A very rainy city visit to Bergen Centrum & a walk to Fantoft Stave church
Leaving the crashing noise of Steinsdalsfossen behind we headed west, in the direction of Bergen. It was another grey and miserable day, with persistently heavy rain, on the West Atlantic coast of Norway. We passed through only 19 tunnels on the way, a low count in comparison to recent days, but they were the only times we welcomingly escaped the incessant rain noise pattering on our roof.
We drove directly to the aire at Bergenshallen, where we nervously noted from the road it was full, with even a few motorhomes spilling out into the side car-park. But we had timed our arrival perfectly, and just as we pulled in another motorhome, one from the left side where the available power sockets were, was leaving. We jumped right into their spot and settled in, happy that we got a bay and, better yet, one where we were able to plug in. Given the 150 NOK fee for a one night stay, it felt better value for money to at least have electricity available; some wouldn’t.
We walked to the nearby tram stop and bought tickets for the journey into town. The rain was still falling at an impressive rate and we were getting thoroughly drenched, but that wasn’t going to slow us much. With only a few minutes of waiting we hopped on the tram in the direction of the centre; all very smooth and easy. Fifteen minutes later we stepped off the tram a few stops before the centre, at Florida, so we could see a few sights on the way. Heavy rain continued as we walked through Nygårdsparken park and the museum quarter to reach Bergen’s Johanneskirken, a tall gothic-revival red brick built church, where we sheltered a while inside. As we dripped our way around the interior to see the large pipe organ the rain outside finally eased off a little, a welcome change.
We headed next to Bergen Havn, to visit the famous fish market and historic timber buildings along the old wharf. We wandered around the old timber buildings in the Bryggen area, a UNESCO world heritage cultural site. The small tourist shops in the warped, ancient buildings were busy with excited shoppers, bussed in from nearby hotels or moored cruise ships to buy their goods; a perfect symbiotic relationship of need and greed. We walked on, to see a few large sailing boats moored at the end of the wharf, with impressively decorative bowsprits.
We walked a little way behind the wharf to visit Mariakirken, St. Marys Church. On the way, a large crowd of kids spilled out of a nearby school, and one girl in the line walked over and wanted to high-five me, for what purpose I couldn’t tell. But she started a chain reaction and suddenly every self-respecting pupil in the class needed to follow suit, and a long line formed along the kerb as we walked by, all desperate to high-five the dripping wet, shorts-wearing tourist. I felt like a minor celebrity, if only for a moment, and even if it was mocking it raised a smile.
We returned through the market stalls to visit the tourist office on the opposite waterfront, to pick up some tips for our ongoing travels. The views of Bergen’s old wharf from the full height windows on the first floor office were the best we had all day, and it was warm and dry inside. We found ourselves lingering inside a bit longer than normal. Eventually we dragged ourselves down the stairs into the rainy air, to explore a little more in Bergum Centrum.
We very rarely eat out, but the damp day and the deeply inviting smells of the local markets led us to crave hot food over our usual home-made sandwiches. But we had ideological objections to paying over £15 for a small portion of fish or noodles in the market, so we surreptitiously made our way to the local McDonalds, where we could acquire their very cheap, greasy burgers for only 10 NOK each, so we ordered four, two each, with a shared portion of fries. It was so good to have tasty, warming junk food for a change, and by Norway’s standards, at bargain prices.
We walked through the central pedestrian streets to Festplassen, a large open square from where we could view the fountains in Lille Lungegårdsvannet with the backdrop of Bergen hills behind. This was only a short way from the tourist-filled wharf yet felt a world apart, quiet and peaceful, with only a few locals out dog-walking to be seen. But being soaked through was not proving to be as much fun as we initially thought, so deciding we had seen enough of Bergen, we caught the tram back south, staying on for a few additional stops to reach the suburb of Fantoft.
From here we walked a few kilometres, through lovely forest trails, to visit a local, dark wood stave church. It was originally built in a small village on Sognefjord around 1150 CE. In the 19th century the church was under threat of demolition, but was saved by a generous benefactor and transported to its current site near Bergen in 1883. The beautiful, ancient building, saved from destruction once before, was then sadly destroyed in an arson attack in 1992. It was dutifully and carefully rebuilt in its entirety in 1997, exactly as it was. The design was one of the most striking we have seen so far, with very dark wood and intricately stylised dragon motifs on the ridges and gable posts. Although not its original site, it had a real presence in the forest in which it now rested, connected and solid.
We walked back through the forest and to the tram stop, but continued on a steep gravel path that led us through to a neat suburb before popping out right at Bergenshallen. Glad to be back, we spent the rest of the day drying off, sipping tea in the warmth of Benny, and planning our very convoluted and winding route through the upcoming fjords. There was so much we wished to see, and any route chosen now would discount other viable possibilities; decision, decisions.