August 11-15 2018
We left Iceland in great anticipation of joining the Viking Ocean Cruise ship, The Jupiter, which was docked in Bergen, Norway and waiting for us so that we could continue our “Viking Homelands“ adventures. We have cruised with Viking before on a couple of their river cruises, which were wonderful, but I must admit we were a bit apprehensive as to what to expect with their ocean cruise ships. Here I need to explain that Leo and I are not partial to big ocean cruise ships with casinos and mobs of people so it was just delightful to find a cruise ship with only 900 passengers, no casinos, no pesky photographers or dress up evening events, everything a casual affair. Viking cruise ships has one staff member for every 1.8 passengers! Our stateroom was very comfortable with a huge bathroom, with heated floors, and we could both fit (sometimes you can’t help it) at the same time. But more about the ship later, suffice it to say we were more than delighted and they welcomed us with champagne….. enough said.
We docked overnight in Bergen which gave us time to unpack, relax, and get to know our surroundings before we headed out early the next day to explore the city of Bergen. Our ship was docked within walking distance to the historic town center which made it very convenient to explore the city. We took advantage of a panoramic city tour offered by Viking early in the day which gave us a good orientation of the city and points beyond with wonderful narratives by a very informative tour guide. I’m glad this tour was available as we marked areas of interest for us to go back and explore at our leisure during our stay.
Bergen was a Viking settlement established in 1070 and the second largest city in Norway, Oslo being the largest. They have a saying here that they are half the size of Oslo but twice as beautiful. I have never seen Oslo, but the beauty of Bergen is undeniable. For many centuries Bergen was the capital of Norway and a merchant hub where tall ships from the Baltic would bring their goods to the iconic old-world trading Bryggen Warf, now a UNESCO world heritage site. Colorful warehouses of red, yellow and ocre and wooden gabled buildings, some because of age, leaning perilously, line this beautiful harbor. We loved strolling through ancient alleyways between these buildings that today are a tourist mecca. There isn’t a square inch of space that is not occupied by art galleries, retail shops, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. We took full advantage of all that was offered here and returned late to the ship arms and bellies full, a happy day indeed.
As we slept, the ship quietly took off, and the next morning we woke up in the picturesque village of Eidfjord. If you follow the TV series Vikings, this village will bring to mind the fictional town of Kattegat where Ragnor Lothbrock and his warriors would sail their dragon headed ships through the Fjords to raid or return to the safety of home. This is exactly the picture of Norway I had in my mind and it was thrilling to see it. This small mountain hamlet is the gateway to Hardangervidda which is Europe’s largest mountain plateau. The stunning beauty of this area is beyond belief and one day really was not enough to appreciate the rugged beauty of this area. We marked it as a “must come back here” location, our list is rapidly growing.
We saw knitted trees lining the streets of Eidfjord, I found it delightful but it means that their winter is so harsh that they feel even the trees need a sweater.
Or next stop, Stavanger, Norway is a bustling city with a beautiful historic center and a living reminder that one voice can make a difference. In the aftermath of WWII, this city was earmarked to be razed to the ground to give way to new modern concrete buildings all in the name of progress. One lone voice, Einar Heden, then city architect, spoke out against the destruction of the city’s iconic white wooden houses near the inner harbor of Stavanger. The world should be grateful that city leaders took his advice, as today the white wooden houses of the Gamble district are beautiful beyond words and are a very trendy and sought after piece of real state.
We started our walking tour with a bit of rain which made it tricky to walk around these old cobblestone streets, some very steep. But what is a little rain when you are surrounded by charm. The uniformity of the white buildings made a perfect backdrop for the riot of colors in the gardens and flower pots. It made me want to go home and take better care of my garden.
If you like color as much as I do, then Stavanger has streets to please every taste. We had a beautiful day walking the colorful streets as the day cleared and our ship waited near by in the old Harbor. The colors were still visible as we sailed away.
We will never forget Norway. This is truly the land of trolls, elves and magic.