We reached Bergen quite late in the evening and were trying to find our way about and asked directions from this really sweet Chinese girl. She offered to show us the correct bus stop and we started chatting, asking her what according to her as a local (she was born there), are the must see sights in Bergen etc. She just hoped for us that the weather would hold up…then quizzically looked at us…’You have heard about the Bergen weather, haven't you?’.
Few conversations later with locals and guides, and we come to know about the famous (or should I say infamous?) Bergen weather. Bergen gets an average of 80 inches of rain per year and boasts only 60 days of sunshine in a good year. Typical days are the ones with an all-day downpour!!! In fact there is a famous saying in this part of the world… “There’s no such thing as bad weather – just inappropriate clothing.” And we were inappropriately dressed…no umbrellas, no rain jackets!!!
Small wooden houses characterize this city and the no 1 touristy thing to do is visit the part of the city called Old Bergen. So that is where we headed the next morning. Old Bergen has been reconstructed along the harbor with wooden houses from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Dating back almost 900 years, these old wooden buildings along the harbor front in Bergen are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
A short walk and we reached Bryggen’s Museum. They have a 90 minutes guided walk that starts at the Bryggen’s Museum, then walks through Bryggen and ends at the Hanseatic Museum.
The guide was very informative but what we realized here is that unlike some other places where the guides tend to have a great sense of humor and make the guided tour very interesting with anecdotes and just some off the top of their head comments and have you giggling all the time, here they take their guiding very, very seriously. It was like one big monotone. I wouldn't say he had mugged it all up and didn't have any knowledge apart from his script because he was able to answer all the questions that we asked.
Viking land…it finally hit me as I saw a huge Viking Ship the moment we entered the display section of this museum. Bryggen’s Museum has been built on the site of the archeological excavations or the remains of the first settlement at Bryggen. The oldest buildings are from the 12th century, and the various finds have been left in the ground where they were found by the archaeologists. Bergen has been ravaged by fires and they have used the layers of housing to determine the age of the buildings. in spite of many fires over the centuries, Bergen still has one of the largest collections of wooden dwellings in Europe.
The wooden buildings in Bryggen are in the form of double tenements (row houses) which are very colorful and tall but at the same time very narrow and lean haphazardly across the narrow cobblestone streets and planked walkways. They have nice pulley systems to pull the stuff up to the top floor.The narrow lanes and by-lanes dotted with quaint little shops and workshops in this area means its quite easy to go around in circles. But the beauty is that every time, you end up peeking inside some other shop so it looks like you are in that lane for the 1st time! We did see one very interesting building…it had been partly reclaimed. So one half is higher than the other!
The Hanseatic Museum shows how the German merchants from The Hanseatic League lived and worked and is the only house on Bryggen which has kept its original interior. Quite an interesting (but stinky) museum, with it’s piles of dried Salmon!!! The way they utilized space….narrow beds in a small cupboard like enclosure…made me wonder…were they slaves? But what I liked most here were the beautiful water color paintings.
Now on our own to discover some more of the city, we were walking around when I noticed that the drain holes were quite decorative and interesting. Later in Oslo we were told that the ones there show the Saint of Oslo. Not sure what the one in Bergen represents though. We did manage to attract quite a few smiles as we tried to get a shots of ourselves against a backdrop of Bryggen from across the street– we wanted to remove our sweaters and jackets and we didn’t want any vehicles in the background…so wait, wait, wait for the prefect shots!
Walked through the next most important place in Bergen - The Fish Market, though I guess we weren't in any mood for shopping so we just walked right across to the ‘Baguette Place’, where my friend got such an interesting one done…that the guy behind the counter commented…This is the 1st time I made something like this!!!
Enough of aimless walking, we decided to go for a City Walking Tour. It starts at the Tourist Information Center- which is also known as the Fresco Hall for its beautiful frescoes which are now recognized as a national treasure. The 3 walls have 3 different themes – as you enter the wall on your left is the North Country Wall representing fishing near Lofoten in North-Norway, the wall in front is the The Bergen Wall which shows the heavily loaded vessels arriving at the Bergen harbor and their trade to the world market, and the wall to your right is the The World Wall, showing man's importance in the busy machine age. Interesting information, which I wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't pointed it out. But what really made this walk worth it was the walk through these narrow staircase like pathways between the houses. I don't think we would have ventured there on our own! Or even known that those ways existed. All along she gave us interesting facts about Bergen. Like the city is built on seven mountains and straddles seven fjords.
At the end of this walk we had planned to go up to Mount Floyen. The only difference we had was…should we walk it or should we catch the Funicular or the Floybanen. There were numerous paths through beautiful woodland terrain to reach the top, but I just didn't have the energy. So finally we decided…we take the Floybanen up and come down walking. In hindsight, I would say that it was a brilliant decision. The views as we went up the funicular were magnificent. And it gave is time to explore the woods at the top. There were several walks and we decided to take the one which goes to a lake. It was a beautiful walk but soon it started drizzling and as we were returning fog enveloped us. I was in 2 minds, maybe we should take the funicular back. But P was hell bent…she wanted to trek down and so off we went, with me nervous like anything….I know its not like India where we don't have railings etc. And I possibly couldn't fall off the cliff. But I was worried that we would get lost. But I should have rest assured because as we were walking down we saw so many locals. This was a normal route for them, something they probably take everyday to and fro from work, school etc.
Tired feet…but still craving to see more of this beautiful town. Compromise…we see the sights as we walk towards the railway station. We had only a day here, but to others I would recommend at least 2 days here.