Nearly forty years ago I fell in love. Not with another person but with a city. I was wandering around Europe and had arrived in Bergen. Something captivated me and since then I have been saying that Bergen is my favourite small city in the world.
We humans are strange creatures and I resisted returning to Bergen for many years. I guess I was frightened that my memories would be shattered and that Bergen would no longer be special. I should not have worried. When I finally returned I still loved the place and each subsequent visit has reinforced that. Then last year my wife and I spent some wonderful days in Bergen being tourists again. Yes, it has changed but it has not lost its magic. The city with ‘its feet in the sea and its head in the sky’ still has its heart and soul in the right places and its beauty is happily shared with visitors.
Ever since Viking King Olav Kyrre sailed into the harbour and founded the city in 1070, Bergen has attracted people from all parts of the world. So important was Bergen by the 13th century that the Hansas – the German Medieval guild of merchants – opened one of their four European offices on a wharf called Bryggen. Much from that time has gone but reminders of past centuries remain today. The area has become a symbol of Bergen’s cultural heritage and has gained a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Bergen grew up around its colourful harbour. It is still the heart and soul of the city. Forty years ago it was filled with fishing boats and the fish market on the quay was an exciting, thriving, smelly place just bursting with atmosphere. Now the harbour is thronged with expensive pleasure craft from around the world and the market has a few stalls selling seafood but many more with fruit, vegetables, handicrafts, clothing and souvenirs. It’s different but still spectacular.
Bergen’s setting – amidst seven hills and sheltered by a series of straggling islands – is brilliant. You see it best from the top of the Floibanen funicular railway. The modern glass funicular goes to the top of Mount Floyen in about seven minutes. At the top you have wonderful views, a fine restaurant, a cafe, souvenir shop, children’s play area and numerous footpaths into the surrounding mountains. If you walk back down the hill you will see some of the charming small wooden houses that are so much part of the city.
Extract from Experience Norway.