The journey from Balestrand to Bergen heralded a change in scenery. The boat took a route through the gradually flattening landscape that opened out into the sea with many islets sheltering the Bergen coast. It was amusing to see some brave souls (well, me included) clamber up to the stern of the boat, only to back down in defeat when the wind got too strong and too cold in the upper regions of the Fjord.
The boat terminal slices the Bergen Wharf into half, and for many visitors from other regions of Norway, the first sight they get is not only the hilly regions that the city is built on, but also the famed Hansa site of Bryggen. Bergen, though bounded by hills and greenery, to my dismay, doesn’t seem to live sufficiently up the hype that guidebooks have accorded it. Its medieval quarter is surpassed by many other European towns, though its millennia old Hanseatic quarter Bryggen is quite a sight.
I got into the Bergen YMCA only at 9pm, secretly rejoicing in the fact that it appeared to be an empty dorm, until 2 Frenchmen walked in. My first time in a mixed dorm!
Jans and Olivier – as they call themselves, are engineers working in Munich. In the first hour of the meeting, they have compared themselves to chickens that jump about when it is light and go to bed when it is dark, which meant they went out once more till nearly 2am because of their obsessive summer light worship.
They came in from Stavanger, having explored the Lysefjord region, and I find myself growing jealous when they told me their incredible early-morning, foggy experience on the Lysefjord that is mirrored on their postcards.
As I type, I’m staring at Jans’s laundry that he has hung on a string with supporting pegs that he brought with him.
The bad news is that they snore loudly enough to resurrect the dead.
In that same hour, Jans tried to persuade me to drink some wine/alcohol that he bought from home and stole from the hotel (solidifying my impression that the French are indeed legendary drinkers) while Olivier tried equally hard to dissuade him from drinking too much. I didn’t quite understand the French they were speaking, but just maybe Olivier was berating him for finishing all of it without charitably sharing it with him.
“You must try this,” Jans urged, holding out an ominous looking silver bottle. “Or at least smell it.”
Pungent and heady, just like all the other wine smells. I apologised and told him I neither drank, nor could I tell vinegar apart from wine.
“I can’t drink alcohol,” I told him solemnly.
“Really? What religion are you?” He asked, perking up.
“No no…it makes me want to sleep.”
He seemed rather put out.
“But you are going to bed anyway. Might as well try a bit.”
In that same hour as well, I learnt that Olivier had travelled within South-East Asia many years ago, after his service in public administration. To him, it was mind-boggling that he stood in an airport for transit, at some certain point on the map too far for him to comprehend, and not get out to explore the region.
But tomorrow we both leave, they to the Hardanger region and me to Vienna. Jans has lived in Vienna before, and spent a while instructing me how to go about things in Austria.
“You must take the tram around the city,” Jans instructed. “It will bring you past many different places…and Sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher.” The Sachertorte is a chocolate sponge cake, supposedly calorie laden and sinfully rich – a Viennese delicacy.
He looked me up and down critically. “Um..but they only admit people who dress nicely.” Certainly the fact that I was dressed in my Track pants and T-shirt for sleeping escaped him.
I laughed, with no offense taken. Roughguides says that the Sachertorte is way overrated, and Hotel Sacher’s café is mostly filled with tourists rather than locals now.
Olivier joked that I can plan my entire Viennese itinerary in Bergen with Jans as my guidebook. Jans consoled me that food is thankfully way cheaper there.
Olivier was kind to me – the young but already fatherly demeanour showing through as he told me I could stay with him and his family (his house is large, according to him) if I ever decided to visit Munich again. He painstakingly tried to include me (perhaps out of a sense of misplaced politeness not to exclude me from their activities) in some French-drinking/chatting session which I declined.
But these little acts of kindness are what I will always remember.