Norway is about the size of New Mexico with a population of just under five million. Bergen is Norway’s second largest city with a population of about 263,00. It is roughly on the 60th parallel, the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska, the north tip of Labrador and St. Petersburg, Russia. But Bergen is warmer because of the North Atlantic Drift, a break-off of the Gulf Stream. That same current, however, gives western Norway lots of rain, about 240 days of rain. We had showers off and on for all but one day of our visit to the country.
Bergen was founded in 1070 by King Olav III Kyrre, Olav the Boring, also known as Olav the Peaceful or the Silent. Evidently a strange Viking, he believed in love and trade, not war. It was the first capital of Norway until 1299 when King Haakon V made Oslo the capital.
Later Bergen became one of four kontorei, foreign outposts of the Hanseatic League (as were London, Ipswich, Bruges and Novgorod).
The League was a defensive and commercial league of medieval merchant guilds, and Bergen offered wealth through dried fish and other commodities such as woolens. There are still relics of that prosperous era in warehouses and apprentice homes near the old harbor of Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Most houses and buildings are wood and often are white, yellow or red. With all those wood buildings, it is not surprising that Bergen has been ravaged by several fires. The most recent major fire was in 1916, and destroyed most of the buildings in the city center. That area now has more modern office buildings.
As is often our custom, we took a city tour to orient ourselves. After looking over the harbor, our first stop was at the Gamle Bergen Museum, a collection of 18th and 19th century houses and shops. In several of them, guides in period costume told us about how they worked at the relevant time. In others, such as a dentist’s office, we just looked at the old equipment. And on a couple occasions, we had the dreadful experience of recognizing something — “you know you are getting old when you go into a museum and say ‘I remember that.”
We then went to King Haakon’s Hall, a gabled ceremonial hall that is over 700 years old. In the main hall, there is a quite modern tapestry
as well as an old “clog calendar” whose symbols we never did understand.
Later, we walked around the buildings in Bryggen. All cooking was done in one building, the Schøtstuene, because it was forbidden to use fire in the other buildings. Meals were prepared and served to the merchants and workers there. It also served as a school for the apprentices. And because it was the warmest building in cold weather (the only one with a fire), it also served as a gathering hall – presumably for beer and bull-sessions after work.
Our good friend Len’s parents were from Norway. We passed the island village where his father lived on our way to Bergen. And we understood his mother lived on Skansemeryn near the funicular. So after our tour before going off to look at the fish market and a statue of local composer Edvard Grieg, we set off to see if we could find the street.
Bergen is a city on the hillsides of seven mountains, so our exploration took us on winding streets and steep staircases about a third of the way up the mountain. We found a Skansen firehouse which was fun because Len was a volunteer fireman. And we found several streets with “Skanse” in their names, but we never did find the right street. After we got home, I looked on a better map and found Norde Skansemeryn another third of the way up the mountain.
While, we didn’t find the street, we did have fun pursuing an unusual goal — and we saw some really spectacular views of the city!