A most unusual occurrence – a chance to sleep in. Well, when I say sleep in, I mean a waking hour of 8.45am, which is nothing to be sneezed at by the standards of work or this holiday thus far. Thankfully, the Grand Terminus’s breakfast spread provides more than enough to keep the weary traveller going. A make-your-own-muesli section sits side-by-side with a Norwegian approximation of a traditional English fry-up, with enough fresh fruit in attendance to make solemn apologies for the damage that is likely to do to one’s well being.
Once we’re out and moving, we find Bergen to be in an unusually benevolent mood, dappled with sunshine and stuffed with clean, crisp air. Bereft of any particular purpose, we stroll past statues of Edvard Grieg and museums of no particular attraction before finding our way to the top of a hill, past a church, and to a cluster of museums with more intriguing exhibits.
First up is the maritime museum, with its focus on an element of Bergen’s history that’s central, to say the least. Some of it is hidden from our view, but what there is to see is comprehensive enough, from the earliest days of iron age boat-building, to the great sailing ships, the like of which we witnessed the day before, with the Viking era given no short shrift in the interim.
Next door is the Museum of Cultural History, which proves to be even heavier on the Viking era, much to my tastes. There’s plenty on the inroads the church made here around the turn of the millennium as well, and an intriguing section on Henrik Ibsen’s time in Bergen, but it’s the Vikings, as always, who make the running. So much so that the Christian exhibits, with their dragons and warriors, seem to have been the subject of a takeover, rather than the other way around.
Early closing times force our hand – we have to avoid the Natural History Museum and instead make a run across town to the Heanseatic Museum, for a look at the lives of those master merchants. Located on the edge of Bryggen, the museum building is just as rickety, aged and wood-built as that warren of narrow streets and tall buildings, and within it brings a Hanseatic lifestyle within touching distance. Its exhibits are far from the sterile, glass-encased offerings that are all too common, and a video on the last Hanseatic merchant, who died in 1792, is poignant despite the overacting and dodgy production qualities.
A little more souvenir scavenging is followed by a return to the Cacti Art Cafe for hot chocolate that’s more than a little too sweet and waffles that aren’t a patch on those we’d enjoyed in Fjaerland. Obviously not taking the hint that you can’t go back, our next decision is to leap on board the funicular to the top of Mount Floien for a second time, this time enjoying an early evening view of the city rather than a night-time one. It’s no less impressive, if perhaps a little less beautiful, but the clear Scandinavian air makes every sight stand out sharply in a way that no photo can do justice to.
We linger for a while, noting not only the impressive and unfortunately business-oriented restaurant atop the mountain, but also the shop full of tourist kitsch. Bergen’s mercantile instincts have not failed it yet.
To complete our trio of repeat performances, we head for Pingvinen for our evening meal. Here at least, we manage to outdo our previous selections. Exceptionally sticky potato dumplings on the one part, and rolled pork ribs on the other, we feed ourselves to repleteness ahead of the nighttime journey ahead.
The Grand Terminus, which had been decent enough to store our bags during the day, offers us a resting place for the last few hours we have in Bergen. Amid its turn-of-the-century splendour, we settle ourselves down, grab a beer or two and peruse some recent happenings in the world. When it comes time to take the overnight train to Oslo, we’re all too ready to stroll onboard, find our seats and relax into unconsciousness. And so it proves to be.
I don’t sleep too quickly. The train itself is silent enough; the hyperactive six-year-old with a plastic recorder in the seat ahead of us, not so much. When things quieten down a little, the train is slipping eastwards through the night, alternating between the rush of air as we pass through tunnels and the silence of open spaces. There are glimpses to be had of snow-covered slopes, the full moon riding high above them, with mountain lakes as flat as mirrors beneath. I allow it to mesmerize me, and before long, I’m slipping not quite into sleepfulness, but into something close enough to afford a little rest.