Our third and final stop in Norway was in Bergen. We had no tour planned for our day here. When I read through the shore excursion options there were 3 or 4 tours and all of them seemed to drive around town and then take you to the funicular car to go up to the top of the overlooking hill for a panoramic view of the city. We thought we could probably just do that on our own.
A few days ago I was looking over the shore excursions for the spelling of some place or other and noted a 7 ½ hour tour out of Bergen taking you to “The Queen of Fjords” – Hardanger. I was tempted to book the tour as Hardanger is the most famous fjord in Norway, but we had just completed two long tours at our other stops, both finished off by blanketing fog. I overcame the impulse and was glad I had not succumbed when we woke up in Bergen to overcast skies and a light rain. (Bergen, we learned, is like Vancouver. It gets lots of rain. They have about 320 days of precipitation – rain or snow – per year.)
We lingered over breakfast, then climbed up to the open deck at the top of the ship and took some photos of the city. The ship was docked within an easy walking distance of the downtown. As we were walking along the deck I caught a flash of white out the corner of my eye. When I turned to see what it was there was a seagull sitting on the railing a couple of feet away and totally unconcerned about our presence.
About 10:30 we walked down the gangway, picked up a street map at the gate and went on our merry way. John turned on the GPS because we knew there were a few caches quite nearby. As usual it had us going back and forth from one side of the street to the other and never settling on where we were supposed to go. John looked for the next cache which was just down the street in The Ramparts. We looked all along the stone wall with no success and it was posted as magnetic and there was nothing metal it could be stuck to. Perhaps it was inside?
We turned the corner and walked into the courtyard. This area is called Bergenhus Festning (or Fortress). It dates back to medieval times. You can take a guided tour of the two towers but we decided not to. The GPS led us through the courtyard to the back of the church and lo and behold, we found it. It turned out to be the only one we found although we did try some others. Between the bouncing GPS and the muggles all around we gave up and concentrated on our site seeing.
The main tourist shopping area was just a little ways down the street. I was thinking that it being Sunday many of the shops would be closed and the church bells were ringing for services as we were in the Fortress. However, the mighty dollar has won out, at least on the dockside street (shops a block back were closed) and people were happily hopping from store to store looking for the perfect souvenir or T-shirt.
The quayside area dates from the 11th century is built upon detritus from past fires when any fire debris, burned timbers, household refuse, etc. was mixed with earth to reclaim land. Thus, the quayfront was pushed by stages into the harbour layer upon layer and level upon level which, in turn, provided a deeper draft for larger ships to enter and dock. There is all kinds of archaeological treasures in the ground under the buildings – pieces of china, inscribed pieces of wood or bone, shoes, sheaths, pottery shards, jewelry, etc. Archaeologists call it Cultural Deposits and all the ground under the tenement houses is protected. The buildings along the street were edge to edge with each other and several of them had distinct leans. One house has sunk about 8-10” and will have to be lifted and shored up soon. How I have no idea.
By this time the clouds had lifted quite a bit and everything looked considerably brighter. We decided we would walk up the side street to take the funicular up the mountain. There were only a few people in line and the funicular goes up and down every 15 minutes. The car came to a stop just as we approached the ticket readers. Once our ticket was scanned the little gate opened and we walked on. It only takes about 5 minutes to get to the top but the view was outstanding. There was access to 320 degrees of views of Bergen stretching toward the sea and up the hillsides.
We snapped a bunch of photos, wandered around for a while and then went into the café restaurant for a light lunch. When we came out again there were people everywhere! Obviously several of the tour buses had disgorged their passengers at the bottom. Bergen runs a Hop On, Hop Off bus that stops at the funicular ticket shack too. We were glad we had taken our photos earlier and made our way through the hordes to a waiting car going back down.
When we were up top we spotted a nice looking park with a fountain in the center and decided we would walk over to it and take a look. We walked through a huge pedestrian square and past a lovely flower bedecked gazebo before crossing the street to the large plaza beside the small lake. There were supposed to be two geocaches in the area, but again one was magnetic and we could find nothing in the vicinity of the co-ordinates that a magnet could stick to and after much wandering around and searching in bushes we discovered that the second had been disabled. So much for that. The park was lovely though.
Our path back to the ship took us through the fish market which has been held at the end of the quay since 1796. There were dozens of tented booths with ice-filled display cases full of whole and fillets of various types of fish, crab legs, mussels, and clams, and tanks with live crabs and lobsters. Each booth not only sold the food from the sea they also had huge gas-fired grills and they would cook your dinner on the spot. Tucked among the seafood vendors there were also some sellers of jams or reindeer sausage and a few other types of food. Across the street were the sellers of T-shirts, sweaters, caps, jackets, jewelry etc. Needless to say it was a very crowded length of street.
We wandered up a couple of blocks off the main street and walked past closed art galleries and antique shops and the backs of a collection of the tenement houses that are along the quayside street until we came to the gardens by the fortress which was a straight path back to the ship. We were onboard by 4 o’clock, half an hour before all aboard. It was a great day and I am so glad we didn’t take a tour so we could just wander.