In May 2003, I went on a cruise from Harwich, up the east coast of Britain, stopping at the Orkney Isles, Faroe Islands, three stops at Iceland and then onto the Norwegian Fjords. One of the places we stopped was Bergen. We were there for 13 hours and spent most of those 13 hours onshore, forfeiting the meals provided onboard for Norwegian fare. We were so taken by Bergen that we decided that it would be a great place to come back for a short break in December to do the Christmas shopping. I bought this tea towel on my first visit. Bergen was definitely not a disappointment but the tea towel was, in that it is an inappropriate cotton for a tea towel, has no absorbancy and ranks as my second worst tea towel for useage. As a memory prompter it is excellent.
It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly was so special about Bergen; it was the whole experience. Bergen was an extremely attractive town, mixing the old with the new; it was well cared for. Billboards were forbidden throughout Bergen which makes a difference. The pattern edging the tea towel is of a long row of buildings, clapperboard and log, painted in lots of different colours and lining the whole harbour area. This area is called Bryggen and dates back to the Hanseatic era. Because the buildings are of wood it has been subject to a number of fires over the last 500 years and many parts have been rebuilt. The last major fire was 1955. Bryggen was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The multi-coloured buildings remind me of the shoreline of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull or some small villages in Southern Ireland. Bryggen is a great area for shopping, with specialist Norwegian shops, and for eating; the first port of call for people coming off cruise ships. If you are on a cruise ship you have to get your timing right; walk right through this area because most people stop as soon as they get to Bryggen. The best thing is to return a bit later when the larger groups of people have passed through.
Bergen centres around a big market area on the harbour with lots of cafes with pavement extensions. Not surprisingly, the market has numerous fish stalls selling food-to-go like sandwiches and pots of prawns as well as fish to take home. It was at this market I had the biggest (and best) smoked salmon roll I have ever had and I can still remember sitting on a bench tucking into this roll with salmon falling out of the edges; it was delicious.
This is one of those informative tea towels that I like so much. It tells me that Bergen was founded in 1070; it shows me the Coat of Arms of Bergen; it tells me Edward Grieg was born there (I know that because I saw the memorial to him). If you want to hear some Grieg there is usually a lunch time concert for tourists. The tea towel reminds me that Bergen was occupied by the Germans from the first day Norway was invaded in April 1940 and not freed until the end of the Second World War. There is a cute picture labelled ‘Rainy Bergen’. This reminds me that Bergen has a high level of rainfall, although I did not see any on either of my two visits but all over Bergen were Umbrella Machines where you could buy an umbrella by putting money into the machine. There is a picture of a bus climbing a hill, reminding me that Bergen is surrounded by 7 mountains; a bus trip up the mountains is well worth the scary, winding roads because the views over the harbour are spectacular.
One of my great memories is of the food. Always someone who likes to try something a little different, a whale steak was fantastic, more like game and so tender; elk was also a big hit with me but I couldn’t resist at least trying the Norwegian speciality of salted cod, tasty and not like what I was expecting. My regret was that we were not there long enough to try all the other unusual meats and fishes. But there were also some great cakes, not too creamy but certainly delicious. What I liked about Norwegian cuisine was that they appreciated good ingredients and didn’t feel the need to cover them in ‘gloopy’ sauces. Bergen, for me, was a gourmet’s delight (but not if you were a vegetarian). It was also a great place for shopping but that is a tale of another tea towel.
I loved Bergen and it would always be a place I would like to return to, on a short break. However, a lasting memory, amongst all this wonderful food was a very large Macdonalds in the centre which was very popular with locals. There is no accounting for taste.
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