He dictated the sequence of the journey that we would dock in Bergen just like the fishermen and merchants who, over half a millennium, contributed to its wealth and opulence.
We left the distant Balestrand at five in the afternoon. For four long hours, we sailed through the sognefjord and by fjords that flowed south from it, to the open arm of the North Sea where the great city of Vestland had settled.
Around nine o'clock on a sub-arctic night, which was far from being so, surrounded us with a coastal townhouse that was denser and more modern than the ones that had been hitherto.
The ferry has swung to the southeast. Moments later, Bryggen's quasi-lego houses crept in and showed up prominently on the east bank of the port of Vagen, Norway's busiest.
The Pseudo-Night Landing at Bryggen
At the end of the day, we did what fishermen and merchants always did after their journeys across the North Sea: we sought the shelter we deserved in the city and regained our energy.
The break of dawn revealed a day identical to the time we would come to spend in Bergen: cloudy, grayish, frigid and damp in a way that, despite the coats we huddled in, seemed to reach our bones.
Fresh on the shore, situated on the edge of the North Sea, Bergen is one of the wettest places in Europe, with substantial rainfall averaging 231 days a year. Until then, we couldn't complain.
We slept a mere hundred meters from Bryggen. Aware of the charm and peculiarity of that centuries-old neighborhood, we set off for there.
Like so many other stops in Norway, Bergen hosts cruise after cruise ship, about 300 a year, that dump a total of half a million outsiders.
Early morning effort was supposed to reward us with avoiding the early morning flood of visitors. It didn't take long for us to realize how much it had been in vain.
We walk along the side street suspended in the mist and anachronistic beauty of the surrounding scenarios. When we find ourselves with the brotherhood of colorful and pointed buildings ahead, we slip into one of the alleys between them, eager to delve into the discovery of Bryggen, or Tyskebryggen, as it is also called, translatable from the Norwegian as the German Dock.
Bryggen's Old Hanseatic Quarter
There we indulged in an intrigued wandering among the beams, boards, sleepers, steps, tiles and others, almost always painted in base and matte tones: yellows, reds, oranges, greys, forming fabled streets and alleys that the centuries and the fluctuations of temperature and of the riverside terrain uneven and warped.
These days, lucrative businesses occupy them. Traditional Norwegian clothing stores, creative and expensive souvenirs and trinkets, also museums, art galleries and restaurants with outrageous prices even by the usual Scandinavian standards.
Connecting the three or four floors of each building and connecting them to one another, each alley is equipped with one or two interior staircases and an outside staircase-walkway that crosses it.
Originally, the buildings were erected by the wealthiest Norwegian merchants. At that time, based on the profits and power of their merchants, a number of cities that are now German declared themselves free and obtained validation from the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to whom they swore allegiance and allegiance.
The Rise and Monopoly of the Hanseatic League in Bergen
Part of a chain of assimilation, in Bergen, these cities took over the business of buying and exporting salted fish from northern Norway and cereals brought from different parts of Europe.
In 1350, the first outpost of the Hanseatic League (officies) emerged as the headquarters of its overwhelming activity in Norway. As a result of the intensification of this trade, the docks were enlarged and improved. With them, also the warehouses used to store the products, the same ones we used to go around discovering.
We come across the Hanseatic Museum and Schotstuene. There we find the rooms and assembly halls where, for 400 years, German merchants lived and coexisted drinking beer and where they gathered for all purposes and purposes, from the simple passing of time to making crucial decisions.
The Inevitable Fate of Bryggen Combustion
Given the predominance of wood in Bryggen and surrounding Bergen, problems with easy combustion would be expected. Those responsible were aware of the risk. In such a way that the use of fire was prohibited in Bryggen, except for the Schotstuene building where all food was cooked.
Even so, the fires occurred, repeated themselves and remained in the city's history. Records narrate that, in 1702, a great fire spread and destroyed warehouses, rooms and offices. Today, only a quarter of Hanseatic buildings date back to that year.
The fires were extinguished and the buildings were either demolished or rebuilt, and the post-calamity context dictated that, half a century later, they were all taken over by Norwegians. In that same lapse, the presence of the Hanseatic League in Bergen became insipid. Local Kontor has been shut down.
Bryggen's story withstood the fire. As in the city of Bergen, which continued to expand through the plain around the inlet that welcomed Vagen and the surrounding slopes above. Today, his houses form one of the most harmonious housing projects in northern Europe.
We pass to the back of Bryggen from Rosenkrantzgaten.
On a stretch of this street filled with a garden, among the trees, we delight in the sight of the community of peaks and roofs that crown the old neighborhood.
The Panoramic but Freezing View from the Top of Floyen
Seeing it projected over the North Sea and floating in its icy waters is something that no outsider dares to miss. The starting point for Floyen's panoramic heights was just a few minutes' walk from the Bryggen threshold, so we headed there with hurried, enthusiastic steps that kept us warm.
We go up Vetrlidsallmenningen street from the Fish Market threshold to the entrance of the Floibanen cable car. At that time, the crowd disembarked from the cruises was already present.
In good Norwegian fashion, the queue flows quickly and orderly. In a flash, we find ourselves crossing the tunnel at the base of the cable car line and watch the city unfold before our eyes, to the ends of the deep, narrow U in the Tyskebryggen extension, anchoring point of two large cruise ships from which it originated most passengers on the cable car.
We go out to a kind of large amphitheater and expose ourselves to a chilling sea breeze. We adjust our coats and move closer to the balcony.
From there, we enjoyed the splendid scenery ahead: Bergen, Norway's second city, home to almost 300.000 inhabitants, yet less than half of the population in Norway. Oslo capital.
We take our photos, we contemplate a little more. Punished by the unexpected frigidity, we cut short our return to the plain of the city's historic center. We return to the Vetrlidsallmenningen.
The Commercial and Gastronomic Frenzy of Bergen's Fish Markets
As we descended it, we noticed a mural that takes up the entire side wall of a historic building below. It depicts a woman, fishmonger or customer, holding a huge fish. The work served as an artistic preamble to what would follow.
Vetrlidsallmenningen delivers us to the tight rectangular bottom of the port of Vagen. Sailboats and other small boats occupy it.
In the extension of this fund, we find the extension of tents of the Fish and Flower Market of Bergen, a little short of the official Fish Market, the closed, air-conditioned and much more refined one below the almost as vast Tourism of Bergen.
We found it in a frenzy of tastings, sales and purchases, and steaming meal service offerings that delighted and comforted guests from all over the world.
There we can see the best Norwegian salmon on display, huge lobsters, king crabs and sea urchins, caviar, long fresh slices of cod, the North Atlantic cod.
We took a look at two or three more tents. As expected, we detected the cod also in the salt plate mode of which Portugal has become Norway's biggest customer and whose importation has made the wealth of countless fishermen and distributors from these parts of Europe.
The Comforting Encounter with a Busy Countryman
But that's not all. At another stand closer to Vagen, a busy cook catches our eye with the grilled fish and seafood served, serving after serving to anxious guests.
We noticed his long and peculiar mustaches, well combined with the voluminous green beret he wore. We had already noticed that almost all employees in that market were foreigners, several of them dedicated to welcoming and satisfying the masses of customers arriving from their countries.
We found out that it was a compatriot. Unsurprisingly, we established and nurtured a conversation that was too involved and extensive for the culinary predicament in which – as it was called – he found himself. “This isn't bad” he assures us, “…if you discount the lack of sun, the good weather we're used to, of course. I've been living here with my wife for a few years now. I'm an artist but what has given me money is this type of work.”
A Nautical Tour through Vagen, the Port of Bergen
As we were walking around, we boarded a picturesque boat that ensured an itinerary through key places in the extension of Vagen: the Norwegian Fisheries Museum.
And, surrounded by a leafy garden, the Museum of Old Bergen, animated by a cast of extras who, in the reliable setting of Gamle Bergen, re-enacted aspects of city life in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, including adventurous rides on an old bicycle from Ferris wheel difficult to tame.
Faced with the closing time and the extras' anxiety to get rid of historical facts and papers, we too returned to contemporary Bergen, as we had rejected the boat's return to its anchorage, aboard a sophisticated bus.
The Last Return by Bergen
Again on foot, we wander through the centuries-old alleys between the bottom of Vagen and the inner district of Vagsbunnen, around the imposing church of Korsk, ie the Holy Cross.
We continued to the south of the city until we came across the square in Torgallmenningen, where the Bergen Monument to the Sailor stood out, serving as a seat for tired passers-by and musicians from immigrants from Eastern Europe.
A short distance away, we enter the grassy and forested domain of Byparken, the place chosen by the city to honor the character and eternal work of Edvard Grieg, the most renowned Norwegian pianist and composer, known worldwide – even if unconsciously – for his contagious melody in "In the Cave of the King of the Mountain".
Bergen still had much of its rich and complex Scandinavian stronghold to unveil, but by then another emblematic Norwegian port awaited us: Stavanger.