Rik is the Dutch boyfriend of Andrew’s Australian schoolfriend, Kathleen. Rik lives in Bergen, Norway, and works on an oil rig two weeks on, four weeks off. Or the other way around. Kathleen works for DFAT, and is taking time off from work, where they most recently had her posted in Jordan. They are now on holiday in Italy, I think – four weddings two months – and we are staying at Rik’s apartment in Bergen. Which is great of him, because it’s right in the heart of the city, and staying anywhere in Norway requires you to take out a second mortgage on your house. And we don’t even have a house. So yay.
Staying in Bergen is fine, really, if you’re boring like us, and only really buy food. I’m eating 1200 calories a day and training, anyway, which makes it pretty easy. The hard part is feeding Butters twice that – but he loves triple peanut butter sandwiches for snacks, so it’s not difficult at all.
The students here have an interesting life. Bergen is a university town, and this is O-week. We saw Skinlo the other day, our friend from Clube, when he took us to the football. Norwegians have been some of the best players for Clube over the years – we still yearn for the dulcet midfield stylings of Knut Knutsen – and I think they might come to Australia for the cheap beer. Butters said that they go nuts in Australia because of the prices, but I didn’t get it until I was here. Beer costs about $8 a bottle in the supermarket. It’s not a complaint, as such, just an observation about the cost of living, which is something that everyone has to deal with, and therefore notable. Anyway, students get to go to Uni for free (Australia dumped that ridiculous policy years ago. What a stupid idea to educate your next generation and enhance the intelligence of your country. Silly idea) but they still have student loans. To live. You know – buy food, and stuff. Skins lives with his mum, I think, but still gets loans. He’s just got the job as cultural editor for his school magazine (we all decided it was a good idea to start spreading the nickname ‘Dr Culture’, which we can spell ‘Dr Kulcha’ only on Sundays – everyone needs a nickname), where he sends off unpaid journo cadets (he says all the girls are crap at writing – he’s a charmer) to review gigs and sports and shows. Anyway, he’s not been around a lot this week, because the hoards of eighteen year old uni students, looking effervescently excited and cool, but nervous and unsure about how they’re walking and standing, are part of his job. He has to tell them about what they should be spending their small amounts of borrowed cash on. But all of the boys from Clube in Bergen – Skinlo, Oysten, Nick, Erik, Gunner – are going out tonight with Butters. I bowed out, very smartly I think. Protein shakes are my beer, early nights are my late nights, etc, etc (http://pinterest.com/pin/447615650435241094/). I’m running 10k tomorrow morning. The thing is, though, that they will all be coming over to our house to drink before going out to drink. That’s what people do in Bergen, because it’s too expensive to drink out. They get drunk before they go out. Which is a terrible idea in terms of making the right beer decisions anyway, because you’re much more likely to go ‘to hell with it!’ and buy beer out, if you’re drunk when you get there. Right?
We climbed Floyen the other day, one of the mountains that rises out of the main street of the city, almost. It was a walk, and as usual the natives were lapping us on the uphills. Middle aged ladies in shorts were walking past us on every slope. I’ve noticed that everyone walks faster than you, here. I was delicately making my way down one of the mountains one morning, the soles of me feet almost parallel with my shins, it was so steep, when an old lady passed me at twice the speed on her fashionable-shoed walk to work. Embarrassing. On the flat streets, too, people seem to be walking normally, but it’s like looking at one of the giant passenger ferries in the harbour – they are actually moving at a ridiculously fast pace. Bored teenagers with their eyes melded to their smartphones – as opposed to early thirty year olds with their eyes melded to their Smartphones, like us – glide past at the speed of sound. Whoever that rich guy is in America who’s suggesting a public transport system that goes at the speed of sound, should visit. I think it’s the hills, and the long legs. Two things that Americans don’t have access to – exercise and height.
The harbour is beautiful. The fish markets line the major inlet, and have tables set up to eat their food. A lot of them sell soup, and they have gas burners at the tables, I guess so that you can make the soup how you want it. Most of the stalls are for fish: dried herring, which apparently gave this town its wealth (the trade was huge. I’m being trying to imagine how you’d eat it), and all kinds of fresh and pickled everything. You can buy whale meat, and they have prawns in big white rolls with lemon and dill. The locals weren’t allowed to shop at the harbour fish markets from the 1600s, or something like that, until the early twentieth century, for some reason. Probably to keep the prices down for the peasant folk. There are also stalls with jumpers, and trolls, and reindeer skins. It’s a small market, but cute. The large, tall, pointy houses on the sides of the harbour are shades of red, white and yellow, and made of wood.
We took the cable car to the top of the other mountain, Mt Ulriken. The wind was so cold that my fingers almost froze to the plastic take away container I had brought my lunch up in. I ordered Butters an Earl Grey tea (some hot water and a tea bag in a tiny mug).
It cost eight dollars.