Sunday, 28 December 2008

Norwegian Wood

Since I didn't bother posting this at the appropriate time, might as well get it out of the way now - Merry Solstice! (Christmas, Jul, Hanukkah, [late] Eid, Saturnalia, Shab-e Yaldaa, Lenaea, Kwanzaaaa, 'Foodmas', 'Great Festival of Washing-Up', etc, etc).

Ok, enough of that. Now for the old and fascinating city of Bergen!

(N.B. This blog was originally supposed to be about 'music', or at least always have a passing, tangential concern with matters in some small way vaguely music-related. I'd just like to reassure anyone who might be becoming concerned that it's turned into a sick parody of an entirely self-absorbed travelogue that music will be rearing its three [non-ugly] heads shortly. But you will have to wade through my solipsistic ramblings about Bergen first. Sorry.)

My pre-christmas present to myself was a far-too-brief trip to a place I've wanted to visit for more than 20 years...there also happened to be the great incentive of an extremely wonderful and lovely woman of my close personal acquaintance living there, so not going would have been utter folly and madness, (although possibly far more financially astute), but anyway...

It's bloody fantastic.

Now to be fair, I'm undoubtedly horribly prejudiced in Bergen's favour, so I've come up with a handy quick questionnaire you can use to assess how much you might like it too...

Q.1: Do you like "old stuff" - castles, churches, museums (possibly with a hint of the 'viking' about them)?

Q.2: Do you like the sea, boats, fjords, that sort of thing, conveniently situated right in the heart of the city?

Q.3: Do you like mountains, forests, hiking about, etc, within extremely short walking distance of the city centre, and easily accessible by convenient funicular railways and cable cars in case you've got small children, have slightly disfunctional joints, or are simply bloody lazy but still want to admire the view?

Q.4: Do you like your holiday destinations to have lots of little coffee shops (many with excellent cakes), modern art galleries, music venues, boutique shops, and a wide variety of restaurants to suit practically any taste?

If you answered "yes" to at least 2 of the above - what are you waiting for? (well, ok, possibly warmer weather, but if it's not raining, then it can be wonderful even in the chilly months - some more of my poor attempts at 'artistic' photography of Bergen here).

Seriously though, Bergen was a revelation, with its higgledy-piggledy, winding, narrow side streets, colourful wooden houses (often with a bizarre - but surely effective? - chimney-cap design consisting of a slab of what looked like slate resting on 4 small pillars of stones rising up from the chimney, with one dirty great stone plonked on top of the whole lot, presumably to stop it all blowing away in one of the region's not-so-infrequent storms), impressive (and again, colourful) C18th stone buildings, and mountain backdrops in just about every direction. Oh, and they're very tourist-friendly - almost everyone speaks far, far better English than my pathetically tiny smattering of Norsk.

Of course, in spite of my glorious 4-and-a-half days of getting in touch with my Northern European cultural heritage (and drinking coffee, eating cakes, playing in the snow up Fløyen, etc), I'll be the first to admit that Bergen has its drawbacks, too. Firstly, there's a definite problem with graffiti - I don't mean the 'artistic', maybe-making-a-political-statement, sometimes almost graphically interesting (I'm such a grumpy old man), type of graffiti. Oh, no.

What you seem to get in Bergen is the moronic (I refer you to the "grumpy old man" statement above) and incessant "tagging" - in other words, hastily, and only semi-legibly, scrawled/sprayed versions of intellectually-unchallenging nicknames - all over the place. Obviously, everywhere is going to have its fair share of bored teenagers, but come on - if you're going to vandalise something, put some bloody effort into it! Make some kind of point, don't just spray a half-cocked version of "Svenno" on an antique street lamp or the side of a 200-year old house! Idle little Scandinavian scrotes that they are...! Catch 'em and whip 'em with birch twigs, it's the only language these hooligans understand! If I had my way...


More seriously, Bergen is expensive. (I was heavily subsidised and spoiled rotten while I was there, you see...I mentioned the cakes already, didn't I? Ohhhh, yesssss...if it had been entirely down to my budget, there definitely wouldn't have been cakes!). Everything (except petrol) is roughly twice "Edinburgh prices" - to use a comparison that'll only make sense if you live in Scotland.

To put it another, more easily quantifiable way, if you wanted to have a (very) comfortable time of it - nice lunch, maybe a trip up the funicular, entry fee for a museum, coffee and cake(s), then a pleasant dinner with a glass of wine (or two), then an individual could easily spend £50 a day - on top of accommodation costs. Mind you, the way the pound is going right now, that could soon be £60 or go now, before our currency collapses entirely under the collective weight of christmas debt!

Still, if you'd like to sample some modern-yet-traditional Norwegian culture before you make up your mind, (finally! the "music" bit!) I can heartily recommend having a listen to the 3 women who make up "Eplemøya Songlag" (translates roughly as "Apple maidens song team"). I heard them perform a brilliant, acapella (and un-amplified) set at the Bergen folk club, which was thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining in spite of the fact that I only understood about 5 words they said during the whole evening. (This was a little awkward when they were introducing the songs, because I felt somewhat exposed as the only person in the audience failing to chuckle copiously at the appropriate moments...any performers reading this will know exactly what I mean - "Hey, have you clocked that miserable beardie guy with the glasses in the 2nd row? The grumpy sod hasn't laughed at a single gag all bloody night...!").

If you feel in need of a twang (pluck, clink, or even 'ka-whump') while you're there, Bergen does have at least three guitar/keyboard/"rock instrument" shops (that I came across on my wanderings, but had insufficient time to investigate), as well as a marching band/orchestral retailer, and at least a couple of (well-hidden, but my 'wonderful and lovely' friend assures me she stumbled across one of them tucked-away in a back street, just the other day) luthiers. So the wandering musician is well catered for.

And remember - in that city, you're never more than 3 minutes walk from something interesting, a nice view, or a good cup of coffee (sometimes all 3 at once). Possibly 5 minutes away from a truly excellent cake, but if you're not outrageously fussy...

All I'll say is I've finally found somewhere that could challenge Edinburgh in my affections as a city...and I accept that I'm biased (for all the right reasons), but I felt a lot more "at home" than I ever expected to. Take a trip, and see how you feel - I think you'll like it.

I absolutely have to go back there - if only I could just win the damn lottery first...


KJB said...

!!!!!!!! It sounds AWESOME.

It actually sounds like somewhere I could drag The Libertarian too as well... He's been to India. I'm not a tropical paradise girl, but nonetheless I had to ask him about his views on holidays.

'I've been abroad. I didn't like it,' he announced, rather grandly. Yes, I thought, but you went to INDIA. Not a real holiday destination for anyone with sense, not in my mind at least!.

D'oh, I miss that rosy-cheeked fool. Were you living with your lady while there? And what's with the sudden and uncontrolled misplaced apostrophe explosion? :-D

I hope you will have a very Happy New Year and that Bergen has not set you back too much!

Andy Gilmour said...

Arrgghh...have had a quick insomniac apostrophe edit...even in my lack-of-sleep befuddled state, I think I've killed the incorrect "it's" in the text. Thanks for that. No idea what came over me while I was typing the piece...

And yes, I was indeed fortunate enough to be living with her. She's lovely - oh, and wonderful. I think I might have mentioned that? :-)

"I've been abroad. I didn't like it", oooh get a load of the "Young Fogey"! :-) And he's a historian, too...of course he'd love it. Just make sure you've got a spare kidney each to cover your costs.



p.s. I'm very much looking forward to the new year, as I'm due a "lovely and wonderful" visitor on the 8th (barring mishaps and flight cancellations!)

Mark Peters said...

Thought you might enjoy this piece on words like higgledy-piggledy:

Andy Gilmour said...


Thanks for that! A bizarre source of wonder and utter fascination...