Paved versus cobblestoned

The charm of Bergen is its old streets and equally old houses. The classic tourist photos look something like this:

An old residential street

An old residential street

So I thought I'd show you the less charming, more modern side. The side of the city I usually see. Honestly, I like this part, too. It's just not the most photographed.

Bergen is a constantly growing city. The population has doubled to 250  000 in the last 40 years. As for most cities, at some point you can't expand out; you have to start expanding up. So we've been seeing more and more taller buildings, although not in the city center itself (regulation rules and stuff).

I live in one of the suburbs, Fyllingsdalen, a mere 10-20 minute bus ride into town, depending on time and route. It's a trip I take a lot because I love going to "the city".

Mt Løvstakken, watching over Fyllingsdalen, one morning. In front, the local mall on the left and an apartment building on the right. This is what I see on my walk to work.

Mt Løvstakken, watching over Fyllingsdalen, one morning. In front, the local mall on the left and an apartment building on the right. This is what I see on my walk to work.

Downtown Bergen is the big draw for me: Tradition, cobblestones, bars and restaurants and the easiest place to meet friends from other suburbs. But before you get to that medieval city center, there are the more modern edges. Two of them—a 2 km tunnel (Løvstakktunnelen) and a bridge (Puddefjordsbroen)—are the first ones I constantly encounter going to town.

So on a lovely late autumn afternoon two months ago, I got off the bus right after the tunnel. First thing you see starting up the bridge that goes across the Puddefjord is one our newest apartment buildings, and is (as of this writing) the tallest modern structure made out of wood, named Treet (The Tree or The Wood as in what a tree is made of; wood for burning is "ved"). All I can think is that there's not much privacy on those balconies; you can see everything, including the beginnings of hoarding.

Heading to town; "Treet"

Heading to town; "Treet"

Behind me, the tunnel home

Behind me, the tunnel home

They do have an awesome view of Damsgårdssundet, Damsgård sound. On Treet's side of the sound (south side) is a neighborhood built mostly after WWI in one of the city's earlier suburban sprawls. Across from Treet is a mix of newish and not so new apartment buildings, several built by union members for union members, also from a good 100 years ago. Hence the little neighborhood called Trikkebyen, "Street Car Town" on the north side of Damsgårdsundet. The fjord continues to Solheimsviken, an old industrial area, now all modern office buildings. And of course, off in the distance, our tallest mountain, Ulriken (642 m).

West, Treet

West, Treet

South, Mt. Ulriken

South, Mt. Ulriken

East, Trikkebyen

East, Trikkebyen

"Trikkebyen" is a nickname for a few blocks within a larger and much older neighborhood, Møhlenpris, named after a guy with a mill. When I was studying insurance a couple of autumns ago, I walked through this neighborhood to one of the most modern buildings on Damsgårdsund. Rather charming area and I want to go back and walk the new pedestrian bridge across the sound. Møhlenpris itself was the Jewish neighborhood of Bergen, back when we had Jews. There are memorial stones commemorating the lives lost during WWII. Today's population tends to be ethnically mixed, too, but everyone is proud of their neighborhood and it shows in their creativity:

As you approach Møhlenpris bus stop towards downtown Bergen

As you approach Møhlenpris bus stop towards downtown Bergen

Mural in Møhlenpris, depicting children from different eras

Mural in Møhlenpris, depicting children from different eras

From here, I go up the stairs from the bus stop at Møhlenpris (optionally, up the hill under the cultural history museum). At the top of the stairs is our Human Rights Square, next to the human rights organization the Rafto Foundation. And now we get into what is now considered downtown Bergen, but even this area is a relatively new development, not being part of the original downtown area, but one of the first extensions of the city. We are now near the university, museums and where the rich first built modern (for that era) homes on this side of the city bay. The original botanical gardens are also here, currently in hibernation.

Human Rights Square

Human Rights Square

Fish(less) pond; former fancy homes in background

Fish(less) pond; former fancy homes in background

Our museum of natural history backs onto the gardens

Our museum of natural history backs onto the gardens

From here, the neighborhood consists of a lot of late 1800's buildings. Norway, and Bergen, were experiencing a population explosion, and were also trying to keep the number of city fires down, so larger, stucco buildings became the norm, then. Seen with today's eyes, the neighborhoods are still charming. Here are a few examples as I leave the university area:

Sydneshaugen (South Point Hill)

Sydneshaugen (South Point Hill)

Roadworks and streetcar tracks

Roadworks and streetcar tracks

It isn’t just dogs that use lampposts for messages

It isn’t just dogs that use lampposts for messages

And then we get back down into one of the older parts of town again. The neighborhood between the university and back towards Puddefjorden is called Sydnes (South Point). This is one neighborhood that still has the charming jumble of small wooden houses and cobblestoned streets that Bergen is known for.

Sydnes neighborhood

Sydnes neighborhood

A map of my walk - sort of. Tunnels confuse teh Google. :-)

A map of my walk - sort of. Tunnels confuse teh Google. :-)

Golden

If you follow me on Instagram, you will recognize some of these photos. Leaving the good stuff only to IG isn't fair to my blog only readers, so here you go!

First up is from earlier this fall, in the neighborhood of our university, at Øysteins gate. I think Øystein was a king. We have a bunch of king names in this neighborhood, like Sigurd and Sverre and Magnus Barfot (Magnus Barefoot; apparently, he wore shorts). 

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Next is from two months later, i.e. last night. Another street named for a king: Olav Kyrre, who was the founder of Bergen, Norway, in 1070. The street now is a main transit hub in town. (Weirdly, our bus station isn't.) I was waiting for my bus after my annual lutefisk dinner. (It was delicious.) I need to go back because the Christmas lights in the city park (Byparken) are new this year.

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And finally, one of those rare moments when everything just comes together. Right place, right time kind of thing. Last week, we were covered in frost, and everything was coated in glittering, white fuzz. A low, warm sun added perfect light to a corner of my local pond, Ortuvann, transforming ordinary into magical.

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You may be thinking the above was taken late in the day, but it's date-stamped with a time of 12:54. Nearly high noon and yet shadows are very long. Such is winter at 60 degrees north.

Fjord flashback

Here's a blast from the past (September 13 2008). I love the play of shadows and the blue reflecting in the water.

Somewhere-north-of-here fjord

Somewhere-north-of-here fjord

I actually did not recognize where the above was until I looked at some of the other photos from the same day: This was from an overnight trip with my then-department. We went to Flåm and Nærøyfjord. The latter is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The former is the destination for the "Norway in a Nutshell" trip that combines bus, train and bus—not necessarily in that order. The photo above is as we sailed out the Aurlandsfjord from Flåm.

Below the highway headed to Aurland, decoration made out of rocks and plants mimic Viking hieroglyphs. Or maybe it's just modern art deer. 

Or maybe it's cows… Skinny, skinny, cows.

Or maybe it's cows… Skinny, skinny, cows.

Nærøyfjord has tall mountains on either side, and in the winter only the midday sun manages to shed any light there. The rest of the time it is in deep shadow. In September the sun was making its way down one side.

I love how the shadows create a second row of mountain tops here.

I love how the shadows create a second row of mountain tops here.

Entering Nærøyfjord: Such drama. Such contrast.

Entering Nærøyfjord: Such drama. Such contrast.

A more classic view from Nærøyfjord (pronounced NAIR-oy-fiord)

A more classic view from Nærøyfjord (pronounced NAIR-oy-fiord)

Oh, hey, we've got company!

Oh, hey, we've got company!

There's a reason why tourists love this fjord. So do I.

There's a reason why tourists love this fjord. So do I.

Looking behind us in Nærøyfjord

Looking behind us in Nærøyfjord

In the old days (like, when I was a kid and a good while after), ferry service connected Gudvangen with Flåm. Then two longish tunnels gave the two towns a land connection. Tunnels, because it's way harder to build a road on the outside of the mountains. Gudvangen and Flåm both live off tourism.

Main street, Gudvangen

Main street, Gudvangen

Obligatory waterfall picture

Obligatory waterfall picture

A tale about teeth

Norway has been good to me, dentally. My grandpa was also good to me. Orthodontics are subsidized but still cost out of pocket. So the year I had no cavities I started wearing a retainer.

One thing Norwegian children have been through together, is the school dentist. In my part of Norway, the school dentist got the nickname "pinaren", which translates to "the tormenter". An awful lot of kids ended up afraid of the dentist.

Somehow or other, I didn't. I got my first filling at age 8 while I was still living in California. They filled my mouth with all kinds of weird things there; I remember a ring-like device jammed in to keep my mouth open and some sort of small rubber sheet jammed in there, too, in addition to the usual suction device and tampon. In Norway, it's just suction and a tampon.

When I was 12, the school dentist looked me over, then called my grandpa in. Grandpa had been waiting in the hall. Seriously, the dentist told me grandma that I had no cavities. I teared up in joy and relief and knowing I had no cavities but why the serious tone? That's when the dentist suggested is was time to take care of my serious overbite and crooked front teeth. So Grandpa ended up taking me to the orthodontist's.

Back then, there was one place in town and one orthodontist "all" the kids went to. A friendly bearded, guy who made me a retainer, a big pink thing molded on both my lower and upper teeth. I was clueless so I wore it during the day. Didn't realize it was to be worn at night until some graceless adult said it was nice something shut me up. (That's when I realized it was to be worn at night, duh. And that some grown-ups aren't really grown up.) I had nevertheless managed to wear it enough to make a difference. After two years of that, a weak, my receding chin was strong and properly positioned. I got another small, light retainer to wear to straighten out my upper front teeth and close the gap between them.

Kind of weird to think back and realize my look since age 15 wasn't the one nature gave me. But yeah, sometimes when I look in the mirror, I send Grandpa (and the school dentist) a bit of thanks.

Orthodontics for children is subsidized and so is mandatory oral surgery. The one wisdom tooth that had to be removed with a scalpel I ended up paying only half price for; the social security office refunded me the rest.

Today I got my teeth X-rayed, checked and cleaned. In Norway, the dentist does all that. Not like the US, where a dental hygienist does all the advising and cleaning and flossing, and then you see the actual dentist for 5 minutes in case of cavities.

The art in my dentist's waiting room: Monkey? Child? Clown? At least it's not scary

The art in my dentist's waiting room: Monkey? Child? Clown? At least it's not scary

My current dentist has a surprisingly light touch. He pokes and prods and scrapes and I hardly feel it. This time around, he seemed to be even gentler than ever. I wonder if it's because I was saying to myself "Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om" (I'm trying out some things). At any rate, the annual check revealed no issues, no cracks or holes in either teeth or aging fillings, and a price hike from last year.

Dentists in Norway are not subsidized like doctors. My GP works for the city and is part of the universal health care system. I saw him today, too, and paid NOK 155. My dentist, who runs a private practice, as most do, charged me NOK 1150 (includes the pretty pictures of my teeth). It's cheap insurance, really, to keep my choppers chomping (why aren't they called "chompers"?).

I don't remember the clown painting from last year. I also don't remember the drawing of a sleeping cat on the wall opposite the dentist chair, a perfectly round circle with triangular ears poking out of it. The cat, not the chair. But I like that there's a picture of a cat on the wall. I like cats. And sleeping cats have always meant that all is right with the world. Today, at the dentist's, it did feel that way.

/ / marks the spot

I have seen the plans for the light rail station coming to my bit of the 'burbs. I know that the footbridge I have crossed to and from work since 1986 will become history and I'll get a new bridge about 50 meters to the west. 

"My" footbridge as seen on the way home

"My" footbridge as seen on the way home

It may happen sooner rather than later. At some point, the slope this bridge connects me to, where the trees are, is going to be dug into and reshaped. A new path to a new bridge will appear, forever changing my walk to work.

It may happen sooner than I realize. Barely two weeks ago, I noticed neon streaks on the pavement. I'd seen them before and knew the construction crew had left them. Today I saw why:

Aha! A hole!

Aha! A hole!

They're still moving pipes and stuff around underground.

But I see more paint streaks. I wonder how much longer I'll get to enjoy the sight of this tree:

More digging to come!

More digging to come!

Bybanen

I am in love with the city light rail in Bergen, Norway, called "bybanen" (BEE-bah-nen). It took five years after it was built for me to actually ride the darned thing, but after that, it has become my most popular modern addition to this old medieval town. And now they're building a line to my neck of the woods!

I am excited about getting the light rail in 2022! Yeah, that is a long way off. They started digging in February of this year. I walk past the construction site for the station in Fyllingsdalen (the suburb where I live and work) nearly daily. I've been trying to document (sort of) the changes construction is creating in my neighborhood. 

The start of construction of bybanen in Fyllingsdalen, March 2018.

The start of construction of bybanen in Fyllingsdalen, March 2018.

5 months later and all those pipes on the first picture are underground - August 2018

5 months later and all those pipes on the first picture are underground - August 2018

Bergen being Bergen, there are strong opinions for and against the light rail. A lot of people think it's a waste of space and money, inferior to better bus routes, and ohmygawd it takes a full 45 minutes from downtown to the airport!!! 

Look, I've taken the light rail all the way from Byparken (the downtown stop right next to the city park) to the airport. It takes a predictable amount of time (but the hard seats are not kind to aching hips). It also costs the exact same as the city bus (NOK 37 if you prepay an adult ticket). As a comparison, our nice airport bus costs NOK 115 for a prepaid one-way ticket from downtown.

Anyway, today I got to ride the light rail again. My psychologist's office is one stop away from the airport, so I ride the rail one stop from the bus terminal. Today I didn't have to go back to work afterward, so decided to ride to the airport to get a better picture of the "Bergen?" signage—the artwork at the airport that I discovered you can see from the air! (Another version is in the rotating header pics, but has construction equipment in the foreground.)

This sign gets people, especially the locals, talking.

This sign gets people, especially the locals, talking.

May is for strikes

I remember strikes used to terrify me. I was so brain-washed by the American view of unions that I quit mine here in Norway once in a panic. I rejoined quickly and have a gold pin for 25 years' membership and first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be on a proper strike.

As April rolls around, unions start negotiations. It's a bi-annual thing. My union (the union of financial and insurance employees) does its thing in even-numbered years. This year it's a tad more interesting than usual. We've broken off negotiations. There are three main points of contention that my union won't agree to. If we don't get anywhere, even with mandatory negotiations, there will be a strike.

This whole process will take at least a month. So I lied when I said May is for strikes. It can just as well be June, or April, or September. Or whenever. But Norway revolves around May 1, and most unions release their new wage scales on that date, and the government sets the value for G on that same date.

G is short for "grunnbeløp" or base amount, from which things like social security payments, group life insurance payouts, and other benefits are calculated. I have a life insurance policy through my employer that pays out 5 G should I leave the planet before retirement. Minimum pension through social security in Norway is 2 G. I expect they'll announce what G for 2018 is later this week. For 2017, it's NOK 93.634. (That's not much what with our cost of living.)

I rejoined the union. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there's power, too. That's the point: A single voice doesn't carry the way a group of voices does. I've participated in political strikes (usually two hours of not working by leaving a couple of hours early) and an outright strike with standing in front of our employer's building holding signs and spending two weeks waiting to be told to go back to work.

Norwegian employers like unions. It's easier to talk sense to one party rather than hundreds. And often that's how it works out: Union reps get to participate in (some) management decisions and then turn around and explain the decisions to us workers. For the most part, it all goes smoothly. I think Norwegian management enjoys a high level of trust and loyalty. But union membership is going down. Many things unions had to fight for are now labor law so union membership isn't seen as a vital part of work life.

I think it is. I see (and feel) changes in the work place and government that are eroding workers' rights and we need watchdogs as well as understanding of what the changes are and why. Some are inevitable; some are just because someone's greedy (or stupid).

When I lost my job in 2014 due to downsizing, I had a lovely union rep who made sure all the legalities were in order as well as being great to talk to. So I had more than HR's equally lovely employee helping me out, which I really appreciated. So I'm staying a union member.

By the way, my union strikes so rarely that when we had our big two-week strike in 2006, many of us had never done that before. It wasn't just me who was clueless. We also didn't win.

I hope we do this year. Enough erosion!

Happy International Labor Day!

April is for taxes

Nothing is certain but death and taxes. And swear words. Back when I still lived in the US, my mother and I got window seats at Philippe's in downtown Los Angeles on the evening of April 15th, to watch people slowly driving by to toss their returns into huge hoppers on Alameda, which was one-way that night. I've also kept a Norwegian friend company on her walk to the tax return receptacle at 11 PM  on April 30. We noted as we turned to walk home that we weren't the last.

You may have seen there how I slipped Norway's deadline in. So I have been swearing in English at my Norwegian forms this morning because I own pretend money that the government wants to know about.

Yeah, I'm late. For some darn reason I've been putting this off this year. I've been putting everything off. Even breakfast. I'm doing taxes on coffee alone.

Every year I tell myself I need to learn more about the stock my employer gives me every spring for being a good little worker bee, because I'm running out of cuss words every April.

This year I kept getting hung up on the word "realisert". Same term in English: Realized gains. I knew I'd gotten another handful of stocks last spring but did not know how many or the emission date or the value (why do I not write these things down when they happen??? It happened again this year, and I wrote nothing down!) but I gained something, right?

Many of my cuss words were spent on looking for information I finally realized (HAH!) I didn't need.

Because I didn't sell any of my pretend money to get real money last year. I just got more pretend money.

So now the Certain Thing is signed, sealed and delivered, all electronically, and the little receipt thingy is sitting in my electronic inbox.

Now that that's over I can blog. And make breakfast.

And leave this post here so that maybe I'll remember during the rest of this year to pay attention so I'm not so lost next year.

Also: Led Zeppelin is awesome music to do death and taxes and other stuff to.

The Humanity Star

I read about this very bright object being shot up into orbit around Earth earlier this year, just to twinkle in natural sunlight as an artificial star for a few months. And I noted that it would be visible from Norway on April 24-25 2018.

I've had this date marked on my calendar since I read about the controversial launch of the Humanity Star. Although I understand the arguments against this bright object that the astronomers had, I thought I may as well take a look since it's up there. I read somewhere that it would be visible in my part of the world today or tomorrow.

First of all, it's overcast now and it will continue to be overcast the next couple of days. Never fails. I guarantee that if they announce some awesome celestial phenomenon visible from Bergen, the skies will not be clear. I pretty much treat forecasts for southerly viewings of the Aurora Borealis as forecasts for rain now. (In case you're wondering, auroras are a polar phenomenon that weaken the farther away from the poles you get—unless the aurora activity is very strong.)

Secondly, the Humanity Star website tells me that the thing reentered Earth's atmosphere and burned up in March.

Well, no matter. Did I mention it's overcast?