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Exploring Bergen: Day 6, Multigen Iceland/Norway Trip

Historic row houses in Bryggen, part of Bergen, Norway.
A bustling Saturday in Bryggen, the historic district of Bergen.

“This is the best day of the trip so far,” Dad said, multiple times during our first full day in Norway. “By a factor of about 10.”

What was not to like?

He was in his motherland for the first time ever. Defying expectations, Bergen was warm and sunny. And our itinerary was light. I had tried to keep our days in Iceland lightly scheduled, with plenty of downtime, but now that we had an even slower day in Bergen, I realized that we were finally approaching Dad’s speed.

Bryggen

Sidewalk cafe tables in front of a hotel in historic Bryggen, in Bergen, Norway.
The (reconstructed) historic warehouses of Bryggen are now hotels and other businesses.

Erik, Toth and I had a walking tour of the Bryggens Museum and the UNECO World Heritage Bryggen historic area at 11 a.m., so we met in the lobby of the Moxy Bergen at around 10 to head down there. I felt well rested, but I still had some congestion and sore throat, so I wore a mask. Strolling over to the bus stop was no problem, but a bus didn’t come as soon as we expected it. No worries, though — once we finally got aboard, it was a short ride. I used my credit card to pay for our two senior tickets, two adults and one child. Then I sat down next to a family with a toddler and enjoyed learning some Norwegian words, notably, “Bybussen!” (apparently, “city bus.”)

We passed the Fish Market, where we planned to eat lunch later, and pointed it out to Mom and Dad, then we all hopped off the bus right in front of the historic, colorful buildings that feature on every Bergen postcard. These buildings, we would learn during our walking tour, are facsimilies of the ones (long since burned down) that once housed Hanseatic League stockfish warehouses. There was an open air cafe with lots of tables right in front, so Mom and Dad made themselves comfortable and waved goodbye to us. I had previously attempted to find them a bus tour or something while we took the walking tour, but they assured me that they would be happier relaxing and exploring on their own.

We still had a good half hour til our tour, so we wandered off in search of to-go coffee. We found a delicious latte — and a waffle for Toth — at Kafe Kaf. During the coffee search, we also discovered that Bryggen was much more than the colorful facades with sidewalk cafes in front. Behind those buildings is a warren of cobblestone streets, genuinely old buildings with low doorways, and of course lots of souvenir shops. We happily strolled through this area, enjoying the morning sun, and arrived at the Bryggens Museum for our tour a few minutes early.

You can read my description of the walking tour, called “Bryggen Guiding,” here.

A man and a woman sit at an outdoor table in front of historic Bryggen buildings.
Mom and Dad spent their Bergen morning having breakfast and coffee and tea at one of the sidewalk cafes fronting the Bryggen trading houses.

At a little past 12:30, when our tour was over, we found Mom and Dad sitting at a different cafe table. 

“We haven’t been sitting here the whole time!” Mom assured us. They, too, had found the area behind the facades, and had a great time puttering around. Mom had bought beautiful postcards featuring a watercolor of the buildings, and she had just finished writing and addressing them.

The fish market

Woman cook paella in large pans.
The paella at Bergen’s Fish Market looked tempting.

We walked along the harbor and around the corner to the fish market, which is inside a series of tents. We strolled down the central aisle, admiring displays of shellfish and fresh fish on ice, as well as dry sausages — moose, reindeer and whale. Behind the displays were a number of small restaurants with folding tables and chairs. We were tempted by the one serving paella out of giant pans, but we ended up picking a different one, partly because it was on the harbor side of the aisle. Plastic windows separated our table from the fresh sea air. Some of the tables were open to the air, but ours was the only one big enough for five.

Toth loves shrimp, so he asked to order a prawns appetizer for the table. He also selected a fish skewer, which had chunks of multiple different kinds of fish. I was proud of his adventureousness. I surprised myself by ordering a whale steak. I wasn’t — and still am not — sure that this was a morally defensible choice, eating an animal that might be more intelligent than me and certainly has feelings. At the same time, I felt this might be my only chance to find out what a whale steak tasted like. (Answer: Like a moderately tender cut of beef. Fine, but not life changing.) Mom had king crab, which was expensive and small, but of course, delicious. We had some beers (soda for Toth), told Mom and Dad about the tour, enjoyed the company of our friendly waitstaff (our waitress appeared to be a Norwegian of Asian descent), and generally had a lovely meal. We had seen the fish market described as an affordable place to eat, but this lunch ran us $244 for five people — probably because we ordered expensive items.

Bergen Fortress

A teenage boy and a woman pose next to a wall of large stones.
Toth and Mom stand in a corridor between fortified buildings in the Bergen Fortress

Over lunch, we briefly considered trying to catch a harbor tour by boat, even though we’d be boarding a seven-day cruise the next day. In the end, we decided instead to walk down to the fortress, check that out, then double back to the Bryggens museum, then take the Floibanen funicular up Mount Fluno for an overview of Bergen.

We set out on this plan, in sunshine that was almost too warm. As we walked along the harbor, we saw folks kicking back on anchored boats, having champagne and lunch. A sauna boat floated by. Everything was busy and festive. Knowing that a nice Saturday like this was rare in Bergen, we figured every local was probably out and about, in addition to all the tourists. Even so, the streets didn’t feel uncomfortably crowded.

The fortress is at the opposite end of the harbor from the Fish Market. We walked in along a cobblestone path through an arched entrance, and found ourselves in a cobblestone square protected by fortified buildings on all sides. Dad parked his walker, since it was pretty much impossible to use it on this terrain. The fortress is free to enter, and it was fun to just look around at the old stone buildings. We poked our head into the Rosenkrantz Tower, and found out this cost $14 per person to enter. The sign promised a medievel dungeon, which Dad said he’d like to see. But the staff warned us that there were lots and lots of stairs inside, so we skipped it. Later I read in the Rick Steves guidebook that this place isn’t all that interesting inside anway. It was the home of the last Norwegian royal court based Bergen, under King Eirik Magnusson.

An assortment of umbrellas, water bottles and bags under a Mama Mia! poster.
I assume the showgoers expected to find their stuff still there after the show.

We couldn’t explore the whole fortress; a large section was blocked off for a live performance of the musical Mama Mia! It was fun to see people streaming in to see this. It was also interesting that the spectators left item that apparently weren’t allowed inside — water bottles, umbrellas and a few bags — just piled up on the fortress cobblestones. I guess people really don’t steal in Norway. By this time, Dad was ready to sit on a bench, so we left him at one and explored further without him. We poked our head into another building, which held a tiny gift shop. We walked down a cool outdoor corridor. Then we collected Dad and headed back to the Bryggens Museum.

Dad makes a Norwegian friend

Since our walking tour tickets allowed Erik, Toth and I to re-enter for free, we wanted to take a look at the things in the museum that the tour had skipped over, and let Mom and Dad check out the whole place. While Mom was buying tickets and I was using the bathroom and lockers, Dad made a friend. Sebastian, a young museum curator, happened to be a scholar of oral traditions, and expressed specific interest in the Norwegian disaspora. Sebastian listened attentively to everything that Dad had to say about growing up with Norwegian immigrants as grandparents, and he tried to answer Dad’s questions. Dad asked him if he knew the expression “Boombas!” which his grandfather used to exclaim if the kids were getting too loud. His new friend regretfully said that this word might have been part of his northern dialect, because he didn’t know it. (After a lot of online searches for “boombas” or similar, I see references to drums and bombs. Well, those things are loud, so maybe?) Dad told him about the foods Grandma Jensen used to cook, like rullepolse (rolled up cold cuts). And of course about Grandpa Jensen making lutefisk under the house, which we all laughed about.

Sebastian asked us in return if we really said “Uff-da!” in Wisconsin and we laughed about that. Mostly as a joke, we explained. He said the celebration of this phrase among Norwegian Americans was puzzling to Norwegians, since he himself would consider it an old fashioned and stilted thing to say. (According to one web site, Norwegians might say “uff da” to a child who scraped their knee, kind of like saying “There, there.”)

Dad would probably have rather kept chatting with his new friend all day instead of going into the museum, but eventually we dragged him away. I wanted to show him the “Gyda says go home” runestick

We all enjoyed the museum for an hour or so. Then we shopped in the gift shop while Dad rested on the stairs and his friend showed up to chat some more. After we left, Dad said he wished we could invite Sebastian back to the hotel with us for dinner. I was really happy Dad had made a connection. At some point in all this, Mom realized that she had lost her postcards, which she’d already written. We wondered if they might have fallen out of her bag while we were having lunch? On our way from the museum to the Floibanen funicular, we stopped back at the Fish Market restaurant to ask if they’d been found there, but they hadn’t.

Mount Floyen

A man talks to a teenage boy on a funicular with water in the background.
The Floibanen funicular took us to the top of Mount Floyen.

Then we strolled over to the Floibanen, bought tickets, and rode it up the mountain. Dad said he had pictured an open cable car or something, but it’s more like the gondolas at a high-end ski resort like Heavenly and Northstar. You sit on benches facing one another, with each bench seating about five people, and you don’t see much view from the cars themselves. The view comes when you disembark at the top.

A teenage boy stands at a railing with the view of Bergen, Norway, below.
The panoramic view of Bergen from the mountain is great, especially on a beautiful day.

Then you can stand at the edge of a large paved platform and take in all of Bergen, the park and fountain in the center (which we hadn’t known about), two beautiful harbors (the one we’d just been at, and another for the cruise ships), the sea, some islands at the periphery of the city, and woods to the inland side. It was all just stunning, especially in the sunshine. Off to one side, a safe distance down the hillside, a bee box buzzed with honeybees. I asked Dad if he had brought his epi pen, and he said he left it at the hotel. Great place for it!

three beers on a table with the city of Bergen in the background
It felt great after a busy day to sit back and enjoy a beer at the top of the mountain.

We got a table and Toth and Mom got ice cream, while Dad, Erik and I had beers. After a busy day, it felt nice to sit back, enjoy the view and chat. After a good long interlude, we rode the funicular back down the hill, and Mom decided she wanted to go back to the shop to replace her postcards. Sadly, when we got there, the shop had closed.

Evening

We rode the bus back toward the hotel, and decided to just have a snacky dinner instead of going out. We had purchased a reindeer (or was it elk?) sausage, but we only had a few crackers and no cheese. Erik and I used our phones to locate a grocery store within walking distance of the hotel. Normally I would have hopped off the bus to grab the groceries, but since I was feeling pretty tired with my cold, I asked Erik to go. He did, leaving the bus a stop before the rest of us.

When Toth and I got back to our room, I was bummed — OK being honest, I was crushed — to see the “Do Not Disturb” tag hanging on the door. I clearly remembered removing the tag before leaving the room that morning and tossing it inside. Toth informed me that Erik had picked it up from the hotel room floor and hung it back on the outside of the door. (I guess Erik thought it had fallen on the floor accidentally.) So of course, our room had not been made up. That may seem like a silly thing to be upset about, but remember that in my non-vacation life, as a Mom and wife, I spend hours every day cleaning up after other people. Staying in a hotel to me is a rare opportunity to let someone else clean up, and I hate to miss that. So I went downstairs to ask the staff if they even still had a cleaner on duty at this hour. They did! Toth and I headed to the bar so she could do her thing.

In the bar, cocktail in hand, I spent some time searching for information on our embarkation with Havila the next day. After a very terse email back when I booked our five tickets back in March, I had received little communication from the cruise line. Pretty much only answers to questions I had sent in. They have an online portal, so I was able to log in there and confirm that we did have tickets and that we boarded the next day. But there was no information about what time to board, or even where. We had seen that there were no cruise ships, even small ones like the Castor was supposed to be, at the harbor we’d been in today, so we figured it must be the other harbor we’d seen from the mountaintop. But that was about all we knew.

I searched through Havila’s web site and found on some buried page that embarkation in Bergen is at a place called the Jektevik Terminal. I also found somewhere or other that you are supposed to board between 4 and 8 p.m. Mom wanted to board right away at 4, since she was hoping to try and upgrade to a cabin with a balcony, and we also wanted to get a good dining reservation that woudln’t interfere with being out at any of the ports. Somewhere, I read that you could check in your bags at 1 p.m. I went on the Havila Coastal Voyages Facebook groups and asked if anyone else had received any information about where and when to board the ship. Some folks said they had — and confirmed the name of the embarkation dock — while others said that, like me, they had never received any instructions. 

When Erik came back with the provisions, Mom and Dad joined us in the bar. Erik had bought that weird brown cheese that tastes more like bland caramel than cheese, and Dad insisted that he had tasted a sausage free sample in the market and didn’t like it. But we all ate at least a little something, while I shared my plan for tomorrow: Ask for a late checkout, leave the hotel at noon, have Mom and Dad take our bags to the dock in a taxi while the rest of us took the bus, check in our bags at 1 p.m., then go back to Bryggen for a few hours before boarding at 4 p.m.

 We went back to our rooms to start packing up. I also took some time to research what to do with our afternoon, and was happy to learn about the Theta Museum, described as a museum about the Norwegian Resistance in WWII, and open only a few hours a week, including 2-4 p.m. Sundays. Mom and Dad had recently read a book about Jan Baalsrud, famous Norwegian resistance fighter, so I thought they’d love this. And I figured Mom could also go back and replace her postcards. While figuring that out, I flipped channels until I found the movie “Bridge Jones’ Baby,” which I had never seen before. I stayed up late to finish it. Man, I love Colin Firth, but man, he sure got old by the time they made this one.

More on our multigen family trip to Icleand and Norway

Day 5: Traveling from Reykjavik to Bergen

Day 4: The Golden Circle

Day 3: Reykjavik in a Day

Day 2: Arriving in Reykjavik

Day 1: Departing for Iceland

Bryggen Walking Tour Review

Hotel Review: The Moxy Bergen

The Blue Lagoon

The Iceland Phallological Museum

Reykjavik Airbnb Review

Lebowski Bar

Thingvellir National Park

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