After a few mellow days spent site seeing, hiking, and hanging with my super nice Italian AirBnb host (seriously for anyone who still hasn’t tried AirBnb, definitely give it a chance), I set off from Ålesund on the next leg of my Norway in a Nutshell tour.

The cruise to Geirangerfjord was the hardest leg of the trip to coordinate; of the ships that actually visit the super remote fjord, the majority are private cruise ships not open to the public. Only one company, Hurtigruten, offers day cruises to us small folk. So while I felt like a total baller boarding the ship with the other cruise passengers, in actuality it was just a grand ferry ride. Hey, I’ll take what I can get!

Soon after boarding I got a crash course in the dynamics and politics of tour groups, something I had thus far successfully avoided on my journey. You see, most of the other passengers on the boat were doing the same Norway in a Nutshell tour and, for anyone who hasn’t been on a tour before, you’ve probably at least heard the stereotype of people who choose this mode of transportation for their vacations. Well guess what… In my non-PC, biased opinion, it’s true. Most of the people I encountered were older, not afraid to throw some elbows, and frankly, a bit ruthless in gaining what they considered to be the best seat/view/position on the ship. As thrilling as this sounds, it grew old very quickly. It’s one thing to be stepped on or rolled over with a behemoth suitcase, but when it’s a 5’0″ 70-year-old German grandmother doing the stepping, something inside refrains you from pushing back. So you just sit by patiently until everyone gets settled and casually sneak-in behind them for a view, not for the first time appreciating the vantage point allowed by your 5’9″ peepers.

The scenery was beautiful, unlike anything I’d seen before. The landscape actually reminded me somewhat of Washington State, with its blue water and green trees in every direction, but the narrowness of the inlets and corresponding steep inclines were different from anything I’ve seen back home.

The cruise through the fjord and arriving into Geiranger absolutely lived up to my expectations. As I’d previously mentioned, this was the first pillar upon which I’d planned my trip itinerary, and I’m so happy I had the opportunity to see it with my own eyes!

Earlier on the cruise, I’d met a really nice guy from Shanghai, living in St. Louis, Missouri. After missing my own family over the last several weeks, I was super excited at the prospect of hanging out with him and his family for the day in Geiranger. With a few hours at hand, we chose a moderate 4km hike up the side of the mountain promising an awesome viewpoint of the fjord below.

(Heights have never bothered me; they do make me think of my mom though, who does not share my appreciation for them. 🙂 Hi Mom!)

The hike was pretty gnarly; since it’d rained recently it was half mud, half goat waste, and all incline. Fortunately all was forgiven once we got to the top and saw this view!

With Geirangerfjord successfully checked off my list, we continued on to Bergen. Before I share the details of that city though, a few quick observations about the culture of Norway:

– Norwegians LOVE fish; this makes sense as some of the best salmon and cod fishing grounds are found nearby. What cheese is to France, and olive oil is to Italy, fish is to Norway. Here’s a picture of the caviar aisle at the grocery store. (Try as I might, I just couldn’t develop a taste for this…)

– Trolls are everywhere. Due to countless Norwegian legends involving trolls living in the remote hills and mountains of Norway (ie half the country), troll statues and souvenirs are on every street corner and every tourist shop.

– Because going out to eat is so expensive in Norway (and the rest of Scandinavia), street food is super popular and more often than not involves some sort of hotdog. Norwegians have perfected the common hotdog by adding a slice of bacon around the center, and always garnishing with crispy onion. (Delish!)

– Going hand in hand with the above point, good ol’ 7-11s are found throughout Scandinavia. Unlike in the U.S. though, their fast food menus are extensive and many offer free wifi and outdoor seating! Globalization at its best, clearly.

– Switching tacks to a more serious note, one of the most interesting observations about Norwegian culture was its people’s lack of approachability. I initially took it personally when strangers wouldn’t make eye contact with me or smile back when briefly speaking, but after talking with other tourists as well as local Norwegians, I learned this is just the way people are here. One local woman joked that it was because the country was so huge, with so few people, that when they actually encountered one another they didn’t know how to act pleasantly. Also interesting was learning that Americans (and Canadians) have a reputation here for being ‘fake’, since we’re so quick to offer a smile and friendly word…

Anyhoo, back to Bergen.

Located in the southwestern part of the country, Bergen was the capital of Norway during the 12th and 13th centuries. Thanks to its protected harbor, the city was an important trading post for the Hanseatic League, Northern Europe’s biggest economic entity during the 13th century with outposts in over 150 cities! With its headquarters in Lübeck, Germany, over 2000 Germans lived in Bergen at this time, living under separate German rule, German law, and German norms. These traders, primarily here importing grain from the Baltic and exporting Norwegian fish, weren’t even allowed to mix or marry with the local Norwegians! This continued for close to 400 years until the Black Plague killed off over 70% of Bergen’s population. Despite this, after the 17th century, Bergen was Norway’s most populated city and the trading hub of Scandinavia. As a point of reference, it’s said that during the Middle Ages, Norwegian stockfish, the country’s primary export, was as valuable then as Norway’s oil is today! With its concentration of Hanseatic buildings still intact (the only left in the world), Bryggen, the old Hanseatic center of Bergen, is listed as a World Heritage Site.

Walking around the old buildings feels like being transported back into time.

After spending a few days in Bergen, exploring the historic sites when the sun was out and laying low with my amazing AirBnb hosts when it wasn’t, I set off on my last leg of the Norway in a Nutshell tour.

This last day back to Oslo was a full day’s journey involving three trains, a bus and another ferry.

Despite my grumblings about putting up with crowds of pushy tourists, I highly recommend doing the Norway in a Nutshell tour. The places you go and things you see are so far off the beaten path, it really helps having locals coordinate your journey for you.

Hopefully after reading through and seeing some of the shots above I’ve convinced you to consider taking a vacation to Norway one day. It’s truly a unique experience, one I know I’ll never forget.

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie