In Bergen, it rains 275 days of the year, and snows for the rest. After the cosy, bohemian, cultured vibe of Oslo, arriving in this city on a dreary summer afternoon seemed somewhat of an anticlimax. The city lies, shrouded in cloud, in Hordaland on the western coast of Norway. The first thing you notice about Bergen is that you can’t feel your nose.
The city was founded in 1070AD and quickly grew into one of the most important cities in Norway, due mainly to its port – which today is the largest port in Norway. Bergen was an important administrative city of the Hanseatic League, and you can see many remnants of the league’s history throughout the city.
We’d come from Stavanger, driving through a series of underwater tunnels nad ferry points and paying 7 million dollars in road tolls, and the first order of the day was to find a campground. We ended up a short bus ride from the city centre, parked just 30cm from this:
Despite our idyllic surroundings I was, as always, keen to explore, so we went down to the city to see what we could see.
1. Visit Fantoft Stave Church
The ultimate metal tourist experience. You wouldn’t believe how many metalheads we passed going to and from the church. To get to Fantoft, you need to go to the central bus station and locate the correct bus – it’s line 2 out to Fantoftveien 46 (about 5km from the city). It is a surprisingly large bus station, and mighty confusing, so it’s best to ask someone for help. It’s a 10 minute bus ride, a walk up the hill (ask the driver to point you in the right direction) and just through the trees, you’ll see her.
The church been rebuilt using new wood, so has lost that sinister ambience, but she still look pretty bad-ass, like an upturned Viking ship. You’ll be surprised at how small she is – even smaller than the intact example at the Oslo Folk Museum. If I were a Christian, this would be the kind of church I’d worship in. There are no windows or paintings inside, just dark wood and high spires, the covered walkway around the exterior obviously helping to trap a layer of warm air. You can’t turn around without seeing a new, high-tech sprinkler system, fire hydrant or non-smoking sign.
The information signs don’t talk about black metal – they explain what happened as exactly what it was: an act of arson. It always saddens Steff the archaeologist to see a piece of history like this destroyed.
We were quite interested in the cross beside the church – the oldest relic of Christianity in Norway.
2. Bryggens Museum
The world-renowned Bryggens Archaeology Museum (Dreggsalmenningen 3) is a must-see for any metalhead with an interest in Norwegian history. Built over the site of a remarkable archaeological find – an intact layer of the original Bryggens settlement – the museum showcases the artifacts along with a section of the dig site, interesting exhibits about Viking / Bergen history (including the largest collection of runic inscriptions), and some temporary exhibits (the one we saw was put on by a local fashion school).
These wooden buildings are replicas of the buildings that once stood in the historic docks. Norwegian cities have this annoying habit of catching fire, thanks to the fact that everything is made from wood, and the last fire in the area in 1702 wiped out many of the buildings, which were rebuilt in the same style. Many are still used for the purposes in which they were first built right back in the Medieval period. The historic docks of Bergen have their own unique charm, although they also have their own micro-climate of FRIGIDLY FRICKEN COLD. Here you’ll find amazing street food, random purveyers of junk, and ice cream served by beautiful Norwegian wenches. Despite the weather, CDH insisted we have an ice cream.
CDH flirted with a beautiful ice cream serving wench and managed to score us this foot-high mountain of ice cream for a mere two thousand dollars instead of the usual fifteen thousand. Have I mentioned lately about norway being expensive?
4. Buy a Multi-coloured Hat
You will need one, because it’s freaken cold. I was going to get one with typical Norwegian designs, but then CDH saw this multi-coloured Rasta one.
5. Ride the Flåm Railway
This isn’t, strictly speaking, in Bergen. But you need to be in Bergen (or Oslo) in order to get on the Flåmsbana. The Flåm railway is, for those not railway inclined, one of the best railway journeys in the world. It’s also one of the steepest in the world on standard gauge track, rising for most of it’s 20km in a gradient of 55%.
We brought a package called Norway in a Nutshell, which gives you train tickets to Mydal, a ride on the Flåmsbana, a boat from Flåm down the Aurlandsfjord to <>, a bus ride back to <>, then a train either to Bergen or Oslo. You can do the whole thing in a day, or stop at any of the towns along with way for a night or two.
On the way you see things like this:
On the Flåm we sat down across from an older American couple. We got to talking and they were two of the coolest people. They lived in Milwaukee, worked blue collar jobs, and saved all their money to go on trips around the world. They told us stories from all the amazing places they’d been, and talked about their government, and the sad state of railways in America, and all sorts of interesting things. We were sorry to see them go when we came into station at Flam, but we’d seen the beer hall and decided we had to stay in Flam for the night.
There’s not much to do in Flam once you’ve looked through the souvineer shops for rude trolls and waved goodbye to the boat. We were hoping to go for a bit of a tramp but the weather was pretty miserable, so we holed up in the hotel instead. At dinner time we raced over to the beer hall, which looked pretty much what you’d expect vikings to be drinking in, and sat on the balconey overlooking the fire pit enjoying our selection of beers brewed on site. The silly thing was, the beer hall didn’t serve food, so after we were full of beer, we went to find some sustinance.
We found a railroad cafe with raindeer patties on the menu, and sat down in a remodelled carriage with bambi and chips.
Next day, it was onto the boat for some beautiful but chilly fjord sightseeing, then onto a bus for a hair-raising journey down a winding valley slope. The train was so full we didn’t even get seats, but had to sit in the doorways. When we got back to Bergen we were so wasted we just checked into a hotel for the night.
When we got back to Bergen, we found out Johnowar and Linley, our two travelling companians, had been stuck at the campsite for the last two days. They’d been no buses into town on the Sunday, and the weather was too miserable, so they’d stayed inside, eaten soup, and played cards. We’d intended to stay in Norway another week, but we were all wet, cranky and out of money, so we packed up, drove into town, and found a ferry to take us back to Denmark, from where we’d drive back to Germany and see our friends again.
The ferry ride was … an adventure. An ordeal. The seas were choppy and frigidly cold. We booked too late to get a cabin and had to make do with seats that faced the wrong way. I ate three meals and felt violently ill. CDH tells a story about how he was waiting for me outside the toilets for awhile, and a lady came out and asked if he was waiting for someone.
“My wife,” he replied. “She’s been in there awhile.”
“Come with me,” she said, and let him into the toilets, where he could see my black and white stripy socks peeking out from under the stall.
“Are you OK, wife?” he asked.
“I just want to throw up. If I could throw up, I’d feel better.”
But I didn’t throw up, and we made it to Denmark in one piece. And we left the rain of Bergen behind us.
I know we missed a lot of interesting things in Bergen – the Hole in the Sky festival, the bar called “Hulun”, and I’m sure you’ll come up with some in the comments.