Sunday, August 21, 2011


We eagerly anticipated our visit to the Atlantic port of Bergen, Norway, a city of about 250,000. This scenic city is the gateway to the fjords of Norway and is located several hundred miles from the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Our Norwegian friends, Rune and Trudy Nielsen flew from Oslo to meet us there. We had met them 6 months ago on the same ship in China with Mike and Dorothy from New York. We had some concerns about their ability to travel across the country because a day earlier, a crazed killer blew up a government building and then went on a shooting spree.

Nevertheless, they met us and our New York friends at the pier. They came armed with tourist handbooks and maps. After a short walk from the pier, we visited the palace and fortress of King Haakon VII which was built in the 13th Century. The complex, called Bergenhus, was built of stone which resisted the fires that periodically ravaged the city over the centuries.

Norway had been part of Sweden until 1905 when a referendum granted Norway independence, and Haakon VII became the first king. How he became king is an interesting story which I'll explain in a moment. We posed at his statue. The Norwegian word for king is kong, so we weren't sure whether to refer to him as King or Kong, or both--King Kong anyone?

Haakon VII (1872-1957) was originally Prince Carl of Denmark. He married Princess Maud, daughter of England's King Edward VII. When Norway declared its independence, Haakon was elected king by the Norwegian people. The election was obviously political, as there were several candidates from European royalty. He was deemed the best for several reasons: (1) He was descended from a line of independent Norwegian kings hundreds of years ago; (2) He had a son--an heir to the throne; (3) His English wife, Maud, who was also his first cousin, would attract British support, advantageous to a new nation.

King Haakon was very popular, especially during World War II when Norway was invaded by the German Nazis. He refused to cooperate (collaborate?) with them and had to be evacuated to England where he led the Norwegian government in exile and was credited with keeping up the morale of the Norwegian people with his frequent broadcasts by short wave radio.

The city of Bergen (Bryggen) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the buildings were constructed in the 1100's when it was a world class port. It is a picturesque city surrounded by mountains and fjords. It rains a lot, and this day was no exception. In fact, in 2006, the city endured rain on 85 consecutive days. Planning picnics and golf outings here is an iffy proposition.

The city was a significant port of the Hanseatic League which monopolized trade throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Don't confuse it with the American League or the National League, but it was certainly formidable in its era. It was an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds created with the intention of dominating trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It originated in Lubeck, Germany in the 1100's and arranged commercial concessions and trade with the rulers of various cities and countries the merchants visited. The Hanseatic League had its own legal system and provided security and material aid for its members. Hansa is the German word for "guilds".

Bergen became one of the largest cities in Europe at that time because of European demand for the dried codfish provided by the Northern fishermen. It is still an important port, and we visited the famous Torget, the Fish Market, with kiosks peddling various kinds of fish and other types of seafood, including whale, shark meat, eels, as well as lobster and crab. The market also has kiosks selling moose and reindeer meat, furs and vegetables and flowers. Many of the vendors appeared to be of Middle Eastern or African origin.

Bergen is built on the edge of seven mountains, and we rode a funicular railway to the top of Floyen Mountain where we were treated to a beautiful view of the city and the harbor. The Floibanen Funicular takes you up about 1000 feet in 7 minutes in a glass car seating about 100 people. At the top is a restaurant where you have to order cafeteria style. To an American, the prices are very high. Dianne and I split a ham and cheese sandwich and a coke which cost 95 kroner (about $19).

Later, at the harbor we stopped in a local pub for some locally brewed Hansa Beer. The cost for 3 beers and a bag of peanuts was about $40. They didn't jack up the price for tourists--our Norwegian friends were with us. I don't know how people can afford to live here, but maybe they save money when the shop at Torget. We said our goodbyes to the Nielsens and headed to the ship for our next port, Torshavn in the Faroe Islands.

NEXT: Faroe Islands: Visiting the Sheer Cliffs of Vestmanna, Drop Over Anytime.


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