The Old Fogies go to Bergen in Norway

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Of all the ports we visited on our cruise, there was only one that we had visited before. We had a few days in Bergen around 14 years ago and had thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Back on our first visit we had taken the train up to Myrdal and down to Flam which is considered one of the most picturesque train journeys in the world. From Flam we took a fast cat ferry along the Sognefjord before coming back to Bergen.

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On this visit we were going to concentrate on the city itself and consider any of the changes that had taken place since we were last there. Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway with population of around 420,000 inhabitants. It served as Norway’s capital in the 13th century, and from the end of the 13th century became a an important city of the Hanseatic League. Its wooden houses may look picturesque but Bergen has suffered catastrophic fires throughout its history.

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We assembled on deck from early morning and enjoyed the stunning but rather precarious journey into Bergen. Houses and small homesteads dotted the islands surrounding the opening to the port.

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Bergen was a popular stopping off point for cruise ships back in our first visit, however it was only the odd one or two, as we approached the port there were at least four in port already.

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Because there was many ships in, we knew from past experience that the queues for the Fløibanen funicular which runs from the city centre to Mount Fløyen would be long and because we had already been up there, we decided to give it a miss.

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The panoramic views from the top of the mount are great in good weather but in overcast conditions the visibility is quite poor. A few miles out of town is the Ulriksbanen aerial tramway which runs to Mount Ulriken.

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Our main memories from our previous trip was the old Bryggen warehouses which are a World Heritage Site and the interesting market that included stalls selling whale meat and furs from a variety of animals. It did at the time seem that Bergen was on the edge of wilderness and very unusual.

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As we walked down to the Bryggen warehouse, we were surprised at the sheer number of people and made a detour to the market. The market still had a few stalls selling a variety of meats including whale, moose and reindeer but they were all packaged for visitors not for locals. The variety of stalls was limited to food outlets and Norway souvenirs.

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We were both a little disappointed with these changes, so decided to walk along the other side of the dock to the less commercial side and where we had stayed on our last visit. One of favourite places to sit on the last visit was a small promontory which had a large totem pole which was a gift of friendship from the city of Seattle on the city’s 900th anniversary in 1970. Mrs Nice come into her own with her directions and we sat and enjoyed a drink and a bite to eat.

After our enjoyable picnic, we began to walk back via a few sights, the first attraction was Bergen Aquarium, we did not have time to go inside but looked inside the Aquarium shop that had a comical large penguin and polar bear. Mrs Nice was taken by a fluffy white seal soft toy, ‘the girls would love these’ she said. Knowing it would be foolish to argue we bought the toys and moved on.

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We walked past some old wooden houses leading to the water and the Nykirken church before finding our way to the cultural centre of Bergen, Two internationally renowned composers who came from Bergen are Edvard Grieg and Ole Bull.

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There is a number of Grieg statues around including near the Logen theatre, there is also quite strange statue of Henrik Ibsen one of Norway’s most famous playwrights. New since our last visit was the Kode art galleries which are near the bandstand and small water feature. Crossing over near to the Bryggen, we went past the Hanseatic Museum which documents the city’s Hanseatic heritage.

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The Bryggen warehouses are geared towards the tourist market and draws customers in with strange little northern scenes or lifesize stuffed animals like polar bears, moose and reindeer. Mrs Nice noticed that one shop was having closing down sale and said let’s see if there are any bargains, I raised my eyebrows to show my disapproval but stumbled into the shop. I had to admit the prices were not outrageously expensive and even saw a bargain for myself. Mrs Nice tried on a multicoloured woollen coat which looked expensive, it Ok it’s half price she smiled. So there it was, one of the biggest surprises in a trip to Norway, we actually bagged ourselves a bargain each.

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Making our way back to the ship, we made a slight detour to two very old stone buildings, the Hakonshallen and Rosenkranz Tower, both reminders of the city’s Viking and Norse past.

Returning to Bergen left us with mixed emotions, we both believed that it had lost some of its naïve charm and catered more for the boatloads of visitors rather than for locals. It is a victim of its own success and is one of the most visited cruise ports in the world. However it still is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe amongst some of the most dramatic scenery.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

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The Old Fogies go to Sortland in Norway

 

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Our next stop was the small town of Sortland in Norway which is one of the major towns of the Vesterålen. The Vesterålen Islands are located near the Lofoten Islands which created a stunning backdrop on the approach to Sortland.

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The snow on the peaks of some of the mountains were some indication of the wildness and remoteness of these particular islands and the scenery was spectacular as we made our way to the turning into the approach for Sortland. That said there were a number of small number of homesteads and towns as we entered the fjord into the approach to Sortland.

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Sortland is the largest commercial centre in Vesterålen. Sortland is located close to the Sortland Bridge, which connects the islands of Langøya to Hinnøya by road. Since a lot of houses in the town are painted blue, Sortland is sometimes referred to as “the blue city”. Sortland district has a population of around 10,000 with around 5,000 living in the town.

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As we approached Sortland , the famous Hurtigrutan ferry was making its way out, the ferries make their journey up the Norwegian coastline in all weathers and have become a legendary 11-day voyage.

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After the stunning scenery, Sortland is a bit of anti-climax, however it is worth remembering that Sortland is not on many cruise itinerary therefore is not really geared up the tourists who stop off for a few hours but rather those who want to go hiking, skiing, nature safari’s and those looking for the Northern lights.

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The Vesterålen islands were connected to each other by several bridges and Sortland´s place is the main retail area in the area. For a very small place it does a number of shopping centres and a large cultural centre.

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Our first stop in the town was the striking white church which was built-in 1901, inside a kindly gentlemen handed out postcards and invited us to explore the simple but attractive church.

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The name Ellingsen often appears, they were obviously important people here and we gathered that the Ellingsen family of Sortland had farmed and ran businesses in the area for 200 years. There were two large tombstones in the old churchyard and a statue to one of the family in the main square near the culture centre.

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We then made our way into the town to indulge in a little retail therapy until Mrs Nice saw the prices. For a small place it did have a lot of amenities for the local population especially the younger people who can be often isolated in these small places.

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One interesting statue was in the city centre which was of the local cleaner who had cleaned the streets of Sortland for 30 years. You did not usually see bronze statues to public servants and we thought it was a very touching tribute to a local character.

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We then made our way to have a closer look at the Sortland Bridge which elegantly spanned the water between Langøya to Hinnøya. As we sat there eating our picnic, the weather dramatically changed from a bright sunny day to a cloudy overcast one. The hills and mountains that sparkled with sunshine on our arrival began to look dark and foreboding.

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It was time head back to the boat, however there was one final surprise before we reached the port. A small blue military building complex had signs forbidding photography in Norwegian, English and Russian. I had a vision of a Russian spy walking up to the building and reading the notice and then deciding not to take photographs. Like a good law-abiding gentleman, I put my camera away and did not take any photographs.

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Near the boat was large blades for the large wind turbines that were on the top of the hill but were not yet in operation.
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One fascinating part of this journey is to visit places often a long way off the main tourist trail where the conditions are difficult and the population are more interested in enjoying the summer and surviving the winter than just catering for thousands of tourists.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Honningsvåg in Norway

 

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We had finally reached the northern edges of the European coast and was now in the Barents sea, enjoying the spectacular Norwegian coastline. Our last stop before Russia was the small city of Honningsvåg .

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Honningsvåg is the northernmost city in Norway. It is very unusual because legislation effective in 1997 states that a Norwegian city/town must have at least 5,000 inhabitants, but Honningsvåg was declared a city in 1996, thus exempt from this legislation, so it is also one of the smallest cities in Norway.

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In reality it is a small fishing village which is famous as the dropping off point for visitors who want visit North Cape which is a tourist attraction on the northern tip of the European mainland. It’s claim to fame is that it is the northernmost point in Europe but the reality is that it is not, that title goes to nearby Knivskjellodden.

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However that has not stopped busloads of visitors from taking the ride from Honningsvåg and the North Cape attraction organisers to charge visitors £19 to enter the complex. If it had been the northernmost point, we may have decided to join the tourist crush, however it isn’t so we decided to investigate this charming little fishing city.

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When we get off the boat, we are surprised to see a life size statue of a St Bernard Dog, reading the information board gave us some information about this remarkable animal. The dog was called Bamse and he was the mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during the Second World War and a symbol of Norwegian freedom during the war. In its early days, the dog was a well known character in pre-war Honningsvåg before joining its owner on Royal Norwegian Navy as a coastal patrol vessel. When the Germans overran Norway, the vessel and Bamse moved to Scotland stationed in Montrose and Dundee. Bamse became a celebrity to the local Scottish population and often rounded up the Norwegian sailors from the local pub and escorted them back to his boat. When Bamse died in 1944, he was buried with full military honours. Hundreds of Norwegian sailors, Allied servicemen, schoolchildren and people from Montrose and Dundee attended his funeral.

In 2006, a larger than life sized bronze statue of Bamse, made by Scottish sculptor Alan Herriot was unveiled in Montrose. A copy of that statue was commissioned and in 2009 with hundreds in attendance, the statue was unveiled on Honningsvåg harbour.

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When we entered Honningsvåg it was teeming with birdlife over the cliffs and on the waterfront and when we set out to walk through the town it was only the sound of birds that you could here.

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We slowly made our way past the closed shops to the small Honningsvåg church on the hill, built in 1885, it was one of only twelve churches in Northern Norway that escaped destruction by the Germans in the Second World War. As we sat on a small bench within the small cemetery attached to the church, even the sound of the birds had disappeared.

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The silence was deafening and quite eerie as we looked at the small but beautifully formed gravestones. How many souls beneath our feet had been born and lived their entire lives in this northern outpost ?

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As we walked quietly passed the small wooden buildings, we began to notice that the local population displayed their sense of humour with interesting little figures dotted here and there.

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There was dressed little trolls, stone people and dolls in a little window box. Many of the gardens have flowers or colourful furniture, even the main street had an interesting selection of plants in wellington boots.

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Honnigsvag certainly had a quirky quality that added to its picturesque setting and has we made our way to the harbour we could see it was a working port.

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There were plenty of small to medium size boats which are used to fish the rich fertile waters of the Arctic Circle. Honningsvåg is considered one of the busiest fishing ports in Norway.

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The waters are remarkably clear and Mrs Nice was quite excited by all the starfish in the harbour.

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Honningsvåg does have a few other attractions including a small NordKapp museum and Icebar with gift shop where a massive husky stood guard. But we were content to get away from the crowds and take a little piece of downtime enjoying the (city) and the wonderful scenery.

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Whilst enjoying the late summer sunshine, we noticed the arrival of one of the Hurtigruten coastal ships, these ships have been a familiar sight on our travels up the Norwegian coast and Honningsvåg is one of the main stops before Kirkenes in the north.

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Honningsvåg may be seen as a gateway to North Cape but possesses a charm all of its own. The local population take a lot of pride in their houses and town and display a quirky sense of humour which no doubt brighten up the cold winter days.

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It is a place to enjoy the birdlife and scenery in a peaceful setting without too many distractions.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Tromsø in Norway


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Our arrival in Tromsø was even more spectacular than our arrival in Trondheim with stunning scenery and passing under the bridge,  we were now well inside of the Arctic Circle and Tromsø is one of the major northern cities.

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Like many places in the far north, Tromsø was occupied by the Vikings in the 7–8th Centuries but there is evidence that people lived here over 10,000 years ago. This area has also been the home of the Sami for centuries.

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Tromsø was issued its city charter in 1794 by King Christian VII and gained in importance due to fishing and hunting for furs. By the end of the 19th century, Tromsø became a major Arctic trade centre from which many Arctic expeditions originated. Explorers like Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Fridtjof Nansen often recruited their crews in the city.

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When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Tromsø served briefly as the seat of the Norwegian government. In nearby Tromsøy island, the German battleship Tirpitz was sunk by the RAF off the Tromsøy island in 1944, killing close to 1,000 German sailors.

The population of Tromsø municipality today is around 70,000 and despite its location it is an increasingly popular place to live with plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to cater for the locals and a lively student population. 

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We arrived fairly early in the morning and the deserted streets gave us the opportunity to explore before the city comes to life. Like Trondheim, Tromsø has lots of picturesque wooden buildings and has one of the largest wooden cathedrals in Norway. Interesting travel fact, the city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789.

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Talking of cathedrals, we were anxious to visit the Arctic Cathedral which involved crossing over the river. The Arctic cathedral is a major landmark of the city and is easily seen from many vantage points in the city. From a distance it does not look that large, however when you get closer you begin to understand its scale.

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Mrs Nice mentioned that it does look a little like Sydney Opera House and you could see some similarities. Unfortunately the cathedral was not open but peering through the window, you could see the magnificent stain glass window and the simple layout of the church. Whilst on this side of the river, you can go to the Fjellheisen cable car that will take to the top of Mount Storsteinen. With limited time we decided to decline this attraction to explore the main city.

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 The centre of the city is located around the large wooden Lutheran cathedral and the statue of Amundsen with the cultural centre close by. The main square was set up for a concert, Tromso has produced a number of famous rock stars and has a number of festivals throughout the year.

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The quiet start to the day was now gone and locals began to fill the main shopping areas mingling with visitors. For a small place, Tromso seemed to have large number of hotels in the centre which is perhaps an indication of its popularity.

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Up the hill slightly is the wooden Catholic cathedral which was built at the same time as the Lutheran one which was probably part of a battle for the local souls in the 19th century. The cathedral was a bit of a surprise inside being blue and white with little of the ornamentation you associate with Catholic churches. There was also a series of symbols on the ceilings that was rather unusual.

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 Deciding it was time for a break we headed for the northernmost branch of Burger King, we are not usually great fans of burger joints, however after the rather rich food of the ship we thought it was a pleasant change. Obviously fast food means something different up in the frozen north because it 20 mins for our meals to be produced.

 How much was that? I asked Mrs Nice, don’t ask she replied before I saw the bill for around £16. Coming from London we are used to expensive food and drink but Norway takes it to a different level, if you ever come to Norway be aware of the high price of particularly everything.

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One location I was looking forward to seeing was Olhallen which is the city’s oldest pubs and one of most famous pubs in Norway and is attached to one of the northernmost breweries in the world. After a walk along the Storgata, we found the pub which is attached to the famous Mack Brewery established in 1872.

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Mrs Nice went inside to get a drink as i found a table outside, suddenly Mrs Nice appeared and said you must come inside, there is a polar bear in here. Intrigued, I followed her in the pub and there was indeed a life-size (around nine feet) stuffed polar bear. Looking around the inside of the very attractive and interesting pub we decided to find a seat and enjoy the ambience. Mrs Nice came back with two halves of Mack’s Pilsner and we settled down to enjoy our drink. It was obvious to the various languages being spoken and photographs being taken that the pub is a bit of pilgrimage for beer drinkers and it certainly does not disappoint with lovely wooden fittings and plenty of pictures and other paraphernalia on the wall.

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Our next stop was the nearby Polaria museum in the most unusual shaped building; it looks like a row of books toppling over. Nearby was the historic sealing vessel MS Polstjerna.  We visited a number of arctic type museums when we were in Bergen and Oslo some years ago, so did not feel the need to reminded that the Arctic is a cold and hostile place.

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On the other side of the city, we had seen the Polar Museum which was in an attractive old building with a number of items outside.

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By now, the city was really coming alive with buskers on the main streets and plenty of shopping activity, it was nice to see that many of the shops were local not global luxury brands, although the prices were probably have been roughly the same.

 Although Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle it seems to be thriving with lots of places to eat and drink, hotels, shops and cultural events. On a bright summer’s day, everyone was enjoying the sunshine, however it might be a different story in the winter with the cold polar days, although strangely the city does not suffer from extreme cold associated with this latitude very often due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Trondheim in Norway

 

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Many years ago we had visited Bergen and we both said we would like to explore the more northern part of Norway. Well that day had finally arrived with our leisurely arrival in Trondheim travelling along the scenic Trondheim Fjord. The city of Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway with a population of around 170,000. The city has a long history with a settlement being founded in 997 and Trondheim served as the capital of Norway during the Viking Age until 1217.

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Trondheim is also a popular spot for cruise ships and has we approached, one large cruise ship had already docked and there was one behind us. Near to the entrance is the small islet called Munkholmen which is now a popular tourist attraction. The islet has served in the past as a place of execution, a monastery, a fortress and a prison (presumably a sort of mini Alcatraz).

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The ship berthed around a mile from the city centre and the walk took us amongst some of the picturesque wooden buildings that are a common feature in Trondheim. Our plan was to walk to the Kristiansten Fortress, which was built in 1681–1684 and is located on a hill east in Trondheim.

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Arriving at Gamle Bybro (the Old Town Bridge) we crossed to make the ascent to the top, the climb was steep but relatively short. We noticed on the way the rather novel seats and the interesting bicycle lift that took riders up to the top.

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The fortress was less of a castle but more of a fortified building at the top and other fortifications underneath the grassy top. The fortress repelled the invading Swedes in 1718, but was decommissioned in 1816. However it does have a grim side to its history, the fortress was used by the Nazi forces during World War II and 23 Norwegian resistance fighters were executed by the Nazi forces inside the fortress.

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There is a few attractions inside the fortress but we were content to sit and enjoy the spectacular views over Trondheim and its surroundings, the fjord and the mountains.

Gradually we made our way back down the steep hill back to the Gamle Bybro (The Old Town Bridge) which was first built on this site in 1681 at the same time as the Kristiansten Fort was constructed.

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Near to the bridge are the very picturesque historic wharves warehouses and boathouses that stand near the mouth of the Nidelva river. Less known than the ones in Bergen, the old wharf buildings have been preserved with the oldest dating back to the 18th century.

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From the bridge we took the route along the old cobbled streets flanked by wooden buildings which are now shops, restaurants and bars to Nedre Elvehavn that has been recently redeveloped with a shopping centre which incorporated some of the old buildings, restaurants and bars.

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Undoubtedly the main attraction in Trondheim is Nidaros Cathedral, the Cathedral is the world’s northernmost gothic cathedral. Built from 1070 over the tomb of St. Olav, the Viking king who brought Christianity to Norway, the cathedral was completed around 1300.

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The cathedral is considered Northern Europe’s most important Christian pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages with pilgrimage routes leading to it from Oslo and many other places in Sweden, Norway and beyond. 

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The cathedral is part of a complex that also includes the Archbishop’s Palace and museum where you can see the Crown Regalia of Norway.

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Also in the complex is the small but fascinating Armory and Resistance Museum, emphasizing Trondheim military history from Viking times up to the story of the Norwegian resistance in the Second World War.

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Other places of interest include Vår Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady) which is one of Trondheim’s oldest buildings. Stiftsgården is the royal residence in Trondheim, originally constructed in 1774. At 140 rooms constituting 4,000 square metres (43,056 sq ft), it is possibly the largest wooden building in Northern Europe, and has been used by royals and their guests since 1800. There is a statue of Olav Tryggvason, the founder of Trondheim, in the city’s central square, which is now unfortunately surrounded by roadworks.

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The small fish market is interesting not just for the variety of seafood but the rather eclectic collection of objects which included stuffed animals, old motors and other fishing memorabilia.

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Walking back to the ship we came across a marina that was holding a show with plenty of people looking at strange old engines. Even stranger in the docks area was an alleyway in which the artists were working on large pieces of street art. 

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Trondheim is a fascinating place to visit in a stunning location, many of the sights you can see in a day but it would also be a useful base to explore more of the incredible natural features around this part of Norway.

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As well as the major attractions, the city is fascinating to walk around with lots of picturesque wooden buildings and quirky little shops hiding away in basements and narrow alleys. 

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.