It’s up bright and early to see if we have more luck getting into Bergen today. Our luck is in, we jag a spot but within 15 minutes of arrival, the site is again full with hopefuls circling.
The rain has set in and it pelts down, eventually settling into a fine drizzle (big hair, here I come) for the rest of the day. Clouds have set low on the mountains creating a dreamy, romantic background. Not quite the visibility I wanted for photography, but it’s still very beautiful.
We tram into the heart of Bergen to find the Fisketorget in full swing on the harbour. Part fish market, part short order restaurant, the fishmongers offer seafood platters and fry ups alongside their usual fresh seafood sales. The display is extraordinary, scallops the size of saucers, crabs the size of hubcaps, some with legs that stretch for a metre, lobsters, salmon prepared in a myriad of ways and endless varieties of fish. All pristinely fresh – not a hint of a fishy smell bar the divine scent of shellfish frying. Beside the red tented market, is an up market version, under glass. Very confrontingly, I see whale burgers on the menu. They’re allowed to fish them here, under controlled conditions. Interestingly, some of the crabs and all the scallops are tagged – I can only presume this is for population/catch control.
Tourist information suggests path to access the key sights. Bergen is nestled into a valley by a natural harbour, Vagen, surrounded by step mountains. Houses are terraced into the sides – you’d need to be a mountain goat to live here!
There’s no visible road access, but then again, many houses are in cloud. Interestingly, many are multi story wooden structures, painted either white, in pastels or bright reds and deep blues. Those not wooden are rendered, again multi story. Its streets are cobblestoned in white. Very pretty.
Bergen was granted township status in 1070 and has undergone a number of trading and fishing port metamorphoses since. It’s been granted UNESCO world heritage status and it would be fair to say that the key trade in the modern world is tourism.
We cross the harbour to Bryggen, a row of timber warehouses, home to trade for over 400 years. Their uniform fronts bely a higgledy-piggledy back end, full of little arty shops, cobbled laneways and hidden corners. Lots of fun to explore. In their 400 year history, they’ve been razed by fire on numerous occasions, rebuilt each time.
Bergen also boasts an impressive number of important churches for such a small place. We see the cathedral and the Kosirken, both of which are in the process of restoration. We do see the original 1100 door of the latter. Later, we find St Mary’s church, Mariakirken, originally Catholic, now Lutheran, tiny, but with exquisite 17th century art works, a triptych alter from Lubeck and and exquisite baroque 1677 pulpit, part Asian, part Netherlands workmanship, carved and painted with the nine original cardinal virtues, a maiden for each. It also features medieval frescoes, dated back to its origins between 1130 – 1170. Who needs a museum with this at our fingertips?
The mist won’t let up and it keeps thwarting my attempts for a panoramic shot across the harbour. Instead, we stop for a local specialty, cinnamon and sugar scrolls, filled with custard. Yum! I heartily approve.
We continue our tour, stepping off the main route from time to time into the oldest part of town, Gamle Stavanger. It’s here we get to see how the locals live, in 150 heritage protected houses. The mystery of hill access is solved. In between the houses wind narrow, steep staircases cut out of granite. Yes folks, it’s a long, long, way up. Some rise vertically, others zig zag. Either way, you wouldn’t want to forget something if you popped out to the shops. We also see local art, graffiti is a popular decoration on the side of houses and on doors. This is no ordinary graffiti though. It’s a blend of art and cartoon, pop culture at it’s best. Quite a number of houses have cat motifs. The fluffs are popular, it seems.
Our next stop is a scenic walk to the pier to tour the Akvariet, the aquarium. It’s home to sea lions, a wonderfully round, spotty harbour seal, Gentoo penguins, one with a fluffy chick, and hundreds of fish held in 9 large and 40 small tanks. It makes a welcome respite from the drizzle and is both informative and interesting. Especially fabulous is my round seal friend who sabotages my attempts to photograph her underwater by swapping windows to whichever one I am not at, and a male penguin, carefully rebuilding his nest, one stone at a time under the watchful eye of his partner. Judging by the look in her eye, I don’t think she was best pleased with the workmanship, but he was trying very hard!
The aquarium tour and walk back takes us up to dinner. We’ve selected a local restaurant, off the tourist path that comes highly recommended. Potekjeleren lives up to its reputation serving a small but exquisite menu and French wine. Divine. Our waiter is lovely too. I ask him about the weather – – does it rain often here? He gives me the most charming answer: God loves Bergen so much that he washes it clean every day. What’s not to love about that?
Sated and touristed out, we catch our tram back, stopping only to look at yet another lovely church, a little more in love with Norway each day.