There are cities you love the moment you step foot in them. Then there are other cities that take you a while to warm up to. Of course, the flip-side of this is that there are also cities you hate instantly or fall out of love with.
My relationship with London has been a complicated one. It’s not a city that I can say I love, but at the same time it’s also not a city I can say I hate. I’ve now visited London a number of times and each visit seems to launch me to-and-fro from loving the city to mildly disliking it and then somehow winning me back once again.
Of the many European cities I’ve visited as an adult, the city of London is the one I have the most complex relationship with. In 2004 I returned to Europe for the first time as an adult. The trip was done through Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College and was a guided six week whirlwind taste of the British Isles with the first three weeks spent in London. Despite the incredible amount of ground we’d covered during the year-long visit to Europe my family and I had engaged in when I was 11, we’d never crossed the channel to explore the British Isles. This made London extra exotic and the ideal place to re-launch my wanderlust as an adult.
As you might imagine, I loved London as I wandered from the Tower to its grand Museums and then out into the countryside to Stonehenge, Bath, and the White Cliffs of Dover. Each cobblestone street teased my imagination and inspired me to explore further. Since then my visits have typically, but not always, been more utilitarian. A trip to London for a conference, to see friends, or for a wedding. These visits are likely at the heart of my mixed love affair with London.
The visits that have given me the best taste of the city of London as an entity were the ones where I was most involved with as a tourist. It was on many of the more utilitarian visits that I found myself disgusted by London’s sprawling, slow and at times grossly over-crowded public transportation system. By the ludicrously short hours for the Metro, and by the sense of dystopian bleakness that defines some of the city’s suburbs. Suburbs that often remind me very much of a scifi megalopolis designed for three or four million but now lumbering under the weight of four or five times that all colored by an aging infrastructure, crime, and urban decay. While this, and the reality that Londoners in some areas are lovely, while Londoners in others are…not, is all true but I’ve come to realize misses what the city has to offer.…
Generations ago fishing ships were dragged ashore through brute force, a bit of creative mechanics, and a stalwart work ethic. This avoided the need for the construction of grand breakwaters and deep harbors. However, as technology has progressed and the ease of construction has increased, more and more safe harbors have been created up and down Denmark’s wind-tossed shores. With beach erosion a perpetual issue these developments have been for the best, as the process of dragging the ships to and from the water is often far from easy on the local ecosystem.
This means that the opportunity to see a fleet of reasonably large fishing ships muscled ashore in the traditional fashion is highly unusual and this in turn makes Thorup Strand “Thorupstrand” one of the largest coastal landing sites in Europe. The site, which has been active since the 1700s, serves as home to as many as 25 fishing vessels at any given time. Utilizing the deep sand and specially designed ship keels the modern vessels take advantage of a winch system and series of tractors which are used to drag the ships into the water in the morning and to pull them ashore above the tidal line every evening. Sounds daunting doesn’t it? …
Recently EasyJet Holidays reached out to me and asked if I would help them launch a new project they’re calling the Inspiration Initiative. I loved the idea and in turn I’ve put together the following inspiration initiative post. Join in and help to inspire travel by sharing your own holiday and travel inspirations. You can find out more here.
In 1994 my Mom and Dad rented out our house, uprooted my younger brother and I, and loaded the family into an airplane bound for Europe. We spent the next 11 months exploring Europe by foot, plane, train, and automobile. All the while they taught me about history, culture, tolerance and curiosity while also providing for my academic basics. What’s more, after returning to the states and spending a year to re-adjust they did it again, this time in a 32 foot fifth-wheel trailer as part of a ’round-the-US year-long trip.
I knew what they were doing was amazing at the time but, it has only been as I’ve transitioned into adult hood that I’ve truly realized and come to appreciate the amount of planning, preparation, and inspired drive that went into these trips. As I’ve transitioned from a child to a man in my own right, they’ve smoothly gone from parent and guide to mentor and friend. They have not only inspired me, they have also laid the groundwork and foundations which drive me to seek out inspiration; which push me to identify and associate with people who challenge, inform, and empower me.
Star Trek: The Next Generation. As a child growing up in the 80s and early 90s the voyages of the USS Enterprise captivated me. The intro narrative, “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before” fostered an intense desire in me to explore the world (and beyond). It drove me to look to the far horizon, to dream of visiting the stars, and to embrace a passion and belief in a better future. It not only inspired me to travel and to appreciate new cultures and the arts, it instilled in me the passion of a futurist – a dreamer with a strong desire to also be an enactor working to bring science fiction to life. To this day I still consider Captain Picard to be one of the more influential and inspirational role models in my life.
Despite being born in Colorado and raised in Arizona, a large part of my childhood was spent on the Mexican beaches of Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point). Some of my first brushes with adventure were as a diaper-wearing toddler bravely making my way across what at the time seemed to be giant sand dunes, all under the watchful eye of my parents. As the years passed I traded in my diaper for a swimsuit, bucket, and net while roaming further afield. With these in hand I spent hours upon end exploring the beach’s tide pools and further nurturing my sense of curiosity as I sought out new life, ecosystems and discoveries one tide pool at a time. I can’t name a specific year, as we’d spend at least one month out of each year camped on the beach, but it was a formative part of my childhood. To this day there’s something about the smell of fresh ocean air which captivates and invigorates me.
Preikestolen Norway – located along Norway’s southwestern fjords. This wonderful natural formation is unusual, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. With a semi-strenuous 3.8km hike along a rustic, boulder-littered path you’ll have to work a bit to reach Preikestolen or the “Preacher’s Pulpit” as it is also commonly known. The small uphill hike is well worth it. In addition to being beautiful, the final destination is heart-stopping and sure to take your breath away. The pulpit’s rock formation is a large square roughly 25 meters x 25 meters which protrudes from the cliff face over the picturesque Lysefjorden fjord below. The sheer face of the cliff drops off nearly 2,000 feet (604 meters) to the fjord and offers an incredible panoramic view of the Norwegian countryside and surrounding mountain range. If the weather is cooperating, it’s also possible to sit at one of the corners or along the outward edge of the pulpit where tradition suggests either dangling your legs over the side into empty air or crawling forward on your belly to glance over the edge into the void. As someone with a fear of heights, it was a rich experience pushing my comfort zone while soaking up the sheer majesty of the location. It served to further re-enforce my passion for travel, adventure, and exploration while showcasing the wonder and magnificent beauty that the world holds for those willing to seek it out. You can see my post from Preikestolen here, and a video from over the edge here.
**This post is Part III in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rewind to: Part I or Part II.
One of the most exciting stops along our route was a brief pause at a large waterfall in the middle of the glacier. Easily 8 feet across, the waterfall carved a trough along the surface of the glacier before diving deep into a dark blue hole. As the guide turned and motioned for me to ease towards the lip of the hole, I was thrilled. With him securing my safety harness, I eased up as close as I could to the edge, then leaned out and stared straight down, my eyes hungrily following the water’s course as it splashed of rich blue ice walls and carved away at white crystalline walls. The roar of the falls was mesmerizing and the cool, humid air spilling up and off the waterfall crisp and clean.
As we wound further onto the glacier, we passed a number of large crevasses. Some of which we would skirt, others we would walk along, and yet others – those small enough – we would carefully jump across, all the while with a large lump in our throats and a sense of controlled adventure in our hearts.
Eventually we reached the half-way mark and the group settled in for our pick-nick lunches. The spot we chose? A small hollow which blocked the wind and some of the light rain. As most of the group casually sat on the ice, enjoying the protection of their waterproof paints I dug around in my bag and fished out a bag. It held a massive, bright orange carrot that stood out in an explosion of color against the grays and blues of our equipment, the sky and glacier. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I saw eyebrows raise, and heads tilt. The thoughts racing through their minds were obvious, “who is this kid, why the hell does he have a giant carrot and how’s he going to manage without waterproof pants – is that really all he brought?”.
As I contentedly finished my carrot, I took the plastic bag it had come in, kicked out a flat space in the ice, set it down, and then plopped my body down on top of it. Next up? Lunch meat. As I sat there with numb fingers, I set to trying to open two plastic packages of lunch meat I’d purchased. Largely unsuccessful, an idea eventually struck. Before long I’d leaned forward and impaled the plastic wrapper on one of my crampon spikes and had set upon the small pile of lunch meat with a voracious hunger.
Ever one to be inclusive, the third and final course was a large bag of baguettes. True, I could have taken the effort to combine the meats and bread, but my approach seemed more fun and convenient. Especially in light of the chuckles I was getting from other group members who had purchased pre-packaged lunches from the local supermarket. I quickly gave away a couple of the 6 or so loaves of bread that had come in the bag, and chewed away contentedly. As we prepared to move on, one of the guides poured a tin of sweetened matte which he passed around and a few of us shared and enjoyed. It was the ideal desert and re-heated us as we prepared for the trek home.
As we wound back along the ice we paused briefly for a rush of excitement as one of the group members failed to step far enough, tripped and almost fell into a crevasse. One of the guides as on hand, stabilized him, and helped him the rest of the way across.
The hike back towards the mountain trail was every bit as good as the trip out to the center of the glacier. Where the view before had been of ice, white, and distant mountains, the view on the return was constantly framed by the imposing presence of the mountains.
Each new view dragged my mind further and further into a fairytale. With fresh air in my lungs, spectacular sights bombarding my eyes, and clean rain drops decorating my face I had one of those incredible moments and relished every ounce of the experience. As the thought echoed through my mind I smiled and whispered, “This…this is why I travel”.
Eventually we found our way back to the base camp where we shed our harnesses and crampons, and then wound back along the path. The end of a hike is usually somewhat boring. Not so in this instance. After the lifeless beauty of the glacier, the wealth of blooming flowers and booming thunder of large waterfalls drew my exhausted feet forward.
The view of the glacier where it gave way to rain slicked rocks was also completely different. Given the honeycombed nature of the glacier, the ice formations looked new, fresh and unique as we revisited them from a different angle.
As we wound back down toward the lake, we enjoyed a great view of the glacier’s forward face and another reminder of how small we truly are. Can you spot the ferry, and people out on the glacier in the above photo? They’re both there!
The trip had been expensive by backpacker oriented day-trip standards but if looked at from a purely value oriented perspective, it had been dirt cheap. My only real regret was that there wasn’t more time.
Eager to keep us together and safe, our guides ushered us along as a fairly constant speed. While this allowed us to see more and was good for the non-photographers among the group, it left me as the constant straggler. Pausing here and there for a quick shot, or a bit of video often set to the background of one of the guides impatiently encouraging me to hurry up and stick closer to the group.
Still, it was only a small annoyance and cost to pay for the opportunity to see, experience, and capture the Perito Moreno Glacier in all of its beauty.
Argentina is about much more than just tango and great steak. If you have the opportunity, definitely add Perito Moreno and the Glaciares National Park to your list of must-see destinations.
**This post is Part III in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rewind to: Part I or Part II.
Enjoyed this post? Please leave a comment, share it, and consider following me on Twitter. Thanks for reading!
**This post is Part II in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. View Part I or skip to Part III.
As the ferry blasted across the lake’s smooth surface, deftly dodging floating icebergs with the appearance of giant sized ice cubes floating in an oddly colored martini, I had to chuckle. Our dock, if it can be called that, was little more than a rock outcropping with a series of old tired tires chained along its face. I watched our approach, pondered briefly the probability that I’d end up getting shipwrecked again, then shrugged and went back to staring at the glacier.
Our docking procedure was as flawless as one might expect. Closely watched by our guides we transferred onto dry land, formed up for a brief orientation and then split into smaller groups. We bid goodbye to those going on the minitrekking trip, and our smaller and more dedicated band set off towards the glacier.
The glacier was massive. It is a glacier after all. That said, it wasn’t until we paused and watched small groups of people make their way out onto the ice that it really struck me just how massive and awe inspiring the glacier was. From afar the groups of people looked more like small specks of dirt than people.
Our trail led us down and across the coast towards the glacier. The path wound over rock outcroppings and along stone beaches backed by a few skeletal trees with rich forest and vegetation further inland. In the distance incredible snow capped mountain walls faded away into the clouds.
It’s hard to say why, but the clean white and rich blues of glaciers always surprise me. Given the pollution caked onto and often staining the white marble of major Cathedrals and statuary the fact that the glaciers manage to remain such a pure white excites me.
While not always ideal for photography, I love seeing certain types of locations on misty days. A periodic light rain, and the lack of wind is ideal for wetting down rocks and vegetation while leaving things with a richer look and feel. My voyage along and eventually out onto Perito Moreno was one such occasion, though for obvious reasons the rain didn’t do much to bring out the color once actually ON the glacier!
After reaching the base of the glacier we passed a larger base camp where the minitrekking people were suiting up and preparing to head out onto the ice. We paused briefly, then turned and began up along a small path, just wide enough for one person. It traced its way up along the glacier’s edge and alternated between being sandwiched and carved into the cliff face.
As we wound along the path I was taken off guard by the number of waterfalls which were visible. In retrospect it makes sense, with snow melt up on the mountain’s peaks, the water would have to melt and run down. Still, with snow and ice surrounding us I was taken off guard by the large falls each crowed by lush vegetation and blooming flowers which cut across our path. Though not tramping through snow, I could not help but fancy myself climbing into a dangerous mountain pass as part of an intrepid company of stalwart explorers of Tolkienesque fame.
A mile in our trail climbed up and into the moss covered vegetation, but not before a steep and muddy switchback. At the top we found a small base camp built to survive hearty weather. Our guides quickly explained that we’d be donning our safety harnesses and would be issued our crampons before heading back down and out onto the ice.
What is a Crampon? It’s a re-sizable metal shoe, not unlike strap on roller skates. You sandwich your shoe onto the top of the crampon, then carefully strap and clamp it down. The crampon itself is little more than a flat shoe base with large spikes protruding down and out from it. Made for icy conditions, they allow you to dig into the ice and turn otherwise difficult walking conditions into leisurely strolls.
Crampons attached, we struck out and began our trip across the ice. As we prepared to travel up and out onto the glacier we split into smaller groups of 8-10. Though wearing harnesses we did not need to tie ourselves together or ever really approach anything nearly dangerous enough to feel as though it was necessary.
The path our guide took us down wound up along the edge of the glacier for a while and then down through large fields of dirty ice that looked like massive ant colonies.
Our guides explained that what we were seeing was the stone which had been carved off of the mountainside, then gathered together as the top levels of the glacier melted. As other parts of the glacial ice melted away, the areas underneath the accumulated stones and dirt remained protected and cool creating small rock covered ice hills. All in all a pretty fascinating process which left deep blue, rock hard ice underneath the stones.
After getting accustomed to the ice, our crampons, and the rules of the road we struck out along a smoother area on the glacier. With gentle rolling ice hills it still offered access to a plethora of small crevasses and min ice-falls, but lacked the jagged, shark tooth like feel I had expected after seeing the glacier from afar.
Along the path we wound past, over, and along a series of small surface streams which cut their way from tiny pool to tiny pool before eventually diving into a crack and cutting their way down into the glacier’s inner bowels.
As we neared the halfway mark I paused briefly and turned around. As i did so, I stumbled slightly and let out a sharp intake of breath. The view back the way we had come was incredible. It was one of those moments that feel straight out of the movies. Fairytale crafted into reality so powerful, so magnificent it takes you several moments to accept it as real. Was this middle earth? Perhaps not, but it sure was indistinguishable from it. A long expanse of ice, stretching out before me towards charcoal grey mountains, thousands of feet tall stretching in either direction like a massive wall. A wall cut and carved by giant waterfalls tracing their way down from the snow capped peaks and periodically crowned by small mountainside forests of a rich green so dark that it almost blended with the gray-black of the mountainside. Words fail to describe the majesty of the experience.
The falls, cliffs and general feel of the experience reminded me heavily of the Norwegian Fjords. Though in this rare case the falls were larger and the backdrop more impressive than what I’d enjoyed in Norway. Truly, this was the Andes and southern hemisphere in finest form. The fact that I was at a similar latitude to New Zealand’s south island and exploring a similar backdrop was not lost on me. I will say that for those who have a deep desire to explore New Zealand’s natural beauty, adding Patagonia and southern Chile to your list is an unanticipated must.
The ice itself fascinates me. Clean enough to drink straight off the glacier (and believe me it was delicious), it is crystal clear but with a deep blue tint to it. In some places small pools have formed on the surface creating spaces that give the illusion of walking on water. The trick quickly became judging just how shallow (or deep) that water was and where solid ice began.
I mentioned earlier the role rocks play in protecting certain areas and raising small ice mounds. In other areas the opposite would occur. Note the above photo where a large rock is gradually sinking down into the ice. You can see that the pool forming around it is roughly shaped in the same size as the rock itself.
As we neared the center of the glacier, the ice fields were something to behold. Despite the light rain the reflection off the ice and clouds was extremely bright creating an odd type of light that was half middle of the day and half twilight.
**This post is Part II in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rewind to: Part I or fast forward to Part III.
Enjoyed this post? Please leave a comment, share it, and consider following me on Twitter. Thanks for reading!
**This post is Part I in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Fast forward to: Part II or Part III.
The adventure began sometime between 7AM and 8AM when a small 16 person van pulled up in front of my hostel. I’d been briefed quickly the day before by one of the hostel staff while investigating various ways of exploring the nearby glaciers. They’d shared the three primary options available from El Calafate: A basic bus trip out to the “balconies” AKA a long boardwalk that stretches along the lake shore opposite the face of the glacier. A more advanced middle of the road option called minitrekking which tours the balconies, then ferries across to the glacier for an an hour and a half hike. Lastly there was the third and final option, the “Big Ice” tour.
At over 7 hours long it included the balconies, ferry ride over, and then another 4 hours spent hiking along and out to the middle of the glacier. As I read over the pricing and descriptions I groaned slightly. The minitrekking tour was about $150 USD, the Big Ice tour right at $200. Both of which are expensive for day tours. Still, as I thought about it, the glacier was one of my main reasons for heading south. Then I saw it – the Big Ice tour, in addition to spending 4 hours on the glacier and covering 6km, had a suggested age range of 18-45 vs minitrekking’s 10-65 age range. Game on. An extra 2.5 hours on the ice and a more rigorous adventure for an extra $50? You bet! Was it worth it? Oh, you better believe it!
Unsure just what I was getting myself into I packed warmly with all of my backup layers stashed away in my day pack along with a picnic lunch (despite the price it was BYOL). Our shuttle took us out of town to a large 50 person bus and then sorted us out into different groups. From there it was an 80km drive through the Patagonian country side and along Lago Argentin0 to the Los Glaciares National Park.
A unique glacial blue the lake is truly gorgeous to behold, especially dotted as it is by small icebergs and set against the backdrop of the Andes on one side and sweeping open flat lands on the other. In many ways it looks like a jagged castle forged by the gods for Titans with the mountains serving as the castle wall and the lake a long, serpentine moat.
Once at the park we headed straight away for the boardwalk where we disembarked as a group and set out towards our first glimpse of the glacier. The walk wrapped around the water’s edge and was a stout wood and steel raised walkway. I paused often during the 30-40 minutes the walk took, and snapped photos greedily.
It was my first glacier. At least up close. I had seen them in the past from above and from afar but never from within a stones throw, despite my trips to Norway, Scotland and above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. In researching the Perito Moreno Glacier while stateside, I had only come across info from people who had done the boardwalk which had led me to believe that was as close as I was going to be able to get. The knowledge that the boardwalk was to serve as little more than a table of contents for the day’s adventure left me with a giant foolish grin on my face.
As I walked the giant circuit, I led the way with the guide. Immersed in conversation she shared exciting pieces of information about the glacier, the region and her job. Eventually, however, I slowly drifted towards the back of the pack as I paused to take photos, video, and watch the clouds gently roll over the snow capped peaks surrounding the glacier.
The sky had traded the morning’s cloudless existence for good visibility and medium cloud cover along the mountains. It suggested rain and mist further up the valley, but left us with a great view of the glacier’s jagged face along with a beautiful view back towards the area I assumed we would be hiking.
As we strolled casually along the path and stretched our legs we would pause often. Heads would whip around, ears perk up, eyes frantically searching and photographers drawing cameras to eye at the booming crack of ice giving way as the glacier shed a layer off its forward face. I got lucky with the above shot which features falling ice in front of the small cave.
As we reached the end of the boardwalk and prepared to head back to the bus I paused and took in one final view of the glacier as it stretched away to the right and out into the lake. The scale and size is incredible. The rich blues and majesty captivating. I felt torn, eager to race towards the ice and to scale it, but at the same time caught in the moment and left wistful that I didn’t have longer to relax and watch the lake’s still waters gently tease away pieces of the glacier.
The bus whisked us down and around the point to a small bay on the lake. There we disembarked and boarded a mid-sized ferry with a warm interior and exposed upper deck. Eager for an unobstructed view I headed to the roof with several other group members who I had befriended: An Israeli backpacker my age and an American couple from the east coast. There we watched as the boat wound past small icebergs and cut in front of the far side of the glacier towards an area which had been invisible from the observation platforms.
The view from the water helped drive home the sheer size of the glacier, but it wasn’t until we started to see people hiking up on it, and decorating it like small specs of dirt that the true size and scale struck home.
**This post is Part I in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Fast forward to: Part II or Part III.
The ancient seaside city of Bergen is one of Norway’s best known destinations. Situated in the heart of Norway’s spectacular fjord country the city offers a rich history, pristine location, spectacular seafood, and perfect starting point for those interested in a breathtaking voyage down one of the region’s nearby fjords. The city which dates back to approximately 1050 AD is Norway’s 2nd largest city with about 260,000 citizens and a total regional population of around 380,000. The city is readily reachable by air from most or Northern Europe, train through a rail line that connects it to Oslo, and bus/ferry which connects it to Trondheim in the north and Stavanger in the South.
My experience with the city started as nearly all introductions do. Curiosity, enthusiasm, and a bit of anxiousness over the unknown. As I disembarked from the Tide.no ferry from Stavanger into a gentle mist of light rain I immediately noted a general approximation of my location in the small map in my Lonely Planet guide book before setting off through the city’s densely crowded harbor area.
I’d booked several nights in the Dorm.no hostel after an extensive search for budget accommodation in the area. Unfortunately, despite its popularity as a destination Norway has a fairly poor hostel network which is heavily dominated by Hosteling International (HI) hostels. Regular readers of the site may recall that while I’ve had positive experiences with HI Hostels in the US, I have a very low opinion of them in Europe and tend to view them as out of date, dirty, and poorly serviced. As a result I’d opted for the privately run Dorm.no despite a limited number of reviews on the Hostelworld.com profile and extremely mixed reviews. Luckily, what I found was completely different than what the reviews had portrayed. The hostel was clean, fantastically located, comparatively affordable and modern with ample bathrooms/showers, clean rooms, a kitchen and decent common area. My only real complaint was that they enforced a lockout which is a huge pet peeve.
Relieved that my accommodation not only met but beat my expectations I set out to explore. The city of Bergen is every bit as active as it is picturesque – at least during the summer months. Nestled between two large hills the city has a number of large open squares, a park with a large fountain and statuary and a beautiful old harbor lined by old warehouses and a fish market.
My obsession with the ocean goes back to well before I could walk. A cornerstone of my childhood was the month+ every year my family and I spent on the Sea of Cortez outside of Puerto Penasco in Mexico. As a result I’ve always harbored a love for the ocean and seafood. As one might imagine outdoor fish markets are one of my favorite destinations.
Overflowing with fresh fish, live crabs, lobster and shrimp all accompanied by a wealth of pre-cooked and smoked seafood the Bergen fish market is a mecca for tourists and locals alike. While the prices may be somewhat higher than seafood prices in the super markets, the experience is quite an adventure. The seafood is fresh and a great mixture between northern fish, deep water species like Monkfish and of course all of the usuals from arctic shrimp to dungeness crab.
A lazy stroll through the tightly packed tents is an absolute delight. The area is all open air which cuts down on the smell, and the combination of fresh seafood and ready-to-eat dishes encourages the vendors to maintain clean cooking conditions.
As if the wide assortment of browns, oranges and reds wasn’t sufficient to keep the curious passerby entertained the workers are also eager to put on a bit of a show. While most were not overly dangerous, I stumbled on one individual who had a pension for balancing a razor sharp fillet knife on the bridge of his nose. Not half bad right?
Located a quick hop and a skip from the fish market is the old warehouse row. A must for anyone visiting the region, the old shops have been restored and painted beautiful to create a picturesque waterfront. Add to that, they’re one of Norway’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The buildings which have served a wide variety of uses over the years predominantly date back to the 1700s when most of the water front was re-built after a large portion of the city burned to the ground. Given the close construction, wooden materials, and forms of heating available throughout the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries it’s no surprise that Bergen has a long history of catastrophic fires. In many ways I found it absolutely amazing that the city still exists after reading excerpts from its history.
Though snugly interconnected in front most of the warehouses have small alleyways that cut between them. These alleys are lined by leaning ancient wooden walls that show the cuts, scars, and old nails from hundreds of years of constant use and near constant re-purposing. Many also show the signs of ancient wooden doorways or windows that have since been boarded over. The roof-line is also a cluster of enclosed windows, doorways, and loft entry points which hang over the street and would have helped workers lift large bundles up and into the buildings. Many are also connected by 2nd and 3rd story walkways as well which give the whole thing a disorganized, charming appearance, even if it is slightly claustrophobic.
As I explored the buildings immediately behind the warehouses I paused briefly to snap the above image. It’s hands down one of my favorite shots from the trip. The young lad pictured was exploring the area and decided to march off determinedly, leaving his parents behind as he explored the area. I couldn’t have asked for a better contrast between young and old.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more from my time in Bergen including live music, squares, cathedrals, and even a trip into the bowls of an ancient coastal fortress.
The city of Stavanger is an interesting one. Located at nearly the same latitude as the Orkney Islands in Scotland, it’s situated on the inward side of a large peninsula on the southwestern coast of Norway. The city is the third largest in Norway, though still serves as a home to fewer than 300,000 people and is home to a large portion of the country’s oil fleet.
Most of the city’s old town sits on one of two small hills which partially surround the old harbor – a picturesque area full of small cafes, parked ferry boats, and a few masted sailing vessels. In addition to the cafes the harbor opens up on a large square (which is on a bit of a hill), a small 4 or 5 station fish market, and the entrance to an old shopping mall. From the harbor it’s easy to see the large suspension bridge which connects the city of Stavanger proper with a series of small islands which serve as home to some of the city’s more affluent population. You can see part of the bridge as well as the masts of small sailboats, and the warehouse-turned-residential buildings in the photo above.
To my surprise it turned out that Stavanger was hosting the Conoco Phillips world beach volleyball championships. They’d brought in tons of sand and set up six full-sized beach volleyball courts along one side of the harbor, in addition to constructing a small free standing stadium around a final match beach/field. I’m not much of a beach volleyball fan, but was excited to have stumbled onto the event. In sharing some of the names in attendance with friends who play, it turned out that the event was actually fairly major and had a lot of the most well known women’s international players/teams in attendance. What made the event that much better was the open (free) access which was available to the six practice/elimination courts which almost all had games going constantly throughout the day. The events drew huge crowds which filled the harbor area and added to the level and sense of energy in the air. Not to mention the general appeal of a bunch of attractive international volleyball players wandering around the city.
A brief 5 minute walk from the old harbor, up a small hill, past a squat old cathedral and back down towards sea level takes you to a large pond which rests directly in front of the rail/bus station and is surrounded by a variety of shops, hotels, and other like-kind establishments. The pond is pretty, if not overly beautiful, and serves as a home to ducks, fountains and the occasional swan.
The city’s smaller side streets are typically beautiful cobblestone walkways lined by an odd assortment of heartily built structures. The town’s wet climate is reflected in the green vegetation and moss which can be found everywhere – including growing between the cobblestones. I found myself pleasantly strolling through the city’s quiet side streets surrounded by flowers – some planted, some seemingly wild – which line the city’s streets and decorate the town’s residential buildings.
From the rail/bus station I decided to brave one of the city’s hills. While not a significant climb, I’ll confess to being a bit lazy. The walk left me somewhat winded and my shins burning as I wound up the steep cobblestone streets. Despite a little huffing and puffing the climb was well worth it. When I finally reached the top I quickly found a small hole between two pitched slate rooftops and enjoyed the view: the bridge, bay and one of the nearby islands was about as picturesque as a highly urban landscape can be.
As I meandered through the city streets I found myself continually drawn towards the bridge. After all it was large, no doubt offered a unique view of the city and….well…it was there and let’s face it, that’s often more than enough reason in and of itself. Before long my feet found their way to the ramp leading up to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge. Dodging the occasional bicyclist I walked about 1/2 of the way out onto the bridge then paused and looked back at Stavanger. The view was one of a prominent cathedral, pointy pitched roofs, a few converted warehouses, and brought to mind the mental image of an old city given life in an even older story – a city near slumber, late at night, lit by oil powered lamp light and echoing with the quiet rattle of wagon wheels bouncing across cobblestone streets.
An odd visual to have in the middle of the day on a bright sunny day? Perhaps – but it brought a smile to my face and some how, some way, seemed to fit the city’s skyline.
From the bridge I continued my aimless meandering, wrapping back down towards the harbor, but not before winding my way through the city’s thriving shopping district which is full of middle-upper class shops and ritzy street cafes. As I wound my way up side alleys and down main streets I was constantly entertained by the large number of odd murals that decorate walls and street corners throughout the city – most done in a graffiti style, but showing far more care, time, and artistry than random graffiti scribble. Most were bizarre, but creative and fun in their quirkiness.
Tired, footsore, and feeling more than a little starved I eventually decided it was time to track down a supermarket, pick up some relatively cheap food (though still ridiculously priced) and then head home to the Hospihostelhotel. Watch the clip above for a look at the meal (sorry about the image/color quality, I was having issues with a lens at the time).
Let me just say, that shopping in foreign countries can be difficult. Especially when you’re in a supermarket and the local language is anything but easily recognizable. As I stood in front of the cooler I couldn’t help but shrug, sigh, and scratch my head as I grabbed what looked like pre-cooked and shelled shrimp tails and what I assumed was pre-cooked BBQ chicken. The whole time I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to poison myself by accidentally buying something that wasn’t completely cooked (like the chicken). Luckily, the extent of my surprise came in the form of the “shrimp” I’d bought. It was only after getting the container open, draining off the water and tasting a few that I google translated the words on the lid. Shrimp? Not so fast. Turns out they were crawfish tails. The good news was crawfish was equally acceptable and delicious as shrimp in my book. Still, I couldn’t help but let out a hearty laugh at myself. It’s the little adventures that stick out…and this was no exception.
The final meal consisted of several small pieces of bread, a coke, diced barbecued chicken, arctic fish roe/caviar, and pre-cooked/salted crawfish tails. The end result was an odd, but strangely complimentary assortment of tastes that left me stuffed and content – even though I’d faced more than a few surprises.
With a full belly and tired legs I crawled into bed, checked my e-mail, and watched a bit of Norwegian TV which surprisingly was mostly in English with Norwegian subtitles. The following day promised an adventure – it was time to say goodbye to Stavanger and hello to Bergen.