Settling Down in Bergen, Norway

After 3 short weeks of exploring England, we boarded a flight to Bergen, Norway where Mi will earn a Master’s in Development Geography from the University of Bergen.

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We got in around 5pm and were met at the airport by Mi’s uncle, Stephen. It was Kelly’s first time in Norway so the first thing he did was take us to a nice lookout to see the town, which is situated in a valley surrounded by 7 mountains.

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We then went to the flat Stephen shares with his partner Gerd. We talked for hours and had an amazing Mexican-style dinner before heading to bed. The next few days were dedicated to getting Mi set up.

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The first stop was the police station to check in and get a student visa. As we drove around town, we noticed that the fire department, which is close to the police department, was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the brigade. The upcoming weekend featured a parade where firefighters showed off their antique fire engines and ambulances.

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Gerd’s daughter, Maria, has a son named Valdemar, who is currently obsessed with fire trucks and firefighters. He actually was inside looking at other displays when we were wandering outside admiring the old vehicles.

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This is the inside of an old ambulance. After we looked at the vehicles, we went to the university to pick up the keys to Mi’s apartment in Fantoft student housing. Kelly helped Mi who was having a hard time choosing which floor to live on. Kelly chose the top floor because she assumed the view would be best and help Mi from feeling trapped in the winter months.

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This is a view from Mi’s bedroom window. The building with the greenish shapes is the family housing and it is much prettier than the building we are in, which looks like a drab old hospital. After dropping off our suitcases, we went downtown to buy some basic supplies for the apartment.

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First stop, the thrift shop. We managed to get almost everything we needed for the kitchen at the two thrift stores in the area. The only kitchen items we bought new were one really sharp knife and a cooking pot. We found more cooking pots at other thrift stores. We adamantly avoid all cookware with teflon because it is terrible for one’s health and is usually made to a lower caliber.

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Kelly sorting through all the cutlery to find matching sets. Notice the lettuce spinner in the basket, essential for us because we eat a salad every day. The daily salad is recommended by vegan sports nutrition expert Brendan Brazier in his book “Thrive.”

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Back at the house, Gerd checks the mail and gets ready for the visit from her grandson, Valdemar.

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He is a very happy boy with so much energy. Like we said, he is obsessed with fire trucks and spent the majority of his visit running around with a red exercise stretch band to put out fires and then give a thumbs up to an imaginary rescue helicopter flying overhead.

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That night an incredibly beautiful rain storm came tumbling in over the mountains. We watched from the kitchen window as what appeared to be a solid fist of cloud punched down into the valley with remarkable speed.

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The next morning, we had breakfast with Valdemar (whose fire helmet and fire hose are always close by) and went back to our new apartment to set up and finally spend the night there.

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Gerd helped Mi measure the windows and bed to make sure we bought the right bedding and curtains. Stephen relaxed by the window in the living area. As you can see, the architecture of the building is very stark and representative of the Soviet style that was popular in the 1970s when the building was constructed. Mi’s first reaction to the place was one of disappointment and dismay, but by now the apartment has obtained a kind of rustic charm. The very narrow hallway that separates the bedroom and bathroom from the kitchen and living room is still taking some getting used to, though.

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Mi put the shelves into the refrigerator and plugged it in. After a couple visits Mi warmed up the place and since then, we have hung decorations and have souvenirs from around the world on display so the apartment is starting to feel like our own.

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The next day we took a walk around the neighborhoods to get a feel for the city. Bergen is situated in a valley with mountains to the east and west. To the south is the harbor and to the north is Fantoft, where the student housing is located. It’s very easy to get around in this city and almost impossible to get lost.

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We did a little exploring downtown in the city center, where we met these pigeons who wanted to share our lunch. They weren’t at all pleased with the bits of carrot that we attempted to feed them. Mi spent 3 weeks in Norway a few summers ago so the center of town is nothing new, and Kelly’s parents will come to visit, so we are saving most of downtown’s exploration for that day.

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Just a 15 minute walk from Fantoft is a Stave Church. This Stave church was originally in the town of Fortun. It was built in the 13th century and continued to function as a church into the 19th century. There once were thousands of Stave churches in Norway but eventually they started to build larger and more modern churches. After building a new church in Fortun the Stave church was going to be demolished and the materials used for farms and houses. Those times in Norway were very hard and people had to use all their resources to stay warm and keep from starving. After some deliberation, Curator Lorange gained financial support from Fantoft farm owner,  Consul Gade, and together they moved the church to Gade’s property in order to preserve such a unique piece of Norway’s history. In 1992 a Satanist tried to destroy the church with fire. Some parts of the church had survived the fire, such as the crucifix. The owners restored the damaged parts with 350-400 year-old pines from Fortun.

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Behind the Stave church is a wooded area that that, naturally, we explored. After walking for about 20 minutes it opens into a peaceful meadow where we plan to read and picnic on rare sunny days.

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We are very lucky to have an Asian store and a Middle Eastern store here in Bergen. They are not only two of the cheapest stores in town but they also offer all the specialty items that keep our diet well rounded and interesting, which is a vast improvement over the limited fare we found in China.

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Sushi is one of our favorite things to make because it is easy, we can fill the rolls with anything we want, and if you don’t cut the rolls, they are very portable. We often take a few rolls with us when we’re exploring so we can eat them like a burrito wherever we are.

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Norway has a lot of electric cars. The government gives huge tax breaks to people who invest in a cleaner future and most parking lots offer a plug where anyone can recharge for free. This is one of the first models that became popular here. Now new electric cars look exactly like conventional cars but we still enjoy these the most because it looks like a lego.

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While Mi’s cousin, Simen, was still in town he took us out to one of his favorite bars/music shops. He introduced us to a couple of his friends over really nice beer. Alcohol here is pretty expensive (about $12 a pint!) so we don’t frequent the bars much.

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The view from our apartment is stunning. When we first arrived the sun was staying up until about 11.  In the dead of winter we will be working with approximately 5 hours a daylight. We are sure the view will be just as beautiful.

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The first week that the students are in town, the university hosts a number of information sessions. The week culminates in the commencement ceremony to kick off the start of the academic year. Though we couldn’t understand anything (we haven’t started Norwegian classes yet), we were happy to be there. The building behind the speakers is the natural history museum, which houses exhibits from when the museum was founded in 1825. Research at this museum directly influenced the foundation of the University of Bergen in 1948.

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This statue is in one of the narrow streets near the middle eastern store where we do a lot of our shopping. Its head is metal and its body is concrete.

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We love to cook for ourselves (it is also pretty necessary because restaurants in Norway are expensive and we have really particular diets) and this is one of our favorite meals. Taste the rainbow from top left to right: homemade tahini dressing (with a whole bulb of garlic), homemade hummus, red rice, green lentils, pureed butternut squash, spinach and potato soup, eggplant and tomato, flatbread, and olives.

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This is the Middle Eastern store where we do a large part of our shopping.

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Another of our favorite dishes is curry. We love curry and we make it well. You may remember from our bicycle trip that we made curry quite often on the road because it was warm, filling, and gave us good energy while on the road. So, one of the first things we did in Bergen was buy a Thai green curry paste from the Middle Eastern store. They sell several types of curry there but green has always been our favorite. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to have options, especially after living in China where Chinese food is the only option.

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We often hike up one of the 7 mountains which surrounds Bergen. Fløyen is Bergen’s most visited mountain as it offers great views and it isn’t especially difficult to climb. The gravel trail is often crowded with families. It rains a lot here so sometimes we find ourselves walking in the rain. It can be a little uncomfortable but we are determined not to let the weather make us hermits.

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At the top of Fløyen is a summer camp with tons of troll totem pole sort of figures all around. They are silly but really cool. They are just some of the things that add to the whimsical quality of Norwegian culture.

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The view from Fløyen is spectacular. On a clear day you can see for miles. This day was particularly cloudy and wet which made for a uncrowded experience. It feels really good after being in such crowded places like China and London to be in a country with a total of 5 million people. In contrast, Beijing can have up to 30 million people.

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The walk from student housing to downtown is almost 7 kilometers. We walk it pretty often to save money on public transportation. One ride on the train/bus costs about $5. It’s a good way to explore the city and spend time together. This day’s walk was especially long because we had just climbed up and down Fløyen, then walked back to Fantoft. Kelly has been keeping fit by doing the Insanity workout in addition to all our walks. When we were walking through this tunnel she decided to take advantage of the shelter from the rain to do some stretching.

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It has been a while since we posted anything because we have been really enjoying our new surroundings and each other. We now have to play catch up so expect more entries soon!

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