We visited Bergen today, which is very, very far north. So far north that, during December, the residents can get as little as 9 hours of daylight the whole month, if the ship’s expert is to be believed. During July, though, Bergen gets 160 (or maybe 180) hours of daylight. It’s 9:00 at night now, and back home we’d look at the same sky and guess that it’s about 5:30.
Bergen was founded in 1070 by one of the first Kings named Olaf. There where a lot of Olafs, and I don’t remember which one founded Bergen. For a long time, Bergen was Norway’s capital city. Since Oslo took over, though, Bergen has dropped to second place, with a population of about 240,000.
The visual highlight of Bergen is the wharf area, which has a small castle and the famous row of 18th century houses, some of which sag delightfully, like colorful drunks next to their more sober sisters. From travel brochures and shows, one has the sense that all of Bergen has that charming, somewhat loopy antiquity, but that’s definitely a false impression. Outside of the historic area, Bergen is a thriving, modern city. The white Norwegian houses, with their black tile roofs, seem to climb every one of the seven hills that make up this charming city at the far end of a fjord.
After admiring the wharf, we took a funicular up to a spectacular view area that allowed is to see the entire city spread out before us. We then hiked even further up, to some of the most beautiful little glades I’ve ever seen. Bergen gets around 240 days of rain and snow annually, so the woods are lush, and mossy, and dotted with small lakes on which float delicate lily pads. I kept feeling as if I’d wandered into one of those 19th century pastoral landscapes we saw at the museum in Oslo. Only the cows were missing.
Marin is semi-arid, so a hike up Mount Tam or Ring Mountain tends to be a yellow and dusty experience. If there’s been rain, the dust turns to mud, and the yellow scrub takes on a greenish cast, but lush is not the word I would use to describe it. Lake Tahoe, like Bergen, is carved out of wonderful, solid, glittering gray and pale gold granite, but it too is arid. Unlike Tahoe, the granite in Bergen was softened by feathery trees, moss in all shades of green, soft, waving grasses, and meadow flowers.
It’s a good thing nature was so satisfying, because everything else was too expensive to enjoy. Norway is one of the most expensive, and profitable, countries in the world. This doesn’t come about because of exceptionally good management or unusually hard work. Instead, Norway floats on a sea of oil (or, as they said in the “Beverly Hillbillies,” “black gold, Texas tea”). I think a guide told us that Norway is the third largest oil exporting country in the world.
The Norwegians don’t use the oil themselves (for the most part). Instead, they ship it out to great profit, and then turn around and piously use renewable energy within their own borders.
Okay, that was a bit snarky of me.
Where the Norwegians get great credit is that they’re like the Alaskans in that they think the oil wealth is a bounty owned by all, rather than just by the oil companies. Unlike Alaska, though, which sends checks to each Alaska citizen, the Norwegians are so homogenous in their belief systems that they willingly plow it into socially agreed-upon infrastructure and social services.
Norway’s socialism thus works to the benefit of all, not because socialism itself works, but because the Norwegians can bankroll socialism with black gold, and impose it upon people who all think alike. What this means is that, while many can admire the Norwegian model, few can emulate it.
Both systems — Alaskan and Norwegian — are good on their own terms, and especially good when compared to the Russian and Middle Eastern models, which see corrupt oligarchies and poor masses.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say about Bergen. More tomorrow.