Day Five – Balestrand to Bergen

Once again, an early start – luckily the purpose of this trip was not rest and relaxation. Another quick breakfast at Midtnes – I think I might get used to pickled herring, given time – and we head to the docks to catch the 0750 ferry to Bergen. Four hours on board await, stopping at Vik, Nordeide, Lavik, Rysjedalsvika, and Eivindik/Sollibotn.

By this point, we’re out of the fjords and into the multitude of islands that fringe Norway’s west coast. The combination of horizontal and vertical – from snow-capped peaks down to sea-level and as far across the water as you can see – that marks the fjords has given way to a more chaotic confection of narrow channels and rocky outcrops, to which a greater array of colourful houses cling. Sometimes the ferry inches its way through, at others it powers along under one bridge after another. This would be a fine place to live, particularly for a writer in search of seclusion.

Bergen kind of creeps up on us. The habitation levels on the shores and islands grow, and before we know it, the ferry is dropping speed and drifting into the harbor of this city of kings and merchant princes. Some navigational issues aside, it’s not long before we manage to find our way to our local lodgings – the Grand Terminus, beside the train station, both the swankiest and the most expensive place we’ll be setting up shop in during this trip.

After that, there’s nothing for it but exploration. A map is a poor substitute for the experience of a living, breathing city, after all, and I do love a place with history in its bones. Admittedly, any place is going to suffer by comparison after several days of mountains, fjords and glaciers, but Bergen does its best.

Swiftly enough, we make our way to the harbor we’d only recently vacated, there to commit a re-enactment of Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” using only two meals of scampi with that sea-fresh taste still on them and the local avian populace, in the form of sparrows, starlings, pigeons and crows. The bullying seagulls linger a little further away, all too ready to swoop in at the appropriate moment

Down the way is Bryggen, the wood-built heart of this old city, once home to the local branch of the Hanseatic League of traders, whose descendants still lurk hereabouts. Once a trading site for salt cod and fish oil, it now hosts an array of shops designed to shave away travelers’ money in return for a range of kitschy trinkets. Nothing wrong with that, but it can be a little depressing sometimes, especially the umpteenth.

After a little perusal of the local history, we retire our travel-weary bones to the Cacti Art Cafe and make the most of its Internet connections and fine collection of teas. (Though whether I’d ever be so unwary as to taste a drink brewed from “Mysore Nuggets” is another matter entirely.) Duly refreshed, we return to the harbor and pass by a three-masted sailing bark ready to set to sea, and by the time that we’ve passed through the nearby Castle Quarter, we can watch it make its way serenely through the waters, in the company of the statue of old King Haakon VII, an appropriately naval king.

In keeping with the broken-up nature of the day, we retire to out comfortable hotel room before too long, preparing for an evening of unplanned endeavour. When we emerge, it’s to make our way through the local park amid the gathering gloom and attend a recommended dining place – in this case, the nearby Pingvinen, readily recognisable by the penguin on the sign and the fine selection of Norwegian cuisine and world beers that it offers. Good enough to visit more than once in a two-day trip, in fact.

The rain that’s been dropping on us in rising and falling amounts during the day eases enough to permit us one last fling on this Bergen night – a trip on the funicular railway to the top of Mount Floien, 334 metres or so above the city proper. In the darkness, the city is reduced to a spread of shining lights, and its shape, which might have been lost in the trees and mountains hereabouts, is revealed. Spread thin within the valleys that shelter it, Bergen seems a little smaller this way, and perhaps not quite at such a loss.

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