Day: July 9, 2013

TSOJ: Bergen, Norway, Always Wash Your Hands Twice Before Going to a Leprosy Museum

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Streets so narrow that the postman gets a workout.

Bergen may be the greatest city in the world for wandering. Many of the streets are so narrow that a baby strollers can’t fit down them (imagine a city built like the aisles at Walmart except there are no people on electric scooters). The lanes twist and turn up and down the hillside in an organic way that only can be explained through an examination of the human condition and history. You will find none of that here. You will find sweeping generalizations about Bergen that have not been researched and are based on two days of visiting.

Twisty, turny, and steep.

Twisty, turny, and steep.

I began my day like I begin all days during The Summer of Jon (TSOJ) eating a free breakfast at my hotel in a way that can only be described as over-indulgent. Today it was one hard-boiled egg, three pieces of thick toast, two of those hard rectangular crackers that are only good on long hikes or slathered in so much jam you can no longer see the cracker, three pieces of ham, three pieces of salami, nine pieces of cheese, three glasses of orange juice, four cups of coffee, and a pile of pickles and cucumbers. I rolled away from the table ready for the day and had a loose plan: see some stuff and don’t spend any money.

I thought getting lost to start the day would be a good way to go. I find getting lost to start off gets the old directional karma going in a super positive way, so I took a step out of the Pension where I am staying and ran into my first problem of the day, it was raining. That’s okay, I live in the mighty PNW and a little rain is not going to melt me. I zipped up my rain jacket, put on a little beanie hat, and noticed the rain was just falling a little, like baby rain, the kind of rain we call spitting. I took a left turn, went into the narrowest alley/road I could find and proceeded to wander for about 30 minutes. When I emerged from the bowels of the twisty little streets I noticed the rain had changed from spitting to what we call raining hard. No problem, I pulled on the hood of my raincoat and tightened the strap around my neck, I was not going to let a little rain spoil my only full day in Bergen. By the time I reached Bryggen (the oldest section of an old city) I had changed my plan from: see some stuff and don’t spend any money, to see some stuff that is inside and therefore have to spend some money.

Buildings older than Burt Reynolds.

Buildings older than Burt Reynolds.

Bryggen's waterfront shops.

Bryggen’s waterfront shops.

Building close together was good for something I suppose.

Building close together was good for something I suppose.

This rock mason really impressed me with HER skill and strength.

This rock mason really impressed me with HER skill and strength.

The courtyard was jam-packed with tourists.

The courtyard was jam-packed with tourists.

I wanted to see Rosekranz Tower anyway, so I meandered through the old city buildings stopping in shops to look like I was going to buy things, but what I was doing was trying to dry off. Bryggen is really cool. It is a World Heritage Site, so it isn’t just some place that I like, other people who really matter like it too. I was tempted to buy a picture of an old oval Norwegian calendar, but I knew I would squish it somewhere between here and Munich so I decided to do what any lazy American would do, look for it later on Amazon.

The last 200 meters between Bryggen and Rosenkranz Tower was unprotected and the rain was coming down in what we in the mighty PNW call “sideways” rain (notice how easily I use the metric system now that I have been in Europe for a week). I made the slog through the waves of rain and eventually figured out how to open the door to the castle. (I have had some challenges with Norwegian doors, but that is for tomorrow’s post.) Inside the tower were two nice ladies dressed in traditional Norwegian outfits who informed me that I could not buy the Bergen Card (a card that allows admission to most of the museums in town for a reduced flat rate) at the tower, but the card is available at the Tourist Information office. The kind lady in the funny dress was about to show me where the office was, but I knew where it was, it was about 10,000 meters away, around the harbor. Now, a walk along the harbor is probably nice 50 days a year in Bergen (rainiest city in Norway) but today was not what most people call a “nice” day. It was a rainy ass day.

Visit #1 to Rosenkranz Tower.

Visit #1 to Rosenkranz Tower

To make a long walk short, I got there, I could feel my socks getting wet and I knew it was time to implement project “keep Jon dry.” This was going to be a challenge since I was now at the other side of the city from the tower. I took out a soggy map, found the first place I could find that looked dry and interesting and headed to Domkirken, a large church that would be great for drying out. Say what you will about churches, but there are not too many places where a guy can go sit by himself and not look like a weirdo. Fortunately, I showed up just as the organist was warming up the big pipe organ. He played a lot of ominous music, it wasn’t like he was playing music to sing to, it was the soundtrack of my day, dark and brooding. I sat there for a good 45 minutes listening to Liberace tinkling the old ivories (the keys could be wooden in this church, but saying Liberace tinkling the old wooden ones sounds a little obscene) before I decided to make a dash for my next location. As soon as I headed toward the door a group of Italian tourists came flooding in to the sanctuary like a slow moving tide of Green Bay Packers running a half-back toss. I maneuvered my way out, practically sprinted away from the church, here is where someone who might have been watching me the whole time I was hanging around the church might draw some interesting conclusions about my internal life, I’m talking to you NSA. Sits for a long time staring into the distance, suddenly gets up, plows through Italian tourists, and dashes into the rain soaked streets of Bergen.

Is it just me, or does that pipe organ look like a cat?

Is it just me, or does that pipe organ look like a cat?

I made my way back through Bryggen, stopping to look in the same stores I had looked in before, and eventually found the Bryggens Museum. This place was great. The heat was turned on, they had a place to hang my jacket, and there was a coffee shop; there was also a museum exhibit about some stuff they dug up. I don’t like these types of historical museums because I am usually not surprised by any information that is presented. Oh, they died early because they lived in filth and had to survive by eating lots of potatoes… I will admit, after I got over the fact that I could get warm and dry, I began enjoying looking at some of the stuff. The boats they built back then were impressive. The early adventurers and sailors had to be brave beyond belief, but I suppose if you lived in a shack the size of a bathroom with 12 other people, and shared a toilet with the whole block, maybe being on the high seas in a boat that could go under at any moment isn’t the worst choice you could make. I also saw some shoes that had little runic symbols carved into them, the craftsmanship and creativity of humans has not changed over time, we have just improved our tools. There was also a letter on a stick of metal. The letter was not translated so I will do the job for you: “Dear Mr. Johnson, Thank you for inquiring about our room to rent. There is space for you, but you must share the room with 11 other Vikings. There are four beds each four feet long. During the winter months you will be expected to provide your own pelts to keep you warm. There is a 10 dried cod damage deposit, and your monthly rent will be 5 dried cod. All electrical, HBO/Showtime, WiFi, and a rock pillow are included in your costs.” I think it said something like that.

Dear Mr. Johnson...

Dear Mr. Johnson…

I dinked around the museum until I felt a nap coming on, so I headed upstairs to the cafe to get a coffee and waffle. The coffee was lovely, dark, and deep, but the waffle was a little thin thing that I smeared with jam and some white stuff. I thought the white stuff was cream, but I wasn’t too sure so I just moved it around until the jam took over and made it into a little sandwich. It was good. I listened in on four old guys talking loudly in Norwegian a table away and wondered what they were talking about. I assume they were talking about the youth of today and politics, at least that is what I expect all old people to talk about. These guys looked old enough to be in WWII so they could be talking about how they resisted the Nazis.

After the coffee and waffle sandwich, I finally made it to the tower. My Bergen Card was already soggy and limp, but the kind lady in the funny dress gave me directions and told me to watch my head because “some” of the doorways were short. I don’t want to quibble with her use of the word “some” because I am the person who can only speak one language, but “some” would mean that there would be a few that would be short and the rest would be easy to pass through, this was not the case.

What's scarier than a basement of an old tower?

What’s scarier than a basement of an old tower?

How about this crevice in the basement?

How about this crevice in the basement?

If you have a friend who is slightly claustrophobic and you would love to play a joke on them, bring them to Rosenkranz Tower. The tour started in the basement. I am not claustrophobic, but once I was in the basement my little heart was doing some pitter pattering. I saw a little room just off the basement and even though my mind was saying, “Don’t go in there” I went in there. It was a little dead-end room about the size of Orson Welles’ colon. It also smelled a little like Orson Welles’ colon. (I don’t really know what Orson Welles’ colon smells like or why his colon came into my mind as a comparison, but I’d bet 10 Icelandic Kroner’s that it smelled like this little room.) This little room was the dungeon. Well, that made perfect sense. I would never, ever, ever want to be stuffed in this room with the gate closed. The best thing about being in this room was that for the rest of the tour no matter how steep, or narrow things got, I could always remember that I survived the dungeon and I would somehow make it through the tower in one piece. To be honest, I had a great time messing around. I was by myself almost the entire time and this allowed me the freedom to act like the immature idiot that I truly am. Eventually I ended up on the rooftop, which in my pictures does not capture the scariness of the place. I may not be claustrophobic, but I do have a fear of falling from high places especially places that are wet, slippery, and in Norway. I made it all the way around the tower and then headed back down. There were a few more rooms, a hidden toilet, and then I was back where I started. I headed back into the summer monsoon and saw a sign that said, “A free cup of coffee or tea with your ticket in the cafe.” Well, free always has a ring to it, so I headed that way.

Nearly trapped in the dungeon.

Nearly trapped in the dungeon.

I don't think this stairway will meet the safety standards of modern society.

I don’t think this stairway will meet the safety standards of modern society.

The rooftop catwalk.

The rooftop catwalk.

The King's gravestone, that's his wife to the right.

The King’s gravestone, that’s his wife to the right.

Check out their eyes, there appears to be some distrust here.

Check out their eyes, there appears to be some distrust here.

Follow the green arrows. The building did not come apart like this map.

Follow the green arrows. The building did not come apart like this map.

On the way to the cafe, I got distracted by a sign that said, “Hakonshallen.” Free coffee is one thing, but Hakonshallen is even more appealing. I followed the sign and soon found myself in a huge hall, it was this dude name Hakon’s hall. This hall was built around 1250 and was the biggest building in Norway. I think there are malls in Norway that are bigger now, but the hall was still amazing. The hall was used for lots of daily King stuff, but eventually (1500) the hall was just used to store stuff. In 1680 somebody restored it and then redecorated in 1910-16. Unfortunately in 1944 a German ammunition ship exploded in the harbor. The hall caught fire (this is the kind of history I like: stuff burning) and was damaged badly. The walls survived because they were about five feet thick, so they rebuilt the wooden part of the hall and now use it for ceremonies again. The white tapestry on the northern wall was a calendar of the important Catholic holidays and events which I liked a lot. I need a calendar that big to keep me on track.

It is the size of the hall that makes all the difference.

It is the size of the hall that makes all the difference.

Calendar: note the kids have a soccer game on the 12th.

Calendar: note the kids have a soccer game on the 12th.

The King's view.

The King’s view.

In Norway they skateboard with their butts not their feet.

In Norway they skateboard with their butts not their feet.

When the street starts to turn into a river it is time to dry off.

When the street starts to turn into a river it is time to dry off.

My time at Hakonshallen was well spent, but it came to an end and it was time to make a decision, project keep Jon dry was not going well and my next stop was the Leprosy Museum which was a good distance away. I decided that since my Pension was about halfway there, I would stop at the Pension and change my socks and pants so I would be dry for the Leprosy Museum, you do not want to be soaked while walking through a Leprosy Museum.

After I got my new dry outfit on, I found the Leprosy Museum. I thought this place would be a hoot, it wasn’t. This church in Bergen became a kind of lepers colony for Norway. Of course they did not know what caused leprosy, they thought it was because farmers were too dirty (really, that is what they thought at first.) For a long time the people with leprosy were just housed in very bad conditions. A report was published about how terrible conditions were and things got cleaned up some, but conditions were never humane. There were some pretty graphic things on display that I don’t need to share, but by the time I was half way through the museum I really wanted to wash my hands. I really, really wanted to wash my hands. I started thinking about the hand sanitizer I left in my room back at the Pension and wished I could just scrub my hands. It is my typical response to anything germ related, but it also says a little about how I was unprepared for what I was going to see. It is one thing to laugh off leprosy as a disease of the past, but it is another thing to see pictures of humans who were suffering and mistreated because they were unfortunate. It is times like this when I realize how lucky I am, and how selfish I am. Whoever put this museum together did it with an emphasis on the human tragedy of the people affected and the attempts to solve the cause.

What a cute waterfall formed from the rain.

What a cute waterfall formed from the rain.

Leprosy Museum entrance.

Leprosy Museum entrance.

Nice blurry picture champ!

Nice blurry picture champ!

Oh, this is a close-up of the names of people who died here. The blurry picture is from a distance.

Oh, this is a close-up of the names of people who died here. The blurry picture is from a distance.

The rooms were not big.

The rooms were not big.

The little sign under the lamp said, "Take off your shoes and watch the movie." No thanks.

The little sign under the lamp said, “Take off your shoes and watch the movie.” No thanks.

Each leprosy patient had their own dishes.

Each leprosy patient had their own dishes.

I left the museum and headed to three art museums bunched together by a park. I have never been a fan of realism when it comes to art, but Norway has some nice stuff to paint so I liked the paintings of the mountains and fjords. The best part of the trio of museums was that there was a Munch wing in one of the museums and I could take pictures so bite that Munch’s 150 Years Special Exhibit in Oslo. By the time I got through all three museums it was getting late, so I walked through the Torgallmenningen street and looked at what I guessed was a fisherman’s memorial. I have a respect for people who make a living as fishermen. It is not an easy job, and it is dangerous. I don’t want to even think about what winters are like on the seas outside of Bergen.

Norwegian folk art of summer bonfires.

Norwegian folk art of summer bonfires.

This one was called barnyard courting. Lots of funny stuff here.

This one was called barnyard courting. Lots of funny stuff here.

This one was called, "Bad News."  Not to be confused by the movie Bad News Bears.

This one was called, “Bad News.” Not to be confused by the movie Bad News Bears.

This one was called We stack our wood up here to make the house burn down quicker. I don't remember the name of this one.

This one was called We stack our wood up here to make the house burn down quicker. I don’t remember the name of this one.

Dire Straits, I wonder if the band named themselves after this painting.

Dire Straits, I wonder if the band named themselves after this painting.

Looks like DuChamp visited this room.

Looks like DuChamp visited this room.

Munch on this Oslo!

Munch on this Oslo!

Separation

Separation

Mini Scream

Mini Scream

Little park

Little park

Hillside of Bergen.

Hillside of Bergen.

Looks like a memorial to me.

Looks like a memorial to me.

My last stop was a quick one, I rode the funicular up to the top of the hill over-looking Bergen. It was rainy, the view was bad, and I was joined by a group of cruise ship tourists. I took some quick pictures and headed back to my room.

Bergen is certainly worth a visit and it has been a good couple of days, but tomorrow it is off to Copenhagen. Weather reports are promising!

Look how happy I am to be riding with this crew.

Look how happy I am to be riding with this crew.

I'll bet this view is something when it isn't raining.

I’ll bet this view is something when it isn’t raining.

A little clearing.

A little clearing.

Funicular signs are fun.

Funicular signs are fun.

TSOJ: Sometimes Stupidity Pays Off–Norway in a Nutshell

The summer my family spent in Hamburg finally put me at ease when traveling by train. German rail is efficient, organized, and wonderfully easy to use once you understand the charts, tracks, cars, and system. Norway seems to have many of the same characteristics, but there is also the “if you have questions, just ask” kind of attitude. Now this works for most travelers, because we do ask questions, but I was not in question asking mode today because I had my little paper that told me where I was going and how I was going to get there. So I journeyed forth fully confident that only a moron could get lost on a trip like this. Let’s meet our moron: He is a tall, 40+ (heavy on the plus) year-old man with travel experience. One would think on a tour built for people who are in their 70s he could manage not to get lost, well you’d be wrong.

Waiting at a railway station, I got a ticket for a destination.

Waiting at a railway station, I got a ticket for a destination.

Let’s start at the beginning. I needed to be at the train tracks by 7:30, breakfast started at 7:00 and it took about 15 minutes to go from the hotel to the train station, so I shoveled a lot of food in my fat pie hole in fifteen minutes, had I known at the time it would be last meal of the day I might have filled my pockets with bread. Anyway, I got to the train station early because I am an experienced traveler who knows what is going on. I took out my ticket, looked for a seat or car number, did not find one and assumed it was open seating. Finding a good seat as a single rider is easy, so I sat back and relaxed. When the train finally arrived, I hopped on, found a great seat and readied myself for the ride from Oslo to Myrdal. The first part of the journey was to take four and a half hours; I had to change my seats three times because I cannot read. #1: Older couple shows me their ticket, I assume they have reserved a seat, so I move. I have reserved seats before, but it usually comes with a surcharge so I assume it is just because they are dumb and paid extra. Pay attention, Dear Reader, and find out who the real idiot is. #2: Train conductor comes to check tickets, I hand mine over like the pro I am. He says I am in the wrong seat. He then shows me the second ticket in my pack of three, it has a car number and seat on it (Vogn: 3, Plass 20). Any person with a working knowledge of Norwegian (that means people other than me) knows that means car 3, seat 20, in my defense the rest of the ticket has the important words translated into English. So I go back to find my seat in car three, I see it, it is a window seat and there is an elderly lady sitting with her stuff on my seat. Her son says she needs her space (he was joking, but I let her have the spot and sat down up front in an empty seat). #3: A family gets on the train and says, “You’re in our seat.” I tell him that I know where I am supposed to be, stand up, tell grandma to move over and sit down. It ended up being a pretty good seat. Claudia, the old lady, was celebrating her 80th birthday by taking her family on this trip. Claudia spoke with a heavy German accent, so when I asked where she was from and she responded, “Auburn, Alabama” I thought I had misheard her, but she repeated it and I finally clued in that she could possibly be from Germany, but now lives in Auburn. I eventually did hear a Southern accent mixed in there with her German twang, but that was after we were BFFs. I ended up sitting next to about half the family as they all moved around. There was Claudia’s daughter, her husband (retired Air Force), their son (attending private school in Montgomery, second largest private school population per capita in America behind only Jackson, Mississippi. When people find out you are a teacher they talk to you differently. Had I been a lawyer I never would have found out about the terrible condition of schools in Alabama.) I also met Mike who lives in Bonn, his girlfriend, and Mike’s daughter. They were very nice people and tolerated me. I had a nice conversation about the Munch exhibit in Oslo, found out Claudia lived in Chicago, and that her first husband was an Engineering professor. Her second husband was a doctor. She outlived both of them, and from the looks of her, she might outlive me.

About a mile high in altitude at this point.

About a mile high in altitude at this point.

As the train climbed into the highest plateau in Europe (according to retired Air Force son-in-law) the views from the train were just what I had expected, spectacular. I also found out no one knew the German word for plateau, darn shame that Germans don’t have a word for that geographical fixture. Had we known this during WWII many lives could have been saved by hiding troops on plateaus. The Germans would order an attack on that flat piece of land way up high and something would definitely be lost in translation. It is these types of observations military historians need to spend a little more time on.

The cute train station and pile of tourists at the far end of the loading area.

The cute train station and pile of tourists at the far end of the loading area.

Eventually we ended up in Myrdal, which is like one of those alpine train stations that are very cute because it is one of those cute alpine train stations. I set up camp immediately right next to the big number 9 painted on ground, because I knew it was open seating this time. (The numbers usually indicate where the train will stop. These are the prime locations for anyone wanting to elbow their way to a good seat.) I talked to a guy from California, who said the left side of the train was best, he was right. This set this guy up in my mind as an expert. The little train ride down to Flam was unbelievable. I do mean outstanding. Just gorgeous. The only difficulty was that the lameos who sat on the wrong side of the train kept trying to take pictures on my side of the train. It did not bother me (this is true) but the young Russian couple sitting next to me was really put off by it. The girl went into what I would describe as a silent tizzy and stopped taking pictures altogether and did a lot of eye rolling and crossing of arms.

Waterfall, a dancing lady appeared to lure us to our death just after I took this picture.

Waterfall, a dancing lady appeared to lure us to our death just after I took this picture.

See, there she is! I want this job, there must be an application on-line.

See, there she is! I want this job, there must be an application on-line.

Did I mention this is the steepest railway line in the world? It also took a 180 degree turn inside a tunnel. It wasn't that impressive since it was very dark inside the tunnel.

Did I mention this is the steepest railway line in the world? It also took a 180 degree turn inside a tunnel. It wasn’t that impressive since it was very dark inside the tunnel.

Looking up the valley. You can also rent a mountain bike at the top of the hill and ride down on a path.

Looking up the valley. You can also rent a mountain bike at the top of the hill and ride down on a path.

Watch out for the second boat! Or, how to turn a three hour boat tour into a full seven hour one.

Watch out for the second boat! Or, how to turn a three hour boat tour into a full seven hour one.

When we got down to the valley floor we had about 45 minutes until our boat boarded, so I sat around doing nothing. The California guy said that boat #2 was ours, so I moved down that way a little bit, I didn’t think there would be too much competition for seats on the outside and I was right. I got in line, handed my ticket to the Captain, he said, “Norway in a Nutshell?” I said, “Yes,” then he waved me on to the boat. I went up to the top of the boat, got a seat and got ready to be dazzled. The fjord tour was great. I took 10,000 pictures, and was having a great time. I didn’t see Claudia’s family anywhere and hoped they got on the right boat (they did, funny enough.) About two hours into my journey the California guy said, “I was just talking to the Captain and he says we are on the wrong boat.” This is information that I did not want to hear. Thought #1: How much is this going to cost me? Thought #2: Now what? Thought #3: I’m an idiot. (This should have been thought #1.) The California guy did have more information, “The Captain said we can just stay on the boat all the way to Bergen.” Now, this seemed a bit odd since the Norway in a Nutshell package is a well planned trip of trains, busses, and boats. If everyone could just stay on the boat, why wouldn’t they? I asked the California dude when we would get in and it turned out that by staying on the wrong boat we would arrive before the group I was supposed to be with. I would also get to cruise through the Norwegian islands at no extra cost. Had I planned this trip it would cost a lot more. Now, here is where I began to love the relax attitude that Norwegians have. If I had made this mistake in Germany or France, they would have let me off at the next stop and I would be on my own. In Norway, “Oh well, you are an idiot. Take a free ride through our beautiful islands.”

Smile dummy, you're on the wrong boat.

Smile dummy, you’re on the wrong boat.

Want Fjords? We got some Fjords for you.

Want Fjords? We got some Fjords for you.

Waterfalls? Check.

Waterfalls? Check.

Norway's islands along the coast.

Norway’s islands along the coast.

This area reminded me of where I live: the mighty PNW.

This area reminded me of where I live: the mighty PNW.

Bergen's waterfront.

Bergen’s waterfront.

Nice manhole cover.

Nice manhole cover.

I ended up in Bergen a half hour ahead of time, and got to my Pension before my tour group arrived in town. Sometimes being an idiot is golden.

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