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ROMANTIC NORWAY
by Rich Rubin

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A mountain range coated in snow. A silvery fjord. A waterfall frozen in mid-gush as it plunges down a steep hillside. Just say the word “Norway,” and a host of romantic images are summoned up. While these images are likely to be wintry, there’s actually an abundance of romance year-round, from springtime vistas over wildflower-clad hills to the remarkable phenomenon known as the Midnight Sun. With same-sex marriage legal now (see sidebar), it’s a perfect destination to seal your love in a spot that’s guaranteed to fan the flames of ardent commitment.

OSLO TO BERGEN
You’ll probably fly into Oslo to start your romantic adventure. If you’re tempted to head straight out of town, don’t do it. There’s a new Oslo emerging, an Oslo of design hotels, hip restaurants, and thriving nightlife. The city is probably your best bet in Norway for finding a list of establishments where you can easily arrange your wedding (see sidebar). After you’re officially hitched, spend a few days exploring the wonders of the capital before moving on.

Celebrate your love like true culture mavens at the new Opera House, which opened in April 2008 and has drawn raves for its architectural style and acoustic perfection. There are also museums on subjects from design to Viking ships to the art of Edvard Munch. My all-time favorite Oslo sight, though, remains Frogner Park, where the sculpture garden of works by Gustav Vigeland is one of the most thrilling and romantic spots in the world, filled with stone and bronze figures that are more human than half the people I know. You’ll soon be creating stories about every statue you see: the two men, one old, one young, who sit on a bench staring at each other; the pair of women, one with her arm draped around her companion; the two guys sitting back to back in almost admirable self-involvement. As you ride the tram back to the city center, you’ll be tempted to look at everyone as if they’re a sculpted figure—which is only appropriate in a country where the beauty is so moving, so overwhelming, that you can’t quite believe it was put there by nature.

Traveling from Oslo to Bergen, here’s my suggestion: do NOT fly. The train takes many more hours, but if ever there was a “journey is more important than the destination” trip, this is it. I think the Bergen Line is one of the world’s great train rides. You won’t be able to help feeling romantic as the train glides past long inlets dotted with tiny red and yellow houses, water running black between snowy banks in winter and burbling up among deep green fields in summer. Snuggle together as the train rolls past high rutted cliffs, streams with floes of ice as thin as glass in odd, irregular patterns, and evergreens rising tall as the sun shines brightly in that clear Norwegian sky.

Combining old-world quaintness and university town sophistication, Bergen’s a charmer. There’s a certain romance to the lost-in-time feeling of Bergen’s ancient buildings, which can transport you back to the time of the Hannseatic League, a European union of merchants that was among the world’s most powerful. Twisting cobblestoned streets are lined with a rainbow array of houses. Walk along the Bryggen, or harbor, as anglers hawk their wares in the waterside market and a maze of centuries-old former warehouses now holds shops and restaurants. Fløyen, a hill above town that’s reached by funicular, boasts acres of wooded paths for a perfect outing in solitary togetherness, with stunning views over this seaside city. Wander to your heart’s content, then get back on the funicular heading toward town. Dismount a few stops before town and walk the rest of the way, wandering among kaleidoscopic wooden houses leaning precariously over winding hillside streets: pure Bergen charm.

Back in town, don’t miss the West Norway Museum of Decorative Art, one of five museums (including the fabulous Bergen Art Museum) lined up along an in-town lake on Ramsus Meyers allé. I confess, I’m a sucker for decorative arts museums in general, but this one is totally fabulous, with everything from elegant jewelry and historical glassware to wild furniture.

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That’s the beauty of Bergen: a seamless combination of old and new, sleekly functional and breathtakingly romantic, young at heart but a city for the ages, Norwegian through and through and yet with an international outlook that comes from having long welcomed shipping-related visitors from all over the world. Small town and metropolis both, it’s as gay-friendly as a city could possibly be. Here, the gay community seems at ease with itself and with the city as a whole. In the city’s one gay bar, Fincken, a pair of honeymooning visitors will feel right at home with the eclectic mix of friendly people. Here, gay men and lesbians of all ages and types mingle with an ease I rarely see at home, and being young and pretty are not as important as being, well…a nice person.

Of course, this is Norway, so there’s certainly a preponderance of pretty people. This is the land of both geographic and human beauty. Like the casual appreciation of Bergen’s glorious setting and nearby splendors, people here seem to take the human beauty in stride as well. At home, people so good-looking would be full of themselves. Here, there’s a low-key quality that makes them all that much more gorgeous. The combination of confidence and modesty is quintessential Bergen.

FJORDS & MOUNTAINS
Bergen is not just an evocative and romantic city, it’s the gateway to the fjords, and if you’re looking for a sure bet for romance, the fjords are it. There are many options just a short way from town. Whether you take a tourist-oriented boat or simply do a trip on a commuter fjord boat with locals riding to work, it’s an incredible ride. On one journey, we plow down the Aurlandsfjord, mountains looming majestically on either side of the boat. More mountains rise up in the distance, seeming to pierce the sky. From time to time a brightly-hued little village appears by the water, patches of green in front of the houses reflect in the water before overhanging mountains. I wonder how it’s possible to live among such beauty on a daily basis.

As we weave through a narrow passageway of water, I look back and see the scene we’ve just left, the mountains appearing upside down in their watery reflection. While nature has created this amazement, I can’t help but think: “It’s like a painting,” the mountains and reflection are so perfectly-wrought. Just as I’m admiring the form, though, the mirror image is staggered into pieces by the wake of the boat, creating loopy mountain reflections and majestically-rising real mountains. I do stop to wonder, between snapping pictures, if this is all real. It’s not just that it’s so beautiful, but that it changes so frequently, so that a still-life of water, mountains, reflections, snow, and sky becomes so much more than that. It actually seems to take on a life, as if you’re watching a video of this achingly gorgeous landscape, the editor cutting smoothly from image to image so that they appear almost superimposed on top of each other, they come at you so quickly and from every side. I actually find myself gasping aloud as a new pair of mountains rises on either side of us, surrounding us with nature at its most awesome.

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