taste of Denmark.