Bergen is the second largest Norwegian city and its old capital. The oldest part of Bergen around the wharf is Bryggen. Which is where the Middle Ages meet 21 st century! Bryggen was an important port in the Hanseatic trading empire during the 14th to 16th centuries. The wooden structures that once formed the wharf and the buildings of the town have been destroyed several times by fires. And like the mythical Phoenix, the town has risen time and again, built on the same foundations and based on the same traditional patterns of the original buildings. A few remain at this time and are a welcome sight to visitors.
The classic, brightly painted facade of the Bryggen buildings presented a cheerful contrast to a cloudy morning. Bryggen is just a short walk along the harbor front from the Comfort Inn Holberg. We first stopped to enjoy a hearty breakfast from the hotel buffet. There were breads, cheeses, spreads, fruits, croissants, cereals, coffee and juice to choose from.
Once at the waterfront, we stopped to admire Bryggen from the opposite pier then slowly wound our way past the world famous Fisketorget, the fish market. Apparently, they have been selling fish at this market for nearly 900 years and the tradition remains very much alive today. For ones who don’t eat seafood, the smell of the market needs adjusting to, but once we got past that, we marveled at the varieties of fish, whale meat, crabs, shrimps, lobsters that were on display. The market stalls were full of merchants and customers, with a lot of cooking going on as well. In addition, there were fruits stalls with fresh berries and cherries from local farms and we couldn’t resist buying some for a healthy snack.
As we walked further, we came across a merchant selling cloudberry jam, made without preservatives and sold in small jars. Mrs. T said this was something to definitely try, so we did and liked it. We bought small jars that could be easily carried. Other stalls sold reindeer and moose meat, as well as crab meat. Many of the buildings fronting the wharf exhibited wonderful architecture. Eventually, we reached the iconic buildings and tried to take reasonable pictures as the town flashed past us-cars, buses and people.
The long row of wood plank buildings are even more interesting from close quarters. Several have been converted to shops, restaurants and offices. Perhaps because of the weather or the time of the day, (we went early morning before lunch hour), we didn’t see the quintessential cafe tables outside. But on a sunny morning, I am sure this would be a great place to sit down and watch life go by and mull on the cultural history of the place. We walked through narrow alleyways that opened onto more stores, browsed through several artists’s workshops and crafts places and souvenir stores. I could imagine a busy harbor town with noisy merchants, sailors offloading dried goods from distant places, the clerks writing down in their ledgers, people shopping in the fish market and children running around while their mothers chased them. These people may have lived and died here many centuries ago but their legacy lives on, kept alive by multiple generations that take great pride in that legacy.
Bryggen is home to its namesake museum as well as the Hanseatic Museum and either or both would be a good place to visit, if one has adequate time. Since we had a busy day, we skipped them both. After purchasing the customary souvenirs, we made our way back to the fish market and to lunch. The majority vote was in favor of ChiangMai Thai that we had seen on our way to Bryggen. The restaurant was clean, brightly lit, well decorated and offered many vegetarian options. The food was hot and spicy (if thus ordered), and a welcome change from burgers and pizza.
We had the option of either taking the funicular up to the top of Mt. Floyen or to visit the Fantoft Stave church. The clouds threatened rain, and the church closed at 6 pm while the funicular was open until 11 pm. So we chose to visit the church first. We walked away from the wharf to find the Skyss (Bergen light rail and bus) station. After a bit of walking and street hunting, we found the station and secured tickets from the vending machine. A single journey ticket was free for children 15 and younger if accompanied by an adult on weekends and holidays. Also, the ticket was good for 90 minutes, so a return journey could be achieved on the same ticket if embarked in that time period.
The ride to Fantoft was about 20-25 minutes but we had to walk a distance, about 15 minutes, from the station. The directions are not very easy to follow but close to the church the signs improve. Located on a wooded lot in a very picturesque setting, this church is a must see. The original church had been built in 1150 in Sogn and then moved to its current location in 1883. This church has been reconstructed after it was burnt down in 1992 in a fire. The architectural details both outside the church and on the inside are quite remarkable.
As we exited the church, we made use of the toilet facilities before walking back to the Fantoft station. Once back in Bergen, we made our way back to the wharf area. We stopped by the square where a tent with Susan Fosse knitwear was on display. Susan was at the stall and gave good information on the design and quality of the knitwear, all based on traditional Norwegian patterns. The prices were reasonable and in keeping with the what we had seen in other stores.
The group then split up, the kids and Mr. T to enjoy some much needed ice cream. The three of us stopped at one of the convenience stores to enjoy coffee with hot milk and watched the local marching band parade past us. By now, the clouds had cleared a bit, and we walked up to the ticket booth for the Mt. Floyen funicular. The ride is about 7-8 minutes long and up a steep incline, getting up to nearly 1000 feet at the top. The viewing area affords striking vistas but with a drizzle and the mist rolling in from the bay, we weren’t able to get the best views. Still, the scenery impelled one to stand and watch the funicular as it made its way down, the wharf in the distance with the historic Bryggen buildings, the people moving like miniatures.
We spent the next hour exploring Mt. Floyen. There is much to do here including hiking, mountain biking, ziplining, and a large playarea for the children. Who incidentally did not wish to walk around in the drizzle and the mud. So they lounged outside the gift shop while the adults took a tour of the surrounding hillside. The area is arresting in its scenery with small lakes and tall trees and winding trails.
An hour later, we made our way down to the streets and stopped at Los Tacos Bryggen, a casual eatery, similar to Chipotle. The seating inside was limited so we carried out our meals and walked back to the hotel. There is a large room with sofas and booths at the hotel where we enjoyed a quiet dinner.
Although the weather gods could have graced us with a slightly better cloudless day, Bryggen and Bergen, in general, did not disappoint.