Heading North: Herrang and Tallinn, again

After London, it was on to Herrang for my third summer there. This time, I stayed in a cabin that was a 12-minute bike ride from the main campus. I’d never stayed off campus before, and bike rides through the Swedish countryside during the late evening and early morning twilight, weaving through the slugs strewn across the road, were magical. But cold! I found myself biking as fast as I could just to stay warm, and it felt all too familiar from my spring in Scandinavia.

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London

Wow, what a whirlwind six months since last I wrote! For a time there, I’d turned into that unfortunate wretch of “the stressed out grad school student” who, when trying to engage in pleasantries, could somehow only utter sentences about the large amounts of work combined with little amounts of sleep—though sometimes, when I was being truly effervescent, I would be able to monologue about my new and utter obsession with Game of Thrones. Truly, I was a rousing conversationalist! But now it’s mid-summer already and I didn’t write about things like the end of my time in Scandinavia, my trips to Lithuania and Estonia, and how shitty Norwegian springs are (answer: very.) I was in Boston for most of June, sticking around just long enough to do absolutely nothing to celebrate July 4th and then skipping across the Atlantic once again for a few nights in London to kick off European Summer 2017, which brings me here.

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Funny and Charming Things about Norway

After unseasonably mild and snowless weather so far, winter has finally come to Norway. (Side note: I just started watching Game of Thrones (I know, I know) and every time they say the words “winter is coming” I shudder with empathy. In fact, I feel like this should just generally be Norway’s national slogan.)

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Last Stop: Bergen

Why hello there! It’s been a while since I wrote, and I got worried that maybe you all thought I got stuck between Flåm and Bergen. But not to fear, I did eventually make it to Bergen oooooooooooooooooooooh more than two months ago. I’ll excuse my absence on the infamous grad school black hole.

The Train Ride

The second half of the Bergen railway is considered to be the more beautiful section, and it was just lovely. I imagine in the winter it would feel a bit like Snowpiercer, (which I’ve never seen, but isn’t it about a nice cross-country train journey?) But in the fall, it was mostly snow-free.

I had finished my schoolwork and so felt free to listen to music while gazing outside, and sometimes gazing inside, at the adorable blonde children in snowflake sweaters running up and down the aisles like muppets. Consistent with much of my time traveling in Norway, I would find myself muttering “I can’t believe people live here” as we passed remote villages, or perhaps a single cabin in the middle of a plateau.

There were pine forests on the mountainsides, with freckles of deciduous trees, already turned and lit up golden from the sunlight.  At points, the green, glassy river rang alongside the tracks, sometimes joined by a waterfall on the mountainface.  There were forests of tall, spindly pine trees and groves of birches with ocher leaves, and many great, big, fluffy silage marshmallows in fields. There were pastures with red barns nestled between mountains, and at one point, we hurtled by an entire flock of sheep asleep in the downy grass, all askew as if cast under a sudden spell. It was fitting, I thought, as it really did feel magical.

Bergen

I arrived in Bergen and met up with a swing dancing friend for coffee at Kaffemisjonen, one of Bergen’s fantastic coffee shops (of which there are many). Marianne, another swing dancer and my host for the weekend, joined us. That night, Marianne took us to a small social dance after the evening lessons, held in the loft of a super old wooden building, a very cool spot to dance! Bergen in general is full of absolutely charming wooden houses all crammed together nearly on top of each other, leaving just enough room for the old cobbled streets to wend through.

I got in on Thursday, a day before the swing festival started, and Marianne was kind enough to accommodate me for an extra night. This meant I had all day Friday to explore Bergen. I mainly bopped from delicious coffee shop to delicious coffee shop, and then walked it all off with a hike up Mount Fløyen, the mountaintop just next to Bergen that gives a fantastic view of the city. Everyone around me was in hiking gear, even though it wasn’t too rigorous. This made more sense to me after I was told by an Australian I met that “Norwegians have a very low threshold for getting into exercise clothing.

I didn’t take many photos with my nice camera, but I think this website has some nice shots of the city.

Swingin’ in the Rain

One thing to note in the above picture is that it is sunny. Actually, it was beautiful and sunny for the four straight days that I was there, something I was assured had never happened before. See, Bergen is super, super rainy. It’s been called the “City of Rain” or the “Seattle of Europe” and gets an average of 88” of rainfall a year spread out over 250 days. A joke I heard is that a tourist asked a local boy if it ever stops raining, and he answers “I don’t know, I’m only twelve.” The swing event I was there for was called “Swingin’ in the Rain” and I maintain that it was false advertising.

The swing event was really lovely, in a beautiful old dance hall that felt a bit like stepping back in time. There were multi-colored triangle flags crisscrossing the ceiling for decoration, and a table resplendent in many different kinds of cakes that people had brought to share. Even though the music was swinging, the first thing everyone did was sit down and eat some cake together, which I found just achingly adorable. I’ve talked about this before, but Norwegians are totally wild about cake and, as a cake enthusiast myself, it’s one of the things about the culture that most resonates with me.

The Train Strike

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend, and I was once again blown away by the kindness and generosity of everybody I met. On Sunday, I was sad to pack up my bags and head to the train station to catch my train home.

Except, when I arrived, I saw that my train home had been cancelled, because of the train strike that was going on at the time. I asked a laconic worker for the train company what I could do.

- But I need to get back to Oslo!

- There’s a train tomorrow but it’s sold out.

- ….

- You could take an overnight bus.

- …

- You could fly.

- Got it, is there wifi in this train station?

After some frantic interneting, it became clear that my best option was to fly home the next day. I sheepishly messaged Marianne if I could stay an extra night (mind you I had already arrived a day early) and she said of course, of course. When I got back, she and her boyfriend fed me a delicious meal of roast vegetables and organic pork chop. Such kind souls!

I hope to get back to Bergen in the spring. Being on the west coast, it is closer to the more fantastic fjord-scenery that I haven’t yet explored.