Winter Views of Bergen, Norway

Bergen overviews-4

After our three day cruise from Tromso to Bergen, we spent three days in Bergen to see the sights. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, and it’s on the western coast set among a variety of fjords. It’s a major port area for cruises, shipping and the like. It’s been around for hundreds of years and has a perfectly charming harbor area (fodder for another blog post).

While the ground view of Bergen’s Old European buildings has its charm, it’s also great to get away and see Bergen from afar and above. Lucky for those of us who love a good viewpoint, there are two different viewpoints to see Bergen within easy access of the city center. Both give similar views, but different enough to make both worth your time.

Bergen overviews-11

The entire time we were in Norway, I watched the weather forecast closely, because the weather could greatly affect our excursions. Bergen in particular had some of the trickiest weather. Sure there was snow in Tromso (and eventually in Oslo), but Bergen was the “warmest” city we visited. And when I saw warm, I am definitely grading on a curve. The temperature never rose above the high 30s, and it was often lower, but it was still warmer than the other places we visited. In fact, there had been days of rain before we showed up, but while we were there, it did snow on occasion.

Bergen overviews-7

Since I am a travel planner, I had to work out our Bergen itinerary in advance, because due to times and weather, I wanted to fit in everything we wanted to see in the time we had to do them. First up on our first full day in Bergen was a visit to Mount Ulriken. This mountain is one of the highest in the area at 642 meters, and you get to the top via cable car. The cable car can be reached by either a 45 minute walk from the city center or about a 15 minute bus ride. If I knew for sure where we were headed, AND if I knew the weather was going to hold out, we might have walked to and from the cable car, because I love to walk on vacation. However, I wasn’t exactly sure the destination, plus the weather forecast only had clear skies for about two hours in late morning, so I felt it was best to take the bus.

Bergen overviews-8

Lucky for us, two of the busses that stopped at the cable car stopped just around the corner from our hostel. Bus 2 or 3 with a stop at Haukeland Hospital N will get you close to the cable car. You cross the street and walk up the hill. The hill is a bit steep and we were feeling the incline, but it only took about 15 minutes to get to the base of the cable car. We were visiting mid morning on a Sunday (chosen because Monday was a maintenance day and Tuesday we had a fjord cruise planned) and there was no line for the cable car. So we hit the mountain top within about 15 minutes of getting to the base.

Bergen overviews-1

The cable car raises you steadily up and as it nears the top, you can see more and more of Bergen city come into view. Ulriken is about 3 kilometers south of the city center, so the city view is a bit askew from the mountain top. Once you’re up on top, there are plenty of hiking trails, some of them easier and some more difficult, which are easier to do when there is no snow on the ground. Even though there was limited snow at the Bergen city streets, since they were at sea level, but just several hundred meters up above the sea and you are in knee deep snow. It made it a bit challenging to walk out to a view point to take some photos, but we got there.

Bergen overviews-2

We were up there enjoying the views for about an hour, but soon after that, the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in, just like the weather forecast predicted. So it was time to take the bus back to the city center, and ensconce ourselves in a variety of art museums to hide out from the falling snow.

The other viewpoint over Bergen, Floibanen, is actually right in the city center, so if you only have time for just one viewpoint, this is the one to do.  It’s closer to Bergen, plus it has more extended hours year round (open until around 2300). We had always planned on going to it, but we had a free afternoon AND the sun was shining high in the sky, so we figured why not go watch the sunset over Bergen?

You reach Floibanen via funicular, which leaves about every 15 minutes from the base. Some of the funiculars make stops on the way up, so you can get a sense of how the streets climb up the hills toward the top of the mountain and there are whole neighborhoods you don’t even realize are there.

Bergen overviews-3

Once we hit the mountain top, the weather was brisk and cold and the sun shining over the city. It was rather beautiful to see the city spread out before us with the sun lighting everything up. I can’t say it is PEACEFUL up there, only because there are so many people. You have the tourists, but you also have schoolchildren and those who come up the mountain after work or school to do some skiing.

We had plenty of time to kill before the sun set, so we decided to walk around and enjoy some of the trails. Like Ulriken, Floibanen is covered in trails (in fact, you can walk between the two mountains, which would take you about five hours) and you can choose your own adventure for walking. If you wanted, you could walk the roads from Floibanen all the way down to the harbor area, but we just wanted to enjoy some of the beautiful nature.

Bergen overviews-9

There was plenty of snow up top, but unlike at Ulriken, the snow was tamped down enough that you could walk on the trails. Walking on the trails was a refreshing, almost magical experience, because it really was like a winter wonderland up there, reminiscent of Tromso, because the snow was pure white and lit up the trees around you.

Bergen overviews-6

We only walked to a nearby lake that was 500 meters away, but it made for a brisk afternoon walk. Once we got to the lake, it brought back memories of when I visited during the summer 10 years ago. The walk around the lake was very nice, because it was covered in snow with some tracks (animal or human we weren’t sure), that gave the impression the lake was thick enough to walk on. However, we weren’t reckless enough to make the attempt, because the last thing either of us needed was to fall in a freezing cold lake and need to be fished out by the authorities.

Bergen overviews-10

By the time we made our way back to the viewpoint, the sun was getting close to setting, so we got some cocoa and settled in to watch. As with every sunset, it is always a crap shoot. Sometimes sunsets can be colorful and awe inspiring, and sometimes they can just be there and the light falls below the horizon. That was the sunset we encountered. Nothing spectacular, but it was still pretty.

Bergen overviews-12

We did other things in Bergen, but the viewpoints over the city are also worth your time.

McDonalds of the World

Shanghai McDonalds traditional looking

I have a “guilty pleasure” while traveling. I say guilty pleasure facetiously, because in reality I don’t feel guilty at all, because it’s just my thing when I travel. Though I have run into fellow travelers who try to make me feel guilty for this particular thing, like I am some sort of ugly American. Ironically enough, one of those same travelers chastising me for this in Egypt was the same one who couldn’t stop moaning for a Starbucks. She completely failed to see the irony in her stance on that one.  That guilty pleasure happens to be eating at a McDonald’s in every country I can. I make it a point to eat at a McDonald’s once during every vacation, even if the only one I can find is at the airport. That means everything from long weekends all the way up to month-long vacations. That adds up to be dozens of McDonald’s in dozens of countries. I certainly haven’t eaten in one for EVERY country I have visited. In those cases,  the countries typically didn’t have a McDonald’s. It may be one of the biggest global brands, but it still hasn’t made inroads into every country as of yet. The biggest global brand I have ever seen is Coca Cola products. I have NEVER been to one country that doesn’t have a plethora of Coca Cola products, but that is probably the penchant for the country to establish local bottling plants to spread the beverages as far as possible. There is only one country that has McDonald’s that I haven’t been able to visit, and that was Iceland. It certainly wasn’t for lack of desire, but this was the one developed country that didn’t have a McDonald’s that was centrally located downtown near the tourist areas. I kept seeing one on the outskirts of Reykjavik  when I was on bus tours [right next to a Taco Bell- which is extremely rare to find outside of the United States], but was never able to find it in my rental car.

Bergen McDonalds

 

What I have found in all these McDonald’s is that there are some interesting similarities and interesting differences. Many of the restaurants were located in actually beautiful and historic places. One in Bergen, Norway was in this beautiful , 19th century clapboard building (see above). I’ve eaten at a McDonald’s next to the Spanish Steps in Rome (though it wasn’t there anymore my last visit), and I’ve eaten in one right across from the Pantheon in Rome. You could eat your American fast food burger and fries outside al fresco and take in the view of the piazza and the ancient building. Talk about a clash of cultures.

Shanghai McDonalds

 

 In all these multitude of McDonald’s the only things standard to all of them are the fries, Big Macs, and some sort of McChicken sandwich. EVERY SINGLE McDONALD’S in every single country has their value meal number one as the Big Mac value meal, just like the United States. After that, it’s all up to regional tastes. I have seen things at McDonald’s you would never find in the States. Stuff like bulgogi burgers in Korea, calamari wraps in Germany (among a multitude of other regional items), and other things. Names might be different for even the same item. For those who have watched the movie “Pulp Fiction” , you are undoubtedly familiar with Quarter Pounders renamed Royales. In most McDonald’s in Europe you can get mayo instead of ketchup, which is a taste I acquired and continue to this day. U.S McDonald’s deliberately fill the cups with ice so you get less soda and they pocket more profit, but you are pretty lucky to find many ice cubes in McDonald’s in other countries (or in other restaurants for that matter, but that’s a post for another time).

My American traveling friends and I sometimes joke that McDonald’s is the “American embassy” just because it is so prevalent in many countries. I can’t really say I eat there because of any great need to maintain some sort of American touchstone. I guess I do it, just to compare the different experiences around the world.