Bergen

by Colleen Morrow in


When we left Odda, we were expecting it to rain the entire time we were in Bergen. That wasn’t a surprise, Bergen gets a lot of rain every year. More rain than London. The England one, specifically. But we had rain jackets and umbrellas and extra shoes and were prepared.

On Friday, we woke up to no rain in the forecast. Which was fantastic because we had a walking tour scheduled for the morning. We headed down to the Tourist Information place, the starting spot for our tour, walking through the outdoor part of the fish market on our way. Soon enough, our guide, Maritn, had arrived and our tour got started. He took us into the indoor part of the fish market, first, showing us several of the different vendors and what they had in their cases, explaining about some of the products we could find there, including the king crabs that are taking over everything and the mink whale that’s a popular traditional meat in Norway. He also explained how some of the largest fishing companies in the world are based in Bergen and it’s becoming a larger industry than oil. From there, Martin took us around the city, showing us the main shopping square, the first theatre building, and the original city hall, just to name a couple of our stops, before leading us into the historic Bryggen area (where we’re staying.)

Brygeen is a UNESCO site consisting of a series of buildings that date back to the 1700s. Each of the historic buildings had warehouses & living quarters for up to 100 (mostly) German men, who were there as part of the Hanseatic League. The buildings are in use today but only for shops and offices - and still only have one bathroom per building. The League had established itself in the 1300s but in the early 1700s, there was a fire and the buildings were damaged. They were rebuilt and those are the buildings that still remain. Bergen has had a lot of fires, as everything is made of wood, but the fire in the early 1700s was one of the worst and destroyed almost the entire city. They rebuilt on top of the original foundations, though, so even though the buildings are only 300 years old, the foundations date back for hundreds of years more. From there, we went past St. Marys church on our way to the Bergenhus fortress. The tour packed a LOT into the two and a half hours we had with Martin and it was such a good tour. Martin shared so much about the city with us (like the best time to catch the funicular to avoid the cruise ship crowds and where to get the best coffee in the city) and it was such a great morning for a walk, with the sun shining down on us.

Once we were done, we re-evaluated our plans for our remaining time in Bergen. The original plan was to do a couple of museums after the tour and do the funicular & fortress tomorrow. But with the beautiful weather and rain being called for tomorrow, we shifted things around and decided to try to do the fortress and funicular today, leaving the indoor activities for tomorrow. Also, we had planned on doing the church on Saturday but Martin told us it wasn’t open on Saturdays and Sundays. So, when the tour wrapped up, we headed straight to the church - which we actually have a view of from our hotel room, which is a lovely view. St. Marys is the oldest building in Bergen, dating back to the 12th century and has been continuous use since the early medieval period. From there, we stopped for lunch at a Martin-approved restaurant (where EDP got a bowl of traditional Norwegian stew that seemed to be about 75% mussels.)

Then, it was on to the Bergenhus fortress to see the Rosenkrantz tower and the Hakon’s Hall. The tower was built by some Scottish masons and was in the style of fortified houses in Scotland (I suspect this is when my Scottish ancestors started their love affair with Norway.) It joined together two existing structures, one of which was the royal residence from the 13th century. It was a very confusing building to tour through, I’m not convinced we actually saw all of it. From there, it was on to Hakon’s Hall. Except it was closed for an event. So we scrapped that idea. It was still a bit early to head to the funicular, given the cruise crowds so we went to the Hanseatic Museum, which shows what the Bryggen buildings would have been like when they were in use for exporting fish and importing grain by the Hanseatic League. The building and it’s furnishings were really quite lovely, though the uneven floors made one feel a little bit drunk, even though one only had juice at lunch.

Then, it was on to the funicular. We got there at a great time, there was no line - whereas there had been quite a long one when we passed earlier in the day with our tour. The funicular takes you up to the top of Fløyen, one of the mountains in Bergen, which has incredible views of the city. It doesn’t take long to get up to the top and we were soon overlooking the city and the harbours. The day was sunny & warm so I tottered off to get some ice cream while EDP stayed at the edge of the viewing platform to take in the views. There’s lots of hiking up on the mountain, but as you may recall, we had recently taken a few long walks so we didn’t feel compelled to do any more. We did take a short walk around the immediate area, meeting several very lovely goats. Luckily, we got there just before feeding time so I was able to give a few of them some pets before they started acting exactly as you would expect goats to act when someone had a bag of feed in their hands. Then, it was back to the hotel for a bit of downtime before dinner, another outdoor-with-blankets affair that is quickly becoming my favourite way to dine.

We woke up this morning with most of what we had planned already done - only Hakon’s Hall was on our list. I had really wanted to see Bryggen Museum but it’s closed for renovations. That meant we could fit in a couple of the Kode museums, which we didn’t think we’d have time for. We figured that all out after breakfast, during which time I was snacking on a delicious, fresh warm bolle that EDP picked up for me when he went out to grab coffee. I do always enjoy a snack right after breakfast. Once the snack was taken care of, we headed to Hakon’s Hall, which was open! It dates back to the 13th century and was built by King Hakon Hakonsson. Cool name, right? It was part of the royal residence when the political centre of Norway was in Bergen but the monarch left for a while around the Middle Ages so it turned into a storage facility. Then, it kinda fell to disrepair but was restored as a storehouse in the 17th century and then they figured out what it had originally been used for so they restored it again. But then a munitions ship exploded in 1944 and pretty much destroyed everything but the external walls. The pictures of it after the explosion were crazy, it was essentially a roofless shell. But they restored it and now it’s used for important occasions again. The main hall is incredible, with these gorgeous wooden beams stretching across the ceiling. It was definitely worth the wait to see it.

Then, it was on to the Kode museums - specifically, Kode 3 & 4. Kode 3 was our first stop, which had some odd modern art on the main floor (I never understand modern art…) but had a Munsch exhibit along with some other Norwegian painters on the second floor. I enjoyed that part much more - and it was good to be introduced to some other Norwegian painters. Then it was on to Kode 4 where we accidentally started in the children’s museum, something we could have done without. We recovered from that experience with a drink in the bar. Then it was upstairs to the grown up art, where they had a fairly extensive Picasso exhibition that included artists influenced by him, along with a really lovely exhibition on Nikolai Astrup, which I really enjoyed. It was a pleasant surprise to be able to fit the museums in. Once we were through the two museums, it was time for a late lunch (hotdogs) and then back to the hotel for some downtime. That turned out really well because it started raining. And it poured. But we were snug inside, with our books and our view of the church and a light supper in the hotel, sparing us from having to go out in the downpour - and it was really coming down.

Now we’re all packed up and ready for a long day of travel tomorrow. We’re doing the Norway in a Nutshell tour to get back to Oslo, a full day of trains, ferries & buses, which promise stunning views of the countryside. Hopefully the rain isn’t too heavy and we can enjoy those views.