Bergen. And I’d been here before. Last time I was on the cusp of 22, and we sailed in on a ferry from Newcastle, setting out on our last ever family holiday. I remember it was light at 11 in the evening, and the waterfront was thick with people, including some bikers with long beards, and an incongruous blues band playing ‘Hit the Road, Jack’. And Bergen goes back further than that. On the video of that same trip, there’s a shot of my mother, standing on the quay. ‘Do you know,’ she says to the camera, ‘Daddy and I stood here thirty-four years ago…?’ My parents came here on their honeymoon; now, again, I stood on the same spot. Bergen is where things start.
It was different this time. The port was quiet, and the snow was thick. A kind of dry, salty snow that when it gets mulched just seems to turn to grey powder, rather than slush or ice. On the road up to my hostel, a steep, winding track behind the funicular, above old dockside Bryggen, I had to dodge out of the way a couple of times to make way for the steady stream of schoolchildren tumbling down on sledges. The hostel itself was a sweet little place, an old boarding house with models of classic cars dotted round the living room, a dressing gown laid out on my bed and a radio on the desk. Cheap too, and with breakfast included.
The rest of Bergen, it turned out, was not quite such good value, and I spent a good half hour wandering the snowy streets, trying to find somewhere to eat supper for under 20 quid that wasn’t McDonalds. There were lots of fine looking restaurants of course, but somehow I couldn’t quite picture myself sitting alone in the corner of a bistro with asymmetric plates, quietly picking at braised Western Norwegian lamb with potato purée and glazed whortleberries and trying not to catch anyone’s eye. Eventually my dive radar led me to a bar round the far side of the port, where I managed to get fried pork, chips, salad and a pint for about 15 pounds. It was good, but as I sat eating it at the bar and scribbling in my pocket book it did occur to me that the same amount would have got me duck and mash and a pint of Black Sheep at the Cuckoo. I imagine this is something I will have to get used to.
The air felt clean. At least it did to someone who had spent the better part of a day breathing relentlessly-conditioned air in planes and airports – the sort that makes your hands smell like you’ve been rubbing dirty coins in them. It was cold out, but not painfully so – I’d been fine walking around just in my heavy wool gansey and skip hat, and there was none of that icy wind that had cut at me on my way to the post box back in Adel only the day before.
The bar was cosy, and beginning to fill up with Norwegians, already drunk at 7 in the evening. I tipped back the rest of my beer and warmly considered another one, then contemplated how quickly a few pints a night could send me home broke, and left before I had time to weaken. Back at the hostel I made a sweet coffee and sat down at my computer to write.