Bergen Beckons By-Gone Years

Trip Start Oct 01, 2009
Trip End Nov 07, 2009

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Where I stayed
Comfort Hotel Holberg Bergen
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Norway  , Hordaland,
Saturday, October 3, 2009

Norway (or Norge, derived from Norvegr meaning 'the way to the north") beckons as the early fall spring forth. The home of my Scandinavian ancestors reasserts itself and I have journeyed back yet again.

Even before the seafaring Vikings journeyed across various bodies of water to do unspeakable things in lands to the south, Norway was a mythical land. For centuries a trip to Norway held the threat of untold perils. This mythical land of Ultima Thule was said to be inhabited by strange, barbaric and fascinating creatures. And these were just the trolls. This was a land where it was believed the laws of nature did not apply. What these laws of nature were ultimately supposed to be I have no firm idea.

In a sense, it seems only reasonable that later versions (the 19th and 20th century variety) of these Nordic hordes would somehow wind up on the plains and parklands of Western Canada, the forests and lakes of the US mid-west and the harbours of the west coast of North America. After all these are a hardy and resilient band of adventurers. Anyone who tasted the lime preserved lutefisk of my young could appreciate that Norwegians would endure many hardships in order to find palatable cuisine.

I vaguely remember epic stories of the Viking period as told my my elders as I set foot on Norwegian soil on a clear October day. The Scandinavian fall is just making its impact as the Bergen bound Frankfurt flight lands at Flesland (20 kilometres south of the city). Quite simply, Bergen is a wonderful and immensely beautiful place to use as a staging area for seeing Norway. In the bright sunlight Bergen is stunning.

Having a current population of 250,000, Bergen presents itself to the world as a vibrant and confident city. It was the capital of the medieval kingdom of Norway until the 14th century. Bergen became a major commercial centre for Hanseatic merchants until the 18th century. The 'old' harbour, Bryggen, is a designated world heritage site and has been the nerve centre of the city for centuries . Bergen is situated between mountain ranges and bodies of water. Taking the funicular to Floien provides a marvellous 270 degree view, when it is not cloudy or raining.

Bergen is a grand place if a person is "pining for the fjords" since Hardanger is a remarkable fjord to the south. Sogne ,Norway's longest fjord at some 170 km, resides to the north. Both fjords are favorite access points for summer cruise ships.

Bergen is also the embarkation point for Hurtigruten, the daily coastal ferries providing transport, freight goods and passengers to the isolated communities lying amidst the fjords and throughout the multiple island chains. These ships are uniquely designed for such purpose and have many of the attributes of cruise ships with the smaller ship convenience of being able to move about the hundreds of islands with easy,

I've now been in Bergen for two days. It is an easy town to get about since its major attractions are concentrated in the downtown harbour area. Accommodation is varied, reasonably priced (if you book a hotel prior to showing up through websites such as Expedia or Lonely Planet; 3 nights for the price of two if booking is done far enough in advance), pristine and clean, usually supply breakfast with the room tariff and have with well trained staff who are rather helpful. In Bergen a 2-3 star hotel is more than adequate unless you feel the need to drop major coin on a more opulent abode, which I do not view as necessary.

You may find that hotel staff have such a wonderful grasp of the English language (including quaint American and English slang expressions - too much CSI Miami, Seinfeld and Oprah, it appears) that my faulty 1970s Svenska and 1990s Norsk is not even corrected. The cheerful response to an inept question in my Nordic tongue comes back in flawless English. Discouraging but, what the heck, these folks are just trying to be helpful. They are proud of their fluency and don't seem to be showing off. So, fellow Anglo types, feel free to blunder about cheerfully by using the Queen's English on the good folk of Bergen.

The main tourist sites are very accessible and, with the purchase of a Bergen Card, reasonably priced. Spending time at the Aquarium, Trolls' Hill (the Victorian home of composer Edvard Grieg), Halkon's Hall, St Mary's Church (the oldest building in Bergen, Romanesque) and the Rosenkrantz Tower are just some places worth a visit.

Food choices are very expansive. After a good dose of herring (smoked, pickled and fried) for breakfast I feasted cuisine as varied as Mexicana pizza prepared by delightful Lebanese folk. All said, Bergen is very cosmopolitan, safe, affordable and soothing to the eyes.

Spending a few days in Bergen is good preparation for boarding Hurtigruten and setting out for a sailing jaunt all the way up the north coast, past the North Cape (Norrkapp) on to Kirkenes (past Sverige and Suomi and to the Russia border, almost) and back. My expectation is that the coastal ferry will stop at 67 places (Bergen is counted twice) along the way in 12 days. The ports missed (due to the midnight hour and need for sleep) will be revisited during the day on the trip back. Quite logical. How sweet it is.

On the appointed day, I gather up my gear, check out of what has been a most hospitable lodging, tromp up a good sized hill just off downtown, arrive at the Hurtigruta terminal and, lo, floating serenely in the water, is the MS Nordkapp (my soon to be home away from home). Processing is done smartly and I'm soon aboard. A spartan but more than adequate cabin awaits me. So, civilized!

Bergen, you have been a treasure and have served me well. Northward, here we go.

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