Sweden, Norway Part IV: Bergen

Bergen is serious about restoration; old Hanseatic area boasts buildings that are hundreds of years old

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2007

The Oslo-Bergen Railway booklet describes the route's scenery: "The landscape changes between urban and rural until you reach some of the wildest nature accessible by train anywhere in the world." The booklet includes a history of the railroad and the histories of various stations and discusses the difficulty of building the railroad.

The most beautiful part of the route is the west side of the summit, the cross-country skiing area. Downhill and cross-country skiers were everywhere in their bright colorful skiwear. The downhill slopes and the cross-country areas line both sides of the train tracks. Because most of the train passengers disembarked at ski resorts, there were few passengers on the train by the time we reached our final destination of Bergen, Norway.

As we traveled further west, the countryside became more rugged with high rocky outcrops. At one spot, a couple dressed in winter wear sat outside their yellow cottage enjoying their afternoon tea and waved as the train sped by only several yards from the tea table. At 45.9 kilometers from Bergen, we reached the western Norwegian fjords. The rocky fjords are not as beautiful as Alaska's fjords.

The Bergen Tourist Information booked us into a hotel. In the late afternoon, we walked to the Hanseatic area and the fish arket. We strolled along the docks. We explored the exterior of the Bergenhus Fortress that includes a castle and the Rosencrantz Tower. (Hey, you "Hamlet" fans, we often stumbled across Rosencrantz streets and buildings.) The Bergenhus Fortress Museum was closed for Easter.

We walked on Bryggen, the street of old buildings from the 1370s. This area of Bergen burned down several times. By the 12th century, Bergen was a major center for European trade. German city-states allied themselves into trading leagues. One of these leagues was the Hanseatic League and the oldest part of Bergen was the German Hanseatic city.

We really liked the old Hanseatic area. We walked on the wooden planked walkways, through the opened gates to admire the backs of the street front buildings and more old buildings behind the street front buildings. Many of the buildings are hundreds of years old. We admired a restoration in progress. Bergen is serious about restoration.

The next morning, the restaurant next door to our hotel had a sign that read, "Closed for Easter." We walked back to our hotel and asked where we could find breakfast. The receptionist sent us to the kondiori (bakery). The pastries were fresh, flaky and flavorful.

We walked in the cold wind with sunshine and rain back to the Hanseatic area. The Hanseatic Museum is incredible! The museum is one of the "oldest and best preserved buildings in Bergen, furnished in the style of the 1700s." Bergen has burned down a number of times. What is most amazing about the museum is that it is decorated with the furnishings from the 1700s and the artifacts are not behind glass! The only thing we were asked not to touch were the old books.

Stockfish was the main export, and the company produced cod liver oil. The warehouse still smells of fish. We saw German offices, sitting rooms, dining rooms and the seals of the various cities that belonged to the Hanseatic League. Only males lived in the German city and all worked for the company. The German office owned two churches.

Because of the fear of fire, the Germans did not heat their buildings. Even today, the Hanseatic Museum is not heated. Each of the rooms has natural light or dim lights that were no brighter than a candle flame. We saw sleeping quarters, a 1700s canvas painted wall covering, art, glass, bedding, original paint and painted decorations on some walls.

The Bryggens Museum (the city museum) was built around and over the remains of the old tenements. The medieval town was found during the excavations done in 1955-69. The two main exhibits are "The Oldest Tenements - Building Remains from the Town's First Century" and "The Medieval Town of Bergen Around 1300."

Earlier in the day, we made dinner reservations at the popular Dickens Restaurant across the street from our hotel. The waitress who made our reservations earlier greeted us by name and made dinner suggestions. She highly recommended the lamb tenderloin. We even splurged and ordered a half carafe of wine. (Remember wine is expensive in Norway and Sweden.)

After dinner, we walked around the Ole Bull Plass (the plaza or square). Don took photos of the Dickens Restaurant, the sculpture of a teenage girl in front of McDonald's and a center sculpture that featured a Northwest coastal Native eagle totem on one side of the memorial. We certainly did not expect to see a bronze eagle totem in Norway.

The next morning, we took Scan-Rail to Oslo. Because of low clouds and rain, the scenery was gray and gloomy. Two things cheered us up. Don found lefse on the café's menu. Lefse is "a traditional Norwegian flat cake with butter, sugar and cinnamon." Don's aunt airmails lefse to us each Christmas. The railway's magazine feature story was about Bjornar Andersen, a dog musher who has run the Iditarod.

When we arrived in Oslo, we discovered that a number of the trains were not running - "Closed for Easter." We took the night train to Stockholm.

• Alma Harris is a retired Juneau-Douglas High School English teacher who loves to travel and write.

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