My wife, Debi, had an opportunity to contribute to a workshop run by a professor at the University of Bergen. Her involvement helped pay for her travel and lodging for a week, so we decided to make a trip to Norway our family vacation for the year. We booked a week in Bergen and a week near Stranda, giving us just over two weeks to explore a small part of Norway.
Having tried a variety of trip formats (e.g. a camper, driving to a new place every night, cruises, etc.), we liked the idea of renting a car and setting up hubs. This way, we could stay in the same place for about a week but go explore the surrounding area. That was our plan for this trip.
We left Florida on Friday morning (May 27th), flying to JFK. Our next flight took us to Reykjavik (via Iceland Air of course). From Reykjavik we flew to Bergen, landing on Saturday afternoon. I knew that Norwegians take Sundays seriously and most everything is closed, so I was hoping we could get food and cell phones working Saturday afternoon before everything shut down for the weekend. We drove into Bergen from the airport, struggled a bit getting into the parking garage (we had to park in a parking garage as our AirBnB in Bergen didn’t have parking) but finally got situated, then tried to get our cell phones new SIM cards. By this time, it was about 5:00 pm and things were not looking promising for the cell phones. Luckily, we had downloaded offline maps on our phones so we could get where we needed to go. While we waited for the cell phone situation to resolve, we tried to get some food at a nearby Burger King (which took over 45 minutes and was a bit of a disaster). After that, we headed to our AirBnB, which was pretty amazing, then headed to a nearby grocery store to pick up food for the next few days. Once we had done that, we headed back to the car and got our bags, then took those to the AirBnB. We finished all of that around 8:00 pm and could finally relax a little bit.
We had a number of complications with the cell phones, as detailed here. Also, if you are traveling to Norway, do note that most stores are closed on Sundays and holidays, so plan around that. Finally, the wifi in our AirBnB was screwed up (probably a DHCP server address reservation misconfiguration), which meant only one of our devices could get on the wifi at a time and it would periodically get kicked off, so we only had unreliable internet for the first couple of days (our host got this fixed Monday).
When we woke up, it was raining. We didn’t have major plans other than to get situated and explore Bergen a bit. I made some breakfast then we went for a brief walk around downtown Bergen, stopping at the Festplassen and Lille Lungegårdsvannet (the lake near downtown) for some photos. The rain wasn’t that bad, but it didn’t stop, so we headed back to the apartment after about 45 minutes. We relaxed a bit, made lunch, and played some games.
When the rain stopped that afternoon, we went out exploring again. We walked to where Debi’s workshop was going to be (about 5 minutes away) and headed to Bryggen, the UNESCO world heritage site. We walked past St. Mary’s Church, a medieval church that was just letting out. There were about 15 to 20 people in attendance is all. We later found out from a local tour guide that just one of the major churches in Bergen holds services every Sunday so there will be people in attendance. We continued wandering and ended up finding the Bergen fortress, the grounds of which were open. We didn’t go to any of the museums but were able to read a little bit about the fortress as we wandered around. There was a carnival in town right by Bryggen that we walked past as well. We slowly worked our way back to our apartment, enjoying exploring a new city. When we got back, we made dinner and then decided that we would watch all of the Star Trek movies while we were in Norway as our evening entertainment.
With the wifi issues in the apartment, I rigged our FireTV stick to use my wifi hotspot on my phone that was connected to the wifi in our apartment, and, amazingly, it worked for us to watch the first Star Trek movie. I also ran into my first credit card issue, which I detail in this post.
NOTE: There was very little darkness during our trip. We would typically go to bed around 10:00 or 11:00 and it was still light out. When I would wake up, typically around 6:00 am, it was light out. I did wake up a couple of times around 4:00 and it was still light out. My son said he woke up briefly one night at 1:00 am and it was dark. So, unless you are a night owl, don’t expect much darkness in Norway in summers.
Monday was the first day of Debi’s workshop. She headed out to her workshop and Toren and I decided we’d do our first hike. As we were still without phone service and consistent wifi, we opted for something close, Fløyen. I looked up directions and, conveniently, the hike started about 10 minutes from our apartment. Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains. There is a hike that goes to the top of all of them in one continuous trek, but we wanted to start out small. Fløyen is probably the most well-known of these local hikes because of the funicular that goes to the top (a train) and the beautiful lookout at the top that provides excellent views of Bergen. Toren and I geared up and headed out.
Calling Fløyen a hike might be a little misleading. If you don’t do much hiking, it probably is. But the path is clear and not at all rugged. It is uphill, but it’s not a challenging hike unless you’re really out of shape. Here’s our route:
I was following AllTrails for this hike and realized that AllTrails, while pretty good for hikes in the US, isn’t great in Norway. (More on this later.) Even so, AllTrails sent us off the main path at the top of the hike and we ended up finding a really cool playground and ropes course for kids, which Toren enjoyed.
We then wandered over to the top of the funicular and took in the great views of Bergen. Below is my first photosphere of our trip from that lookout.
During the hike, I started to get text messages from MyCall in Norwegian letting me know that my SIM had been activated. I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it until we got back, though. We explored another playground at the top of Fløyen for a bit and a troll garden with a bunch of troll statues before heading down.
When we got back, I got my phone working (see here) and then worked on resolving a complex credit card issue (see here). It took a few hours, but I finally got things resolved. Also, while I headed out to get some more supplies, our AirBnB host sent someone to fix the wifi, which resolved our issue so all of our devices could get on the internet. Toren and I then spent the rest of the day playing Magic. We also ended up joining Debi’s workshop participants for dinner at the hotel where the workshop was located.
Tuesday dawned with more good weather. As I soon found out, weather forecasts in Bergen more than a few days out were not always that reliable. We were only supposed to have a few good days of weather with no rain, but we ended up having quite a few days of good weather during our trip.
Debi went to her workshop again and Toren and I hiked another of the seven mountains, Løvstakken. With the credit card issues resolved, I felt more comfortable taking our car out of the parking garage (since I got the app set up to manage that) and we drove to the trailhead. I was, again, trying to follow AllTrails for the hike and probably should not have. But, in this case, it ended up sending us on an obscure trail that no one else was taking (and that was not well-marked and required a bunch of route-finding). Here’s a cute stream we encountered on the hike:
We actually enjoyed that better than taking the main trail as we were more isolated. It was a good hike up and we made the summit relatively quickly.
Just as I was finishing my photosphere of the summit, up came three hikers – two female Mormon missionaries and a friend of theirs (you can see them in the photosphere above). The two missionaries were from the US (one from Salt Lake and the other from California). I started up a conversation with them. With all I knew about Mormonism, they must have thought I was Mormon. They were super nice and we had a good chat about Bergen, Norway, the weather, and lots of other stuff. We then headed off down a different route, trying to follow the AllTrails app. We ended up getting off that route, but that was a lucky bonus as we ended up climbing a different summit that was super cool as well. We then dropped into some really steep, rugged terrain towards the bottom. It made for a good but rather challenging hike at the end. Toren ended up saying it was his favorite hike of the entire trip.
Toren and I like seafood, but Debi doesn’t. Since Debi was at her workshop, after our hike we found a nice restaurant in Bergen with good reviews and headed there to get fish soup. We ended up getting reindeer as well. Both were good (not amazing, but quite good). We then spent the rest of the day again playing Magic and relaxing.
Initially, the forecast for Wednesday wasn’t good, but when the sun came up, there were just scattered clouds, so we decided to do another hike: Ulriken. This is the tallest of the seven mountains surrounding Bergen. It also has a series of “sherpa stairs” that take you all the way up to the top as well as a mountain lift you can take. We opted for the stairs on the way up. When we got to the top, there were quite a few people there. We saw that just behind the top of the lift there were some additional trails, including one that takes you to the actual summit of Ulriken, so we headed over there, which was much quieter. We had some snacks but didn’t have the best views as we were above the clouds.
As we headed back down from the actual summit, we decided to take a different route down instead of the stairs. As we were trying to figure out where it started, a woman stopped and asked if I had a question. I told her that I had seen that there was a different trail but I wasn’t sure where it started. She pointed it out to me and was super nice. We headed down that trail, which was a bit rugged but not crazy. There is one spot on it that involves rock climbing and a fall there would be pretty bad (about a 15-foot fall into trees, brush, and a steep slope). We made our way carefully through that area and were almost to the bottom when the same woman and her husband met us headed back up the mountain. I laughed and said that she must have really been moving fast to beat us down. She smiled and said that she and her husband climbed Ulriken twice a day for exercise but took the lift down to minimize the impact on their knees. They were super nice.
When we got back to the apartment, we cooked up some veggie burgers and fries and had a nice little lunch on our balcony overlooking Bergen.
One of the other workshop contributors is someone Debi has worked with a fair amount. His wife and their two sons were also in Bergen and they had arranged a walking tour of Bergen that afternoon. They invited us to join them. Toren and I did and we spent the afternoon walking around downtown Bergen and Bryggen with the guide, peppering her with questions and learning a fair amount about Norway. She also mentioned a nice hot dog fast food place along the way, which Toren persuaded me would be where we got dinner. We stopped by after the tour. Toren got a reindeer hot dog and I got a regular hot dog wrapped in bacon (this is pretty common here). They were good, but Toren didn’t absolutely love his. He thought it was just okay.
Debi’s workshop had planned to take the participants up to Fløyen that evening and we were invited to join them. Toren wanted to go back up to play on the ropes course, but they left before our tour ended, so we ended up heading back to the apartment and waiting for Debi there.
The forecast for Thursday was accurate and the day dawned gloomy and rainy. We had some things we wanted to do that didn’t require that we be outside, so we opted to do those this day. First up was Edvard Grieg’s house and museum, Troldhaugen. It was a short drive from Bergen to his house and well worth the trip. We bought our tickets and were given audio guides in English. The little devices let us scan the various points of interest and then would describe them. At the end of the descriptions, we had the option to listen to up to three pieces of Grieg’s music. It was really well done and substantially enhanced our visit as we walked his property listening to his music. It’s a very nice museum with his house, his writing cottage right on the water, a visitor’s center, a concert hall, his garden, and his tomb (the best part, but no one went to visit it). Here’s a photosphere of his writing cabin:
And another of his and his wife’s tomb, which I thought was beautiful:
And a short video showing the trail down to the tomb:
We spent a couple of hours at Troldhaugen, thoroughly enjoying the location and tour. After that, we headed to the Fantoft Stave Church which was on our way back to Bergen. It’s a rebuilt church (the original was moved and then burned by an arsonist), but it’s still pretty cool.
While we didn’t really need to charge the car as we hadn’t driven very far, I wanted to use some of our free time this day to figure out how to charge the car, as it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it might be. It’s a good thing we took the time to figure this out as we had all sorts of issues that first time, including figuring out how to open and close the charging panel, how to connect and disconnect the specific charger cable, and how to pay. We probably spent 15 minutes actually charging, but it took us nearly an hour to figure out how to get it working. Once I figured it out, from then on charging was pretty straightforward.
We had one more activity planned for this day. Someone had mentioned a swimming pool in Bergen that is right on the fjord, Nordnes Sjøbad. Toren loves swimming and since it was his actual birthday this day, we decided to go swimming there. This was actually very cool. The swimming pool is fairly large and heated, but it literally looks right over the fjord surrounding Bergen and there is a small part of the fjord roped off so you can swim in the fjord as well. There are stairs down into the fjord or a couple of platforms you can jump from. I opted to jump from the platform to get it over with. Debi and Toren walked down the stairs, got in, swam around a bit, then rushed up the stairs into the pool. We all got in the fjord and then spent most of the time in the heated pool. Toren would stay in the pool all day if he could. He did get out a couple of additional times to get back into the fjord.
Eventually, Debi and I got into a sauna that overlooks the fjord and watched a local Norwegian woman swim in the fjord for a good 30 minutes. Admittedly, it wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be, but it was still very chilly.
Friday dawned with rain as well. We decided to have a down day that we used to get ready for a big hike the next day. We did a little shopping. Organized our gear. Made some final arrangements. Then spent the day playing MTG, cooking, and relaxing. That evening, we did go for a walk with Debi to the University of Bergen just to see more of the city. On our way back to the AirBnB we ran into a Beukorp that was marching right by our apartment. Beukorps are unique to Bergen. They are basically youth groups that march to drums and stem from an era when people would drill for local militias. This was the second one we ran into (we drove through one our first day in Bergen as we tried to find our AirBnB). Otherwise, we didn’t do much. Here’s a clip of the beukorp:
I had planned a few bigger hikes and one of the ones that looked pretty cool was Trolltunga or troll tongue. Trolltunga is a rock formation that juts out from the side of a cliff and hangs about 2,000 feet above the valley below it. People hike out there to get a photo on the rock. The trailhead was about 3 hours from Bergen. From what I was able to read ahead of time, it’s a 12 to 15-mile round trip hike over pretty rugged terrain. Since Toren was going with me and he hadn’t done any hikes longer than 7 miles before this, I decided to park at the upper parking lot (P3) which cuts about 3 miles off the hike. It cost an extra $50 to do so, but it was worth it to increase the odds that Toren would enjoy the hike. We got up at 4:00 am and arrived at the trailhead around 7:30. We were geared up and on the trail at 7:45. I figured the hike would be busy, but little did I know. Here’s the review of the hike I posted on Google Maps:
I do a lot of hiking, both to get away from people and to challenge myself. I enjoy hiking to see interesting things in nature. But I don’t typically hike to interesting things in nature in order to spend 30 minutes trying to get the perfect photo for my Instagram followers (I don’t even use Instagram). FYI, that’s what Trolltunga has turned into. It was a train of hikers, about half of whom were wearing tennis shoes and t-shirts carrying a single disposable plastic water bottle in one hand and either a drone or an expensive camera in the other hand. It was a circus!
I was hiking with my 13 year-old son who had never done a 10+ mile hike. I thought he might enjoy this one. To minimize the length, I reserved a spot in P3 ahead of time. We left Bergen at 4:30 and made it to P2 around 7:30. We paid our toll and were let through the gate to P3 quickly. We made it to P3 and started hiking around 7:45. There were already a fair number of people on the trail.
We went pretty fast and had to pass a lot of people. However, no one understood hiking etiquette. Slower hikers would not move over. And people coming down would not move over for those going up. We ended up running past people when there was an opportunity on the way up and hiked off trail a lot in unbroken snow one the way down (as we should). Ugh. It was June 4th and about 85% of the trail was still covered in snow. We passed a number of people who were not prepared for a long hike over semi difficult terrain and snow. It took us 2 hours and 24 minutes from P3 to Trolltunga. When we arrived, there was already a line of about 25 people. If everyone took 1 minute for a photo, okay. That’s a long wait, but understandable. Nope. People pulled out drones and SLR cameras. One group of three guys spent 15 minutes out there by themselves shooting a freaking documentary. Honestly, it was absurd. I will give people some credit. Those in line around us were kind and offered to take photos for us. We didn’t take them up on it. We took a couple of super fast photos and were done in under a minute, then took off. By the time we left, the line was easily 60 people long. We waited for over an hour to take a photo.
On the way down, I kid you not, we passed a woman in designer shoes wearing a skirt and a scarf who was carrying a shopping bag. How she had made it a third of the way was beyond me.
We cruised down the mountain. Our total moving time was just under 5 hours.
I get that this is a cool rock outcrop. It really is. But it has now become an Instagram magnet and tourist trap. If that is your jam, go for it. If you hike to avoid people and enjoy nature, pick a different hike.
Here’s a photosphere that shows the cliff:
And here’s our route:
I wish I could say that this hike and the rock outcrop was worth it, but I’m not sure it was. Hiking with Toren was mostly fun (he struggled on the initial uphill then didn’t eat enough calories and gassed with about 2 miles left on the way down). It was very scenic, but the mass of people kind of ruined it for me. 🙁
We got back to the car and headed back to Bergen, stopping to charge along the way. When we got back, we cleaned up and started packing for our drive north to our second AirBnB and a week outside the city.