Fine, I hesitate to call this a ‘road trip,’ as Kennet and I were barely on the road long enough to experience Tool’s album ‘Lateralus’ in its entirety. I’m a sucker for the new electronic stuff myself, but when road tripping in Norway, heavy metal is required. I hadn’t listened to this album in years and was in a state of bliss, being serenaded by unnecessarily odd time signatures while gazing at the passing fjords outside my window.
Myself & Kennet – designated driver and road trip compadre
The drive from Karmøy to Kennet’s college in Stord took less than an hour and a half, but we were graced with sun and rain alike – August’s as tempermental a month as any here on the West Coast. The college in Stord is a ten minute drive from the centre of a town called Leirvik. A small place with strong rural tendencies, yet it’s positioning between Stavanger, Bergen and the inland areas makes it a busy point of reference and network for the public transportation services. It’s also a classic reminder of how well Norway does certain things, even on their relatively microscopic scale.
I’ve grown accustomed to my grand scale of things at the University of Leeds; passing through the halls and campus of a college smaller than my individual school felt a bit odd. However I quickly realised that the whole institution was beautifully run: all the necessary bits were scaled to a level of easy management and effective service. Most importantly, they seemed to use their size (or lack of) as an advantage at every opportunity. A startlingly diverse and efficient education institution; I was curious to find out more in the few hours I had, before catching an evening bus up to Bergen.
I went for a stroll with Kennet around the local area; located literally a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, we passed through some lush woods and eventually stumbled upon the school’s original establishment. The college is primarily a teacher’s school, and the school in Stord was originally established in 1839 – it’s been producing educators ever since.
Principle Deinboll must have left quite an impression during his half-century reign; the engraving tells us that the statue was raised by students. There’s also a kindergarten nearby – I found this particularly heart-warming; the kindergarten’s proximity to natural surroundings and evidence of many hours spent in the great outdoors, making the best of imagination and Mother Nature, one generation of learners parallel to another… Oh, listen to me – now I’m getting all soppy. Better move on to a healthy dose of cynicism and coffee.
This was my plan, at least, until, while waiting at the most isolated bus stop I’ve encountered, studying the faded timetable and scratching my head as to why the bus might be late, said bus blew right past me. Kennet and I were left in awe and laughter at the sheer stupidity and cliché manifestation in the circumstances – I caught another bus a few hours later, arriving in Bergen well after dark, but not without a ride with the ferry just as the sun was setting. The coastal ship service I usually use when visiting Bergen had unfortunately been shut down this year, due to cost inefficiency. I was horrified, as half the delight of visiting Bergen is for me that very boat. Instead I was limited to buses, but 20 minutes of gliding between fjords on the odd ferry connections made up for it.
Too awe-struck to care precisely where, Norway
After some frantic text-messaging I found a friend willing to keep me company until this visit’s couch-provider got off work and could take me home. I somehow ended up at a bar where I felt very out of place, yet I’d been promised a fine selection of brews. The bar was called Henrik’s, although I was too tired to endeavour finding out who Henrik was and whatever it was he’d done for this spot.
Henrik’s, Bergen – Norway
It was a pleasant enough establishment; I treated myself to the cheapest of national brews: a pale ale from Lervig (not to be confused with the previously mentioned Leirvik) called Lucky Jack. It was… I’m not going to start bluffing beer-tasting skills; it was light and pleasant – time passed quickly in good company, and soon enough I was guided to my place of rest by friends I hadn’t seen in years. All in all a good start to Bergen.
Torgallmenningen, Bergen – Norway
I woke up the next day, not too bright and early: it was Wednesday and I had plenty of cafés to review. I’d compiled a fair list before hitting the road, and every local friend I bumped into had at least one recommendation they insisted that I follow up.
Unsurprisingly: Bergen’s an old city, first established as an important trade point during the 11th century. It’s uniquely positioned in the bowl of seven surrounding mountain peaks, referred to as the Seven Sisters. It’s position for trading, combined with a strong fishing industry secured its financial and political status. Bergen also has a strong cultural legacy; artists, authors and the like have taken up residency in this wistfully tragic/romantic cityscape for centuries, and in 2000 Bergen was the European Capital of Culture. The cultural vitality is kept alive in large part by a substantial student demographic. The University of Bergen was established as late as 1946, but academic activities have been present since 1825, and there are currently nearly fifteen thousand students enrolled at the university – a fairly substantial number, by Norwegian standards.
I relish every trip to Bergen as I love the city itself almost as much as the people there. For now, while my friends were at work and in class, I settled into business-mode: there was coffee to be had and I was going to have it. It was time to hit the streets.