Tuesday, September 3 –
Despite the incredibly popular Disney movie it inspired, there is so much more to Norway than “Frozen.” Tourism from the U.S. to Norway may have jumped 37 percent after the movie was released this year, but the appeal of this Nordic kingdom remains timeless.
Norway is a country that I deeply love. Several years earlier, I made my first trip to this country as a backpacking student during the last year of my university studies. That December I spent several days in Oslo and traveled to Bergen by train. For years, the Aurlansfjord and unspoiled countryside haunted my dreams. It was my goal to come back in the summer and cruise more of Norway’s world-famous fjords.
After a day in transit across the North Sea from the Scottish coast, I arrived in spectacular Norway. My journey on the Crown Princess on this 9-day/8-night journey would take me to some of Norway’s most beautiful fjords.
While visitors often sacrifice some independence when traveling on a large ship, cruising is actually the best way to travel to Norway. The country is the most expensive nation in the world, and the prices for lodging, food and drink are very high. So cruising can save a tremendous amount of money and you never have to unpack your luggage at night!
There are so many reasons to love Norway. It seems around every corner along the rugged western coast are towering fjords, soaring mountains, ice-blue glaciers, lush valleys and green pastures. It’s also the land of the midnight sun and the Northern Lights that have hypnotized the imaginations of visitors from across the globe.
This morning we arrived in Bergen around 10 a.m. Before pulling into port, we had breakfast and prepared for a day of sightseeing in Norway’s second-largest city. My Dad, brother and I decided that the three of us would make a full day of it together.
Ever since Olav the Good founded Bergen in 1070, the city has played been a significant role in Norwegian history and culture. Like Rome, it’s a city dominated by seven hills. However, Rome cannot boast the beauty of Hardangerfjord, the third-largest fjord in the world and the second largest in Norway.
Throughout the centuries, Bergen has seen a fascinating history of explorers, merchants and artists. The Vikings once departed its port in search of new lands. Bergen was a trading hub in the Middle Ages for the Hanseatic League – a band of Germanic merchants whose economic empire encircled the Baltic and North Seas. In the 19th century, Bergen was home to cultural icons such as composer Edvard Grieg and violin virtuoso Ole Bull.
For our first stop of the day, we walked from our ship to Bergen Central Bus Station. There we boarded a bus to the Fantoft stop on Birkelundsbakken street in Bergen’s suburbs. From there we walked uphill through a leafy park for about five minutes. Then we saw an arrow pointing to our destination: the famous Stavkirke, or Stave Church. After walking along a marked trail through a small forest, we saw the enormous wooden structure in the distance.
The Fantoft Stavkirke is one of the best examples of Norwegian church architecture that features a wooden stave frame. The Fantoft church was built in Sognefjord around 1150, but moved to the southern outskirts of Bergen in 1883. It burned down in 1992, but it has since been painstakingly reconstructed. The adjacent cross, originally from Sola in Rogaland, dates from 1050 AD. We went inside and were amazed by the intricate design. I felt like I had been transported back to the days of Vikings.
Once we finished our tour of the Fantoft Stavkirke, we took the bus back to central Bergen. Then we decided to visit Mt. Fløyen. Located in the old town center, we entered a funicular station and bought tickets on the Fløibanen. This funicular train transported us up to the summit of Mt. Fløyen, the most visited of Bergen’s Seven Mountains. On top we saw mountaintop trails and admired the stunning panoramic views of the city, Hardangerfjord and the beautiful waters of the North Sea port below.
Upon descending on the Fløibanen back to the old town, we returned to the ship for lunch and sandwiches. Later, we returned to the old town to visit the waterfront. We toured the Bryggen – the old Hanseatic League wharf – that has given the city its name. This world heritage site contains a number of colorful buildings dating back to the 1700s that were built in the traditional wooden Norwegian style. We also visited the fish market at Torget, which has been a center of commerce for centuries. It was extraordinary to see its wide variety of fish and other seafood.
After we returned to the Crown Princess, our ship departed Bergen around 18:00 p.m. For supper our family met up at the Botticelli restaurant. The food on board this ship is absolutely delicious. I justified another four-course meal from all of the walking I did today. The famous Princess Dream chocolate dessert was one of the best sweets I’ve had in a long time. It was a great way to end our first day in Norway.
Tonight it’s off to Geraingerfjord. Now it’s time to let Bergen go!