City Guides

City Guide: Bergen

Bergen is the hometown of Kings of Convenience, and was the only reason why I picked that city to visit during my maiden European trip almost 10 years ago. Still one of my favourite singer-songwriter bands, I love the simplicity of their music and their set-up - listening to them is good for the soul. Watching them performed live when they came to Singapore a couple of years back, was a fan girl dream come true. 

It is not hard to envision where their inspiration come from having witnessed the beauty of their city and country, and in fact, that could probably be said of some of the music that came out of Nordics like Sigur Ros, with sounds that instantly transport you to somewhere idyllic. 

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Situated on the southwestern coast of Norway, Bergen is surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes and sea, and used to be the Norwegian capital, until 1299. 

“Bergen is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, laid out across harbours and hillsides. It’s also rich in history and architecture, especially in the quayside Bryggen district. But this is a city that is anything but stuck in the past with a dynamic cultural life, great restaurants and nightlife”
— Lonely Planet

Walking is the best way to explore the city of Bergen. You will need a good pair of shoes to deal with the cobble-stoned streets, and possibly arm yourself with a brolly in case it rains - which happens very often. Soak in the scenery from the hilltops and peek at the secret gardens. Most of the wooden houses are gorgeous, and often decorated with flowers, a lot of flowers. Spend a day out at sea and try out deep sea fishing, where it goes as deep as 120-meters and takes a good 5-min to reel a fish in. Do an easy trek up Mount Floyen to get a nice view of Bergen. Who knows, you might spot Eirik from Kings of Convenience (as I did, really! I almost died.). Settle at a cafe for a drink or coffee over board games and good music. Check out some of the small live music venues and get a taste of the local music scene. Food-wise, Norway is an expensive country to eat out. Check out the local grocery stores - always a good idea. Fresh market stands offer fresh open sandwiches (shrimps, smoked salmon), mussels, fishcakes. Lots of seafood. Drink Hansa, the local brewery, and most importantly, drink the tap water, it's one of the best I've had. 

And to stay. The one recommendation I have, is Skuteviken Guesthouse, which is owned by Solveig and Elvind, who are artists by profession and set this up a few years ago. Located just 5-10min walk away from city centre and just across the pier, it has a great views of the neighbouring houses on a hill, as well as a gorgeous view of the horizon. It’s a small charming guesthouse on a narrow cobble-stoned street, with just 5 small apartments, each individually designed by Solveig and Elvind, and decorated with some of their own artwork. All the apartments were extremely clean and even have kitchenettes with utensils and some complimentary dry goods such as tea, coffee, pasta, which came in really handy. Great apartment, great location. Great owners too, who were more than happy to have conversations around the Norwegian culture, the Bergen-Oslo ‘rivalry’, music, life in Bergen. We ended up checking out some local music at this local bar called Logen (it's still around!) together - local musicians get together every Monday night for performances. A fantastic spot to stay in all in all.

Address: Skutevikens Smalgang 11, 5032 Bergen, Norway
Phone: +47 934 67 163
Website: http://www.skutevikenguesthouse.com/englishindex.htm

Destination Guide: Mount Rinjani

Climbing Mount Rinjani in Lombok

Lombok is a great destination to visit for both the beach and the mountain. Mount Rinjani, Indonesia's second highest, peaks at 3726m, and in 2013, we hiked up and I'd recommend it to anyone (with reasonable level of fitness) who is up for a little adventure. As I looked through the photo archives, I've put together some travel notes from the last 2 visits to this beautiful island getaway, and a great alternative to Bali. 

GETTING IN (FROM SINGAPORE)

There are now direct flights from Singapore to Lombok, or if you are going via Bali, just take a speedboat which takes about 2+ hours. The trekking company (more of that below) can usually arrange for a pick up if you arrange ahead of time. Consider going mid-year for better weather - we went in August and were lucky enough to not have any rain at all (and beautiful clear weather) during all 3 days of the climb. 

LOCAL GUIDES

Farosh who owns a trekking company called Lombok Vertical* had been our go-to guy to help organise the trek. While he might not always be available to lead the trek, the guides and porters in his team are generally reliable, patient and trustworthy (at least the ones we had), and we have recommended him to a few friends ever since. 

*If you google Lombok Vertical, you'll see this appearing - https://lombokvertical.wordpress.com/. Note that this is not the same one as the link above.  

THE TREK 

Most trekkers start from either Senaru (forest first) or Sembalun (flatlands first). For our 4D3N trek, we started at Senaru. The complete itinerary is available on his website. The trek takes us through the foirest, to the lake and the crater rim, up to the summit and then descend via a long flat-ish walk through to Sembalun. Along the way, witnessing the sunset over Bali and seeing Mt. Agung in the distance (first picture below), hot springs, camping overnight near the crater rim (4th picture), the steep and gruelling route to the summit, rising above the clouds, and summiting at sunrise. Pity about the amount of garbage on the mountain, and as you can see from the picture below, the summit itself gets really crowded, but doesn't really take away the experience of reaching the top.

POST-CLIMB

Consider extending for a couple of days to enjoy beach life in Lombok. Qunci Villa is rather popular, but Jeeva Klui is my personal favourite, it is smaller and with excellent food. Day trips to Gili Islands can easily be arranged, and don't forget to check out lunch options on the smaller Gili Islands as well - we were at this place called Paradiso on Gili Air, and while the food was nothing to rave about as far as I remember, it had a pretty good chilled vibe for a long lunch by the shore. Renting a motorbike and zipping through the villages, and chancing upon local rustic restaurants was very memorable and gives a more intimate feel for the island than just commuting in a car/van. 

So it's been 4 years (as of 2017) since I last visited and I'd love to visit again in the near future, so if you've got any tips and suggestions, please let me know!