It rains in Bergen

Statistically Bergen is one of the wettest cities in Europe. So I should be happy that those greys never really built up to proper downpours. it is Norway’s second city set on the coast where several fjords cconverg, backed by steep, forested slopes. The town’s history is based on trade and the sea and the old streets reflect the wealth of companies and individuals who grew rich here.

Ancient sailors and merchants can almost be heard on the timber wharf, Bryggen. The wharf dates from the 12th century although the buildings there today are around 300 years old, replacing those burnt down in a devastating fire in 1702.

Behind this facade is the old town of narrow, cobbled alleys and white-painted clapboard houses. This is where the real business was done as indicated by the winches hanging from gables. German merchants from the Hanseatic League held sway here trading in dried fish and grain. Homeowners showed off their wealth by painting their homes and warehouses white. White paint was really expensive to produce and so it was an indication of being up there with the rich and famous.

The position of the town can best be seen from the top of the Floibanen funicular on one of the seven mountains that surround Bergen.

Bergen’s fish market is a wonder. Open every day, you can eat every type of fish, shellfish, smoked fish, even whale meat (if that is PC). Plukkfisk is a traditional local dish of white fish, mash and bacon.

It is true, Norway is slightly pricey compared with…..practically everywhere else. I have to share: when asked about the location of the nearest public toilets the bus driver explained where it was and when pressed about the need for coins, advised that a credit card was required to gain entry. The cost of a pee is 10 krone – £1! Goodness knows what you do if you do not have a credit card. It will be good to get home to where I can ‘spend a penny’ or is it ‘a 50p’?



Norway in a Nutshell

It’s up very early today and down to the station to catch the train to Myrdal on the first leg of the journey to Bergen. This journey is rather special. It is called Norway in a Nutshell and takes 13 odd hours involving trains, a bus and a fjord cruise and some time on the famous (!!) Flam railway down to Bergen.

So the first leg is the service out of Oslo, leaving punctually in the darkness at 0625. As dawn comes up the tall suburbs of Oslo fly pass, occasionally interrupted by scenic fingers of water, a river, a lake, its banks dotted with the yellows and reds of painted houses amongst almost-turning trees. Tunnels certainly help. The train disappears leaving an urban landscape outside, only to emerge after 5 minutes or so into another scene of open countryside and wooded valleys. Small towns appear and disappear, giving way to increasingly larger tracts of farmlands with forested ridges and scarps behind.

About a dozen towns of reasonable size come up, one at a time, on the flat valley floor every 10 minutes or so as a reminder that man has tamed this landscape and uses its resources, mostly timber from the higher ground, in a responsible way. This leaves the flatter areas free for building and agriculture, linked by the tracks of the railway and the tarmac of the road beside it; two buddies, side by side, linking human communities, sometimes together, sometimes splitting to opposite sides of the river.

Increasingly wilder mountain scenery squeezes in on either side. Bare rock and clumps of pine hug the tracks to the left, an islanded string of a lake hugs the right. The water cuts the easiest route for the railway and the road to follow through the heights, its presence given away by clinging tendrils of wispy clouds.

As we climb, one station to another, the temperature drops, unravelling on the landscape. At 7° the leaves have turned and the landscape is transformed from green to yellow. A further drop of 2° sees us at 1,200 metres and another change. Trees have given up entirely and left the mountains naked, their crags and rocks openly on display.

I am trying to take pictures to give you an impression of this journey. This is rather hard as not only are the windows filthy, but the perpetual curtain of pine or scrubby bush or tunnel only occasionally and suddenly draws back to provide fleeting and urgent views of the landscape.

So we arrive at Myrdal, high up on the high mountain plateau where many off us change trains for the journey down.

It is then a 1 in 18 gradient descent through the wild Flam valley to the village of Flam itself, on the Aurlandsfjord. This branch line has 20 tunnels, 18 of which were built by hand. On the way down, fantastic views of the valley can be had and its wonderful walking/skiing terrain complete with many waterfalls, rushing torrents of rivers, goat farms and a range of colourful settlements of different shapes and sizes.

At the bottom the clouds have come down and it all feels very damp and grey. This joins up and the drizzle gets heavier, turning to a perpetual wet rain. The boat is waiting for us.

The elements give the chug up the fjord a mysterious, rather heavy feel. A few isolated settlements huddle on their patch of emerald green at the fjord’s edge, dwarfed by mountains and glaciers that blow down their covering of mist and cloud to squash the houses in an eerie gloom.

All of this is a preamble to the next leg. Having seen all this from a distance the bus now takes us up close and familiar on the road to Voss train station – up close to roaring waterfalls, shooting rapids, rushing rivers and familiar with homely farmsteads, brightly painted homesteads and shaved, stubbled fields. Sadly the rain is now proper rain and the windows are so covered with spray that they shield the views from my camera so you’ll have to take my word for it.

The 1741 train to Bergen is the final leg. It arrives and leaves on time as every mode of transport has done during the day. The trip has been true to its title – it really has been Norway in a Nutshell and well worth it. I hope you enjoyed the journey.

The sunny side of the Oslo marathon

Woke up to a glorious day. Had lots of plans about grabbing the ‘hop on’ bus to museums only to be disappointed as it wasn’t running from the centre because all the buses and trams had been diverted due to the running of the Oslo marathon. Curses!

But a blessing in disguise. Walked down to the docks area and, over coffee at the Nobel Peace Museum, reassessed the day amongst the starters and finishers.

A two hour trip around Oslo fjord in a rigged schooner is advertised. Yep, that’ll do fine. Didn’t want to be indoors in a dusty museum anyway.

Around the harbour to take in the fort, the dockside developments and the wedge of the new Opera House.

Then out around the islands with their colourful houses amongst ready-to-turn foliage.

Further out, the shore is lined with fragile looking summer-houses. Like Victorian swimming huts these date back to the day when folk wanted privacy and changed in the huts before descending a ladder to get in and out of the water, unseen by neighbours or passing sailors.

Then across the bay mixing it with boats and lighthouse islands.

Loved every moment of it – even the English guide over the PA interspersed with melodious, mindfulness music. A real pinch yourself journey.

Hop on, hop off, all across Oslo.

So it’s straight into the city centre and, as is often the case when one only has a couple of days to do somewhere, head for the ‘hop on, hop off’ ‘bus. There is a similar ‘hop on, hop off’ fjord cruise but, sadly, we are officially ‘out of season’.

Oslo is a modern, cosmopolitan city with an old centre of elegant, tall buildings with parks and fountains and countless statues and sculptures positioned around the place. I always think that trams give a city a feeling of quiet sophistication and Oslo is no exception. Building is going on all over the place and cranes scatter the skyline in every direction like a new skeleton is being created within the tatty, dusty fabric of the old framework.

So firstly the city centre.

Then images of the Norwegian Parliament building

and then the National Theatre – showing a cheerful Ibsen offering at the moment.

The sea is never far away, reminding us of Norway’s Viking history and all that raping and pillaging, art home and away. The clever thing they have done here is to place all the museum in one area across the bay and just out of town. So if you want to know about social history and culture, Vikings, the Kon Tiki voyage (always big when I was younger), all things boating, head here.

Vigeland was a local sculptor who was fascinated by the human form. His work is displayed in this park.

The centre piece is this huge monolith which was carved from a single piece of granite. Around it 101 figures are entangled in a fight to reach the top.

Back in the centre, it’s time to head brink surrounded by a diverse local population of all kinds of colour and faiths. It’s 1630 on a Friday and the streets are humming and buzzing with workers and shoppers and buskers and then with tourists adding their own spicy flavours to humanity’s mix.

Dinner is booked in a typical Norwegian restaurant near to the hotel.

A quick trip to Norway

Hi all. I have just come away for a few days to visit Norway. I landed in Oslo late afternoon and as the day seemed to run away from me I am going to let the images tell the story of my impressions of this Nordic country. The plan is to do 3 days in Oslo, take the spectacular seven hour railway trip over the’roof of the world’ and spend two days in Bergen before flying home. So first impressions of Oslo:

The Royal Palace and parade groundvs

A bit further into town before heading out for dinner.

Will really get to it tomorrow.