10.10 Onsdag, 5 Juni, 2013
On Wednesday (May 29), I headed to the airport (not before grabbing another pasty, though!) and flew to Bergen, the second-largest city in Norway, located on a fjord on the west coast of the Scandinavian peninsula. By this time, I was alone, as the friend who had come to London with me had returned to Stockholm early on Wednesday morning. I arrived around 17:00 and then took the bus to the city center.
Map of Norway
When I got into town, I had a quick look around, but as I was getting hungry, I found a grocery store and bought some food. I decided to just make my own food while I’m in Bergen and later Oslo because I didn’t want to pay Norwegian restaurant prices for a week. Although, even the grocery store was expensive. However, I could still get real Norwegian food at the store, so I got a loaf of bread and a block of Norwegian brunost (brown cheese) that I snacked on for the whole week. I was slightly skeptical of the brunost (because it’s brown!), but it was actually very good!
Once I had my food, I went to check into the hostel and make dinner (it was just spaghetti, by the way :p). I knew that my hostel was going to be several kilometers from the city center and that I had to take the bus to get there, but I didn’t realize that it came with a view of the entire city (and free breakfast!)! As I was getting ready to go to bed, I looked out the window and saw an amazing sunset.
This photo was taken around 23:00
On Saturday, I woke up early and made my way into town to take a fjord tour. The boat was named the “White Lady,” and it took us on a four hour cruise past Bergen and all the way up Osterfjord. The fjord was amazing!
A Norwegian fjord
After the boat tour, I visited the castle in Bergen, called Rosenkrantztårnet, which was where the kings of Norway lived for many years, when Bergen was the capital of Norway. The castle was very interesting, as it has been changed so much over the years and you can see the remnants of features that were changed by subsequent remodellings (such as holes halfway up the wall where supports for the previous floor had been). Also, the castle was severely damaged during World War II when a German ship carrying dynamite accidentally exploded in the Bergen harbor. So, they had to remodel the castle again in order to fix it!
The Rosencrantz Tower
The castle is located at the end of a row of old, wooden buildings called Bryggen (Norwegian for ‘The Wharf’), which was the original town of Bergen and where all of the port activities took place. Since Bryggen is a World Heritage Site, I figured it was worth taking a look! And it was indeed quite interesting; it was a long row of buildings that were very deep and had long, boardwalk alleys between them. In the alleys (as well as at the front and back of the buildings) were many shops and restaurants, and since Bergen used to be a member of the Hanseatic League (a trading organization run by the Germans), this is where the Hanseatic merchants from Germany used to conduct their business. There is actually a museum called the Hanseatic Museum that is located in the building where the merchant offices were located – I visited this museum on Friday afternoon.
On Thursday evening, I rode the Fløibanen Funicular to the top of Fløyen, one of the seven mountains that surrounds Bergen. From here, I had a great view of the city and the surrounding fjords and mountains. I stayed up there for a while and walked around on the trails to enjoy the view!
Riding the Fløibanen Funicular to the top of Fløyen
Panoramic view of Bergen from Fløyen
Friday was another busy day, as I went to as many museums as I could! First, I went to the Bryggen Museum, which explained the history of the Bryggen area. The museum was built over an archeological site where part of Bryggen had once been. Since the buildings are made of wood and are very closely packed, Bryggen has burned down and been rebuilt multiple times; in fact, about a third of it burnt down in 1955, and that’s where the museum was built (along with a Radisson hotel). It was also interesting to see how the area developed; many of the buildings were originally built on piers sticking out into the harbor, and eventually the water beneath them was filled in with garbage and dirt until the buildings were actually on land!
The Bergen Harbor, Vågen, in front of Bryggen
After the Bryggen Museum, I went to the Maritime Museum, which showcased the development of Norwegian seafaring from the prehistoric times of carved-out log boats through the Vikings, and all the way to the modern era of cargo ships and, of course, oil platforms. Unfortunately there were no actual Viking ships in the museum (keep reading to see a real one!), but there was a huge number of large and detailed models of practically every type of ship in Norwegian history, so it was still quite interesting!
As I mentioned above, I also went to the Hanseatic Museum on Friday, which included the Hanseatic offices in Bryggen, as well as a building called Schøtstuene, which was a place where the merchants would gather to eat and also for festivities; the main rooms were three large halls that could be used for dining, parties, meetings, etc. Since Bryggen was prone to burning down, it was common to have communal kitchens towards the back in order to minimize the use of fire in the buildings. So, the Schøtstuene also had a large kitchen, where the merchants cooked communally.
Finally, I took a little trip outside the city center to see an old wooden church. The church was called a stave church, which was the traditional form in Norway for many years. This particular church was originally located elsewhere in Norway, but was moved to Bergen and is now located on a hill in the woods, a short hike from the city tram line. As you can see from the picture below, it was a very beautiful church!
The Stave Church
On Saturday, I woke up early to take one last walk around the city (literally, I walked around almost the entire town) before heading to the train station to wait for my train to Oslo. The train didn’t leave until noon, so I had to wait a little while, but it was worth it! The railroad connecting Bergen and Oslo is ranked as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world! On the way, we rode along fjords, around (and under) mountains, past lakes, rivers, forests, hills, and a lot of other beautiful scenery. And, now I see why Norway only has five million people – there’s so many mountains that people only come to the interior of the country if they have a summer house there! Most of the population lives near the coast (and mainly in the south)!
View from the Bergenbane
View from the Bergenbane
View from the Bergenbane
After seven hours on the Bergenbane, I arrived in Oslo, the capital of Norway, located in the southeast corner of the country at the innermost point of the Oslofjord. When I had checked into my hostel and was getting settled, I met some other travellers in the room, and that evening, we walked down to the water together to see the famous Oslo Opera House and get something to eat. The opera house is a pretty cool building, because it looks sort of like a glacier slipping into the ocean; it has an angled, white roof that literally slopes right down into the harbor, and you can walk on the roof and go all the way to the top to get a good view of the city.
The Oslo Opera House
On Sunday, I slept in a little, then went to church and explored all of the free things in Oslo – when you’re in Scandinavia, a day of free things is a very good thing! So, I walked to a park called Vigelandsparken, where I first visited the Oslo City Museum (it showed the historical development of the city), then a famous garden filled with hundreds of bizarre statues of people (all naked) in crazy positions. Instead of trying to explain it further, I think it’s best to just show you the pictures…
Vigeland Sculpture Park
Vigeland Sculpture Park
Vigeland Sculpture Park
After that, I walked back down to the Royal Palace, and then down the main street, Karl Johans Gate, passing the National Theater and the Parliament building. Nearby, in the center of town, I stopped to take a look at the government offices that were bombed by a (Norwegian) terrorist on July 22, 2011. It was somewhat haunting because it still looks like it happened very recently – the entire block is barricaded off, and several buildings are completely covered in plastic, which makes it look as if no work has even been done yet.
The Government Quarter of Oslo
On Monday, I got an Oslo Pass and went to all the non-free things (because you have to have at least one super-expensive day in Norway!)! I first visited the Akershus Fortress, which was built in the thirteenth century on a peninsula in the harbor to protect the city, and is still in use today as the offices for the military and as a venue for hosting visiting dignitaries. Unfortunately, there was an event in the castle itself, so I couldn’t go in, but I went to the nearby Resistance Museum instead. The Resistance Museum was devoted to the underground resistance effort during the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II – quite an interesting story that you don’t normally hear much about!
Next, I took a ferry to an area of town called Bygdøy, which has several museums. There, I visited the Viking Ship Museum, which is where the three best-preserved Viking ships in the world are housed! They were quite impressive, because they are much smaller than you would imagine. It’s hard to believe that they could hold over thirty people and that they could travel quickly over the ocean. In fact, Viking ships could reach top speeds of greater than 15 knots, and they were the first European ships to reach North America – over a thousand years ago! The ships in the museum had been preserved because they had been pulled ashore and used as burial ships for important people. Basically, they set the ship on the ground, put the dead person inside along with their most valuable possessions, and then covered the whole thing with dirt to make a big hill. The ship was meant as a vessel to carry the dead person into the afterlife.
A Viking Ship!
The next museum I visited at Bygdøy was the Norske Folkemuseum, which is an open-air museum very similar to Skansen in Stockholm. It has almost 200 buildings from all over Norway and from different time periods in order to show what Norwegian life was like in the past.
A farmhouse in the Norske Folkemuseum
Finally, I went to the Kon-Tiki Museum, which is about a Norwegian scientist/explorer who, in the middle of the 1900s, made voyages across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans – all in simple rafts like the kinds used by ancient people in those parts of the world. His intention was to prove that it was possible for ancient people to have had contact with other societies using the technology available to them. It was very interesting, but I’m still not sure I would like to spend 101 days drifting in the Pacific Ocean on a small wooden raft…
The Kon-Tiki Raft
After taking the ferry back to the city center, I went on a walking tour of the city – it covered many of the places I had already seen, but in a little more detail!
For dinner that night, I went to a restaurant that is supposed to have some good Norwegian food. So I got what my tourist pamphlet recommended – kjøttkaker (meatcakes). Well, it turned out that Norwegian meatcakes are practically the same as Swedish meatballs, except slightly flatter. They even came with potatoes, brown gravy, and lingonberry jam! It’s ok though, because it was delicious, and probably a much better experience than trying the Norwegian national dish!
Tuesday brought an end to part one of my end-of-semester vacation. After checking out of the hostel, I took a guided tour of the Oslo city hall, and guess what it looks like…the Stockholm city hall! It is shaped differently, with two towers instead of one, and a large clock with a carillon that plays a song every hour. However, like Stockholm’s, Oslo’s city hall is a massive brick building, and the interiors are strikingly similar. There is a large central hall (where the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out) surrounded by other ornately decorated rooms, a dining room, a city council meeting room, and offices for the city government workers. It was a very impressive building, and many of the murals on the walls depicted World War II scenes in Norway, since the city hall was built between the 1930s and 1950s.
Oslo City Hall
The interior of Oslo City Hall
And finally, in the afternoon, I headed to the train station to head back to Stockholm for the last time this year. 😥 I’ll spend a few last days with my friends in Stockholm before heading south to the Swedish region of Skåne and finally to my last stop, Denmark.
The title of this post is the title of the Norwegian national anthem, which means ‘yes, we love this country.’ As you can see from the photos above, it’s easy to see why they love it!