Bergen Weekend: Winter Edition

As someone who thrives on the healing powers that hiking and nature can provide, it was no surprise to me that Norway was high on my list. Did I plan to make my first visit in the dead of winter? No, but then again life loves to throw unpredictable curve balls (and very cheap flights!) my way, so my first taste of Norway was a chilly one.

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Our hike up to Fløyen quickly became snowy and icy–could have used some microspikes for this trek!

I stayed in Bergen, which is a hiker’s dream paradise. With the peaks of Ulriken and Fløyen towering over the homes built into the cliffsides overlooking the harbor, residents and visitors can be on a hiking trail in a short amount of time. (NOTE: For those travelers who don’t enjoy long and steep walks in new cities, Bergen can be pretty rough. But then again, you are reading a blog about urban hiking, so you have to expect that our featured destinations will involve some uphill climbs.). It’s also important to mention that for residents, the work-life balance was based more on the weather versus the hours of the day. If, for example, the weather on a Tuesday provides perfect ski conditions, it is acceptable to slip out early, especially if the rest of the week looks dreary (my kind of lifestyle!). And on the weekends? Forget seeing people in the town, everyone will be out in the mountains.

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View of Bergen from the top of Fløyen.

On this particular visit, I managed to knock a few big wanderings off the list. Day one we climbed to the top of Fløyen and rode the cable car down. This was my first adventure after landing in the morning, so it not only gave me a chance to explore the city, but it also got my blood pumping as I fought jet lag fatigue. The hike took a few hours, with minimal stops except to veer off the trail to certain lookout points for a bird’s eye view of the city below. One difficulty we faced was as we got higher above the city, the trails became quite icy. In January, weather can be unpredictable—while I was visiting, Bergen temperatures remained just above freezing, so it made for wet and icy hiking. A few days after I left, the city was hit with a few strong snow storms, making any hikes up the mountain into a snow shoe excursion. So be prepared for all types of weather if you plan to still hike in the winter.

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Bryggen is a great starting point for any walk through Bergen, and you can easily spot it once you get into the mountains.

For a little less stress on our knees, we took advantage of some free time to wander the streets of Bergen, which is a great afternoon trek for urban hikers. Start at Bryggen, an UNESCO World Heritage site dating as far back as the 14th century. You’ve probably seen photos of these pointed, colorful houses that during the week offer tourists pricey shopping and plenty of Instagram opportunities. From here, head southwest, circling the harbor and popping into the Fjellskål fish market to get a glimpse of the local catches of the day. From there, head northeast up to the aquarium, stopping finally at the Nordnesparken to take in the spectacular views of the fjords.

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Bergen has so many cute little side streets that take you back in time. Be sure to pause for moment like this. 

If you’re into creepy, abandoned old towns (like me), then visiting the Old Bergen Museum in the winter is perfect for you. Located in the northern coastal hills of Bergen, this area is designed to look like the city’s original fishing homes centuries ago. In peak tourism season, these little homes provide tourists with shops, restaurants and historical exhibits they can explore, but in the winter, it is nothing more than closed doors and empty streets.

While visiting Bergen in the winter does mean that some of the main city attractions will be closed, it’s important to take that opportunity to ‘do as the locals do’ and get out of the city. Even without a car, you can easily take a bus to skiing out in Kvamskogen or horse riding in the mountains, making the most of your snowy visit.

Travel Lessons: The Schengen Agreement and Renewing Your US Passport FAST

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Flying over Bergen, Norway, just days after renewing a passport.

Five days before my trip to Norway I received an email—my airline was offering a courtesy, giving me a checklist of items to do before I left. Make sure your bag is under a certain weight. Check. Make sure to pre-order your meal. Check. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 90 days. Not check.

Panic set in. I knew my passport was up for renewal in April, but figured I would be fine for a January trip and could renew afterwards. At closer research, I realized that if my passport was under this 90-day requirement from the day I was expected to return to the US, I would not be allowed to enter Norway. My passport would expired in 87 days…..

Lesson one in this travel blip was learning about the Schengen Agreement. Passed in 1997, this law relates to 26 countries including most of Europe, requiring US citizens to follow this 90-day policy. The idea is that typically for these countries, you can enter without a visa for 90 days as long as your passport is valid. However, if, for example, you went to one of these countries and decided to not go home and your passport expired, it could get a bit messy for you, your country, and the country you are visiting. Current countries under this agreement include:

Austria

Belgium

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

Finland

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Italy

Latvia

Liechtenstein

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Malta

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Travel Tip: Whenever traveling to a foreign country, be sure to check requirements for entry. Other countries require at least six months of validity on passports in order to enter.

Lesson two was how quickly you can actually expedite the renewal process of your passport, as long as you fit the requirements. For me, I was lucky living in Boston, as there is a Passport Agency right in the city downtown. (You can read the full list of agencies here, with links to contact information). Once you locate your agency, secure an appointment for a day as soon as possible, depending on when you are traveling. In some other posts, I read that you could show up in person without an appointment, but most likely you will wait long hours and still get turned away. However, securing an appointment is easy online or by phone.

I should also note that when you Google passport expedite process online, there are some third party sites that offer guaranteed passports in 24 hours. Don’t fall for it, these services cost you hundreds of dollars more only to go through the same process at the Passport Agency. By going in person on your own, you save money and cut out he middle man.

You will need the following documents prepared ahead of your appointment. By making sure this is taken care of, it will let you get through the process much faster. You will need:

  • Proof of Travel within two weeks (or four weeks for visas). This can be a receipt for your flight, flight confirmation information, etc.
  • A new passport photo
  • Either a completed DS-11 application (for new passports) or the DS-82 application (for renewals)
  • Payment for the passport ($135 for new passports, $110 for renewals, plus an extra $60 expedite fee). Agencies will accept credit card or check.
  • Your old passport (if you lost your passport, you must provide your birth certificate)

The process is pretty straightforward after this—show up for your appointment, answer the questions, sign the papers, pay the fees, and they will give you a pick-up date. For me, I had my new passport within 24 hours.

My advice for any travelers is to always check these requirements. I know I never would have figured this out if it wasn’t for that strategic email. Instead, I would have driven all the way to the airport just to be turned away. Do your research, and if you find yourself in this situation, DON’T PANIC. You’ll be back on track for your trip before you know it.

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Luckily, everything pulled through to get to this viewpoint.