We spent our first evening on board the Viking Sun attempting to learn our way around the ship. The first day we remained in Bergen and took the included tour of the city. The city was founded in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre and was named Bjørgvin, which means “the green meadow among the mountains”. We boarded the tour bus and drove around the city watching closely as wooden housing complexes like the one below rolled by. We discovered very quickly how good the tour bus drivers were. Several times we were approached on basically 1.5 lane roads and our bus driver would pull to the side or pull out in a passing area. How they knew there’s an issue ahead is beyond me. I do know that once Kim was rather nervous and she had the window seat as normal. She leaned in to me on one extreme dance with the edge of the road and a 500 foot dropoff. I’m sure that would have helped a great deal if we had fallen over the side of the hill.
Bergen (Bryggen) became Norway’s capital in the thirteenth century, and from the end of the thirteenth century became a Kontor, or a foreign trading post of the Hanseatic League, along with the London steelyards, Ipswich, and Bruges. The Hanseatic League lasted until 1789 and Bergen enjoyed absolute rights to arbitrate trade between Northern Norway and abroad. It was the largest city in Norway until the 1830s when Christiania, now known as Oslo overtook Bergen in population and business. What’s left of the wharf Bryggen, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even while suffering numerous fires.
This was in addition to a Dutch cargo ship explosion during World War ll. The ship was carrying 120 tons of explosives. It transpired during the German occupation and 150 people died as a result. This was along with a large quantity of historic buildings near the harbor that were damaged beyond repair. The colorful wooden houses located throughout the historic district are gorgeous. They were traditionally painted red, yellow and white, as were buildings in farming lands or fishing areas where incomes were lower than average. This is why so many barns in the country side were traditionally painted red.
After touring the outskirts of Bergen we arrived back at the base of the Mount Floyen Funicular. These modes of transportation up the sides of mountains are quite common in European cities I’ve learned. What is a Funicular you ask? The dictionary states the following: Noun: “Also called: funicular railways, railway up the side of a mountain, consisting of a counter balanced car sat either end of a cable passing round a driving wheel at the summit”.
The Floibanen funicular in Bergen is 2,769 feet (844 meters) long, scales 991 feet (302 meters) in altitude up the side of Mount Floyen and carries over 1, 800,000 passengers annually. The railway was constructed in 1918. The track has a slope that varies between 15 degrees and 26 degrees. Two passenger cars carry 100 people each. The cars are named and painted, with Blamann being blue and Rodhette painted red. Our ascension was non-stop, but on the way down we paused two or three different times to take passengers on and let a small number off. The entire track has six stops and are used frequently by locals living on the mountain side. In addition there are two kindergartens on the mountain. In the summertime and during rush hours only certain departures will stop at all stops.
The funicular railway is one of Norway’s most famous attractions. The trip starts from the city center, just 150 meters from the Fish Market and Bryggen. The exciting trip up to the mountain is a magnificent experience in itself. At the top we found one can enjoy the spectacular view of Vagen bay and study the cityscape in detail, along with the seaward approaches and fjords surrounding Bergen. There were a plethora of hiking trails and walkways that led all over the mountain. We couldn’t actually involve ourselves in this activity as we had a limited amount of time on the top. A restaurant, cafeteria, souvenir shop and playground is located on the very top. If you plan on hiking and taking in the lovely flora and fauna you need to catch the funicular on your own and fully explore the trails and vegetation on Mount Floyen.
We were able to take a few minutes and traverse several small trails. I was enamored with the ferns and how green everything was on top. These Boston Ferns, as we call them in the United States were simply superb. They looked quite healthy and had obviously soaked up some of the 200 plus inches of rain that Bergen receives every year.
The view from almost one thousand feet up is stunning to say the least. I took several photos from the top and managed to persuade a young lady to capture a selfie of Kim and I with the Vagen bay in the background.
Fløyenguttene (The Fløyen Boys), the Goats on Mount Fløyen, are cashmere goats, and help keep the mountains free of unwanted plant life. The goats spend each winter at Askoy island outside of Bergen. Come Easter each year they are transported back to Mount Floyen. There, along with the Bergen Coastal Association they make an effort each year to maintain the island free of underbrush and undesirable forest growth. The six billy goats are called “Elvis”, Smaen”, “Boots, “Festus Gilde”, Flekken” and “Alf”. They were born in 2011 on Radoy, an island in Hordaland county, Norway. All were all castrated when they were babies. First and foremost they were bred to clear vegetation. They like to keep each other’s company and mostly stay together as a herd.
The goats have been on Mount Floyen since 2016 where they have become accustomed to human contact and don’t shy away from selfies. They seem to love being scratched and petted by all ages. The goats are restricted with the use of modern Norwegian pasture technology, a virtual fence for grazing livestock. If you visit, the authorities ask that you not feed the goats as they receive their nourishment from the mountain greenery.
We discovered this Troll on Mount Floyen. It was to be the first of many we encountered on our cruise. Little did we know their popularity throughout Norway. A Troll is a class of being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In Old Norse sources, beings described as Trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves. They live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings. The term Troll has been applied to the jötnar, the Ice Giants of old.
After riding the funicular back down Mount Floyen we went to the Schotstuene or one of the Hanseatic Museums, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.. The museum tells the story of the Hanseatic League and how they survived and thrived for 400 years in Bergen (Bryggen). There is much more to Bryggen than colorful, old wooden houses and being a popular tourist spot. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Bryggen is in fact a true cultural treasure, wholly unique in a global context. Nowhere else in the world can boast even one wooden house dating back to the Hanseatic period, yet the ‘City of Seven Mountains’ has managed to preserve a whole district, consisting of no less than 62 buildings.
The Museum offers a perspective on the lives of the Hanseatic merchants and their unique trading networks. A visit to Schotstuene or the merchants former assembly room will give one a sense of how life played out during this part of the fourteenth century in Bergen. One can purchase a tour ticket that begins in the Midthuset and continues through the narrow corridors of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Thus taking you back through time and finishing at the exhibition space in Scotstuene, the world’s last remaining Hanseatic assembly room.
There are several tours daily in the summer period until September thirtieth. Tours start from Midthuset and last around thirty minutes. Fires and candles were not allowed in the buildings where the merchants worked because of the obvious risk of fire. This is why each of the buildings at Bryggen had a schøtstue or shared assembly room, each with an adjoining cookhouse (kitchen). The former Hanseatic assembly rooms at Bryggen are the last surviving example of their kind anywhere in the world.
Hidden under one of the assembly rooms you’ll find what might be Bergen’s best-kept secret: a rare medieval ruin. Dating from around 1280, the ruin has been put on display below a glass floor and is the subject of a special exhibit. The displays at Schøtstuene offer a look into both the Bryggen World Heritage site and the Hanseatic League. Work to restore the museum’s largest artifact, the museum building, has begun. The building is 315 years old and once served as the merchants’ trading hall. Severe damage means the bulwark needs to be replaced and substantially protected for forthcoming generations. This is a very long process, anticipated to take until 2024, as the construction is being carried out using old craft traditions. One can gain an insight into this impressive work thanks to one of the new displays at Schøtstuene Museum.
The German merchants first sailed into Vågen bay in the fourteenth century, and their presence was to have a huge influence on the city. The universal Hansa network reached across many countries and made Bergen one of the largest cities in Northern Europe during this period. Their trading activities meant the Hanseatic merchants were instrumental in shaping the economic, political and cultural development of the Nordic countries. This was in addition to large parts of Europe, all over several centuries. Bergen was the last outpost of the influential Hanseatic merchants. Bryggen was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979, and now stands as a dynamic tribute to a bygone trading culture.
The city is now an international center for aquaculture, shipping, the offshore petroleum industry and underwater technology. Bergen is a member of the Nordic Smart City project and maintains a national center for finance, tourism, media and higher education. Bergen Port is Norway’s busiest in terms of both freight and passengers, with over 300 cruise ships arriving each year bringing nearly a half a million passengers to Bergen, a number that has doubled in the last 10 years. The tourists are primarily from Germany and Great Britain. Next up is my post on Geiranger, one of the most gorgeous spots on earth, in my humble opinion!
*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.