Bergen, Norway--Fun in Summer and Winter
Bergen, Norway was our final stop on our Viking Jupiter cruise. We had decided to stay extra days to see this gorgeous city during the summer. (We had stayed briefly in Bergen during our In Search of the Northern Lights cruise but we only had time for a very fast hike to the top of Mt. Floien.)
We wanted to spend time wandering the streets, eating the great food, and seeing the sights in the city that we had heard so much about from friends.
As the first permanent capital of Norway and the second largest city in the country, the picturesque city is a combination of old and new. Through the years Bergen, like most of Norway, has been under the rule of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The city is surrounded by seven mountains with the tallest being Mount Ulriken. These mountains provide excellent resources for exercise and beautiful backdrops for the many faces of Bergen.
The first views that impressed us as we sailed into the harbor were the many multi-colored wooden houses lining the water. The Bryggen (Bergen’s original name) is made up of wooden buildings lining the harbor. These 62 remaining buildings have survived any fires while some have been rebuilt following the techniques used when they were originally built in the 1300s by the Hanseatic League. The colorful wooden buildings served as warehouses, offices, and homes for the members of the Hanseatic League who were stationed in Bergen, one of the major trading overseas offices. The Hanseatic Museum and Schotstuene provided an intriguing look into the lives of the League’s representatives as they utilized the Norwegian’s fishing skills and natural cod resources and the Germanic trading skills to build a thriving world multinational market that survived from the 1300s to the 1800s. Our guide continued our tour past other Hanseatic buildings and onto the harbor path where we could see some buildings in the restoration process. (Thank you, Bergen, for providing lifelike coverings over buildings that are in the renovation process so tourists can see what the buildings will look like when complete.) The Bryggen and Bergen are UNESCO sites.
We enjoyed walking around the Bryggen area while exploring the multiple stores along the way. Of course, we had to sample local beers and food at cute restaurants such as Bryggeloftet and Stuene overlooking the harbor. One of our meals took us to the Fish Market to eat a wonderful dinner at Fjellskål Seafood Restaurant where we struck up conversation with nearby diners, Norwegians who were in town for the concert. Another took us into the district of Sandviken to Dr. Wiesener, a pub with great atmosphere and seafood soup. Finding good food as we wandered was never a problem.
We stayed at the Hotel Norge by Scandic which is in easy walking distance to the Bryggen (10 minute walk) and to nearby museums, the National Theater, and parks. In front of the hotel is the picturesque Ole Bull Statue where children enjoyed scrambling over the rocks and having fun. Ole Bull was a famous Norwegian violinist. He and Edvard Grieg are the most famous Norwegian musicians while Henrik Ibsen is the most noted playwright. Byparken, a city park featuring lovely flowers and a scenic bandstand was on the other side of the street. The walk to the Bryggen took us through Torgallmenningen, a huge plaza that was originally built as a firebreak. (Remember that the original buildings were all wood and fires could, and did, take out the majority of them.) In a prominent location in the square is the Seafarers’ Monument that pays homage to sailors of different exploration periods from the Vikings forward. We enjoyed strolling the city and discovering new sites—at least they were new to us!
A visit to the Bergenhus Fortress, including both Hakon’s Hall and Rosenkrantz Tower which are part of the Fortress was a step into the long history of Bergen. The Hall and Tower were built in the 13th century. Hakon’s Hall was built as a banquet hall and is still used for that purpose today. Rosenkrantz Tower was built as the keep for the castle. As we climbed the steep, narrow stairs, we stopped at each floor for exploration. (The self-guided tour starts in the basement, which is small, but worthwhile.)
The museum on the top floors and the view as we walked around the outside platform were very interesting. One bonus of our visit to the Bergenhus Fortress was hearing a rock band practice for the huge concert that evening on the grounds of the fortress.
One morning we were able to take a tour to Fjell, Norway to learn more about Norway during WWII. One reason that the area was so important was that Narvik was the only ice free port where iron ore could be shipped year round. Bergen was also a strategic area during the war as the Nazis built the Atlantic Wall, a line of defense along the coast from Spain to Norway. Fjell Fortress, with its 20-foot-thick walls of concrete, was meant to protect the entrances to Bergen. The fortress was built by Soviet prisoners and is the largest in Norway. We were able to visit some of the many tunnels and bunkers that were built below the gun turret.
On the tour we also visited the North Sea Traffic Museum with its exhibit about the unspeakable fate of the city of Telavåg. The small fishing village was used for transportation between Norway and the UK, to smuggle people out and to bring weapons in. Someone informed the Gestapo that the village was harboring agents who were helping with the plan. As the Gestapo attempted to arrest the Norwegian agents, one of the agents and two of the Gestapo were killed. In reprisal, the Nazis returned a few days later and completely decimated the small town. All of the men were sent to concentration camps while the women, children and the elderly were all imprisoned. The audio guide even features the voices of some of the survivors as they share their memories of this horrific tragedy.
Back in Bergen, we enjoyed simply walking around and taking advantage of the beautiful weather. (We were assured that we were not experiencing the true Bergen since the sun was shining the entire time we were there.) One serendipitous occurrence was being able to watch and cheer for the World Triathlon Cup. What amazing athletes!
And then, all too soon, it was time to leave Norway. As usual, there were things we missed. We didn’t take the funicular. (It was working during this visit!) We also didn’t visit Edvard Grieg’s home, but perhaps on another visit to this charming, bustling place.
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