Norway: Bergen and Austevoll
March and April 2014
Work took me twice to Norway in the span of two months. I spent most of my time on Austevoll, a chain of islands south of Bergen. The islands reminded me of the San Juans in Washington. They were comprised mainly of rock, moss and pine trees. There were definitely differences - most of the islands were a giant peat bog on top of boulders, add in the sheep meadows, and narrow one lane roads - then you get Austevoll. While in Norway, I also spent a little time in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway.
An interesting thing about Norway (and Europe, in general) is the long human history compared to the US. It's amazing to know some (most) of the buildings (especially the churches) are 1000s of years old - older than the US! The old cobble stone roads are narrow and twisty, making them only suitable for small European and Japanese cars (I think I saw a couple of Fords, and one Hummer (!)). On the topic of cars, for such an oil rich country, they have a lot of electric cars. In Norway they give many benefits to electric cars (free ferry rides, designated lanes, tax breaks, etc). Electric cars are also cheaper than the more expensive gas consuming cars.
During the short time I spend in Bergen, I was able to visit their (very) small and expensive aquarium. The more interesting displays were the ones the native (commercial) fishes of the seas, because I had eaten many of them during my visit and we were about to work on them. The other interesting thing in the aquarium where the lumpfish - larger, uglier version of the cute PNW spiny lumpsucker. While in Bergen, I also took the Floibanen funicular (tram) up to the top of Floyen, a mountain, which provided a good look over the city and of the other mountains that surround the city. During the few evenings in the city, I was able to dine on their wonderfully prepared local fish (saithe, and cod) in some of the nicer restaurants.
On Austevoll, there were only two restaurants on the entire chain of islands. One is the expensive, but world renown (although I never heard of it) Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri, which was very good. The other restaurant is the Kultur Bakeriet, which was a bakery that also made pizzas (and had a taco bar, oddly enough). The pizzas were actually pretty good. Since those were the only food options on the islands, we bought most of our food at the small grocery store (there were two grocery stores) and cooked our food in the apartment. The grocery stores were limited in the food choices and surprisingly in their seafood department as well (Austevoll is where seafood is shipped out of). The diet of Norwegians is different than the US. Breakfast and lunch are typically open faced sandwiches (bread untoasted) topped with a combination of cheese, jams, deli meats, pickled herring (plain, tomato sauce, or mayonnaise), caviar from a tube, gravlax, smoked mackerel, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, etc. As for dinners, I'm not sure what they traditionally eat, but I think it's more of an entrée (not more open-faced sandwiches). They do eat a lot of fish and but not so much fresh vegetables. This is probably a cultural thing as they were originally a fishing society, without the season to grow a lot of produce. It was definitely fun to try the Norwegian diet for the time I was there, but I don't know if I'll be trying any Norwegian recipes at home.
Unfortunately most of the weather during the time I was there was wet, wet and wetter. On the few moments of rare dry weather and even a little sun, I was able to hike on a couple of the trails on Austevoll. Both trails were amazingly beautiful and gave great views of the coast line and the sea. The trails were also very wet as they crossed (waded) through the peat bogs. The trail located on the northwest most island (Storekalsoy) lead out to a place called Skansen, which was a boulder field against the open sea. The other trail that I was luck enough to travel was located on the west coast of Selbjorn. The trail traversed open meadows of heather and grass to a fresh water lake that drained into the sea. It also passed through the Steinevik nature reserve, which wasn't protected from the sheep. As a result a lot of the heather and other vegetation were reduced to nothing but bare earth and sticks. Where the sheep didn't overgraze the plants were thick in the peat bogs and I'm sure would put on an amazing display when the flowers bloomed.
As expected the birding on Austevoll was better than in Bergen (where most of the birds were common city birds). Austevoll hosted the typical forest birds found in Europe. Perhaps the most exciting bird I saw was the White-tailed Eagle (which is common in Norway, but not as much in the rest of Europe). The interesting thing about visiting Austevoll twice in the spring months was the difference in bird activity. There was a notable increase in bird activity and singing in April also the summer migrants were arriving. Birding didn't seem like a common past time of Norwegians, but I did see one bird feeder in Bergen and one on Austevoll, so there is some lurking interest. And with a show like this: (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2014/03/popular-norway-reality-tv-show-starring-birds/8751/) it's hard to argue that Norway doesn't like their birds.
Although my both of trips to Norway weren't exactly the birdiest, it was very beautiful and a great introduction to a few common birds of Europe and to a bit of Norwegian culture.
Trails of Austevoll: Storekalsoy, Hundvakoy, Selbjorn, Stolmen