People who worry should not eat wild berries in the woods. Even if those woods are in Norway and the little fruits looks like blueberries and taste like blueberries, they may not be blueberries. There’s a certain euphoria that comes from hiking down a mountain after you’ve just stood on the precipice of a very big cliff towering over a fjord that slices between the mountains like a blue seam. It makes you braver, maybe, than you should be.
I’d been scanning the undergrowth for blueberry bushes. The last time I was in Norway, I told Elli, as we clambered down the rough stone trail from the top of the Preikestolen, I remembered picking tiny wild blueberries and greedily stripping the bushes bare as I ate them one by one. The surviving berries were baked into pies we ate for dessert in the little wooden house perched on the edge of a cliff, a gem-green fjord flowing down below.
When I found three tenacious berries peeking out beneath the green, I snapped them up and popped them in my mouth. It wasn’t until a few paces later that I wondered whether what I’d eaten really was a blueberry. Maybe it was a poisonous berry, and I’d just committed unintentional suicide on a Norwegian mountain trail, far from hospital or help. My stomach began to feel queasy. I felt dizzy, weak. It was a blueberry, Elli said. Tell me when 15 minutes are up, I said. If I’m not dead by then, I think I’ll continue living.
We’d flown in to Stavanger the night before, and spent the evening wandering around the little city, marveling at its emptiness. For a Friday night, the streets were dead. We peered into dark shops, our footsteps the only ones echoing over the clean cobbled stones. It was very pretty, but eerie in its silence. We walked along the harbor, listening to the seagulls squabble with each other and the water quietly lap against the quay. The air was brisk and cool, refreshing after the sticky humidity of Berlin’s late-blooming summer.
At the innermost stretch of harbor, we finally found the life. A little street of outdoor restaurants, no more than ten, was filled with patrons wrapped in fleece blankets and watching the sun setting over the water. We slipped into a table with a view and ordered fish, of course. For Elli, baked salmon, rich and slick with its own sweet juices. My fishcake was served with spicy mustard and pickles on a large wedge of grainy bread. We ordered local IPAs, not daring to convert the price, knowing it was just around 10 euros a drink.
When the sun set, we snaked through the deserted streets back to our hotel for a good night’s rest. The next day, we were going to hike.
I think we picked Stavanger because of the Preikestolen, a cliff rising 1,982 feet above sea level. It features a nearly flat, square platform with a sheer drop-off on three sides. It’s only accessible via a 2.4 mile hike up a steep, rocky path, but once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with breathtaking views over the Lysefjorden and surrounding mountains. With a little leg work, you can climb higher than the Preikestolen, to the knolly summit, and watch the people, like little puppets, dare each other closer to the edge. For people who are afraid of heights, it’s hard to watch their antics.
Elli and I found an empty patch of rock in the sun where were could gaze out over the fjord without having to listen to the tourists. We unpacked our lunch, sandwiches scavenged from our hotel’s breakfast buffet and secretly sequestered in our bags when the staff wasn’t looking.
We’d done well on the hotel. The breakfast buffet was superb. There was a granola bar with an array of dried fruits, nuts, and grains, three types of smoked salmon, pickled fish, cheeses, radishes, baskets of fresh bread, fried eggs and bacon, baked beans, salty new potatoes in their skins and Norwegian fish pudding. There were hard boiled eggs, yogurts, fruits, jams, brightly-polished whole radishes and crackly snow peas. But best of all was the station where you could make your own light, fluffy waffles. It was our morning ritual: hot waffles topped with brunost – the ubiquitous caramelly, creamy brown goat cheese – and lingonberry jam.
Every morning, we ate ourselves sick and washed it all down with cup after cup of strong coffee. And every morning, we made ourselves sandwiches to sneak out for lunch.
We didn’t splurge on fancy dinners – in Norway, that would have bankrupted us. But we did, one afternoon, splurge on sweet cinnamon bread and mugs of cappuccino with thick, beautifully-foamed milk. And one night we went to town on burgers cooked medium-rare from local beef paired with an extremely refreshing, burbling pale ale.
For the most part, our stolen hotel sandwiches were enough; we ate them in such beautiful places. Brunost on nutty brown bread and smoked salmon with cream cheese overlooking the Lysefjord. Butter and cheese with salted radishes and snow peas on a cluster of rocks by the Hafrsfjord, a large, low lake ringed by our future summer homes.
Norway remains one of the most raw, powerful, heart-achingly stunning countries I’ve ever been to. I love its vastness, its mountains that remind you how inconsequential your little worries are, its blue-green fjords that make you know you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.
We sat beside a mountaintop lake, napping in the afternoon sunshine, listening to the shocked shouts from the group of boys who’d jumped into the chill, clear water. Your 15 minutes were up a while ago, said Elli, and I grumbled awake from breezy sleep. I guess they were blueberries after all, I said, dipping my feet into the water, the clean, icy cold making me feel alive.