Norway’s stunning shoreline are pieces of puzzle that may have been created by Viking gods.
Bryggen, Bergen – A Norwegian dream
It’s a blue-sky day and the sun is shining on Bergen’s sapphire-coloured harbour. From my viewpoint atop the Floyen Mountain, the Seven Mountains are a calming backdrop to the city’s red rooftops far below my feet. Below is a bird’s-eye panorama of narrow alleyways lined with crooked timber buildings in Bryggen, which is Bergen’s historic wharf area and a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site.
Bryggen was part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire between the 14th and 16th centuries. The waterfront has a medieval feel brightened up by colourful tri-level wooden houses, which were homes of the country’s first German merchants.
Mystical land – Bergen Fjords
Bergen is the gateway to Norway’s breathtaking landscape of fjords and islands, which is the magnet that draws most travellers to the country. Endowed with plunging waterfalls, towering mountains and glistening glaciers, the southern part of the coast is particularly picturesque.
In summer, snow-covered peaks are a startling contrast to lush green forests, forming a backdrop as pretty as the picture-book seaside towns that dot the region.
The majesty of the fjords seduces me into believing that they are the creation of Viking gods and goddesses. The Viking world was ruled by gods of the elements: Sol the sun goddess, Mani the mood god, Joro the earth goddess, Dagr the day god and Nott god of night.
According to Viking legends, there were nine worlds centred around an enchanted tree called Yggdrasil.
The gods lived in the heavenly realm of Asgard while humans lived in Midgard, in the centre of the cosmos, and a collection of elves and dwarfs inhabited the other worlds.
On the earthly plane, the Vikings were a force to be reckoned with. A shortage of farming land forced them to search for new pastures in Shetland, Orkney, the Faroe Islands and the Hebrides. They were fearsome warriors who conquered parts of Europe and Canada. Norwegian Vikings also settled on the west coast of Ireland and founded Dublin. They discovered Iceland in 870 and divided the island between four hundred chieftains. Erik the Red led a group of settlers in Greenland in the 980s and his son, Leif Ericson, discovered Newfoundland in 1000.
Part of the success was due to the development of the longships, which were hardy enough to sail through stormy seas, and had broad, flat-bottomed hulls perfect for navigating shallow coastal waters and rivers. Along with an unwavering conviction that being killed in combat was an honour that would gain them a place in Valhalla, moulded them to become an unstoppable force.
Norway fjords – Fabulously beautiful
Norway’s fjords are natural wonders carved by glaciers over a succession of Ice Ages. These fjords are drowned valleys of majestic beauty with steep-sided walls soaring towards the sky.
The mountains reach up to 1400m above the Norwegian Sea and the depths of the fjords plunge below 500m.
Bergen is located between the country’s longest fjord, Sognefjord, and the serene Hardangerfjord. But the country’s most visited fjord is a six-hour drive to the north east of Bergen.
Geirangerfjord, along with Naeroyfjord, is World Heritage listed. The area comprising both fjords is known as The West Norwegian Fjords.
From the village of Geiranger, the bus winds its way along hairpin bends up to Mount Dalsnibba and Flydalsjuvet, which is a scenic spot with a spectacular view of the fjord and village framed by green mountains. Then we travel to the village of Hellesylt, where I board a local ferry and cruise along the fjord back towards Geiranger.
It’s an unhurried voyage past snow-covered peaks, timber cottages and a myriad of gushing waterfalls. The landscape has a diversity of plant species, including alpine plants that normally thrive at higher altitudes.
We pass old abandoned farms, high in the hills, and listen to the commentary about the region’s wildlife. The fjord is home the rare clouded Apollo butterfly and stomping ground of four species of deer (elk, red deer, wild reindeer and roe deer).
South of Bergen, I cruise through another fjord, Lysefjord, a 42-kilometre-long fjord with rocky vertical walls over 1,000 metres high in the Stavanger Region. The fjord is long and narrow. As we cruise below Pulpit Rock, a flat natural plateau 604 metres above the fjord, I can just make out the small shapes of people sitting on the rock far above.
Stavanger is a peaceful town with whitewashed wooden houses, a medieval cathedral and a historic harbour. Wandering around Old Stavanger, I lose myself in a warren of cobblestone streets and old-fashioned lamp posts. Old Stavanger is a living museum with Europe’s largest collection of 18th-century wooden buildings. The buildings house workshops and craft shops. Some are private homes with neat flower gardens and cats curled up on doormats.
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flies to Bergen in co-operation with partner airlines. A good reason to book SAS when travelling to Norway is Scandinavian Economy Extra has a generous baggage allowance of two 23kg bags.
Clarion Collection Hotel Havnekontoret is well-positioned in the historic Bryggen district. The boutique designer hotel is reasonably priced and room rates include a continental breakfast and a light evening buffet. The hotel has an exercise room and a sauna.
Things to do in Bergen
•Ride the Floibanen Funicular for spectacular views of Bergen and the surrounding waterways.
•The Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene offer a peek into the life of a Hanseatic merchant.
•Bryggens Museum has archaeological excavations of handicrafts and artefacts from the Middle Ages while the 12th century St. Mary’s Church next to it is the oldest building in Bergen.
•Wander through the galleries and small artisan stores that sell local crafts and jewellery in Bryggen.
•The Bergen Fish Market is packed with stalls selling fresh salmon, king crab, caviar, paella and traditional Norwegian reindeer salami. The most controversial food item for sale is smoked whale. While whaling has long been a tradition in Norway, it’s good to hear that whale hunting is in decline. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, consumption of whale meat in Norway has fallen. A Fisheries Research Institute of Norway report revealed that the whale meat is considered an exclusive product rather than a commonly eaten food and are not eaten on a regular basis.
Read more about cruising Norway here.