Friday, October 7, 2016

Se seg omkring Bergen

Town on a fjord
When you last saw the Near-Normal travelers, we’d been lost in Denmark. We left Copenhagen on the cruise ship MS Zuiderdam – another adventure in transportation that I’ll have more to say about as this saga continues. Our cruise took us to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and back to the US. Our first stop was in Norway.

The Old Norse meaning of the name ‘Bergen’ is ‘the meadow among the mountains’ and it’s still often called the ‘the city among the seven mountains’. Sometime in elementary school
Top L to R: Bergen from overlook, On the funicular
Bottom L to R: Stream on the mountain, City goats
I’d read about and seen pictures of the fjords of Norway. They towering over the inlet and were covered in trees. When I’d traveled to Oslo, the fjords seemed rather flat, but Bergen’s fjords were more what I’d expected of a Norwegian coastline. Since we were on a tour, we were up early and had breakfast in our room, which is the way to go on these early mornings. About 9:00AM (30 minutes later than expected) we were put on a bus with two very nice women; one was the tour guide and the other was the driver. The first place we went was to the funicular, which was a very good thing in light of the fact that there was another tour boat that came into port just after us. We had some great views of Bergen at the top of Mount Fløyen and got to see the city goats. They have electronic shock collars and a GPS so that the folks who want them to clear the land know where they are grazing. If the goat gets too close to the ‘invisible fence’ it gets an audible warning from the collar. If it continues in the wrong direction and gets two more warnings, it will eventually get a mild shock; the shocks increase in strength the longer the goat ignores them, so eventually the goat gets the message and turns around to the correct feeding area. Evidently it doesn’t take the goat long to learn what the sounds and the shocks mean. Mount Fløyen is one of the city-mountains and a top popular tourist attraction. The mountain top, named Fløyfjellet, is about 1309 feet (399 meters) above sea level and overlooks the Bergen city center. Originally the top of this mountain had been used as a signal point for sailors wanting to know which way the winds blew so they could safely bring their boats into or out of the harbor.  We’d been told to expect rain, but it turned out warm and sunny giving us excellent weather to see the city from the mountain and to take lots of pictures.

There is no doubt that the top of Mount Fløyen is a hot bed of tourist activity, because when
Left T to B: Old hotel, Old building
Right: UNESCO site
we came down the funicular, the line to get in was out into the street and down the block. It had long been thought that the city of Bergen was founded by King Olav Kyrre in 1070 AD but researchers have discovered artifacts from a trading settlement that was evidently active in about 1020s or 1030s. By the 1200s, Bergen had a rudimentary central administration, gradually becoming the functional of capital of Norway. Although the city hosted several royal coronations, by the 14th century, Oslo had become the  capital city. It was also about this time that the North German merchants, who had been living in the area for around 100 years, founded the Hanseatic League at Bryggen in Bergen. Perhaps this is tied to when the ‘black death’ hit Bergen and most of the original population died. It was only the Germans coming in and taking over the trade as well as marrying local women that saved the town. Bryggen is a UNESCO site because of the architecture that is from the early days of Bergen (it’s been burned and restored four times; traditionally the houses were made from wood) harkening back to the trade with Germans. Currently nearly a quarter of the buildings date back to sometime after 1702, when the older wharf side warehouses and administrative buildings burned down; however, there are some stone cellars that can be traced to the 1400s and there are also some runic inscriptions. 

Just up the hill from the UNESCO area are sites that reflect the art of the newer segment of Bergen. The Sailor’s Monument is a tribute to sailors who have lived and worked on the
Top L to R: Shellfish, Hanging dried cod
Bottom L to R: Gazebo, Sailor's Monument
ocean since the Vikings. It was created by Dyre Vaa in 1950 and consists of 12 statues and four reliefs; it’s gorgeous. Another piece of eye-candy is the Festplassen and gazebo that sits in the middle of the city. This green space is graced with statues, flowers, and places just to sit and enjoy the sunshine. 
The big product from the early years of Bergen was dried cod (nasty looking stuff) that was shipped all over the world (or at least to Europe). Stockfish, as it’s called, was the main reason that the city became one of North Europe's largest trade centers. Turned loose from our tour, and with map in hand, we went from the Festplassen to the fish market and looked at the local produce. I’m happy to say that the current offerings were heavier on shell fish than on dried cod. The fish market was full of fresh fish, fresh shell fish and live lobsters and king crabs. It all looked wonderful. There were also cooked fish that you could buy a portion of to eat on the spot or to take home. Lot of folks from the tour boats were at tables eating as though they’d never seen food before and wouldn’t see it again. Near the fish market was the information center and public toilets. We’d been told that you had to pay to use the public toilets so we lined up with our Credit Cards (they won’t take cash) in hand. The men’s door was broken and unlocked, so the men were in and out in a flash. There was a group of us women who had a devil of a time trying to figure out when to put in the credit card (instructions were in Norwegian), when to pull the door open and if there was someone already in the toilet. Finally one woman came out and a lady from Africa just grabbed the door before it closed and jumped in. We all followed her example; once outside a gang of us was trying to tell our husbands what had happened and we got really tickled. The men were looking at us as if we’d gone mad!

Dave and I decided to forego lunch in town and rather spent our time on our own in the tiny
Top L to R: St Elizabeth's Hospital, Baby on balcony
Bottom L to R: Snorri Sturluso, St John's, Hug sculpture
streets of old town (map reading had returned to our list of accomplishments; besides, how lost can you get in a small town?). We walked up to Mariakerken (Mary’s church) to take a look at their small cemetery, then up a substantial hill to Johanneskirken (St John’s church). Between the two we discovered St Elizabeth’s hospital that was under archeological study. This had been where women came to have their babies; we knew this was true because of the baby nearby. St John’s church was interesting, particularly since no one really knows to which St John it was dedicated. As we were heading back to the ship we found the University of Bergen and walked through it, meeting a student from the US (maybe) and some other students who were being welcomed to their first days of school. The University is built like Oxford, on an actual quadrangle, but isn’t nearly as historic. There was an interesting statue that looked like a memorial to dating students.

Fjord and bridge
We meandered down the hill to the dock and were back on board by 2:00PM. Since I was starving, we got a burger and some fries. I actually had a Portobello burger that was on an excellent bun – one of the best things I’ve eaten on these first two days. David said that his burger and the fries were the best thing he’d had (his top three foods so far were the fried fish, the burger and the fries). We may order burgers again, tomorrow. The boat sailed at about 4:30PM and we been passed back out through the lovely fjord to the North Sea.

We chose ‘open seating’ for dinner, meaning that we could turn up between 5:30 and
Top L to R: Scallop cocktail, Thai shrimp bisque
Center L to R: Mushroom ragout, Halibut
Bottom: Dessert
9:00PM and get a table. In general we arrived about 7:30 each evening, were usually given the same table and were served by the same waiters and wine steward – they were excellent. Regular meals had three courses, a starter, a main, and dessert. Dave’s starter was a scallop cocktail that he said was OK, but he really couldn’t taste much of the scallop flavor. I had a Thai shrimp bisque that had a nice spicy bite and was full of plump shrimp cooked just right; it was hard not to lick the bowl. The main dish Dave chose was a pan fried halibut with fresh vegetables; he got the best thing on the menu, I think. I had the mixed mushroom ragout that was layered with hash brown potatoes; while the flavor was a bit like mushroom soup, the consistency was more like wall paper paste. We both opted for a light dessert; I chose a very nice watermelon sorbet and he had a scoop of amoretto ice cream.

This was gorgeous country and I wouldn’t mind spending more time exploring other areas Norway. This evening the North Sea was almost flat and there was a gentle rocking of the boat. Next stop, Iceland!
Smooth waters
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