I’ll tell you about our day in Bergen in a minute, but first today’s laundry story. Somehow, coincidences always seem to happen in the ship’s passenger laundry. There was the time that I walked into the laundry on one ship for the first time on that particular cruise and found my husband’s oldest son’s two closest friends checking out the laundry room and on this cruise, the first person I met up with over the detergent was a woman from down the road apiece. Just now, there were three of us there. The woman from Texas asked where the two of us were from – me, from New Zealand; the other from New Jersey. The one from New Jersey lives out in the country from where I grew up, but it turns out that both she and her husband were teachers in the junior high school and high school where my brother and I went. And yes, I think I did have her husband for earth sciences. But then we trawled into our memories and began picking out names – my favourite geometry teacher, the Principal of the junior high school. But then…but then….I came closest to my greatest fear on the ships, that someone would say, “Oh, you’re George and Sylvia’s little girl!!” I’m now about to turn 62, so I was actually hoping that fear was about to dissipate entirely, but that was not to be. I tentatively asked: “Did you know so-and-so?” “Oh, yes,” was the reply! “She was the Superintendent of School’s PA and very difficult to get past.” Uh-oh. “She was my aunt.”
Nice little story, perhaps, but it does highlight one of the intrigues of cruising, an intrigue which international business travelers know well, and that is bumping into the same people or colleagues of the same people or friends of friends of colleagues as they jet around at 37,000 feet. Whether it is because cruisers are generally like-minded people or whether its because the world is indeed a small place or whether because coincidences just plain and simply happen, they will. Oh, yes, cruising is all about destinations, but it is also – and perhaps even more – about people. People like you, people different from you, people who are interested in what you have to say, people from whom you want to learn. And even the wife of one of your old school teachers, decades and miles away from a childhood in a far difference place.
There is definitely something about laundry rooms.
The real story today, however is Bergen, the wettest place in Norway, on the West Coast of this magnificent country. It rains in Bergen 220 days a year, and it did spit a little the last time we were here two years ago. As late as the day before we called in, the captain’s weather forecast for Bergen was there would be a ‘chance of rain,’ but by evening, revised his forecast to ‘no chance of rain.’ And indeed there was none. On this particular visit, Bergen sparkled, allowing three boatloads of visitors to enjoy this city which I admit is growing on me. Three boats? Yep. us, Costa Pacifica and Discovery. Lots of people around, but the sunshine and warm temperature made for a very busy, almost festive atmosphere in town.
I knew I wanted to go shopping today because it would be the last chance for any serious shopping before we hit Dubai in about a fortnight on the way back. That plan became a mission last night when I found that my sandals needed replacement. As we were walking towards the centre, we came upon two Kiwi friends from the ship (now transplanted to Aussie) and joined forces with them to have a good walk around the fish market, tasting smoked whale, freshly cooked whale and of course, the best smoked salmon this side of Harrod’s Food Hall. The very best. It was really interesting to taste the difference between sea, river and farmed smoked salmon, with sea salmon winning fins down.
We ooh-ed and aah-ed over the crab and lobster, and snickered at the “dwarf” mussels — anyone who’s been to New Zealand knows that our Green Lip Mussels are not only big, but sweet and juicy and oh-so-wonderful. These little guys looked like they needed a chance to grow up! It was, however interesting to see the giant wok-like pans used by the fish stalls. First, they would saute onions, then add whatever other flavourings or seasonings or liquid, and then the mussels. We were tempted to buy exportable jars of stuff like Norwegian caviar, but I must be totally honest with you. The prices are actually cheaper in New Zealand, and as our mates told us, in Ausssie, too. In fact, we later found HOW expensive the prices were in town as our fellow cruisers drifted back to the ship later on. A bowl of soup for US$20?? Our friends told us that at least it was good fish soup. (Must have been!) It was a crowded but extremely fun wander through this fish nirvana, but also made us appreciate our equally good fish Down Under.
We also passed marvelous vegetable stands including Kiwi fruit form New Zealand, but I think I’ll wait until we get home to purchase any!
Now on to our mission. Sandals. We headed into one of the lovely small-ish malls in the Centre, where seemingly all of the shoe shops had a big Ecco sign displayed. Aaaaaah. Black walking sandals, in my size, and comfortable as. And best of all, on sale, putting them at about perhaps NZ$10 more than I would pay at home (but only because the sale reduction was 30%). A bargain at any Norwegian price! From there, a bit of a wander through the shops, and then back outside, having confirmed that all known popular clothing brands can be found in Bergen as well. We wandered down one street that was dug up last time we were here, with its then ‘average’ shops, but two years later, it has been transformed into lovely shopping street, festooned with banners hanging from lamp posts every few metres.
Padding the cobblestone pavements some more, of course Terry had to nip into the hardware store and a very very large one, to his delight. Except when he saw the prices. Same brands – DeWalt, Bosch, Black & Decker. Not the same prices. Two and three times as much as any given item, large or small, would be in New Zealand. We checked out the home appliance department – same story: same goods, not the same prices. Nothing to purchase there.
And so our wander around Bergen continued, enchanted by the Bryggen precinct with its extremely well-preserved harbour-front Nordic houses and warehouses, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Charming, a look at what the city might have looked like, but now home to souvenir and gift shops, bars and restaurants, catering to the tourist and priced accordingly. We prowled some of the fascinating back streets and got to know more of Bergen than we did last time, but this time, found ourselves immersed in large crowds of fellow cruisers wherever we tried to go. So, Grieg’s house, the funicular up to Mt Florien and the museums will just have to wait until next time.