First meal of the day: brunost on bread. No trip to Norway is complete (and perhaps no Norwegian is complete) without brunost ("brown cheese"), a slightly sweet, dense, tacky, sort of fudge-like goat and/or cow milk cheese that gets its distinct flavor and color from the caramelization of slowly cooked milk. In the US I've found brown cheese at Whole Foods—they sell dainty blocks of Tine's Ski Queen brand—but the most fervent adoration of this cheese is confined to Norway, where you'll find over ten varieties of the stuff (variations of three main types: geitost, made from goat milk; guldbrandsdalsost, made from goat and cow milk; and fløtemysost, made from cow milk). Top a slice of bread with a thin shaving of brunost—shaved with the help of a Norwegian-invented cheese slicer—and BLAMMO! [insert puff of smoke], you've got breakfast. Or a snack. Or (part of a) lunch. It can be anything you want it to be, as long as you want sweet cheese and bread.
After our quick breakfast, Kåre and I rushed to the city center to meet up with our friends Morten, Petter, and Petter's wife Lina near Fløibanen, the funicular that goes up Mount Fløyen, granting you beautiful views of the city. But first, we ran into Morten sitting on a bench near the funicular's entrance.
But not just Morten...
OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD PUPPY FUZZY PUPPY FUZZY PUUUUUUPEEEHHHH!!??
To be more specific the fuzzy Shiba Inu puppy is named Aiko. Her fur was as soft as a cotton ball. And she was small enough to curl up inside Morten's jacket. D'aw. We walked towards Håkonshallen to let Aiko do her "I'M A PUPPY AND I AM GOING TO RUN AROUND ON THE GRASS AND DO CUTE PUPPY THINGS AND YOU WILL WATCH ME AND LOVE ME!!!" thing.
But first, we walked along Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen whose Hanseastic trade buildings date back to 1702, although most of the buildings in that area (here's a bird's eye view on Google Maps) have burned down and been rebuilt since then due to Bergen's numerous fires. 1702 is the date of the oldest wooden buildings since that's the year when a fire destroyed most of the city; really, check out the page I just linked to, it's nifty. Roll over the 1702 button and the map floods with fiery death and destruction. I'm not sure how old the designs of the buildings are, but Hanseatic merchants set up office in Bryggen around 1360 so...they're old. The buildings have retained their appearance due to being rebuilt according to original plan, although where there used to be trade offices are now shops, restaurants, art studios, and other 21st century things.
...Along with this well endowed unicorn who marks the entrance to the restaurant Enhjørningen (Norwegian for "unicorn").
You'll also see charming manhole covers featuring illustrations of Bryggen.
But enough of that junk—BACK TO PUPPY TIME!
AW YEAH, PUPPY TIME! IT'S THE BEST TIME!
THERE SHE IS AGAIN, YUP!
MORTEN, I CANNOT PAY ATTENTION TO YOU WHEN I AM STARING AT YOUR PUPPY!
OK PUPPY GO BACK IN YOUR SNUGGLY JACKET HOME oh how I wish I had a snuggly jacket home.
Morten gave me the opportunity to help Aiko learn commands using the power of lil' doggie treats, but when I showed her my upturned palm of edible bits, she didn't dare come closer to me. WHY WON'T YOU LOVE ME, AIKO? IS IT BECAUSE I AM A STRANGE, FOREIGN MONSTER TO YOU? Because that's pretty understandable.
We headed back to the central square lined with pastel-colored buildings. I wish more buildings were this bright and colorful in New York. Golden yellow = my happy color.
We ran into one of Morten's friends who had a dog. A Petit Brabançon. Named Dior. Look at that face. Ahaha...hehe...heheahhrhooouhghg. (That's how I type out snorfly laughter. Maybe you felt it too.)
More walking took us past the lake Lille Lungegårdsvannet, surely prettier when it's not frozen and covered in gray.
We took a quick look around Global Food, an ethnic grocery store that seemed to have a little bit of everything. Indian stuff, Southeast Asian stuff, Chinese stuff, Korean stuff, other stuff. It wasn't a huge supermarket, but it had a good variety for its space.
A dilemma: Your store is closing. Do you remove the mannequins from the window ("We went out of business"), leave them naked ("We went out of business"/"We're updating our clothing selection"), or cover them up with trash bags ("We went out of business"/"We offer the finest selection of garbage bag outerwear"/"We have nothing but garbage bags, scissors, and excess free time")? I applaud this store for going the creative route.
For a late lunch, we headed to Morten and Behnaz's apartment and picked up pizza at the nearby Ostello.
Pizza boxes in Norway commonly feature holes in the top to hold containers of pizza dressing. You know, this stuff. In this case we got sour cream and garlic.
If Morten had his way he would've made pizzas—they would've surely been better than any other pizza in Bergen—but when time is short and you enter that stage of hunger-induced hallucination where everything you look at magically morphs into a juicy steak (even steaks, which just morph into larger steaks), you go for take-out. We split two pizzas between the six of us: one with onions, bacon, and mushrooms, and one with pineapple and pepperoni. Sure, it wasn't Motorino, but when you're hungry, any combination of cheese, meat, and bread is pretty damn good.
And when in Norway, put some sauce on it.
Aiko didn't partake.
After leaving Morten's place, Kåre and I headed to Petter and Lina's apartment. And when you're a new visitor to Petter's place, you must pet his tarantula.
..Wait, what. Ok, some backstory: Petter is a spider expert. For real. That link doesn't explain his expert-ness, but it's all I could find in English. If someone in Norway needs info about spiders, Petter's the guy to call, pretty much. YEAH, THAT IS DAMN COOL.
So, back to the tarantula. Petter won't shove it in your face against your will or anything (not that...any sane person would do that), but considering that most people (like myself) are unreasonably spooked by spiders—especially fat fuzzy ones with golf ball-sized bodies—because they're super damn creepy looking ohgodsocreepy (maybe Petter would disagree) and sometimes full of poison, Petter wants to show people that there's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing at all...
OHGODITTOUCHEDME—yeah, it was fine. Petter is one of the most gentle, sweet people you could ever meet; if you're going to trust anyone with your first "touching a tarantula" experience, he's your dude. Petter sent the tarantula on a slow walk across my palm; it felt like lil' fuzzy pitter patters. And then he held it in a little ball on its back so I could touch its belly, or whatever that part of a spider is. I'm not raring to relive the sensation of a spider brushing against my skin, but I am mildly less freaked out by tarantulas now. THANK YOU, PETTER!
Out main activity of the night: free kung fu/wushu show at a local school gymnasium, put on by athletes visiting from China. Nothing like watching a group of skilled and poised athletes to make me think, "Wait, am I Chinese too? ...Nah, I will just be lazy forever. That is what I'm meant for." It was a fun show, but the funniest part had nothing to do with martial arts; it was when the MC asked for a few child volunteers from the audience to come to the floor for an activity, then unexpectedly ended up with something like 13 excited kids streaming down from the bleachers. She acted calm, calm with an undertone of, "Ahhh what are all these kids doing where are the all coming from oh man there's another one ahhhh—"
Back at Kåre's place, stomachs went a-rumbling. What could we make with the ingredients on hand? WAFFLES. Because when in Norway, you can totally eat waffles for dinner. I like that.
I also like that this milk carton had windows showing how much milk is left. And in case the windows aren't enough, it also comes with little icons showing how much remaining milk each window portrays, if the milk were blood-colored.
Norwegian waffles are thin, more crepe-y/pancake-y than the waffles I'm used to. That made me think I could devour a whole stack of 'em. "Look at how thin they are. They're practically AIR."
Wheaty air topped with
blueberry correction: bilberry jam (but more fun if you say its Norwegian name, blåbær, which is pronounced something like "blow-bah", or "bluh-bah", or "blah-bah"...all three of those together, yes), butter, lemon juice, sugar, or brunost. In other words, not air. In other words, I probably didn't eat that many before feeling full, even though I wanted to eat more. The winning combo was a waffle spread with butter, sprinkled with lemon juice, then liberally sugared. Why doesn't this combo appear more in my flat cakey life? What a fool I am.
The four of us couldn't finish off the stack of waffles. Weaksauce. They were good though! I would happily partake in more waffle dinners. Let's make this a reality.
Bergen, Day 1: Snack, Nap, Burger