When we finally stepped off the train into the cozy atmosphere of Bergen, I had a feeling it was going to be a lovely visit. Walking down the cobblestone streets (at the time, untouched by snow) and taking in the surroundings was an experience in and of itself even before we began visiting the tourist attractions. The language was foreign, but not as much as you might think. There were so many words that were close enough to English that I could figure out what they meant, and it was a breath of fresh air after being in Finland where the language is very difficult to understand for a native English speaker. Bergen even said that it was really close to German, and she has Norway’s history to back up that claim – but I’ll get to that in a bit. After we checked into the hostel at 8 am, we began to meander through the city, just looking at what sights and sounds were afforded to us. The first direction we walked in took us to the sea front, where the colourful house fronts warmly greeted us.
These house fronts are the reason that Bergen is considered a National Heritage site. In order to keep the houses functioning, they must re-do the old-fashioned wooden foundation once every hundred years, and they have done this continually since the houses were built. They re-make the foundations using the same tools that were used in the time the houses were built, so it takes longer, but helps preserve the integrity of the house. After seeing these buildings and the sea, our walking brought us to Bergen’s castle.
The alleys were designed in a unique way, and the shops were quite unique as well. There was one shop we entered that had four large dollhouses in the first room we entered. We began to talk with the shop owner, and we discovered that she had decorated the houses, and her deceased husband had built the houses for the dolls. There was a story behind every room in the dollhouses, and they were decorated with so much detail! The shop sold the artwork of her deceased husband, but to me, the dollhouses were the most intriguing part of the store. What amazed me what how friendly the shop keeper and her friend were. They kept speaking with us, and asking us questions just to pass the time. They could tell that we were college students, and that we probably weren’t going to buy anything, but they took as much time to speak to us as they did to the couple other customers that were in there at the same time we were. The pictures we got of the dollhouses don’t do them justice, but they are at least a snapshot into what we saw.
The reason that people are so attracted to Bergen is because it is silent, colourful, and ancient. It still has about 1100 of the original houses, however, they have burnt to the ground and been rebuilt several times, because wooden houses burn quite easily and often. In 1710, they had a huge fire that burnt everything down, except for the stone houses that merchants kept their valuables in. In 1798 there was another large fire that wiped out much of the town, but that was the last large fire in Bergen’s history. The main problem that Bergen has now is the same problem that exists in other large waterfront cities – such as Venice, Italy; Bergen sinking 5-89 millimeters a year into the mud it was built on. One of the reasons that Bergen was so important in history is because of the fish that are found in the northern waters. Stock fish can be dried naturally in the sun with no salt and preservatives, and stay good for about ten years in this fashion. When you wanted to eat it, you could eat it like ‘fish jerky’ or you could soak it in fresh water, changing it out daily, for ten days, and then it would be soft enough to cook like a normal fish again. The Vikings knew how to take care of fish and because of that, it was like their gold. It was their source of money, and financial stability. It was known since before the time of the Vikings in the year 1000. The Germans began their 4000 year rule over Norway 1360, and it is viewed as a positive time in the history of Norway, because the Germans taught the Norwegians how to trade. By this point in time, the Hansiatic League was in place and Norway was getting good all the way from Italy through this agreement. The Hansiatic League was very good to the Norwegians, because it taught them honesty in trading as well. It is documented that one year, for whatever reason the Norwegians did not get enough stock fish to trade with the Germans, so they had to come from the North to Bergen to tell the Germans. Upon hearing this information, the Germans still gave the Norwegians everything they needed, but said that the following year the Norwegians would have to bring the fish to Germany in exchange. So it was truly a good and honest system that benefited everyone involved. Because the Norwegians were under the rule of Germany, they seem to have had better contact with England and Europe in general than the rest of Scandinavia. They had a good king and lived in good conditions.
And that was the history lesson that the kind elderly man gave us. It is quite interesting- huh. My favourite part was that it explained why Norwegian seems similar to German – it had close ties with Germany for several years! It was so kind of that man to invite us in and speak with us. His main reason for setting up this information center was that he thinks that you must look to the past to see how to progress in the future. He also said that when he saw kids like us going to college and being eager to learn, it gave him hope for the future. It made me sincerely hope that my generation doesn’t let him down!
Anyways, after our visit with the kind gentleman, we continued on our way and visited a few (overpriced) tourist shops, then went and visited the Fish Market. This visit reminded me of when I was a small child and looking at the lobster tank in Wal-Mart, because they had a tank with live fish and live lobsters in it. It all smelled veeeeery fishy in there, but I didn’t mind.
We woke up bright and early the next day, and got ready to go visit Norheimsund, a town that was more in the fjord landscape and would allow us to better experience it! It was a small town, and nothing was open on a Sunday morning, but we found ways to entertain ourselves until help was available.
We walked around the old streets for a while till we found the Norheimsund Kyrkje (a new Lutheran church built in the town) where a young man outside helped give us directions to a waterfall near the town.
That night we celebrated the birthday of Jane and Silke – it was actually on Jane’s birthday. Talk about a neat way to celebrate your birthday – getting to be in Norway is at the top of the list! We also had some of Logan’s great improve pasta cooking. It mimicked the meal we had in Tallinn, but you have yet to hear about that location. That night we played cards and had an interesting talk on politics, led by Bronaugh and Logan, with good insertions from Kati and Jane.
While at the top, we took several good pictures, from random dead person photos to jumping shots, to combination dead person/jumping shots in front of the panoramic view.
I believe Logan and Quique even tried to moon the camera at one point – but Bronaugh saved the day with her coat, covering the unsightly view of the men’s backsides. We hiked back down the mountain, and had several more photo opportunities.Clip, Katrine F. "Norwegian Words - Troll." Norway Info. CyberClip, 1996. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. http://www.cyberclip.com/Katrine/NorwayInfo2/words/troll.html.
Soon, it was time for us to get back on the night train and head back to Oslo. I somehow managed to get around 5 hours of sleep on the train, so I was better off than several people. However, when we arrived in Oslo we were a pretty bedraggled group. Our first stop there was at the Vigeland (Frogner) Park. This park consists of 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland, and is separated into 7 parts: Frognerbroen with 58 bronze-sculptures and 4 groups of "lizards" in granite, then the children-square with 9 small children-sculptures made of bronze. Then there is the labyrinth-square with the fountain. The floors are yet another part. The parts of the park your eyes are drawn to are the monolith-plateau with 8 artistic gates, the circle stairs and the 17 meter-tall Monolith. The fountain in the middle Portrays children and skeletons in the arms of giant trees, suggesting that from death comes new life. The general theme of the park is man’s journey from the cradle to the grave. The last thing you see in the park is the Wheel of Life, which is more or less a wreath depicting four people and a baby floating in harmony. It is a symbol of eternity. This park was fascinating, and I really wish we’d been able to stay longer, but it was -18C (-0.4F) and we were all in agreement that we couldn’t function in that kind of cold anymore.
When we did make it to the museum, I was shocked that it was financed through a University. It is one of Norway’s largest cultural history museums, and according to the museum website, “It holds the country’s largest prehistoric and medieval archaeological collections, including the Viking ships at Bygdøy, a substantial collection of medieval church objects, a collection of antiquities from the Mediterranean countries, and a rune archive. The museum also has a comprehensive ethnographic collection that includes objects from every continent, as well as Norway’s largest collection of historical coins.” I was most interested in the information it shared on tons of cultures, from the traditional Norwegian culture to the Sami, Chinese, African, and even Egyptian Ancient Cultures. It was very interesting to see all the different cultures juxtaposed in the same room.
Next we went to the Nasjonalmuseet, or the National Museum of Art. It has paintings by Picasso, El Greco, Monet, Edvard Munch and more there. It was interesting. I got to see ‘Skrik’ or ‘Scream’ by Edvard Munch. However, I figured out that one of my favourite paintings is “Livets dans” or “The Dance of Life” by Edvard Munch. If you want a variety of interpretations of this painting, this is a good link to check
However, the thing you should really look at is the difference in the three ladies in the foreground. Their differences as far as age, emotion, and mood. The rest of the painting just adds to that.
On the way back to the train station we also passed by the Domkirke Høsten, which is Lutheran I believe. This Cathedral was making a unique loom which consisted of tying together small bits of cloth. It was interesting because it was so many colours, and its pattern depended completely on those who chose to participate. The name of the project is called “Binding Together” and is organized by Amnesty International. It started in April of 2010, and will continue till lent 2011. It is there to show the activity and people who have been in the cathedral, and seeks to bridge Christian ideals and contemporary challenges. Amnesty International works to help people who are persecuted for their convictions – whether that be political or religious. When it is done, they will use it for several things – as carpet, or a wall hanging, as a tent cover, or even in performances. It’s a very interesting concept, and it shows the spirit of Norway quite well to me.
After leaving the Cathedral we went back to the Train Station where they were having a Christmas festival outside. There were lots of lit trees, and free gingerbread and glögi (very similar to apple cider) with almonds and raisins in it.