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Bergen, Norway

June 14 


There are many reasons why Bergen was chosen as one of Europe’s cultural cities in the year 2000. Though the modern side of Bergen boasts mansions, monasteries, museums and music along with modern buildings of commerce, its two tourist favourites are Old Town and its position as the Gateway to the Norwegian Fjords.

Arriving in town early gave us ample time to got to the tourist information centre before looking for accommodations. Nearby was a bronze statue of a man sitting on the sidewalk close to a building’s wall, legs outstretched, barefoot, head hung facing the wall and slouched back against the steps of the building. A little blonde girl and her younger sister, both in bright coloured patchwork coats, were looking at the man and the older was touching the statue’s head and saying something to her mother. Sherrie had got the okay nod from the mother to take a photo. "She is saying," the mother translated, "that the man is sad and very lonely." The artist would have greatly appreciated such a forthright observation from this young understanding sole.

Sherrie commented on their bright, happy coats. "Thank you," the mother said with pride, "I made them from bed covers, curtains and table cloths. The pockets are the crocheted squares you use to pick up hot pans." The girls were told how pretty they looked and mother translated the comments into Norwegian. Sherrie pulled out two of the gold balloons she carries and with a wave said goodbye to the chance meeting.


We settled into the P Hotel (a mistake) and then walked down to the fish market at the head of the old harbour and mingled with the locals (selecting their dinner entree) and camera totting tourists. Bryggen, Bergen’s Old Town, lines one side of the harbour with brightly coloured three storey buildings topped by attics and pitched roofs.

Bergen was founded in the 11th century and became Norway’s capital in the 13th century. Back then it was the largest city in the country and would continue to be for 600 years. Because of its harbour setting and commercial importance in the Middle Ages, Bergen became a vital link in the Hanseatic League (a chain of European and Baltic cities with shared trading agreements). Its harbour front, Bryggen, was a scene of thriving activity up to the 18th century. During that time, stock fish (cod, ling, pollock, etc.) and cod liver oil were its biggest exports; today much of Bergen’s economic life is centred on the North Sea oil industry.


The best way to see and experience the buildings and alleyways of Old Town is with a guide who can described what life was like through the 900 year history of Bryggen’s wooden buildings which are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.


Our guide told us how German men, experts in trade and commerce, controlled Bryggen, kept to themselves, treated the apprentices they brought from Germany, and received special favours from the monarchy under threat of cutting off the city’s importation of needed grain (one cannot live on fish alone).


He guided us through their meeting house and through the floors of the bright wooden buildings which served as shop, storehouse and living quarters. Since these wooden structures which line Bryggen’s harbour were built without standard measurements ("that looks about right, Jorge"), they lean against each other for support. Today there is another problem. New structures outside the UNESCO zone are protecting their investments and support structures from rot by draining away the water ... the same water which was preserving the structures on which Bryggen was build. With air and space now at these ancient foundations the buildings above are beginning to shift at an alarming rate.

Bryggen has been devastated by fires many times as archaeologists can plainly see by the black stripes in their digs.

The Great Fire of 1702 reduced the city to ashes but Bryggen rebuilt yet again on its foundations. No fires at all ... no cook fires, no comfort fires, no candles, no smoking ... were allowed in the buildings. This might seem fine on a day like today with the summer sun hot and only dipping below the horizon for four hours; but in the freezing cold of winter when the sun is out for only a few hours (if clouds don’t obscure it) it would truly be a hardship to have done your work by feel through cold rigid fingers only to rewarded at the end of a long mainly dark day with a cold meal. The only fire mentioned was the one in the meeting hall’s cast iron stove and kitchen.


Before dinner we took the Flirbanen (a 7 minute funicular ride) to the top of Mount Floyen (320 metres above sea level) for views of Bergen (today 465 sq km) and out to the islands and fjord mountains.



We got off the funicular part way down and walked cobbled stone lanes, peering into back yards the rest of the way. Once back in the city and heading to our room, we saw a crew nearing completion of a stage they were erecting in the pedestrian square – an outdoor shopping mall. A great many of Bergen’s 242,000 residents like to party whether it be with rock music, jazz, high brow classical or a lively football (soccer) match being broadcast on pub televisions.


Closing the double windows and pulling the heavy curtains helped muffle the exuberant party goers. A peek out at midnight still showed a bright sky.


June 15

It was early morning when we walked through the park on our way to the railway station, but the sun was already well up in the sky.



click here to continue June 15 to and "Norway in a Nutshell"  ...


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