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A RAINY AFTERNOON IN BERGEN, THE GATEWAY TO THE FJORDS

By  December 5, 2015

‘The summer moments always pass quickly’ – Old Nordic Proverb

Did we make the right decision? It is early September with summer fading. The sky transitions between blue and grey bringing frequent showers. During the thirty minute bus ride from Flesland Airport to Bergen city centre it had been raining. During our brief train ride to Solheimsviken marina, where we would spend the night aboard a yacht, it had been raining. For our journey back into the city, it was raining.  Should we be surprised? Bergen is touted to be not only the rainiest city in Norway but in all of Europe. Here it rains for over two hundred days of the year. The rain showers however, are typically brief and the compact city centre mean the main attractions are within close proximity to each other.  And if you do need to find shelter from the rain there are ample pubs, cafes and restaurants to choose from.

The light rail system ends at Byparken (City Park) and is only a five minute walk to Torget’s fish market.  The outdoor fish market is sheltered by a tarpaulin cover which today is bowed under the weight of rain.  Two rows of seafood stalls are aligned along the harbour edge. The smell of frying fish and chips and steaming shellfish waft through the air. Lobster and king crabs peer outwards from their glass cages.  The choice for lunch is extensive from the usual, cod and salmon, to the not so usual, caviar and whale. My decision is based on a recent National Geographic documentary about the king crab. This red army of crustaceans is an introduced species to these waters and have made their way into Norway illegally from the Russian Barents Sea causing havoc to the surrounding marine environment. For once I side with the environmentalists. Let’s control the numbers of the invading king crab! The succulent, mildly sweet legs are chopped up into a bowl, shell intact, and served with baby potatoes, greens and a sprinkle of parsley.

Photo 1. King crab served up at Torget’s fish market

Photo 1. King crab served up at Torget’s fish market

Bryggen, Bergen’s old wharf, is a stone’s throw from the fish market and the wooden façade is instantly recognisable. Undoubtedly the most photographed sight in Bergen the façade, that runs parallel to the harbour, is replicated in postcards and artwork sold in stores throughout the city. These were homes for the German merchants that belonged to the Hanseatic League and signified Bergen’s value as a trading post. The cultural importance of these wood dwellings haven’t been missed by UNESCO either, listing it as a World Heritage site since 1979. From the harbour narrow passages lead into secluded, private courtyards. A haven for exploration. On this rainy day it is surprising to imagine that these buildings were destroyed by fire many times the most notable in 1702 and the most recent in 1955. Rebuilt in wood using the old, traditional techniques the buildings now house art, clothing, and furniture stores as well as a cafe.  Café Bastant Bryggen with its alluring scent of cinnamon provided a warm, cosy retreat from the rain. The cafe served up superb coffee and chai tea along with a selection of baked goods like the ubiquitous ‘Norsk kanelboller’ (cinnamon bun).

Photo 2. Bryggen is Bergen’s recognisable old wharf

Photo 2. Bryggen is Bergen’s recognisable old wharf

Throw the stone a little further to the head of the harbour and you reach Bergenhus Festing, a fortress built in the thirteenth century, on the northern edge of the harbour entrance. It is one of the oldest castles in Norway. This weekend it is the back drop for the annual Bergen Ølfestival (beer festival) held in early September ever since 2012. ‘Mikrobryggeri’ (microbrewery) has become a recent phenomenon in Norway and although lagging the US craft beer explosion Vikings were amongst the first to brew hand-crafted beers. At its inception the Bergen Beer Festival had seven attending breweries; in 2015, thirty-five breweries were in attendance including Ægir, Austmann, and Ringnes. Ægir Brewery, based in Flåm, has won several silver and bronze medals at the Australian International Beer Awards. Despite the rain (adequate shelter was provided!) opening day was a jovial affair. The brisk air rang with animated discussions and boisterous laughter. Crowd numbers grew as Friday evening encroached on the afternoon revellers. Hunger increased with each ale and although the day was still light we hankered for some traditional Norwegian fare.

Photo 3. Enjoying a few craft beers at the Bergen Ølfestival

Photo 3. Enjoying a few craft beers at the Bergen Ølfestival

Back tracking along the waterfront we sought out Bryggeloftet & Steune Restaurant at Bryggen, a restaurant recommended by our Bergen host Bjørnar, and as the restaurant name suggests it is split between two floors. Well known amongst locals it has a reputation for its rowdy ‘Lutefisk’ (a traditional cod dish) parties. The interior is like a warm and cosy log cabin complete with wooden furniture, fire place, and oil paintings. To assuage our seafood craving we had to try the ‘Pepperflabb’; monkfish served with a spicy, pepper sauce. However if you have had your fill of seafood several game dishes are also served including reindeer.

With our hunger sated we returned to our moored yacht in Solheimsviken marina. The unique lodging experience was found using Airbnb and it felt fitting to be aboard a yacht in fjord country. Fully equipped with a shared kitchen including a fridge large enough to chill any purchased duty-free beer or wine and a stove for anyone motivated to cook. Shower and toilets are on-board. Upload all your yacht selfies as Wi-Fi is provided. Bjørnar and his brother sleep on one side of the yacht leaving two rooms available to book. We were housed in one of these comfortable rooms.

Photo 4. Our moored yacht is second from the right

Photo 4. Our moored yacht is second from the right

As waves lap against the hull the yacht gently rocks. Will our boat journey on the Sognefjord feel as gentle[1]? Tomorrow morning we depart. It was the right decision to spend an afternoon in Bergen. Look beyond the rain and you will find a city worth exploring. ‘Tusen takk’ (thousand thanks) Bergen for a memorable afternoon.

~ Jesse Gerwien

Footnotes:

[1] Find out by reading post ‘A Different Kind Of Seaside Holiday’

Bergen, Norway

Friday, 4 September 2015

Flights: Return flights with British Airways between London Heathrow Terminal 5 and Bergen Airport Flesland; total cost for two people GBP 190 using Helloworld (http://www.helloworld.com.au/).

Airport Transfers: Flybussen.No SAS bus departing every 15 minutes. Approximately a 30 minute journey from the airport to Bergen Storsenter which is conveniently located next to the ‘busstasjon’ (bus station) and train station. For the return journey to the airport use bus station stand N. A one-way journey costs 100 NOK (GBP 8).

Bergen Ølfestival: Opening hours on Friday from 1:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.; Entry cost 60 NOK (GBP 5); Starter package for 100 NOK (GBP 8) which includes a tasting glass and 3 ‘bongers’ (tokens). Held annually in early September.

Stayed: Yacht in Solheimsviken marina hosted by Bjørnar Johan Kamøy for 1 night, 2 people; total cost GBP 70 via Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/). In addition to on-board shower and toilet, facilities housed within a car park in close proximity of the harbour can be accessed using a key fob.

Café Bastant Bryggen, Jacobsfjorden 4, Bryggestredet, 5003 Bergen, Norway

Bryggeloftet & Steune Restaurant, Bryggen 11, 5003 Bergen, Norway (See my review on Tripadvisor: ‘ Seafood and Game, Norwegian Style’)

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