Bergen may be the greatest city in the world for wandering. Many of the streets are so narrow that a baby strollers can’t fit down them (imagine a city built like the aisles at Walmart except there are no people on electric scooters). The lanes twist and turn up and down the hillside in an organic way that only can be explained through an examination of the human condition and history. You will find none of that here. You will find sweeping generalizations about Bergen that have not been researched and are based on two days of visiting.
I began my day like I begin all days during The Summer of Jon (TSOJ) eating a free breakfast at my hotel in a way that can only be described as over-indulgent. Today it was one hard-boiled egg, three pieces of thick toast, two of those hard rectangular crackers that are only good on long hikes or slathered in so much jam you can no longer see the cracker, three pieces of ham, three pieces of salami, nine pieces of cheese, three glasses of orange juice, four cups of coffee, and a pile of pickles and cucumbers. I rolled away from the table ready for the day and had a loose plan: see some stuff and don’t spend any money.
I thought getting lost to start the day would be a good way to go. I find getting lost to start off gets the old directional karma going in a super positive way, so I took a step out of the Pension where I am staying and ran into my first problem of the day, it was raining. That’s okay, I live in the mighty PNW and a little rain is not going to melt me. I zipped up my rain jacket, put on a little beanie hat, and noticed the rain was just falling a little, like baby rain, the kind of rain we call spitting. I took a left turn, went into the narrowest alley/road I could find and proceeded to wander for about 30 minutes. When I emerged from the bowels of the twisty little streets I noticed the rain had changed from spitting to what we call raining hard. No problem, I pulled on the hood of my raincoat and tightened the strap around my neck, I was not going to let a little rain spoil my only full day in Bergen. By the time I reached Bryggen (the oldest section of an old city) I had changed my plan from: see some stuff and don’t spend any money, to see some stuff that is inside and therefore have to spend some money.
I wanted to see Rosekranz Tower anyway, so I meandered through the old city buildings stopping in shops to look like I was going to buy things, but what I was doing was trying to dry off. Bryggen is really cool. It is a World Heritage Site, so it isn’t just some place that I like, other people who really matter like it too. I was tempted to buy a picture of an old oval Norwegian calendar, but I knew I would squish it somewhere between here and Munich so I decided to do what any lazy American would do, look for it later on Amazon.
The last 200 meters between Bryggen and Rosenkranz Tower was unprotected and the rain was coming down in what we in the mighty PNW call “sideways” rain (notice how easily I use the metric system now that I have been in Europe for a week). I made the slog through the waves of rain and eventually figured out how to open the door to the castle. (I have had some challenges with Norwegian doors, but that is for tomorrow’s post.) Inside the tower were two nice ladies dressed in traditional Norwegian outfits who informed me that I could not buy the Bergen Card (a card that allows admission to most of the museums in town for a reduced flat rate) at the tower, but the card is available at the Tourist Information office. The kind lady in the funny dress was about to show me where the office was, but I knew where it was, it was about 10,000 meters away, around the harbor. Now, a walk along the harbor is probably nice 50 days a year in Bergen (rainiest city in Norway) but today was not what most people call a “nice” day. It was a rainy ass day.
To make a long walk short, I got there, I could feel my socks getting wet and I knew it was time to implement project “keep Jon dry.” This was going to be a challenge since I was now at the other side of the city from the tower. I took out a soggy map, found the first place I could find that looked dry and interesting and headed to Domkirken, a large church that would be great for drying out. Say what you will about churches, but there are not too many places where a guy can go sit by himself and not look like a weirdo. Fortunately, I showed up just as the organist was warming up the big pipe organ. He played a lot of ominous music, it wasn’t like he was playing music to sing to, it was the soundtrack of my day, dark and brooding. I sat there for a good 45 minutes listening to Liberace tinkling the old ivories (the keys could be wooden in this church, but saying Liberace tinkling the old wooden ones sounds a little obscene) before I decided to make a dash for my next location. As soon as I headed toward the door a group of Italian tourists came flooding in to the sanctuary like a slow moving tide of Green Bay Packers running a half-back toss. I maneuvered my way out, practically sprinted away from the church, here is where someone who might have been watching me the whole time I was hanging around the church might draw some interesting conclusions about my internal life, I’m talking to you NSA. Sits for a long time staring into the distance, suddenly gets up, plows through Italian tourists, and dashes into the rain soaked streets of Bergen.
I made my way back through Bryggen, stopping to look in the same stores I had looked in before, and eventually found the Bryggens Museum. This place was great. The heat was turned on, they had a place to hang my jacket, and there was a coffee shop; there was also a museum exhibit about some stuff they dug up. I don’t like these types of historical museums because I am usually not surprised by any information that is presented. Oh, they died early because they lived in filth and had to survive by eating lots of potatoes… I will admit, after I got over the fact that I could get warm and dry, I began enjoying looking at some of the stuff. The boats they built back then were impressive. The early adventurers and sailors had to be brave beyond belief, but I suppose if you lived in a shack the size of a bathroom with 12 other people, and shared a toilet with the whole block, maybe being on the high seas in a boat that could go under at any moment isn’t the worst choice you could make. I also saw some shoes that had little runic symbols carved into them, the craftsmanship and creativity of humans has not changed over time, we have just improved our tools. There was also a letter on a stick of metal. The letter was not translated so I will do the job for you: “Dear Mr. Johnson, Thank you for inquiring about our room to rent. There is space for you, but you must share the room with 11 other Vikings. There are four beds each four feet long. During the winter months you will be expected to provide your own pelts to keep you warm. There is a 10 dried cod damage deposit, and your monthly rent will be 5 dried cod. All electrical, HBO/Showtime, WiFi, and a rock pillow are included in your costs.” I think it said something like that.
I dinked around the museum until I felt a nap coming on, so I headed upstairs to the cafe to get a coffee and waffle. The coffee was lovely, dark, and deep, but the waffle was a little thin thing that I smeared with jam and some white stuff. I thought the white stuff was cream, but I wasn’t too sure so I just moved it around until the jam took over and made it into a little sandwich. It was good. I listened in on four old guys talking loudly in Norwegian a table away and wondered what they were talking about. I assume they were talking about the youth of today and politics, at least that is what I expect all old people to talk about. These guys looked old enough to be in WWII so they could be talking about how they resisted the Nazis.
After the coffee and waffle sandwich, I finally made it to the tower. My Bergen Card was already soggy and limp, but the kind lady in the funny dress gave me directions and told me to watch my head because “some” of the doorways were short. I don’t want to quibble with her use of the word “some” because I am the person who can only speak one language, but “some” would mean that there would be a few that would be short and the rest would be easy to pass through, this was not the case.
If you have a friend who is slightly claustrophobic and you would love to play a joke on them, bring them to Rosenkranz Tower. The tour started in the basement. I am not claustrophobic, but once I was in the basement my little heart was doing some pitter pattering. I saw a little room just off the basement and even though my mind was saying, “Don’t go in there” I went in there. It was a little dead-end room about the size of Orson Welles’ colon. It also smelled a little like Orson Welles’ colon. (I don’t really know what Orson Welles’ colon smells like or why his colon came into my mind as a comparison, but I’d bet 10 Icelandic Kroner’s that it smelled like this little room.) This little room was the dungeon. Well, that made perfect sense. I would never, ever, ever want to be stuffed in this room with the gate closed. The best thing about being in this room was that for the rest of the tour no matter how steep, or narrow things got, I could always remember that I survived the dungeon and I would somehow make it through the tower in one piece. To be honest, I had a great time messing around. I was by myself almost the entire time and this allowed me the freedom to act like the immature idiot that I truly am. Eventually I ended up on the rooftop, which in my pictures does not capture the scariness of the place. I may not be claustrophobic, but I do have a fear of falling from high places especially places that are wet, slippery, and in Norway. I made it all the way around the tower and then headed back down. There were a few more rooms, a hidden toilet, and then I was back where I started. I headed back into the summer monsoon and saw a sign that said, “A free cup of coffee or tea with your ticket in the cafe.” Well, free always has a ring to it, so I headed that way.
On the way to the cafe, I got distracted by a sign that said, “Hakonshallen.” Free coffee is one thing, but Hakonshallen is even more appealing. I followed the sign and soon found myself in a huge hall, it was this dude name Hakon’s hall. This hall was built around 1250 and was the biggest building in Norway. I think there are malls in Norway that are bigger now, but the hall was still amazing. The hall was used for lots of daily King stuff, but eventually (1500) the hall was just used to store stuff. In 1680 somebody restored it and then redecorated in 1910-16. Unfortunately in 1944 a German ammunition ship exploded in the harbor. The hall caught fire (this is the kind of history I like: stuff burning) and was damaged badly. The walls survived because they were about five feet thick, so they rebuilt the wooden part of the hall and now use it for ceremonies again. The white tapestry on the northern wall was a calendar of the important Catholic holidays and events which I liked a lot. I need a calendar that big to keep me on track.
My time at Hakonshallen was well spent, but it came to an end and it was time to make a decision, project keep Jon dry was not going well and my next stop was the Leprosy Museum which was a good distance away. I decided that since my Pension was about halfway there, I would stop at the Pension and change my socks and pants so I would be dry for the Leprosy Museum, you do not want to be soaked while walking through a Leprosy Museum.
After I got my new dry outfit on, I found the Leprosy Museum. I thought this place would be a hoot, it wasn’t. This church in Bergen became a kind of lepers colony for Norway. Of course they did not know what caused leprosy, they thought it was because farmers were too dirty (really, that is what they thought at first.) For a long time the people with leprosy were just housed in very bad conditions. A report was published about how terrible conditions were and things got cleaned up some, but conditions were never humane. There were some pretty graphic things on display that I don’t need to share, but by the time I was half way through the museum I really wanted to wash my hands. I really, really wanted to wash my hands. I started thinking about the hand sanitizer I left in my room back at the Pension and wished I could just scrub my hands. It is my typical response to anything germ related, but it also says a little about how I was unprepared for what I was going to see. It is one thing to laugh off leprosy as a disease of the past, but it is another thing to see pictures of humans who were suffering and mistreated because they were unfortunate. It is times like this when I realize how lucky I am, and how selfish I am. Whoever put this museum together did it with an emphasis on the human tragedy of the people affected and the attempts to solve the cause.
I left the museum and headed to three art museums bunched together by a park. I have never been a fan of realism when it comes to art, but Norway has some nice stuff to paint so I liked the paintings of the mountains and fjords. The best part of the trio of museums was that there was a Munch wing in one of the museums and I could take pictures so bite that Munch’s 150 Years Special Exhibit in Oslo. By the time I got through all three museums it was getting late, so I walked through the Torgallmenningen street and looked at what I guessed was a fisherman’s memorial. I have a respect for people who make a living as fishermen. It is not an easy job, and it is dangerous. I don’t want to even think about what winters are like on the seas outside of Bergen.
My last stop was a quick one, I rode the funicular up to the top of the hill over-looking Bergen. It was rainy, the view was bad, and I was joined by a group of cruise ship tourists. I took some quick pictures and headed back to my room.
Bergen is certainly worth a visit and it has been a good couple of days, but tomorrow it is off to Copenhagen. Weather reports are promising!