A Town Called Dunfermline and a Journey Through the Fjords

Magic, I find, happens where you least expect it. That’s the oldest magician’s trick, isn’t it? A little misdirection to divert the audience’s attention. “Look here! Look here!” the magician cries, because the sleight of hand is happening the other way, and where misdirection and craft meet – VOILA! – magic.

Travel can be like that sometimes. You hear about these amazing places, the ones that are advertised and make all the “Best of” and “Most Beautiful” lists. “I want to go there. I want to go there SO BAD!” That’s what you proclaim, and then you do, and sometimes they are everything they promised to be and sometimes not. Either way, though, you are anticipating the moment in a specific way – sort of like you know how the trick plays out – so, if it’s what you expected, you’re all, “Good job with that one,” but lack a sense of true amazement, because you were expecting wonderful and that’s what you got.

Or what you didn’t.

Though there are exceptions, for the most part you can end up only satisfied or disappointed. Awe doesn’t come when you anticipate it.

Awe is not knowing the trick at all, to be looking at the other hand with no expectation. Then, suddenly – BAM! – magic and you are blown clean away by it.

Like the winter before last when we had to go through Istanbul to get to Athens, and we stopped over for a night, and Istanbul was magic.

Or when we were in Italy last summer, and we stayed in Vicenza with plans for Verona and Venice, but discovered Soave.

Or just last month when we were searching for a place near Edinburgh so we could get back to Western Norway and finally go to Fringe, and we chanced upon a little town called Dunfermline.

A Town Called Dunfermline

History buffs, and people far better at geography, might already have heard of Dunfermline. I had not.

It is the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, and has close ties to a saint, Saint Margaret. A much-loved king and warrior, Robert the Bruce, is buried in the abbey there.

Now, Dunfermline is surely not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s hardly a hotspot, and the night life is practically non-existent. Aside from a few pubs and a single club that I never saw anyone go in or out of, everything in the area where we were staying closed by 6 p.m., grocery stores included.

Dunfermline is simply a working village with a few things of note, just a half-hour train ride from Edinburgh. It’s a character made up of a thousand years of history, hallowed places, rugged terrain, sweeping vistas, pancakes and meat pies.

It’s such a character, it has earned a spot of honor in my next book, and is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been, on purpose or by chance.

Here are a few photos that attempt to showcase what made this place so surprisingly extraordinary.

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Dunfermline Abbey
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Abbey Nave Entrance
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Abbey Nave
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Abbey Light Display
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Palace Gate
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Abbot House Gate
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Over Dunfermline

We stayed in an apartment in the city center, and this was our view from the parking lot out back. That sunset is 100% legit coloring.

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Sunset in Dunfermline

The Highland Games just happened to take place in Dunfermline while we were there. The best part was the announcer who was about a million years old and never held back his opinion.

“Well, you’ll see these athletes are better at some events than others.”

“That wasn’t her best one.”

“You can see the disappointment on his face.”

That kind of thing.

So, we watched people toss cabers and fling heavy weights in slightly dangerous fashions. Plus, there was this –

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Seven Bagpipers Piping

And this –

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Clann An Drumma

It rained both days of the Highland Games – it rained a lot of damn days in Scotland – so as we headed back through Pittencrieff Park toward our short-term place on the second afternoon, this happened.

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That was kind of the thing about Dunfermline. Sometimes it was so suddenly lovely, it hardly seemed real.

A Ride Through the Fjords

Midway through our stay in Dunfermline, we popped back across the North Sea for a fjord experience. We’d wanted to go fjording when we were in Oslo back in June, but the Norway public transportation system was inconvenient to such desires. This time, we opted for the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which had us flying back into Oslo on a flight that left so late we missed all the trains and just barely made the last bus into the city center, where we had to walk further than we were supposed to, and didn’t get to our hotel until after two a.m.

Since we had to be on a train at eight the next morning, and at the station by seven-thirty to pick up the tickets, it was a shaky start, to say the least.

With a little determination and a lot of alarm clock, though, we made that early call and made it onto our five-hour train ride to Myrdal, where… wait for it… it snowed. In August. In the Northern Hemisphere. It was only spitting, but it was still snow. Now, I know this isn’t that special or interesting to some of your North-North-Northerners, but it was craziness for me, even if the ride up did take us past a glacier.

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Just Before Snowfall in Myrdal

It was in Myrdal that we climbed aboard the Flam Railway, one of the steepest in the world, and somebody got very excited that, though they were using a modern engine, the cars were totally old school. For the next hour, we curved down the mountain, past this massive waterfall and these deep valleys, before pulling into Flam, where we ice creamed up and climbed aboard our fjord cruise.

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Waterfall on Flam Railway

Now, I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t earn it – when we have the time, we typically hike these things – if it was our fellow passengers, or the overcast day, but, quite truthfully, I wasn’t all that moved by the fjords from the water. Don’t get me wrong, the sheer size and long stretch of them is impressive, but I was still ready for the two-and-a-half-hour cruise to be over after about an hour.

Of course, we did have the privilege of dealing with some “special cases”. You probably know “special cases”. These are the people who wait until the last minute to get on the boat because they have other things they would prefer to be doing, like having a second ice cream, then get on and pout because all the good spots are taken. I mean, why did no one leave good seats open for them? Why doesn’t anyone recognize their god-given superiority and relinquish their own seats for their very special butts?

In this case, the “special cases” were a Spanish couple who got on so last that there weren’t even two chairs left on the top level, let alone two together. The man proceeded to sit in the chair, as the woman scowled beside him. They argued. He got up and left her. I saw him reappear on the bottom level of the boat. She was so worried about where he was that she wasn’t even looking at the surrounding scenery as she tried to call him on her cell phone again and again. He finally came back up. Somewhere, they found another chair. They put their bags in them, but did not sit in them. They walked around instead. Then, after about an hour, they decided they did want to sit, but only by the side that was at the back of the boat, aka exactly where we were sitting.

It was at this point that said couple started continuously kicking the back of my chair until they finally made enough space for themselves to squeeze a chair in where it didn’t fit, a chair in which the woman slouched down and stared at the floor, while the man went for another walk, until he returned to take someone else’s seat while the person was up.

I should mention that this couple was in at least their late-30s, not teenagers.

So, yeah, it might have been the company.

But we did see this –

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Still Fjording

After the boat ride of frustration, we got on a bus that took us down a mountainous road with more waterfall craziness to the train station that would carry us on into Bergen.

The best part? When the same couple stepped into our car (because we are truly blessed) about a minute before the train was supposed to depart, realized there were no seats left together, argued again, ended up having to sit separately, and I got to watch the woman scowl all the way to Bergen.


Bergen, Norway is sort of a perfect little port town, and sort of not. It’s nice to look at, no doubt, with its harbor and its open-air seafood market and its neat old buildings. We got in on a Saturday night, though, hankering for a good meal at the Asian place we saw across the street. By the time we got checked in and ready to put food in our faces, thought, it was closed. It closed promptly at ten o’clock. Since there was nothing else right there, we walked into the main square, where too many places were closed too early and too many others were American chains. TGI Fridays taking up a prime spot, charging the equivalent of $35 for a burger? No, thank you very much.

Thank goodness, Bergen was far more welcoming by daylight, when everything was open and the waterfront was on display. We had only a few hours before our train back to Oslo, where we spent a ridiculous amount of money at Joe and the Juice the following day, before our return flight to Scotland. In that limited time, we walked along Bergen’s water’s edge, went through the old fort, ate fresh seafood and fruit, and climbed a big hill.

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Bergen Harbor
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Bergen History
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Scenic Bergen
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Bergen From Above

Sitting in Bergen that first night, after about eleven hours in total on trains, boats and buses was also the first time I ever experienced full-on dock rock. Which, unfortunately, I learned is not, in fact, a Norwegian musical styling.

Oh, and while we were in Oslo, we walked a different way and found two art installations.

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Note the man standing on the wall.
Oslo Boob Art photo Art2.jpg
Is this where we all pretend these are not giant boobs?

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