Bergen is the capital city of West Norway. It is situated on a promontory, surrounded by mountains, and has a natural harbour, or ‘vaagen’, which connects it to the North Sea. The first settlement here was called Bjorgvin, or ‘pasture between the mountains’, which was founded in 1070. Soon the town boasted of a castle and a cathedral, where some of their kings were crowned. During the 12th and 13th centuries the town expanded, and began to export fish and fur throughout Europe. In 1343 Bergen became an important international port on the hanseatic trade route, between Europe and Northern Russia, trading in fish oil and dried fish. A trading factory was developed on the quay-side or ‘Bryggen’, and for 400 years the German Guild of Hansa merchants dominated the town. The Hansa factory was finally closed in 1630, and the last merchant left in 1764, and at last the Norwegian merchants regained their trading port. Bergen is now Norway’s second largest city with a population of about 238,000, and has become a major cultural and learning centre, with a concert hall, theatre, art galleries, university and colleges.
Oceana docked at the Bomtelabo berth in Bergen just before 10.00am, and after a very late breakfast, we ventured off the ship and onto Norwegian soil. Across the harbour we had our first sight of brightly painted wooden buildings. A long curving row of tall four-storey weather-board style buildings, with flat fronts, square windows and steeply pitched roofs; rather like a row of large, cheerfully coloured beach huts, red, yellow, brown and white.
We spent the next couple of hours wandering around the narrow alleyways, visiting the shops, workshops and small art galleries that were housed in and around the wooden buildings. It was like stepping back in time. The overhanging balconies, and dark passageways, are reminiscent of London before the Great Fire of 1666. Long thin shops, cramped workshops and small art galleries lead off the passageways, and each one stretches deep into the complex, room linked to room, doorway to doorway. Everywhere there are low ceilings, uneven floorboards, and rough wooden walls.
We visited the Hanseatic Museum, a large dark medieval house, one of the oldest and best preserved of the wooden buildings in Bergen, where 18th century Hanseatic merchants once lived and worked. We also walked through the fish-market, but we were too early in the season to see (or smell) more than just a few fish. (The tourist season doesn’t really get going until June).
Above and beyond Bergen, are the mountains, towering over the city. I would have liked to go up Mount Floyen on the Funicular Railway to see the beautiful panoramic views of Bergen, but my cold was making me feel pretty rough, and the afternoon was becoming dull and drizzly, so it’s unlikely we would have seen a great deal anyway. And as the drizzle became a steady rain, we decided to return to the Oceana, and a well-earned late lunch.