We spent a week checking out Norway, one of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen yet. Forget rolling hills and open plains, give me craggy mountains that shoot into the sky and deep woods that hide hippogriffs and hobbits.
|Jeff upon exiting the Bergen Express (6.5 hours, about 299 Nkr.)|
We started our journey in Oslo for one night, and departing on an early train in the morning. We were taking the Bergen Railway from Oslo to Bergen where we would hop on a boat that would carry us up the coast for four days. It was one of the most beautiful train rides I have ever been on. It takes 6 and a half hours to cut through the fattest part of the country to connect Oslo to Norway’s ex-capitol city.
The railway was opened in 1883 and is 371 km long. It was in heavy use during WWII, but without the funds to maintain it and in due to lack of maintenance, in 1944 a runaway train full of petrol and oil killed 25 civilians and countless German soldiers. Our ride went much smoother, and part of the route was changed because of construction, so it looks like they are keeping it up to snuff these days.
Unfortunately a large chunk of the most beautiful part of the trip is frequently interrupted by tunnels that were built to help keep the track clear during the snowy winter.
The rail line, despite being 6+ hours long, tries it’s best to not let you have fun. We sat in the bar car for most of the trip because Jeff was more comfortable there, and while we were sitting we were told that we were not allowed to play cards in the bar, one group was kicked out because they brought their own lunch, and there were signs posted that forbade alcohol from leaving the bar car. Considering that they were an hour late in departing, I feel like they could cut some slack to the rules.
Once arriving in Bergen, we walked towards the city center, which was about 10 minutes away. Along the way we passed a lovely park, and several museums from art to history. When we got to the fish market, we enjoyed a quick snack, and wandered over to the old-town part of the city called Bryggen. All the old-town parts of Norwegian cities are called Bryggen.
Back in the 13th century there was a German trading company called the Hanseatic league who made one of it’s headquarters in Bergen. They would import grain, and export dried fish, (if a town isn’t earning it’s money from tourism, they earn it from fish export). It was a very profitable company, who brought a bunch of german merchants to Bergen to help run the company. These merchants were not allowed to mix with, marry, or have families with the local Norwegians. By the 15th century this trading company declined in prosperity, due to competition and the Black Death, but, Bergen remained an important northern Europe trading city. In the 17th and 18th century many people of the Hanseatic trading league decided to become Norwegian.
|Bryggen in Bergen|
Bryggen is the old-district of Bergen, and some of the buildings date back to 1702 (about 25% are thought to be “originals”). The building styles are from the 12th century, but due to a fire, none of the buildings date back that far. Now the area is filled with tourist shops, but some of the shops seem to be selling handmade wares from a real artist, and not just bulk items from China. It was our first introduction to Norway’s fascination with trolls though, which we found very exciting.
|Dolls available in one of the less-corporate shops|
One of the characteristics of Bergen’s bryggen are the buildings jutting out in every which direction. This was cause in 1944 when a Dutch ship exploded in the nearby harbor, blowing the roofs and shifting the foundations. Also, because that wasn’t enough already, in 1955 another fire threatened to take out 1/3 third of the area. Quickly becoming an eye-sore and a fire danger, Bryggen was nearly torn down, but since has been restored and granted protection as a UNESCO historical site.
If you continue to walk along the harbor beyond Bryggen there is an old stone fortress called Bergenhus fortress. The oldest bits from the fortress date back to 1100, though some of the recent building is from WWII. The fortress has gone through a lot of historical ups and downs. Once being the seat of the king, and then being completely unnecessary when Norway made a pact with Denmark, leaving the fortress uncared for and forgotten. Today, the fortress has been restored and tours are available, but it is also used as a location for public holidays and feasts.
|Small visual reminder that this is a fortress.|
After Bryggen we started to wander towards the dock that our boat was in, hoping that the rain would hold out long enough for us to board the ship. We grabbed some smoked salmon and moose sausage from the nearby outdoor market to enjoy while we were on the ship, since we didn’t sign up for the meal plan. Jeff also introduced me to caviar for the first time, and holy moly, who knew that fish egg’s would be so tasty?
We had dinner at a great small pub called Pingvinen, which means penguin in Norwegian I think. We had some delicious fish and a beer for a reasonable amount of Kroner. Norway is one of the most expensive countries in Europe, so finding great food for a reasonable price is hard to come by. From the pub we walked to our ship and about 200 m away that clouds opened up and just drenched us in pouring rain. We tried to wait it out under a balcony for 10 minutes, but no such luck. We hunched our shoulders and booked it.
|On our way to the boat, before the downpour.|
We checked into our room on the boat, which was on the bottom floor, with no windows, and withen intimate hearing of the anchor chain. It was small, but not bad. You’ll hear about it in the next Norwegian post though, which will be taking place from the dock of the Hurtigruten MS Lofoten.