Bergen (April 2023)

After a couple of excellent days in Oslo (see HERE ) I took the train from there to Bergen, on the west coast, a long but enjoyable journey of almost seven hours across the country. It was a great way to get a sense of the Norwegian landscape. I was also sitting beside a friendly Norwegian couple who filled me in on all things Norwegian (the man was in fact travelling to Dublin in a week’s time to do something involving shopping centres, exactly what I couldn’t work out).

Red Cabin at Myrdal

I was surprised by how much snow there was for April - all the red cabins and barns really stood out. At one point we crossed a remote high plateau and the train would get lost in a miniature whiteout, as the plough on its front churned up the snow. 

A glacier on the plateau was used in the Star Wars film “The Empire strikes back” as the filming location for the icy planet Hoth.

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This is the fantastically remote train station at Myrdal, where we briefly stopped - it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

Almost seven hours later we arrived in Bergen. The colourful wooden houses on the waterfront are eye-catching and much beloved of the Bergen tourist board. Though actually Bergen is Norway’s second largest city and there’s quite an urban sprawl away from the quaint harbour area - the suburbs stretch for miles when you see the city from the mountain behind (which I did the following day).

I was staying in an apartment (Kroken 9a) in this beautiful street, right beside the historical Bryggen part of Bergen.

The old apartment kept reminding me of a Hammershøi painting; there was something about the arrangement of the rooms and the light.

Bryggen Shadow

Having settled in I had a wander around the Bryggen part of Bergen. This was originally a trading centre for Hanseatic merchants dating back to the 14th century, though devastating fires in 1701 and 1955 caused substantial damage to the original buildings. The whole area was almost bulldozed after the later fire but thankfully common sense prevailed and the buildings have been restored to give a good sense of what the area was like in its prime.

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Next morning I visited Schøtstuene, the assembly rooms for the Hanseatic merchants, where they ate and had meetings. To a large extent these buildings has been reconstructed, though in some cases using original structures that have been relocated here (the museum is commendably honest about what’s real and what’s not).

This was probably one of the craziest junk shops I’ve ever been in, on a street near Bryggen - I practically had to burrow my way into it. I don’t know how anyone could ever find anything. I was taken aback when the owner shouted across: “There’s more in the basement”. I went down the stone steps a little warily, wondering if I would ever emerge again, but there were just more mountains of junk.

A funicular railway in the centre of Bergen takes you to the top of the mountain behind (Top tip - if you get on the train and then decide the view will be better from another carriage, don’t get out the other side. The door closes on that side, you can’t get back in again, and you have to ask someone official to let you back in through the main entry gate. A bit embarrassing).

There’s a great view from the top, though you can also see in the video now far Bergen sprawls away from the harbour area. The bit in the video where I zoom in is showing the old Bryggen area of the city.

Friendly (but sleepy) goats are kept on the mountain to keep vegetation under control.

Fløirestauranten restaurant on top of the mountain dates back to 1925; I couldn’t help thinking of The Shining when I saw the black and white photograph on the wall.

A nice IPA and a comfortable seat outside the cafe at the top of the mountain.

You can walk back down from the top of the mountain to the centre of Bergen.

It was a beautiful afternoon (Bergen has a reputation for being the rainiest city in Europe, with something like 260 days of rain a year, but I seemed to be lucky), so I had a wander around the residential areas near the centre, admiring the colourful wooden houses that make Bergen so charming.

In your eye, Putin!

Walking around Bergen I kept seeing these children with wooden rifles and crossbows parading around the town. It was only when I looked it up afterwards that I realised the significance - from Wikipedia:

“Buekorps (Norwegian: [ˈbʉ̂ːəˌkɔrps]; literally "Bow Corps" or "Archery Brigade") are traditional marching neighbourhood youth organizations in Bergen, Norway. The tradition is unique to Bergen. The organizations, which are called bataljoner (battalions), were first formally organized in the 1850s and are run entirely by the youths themselves. Fourteen different such battalions are active in Bergen, each belonging to a certain part of town.”

The next day I did the “Norway in a Nutshell” day trip from Bergen - a spectacular self-guided journey by bus, train and boat that encompasses some of Norway’s most amazing scenery. It starts with a train journey to Voss, and from there a bus to Gudvangen on Nærøyfjord- the picture above is taken from the bus as we travelled down the beautiful Nærøydalen fjord valley to Gudvangen.

Gudvangen, from where the cruise ship departs, has a spectacularly beautiful location. I could hardly take in all the immense grandeur.

The cruise from Gudvangen along the Nærøyfjord fjord to Flåm lasted two hours and the only word for the scenery along the way is “epic”. In the video you can also get a sense of how strangely quiet it was.

It was at this point that I decided that Norway was very much in my top 10 favourite travel destinations.

This little farm seemed to be clinging on for dear life in an unforgiving landscape.

Fjord Waterfall

Here a waterfall tumbled gracefully into the waters of the fjord.

Coming into dock at Flåm; again you get a strong sense of the immensity of the surrounding landscape.

It may be remote but you can still get plenty of shopping done - lots of toy trolls and fridge magnets to be had.

Truth be told, Flåm is almost entirely geared up for the tourist market, but it still has a lot of charm.

It may not look it - and I forgot to take a picture before I started eating it - but this was one of the finest meals I had in Norway - an outstandingly good pizza in a little cafe in Flam. According to my guide book, pizza is considered the national dish of Norway, it’s that popular. Price - £19.

Running from Flåm, and the next part of the Norway-in-a-Nutshell trip, is the fantastic Flåmsbana, or the Flåm Railway, one of the steepest and most scenic railway lines in Europe. It took almost 20 years to build, opening in 1940.

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This spectacular waterfall is visible from the train.

Along the way the train stopped so that we could get out and take photographs of this frozen waterfall.

Back at my favourite train-station-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, Myrdal. There was a stop here while we waited for the connecting train back to Bergen (coming from Oslo - the one I’d arrived on a couple of days before).

On my final morning in Bergen I noticed large crowds, police and a TV presenter interviewing important-looking people down at the harbour, so I asked a woman what was going on. She told me that the tall ship “Statsraad Lehmkuhl”, which had been on a 20-month round-the-world scientific expedition for the UN, was returning home to Bergen that very morning - and was going to be greeted by the King of Norway! Pretty good timing on my part.

The crew of the ship were singing sea shanties as they came into port (there must have been microphones so we could hear them on shore). It was incredibly evocative to hear. I tried to identify the song - I’m pretty sure it’s Haul Away Joe, which dates back to the 18th century, though in this rendition it sounds like they’re singing (appropriately) Haul Away Home.

All the sailors standing in the rigging as the ship came in was quite a sight.

There was something very stirring about this sailor standing on the prow of the ship like a figurehead as it came into port.

Can anyone see the King yet?

The King of Norway arrives! I’m assuming the guy on the right with the funky hair is the mayor of Bergen.

The Statsraad Lehmkuhl in the harbour after all the dignitaries had departed.

It was another beautiful afternoon and Bergen was looking its charming best. This quaint residential area was near the Nordnes peninsula in the centre of Bergen.

Maybe this is the normal way locals get about Bergen!

Sunburnt again! So much for Bergen being a rainy city. (A Norwegian I spoke to in Dublin before flying told me that Bergen was known as “the pisspot of Europe “ because of the wet weather. Though my subsequent Googling of this delightful description turned up nothing, so I suspect I may have misheard her).

As I meandered around the Nordnes peninsula I ended up at the old USF (United Sardine Factory) cannery - this was once the largest in Norway but it closed in the 1980s and is now an excellent cultural centre.

There was a lovely bar on the waterfront and I sat out in the evening sunshine with a nice pint of IPA (or two, as it happened - £20), watching the light glinting on the water, and reflecting on my time in Norway. My conclusion was that I had fallen in love with the country. And I loved it so much that I hope to return on my next trip abroad. Once I’ve checked if I have any money left, that is.

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