Northern Lights Cruise with Saga - Chapter 4
It rains a lot in Bergen. But today was an exception. A grey day but as we left the ship and stretched our legs after two days at sea it was dry. 7C and pleasant. With her feet in the water, her head in the clouds and her people somewhere in between under an umbrella, Bergen is the official ‘Gateway to the fjords’. Most towns in Norway have nicknames all drawn up by the local tourist boards - it draws in the tourists. Our fellow passengers easy to spot in matching complimentary red arctic jackets.
An exceptionally beautiful place even in the grey morning light. The second largest city in Norway. A popular cruise ship destination whatever the season. Legend has it that God made Bergen so beautiful that twice a day it rains to cleanse the streets!
Founded in 1070 AD by King Olav Kyrre. He is the warrior who fought at Stamford Bridge in 1066 with his dad, Harold Hardrade. I remember him from my school years. And no he wasn't in my class!
Bergen is Viking for ‘the pasture between the mountains’. And mountains it has in abundance.
Rome and Sheffield are built on seven hills. Bergen, naturally, goes one better. It is built and framed around seven mountains. Though to be fair to Sheffield it did invent the finest stainless steel. And the Romans? Whatever did they do for us?
The people of Bergen are wonderful. Charming, elegant and polite with a great sense of humour. Cocksure of their heritage and destiny. And why not. Cocooned from any world financial collapse by the massive wealth that offshore oil has and continues to bring.
We had visited many years ago when Chris and Laura were young. Our abiding memory was of trudging through thick snow and seeing candles flickering in many of the houses. It hasn't changed much in the intervening years.
The fish market is still a must see. The main shopping area is pedestrianised now. Today's population 270,000. But the main joy is strolling the narrow alleyways, cobbled and reminiscent of our recent visit to Bruges and Ghent. This European city of culture (2000) is superb. Especially the historic waterfront.
The charming steeple roofed colourful houses of the 900 year old Bryggen Wharf are now a UNESCO world heritage site. A collection of over 60 historic and outstanding timbered houses. Wooden walkways, picture perfect medieval. Houses that lean on each other like a fragile pack of cards.
The funicular is Bergen's most popular attraction. We queued for over 20 minutes but the views from Floyen mountain were amazing. City to mountain top in seven minutes. A bird's eye view that is unbeatable once the low clouds had lifted.
For an even quicker ascent try the cable car up to Mount Ulriken - the highest of Bergen's mountains. Six minutes this time, vertiginous yes, 643 metres above sea level.
The area around Lille Lungegardsvann (a small beautiful lake edged with blossom trees) houses many art galleries and museums. ‘Screaming’ Edvard Munch has various works of art here. This bustling city has so much to offer all year round.
We spent a lovely 30 minutes or so with a Bergen couple in a great coffee shop on the wharf. We discussed all things Nordic especially the legacy of the Vikings. Erik and Veronika had been to Lindisfarne, Holy Island on the Northumberland coast a couple of years ago - the scene of an unprovoked Viking attack in 793. And to the recent British Museum Viking exhibition in London. Viking words now in the English language include freckles (I have many), husband and wife, cake (I love cake) and ugly. I think I am related in many ways to the Vikings. Norway comes from the Viking ‘way to the north’. As they returned to Scandinavia the coast of Norway was a handy shelter for their ship. ‘Nordvegen’ the ‘North Way’- Norway.
Erik was half French and half Dutch. ‘Frutch’ was a charming man, a retired dentist. Probably could put a smile on anyone's face. He had astonishingly long sideburns so he looked as though he was constantly on the phone.
A young couple sat on the table opposite holding hands and cooing at each other like the pigeons sat on the shop roof across the road.
Many from the ship took the optional excursion to visit Edvard Grieg's house which is just outside the city. I am more a Strauss and Mozart fan myself. He is Norway's greatest composer with a good head of hair, flamboyant moustache and an obvious ear for music. Troldhaugen was his home from 1885. Beautifully situated on Lake Nordas it has become a mecca for music lovers from all over the world. He composed many of his melodies here in the wooden hut by the water.
Alas our day was soon almost over. Bergen's Fortress museum was our last call before returning to the ship. The good news is, it's free and for a Yorkshireman that is excellent news. The very good news is that it is very very good. The best exhibition featured the resistance movement in and around Bergen between 1940 and 1945. Dealing with both civilian and military resistance this was the highlight of the museum and the standout exhibit.
The history of the resistance movement is presented through a mix of film, photos, weapons and espionage bits and bobs. It shows the cruelty that the German occupation force imposed on the good people of this city. Many were tortured before being executed. Many were sent to concentration camps on a one way journey. The cruelty of mankind never ever fails to shock.
An excellent day and a great start to Norway. Our feet ached but it had been worth it indulging in our most popular pastimes - walking, sitting, eating and watching the happiest people in the world go by.
Sail away was in perfect sunshine, the sun picking out exquisite nooks and crannies in the beautiful fjord as we headed for the North Sea. Plenty to look forward to tonight. Great company and excellent shows. Oh have I mentioned the food? A six course evening meal with five star food and wine. Cheers.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Holidays