Who knew a little city on Norway’s southwestern coast could be one of the world’s most beautiful hidden gems?
Not me, that’s for sure.
We’ve all been there, right? You plan a trip somewhere and have certain expectations of what you’re going to get out of the trip, especially if it’s the first time you’ve ever visited wherever it is you’re going. Sometimes the expectations are met, sometimes they’re not, and sometimes the trip far exceeds your expectations to the point that you can’t quite believe it’s real.
This story relates to the latter.
So last month I was invited to Bergenfest, a music festival in Bergen, Norway. Celebrating its 25th year (if you include when it first started under the name OleBlues), this year’s festival played host to some of the biggest names in music, including Phoenix, James Bay, Father John Misty, Pale Waves, Jessie Reyez, Sigrid, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, J Hus, Queens of the Stone Age and George Ezra, as well as Norwegian artists Astrid S, Anna of the North, Real Ones and more.
For me this would have been enough.
My only expectation, aside from the great music, was a bit of food and a place to rest my head. However, what was actually in store for me was all of the above on steroids with so much more on the menu and hardly any of it had anything to do with the festival.
Let me tell you about the time I jumped in the North Sea… and it was FREEZING!
So Bergen is a beautiful place. It’s also a very cold place. So I’d be mad to jump in the North Sea at 9:30am on a Friday, right? Well, while I wouldn’t call myself mad I’d definitely say I’m a little on the crazy side. I’m someone who if you dare me to do something I’ll probably do it, unless it involves mayonnaise (but that’s a different story). So not only did I jump in the North Sea gracefully (this is debatable) from a diving board, I did it first amongst our group and did it at least another two times.
Now I know what you’re thinking: the picture above is not of the North Sea. And while you may be right, if you look to the left of what I like to call the ‘recovery pool’ you’ll see a glimpse of the North Sea in all of its freezing cold glory. A refreshing way to wake up and a way to get the blood flowing (or not), I fully recommend if you visit Bergen you take a trip to Nordnes Sjøbad and take a dip in the North Sea, if you think you can handle your blood turning blue and your body parts shrinking to the size of a miniature toy soldier in about 0.000005 seconds.
Jean Claude Van Dundee cooked me lunch one day… after catching it himself
Yeah, you read that right. Allow me to me explain.
After a speedy boat trip where I almost lost my Golden State Warriors cap (one of many so it wouldn’t have been too much of a tragedy) in the waters of Bergen, we arrived at a restaurant called Corneliussen på Holmen. As I stepped off the boat it felt like I was entering another world. It was stunning. Greeted on the deck by one of the employees we were ushered into a part of the restaurant that was built on the side of a cliff face. The wall behind the bar wasn’t a purpose built wall, it was actually a part of the rocky cliff! I’d never seen anything like it before. We were then given a private presentation from Alf Saetre, a man I like to call Jean Claude Van Dundee.
Proceeding to tell us stories about how he started the restaurant, whilst making jokes about his many wives, the reason I call him Jean Claude Van Dundee is because he was dressed like Mick Dundee (kids, if you don’t know who that is then ask your dad) and had the mannerisms and cheesy comedy lines of Jean Claude Van Damme (kids, again if you don’t know who that is ask your dad, or perhaps go watch a Coors Light commercial).
Alf then went on to tell us about the food. It’s a restaurant that specialises in seafood, like most places in Bergen, but the difference here is he catches it all himself. He told us countless tales of how he often disappears on his boat for three or four days at a time and dives for the best fish, scallops, crabs and other seafood dishes, including sea urchins (if you’re into that sort of thing – I’m definitely not). He was both funny and charming and made us feel right at home. It was obvious from the jump that he was someone who likes to be very personable and is the same for all the visitors who dock at the restaurant. So if you get the chance to visit make sure you ask for JCVD(undee)!
Then we moved to another part of the restaurant to taste the delights Alf laid on for us – a waiter was on hand to explain every single dish in English. But forget tasting the food for a minute, can we talk about the views? Breathtaking is a word thrown about all too often but when I say that the views were breathtaking I really mean it. It’s really hard to put into words just how incredible the views were. Imagine eating the most divine food in a restaurant with stunning decor all whilst surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that open your eyes to nothing but emerald green mountain tops, endless electric blue waters and beautiful boats sitting calmly on top.
I don’t drink gin but I’ll drink from the fountain of youth
Before you start throwing obscenities at me, yes I am a teetotaller. No I’m not a fake one who thinks having a couple of drinks at the weekend still qualifies you to be teetotal, I really don’t drink. So this made things a little awkward when I was invited aboard a docked ship that looked like something straight out of the days of the Titanic to try a selection of Bareksten gins, known as “The World’s Best Gin”. To be honest, I think I might have gotten drunk off the fumes alone.
But what I did drink was water from a waterfall found on our sightseeing trip to Mostraumen, which looked like a scene out of Twin Peaks. Hills, forests, rocks, fishing cabins, thin roads on the edge of cliffs, and homes on their own in the middle of nowhere, if I was someone who loved his privacy to the point I wanted to disappear for a while I know where I’d head. In fact, some of the homes with boat docks made me think of Kanye West. No, not because he’s in a “sunken place” and these places could be just that if a storm blew in, but because they looked like the type of remote place he’d probably love to record an album. It’s not Hawaii or Wyoming but I think in all honesty it could be better.
Anyway, back to the waterfall and the ‘fountain of youth’ – it’s not really, I just like to have an excuse when people tell me I look younger than I actually am, which happens more times than you’d think. So after reaching a certain point on the boat ride we had to turn around, but not before one of the boat crew hung a bucket out on a broomstick to catch some of the water streaming down the side of a rock face, which he then poured into plastic cups and passed around. I took one sip and felt like a new man.
A funicular ride and some trolling (but not the Donald Trump kind)
On my final day in Bergen we took a funicular ride up to Mount Fløven to grab dinner at a restaurant on the top that overlooked the entire city of Bergen and its beautiful coastlines. The view of all views, it was yet another breathtaking moment hard to comprehend was actually real. With food that was pretty top notch too (I had a burger), it was the backdrop that drew in tourists from far and wide just to take pictures that might usually only be achievable with CGI.
Deciding to walk back down the mountain through some Norwegian woodland this was when I first came face to face with a real-life troll, or at least a statue of one that I could touch and hang off of the nose of.
Trolls, if you don’t know, are a big part of Norwegian mythology and Scandinavian folklore. So naturally they were spotted everywhere on this trip, but it wasn’t until our walk back down the mountain that we saw a load out and about that weren’t in shop windows or in pubs. The walk down also produced piles of rocks (much like the type in The Blair Witch Project) that were spread out everywhere, which is apparently something trolls do, and there were also witch signs on display in a few spots just to add to the mystique of the folklore. This excited me very much, but not as much as the children’s playground that I highjacked for like five minutes (okay, so it was more like 10 minutes).
I was sad to leave Bergen but I realised as I approached the airport that I now have a reason to go back. It’s one of those hidden gems that I would never have known about had I not been invited out to Bergenfest, so for that I am grateful. It’s a city I’d urge everyone to go and visit. Whether you’re looking for beautiful landscapes, incredible food, fun activities that stretch further than your imagination would normally go, it has it all.
We all get too comfortable sometimes and do what we know over and over again but Bergen has aided me in thinking outside the box a little more. Why do we always go to Barcelona, or Paris, or New York? Familiarity perhaps? Maybe it’s just because people are always raving about them. Well this time I’m raving about Bergen and I hope you can hear me.
For more information on Bergenfest visit the website: https://www.bergenfest.no