American Shelby Dennis recently traveled to Norway and attended the music festival Bergenfest for the first time. (Read her pre-trip interview.) She shared her trip via the Nordic Spotlight Instagram account, which we published as posts here on NordicSpotlight.com. This is her recap of her experience abroad.
Day one of Bergenfest began like a dream come true! The rain held off hesitantly and gave me a few, dry hours to enjoy my inaugural full day in Europe (though the skies would not stay clear during my trip; Bergen went on to break its 65-year-old record of most consecutive rain days in June, raining every single day the first 25 days of the month). The sun was shining (if only temporarily), I stowed away my rain jacket and took a stroll through historic Bryggen on my way to Bergenhus Festning, the 13th century castle grounds where the festival is held every year. Before arriving to Bergenfest, though, I couldn’t resist getting a little peek into the traditional local culture, and slinked into a small boutique designing bunad – the Norwegian national dress for formal occasions. Look at how adorable these baby bunad are!
After checking into the festival, the first Nordic artist I had the pleasure of seeing perform was Tove Lo. Jamming to Cool Girl” live was a nice way to start off this new adventure while walking around and exploring the grounds!
I had a few bites of sushi from the festival’s “Sumo” food tent, indulging in the taste of Norwegian salmon served up sashimi-style. (I was delighted to get to chow down on a whole filet of fresh salmon later in the trip too – delicious!)
Next up in the Nordic artist lineup was Store P, the charismatic and lively rapper from Bergen. His performance of Dypt was a slow-moving complement to the chill vibes and relaxed atmosphere at the Plenen stage.
The next short while was spent wandering out and about in Bryggen, settling on Matbørsen to grab a bite to eat for dinner. This building had been a former stock-exchange for Norway, and the vaulted ceilings decorated with extravagant paintings gave a unique ambiance to this restaurant. The spaciousness of the building gave a busy, excited feel to my dining experience, and their lamb pita was just as splendid.
I got back to the venue in time to catch Zara Larsson‘s full set – a sweet treat indeed! She was captivating and exuberant, and I was thrilled to get to see her perform Ain’t My Fault, which I was able to snag a few clips of.
I will shamelessly say that I most looked forward to seeing Gabrielle‘s performance at Bastionen stage – if you had the chance to read my pre-trip interview here on Nordic Spotlight, you’ll know how big of a Gabrielle fan I am. Her music was very influential in getting me interested in Norwegian-language music. So I was beyond stoked to have the chance to watch her perform live – and what a performance it was!
Her song Ring Meg had the audience in the chorus, belting out the lyrics just as loud as they were being sent to us through the monitors.
I felt so overjoyed, soaring through the clouds as I listened to Mellon Skyene, and loved every second of it!
Last up in the Nordic-artist lineup for Friday was Karpe Diem, and they caught the crowd in a midnight trance until sunset (or at least as much as the sun “sets” in Bergen in summertime). Magdi and Chirag were so energetically alluring, that as Bergenfest put it, they “had all of Bergen” out enjoying the show. The sounds of Jens and Hvite Menn Som Pusher 50 rung out into the mountains until the early hours of the morning, and it was welcomed graciously.
The following day met me harshly with dreary skies and heavy rain, but I was able to let it go because I had my new jogging shoes on! (lackluster Gabrielle reference there… but seriously, warm waterproof shoes became EXTREMELY key for me in Bergen). I found that Saturday showcased more international artists than the days prior, but no doubt I got to listen to some great Nordic music regardless! John Olav Nilsen & Nordsjøen lifted me with their bright, dreamy soundscapes and quickly shook me from my rain and jetlag-induced languor.
After a quick refuel at American-inspired “Peppes Pizza”, I anxiously awaited, soaked under sheets of rain, for Aurora. I had seen her perform once prior in the US, so I knew that she would undoubtedly bring something special to us, these drenched concert-goers. She kept us all delighted and entertained as she told stories of the sheep that so kindly gave its wool to make up the garment that adorned her shoulders.
Her eccentric voice was accompanied by a backdrop of elaborate patterns and colors, adding to the whimsical environment. I think I most enjoyed Under the Water from this set (and what a fitting title considering the weather!)
I followed my little museum excursion up with something of a completely different style – going to the cinema to watch Wonder Woman. It was really interesting to be able to see an American movie in a Norwegian movie theater, with Norwegian subtitles, all while munching on Norwegian snacks (bacon chips!)
On Tuesday, I took the Skyss bus up the long and windy road further out into Hordaland, reaching a quaint little town nestled in the mountains called Norheimsund. With no real plans but to see the landscape, I stumbled upon the Hardanger Maritime Museum. I visited and later left, lefse in hand, with my own handmade rope – the museum showcases the process of making rope by hand and encourages visitors to try it themselves. After 30 minutes of hard work and trying to decipher the instructions in Nynorsk, I had successfully made my own, which became the item I most looked forward to taking home and displaying.
I briefly stopped by the Kvam library to skim through old Norwegian books before heading off to Steinsdalsfossen, a large waterfall with a footbridge underneath to allow for spectators to get as close as possible to this stunning piece of nature. I snapped a few pictures before making my way back to Bergen.
On Wednesday, I got a real Norwegian workout by climbing to the top of one of Bergen’s seven mountains, Løvstakken. I have been on some small hiking adventures around Maryland, but I was in for a huge shock once I realized what I had gotten myself into! This was a whole new experience for me, it was a steep and at times treacherous climb, but the view was so worth it once I had made it to the top. This was one of the things I really wanted to accomplish on my trip, and it was very fulfilling to have checked that off my bucket list.
Thursday was spent visiting the Bergen Aquarium, where I got to see monkeys, many reptiles, and fish, and even walk underneath a tunnel of sharks! My personal favorite exhibit was a group of Gentoo penguins; visitors are able to watch as they lazily swim around and are fed by the zookeepers. The staff at the Bergen Aquarium do a great job of making the exhibits exciting and entertaining for all ages. They also host an afternoon acrobatics show, in which sea lions Kim and Amy perform impressive routines of intelligence and agility.
On the way back home, I stopped by a bookstore and picked up a few books in Norwegian – Harry Potter og Ildbegeret (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), and a book called Evolusjonens Kilder (I think I will need to practice my Norwegian a bit more before I’ll fully understand this one!).
Friday I spent doing a lot of window-shopping in Bergen Storsenter, and saw many local kinds of seafood and cuisines for sale, including this intimidating “breiflabb”!
The weekend had come around again and it was just a few more days that I’d be staying in Bergen, so I visited Bryggen to pick up some small souvenirs to take home to my family, and took the opportunity to stock up on some foods I wouldn’t be able to find in the US. I packed my bags with Norwegian raspberry jam, lyng honey, some sweet treats, and some spekeskinke (unfortunately, the spekeskinke – dry-cured ham – was later confiscated by US Customs… R.I.P.). I had had a strong desire to visit a record store as well, naturally, and dropped into Platekompaniet. I picked up Karpe Diem’s album “Kors på halsen, ti kniver i hjertet, mor og far i døden”. And, to my surprise and content, the store had a sale going on and I was able to complete the rest of my collection of Harry Potter books for a very fair price!
By Sunday, I had to begin to say my goodbyes and spent most of the day alternating between packing and watching Istid (the Norwegian version of Ice Age). On Monday, with a heavy heart, I watched through the plane windows as the seven mountains disappeared underneath me, and I began my journey back to the US.
I had an incredible time in Norway! Bergenfest was truly a very memorable experience for me, and I’d highly encourage anyone out there who is even slightly interested in traveling overseas to go to a music festival – do it, immerse yourself in the culture, enjoy the local landscapes, architecture, attractions, and get out and see the world whenever you have the chance 😊