Gazing out across the bleak container base alongside which we’d berthed an hour earlier, looking at the sheeting rain against mist-shrouded mountains, I was not the least bit tempted to go ashore …
I’d had a sleepless night being bounced up and down and side to side as we sailed south from the stunning Sognefjord and Geiranger fjords – most definitely not in the throes of a passionate encounter. The good ship ‘Queen Elizabeth’ had encountered a quite awesome storm and been deftly steered through it to arrive unscathed in Bergen – but too late for our tour of the old town & surrounding area. Looking at the weather outside, I decided to snuggle up in a cosy corner with a book and simply enjoy a bit of peace and recover from the previous night’s excitement.
After an hour or so, I had relaxed enough and decided it was silly not to go ashore; after all, I live in NW England and Bergen has been likened to Manchester, because it rains so often. A short coach ride out of the container port and â€¦ a step back in history. Although it’s Norway’s second largest city, Bergen has the feel of a provincial town, with all the sights, shops and attractions within easy walking distance. Because of the mist and limited time, I reluctantly decided not to go on the Funicular up to Mount Fløyen, where apparently you can enjoy ‘a spectacular view of the city and fabled seven mountains’ – weather permitting. (How come cities are always surrounded by SEVEN hills, not six or eight?)
So I headed off to the harbour area of Bryggen, a collection of colourful old wooden warehouses. The Hanseatic merchants used to live and trade here but in 1702 a major fire (always a hazard in Norway) destroyed most of the building so these are the newer 18th century ones, now tastefully restored. There are plenty of inviting restaurants and quirky little boutiques selling chunky Norwegian sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves and other knitted paraphernalia and slightly less tacky than usual souvenirs. My favourite was The Moose Shop, which is a bit funkier – got son socks decorated with blue moose (mooses? moosie?) and a couple of sturdy little notebooks for my journey jottings.
At the end of the wharf was an absolutely gorgeous 3-masted ship, with a beautiful gilded prow and complicated rigging. It’s the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, originally built as a training ship for the German merchant marine and now chartered by the Royal Norwegian Navy for the same purpose.
Opposite is the sternly imposing 12th century St Mary’s Church, the oldest stone building in Bergen. Wandering back past the shops I found a little alleyway – by just going off the main street you suddenly feel as if you are in a time long gone and can almost hear the cries of the fishermen as they unloaded their catch to sell in the nearby fishmarket – another fascinating place to visit.
The rain started to come down heavier as I returned to the ship, but I stopped to admire a large statue of a musician playing his violin beside a carved pool. It’s of one of Norway’s most famous musicians – Ole Bull (should’ve been a matador …) – and as he played, oblivious to the rain, he seemed to epitomise the brief glimpse I’d had of this maritime city. Bergen in the rain – a charming and evocative place – whatever the weather …
Many thanks to all the wonderful crew aboard Queen Elizabeth and the team at Cunard for a memorably wonderful Norwegian cruise.