Writing: June 15, on a bench facing the fountain in a park right at Bergen’s city centre. It’s a brilliant day with only traces of white clouds high up in the sky. Couldn’t have imagined better weather in a beautiful city just as this. After a couple of days of slight discomfort, I feel rejuvenated again.
I woke up very tired yesterday morning at 7:00am to catch my 8:11am train to Bergen. Very tired, but encouraged and happy: the train ride I was going to take, from Oslo to Bergen—although not as scenic as the world‐famous Flåm—is still said to provide some brilliant views of the type I only before seen in western Canada. My infatuation with nature, especially mountains and lakes, has been described in this blog a couple of times before so there’s no need to repeat; in short—wherever there are mountains and lakes, I feel at home.
The hotel’s shared toilets, and the corridor leading to them, were so depressing and cold that I couldn’t even gather enough mental power to brush my teeth. Seriously; all I wanted to do was to just board that damn train and go on.
If certain people felt that I was a bit down in Oslo, well, they were right—some things just didn’t add up. Even though I pride myself in being very reasonable and methodical, sometimes things just “happen” and “add up” in a way that causes an annoyance; as I have promised myself, before writing this blog, that I will write whatever it is I feel like and avoid (to the extent possible) any editing, the frustration obviously surfaced through the lines.
I must say, though, that people noticing the “down” mood I was in for the last couple of days, actually provided me with the best feedback I could get; it essentially means that I was able to convey whatever is in my head, through my EEE‐PC’s ergonomic keyboard, through the wire and straight into readers’ minds. Can a (wannabe) writer get any better compliment than that? I severely doubt it.
So, thank you.
Hold on… gotta move to another spot. A tree is casting some shade on the bench I’m sitting on, and I prefer the sun. Moving to the grass.
25 minutes after waking up yesterday I was all set to go. I left the “hotel” with a smile on my face—which was erased quickly once I started walking the desolate streets of Oslo’s train station area.
Spent the time prior boarding in a cafe named “Beans” at the train station. A mediocre baguette and a tasty cappuccino kick‐started (is it “kick‐started”? or “kicked‐start”? or “kicked‐started”?) the day. Down the escalator to platform 4 and I boarded the train.
Life is good again.
Oh, the train. My ass spent so much time on a train seat over the last month since Dublin, that I don’t really feel that I’m riding a train anymore—instead, I feel like a train is riding me. My ass took the shape that is the cumulative average of the topologies of various train seats; for the first time in my life, I’m considering buying a couch once I’m back in Canada.
First‐class seats in NSB Komfort (that’s how they spell it) are very convenient; reclining almost all the way back. But something must go wrong; of course. Three mature tourists from some European country its language I can’t recognize were seated beside me and, I swear to you folks, didn’t stop talking for one second. Never mind the fact that the poor lady seated in their compartment tried to sleep and couldn’t; they just kept on yapping and yapping non‐stop.
The ride from Oslo to Bergen normally takes six hours and a half—today it took seven hours due to some maintenance work that had to be done on the rail, shortly before arriving to Bergen; during the first few hours, the ride was indeed very pretty but not as dramatic as I thought it would be. The views reminded me a lot of British Columbia’s interior, with the abundance of hills, trees in all shades of green, rivers and lakes. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a very pretty sight, probably of the prettier natural sights you could find in Europe.
However, as the ride gets further from Oslo and closer to Bergen, the views gradually change for the better, becoming more wild, vivid, raw, untouched. Yes, this starts getting very close to the power reflected from the Canadian Rocky Mountains range. As the ride continued, I felt as if I’m falling in love.
And shortly after, we get the bonanza. Yes! Now that’s what I’m talking about.
A little further… Oh me!
During the ride, the train makes many stops—in some of them, stopping for periods of five minutes or more. A few minutes after taking this last picture above, the train made a stop in a place I could only describe as “heaven”; people literally stormed out of the train, holding their cameras and taking pictures. I was one of them. Such fantastic views I have only before seen at the Athabasca Glacier area in Jasper National Park; natural beauty, hardly ever touched & molested by mankind. You look at these views and you feel that it’s you and nature alone there—even if you’re surrounded by dozens of other people. That is completeness; that is perfection; that is simple, pure, neutral, basic, raw, virgin… that is nature at its best.
Try putting yourself in my shoes for a second. For two months, you have been driving cars, riding trains, planning around the clock, coming in touch with hundreds of people, listening to 45+ concerts (I lost count already); rush, rush, rush; and then, you’re standing there, amidst the very best mama nature could ever delight your eyes with. It’s quiet around; the air is so crisp you want to drink it; chilly winds bounce back from the mountains onto your face. Far, far away beyond the city walls. You can take a few steps, touch the cold soil; pick a rock with your hand; smell it; breathe it. Close your eyes and let yourself be swallowed in this raw display of power carved by nature for millions of years and slapped right onto your begging face in an instant.
It may be hard to believe, but 5 minutes of this is really all that’s required to get rid of months‐full of tension.
May I suggest you give it a try.
– “OK James, I’m going to take a shower, talk to you in about 15 minutes”
– “… You may wanna check Bergen before that.”
That was a part of an online conversation I had with James Morris as he was helping me plan‐out hotels and train connections in Europe, about a month ago during the break between the North American and European legs of the tour. I vividly remember it because of the shock I got right after following James’ advice.
Bergen is a small city; but more than it’s small, it is gorgeous; during spring‐summer months, demand for hotel rooms easily exceeds the supply and hotel rooms here are so ridiculously expensive that it makes you wonder whether is it a hotel you’re going to check in to, or maybe a palace. A typical hotel room in the city center, 3‐star hotel can easily cross the $200/night; some hotels here go for $350–400/night and there are some which go even higher. This may not be such a disaster for Norwegians (as very well put by Morten in his comment for my previous post; thanks Morten) but for tourists this often presents a deal‐breaker.
That is the reason why I decided to stay in a hostel, about 4km away from the city centre; a private room (interestingly containing two bunk beds) cost me 750 NKK a night—that’s about $100, and I was lucky enough to book early as it was one of the last two private rooms available for these dates. Remember this if you’re going to visit Bergen: book early. In summer months, you might as well waste your time counting the number of fibers in your shirt than trying to look for “deals”—there simply aren’t enough hotel rooms around.
Arriving at Bergen’s train station, my instructions were to look for bus #31 to get me to the hostel, located in a neighbourhood of Bergen called Montana. It’s a 4km ride; at first, I thought maybe I should just walk it. The weather was perfect, and even before knowing how beautiful Bergen really is—remember, I just exited the train station—something in the looks of it gave me the feeling that that might not be such a bad walk at all, to say the least.
I chose to take the bus; and oh, was I lucky to do that! there’s something else I didn’t tell you about Bergen—aside for the city centre, this entire city is built on hills. Houses on hill slopes are not uncommon here. Turns out that my hostel, located in Montana, requires one to take on some considerable elevation gain. Carrying an 18kg backpack, such a walk would have literally killed my feet, back and other limbs.
In his diary, Richard Bennett mentioned that the drive to the venue (from Bergen’s airport, I presume) took an hour. Mind you, that is approximately 30km. That’s another thing worth mentioning about Bergen: traffic here is hell. No, I certainly am not referring to wide highways being jam‐packed with vehicles; here, it’s different. Roads are very narrow—even highway 585 which crosses the city all the way north has, at most parts, two lanes for each direction. And that’s a highway. The city centre? forget about it. There aren’t many cars; but the few cars that are there are more than enough to make traffic here very problematic.
Trains? trams? forget about it. It is very difficult to create the infrastructure required for efficient train / tram rides here (except for the city centre area where some trams operate). Therefore, buses and taxis are your only viable choices for moving around the city (or, better off, really, just walk it. Weather‐permitting, it is gorgeous here). Except for the annoying fact that buses here accept cash (making boarding the bus a slow process), there are way more than enough bus lines here to get you anywhere you need. Buy a day pass and you should be good to go anywhere here worth visiting.
Arrived at the hostel—Hostelling International Bergen Montana Hostel—and checked in. The staff were very friendly and helpful, and provided me with detailed information how to get to Vestlandshallen and back, as well as how to get to the airport on Wednesday (I’m flying from Bergen to Hamburg through Oslo; otherwise I’d miss the concert as the train ride is very long with way too many changes). Uploaded yesterday’s blog entry and I was ready to leave.
To get to Vestlandshallen, I had to take bus #31 to the city centre, then take bus #50 or #90 northbound all the way to Asana—the bus terminal where most buses out of Bergen terminate—then walk.
Shortly after boarding the bus, I had a short discussion with the driver about how to get to the venue. A nice woman boarded the bus a few stops later, and gave me even further details. Then she asked me if I’m going to see Mark Knopfler’s concert… turns out she’s been to his concert in Bergen two years ago but couldn’t (or didn’t want to) go to yesterday’s concert (she said she prefers the old Dire Straits tunes, I said I highly prefer the solo stuff, particularly the last album… well, we don’t have to agree on everything). She was very nice and kind, and walked with me from the city centre to where I was supposed to take the connecting bus towards the Vestlandshallen. I bid her goodbye with a hug and a kiss.
The connecting bus towards the Vestlandshallen got filled‐up very quickly. I was lucky enough to get a seat—the bus was jam‐packed with people, most of which were going to the concert. A nice Norwegian couple I met in the bus said that they’re going to the concert as well, and we decided to walk there together (just so I don’t get lost).
Took the bus about half an hour to do a 16km ride, making many stops along the way, during which nobody left the bus put people kept boarding. Once arrived at the final station, the entire bus unloaded and we all joined herds of people marching towards the venue.
The Vestlandshallen is located right nearby a huge IKEA store. Turns out that the area is quite busy—lots of restaurants, a few shopping malls. I was starving, and seeing the IKEA at the horizon I decided that there’s no way I’m going to get lost in here. Bid the Norwegian couple goodbye and got myself a nice sandwich and good cappuccino at a nearby mall.
Walking towards IKEA, I followed the herds of people and then saw the venue. The Vestlandshallen is actually an indoor soccer arena, and from the exterior, it looks like a hangar. Looking at it from outside, you could have never guessed that concerts take place here.
The Norwegians, as well as people in the rest of Scandinavia (and in Canada), like queues; millions of people were ordered in 3 files for approximately one kilometre away from the entrance! I swear to the Lord that it looked like a bunch of ants making their way back to the colony (if only there were blonde ants, that would be perfect).
The instructions for markknopfler.com ticket‐buyers were to pick up the tickets from the box office, and then enter the venue through a dedicated entrance. For me, that meant that I didn’t have to wait through the huge queue. Still, I think that the instructions could have been made clearer. What ended up being the correct procedure was that you had to bypass the queue, approach one of the ushers (located about 200m away from the venue), show him the markknopfler.com confirmation email and only then he would let you in. Then you’d go to the box‐office which is adjacent to the venue, and from there it’s a short 6 seconds walk inside.
For people who only understand English, such instructions are, in my mind, need to be precise—especially in venues where not everything is clearly signed.
Picked up my ticket and entered the venue. Yes, this is a shoe‐box; it’s as boring from the inside as it is from the outside—only darker.
The first thing I did once I entered the venue was to get familiarized with what’s in there. I always do that, because you can never know what would you need and when. Also, I decided to practice a lesson from previous concerts and buy myself some water in case I become thirsty during the concert. 15 minutes in line and I made my way to my seat.
The way the venue was organized for this concert was that there were a few seated sections, and behind them—a general admission / standing section. It was 15 minutes before the concert’s start time and the venue started getting really full; therefore, I couldn’t really tell how am I supposed to get into my seat—so many people standing and no way at all to get to the front. An usher had to point me exactly where to go (“you’ll see the ushers there”); after some digging through people, I found the wormhole through which I could access my section.
Oh. So good to be seated again, at the front row, dead centre.
Beside me to my right, a few youngsters were seated. Eventually they told me that they are members of the “A Mark in Time” forum (see link to the right) and that they had recognized me. Yes, this blog made it all the way to Bergen!
I was excited. Seriously, I enjoyed the fact that I could once again enjoy a concert while my ass kisses a chair at the middle of the front row. Time to let my feet rest.
The short announcement by Paul Crockford urging people to respect Mark’s wishes and resist the temptation to use “these devices” during the performance; Feelin’ Good followed with a few minutes and the band took the stage at 7:30pm.
Good cheers from the audience as the band made it to the stage. Acoustics in this venue appear to be much of a problem—lots of echo, which made the cheers sound louder. For a change, the band did not wear any winter clothes. Good to be back indoors, isn’t it guys? yeah I know.
Again, a surprise‐less set has been played. The echo in the venue made a few instruments, during a few songs, sound louder in comparison to other instruments than usual, creating an interesting listening experience (for example, Mark’s National guitar took on a louder role during Done with Bonaparte).
The people at the general admission / standing area appeared to have been talking non‐stop during the concert, presenting a mild annoyance during the quiet parts of the concert—not enough, however, to ruin anything.
It was evident that the band felt more comfortable performing indoors, after three concerts in a row being performed in open cold air. While I couldn’t really see the band members at the Oslo concert, the cold weather did seem to strike the band on the annoying side (in Middelfart and Helsingborg)—yesterday, they started smiling again.
I took some pictures about half an hour past the concert’s beginning…
… and then I was approached by a big guy who mumbled a long paragraph at my face… obviously I couldn’t understand a thing he was talking about. I asked the lady sitting next to me, she said I shouldn’t be using the camera.
Weird. That’s the first concert so far this tour where still‐photos were not allowed. Perhaps the Vestlandshallen’s owners fear that pictures capturing the shoe‐box‐ness of the venue would leak to the net? well, the damage has already been done.
Before Sultans of Swing, Mark gave his usual explanation to the audience with regards to the stool.
– “I can get a wide view…”
– (turning to his right) “I can see you over there… nice to see you” (waving)
– (turning to his left) “… and I can see you filming over there… not so nice to see you” (pointing)
I wasn’t the only one to laugh heartily and loudly—not too many people remained quiet.
“OK, Danny…” and Sultans of Swing started playing, squeezing wild cheers and hand movements from the audience. I did notice, however, that Mark had some trouble concentrating during the song. He seemed to be wanting to take the solos at some direction, and it just didn’t work out for him—resulting in a few guitar‐less gaps. Looking at his face, I could only conclude that he was either a bit distracted, or in a lot of pain; I can’t tell what exactly.
I certainly hope he feels well, though; would someone from his close circle convey my best wishes to him. Get well, buddy.
Whatever that distraction / pain problem was, it faded away by the time Speedway to Nazareth started playing. With the echo in the venue, that was a particularly loud one. I said many times before that Speedway at Nazareth is not of my favourite songs—in fact, it’s of my least favourite; but I’m beginning to like it.
It just strikes me odd that, once Toronto is mentioned, I’m the only one cheering.
During Brothers in Arms, a few people at the front row tried to remain standing, but were instructed back to their chairs; after Brothers in Arms, quite a few people stood up and remained standing. Some jobsworth‐y usher started telling people to sit down, until a colleague of his came by and whispered something to his ear. I couldn’t, of course, tell what it was, but from his face expression I could understand that it was something along the line of “it’s OK, you really have no chance having everybody sit down as the entire venue is on its feet; better give up now”. A lot of power in the air when everybody and their sister in the audience were standing during the last two songs.
A 15‐songs set was over at around 9:30pm and the band left the scene. Another good concert is over, time to make the way back.
Before I left, the hostel’s receptionist phoned the Vestlandshallen and then informed me that there are free shuttles from the venue back to the city centre once the concert is over. I was too stupid to ask for further directions, so going back to the city centre after the concert was a bit painful.
First, a 15 minutes walk to the bus terminal. Not so bad; weather was still great.
Then, at the bus terminal, the fun started—waiting with hundreds of people to the bus. The buses kept coming, but there was quite a bit of pushing at the line‐up to board them. Also, boarding was very slow—about 10 minutes to fill each bus, as people had to pay upon boarding and the buses were instructed to pack as many humans as possible. After about 45 minutes there, I finally boarded bus #100 which made its way very quickly to Bergen’s city centre.
It was very late—just before 11:00pm. I was very hungry; my attempt to eat at a nicely‐looking restaurant has failed—their kitchen was closed. Having no other choice, I had to resort to a McDonald’s store near the station.
On my way back to the station, I spotted the bus I was supposed to take. A short run and I got it on time. Was good to be back on the top of the hill, where the hostel is located. So quiet in there… heavenly.
I arrived at the hostel at 11:45pm; I was absolutely amazed to notice that there still is daylight around. At the hostel, I continued using my laptop until about 12:45am—still not completely dark! Wow. I must be way up north. Does it even get dark here in July‐August? I wonder.
Went to bed… and had one of the best night sleeps. The next day (today) is a day off in Bergen.
Signing off this post on 2:49pm, in Cafe Aura in Bergen’s city centre. So far, today was one of the best days ever. Bergen is beautiful—wait for some pictures in an upcoming post!