Category: Bryggen, Norway.

Being there: Norway — Bergen — gateway to the fiords and more

Known affectionately as the “Seattle of Europe” or “City of Rain” because of its annual precipitation average of 88 inches, Bergen is one of Norway’s warmest cities.

For some years, Bergen had umbrella vending machines on its streets. A favorite story has a tourist asking a local boy whether it ever stopped raining. “I don’t know,” the boy replied. “I’m only 12 years old.”

King Olav Kyrre is credited with founding Bergen in 1070. As the country’s largest city, it was Norway’s capital until 1830. During the Middle Ages, Bergen was the vibrant center of the kingdom.

The Bryggen (wharf) district encompasses the harbor, a center of trade for the network of medieval merchants known as the Hanseatic League. The area is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, while Bergen itself is a World Heritage City.

On my visit, I strolled along the cobblestoned street past several enchanting wooden structures housing a variety of shops. Although the Bryggen has endured several fires, it continues to have one of Europe’s largest conglomerations of wooden houses.

The Wharf district has retained its appeal in the amphitheater-shaped harbor surrounded by the fabled “Seven Mountains” (de syv fjell). Upward of 250 international cruise ships frequent “The Gateway to the Fiords.” The Hurtigruten vessels depart daily on the popular northern coastal route.

A good place to start a guided tour and gain some insight into the Bryggen is the Bryggens Museum itself.

Walking south past the Viking store, Troll book shop and other stores, I came to the Hanseatic Museum. The early 18th century structure, one of Bergen’s oldest and best preserved, was built after the Great Fire of 1702.

The start of the exhibition showcases the life of a Hanseatic merchant. Sturdy dark brown timbers accent the interior that exudes an atmosphere of authenticity and austerity in that active era of trade.

Directly across the street from the historic museum sits the colorful Bergens-Expressen where an inner-city tour begins. Next to the tram sits the Fish Market (Fisketorget) where fresh seafood, fruits, flowers and handicrafts are sold.

“Prawns are very popular and plentiful,” said a fish vendor, pouring a large scoop into a bag.

Another vendor held the mouth of a monkfish open for a photo op. Also known as an anglerfish or lawyerfish, monkfish has a rather peculiar head, a very large mouth and is a bottom feeder (insert your own joke). Also worthy of a chuckle was the “Yield to Whales” sign on the premises.

Heading southeast to the city center, I came to the Mount Floyen funicular (Floibanen), the only inclined railway in Scandinavia. Within seven minutes, I found myself 1,050 feet above sea level for a panoramic view of the harbor.

A children’s playground, souvenir shop, restaurant and cafe are all open to the public. The area is also ideal for a mountain walk. A 10-foot-tall troll statue (at least I thought it was a statue) lurking beside the Floien Folkerestaurant gave me a start before the descent to continue with the city tour.

Also within walking distance from the Fish Market is the Leprosy Museum (Lepramuséet). In the Middle Ages, St. George’s (St. Jorgens) was a hospital for lepers. Today’s buildings date back to the early 1700s.

As one of the few preserved leprosy museums in northern Europe, it exhibits the Bergen Collection of the History of Medicine and a presentation of Norway’s contribution to research into leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. Leprosy was given that name after Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, a native of Bergen, who was famed for combating the leprosy virus he discovered in 1873.

Archives are housed in the collection, and people may search for individuals.

Ambling up and down the inclined cobbled walkways, I couldn’t help admiring the assortment of attractive architecture.

But inside a white gabled 18th-century structure appeared to be a familiar entity —it was indeed the “Golden Arches.” As in other European nations, commercial franchises are required to subtly blend in with different districts so the areas can retain their historic architectural integrity.

As a traveler, I think one should experience not only attractions but also delve into a region’s food and drink.

At the aptly named Travellers Cafe, I indulged in a meal of lutefisk and aquavit.

Lutefisk is cod fermented in lye, while aquavit is liquor distilled from potato or grain mash and generally flavored with cumin or caraway seeds. I recollect a statement alluding to lutefisk by a Norwegian tour guide: “By the second bottle of aquavit, it’s actually starting to taste quite good.”

I had to concur with his assessment, but I preferred the roast reindeer (reinsdyrstek), a tasty lean meat.

Fortified by the hearty meal, as I left, I had the feeling someone was following me — maybe it was an aftereffect of the Scandinavian libation. Turning around abruptly, I had to smile and shake my head — it was only my shadow. The sun was simply a bonus.

Alan G. Luke lives in Ajax, Ontario.

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Category: Bryggen, Norway
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