I’ve begun to notice a pattern emerging with regards to my eating habits while travelling abroad. For the first two days of most trips, I will inevitably dine on American breakfast fare such as bacon and eggs, home fries, and pancakes. On the third day, however, my stomach will inform me in no uncertain terms that this kind of behavior needs to come to an end. It is with this backdrop that I bestow much praise on the traditional Scandinavian breakfast. What kinds of foods makes up a Scandinavian breakfast, you ask? Well, they usually include items like sliced deli meats, sliced cheeses, jam, yogurt, bread, pickles, and even raw salmon. Although one might find these options to be a bit bland, I find that they include just the right combination of ingredients to keep me going strong as I visit the various tourist sights. By the time lunch comes around, I am neither starving nor do I feel weighed down and bloated. This measured approach to eating is one of the many reasons why I admire this corner of Europe so much.
As I meander around Bergen’s tranquil water front, it is impossible for me to ignore the traditional German architecture of many of the buildings here. This architectural style is the result of Norway’s former membership in the Hanseatic League. Dominating Baltic maritime trade between the 15th and 19th century, the Hanseatic League was created to protect the economic interests and diplomatic privileges of cities in Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany. In the case of Bergen, German traders moved here, setup shop, and purchased much of the catch brought in everyday by local fishermen. The daily catch, which was overwhelmingly cod, was processed, preserved, and shipped out to the rest of the continent. This setup allowed both local fisherman and German traders to thrive while supplying Europe with a consistent source of protein. When people today reflect on the virtues and drawbacks of European economic and political integration, they tend to only think about it with regards to the European Union. Yet clearly these ideas were viewed as advantageous by many European leaders centuries before the EU was ever discussed.
Having got my fill of the waterfront area, I walk over to Bergen’s central train station to see where I will be departing from when I head off for Oslo. Considering that the station is quite small and currently under renovation, my time spent here is short lived. Instead, I meander around the surrounding areas to see what unexpected sights I might come across. Right on cue, I pass by several school aged girls dressed in traditional Norwegian clothing walking alongside their male classmates dressed in sports coats and slacks. It’s clear that these kids do not normally dress this way and therefore some sort of social function must be at hand. Perhaps some kind of right of passage ceremony or school recital is about to occur which requires these kids to dress as their rural ancestors once did. Regardless of what is taking place, the pride that these young people and their parents have in their culture is one that I find quite appealing and am more than a little envious of. I walk a few more blocks when I suddenly hear church bells and spot what appears to be a brother and sister running to mass. Taking a peek inside, it appears that a Catholic service is about to commence. I wonder if these parishioners are the sons and daughters of recent immigrants. Considering Norway’s strong Lutheran past and even stronger secular present, it’s unlikely that this congregation is made up of ethnic Norwegians. I wonder if my own Catholic ancestors looked this way a hundred years ago upon immigrating to Protestant dominant America. I contemplate sitting in on the service but reconsider as it’s probably best that I don’t intrude.
The final leg of my stroll today takes me far outside my comfort zone in the fact that I’m more than a bit lost and not really sure how to get back to my hotel. I climb an uphill footpath that appears to be on private property and come across a young mother holding her infant child. I smile, say hello, and then tell her that I am lost and would like to know how to get back downtown. Thankfully, she takes pity on my current situation and does her best to keep from laughing at me. She then instructs me to keep climbing up the hill and to then take a right hand turn upon reaching the top. I am quite appreciative for her assistance and thank her several times. One thing that stood out for me about our conversation is that she never for one moment appeared threatened by my presence on her property. In many parts of the of the US, however, I might have been introduced to a large caliber weapon for such a provocation. But thankfully here in Norway, people tend to trust each other and seem to assume the best about their fellow human beings.