This post was updated on August 31st, 2018
Today we took the early ferry, leaving Leikanger at 7:30 a.m., toward Bergen. When I planned this leg of our journey I thought of cycling it, but I was unable to find a route that would not lead through at least one tunnel which we wouldn’t be allowed on bikes or would have us taken several days, days we would be missing on our way north up to the Lofoten. So I figured it would be better to take a rest day from cycling and take the boat to Bergen. This way we were also able to travel on the longest (207 kilometers) and deepest (1,308 meters) of the Norwegian fjords, the Sognefjorden. With this boat trip as well as the boat trip on Sunday and yesterday’s bike ride we almost traveled along the entire length of the fjord.
Since the temperatures in the early morning weren’t that high — I would think maybe at around 15˚C — I was going forth and back between the outside deck to take photos and the inside of the boat to warm up again. While Solo stayed inside for most of the boat trip to write his notes.
The boat stops at several smaller places on the way toward Bergen, among others Balestrand a rather famous place as this is the area the former emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany — accompanied by up to 2000 people — would spend his summer holidays between 1889 and the beginning of the WWI in 1914, which started the tourism industry in Norway.
As much as can be said against this particular emperor, there is one thing that will always be valued very highly by most Norwegians: when in January 1904 850 homes in Ålesund were destroyed by a large city fire making 10,000 people homeless over night, the German emperor sent craftsmen and money to help rebuild the city.
On the opposite side of Balestrand in Vangsnes you can find one of the biggest curiosities in statues placed in Norway: A statue of Fritjof the Viking, or rather how Kaiser Wilhelm II imagined a viking to look like, as this is a gift to the Norwegian people by the emperor. As a Norwegian at the time so nicely put it: “The figure is the greatest curiosity which this country has ever seen, except from the emperor himself in all his glory.” I have taken a trip up to this statue in 1993 and I must admit I do agree with that quote.
But this time we were not to disembark in Balestrand and go to see the statue or spend some time at a glacier museum in Fjærland. This time we had to stay on the boat and continue our journey toward Bergen, with a brief stop to let people on and off the boat in Vikøri, where the early morning fog hadn’t quite risen.
Spending time in Bergen, World Heritage City of 2000
After almost 4:30 hours we arrived in Bergen, elected World Heritage City in 2000. The first task — as always — was to find a place for the night. We thought it shouldn’t be a big issue to find a free hotel room for a night, considering Bergen has plenty of hotels, but somehow every single tourist visiting Norway must have arrived on the very same day. The city was crowded of tourists. The first hotel where I asked for a room for a night they told me the only one they had left was the holiday suite…well not within our budget. It took three tries to find a hotel that could offer us a room — more expensive than we would have wanted it, but still better than staying at the campground ten kilometers out of Bergen and riding our bikes in and out of town all day long.
Our first task after securing our room was not to find lunch or enjoy the city, but to ensure that we would get on to the Hurtigruten the day after. So I had to give them a call and see if there was a cabin left for us. Thankfully not all tourists we had seen in the city had the same idea for the very same day. So we got our tickets sorted.
After that it was time to enjoy a stroll through the city, or so we thought. The temperatures had risen significantly since we had embarked on the boat earlier in the morning, so we had a chance to enjoy ourselves in summer clothes without freezing.
But just a short walk into town and we found the crowds just being too big to make this an enjoyable sightseeing tour, so we returned to our room and rather took a nap to go back into the city later in the evening when the crowds hopefully would have left.
During my studies of computer science I had spent half a year in Bergen, so I knew that going up to Mount Fløyen with the Floibanen would be a nice trip with a nice view across the town. If you take the trip up the mountain you will find many hiking routes starting or ending here, after all Norwegians are as fond of their mountains as they are of their brown goats cheese, called brunost.
Things to know about Bergen
There are a couple of possibly odd things to know about Bergen: First of all in other parts of Norway they often consider Bergen to be a country of its own, if that is due to the dialect I do not know. But then yes, Bergensk — as the dialect is called — is a little different from other Norwegian dialects that I know about. Not only did they not implement the female article in their grammar, when it was first implemented during the 1970s in other parts of Norway, but they also have a couple of words that are closely related to German, as Bergen once was an important trading point for the merchants of the Hanse, a German society of merchants, that controlled the trade between the North-East and North-West of Europe from the 13th to the mid-15th century. There is also another rule: you won’t be considered a true Bergenser if you and your ancestors aren’t born in either Nordnes, Stranden or Marken — the parts of town opposite of the Hanse-quarters seen in the following photo. So occasionally when you read a comment from someone who moved to Bergen some 40 years ago in the local paper of Bergen others will answer it and ask that person how he could dare to write this since he is not a true Bergenser. Quite funny to watch sometimes…
After our visit to Mount Fløyen, one of the seven mountains that surround Bergen, we took a short walk into the town, which now in the evening was less crowded with tourists.
It was then that I had a chance to take a photo of the Hanse-quarters called Bryggen — formerly officially known as Tyske Bryggen (German Bryggen). The area had suffered from some city fires due to which some of the original wooden houses had burned down. In the early 1950s a larger fire destroyed parts of Bryggen and it arose a controversial discussion if the area should be rebuilt to its former style or not. This shortly after WWII, when of course the memory of the latest cruelties of Nazi-Germany was fresh. But eventually the decision was made to restore the buildings in their old style.
Bergen and the Hansas
Bergen had a close relation with the Hansas, a German guild of merchants, who set up one of their headquarters by the harbor in Bryggen in 1360. From here they were close to the North Norwegian fish grounds and Europe’s source for dried cod fish, the Lofoten, as well as close to their continental market. The Hansas were to dominate the trade for the next 400 years, as they had been granted the monopoly on trading the dried cod fish in exchange for bringing grains from the continent into Norway, which was suffering badly from mis-harvests after just starting to recover from the black death.
The German offices of the Hansas in Bryggen were replaced by the Norwegian office as late as 1754, but the Norwegian office had the same members of the merchants of Bergen, who to a huge degree where Germans as well. So the old system, including German as a daily language in Bryggen and its rules of old still in place, continued until the discontinuation of the Norwegian office in 1899. This was when the name of Tyske Bryggen was also officially changed to Bryggen.
Now with all the other tourists gone it was actually fun to stroll through the town and pay a closer look to some of the biggest tourist attractions.
But of course you get thirsty from strolling around, so we ended our evening in a Hotel Bar having both our drinks reflecting over our day and the plans of tomorrow, when we’ll leave this place of history on the Hurtigruten’s ship called Polarlys, a sister ship to the Finnmarken in the photo below.
You can find more photos from Norway on my website.