April 8, 2011
Bergen, Day 1: Snack, Nap, Burger
You know what I love just as much as eating? Sleeping. I'm one of those people who, if undisturbed by loud noises/responsibilities/the urge to pee, can sleep soundly until 1 p.m. My body is no longer programmed to wake up with the sun—my body runs on Internet Time. Unfortunately, Internet Time is forever.
Luckily, I know Kåre and I make a good match because he too can ignore the sun and occasionally sleep until the afternoon. And thus when I visited him in Norway, with flexible plans to eat lots of stuff and hang out with friends, we ended up allotting more time to sleep than anticipated. Not that we regret it—we got plenty done in the hours we were awake—but in case the subsequent posts about my trip make it seem like we didn't do much, there's my explanation. Sleep > food.
Oh, even though I can sleep like a dead log in bed, it's a different matter in an airplane. Airplane seats aren't built for ease of sleep, but to withstand rigorous pressure from a continuous stream of travelers' bottoms. During the 13 hours or so it took to get from New York City to Bergen by way of Frankfurt (there weren't any direct flights), with a nearly four-hour layover during which I became increasingly addicted with Angry Birds, I slept...[counts on fingers]...not much. I watched three movies (The Social Network: I think it was overhyped for me; Going the Distance: Meh; I only watched it to see Charlie Day; Easy A: The most enjoyable of the three, funnier than I expected), ate every foodstuff that came on a plastic tray or in a hermetically sealed plastic bag, and napped a smidge.
When we landed in Bergen, I was nervous. I couldn't tell you how many times I played the scene of seeing Kåre for the first time in my head. "WILL I SEE HIM AS SOON AS I GET THERE? OMG ARE WE GOING TO HAVE OUR FIRST KISS IN AN AIRPORT? IS THAT SOMETHING I WANT? IS IT GOING TO BE ALL LIKE SLOW-MOTION AND STUFF? BLUH BLA BLOOP BLEEPOO?" Answers to those questions: yes, he was waiting at the exit to the baggage claim; yes; didn't matter either way; nope, actually everything happened super fast; that's not English. Being excited and worrying about how things would unravel made everything unravel at warp speed.
Life returned to normal speed when we got back to Kåre's place. First order of business: SNACK TIME. Kåre topped some buttered slices of bread with fenalår—smoked and cured lamb leg—and strips of raw red bell pepper. It was my first time eating fenalår and my first time eating cured meat with red pepper. Outcome: I like both. The red pepper seemed a bit funny at first, but it gave a nice little burst of crunch and freshness to foil the meat 'n bread.
Here's the view from Kåre's balcony. Not too shabby, eh? If I look outside my window I see an unkempt backyard (only the basement apartment has access to it) strewn with brown and the mildly graffiti-ed brick backside of another building. That's what I get for living on the first floor. And for living in Bed-Stuy.
And then it was nap time. Nap time until dinner. Real activities could come later.
We decided to head to the city center to walk around and scope out the restaurant possibilities. Although Kåre has a car, we went the public transportation route—that way he wouldn't have to deal with parking and could get as intoxicated as he pleased.
Bybanen (sounds like "bee-bah-nen") is Bergen's light rail system, looking sparkly and new since it's only been in operation since June 2010. And light it is; so far it consists of 15 stations over 6.1 miles, but eventually the line will reach the airport. Kåre lives off the Sletten stop, about 15 minutes from the city center. Alas, it takes about 15 minutes to walk to the station (with Kåre's nice hilltop view comes the downside of walking down a hill), so it's not quite as convenient as I'd prefer (because I'm lazy and have a tendency to wheeze when faced with physical exertion), but it's certainly better than no train at all.
25 kr ($4.60) buys you a single ride ticket that you validate with a scanning machine on the train. The ticket dispensing machine doesn't have directions in English, but the sign next to the machine does. If you're American, you'll want to use cash; when I tried to use my credit card the machine asked for a pin number, a bit of a problem since I'm pretty sure most American credit cards don't use them. I didn't even know Chip and PIN cards were standard in many countries until...just now when I Googled it. USA = keeping it real with 20th century credit card fraud prevention.
In 21st century Bergen, you can tweet photos photo from inside the trains—the trains are equipped with (sometimes spotty) Wi-Fi. Thank heavens for this glorious future where I can share information in real time that no one cares about while riding public transportation. (I can't imagine subways in New York City getting Wi-Fi in my lifetime; first, I just want those signs that tell you how many minutes until the next train is coming. I expect my subway station to get them in 2023. Anyhoo, even if we did have Wi-Fi to ensure that our lives retain seamless, never ending stimulation, I'd probably just play Angry Birds or take a nap. I'm super fond of my subway naps. Refer to paragraph one.) The ride was smooth; I could sleep like a baby on that train, but the ride is too short to get the most out of a nap.
When we plopped off in the city center, we didn't know where to eat. (We didn't discuss it on the train ride since I spent the whole time trying to figure out how to send a tweet. Yeeaaah.) Of course, I didn't know—I don't live there. Kåre didn't have any preference either. Two indecisive people = FOREVER HUNGRY.
Until we reached a sign that said, "Probably the best burgers east of Nashville" belonging to the metal and rock-themed Inside Live & Rock Cafe. Aw man, don't say stuff like that; you're just setting me up for disappointment. But I had to try it—burgers are my thing.
Burgers are the bulk of the menu at Inside. Most of the burgers have a heavy metal-themed name (similar to a certain Chicago burger joint) and come in three sizes: 100 grams (3.5 ounces), 160 grams (5.6 ounces), and 250 grams (8.8 ounces). Prices range from 114 kr (about $21) for the smallest, simplest burger, to 192 kr (about $35) for the large. All burgers come with a side of roasted potatoes. Yup, those prices are motherfuggin-crazy-expensive for a burger if you're American (at least, with the current exchange rate), but they're typical for Norway. Get used to that if you're eating out in Bergen. For my first night there, I had yet to adjust to weegie measurements and my inability to quickly grams to ounces and kroner to dollars meant I didn't know how much I was eating nor how much I was spending. Which was probably for the best.
To extend its HEAVY METAL ROCKER EXTREME theme, Inside offers a few gigantor burgers: the 320 gram (11.3 ounces) Bomber, the 666 gram (1.47 pounds—not quite as fun as its grams equivalent) Holy Diver, and the 1000 gram (2.2 pounds) Suicide Solution. The website features a sort of Hall of Fame for those who have eaten the burger showing how long it took them to eat it (no word on whether they threw up after they finished). That behemoth costs 419 kr, or $76.64. Sweet baby jesus.
But even if it cost a fourth of that, it wouldn't be worth it. I don't mean to verbally poop all over this burger, but when you make burgers your featured dish and advertise them clearly in a sign above your entrance, you're accountable for its deliciousness. And this burger (I went with the 160-gram) has one big problem:
The beef. It's not so beefy. Or meaty. Or fatty. Or juicy. ...On the bright side, it wasn't dry either. And it wasn't devoid of flavor, although I don't recall what the flavor was, exactly. It wasn't terrible, but it didn't taste like...burger. Morten said it more bluntly his review: "It is boring and dead." (That's from the Google translation; it may sound more lyrical in Norwegian.) Yeah, I can't argue with that—it could've been a protein patty borne from a petri dish. Although I wouldn't think to characterize a Shake Shack patty as being alive, compared to this thing, it's alive.
But that's just the meat. I'd agree with Morten that the toppings, bun, and condiments were all quite good. If not for that, the burger would be super-meh. The bun was pleasantly soft and not overwhelming, vegetable matter was fresh and crisp—there was that red pepper again!—and the slathering of Thousand Island-esque sauce on the bottom bun helped in the moisture department. I could've gone without the tomato chunk and cucumber slice on the bottom, though. I can always go without tomatoes, but in this case the slice was relegated to one side (or underside, rather) of the burger, while on the other side was a slice of cucumber. Not pickled cucumber—plain, unadulterated cucumber. Unlike the prices, plain cucumbers on burgers isn't a typical Norwegian thing, and the menu says you can ask for pickled cucumber instead. I don't know why they wouldn't just make that the default; plain cucumber doesn't add much to a burger.
Not knowing that the burgers came with roasted potatoes by default, we ordered a side of roasted potatoes—a side that seemed to have four potatoes' worth of roasted wedges in it. Oops. I forget what the price was, but I'm pretty sure that unlike the burgers the potatoes were reasonably priced. I guess because they're...potatoes. Good ones at that—they were nicely crisp on the outside and dusted in some sort of slightly spicy seasoning. Vague details, yeah. Overall message: I liked 'em.
I'm sad that the sign above the door was full of lies, but I'm glad I tried it. If Inside used better beef, their burger would be way better. Or they could make lamb burgers. Or mix in some pork. CROSS-SPECIES BURGER POWER.
Morten and Kåre would probably say I already ate the best burger during my last visit to Norway in 2006 when I ate at Bolgen & Moi. I enjoyed it despite that it was more meatloaf-y than burger-y. Better than Inside, for sure, and at a similar price, but it was too unwieldy for me to want to eat it again.
After dinner we hobbled our burger and potato-laden selves (I ate way too many of those potatoes) around the mostly empty streets and very clean. A few snapshots:
- Some parts of the sidewalk feature quotes in the tiles. "All sickness comes out of food and drink." ...Wait, I don't want to think about that.
- Sign in a toy store: "Invisible Toy." Man, I don't need to buy an invisible toy; I've got one right here. [pats desk] Or is is here? [looks in drawer] Fffffuuuu—
While I was taking a photo of the vaskoteque sign, a random unaccompanied young woman approached us. Friendly. Giddy. Fresh-faced. Eager to use her English. Probably very drunk. I couldn't tell if she was in high school or college—she looked pretty young. And I don't remember what our conversation consisted of (although me taking a photo of a sign for a laundromat probably had something to do with it). But she was surely the friendliest random drunk person I've ever encountered. Bless her. I hope she was able to safely stumble to her next Saturday night destination.
Ah, Bergen, giving me all the good memories.
Posted by roboppy at 4:01 AM
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