Life | Travel

Natural Wonders & Utterly Chic Cities: Norway Is Europe’s Best Kept Secret

Although Norway isn’t the only place you can find fjords, it has over 1,000 of them along its coastline, making this one of the most unique and arresting places on Earth. Not only that, you get other breathtaking natural wonders: woodlands, meadows, craggy shores, and up in the North, a starkly beautiful Arctic ecosystem. Norway is also one of only five nations in the world where polar bears live–a huge plus for yours truly, a polar-bear enthusiast.

Not only is Norway’s nature unbelievably beautiful, its chic cities have an elegance and style all their own. For those who love the tranquility of the countryside *and* the sophistication of cities, Norway is an incomparable destination.

Day 1

I get the impression that Norwegians are very reserved; when I land, the airport attendant tells me brusquely to go downstairs before I even finish asking my question. After being treated like a queen in Amsterdam (not b/c am special, but b/c Amsterdammers just so darn nice), I feel kinda intimidated. There are about five people at the airport, and I could possibly be the only tourist.

Hotel Christiana Teater

I ride the train to Oslo’s National Theater station and check into Hotel Christiana Teater. This jewel-box of a hotel is ISO 14001 certified (EU environmental management standard) and is in one of the oldest buildings in Oslo, near the National Theater, the Palace (Slottet), and other landmarks in Central Oslo West. The hotel bar is small but utterly chic, and the apple sorbet bellini is incredibly delicious.

Day 2

Breakfast is fresh, warm bread, jams, and fruit, plus tea in the lovely upstairs restaurant. I want one of those mini tea holders! <3Norwegian breakfast

I pick up my pre-paid tickets at Oslo Central Station without a problem. (Note: I purchased a set of bus/train/boat tickets on Norway in a Nutshell.)

On the train ride to Bergen, Norway’s fabled scenery quickly begins to unfold. It starts with regular mountains and valleys that somehow resemble the Columbia River gorge more than nearby Iceland. But pretty soon, my heart leaps at the sight of snow. It feels eerily like going back in time to winter as the train goes up in elevation…until everything is white outside.

Train Ride from Oslo to Bergen

The ribbons of aquamarine rivulets cut through the glaciers.

Train Ride from Oslo to Bergen

The truly surprising thing is that up here when it’s like this in mid-May, there are electric towers and little hamlets of 1-5 houses, surrounded by at least four feet of snow. I try not to worry about how those people go grocery shopping–I’m sure they have a system in place.

The landscape changes again as the train descends the mountains. This time, it’s all roaring emerald rivers from melted glaciers. It’s been said that this is one of the prettiest train rides in all the world, and I think it must be true.

After about six hours, I finally arrive in Bergen, a postcard-ready seaport town with a totally different feel than Oslo. The first word that comes to mind with Bergen is “cozy” (which isn’t Oslo at all). It is situated on rising hills surrounding a sapphire blue harbor; colorful, gabled houses line the wharf (called Brygge) and dot the wooded hills.

Bergen Harbor

I walk up the mountain to see where the funicular is but fail to find it (oops). But I’m less concerned about doing everything correctly and more about enjoying myself.

View from Top of Bergen
Even while making fun of Bergen for being teeny, I fail to find the funicular. Tsk tsk.

After hiking and zig-zagging around Bergen’s numerous pretty squares, I tuck into dinner at Pygmalion. There are no expressly vegan restaurants in Bergen, but Pygmalion satisfies. The vegan burger with sweet chili sauce and potatoes provencal is the heartiest dish I’ve had in Norway so far, and I gobble it up. Vegan burger at Pygmalion in Bergen, Norway

I ask my kindly waiter for pointers on going out in Bergen. (By this point, I’ve decided that Norwegians will open up if I keep being the “friendly American,” and it seems to be working.) He says to avoid bars next to the water (too touristy) and that “old people” go out at 9ish, but “young people” go out at around midnight after pre-gaming hard. “We have a drinking problem,” he adds with a resigned smile, as I’ve noticed Norwegians do when they admit to their drinking problem.

Back in my hotel, I work on PD, shower, and change into a dress. Since starting at midnight is ridiculously late for me, I head out around 10 pm to a super cool cocktail bar called No Stress. Though I don’t make Norwegian friends, I talk the entire night with a couple of man-bunned Stockholmers in town for music business.

By the time I leave at 1 am, the entire area is flooded with the sound of music and people drinking and talking outside. Just like Reyjkavik is a surprisingly hoppin’ city to party in, so is Bergen. Also, the Norwegian joke about how people here are very stiff-lipped until they have two drinks in them appears to be…true.

Day 3

I catch the bus to Norhelmsund, where I transfer to a boat to Eidfjord. For the next several hours, I’m treated to some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet as the boat weaves in and out of fjords, surrounded by majestic snow-covered hills.

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