I land before Ivana even takes off, and am instantly placed into contrasting climates and locals. The sunny Gdańsk park I had previously been sweating and eating hummus in had turned into a cold, drizzly Norwegian fjord at the Haugesund airport. But the sea air is so fresh, and it feels a bit nice to put on a thicker shirt. Now, I’m in a country I’ve had at my fingertips for three years but only visited once on a skiing trip with my former Danish boarding school. I’ve reserved Norway for a time in my life with more time and money when I could be frivolous and adventurous for a month or so and explore the fjords and trolls hidden in forests.
Now, I found an excuse to visit the Western fjords due to a cheap little airline known as Norwegian Air. I found a flight from Bergen to New York for about a $150 cheaper than any other flight going to the US in the time frame, so I bought it and decided to take it as an opportunity to do a quick taste test. The cheapest flight I could find from Poland ended up in Haugesund, a town about 1:30 hours South of Bergen with little to no tourist draw. So it was time for adventure.
I got out of the airport and walked around looking for a bus to take me downtown. My goal for the next five days is to do Norway on a budget, so I’ve found a couchsurfer in downtown Haugesund to take me for the night. I walk in circles aimlessly, there is no bus stop or any information on buses. Only taxi’s offering to take me to the city for $40. That won’t fly, honey.
I walk inside, asking a baggage clerk if he knows any information about buses. He looks at me quizzically, wondering why I don’t feel like throwing $40 at a 15-minute taxi ride. He looks at me, then up at the ceiling, then back at me and shrugs. “Uhm…no I actually don’t think so…but uh, there’s a hotel about…1 kilometer East where there uh, may be a bus.”
So I get walking down the road, and I keep walking and walking. I turn on my little boombox and sing a bit, as no one’s around. I walk about 2 kilometers and realize I’m going absolutely nowhere near a hotel.
So, I do what any budget traveler in the middle of nowhere does: stick my thumb out. I keep walking for another 20 minutes, thumb out and proud until a Toyota pulls over and waits for me. Inside is a little lady, she smiles and doesn’t even roll down the window to ask where I’m going, only waving me to come in.
“Hej! Tusind tusind tak, jeg hedder Carter.” I say in Danish, but saying it with my impression of a Norwegian accent. Norwegian and Danish are extraordinarily close languages. I can read Norwegian decently, and speaking it is alright as long as I pronounce my ‘r’ and sing it a little bit. She responds back in English, smiling, that she used to hitchhike a lot in her twenties and she can gladly take me into Haugesund.
The car is covered in nice smelling clean leather seats, and the lady (whose name was unpronounceable and impossible for me to remember) wore her blonde hair short, with a nice yellow sweater, blue jeans, and piercing blue ice dragon eyes. It feels a bit like I’m driving with a Norwegian version of my mother.
She’s just dropped her only daughter off to the airport for a trip to Oslo. My ride has the weekend alone, and tells me she’ll have a lot more alone time once her daughter, her only child, goes off to college next year. She says she wishes her daughter traveled more to see the world, and I tell her she’ll figure it out soon. We talk a while, and she drops me off nearby my couchsurfer’s place. I say thank you again, and to have a good weekend to herself.
I’ve stocked up on some Polish snacks so I wouldn’t have to pay extraordinary Norwegian fees, so I head briefly into town to have a snack by the shoreside. It’s a cute town, but not much is going on.
I have a rye bread bun and look around a bit, walking into a supermarket just to look at the prices and buy some peanuts. They wrap things individually here and it freaks me out a bit, it’s just so sterile.
You probably pay half just for the plastic!
I start heading to my couchsurfer, and walk into the building where he lives. He’s on the basement, and I ring the door and am answered by a red-headed pale man with a bright orange beard. Anders shakes my hand and welcomes me inside. The flat is small, just a living room crowded with a big couch, computer area, and bunk bed. There’s a kitchen and a pretty nice bathroom. There’s stuff everywhere, just cool little knick-knacks and nonsense but it’s still kind of cozy. The walls and ceiling are covered that give it a nice cave kind of feel. Anna, Anders’ friend from Gdańsk, is visiting for a week and smiles to greet me.
Anders is whipping up some Norwegian food for us, so Anna and I sit on the couch to talk a while. She’s actually from Gdnynia, a port town just 45ish minutes North of Gdańsk. I tell her I’ve been there, and she says she knows the couchsurfer with the 4 cats that we stayed within Gdańsk. She’s extremely nice, curious, and talkative and always has a big smile on her face. She’s a psychologist and teaches at the university while also having patients on the side. We talk a while and have a pretty good conversation about all sorts of stuff. She’s the kind of person that you can talk with about anything (which I guess comes from her profession), but unlike other psychologists I’ve met, she doesn’t seem to be analyzing me constantly. Anders comes in with kjøttboller, little meatballs with potatoes and vegetables. They’re pretty good, and we get to talk more.
Anders works as a driving instructor and also does driving tests. He seems like a smart guy, the kind of ‘engineer’ type that keeps electronic crap around the house to use for random things later. His barber, a Croatian who’s younger than me but is soon starting his own business, comes and brings along his very eccentric Bosnian friend. They’re a little bit crazy, and I can’t really talk about our conversation over the internet but it was definitely weird. Sorry I can’t share.
The Croatian barber has to go to work the next day, so he heads out for bed. It’s about midnight, and Anders wants to play cards against humanity. In my first question card, I say “guys…I have a question…” reading the card, “How did I lose my virginity?” Anna is confused by this and thinks I’m actually asking the question and not playing the game. She gives Anders a deer in headlights kind of look, then looks back and me.
“That’s so crazy you ask that, I was going to ask when you lost your virginity.”
I make a kind of confused expression, give my answer, and say “mmmmwhy?” She smiles and says.
“I’m a sexologist too, but not everyone can accept that information.” My head explodes with questions, which come pooling out all at once. For the next two hours, we play cards against humanity and talk about sex until I can barely hold my eyes open.
Anders’ couch is unbelievably comfortable, and the cave lets no light in with the blinds closed. I pass out and sleep for a long long time.
I wake up late, and my plan is to go to a little island called Lepsøya where I’ve been offered a couch. It’s only 30 minutes from Bergen, and no couchsurfers in Bergen would give me a spot. I have a whole plan on how to get there, and Anders offers to drive me to the main road so I can hitch a better ride. What he didn’t say was when. So we sit around a lot, until about noon when I need to get a walk and some fruit. I head to the grocery, and get some grapes and apricots (by request from Anna), two stale bread buns, and 4 onions for onion soup in case of emergency. In total I spent:
SEVENTEEN. I look up and down my receipt hurriedly, wondering if the apricots (the cheapest item, on sale) were made of gold or if the onions were grown by a sect of secluded monks on a mountaintop. But nope, everything is just ordinary Norwegian food.
So I’m a little bit sassy after spending so much money. I get back, share the fruit, and make sure to eat every last morsel.
Anders sees me trying on his hat, and decides to give me one he never wears. It’s a hat I’ve been looking for for about a year, and now it’s finally in my life. We go for a walk around town in the misty, spitty rain.
Anders and Anna are fantastic hosts, both funny, curious, and caring people. They take me up about 30 minutes North to a gas station by the road. We hug, say to see each other again, and I stick my thumb out.
Before Anders and Anna even leave, a car stops and waves me to come in.
I sit, say my “Hej! Tusind tusind tak, jeg hedder Carter” and shake the hand of another foreigner. Once again, I can’t pronounce my driver’s name. He has black hair, brown eyes, and olive skin surrounding his black beard and shaved mustache. He says he’s from Chechneya, and I take a ride with my first Chechneyan ever.
His eight-year-old son, who isn’t actually his son but his nephew that he takes care of like a son or something, is sitting in the back and pours me a cup of sweet milky coffee. The man driving smiles, and says “Drik”. I speak in some English, “Taler ikke engelsk”, he says smiling. My brain says.
And I try again in Danish, realizing the utter ridiculousness of an American speaking Danish to a Chechneyan speaking Norwegian. How beautiful this world is.
We talk a while, understanding only half of what the other person is saying. He’s lived a hard life, again not the sort of thing I can post openly, and I’m amazed at how he’s opened up to me. We talk a lot about Islam, terrorists, and the government. He tells me how ostracized he feels as a Chechnyan Muslim in Norway, because everyone assumes he’s a terrorist. But terrorists and war made a hole in his life back home, one that made him flee his homeland over a decade ago with the rest of his family. I can’t imagine having such a war in my country, and having to escape to a country like Norway for safety. On top of that, to never truly fit in with the people living next to you.
We drive for about an hour to the ferry that I need to catch, where his brother is dropping his mother and two nieces off for him to take back home. There’s some family drama that I don’t understand, but we all have some family drama that no one understands. We arrive at the stop, say goodbye, and realize the ferry has just left.
I don’t feel like sitting alone, so I keep talking. He’s smoking a cigarette and suddenly picks up the phone. He runs over to the car and opens the drunk, pointing at its contents. His son pops out of the car and says “Skal vi fisker?”
He takes two fishing polls out of the trunk, handing one to me and one two his father who strings it up and puts on the lure with a cigarette in his mouth while talking on the phone. We head over and start fishing. I have no clue how to fish, but the little son (who’s absolutely adorable) teaches me the way. We fish for a while, and the driver comes back and gives his son a huge kiss on the head. Such tenderness from someone with so many scars.
We fish some more, and eventually, the ferry comes. He asks if I have enough money for the ferry, and if not he’ll give me some. I say he’s given me more than anyone could, and give him the firmest most genuine handshake I’ve ever given anyone.
I shake hands with his brother and say “Salam” to his mother. We shake hands, and I turn and board the ship.
The ticket costs about $7, and I walk around a bit before going outside onto the deck. I climb to the top and see my driver’s brother sitting alone. We shake hands again, and he tells me they don’t come up here to check if you bought a ticket. Smart.
He tells me I speak really good Norwegian, and I smile and say “Thanks, but I just speak Danish.” I show him where I’m going, to which he replies,
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take you.” shaking my hand again. We talk for the ferry ride, and he loves MMA so we talk about Conor McGregor and then my knowledge of MMA ends at that. Luckily it wasn’t a long ride.
We deboard, get in his car, and he drives me straight to my couchsurfers place which only takes about 10 minutes. I would have had to take the bus 20 minutes, then hitchhike for my life or else walk a good 2:30 to get to where I needed to go. I was so thankful he offered to take me and thanked him profusely. He just smiled and said, “No thanks are necessary, just remember not all Muslims are bad.” I wave goodbye, and walk up to my home for the next three nights.
Margunn, a chef at a music high school, offered to take me in for three nights after I made my trip public on couchsurfing. I had sent requests to maybe twenty or so people, none of them said yes. The alternative was to stay at a hostel for $40 a night, and I’m glad I didn’t.
Margunn lives next to the school, on the beautiful island of Lepsøya. The school pays for most of it, and she gives me leftover food from the schools’ dinner that day. Her passion is travel, and she’s able to fund it since the school pretty much pays for her room and board. She’s leaving the same day as me for a trip to Belarus, which is one of her final European countries before she can say she’s visited every single one (including the little ones). We talk for a long time about travel and other nonsense, and I get a good night’s sleep on the couch.
The next morning she’s off to work pretty early, but I linger in bed a while. Today is my day to go to Bergen. Buses are hard to come by out here, so I stick my thumb out once again hoping for the best.
I have it out in the air for about fifty minutes, and one guy even gets a bit mad at me and angrily points in the direction of the bus stop. Eventually, a bright green Chevy pick-up truck stops and waves me in. He moves his child’s seat out of the way, and I sit down next to a pretty hillbilly Norwegian (Who’s name again I can’t remember or pronounce). He’s going into the nearest town of Os for a fishing convention and drops me off at the bus station towards Bergen. He tells me of his trip to Orlando and Miami with the kids.
I figure I’ll finally take public transportation, and pay $4.50 for an hour-long ride into Bergen. That’s actually pretty good, I don’t think you could really get an hour-long ride for less in Denmark. It’s raining but the scenery is nice, and I sit back and relax with my ears plugged with music.
I get into the city and instantly walk to the library. Today is sort of a day of missions. Now, I have a mission to print my bus ticket from the airport in New York to the city. I print it out, then have a mission to go try the best fish soup in Bergen (a tip Margunn gave me). The town is packed with people, as there’s an antique steamboat show going on. The smell of coal and the sound of steam whistles fills the air.
I approach the harborside restaurant realizing it’s way too packed for me to go to. I go to a grocery store and buy some cheap brie, crackers, and Icelandic yogurt. That’ll be my lunch for the next two days, and it only cost me $8. I feel frivolous, and buy a $3 7-11 coffee and walk around some more.
It’s pretty cute, right? Definitely. But there’s not really much to do in town. There’s some nice street art, however.
I almost moved here to study abroad in my spring semester Junior year, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t dig enough, but I think Aalborg has a bit more stuff going on. But it’s certainly cute. I head straight up the little mountain nearby and walk through plenty of misty mysterious forests.
There are absolutely trolls in this forest. I get to the viewpoint and watch the storm roll into the city as Viking ships come into port.
I continue wandering through the forests because I don’t really feel like heading back to the touristy city.
I eventually wander down because I’m drenched and in need of tea, and get down just in time to watch a $0.50 male stripper perform on the street.
He could have taken more off, though. I didn’t see enough belly fur.
I stop for tea in the traveler’s cafe, which has a library of Lonely Planet books. I plan my next adventures and head back out. My next hunt is for socks because mine is currently soaked and wet cold feet is the quickest way for me to get cranky. So I buy the cheapest I can find and get back on the bus to Lepsøya.
Bergen was nice enough, but I wouldn’t have been able to live here for six months. I get dropped off in a little village, because buses aren’t running to Lepsøya, and stick my thumb back out.
Five minutes later, a car picks me up fueled by a Brazilian woman. At that moment, I was speaking Danish, Shit Norwegian, English, Spanish, and Portuguese because we couldn’t figure out which language we wanted to speak to each other. So I ended up speaking all of them terribly. Luckily the ride was only 5 minutes, and she was extraordinarily nice and friendly with my nonsense confused multilingual baby talk.
Margunn and I share some tea and talk more, and share a bit of leftover pizza. I sleep well again.
Today I feel like being lazy. It’s my last day in Europe until the end of January, and I feel like lazing about a bit. I sleep in and have a cup of coffee before going on a little hike through the nearest forest. There’s nowhere I want to go, just a nice quiet place to finish my cheese.
It goes without saying that Norway is beautiful. Who needs cities when you have such raw beauty, right? So I feel there’s no shame in not being wowed by Bergen, but being wowed by nature. I wander and wander and eventually head back for a cup of tea with Margunn. She’s off work early today, so we go for a walk through the forests.
I keep stopping to pick raspberries and blueberries, and they’re so perfectly ripe and delicious that I take my time and eat as many as I can without Margunn getting annoyed. We stop by the grocery store so I can pick up some more cheese for tomorrow, and there’s a nice boat parked outside. This is the kind of town where people take their boat to the store, I guess.
Margunn buys some fresh fishing lures, and we go fishing under the bridge. But as my luck with fishing goes, the line snags on some seaweed and she has to cut the line five minutes in. Guess I’ll never catch a Norwegian fish.
We go back and make a dinner of leftovers and play cards. Norwegians are lovely, but they’re even more reserved than Danes. They so rarely talk to each other and don’t really need to. No one nodded hello to me on my hike through the Bergen mountain. When someone needs to get off the bus and make you move for them, they don’t say “Pardon me, this is my stop. Thank you.” like a normal hu-man. They just shift around in their seat and hope you get the message, dreading the need to look you in the eyes and ask for you to move. It’s a country for introverts, which is probably fine if the country experiences winter all months of the year. It rains 270 days on average in Bergen. No point getting out and socializing here. As well, there’s no drinking culture up here. Only binging. Which is strange, because in Denmark drinking a beer is pretty gosh darn regular. Go out for a beer for lunch, go after dinner on a Monday. Whatever. Here, if you need to drink it’s a solid investment. So people go full out. A basic beer in a bar will set you back $8-10, which to me is insane having just paid no more than $2 for delicious beers in Poland (not to mention $1.50 beers in Slovakia, which are even tastier). Having been ruled by Denmark for 400 years, I’m surprised they never developed a drinking culture. That’s all we do in Denmark in the winter. Bars are warm, and you can’t shut a Dane up once you get a drop of alcohol in his veins. That’s one of my favorite things to do in winter, actually. Just sit in a bar with friends over a beer or two for a few hours. But I’m glad I’m having a bit of a detox right now.
After dinner, Margunn needs to pack up a bit for her trip to Minsk the following day. So I go for a walk and sit under the bridge again for a while, drinking in my last night views of Europe for a while. I don’t get a sunset because it’s too cloudy, but it’s still a nice place to be. I’ll absolutely miss Europe while I’m in Hong-Kong. At this point, it’s just become comfortable. I have a community, and things are starting to make sense. Not to mention, my room is extremely comfortable. But the opportunity to live in Asia for a semester is too good to pass up, and while I may be a bit reserved in excitement now, I know that being in Asia will pick me right up again. I go to bed, for my last night in the old land.
Margunn has to get up for work again, and I have another mission to go on. I grab a coffee then head to the bus stop. No hitchhiking this time, I’m on a schedule. I want to see my first Stave church.
Ever since I saw a photo of Borgund stave church, I’ve wanted to visit one. It’s truly unique, Viking-esque architecture and it’s just plain badass. Margunn tells me there’s one kind of on the way to the airport, and I jump at the opportunity to go. It’s two buses and a train ride away, but the whole journey only takes about 1:15. I walk up a forested hill and am greeted by a black dragon building peering over the treeline.
This may not be Borgund, but it’s freshly tared and ready to go. Fantoft Stavkirke is a reconstruction, but it is certainly beautiful. It was one of the church burnings done by Black Metal musician Varg Vikernes in the early 90’s, so the one standing brand new but wonderfully done. It’s swarming with tourists and covered in security cameras, and the steward came up to me aggressively to ask if I needed something. Guess I may look like a Hedonist, ready to take down another church.
But all I could do was marvel, and enjoy a church I’ve so longed to see in person.
That lady needs a good dragon face licking.
Yes, it’s raining. Yes, my feet are absolutely drenched today. I’ve gotten my feet wet every single day, and I’ve run out of socks. So I’m a bit stinky and cranky as I write this in the airport.
But now at least they’re dry, and I’m sitting at a nice lounge for a coffee shop hoping the barista doesn’t kick me out. In total, I’ve spent $106 for five days in Norway. Had I spent on hostels, it would have been $266 total. Had I spent money on public transport, it would have been $315. Then there’s eating out, which I won’t even bother adding. Even $106 feels like a lot, as that same money could probably last you 4-5 days in Poland or Georgia with meals, beer, and a hotel room included. Regardless, the experience of hitchhiking and couchsurfing around Norway has been an amazing experience. I’ve gained far more experience doing this little excursion and ended up spending about the same amount as I would have if I had taken a flight from London or Germany. And who can say they’ve gone fishing with Chechneyan’s in a Norwegian fjord? This entire semester has been the wildest, most travel rich few months of my life. I even made a wee little map to show:
Here’s every trip I’ve taken from January 1st-August 2nd. It’s been seven months of sleeplessness, laughter, and meeting some truly unique and inspiring people. I can feel a difference in myself, just in situational maturity and courage, along with more practical things like how to haggle in French with Moroccan taxi drivers, hunt for truffles, or pick up a ride in Norway. Now, I head to New York City to meet my cousin and to meet up with my momma, who’s graciously flown up from Florida to spend the week with me in the big city. I’m excited to be back in the US, simply because it feels nice to speak American English and make cultural references that people understand. But I’m ready and excited for the next adventures that await.
Thank you for reading, and for baring with all of my nonsense. I hope you’ve enjoyed so far, and there’s much more to come!