Goodbye Denmark, Hello Germany

The Old Harbor - Copenhagen, Denmark

My final day in Copenhagen was a brief one.  After a fantastic night spent exploring the city’s nightlife with Kevan and a few girls from the hostel I downed a hearty breakfast, showered, read for a while and then struck out for the train station.  From there it was onto a fast train bound for Hamburg, Germany.  As I boarded my train I couldn’t help but let out a slight sigh.  My stay in Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole had been far too brief.  With a grin, I mumbled under my breath “I’ll see you soon” before boarding.

Every trip has it’s own mini disasters. In truth, that’s part of the joy of travel. As it turned out the Denmark -> Germany leg of my trip would end up being my Scandinavia trip’s mini-nightmare.  Unfortunately, there was a massive heatwave hitting the region.  Not the “oh boy it’s hot” type, but rather a heat wave significant enough that the national media was covering it. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the small fact that the air conditioning on the fast train I was on was out.  That posed a major problem since bullet trains are largely sealed and don’t have windows that open or secondary ventilation.  The solution?  Transfer us to an older train about halfway through which had an odd mixture of windows (lifesavers), strange compartments, a tacky lime green paint job, and rattled along at a grandfatherly pace.  Sadly the train also seemed to pre-date air-conditioning.

Ride of Doom - Denmark/Germany Train

The ride itself was brutal.  Between the delays and slower pace of the older cars the 4 hour trip quickly turned into a 6.5 hour trip.  On the positive side of things, we still got through.  As it turned out the authorities were forced to cancel a large number of trains due to heat stroke concerns.  I’d later learn that some 30+ people feinted from the heat.  For my part, I sat as close to a window as I could manage, tried to read and baked slowly.   I’d guess that the temperature in the cabin was in the neighborhood of 120+ degrees Fahrenheit with a high humidity rate. Even as an Arizonan/Phoenician it was almost too much for me to bear.

Ferry to Germany

After an hour or two on the rails we pulled in to the harbor. There the train was carefully loaded onto a ferry and secured for the 45 minute trip across the bay to Germany.  The ferry was massive (it swallowed a train whole after all) and afforded us all an opportunity to stock up on water, grab some food, dry off, and desperately try and lower our body temperatures. I grabbed two hot dogs, a coke, and a liter and a half of water before heading up to the sun deck. There I was greeted by the smell of fresh sea air, and a view of a haze filled bay, periodically decorated by the hulking forms of large ferries, tankers and transports. With book in hand I settled in and rested for the duration of the maritime segment of the trip.  Then it was back into the train cars.

The rest of the trip was rugged.   I befriended the German woman traveling with her two kids who had the seats across from me.  Before long I an idea struck: to improve ventilation we could tie the doors open, which we did using her son’s shoe laces.  It helped a bit, and made life bearable.  From there we chatted a bit. She would periodically pause, listen to the announcements, and then translate them from German into English for me. Meanwhile apologetic and somewhat concerned crew members would make their way through the car, checking to make sure everyone was ok, responding to questions and suggesting anyone feeling light headed head to the dining car for water. In typical form the Germans all took it stoically.

By the time I decided to seek out something cold I’d already burned through and sweated out most of my liter and a half of water.  The salty hotdogs definitely hadn’t helped.  As you might imagine, the dining car was already sold out of water and most of their sodas.  The only thing they had left?  Juice…but it was luke warm which was good enough for me.

The rest of the trip was dreadfully hot, soaking wet and uneventful.  The good news is, I was definitely grateful when I eventually arrived in Hamburg. In the grand scheme of things, it was also probably fairly healthy.  After all, don’t people pay good money for extended trips to ritzy saunas?  Mine came with one hell of a view of the German countryside!

A Burgeoning Love for Bergen and Norway’s West Coast

Overlooking the City - Bergen, Norway

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.

Summer in Norway - Flowers in Bloom - Bergen, Norway

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.

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

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.

Pink Boat in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

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.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

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.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

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.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

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.

Knife Balancing in the Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

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?

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

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.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

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.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

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.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

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.