Norway and Finland have been on our travel bucket list for a long time. We had originally booked the trip two years ago but as with many things, it got postponed so we finally went in April 2022. In this post, I’m writing about Norway and I’ll cover our Finland trip next time.
After spending the night at the not-bad-for-the-price-and-very-convenient Holiday Inn Express near Malaga Airport, we got a very early flight to Bergen to begin our nearly two-week adventure. This was the first time in a few years that we had been on a holiday outside of Spain for more than three or four days, so we were very excited!
Before our trip, my only knowledge of Bergen consisted of knowing a few bands who had been part of an indie music scene there in the late 90s and early 2000s (Kings Of Convenience, Poor Rich Ones and Ephemera for the music geeks), that it is Norway’s second largest city after Oslo and that it looked quite charming. I looked forward to finding out more.
In the Arrivals area in Bergen, we sat down to have a coffee at the what was to be ubiquitous Espresso House and get our bearings. The coffee is really good, even at the airport, and I also had my first kanelabolle (cinnamon bun). We also collected our pre-paid Bergen Cards from the Deli DeLuca shop which were excellent value for money for our three days in the city.
From the City Light Rail train to the city centre, the weather was fantastic. Blue skies and sunshine would, fortunately, stay with us for the entire duration of our time in Norway, something which we were told was really unusual for the time of year. One of my favourite things about travelling, especially in a country where I don’t speak the language, is listening to such exotic and seemingly eternal sounding names of the stops en route.
Our hotel was the lovely Zander which was recommended by a friend, is very central and fortunately just around the corner from the train station too.
Once we’d freshened up, we headed out and within a few minutes’ walk, we were at the Bryggen district, essentially the tourist centre of the city, but as with many touristy places, it’s popular for a reason. As part of the Hanseatic League, the Bryggen district has a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and you can see why as as walking through is impressive and like wandering back through time.
It’s a beautiful area full of really pretty, brightly coloured and seemingly rickety old wooden buildings which have burned down at least five or six times over the centuries – but are perfectly safe now, I hasten to add. Walking through the back streets is reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, but with arts & craft shops and bakeries. And there are lots of bakeries in Bergen. Lots. Another reason to like this city.
We wanted to stop for a bite of lunch and ended up at a deli-type place called Kvamme sharing a fantastic beef sandwich (smorgasbord – these kinds of open sandwiches are one of the most popular dishes in Norway and across Scandinavia and these were so good). A bit of local culinary culture already!
We then got our tourist shoes on and got the funicular cable car up to the top of the hill for a magnificent view of the city and a few mountain goats too. Maybe they have a season pass on the cable car! From such a height, we realised how much bigger Bergen was than we had expected. I wasn’t expecting a fishing village exactly, but other than the Bryggen district, I didn’t know much about it.
One of the things I love about visiting new cities and countries is that you notice things that work differently in your own country. For example, we noticed how the hotel room door opens outwards when you’re inside the room, as opposed to inwards which wasn’t something I’d ever even considered before.
Another difference was that Norwegians have a very different eating pattern compared to Spain or England. For example, we saw people having lunch at 11.30am and some restaurants closed at 10pm if not earlier.
For our first evening meal, we wanted to have something different and so we went to Mandalay where we had a magnificent Burmese curry masala and a sushi lady roll accompanied by a glass of lime juice with a dash of salt. I‘d never had Burmese (Myanmarian?) food before and it really was gorgeous. I never thought that I would have one of the best curries in my life in Norway.
I’m an early riser so at around 7.30am when we are travelling, I love walking around seeing the city wake up and even more so in a place I’ve never visited before. Fortunately for me, one of my favourite bands Spiritualized had released a new album (the gorgeous ‘Everything was Beautiful’) this particular day, so I had that as the perfect soundtrack to ambling around Bergen on a beautiful sunny morning. I eventually ended up at Blom, a lovely coffee shop with local university students sunning themselves on the steps outside.
Design was one of the reasons that we were visiting Norway, and later Finland and Denmark (I’ll be publishing those blogposts soon), so while I was wandering around, Mrs Departures could be found popping into the multitude of design shops.
We had dinner at 5 (not unusual in Bergen – we even booked) at Pingvinen, a well-known restaurant with a Norwegian menu and shared a starter of rustic stew with sautéed lamb and a main course of deer in beer with potatoes and vegetables. It was nice to have something local and traditional, but I’ll admit that it didn’t really set my culinary heart alight.
After another wander, we found ourselves in a cocktail bar called Last Monkey where we got talking to barmen from Huddersfield and Paris and after six really good but expensive cocktails later including a highly recommended Bloody Monquei and DLB, it was time to have a slightly tipsy stroll around the area and then make our way back to the hotel which fortunately wasn’t too far away.
Breakfast today was at the wonderful Fjåk coffee and chocolate shop. It’s such a perfect example of the Norwegian or maybe even Scandinavian knack for design, beauty and something highly necessary (yes, I said necessary) like coffee or chocolate and putting it all together with such practicality, simplicity and elegance.
As with everything in Bergen, nothing is too far away, so we thought we’d go to have a look at the 750-year old former royal residence King Håkon’s Hall but it was closed for a private function which included women in traditional costume. You could still see the exterior of the building which like much of this area of Bergen is centuries old and quite impressive.
And then after this, with just 7 minutes before our Bergen cards were due to expire, we came across the wonderful Bryggens Museum. Even though it’s a rather dull, austere and modern building on the outside, it’s definitely worth going in as it gave us a fascinating insight into the history of the area over the centuries. A pleasant surprise. And then it was coffee time of course.
As you may have gathered if you have read any of my previous posts, Mrs Departures and I like our holidays to be about interesting food and drink, culture and lots of wandering about, so after a busy cultural morning, it was definitely getting on to be time for lunch.
We headed for the fish market restaurant but it was clearly getting late locally (1.30pm), so we ended up over the road at the wonderful Kvamme again where we had two more open sandwiches – trout and beef this time.
After lunch we had a lovely walk up the headland passing through the Nordnes district which felt like a des-res area full of bistro-type places. There were lots of very pale-looking people with their tops off immersing themselves in the not too frequent April sunshine and like in most countries when there’s a bit of sunshine, there’s that familiar smell of charcoal barbecues, although pleasingly here there was no rubbish around at all. Another thing I was starting to notice about Bergen, or maybe even Norway, was that everyone is just so considerate.
Another really cute example of this consideration for others was a bottle of suncream left on a table outside a bar for generally pale-skinned Norwegians to help themselves and protect themselves from the unusually hot weather for this time of year.
And then it was time to walk back to the hotel for an early night. I love the fact that Bergen is so walkable that nowhere is that far.
It was an early start in the morning to get the train to Oslo.
Getting the train from Bergen to Oslo is one of those train journeys that was highly recommended when we did our research for this trip and it was impressive – especially the first couple of hours – even though at seven hours, it was a little long! We passed through incredible sights of Nordic forests, sunshine, remote houses, rivers, a frozen lake and lots of snow.
We got to Oslo in the afternoon and as it was lunchtime, we went wandering off to find a bite to eat at Matthallen (food hall) where we had some tacos and then popped into Oslo Street Food where we had more tacos El Pastor and gyros. There was a bit of a faff ordering food as it seemed that initially we needed a Norwegian phone number to do so, but we eventually found a solution.
In fact, we liked the quality and variety of international food so much that we went back to Oslo Street Food for dinner where we had more tacos, Greek, Vietnamese and a limoncello spritz for the first time. On the way back to the hotel, we bought tickets to the Edvard Munch museum for the next day.
Early morning I found the lovely bakery Stockfleths on Prinsens Gate round the corner from the Citybox hotel where we were staying. As had been the case throughout our stay in Norway so far, it was another gorgeous day and I found myself listening to two of my favourite bands while walking around – the Aluminum Group and the Apartments – and they seemed to fit the ambience as I walked around the city centre.
On reflection you soon saw that Oslo was a city, whereas Bergen was lovely but definitely a tourist and weekend place, and more like a town than a city. As always it was good to see people going about their day in the city.. The centre was busy with trams and people walking and cycling which reminded me a lot of Amsterdam.
As with everything in Norway so far, things were high quality but expensive. As a reader of this blog, you may have realised that I’m a big fan of coffee and baked goods and couldn’t resist a lovely coffee shop for an espresso and a very nice scone. Total 89K = approx €8. The prices were crazy, especially when compared to Spain where we often have coffee and a croissant or a tostada for €2.
We also found the quirky Spor cafe round the corner from our hotel which was full of 19th-century French furniture and also had a lovely florist inside.
Next stop, Munch. The building in which the Munch Museum is located in a stunning piece of architecture by Estudio Herreros (Juan Herreros and Jens Richter) and opened in October 2021. It’s a tower-shaped ‘vertical’ museum and is a must-see when you’re in Oslo. The views of the city from inside and on top of the museum (where you can also walk on the roof) are wonderful. And then, you have the equally impressive Munch exhibitions too.
After a morning of culture, we fancied a walk and thought we’d make our way to the Vigeland Sculpture Park which we’d heard a lot about. It was quite a way from the centre, but the weather was glorious, so off we went.
We walked past lots of embassies, the Royal Palace, through a few parks and also stopped off at Happy Foods cafe which had a very Primrose Hil/North London feel to it. It may have taken us a while to get to Vigeland Sculpture Park but it was so worth it. With over 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and cast iron by Gustav Vigeland, the park is understandably one of Norway’s top attractions, is free to enter and is open 24 hours a day all year.
We walked back to the hotel for a little siesta as were knackered with the heat and all the walking. We fancied some noodles in the evening and found Koie Ramen round the corner from us and the Munch Museum. My incessant urge for ramen had once again been sated by a really good place.
After dinner we went for a stroll and ended up at Pier 42 for cocktails. This is a very old-school hotel bar at the Amerikalinjen Hotel in the city centre and looked promising as a cultural experience. However, although the drinks were good, the service was a bit OTT and insincere with overly long and ever so pretentious explanations of the drink ingredients. After a drink there, we went back to the hotel as we needed to get some sleep before an early flight to Helsinki the following day.
This was our first trip outside Spain since Covid had started, so we felt oddly nervous travelling. We had done our research and by this time (April 2022), restrictions had eased in Norway. But it did feel so good travelling again. A new country and new cities where we didn’t speak the language. Note that pretty much everyone we encountered luckily spoke exceptionally good English.
On reflection, of the two cities, we preferred Bergen overall as we felt that we had connected with it a bit more, though really liked Norway as a whole.
We were now looking forward to the next part of our trip to Finland. As with Norway, I had never been before, so I was very excited…
Feature image by Visit Bergen