Aug 11, 2012

Have camera, will wander


There were only two things planned today: My haircut and taking some pictures of a Bergen still enjoying summer. OK, a vague third plan: Getting off the bus one stop after the usual one.

That last was due to the surprise I gave myself going to the Paul Simon concert last month: The bus stop closest to the concert arena was no longer in use. I had to get off around the next corner and walk back along the fortress walls. That evening I saw bluebells growing right out of those walls, and today I was going to try to get a picture.


As the bus approached my chosen stop, I discovered that a cruise ship had docked and dozens of people were walking towards the town center. I walked in the back gate to the fortress grounds so I could set my own pace since I had a hair appointment. No bluebells growing out of these walls, but I did see another woman with a camera strapped to her wrist: The "meter maid" photographing possible violators. So I waved my camera at her and exchanged a greeting.

We haven't had much of a summer so today's sunshine and mild temperatures were a welcome change of pace—a chance to get another taste of summer before the inevitable end. So I didn't feel like going straight home when I stepped out into the lovely summer air as I left the hair salon. I decided to go see if my favorite little coffee shop by the funicular station was open.

The funicular station itself had a longish line. The girl in the coffee shop told me that she'd seen that line stretch all the way to the end of the block, and that it was mostly due to cruise tourists. I got my double latte with macademia nut syrup to go and as I walked back to the funicular station, ran into a tourist who wanted to walk up to the top of the funicular, the look-out point on Fløien. I told him to just keep going up. He set off at quite the pace. I saw other tourists and idly wondered if one could get lost "just going up". I've made a wrong turn just going down.


I started up various stairs and twisting roads, pacing myself, stopping to take pictures and sip coffee, working up a sweat in the sunshine. I got up to the old fire station and found some actual firemen. I asked one what they were doing, spraying water onto a pond, and learned that they tested their pumps every Saturday morning. I've never walked in this neighborhood at around 11 am on a Saturday, so I didn't know. By the way, firemen are not macho. So said a fireman. They are primarily nurturing, more concerned with saving human lives and team spirit than being the first to enter a burning building. I did kick myself afterwards for not flirting with the guy I talked to.

I continued on my way up the hill, and having finished my coffee, pondered options: More coffee? More walking? I decided to skip coffee, stop walking up and start walking down. The first bit of road was familiar, but with my decision to aim for the neighborhood of the bus station, I ended up on streets I'd never walked before. I became a true tourist.


The charm of walking around in Bergen are all the tiny alleys. There's no harm in trying out some of the steps and narrow passages; most are public thoroughfares (man, I haven't seen that word in a while!). I followed my own advice and ended up on some of the crookedest stairs I've yet encountered in Bergen. Sometimes you hit a dead-end walking down some steps, but you usually don't get far before discovering that. These narrow passageways were originally the paths of brooks coming down the mountain, and brooks often have rocks that are pretty good for stepping on so they also became paths. Eventually, the brooks were laid in pipes (Bergen was one of the first cities in Norway to get modern plumbing) and paved over with cobble stones or fitted with stone steps. Here's a hint for you, the tourist: If you see a sign that reads "Ingen gjennomgang", then that alley isn't a through street. The sign means "Not a through passage".


Eventually my wandering in unfamiliar streets came to an end. I passed by the train station and main library to my bus stop and discovered that I had about 20 minutes until my next bus. I browsed bus brochures inside the bus station, and donated money to the Salvation Army. I know they are homophobic and I'm not Christian, but Norway's been changing, resulting in increasing numbers of low-income families that get free groceries from the Salvation Army. I wanted to help buy groceries.


Nice weather makes me more tolerant and generous. Today wasn't the first time sunshine not only lightened my mood, but opened my wallet. At the bus stop, a fellow with the slow voice people who have been substance-abusing for a while have hit me up for money. He was Norwegian. I gave him a largish bill and he was very grateful, even shaking my hand.

I was reminded of the last time the sun shone and I gave money to a beggar: Some Asian-looking grandma with five teeth shook my hand and blessed me several times as a thank you. Like most Norwegians, I am conflicted about whether or not to give money to beggars. We are all told that the government will provide food and shelter for anyone in need and yet we meet more and more individuals down on their luck, hoping for the kindness of strangers. Some are foreigners who spend their summers in Norway, hoping to feed their family at home by holding out a cup.

I stood in the sunshine, clean, well-fed, not going to miss what I had given, and decided that if it is true that we are all one, that everyone else is actually a facet of me, then I hope I've set up some good karma for all my me's—in this lifetime and others. (Or maybe there truly is no "recycling" of souls, like the sticker on this garbage can suggests:)


And as I write this, it dawns on me that I didn't tip the barista. Dang.