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Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

I once again lie awake before the alarm at seven, shower and walk down to the train station. Today, I have a tour of the fjords scheduled. The tour starts at eight, but at ten of eight the ticket girl is telling me, “You know this tour leaves from the harbor, don’t you?” No, I didn’t, and the e-mail confirmation said nothing about it either. I sprint across town and barely make the ferry in time. The ferry proceeds north along the coast at a rapid clip. First I sit next to a woman who is a lawyer in Manhattan. “The fjords are 6,000 kilometers deep,” she tells me. Wow, you don’t say. Next, after we transfer to another ferry, a girl named Sybilla from Germany sits down next to me. Her English is broken but we have a good time, she teaches me random words in German. I am finding the tour a bit disorganized, there is very little central direction and one must listen carefully to the cryptic announcements in order to know what to do next. We board another ferry from our current one right out in the sea itself, and then turn from the Sojnefjord (which is the longest fjord in Norway) into a smaller branch to the south. The fjords are breathtaking, steep hard rock angling down from the heights into the mysteries of the still green water below, winding all the while deeper into the misty distance. This place is a natural shrine, free from human interference, a cathedral of earth and rock and sea and sky. It is a place that is difficult to put properly into words. The boat tour wraps up at a small village which includes a mock Viking settlement, complete with huts, boats, weapons, shields, etc. We take the bus to the train and get back to Bergen. On the bus I talk to an animated old Italian man who talks a blue streak, you can’t get a word in edgewise. He has terrifyingly bad teeth, they are black and brown and yellow and he dabs at his mouth with a handkerchief once in a while. He tells me all about the World Cup, and then moves on to world affairs, where he solves a majority of the world’s problems within a span of forty-five minutes or so. He is a highly amusing old fellow. After a quick dinner (at 7-Eleven!), I head back to the hostel once more. Watch a little World Cup, there are a couple of Polish guys drinking, hard looking strong-armed working class types. One is hosting drinking contests and toasting all the girls and laughing merrily. The blasted French prevail in the game, so it will be Italy and France in the final. I drink a few beers, then go back and chat with Lisa in our beds for a while. Even in darkness she is radiant. She shows me a picture of her husband, he looks like a prick. Lisa has been to the Shetland Islands recently to visit her grandfather. She is so comfortable and good-natured and unaware; I guess when everything goes right for you, you wind up with a pretty good disposition.


Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Up in the morning and on the train to Bergen. I had heard this is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and it truly lives up to expectations. Tall stately green trees, deep blue still water lakes, farms and waving meadows and rocky promontories, gurgling streams, wild flowers, all lit up in the bright summer sunshine. This must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. The deciduous trees turn to pine steadily as we move west. The conditions within the train itself are decidedly different, however. The train is very hot, no air, and I am all the way at the back in the last car. I think the ticket girl has once again played Screw With The Tourist because I must have the worst seat on the train. It is one of about four total seats that faces the other passengers like an interrogation, and I only have half a window to look through. There are dogs and cats all over the car, little ones, big ones. I am very allergic to cats, and I start to feel my breathing turn shallow. I think about asking the conductor to move me, but decide not to. Two Norwegian women, one younger and one older, sit in the two seats across from me. The older lady places the plastic carrying case with her two dogs in it on the seat next to me, trapping me in. The two dogs look like a cross between rats and vampire bats. They start to bark. One of them takes a dump, smelling up the compartment. The lady takes the dog out, getting shit on her pants. The girls tell me they are getting off at a stop half way, so I look forward to this so that I can take the girl’s seat, spread out and face the right direction. Five minutes before they leave, the younger girl gets up and goes to the bathroom, one of the little dogs manages to get out and promptly pisses in the seat I want. This is some sort of cosmic conspiracy, and I would like to lodge a formal complaint with whoever is in charge. But worse things have happened before, I suppose. In a little while, the trees grow very sparse, then disappear altogether. Then, suddenly off to our left I see snow! Pockets of snow dotting the landscape. It must be eighty degrees out. There is an announcement that we are at maximum speed and up at about seven thousand feet or so in elevation. Through a tunnel and then again to the left there is a giant glacier, slumbering in the hills, presiding over crystal clear lakes and streams down below. The train stops, I get out and realize it is actually a bit chilly, not eighty degrees like before. I bask in the scenery, the absolute majesty of nature as she still is in the furthermost outposts of the world, as she once was everywhere. We get going again, I watch the cat a few seats back, she is mesmerized, her eyes dart everywhere, she mewls plaintively and licks her lips, she wants to be out there, out in the middle of all that. So do I. I spend the last hours on the train with a wonderful Norwegian couple, on the older side, who speak halting English but are a pleasure to spend the afternoon with. They have a summer cottage outside of Bergen and like the Rolling Stones. A legion of Japanese march into the train at one stop, then methodically march out again a few stops later, part of some tour apparently. I get off at the train station and find my hostel, then my room, and lying in the bed next to mine is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life, an absolute vision, just waking up from a nap. Her name is Lisa, and she looks Norwegian but is from California. She will keep me up all that night just from the mere presence of her next to me. I go out to explore Bergen, which is a truly charming little town. At its center is a fish market down by the harbor, and a string of rustic houses stretches into the background up on to the sizeable slope on the city’s northern flank. Here in the warmth of summer, Bergen feels like a paradise, pretty and clean and relaxed, a model community, safe and picturesque, meandering cobblestone streets and churches and scenic views, but I can just imagine how cold it must get in the winter months. The prices are once again ridiculous, as well. I hang out at an idyllic little lake in a park near the train station for a while as the sun drops lower in the sky, then go back for some World Cup at the hostel bar. I go to bed and try to sleep, unsuccessfully due to the beautiful girl and all the commotion (lights going on, people shuffling around, doors opening etc.).