A Travellerspoint blog

Bergen

Looks & personality

rain 17 °C

Bergen, Norway’s second largest city and, sadly, our last port of call provided what we came to understand was a characteristic welcome. Due to its location nestled between seven hills and it’s watery location on a convergence of fjords, it receives rain on 2 days out of 3 and is known as Europe’s rainiest city. So, when we docked at 7am on the morning of 22nd May, Keith’s birthday, it was one of the rainy days and the hills were shrouded in mist.

Our last port! Nice little harbour with a variety of interesting vessels.
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Although it was our last port, we would have one more night on the ship and, with an afternoon tour, left us the morning free to FaceTime the kids and to enjoy a quiet morning on board. We had a nice surprise when we returned to our room later in the morning. Our ‘Viking Family’ had noted that it was Keith’s birthday and had delivered champagne and cake. The champagne we could manage, but just look at the size of that cake!

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Our afternoon bus tour took us around and out of the city, through the still misty hills with their leafy neighbourhoods, lovely timbered houses and views back to the various harbours and bays. We then had to tackle the packing! It had been so nice being on a holiday and not living out of a suitcase so this was a bit of a reality check as we confronted our last night on the Viking Sea. One last great dance party would help the spirits.

I was a bit emotional when we disembarked at 9.30 next morning. It had been a wonderful 15 nights that we will long remember. Although not previously having been interested in cruises, Viking had exceeded our expectations with their organisation, outstanding service, friendliness and comfort level.

We had another two nights to further explore this lovely town, so made our way through misty rain to our little Airbnb house, well located not far from the town centre in a cobbled street lined with painted wooden houses with pretty handkerchief-sized gardens or colourful flower pots.

Our Bergen home - ground floor of orange house. Our lovely host Kjell lived above.
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Two days out of three are wet, so the next day should be fine, right? Right! We woke to sunshine so this was the day for taking the funicular to the top of Mt Floyen, the forest clad hill behind the town from where we had spectacular views of the hillside, the town below and surrounding harbours.

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After taking in the view, we set off on foot back down the hill, zig zagging our way through beautiful forest with mossy groundcover and breakout views of the LEGO like houses below.

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After 30 minutes of this pleasant walking we ended up amongst the zigzagging residential streets lined with their colourful photogenic houses.

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We had been keeping an eye out while coming down the hill for trolls, which are part of Norwegian folklore and which we understood lived in gloomy forests, however we didn’t see any until we arrived at the souvenir store in town and there were hundreds of the ugly things! They are known for being unfriendly, stupid and dangerous, so not sure why they have found such a prominent place in Norwegian mythology and why souvenir shops are full of them. We sure weren’t tempted to buy any.

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Founded in 1070AD, Bergen owed its wealth to the fish export trade, which has been at the heart of the town since the Middle Ages. It’s still an important industry, and the Bergen fish market, with its cheery red canvas stalls displaying all sorts of shellfish, smoked fish and even whale meat, (I’d not seen this before and was surprised that it was black!) occupies a prime spot beside the central harbour.

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However, it’s not the fish market that is the most charming part of Bergen. More picturesque is the quaint quay of Bryggen with its timber warehouses and wooden rust-red and ochre buildings that overlook the eastern side of Vågen Harbour. Dating from the 12th century, it has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical significance as the site from which the Hanseatic League, founded by German merchants in the 14th century to protect trade around the North Sea and the Baltic for member countries, lived and operated for the best part of 400 years, trading in dried fish and grain. Over the centuries it has been ravaged by fire, so the 60 wooden buildings you see today are mostly around 300 years old, reconstructed after a devastating fire in 1702.

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Following a relaxed couple of days in Bergen, we caught a train to Oslo, capital of Norway. This trip, like the Flam Railway, is regarded as one of the world’s spectacular rail journeys. The 7 hour trip passes through a variety of landscapes, from tundra like landscape, high lakes, snow capped mountains, waterfalls and rivers.

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Although we’d only seen a little corner of Norway, we could understand why, with its spectacular scenery and clean living it was ranked first on the World Happiness Report in 2017. Who wouldn’t be happy living in a beautiful country like this?

Posted by themaggiej 05:20 Archived in Norway Comments (3)

Eidfjord

Nordic and nice

semi-overcast 15 °C

We knew that when we woke up we would be in for a visual treat as we were headed to the village of Eidfjord, which is deep in fjord country. During the night we had been sailing from the Norwegian Sea into the waters of the Hardangerfjord then into the smaller Eidfjorden. So it was no surprise when we pulled back the curtains to see that we were surrounded by steep sided mountains and snow capped peaks.

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Eidfjord nestled under towering peaks
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Sleepy little town which didn’t look as though it was expecting visitors!
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However, as we watched from our vantage point in the World Cafe while having breakfast, tour buses gradually started to pull up alongside, ready to take us on our various tours. We were going to be doing the full-day excursion to Flåm where we would be boarding the Flåm Railway for the 20km, one hour journey to Myrdal. It is one of the steepest single gauge railways in the world and because of its steep gradient (the elevation difference is 863 metres) and picturesque nature is a world famous railway journey.

The little town of Flam (taken from the bus)
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Leaving Flam, it was no time till we were looking down on Flam’s red and white houses and its little steepled church as the train began its ascent, giving us wonderful views of the valleys, snow capped mountains, waterfalls, forests and rivers as we snaked our way up the mountain and through the twenty tunnels to Myrdal, stopping along the way to get out and take photos at a waterfall.

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When we arrived in Myrdal we changed trains, and after another picturesque train journey, we arrived in Voss, where we had lunch at the lovely lakeside 130 year old Fleischers Hotel before catching the bus back to the Viking Sea via a scenic drive over the Hardangervidder Mountain Plateau.

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The day of wonderful Nordic scenery contInued as the Viking Sea retraced its passage back up the Hardangerfjord. We had missed this scenery on our way in as it was nighttime, so It was a little disconcerting as we approached this bridge. Did we really sail under it this morning? Doesn’t look high enough! Would we make it?
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Well, we did and stood on the front deck to watch it slip by above us. Apparently a lot of the bigger cruise ships can’t get into Eidfjord as they are too big to fit under it.
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We enjoyed more majestic scenery from the Explorers’ Lounge as we made our way back up the fjord.
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Then it was off to the Star Theatre for the Viking Farewell Reception, with the captain, a funny little man (Keith thought he was a comedian when he addressed us at the Welcome Reception at the beginning of the cruise) summing up the cruise in his characteristically humorous way. Then the crew filed into the theatre to the music ‘Celebrate Good Times’ from the Viking band and we got to show our appreciation to all the different groups who’d looked after us so well.

Photos below from videos, hence not good, but I think capture the atmosphere
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This was followed by a ‘Beatles Songbook’ concert with the resident band and vocalists.
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A wonderful day both on board and off.

Posted by themaggiej 05:28 Archived in Norway Comments (3)

Stavanger

Old town re-invented

sunny 18 °C
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A brief stop in the Danish port of Allborg for a 2 1/2 hour guided walking tour of the town, (which is famous to us Aussies as the home of Jorn Utzon, architect of the Sydney Opera House) signalled the end of the arts and culture part of the cruise that had characterised it until now.

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We were now off to Norway for a change of pace and the scenery and landscapes part of the cruise. Stavanger, a southern port of Norway, would be our first destination where we would berth right in the heart of the town. This meant we were well placed to explore the cobblestone streets of its Old Town which are lined with wooden buildings from the 17th and 18th century and to see Stavanger’s Cathedral that dates back to the town’s 12th century founding. However, it’s the offshore oil drilling boom of recent decades and being Norway’s oil capital that has given it a more prosperous and cosmopolitan air.

We did a tour through the Oil Museum that showed models of some of the oil rigs in the North Sea.
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Our guide then walked us through the Old Town with its well preserved timber houses.
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Wall art in Old Town depicting history of sardine fishing in the town.
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Old harbour Vagen with its old wooden houses and giant prawn showing importance of seafood and fishing to the town
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The ugly side of cruising. There were four cruise ships in port with thousands of people roaming the small Old Town.
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The bustling environment of the day was offset by another long twilight culminating in a beautiful sunset as we sailed further into Norway and its stunning landscapes.

11.25pm
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Posted by themaggiej 00:16 Archived in Norway Comments (4)

Copenhagen

Danish fairy tale

sunny 19 °C
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Lonely Planet describes Copenhagen as “the coolest kid on the Nordic block, edgier than Stockholm and worldlier than Oslo, the Danish capital gives Scandinavia the x- factor “.

After a short 108 nautical mile sail from Warnemunde, we woke to the frequent blasts of the ship's fog horn and on looking out, discovered Copenhagen had the fog factor rather than the x-factor.

The first stop on our 2 hour guided bus tour of the city and its major sites was the statue of the Little Mermaid, a Copenhagen icon which is based on the fairy tale of the same name by famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

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The Little Mermaid on the shore of a foggy Copenhagen Harbour

Next stop was Amalienborg palace, home of the Danish Royal family, which consists of four identical, classical palaces set around a large cobbled square. One of these palaces is home to Queen Margrethe, another, next door, to Prince Frederique and our own Princess Mary from Tasmania. While we were there we were lucky enough to see the changing of the guard and also Fred driving out with his daughter.

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Fred & Mary’s place

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On the opposite side of the harbour, in alignment with the Amalienborg Palace and Marble Church, sits the Opera House, a very modern building in stark contrast to the classical lines of the Palace. We first saw this through the fog from across the harbour but later close up when on Holmen Island and looking back across the harbour to the Palace and Marble Church.

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Amalienborg Palace showing Queen Margrethe’s home on the left and Mary and Fred’s on the right with the Marble Church in the middle

On the way to the Opera House we passed the highly acclaimed two Michelin starred restaurant Noma, an unlikely looking restaurant to have been voted the Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 and in an unlikely location on the island of Christianshavn.

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Our tour also took us by Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second oldest amusement park, set in beautiful grounds near the heart of the city and another famous Copenhagen landmark. Would be a nice place to visit if you had another day or two to spare.

From our short tour we were able to get a good impression of the city and after returning to the Viking Sea for lunch and to check the progress of the Federal election (big shock!), we were eager to get out again to further explore. As with many foggy mornings, it cleared into a lovely sunny day which allowed us to fully appreciate the many attractions which this lovely city has to offer.

Prime amongst these is the famous Nyhaven Canal which is fronted by the few remaining wooden fisherman houses - the neighbourhood that was once home to Hans Christian Andersen - and their quaint old fishing boats. As it was Saturday, it was a popular place for Danes and tourists alike to be congregating and there was a very pleasant atmosphere.

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Copenhagen is a great walking city with its small islands divided by canals. Some just a stone’s throw from the city are quiet residential neighborhoods with boats tied up along the canal banks.

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One of the most interesting buildings was the 17th century stock exchange, Borsen, with its distinctive spire in the shape of four intertwined dragon tails built at the height of the city's prosperity.

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Nearby was another grand building the Christiansborg Palace, which as well as housing some royal reception rooms is now also home to the Danish Parliament.

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Before walking back to the ship along the harbour front where we passed the Royal yacht, we enjoyed a wander around the pedestrianised downtown area with its vibrant atmosphere on this sunny Saturday.

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The Royal Yacht

As with all of our port visits our ship board briefings followed by our guided tours gave us an insight into the history of the Danish people and development of Copenhagen as an important city. Fundamental to this is the location of Denmark on the southern side of the Baltic Straits, the entrance to the Baltic Sea. Whoever controlled the straits held enormous power and the ability to tax passing ships. Settled by the Vikings about 500AD the Danes used their ship building prowess and fighting abilities to control and conquer nearby states including Sweden, Norway, Northern England, Estonia and northern France. In particular control of southern Sweden provided total control of the Straits. Tension over these straits resulted in numerous wars between the Baltic states and neighbouring countries for the better part of 800 years and some Vikings still roam the streets today.

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Copenhagen, as the Capitol of Denmark and home to the King developed as both a major trading port and military stronghold. Like many of the cities we have visited Copenhagen has been ravaged by major fires which destroyed most of the old wooden buildings which were replaced in the 18th and 19th centuries with modern stone buildings which blend harmoniously with the old and contribute to the beauty of the city today.

Geographically blessed with a beautiful harbour, this compact, clean and uncrowded city (population just 1.99million) with its distinct lack of high rise buildings, certainly did have the x-factor for us. Our brief visit left us feeling that this was a city, and country, we would have loved to have spent more time in.

Suffice to say we thoroughly enjoyed our short visit to Copenhagen.

Posted by themaggiej 04:34 Archived in Denmark Comments (4)

Berlin

Vibrant cultural city

semi-overcast 16 °C
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We arrived at the port of Warnemünde, Germany and then boarded the train just across the road from where we were docked for the 3 hour trip to Berlin. It was quite an exercise moving 600 or so of us to Berlin, but as usual it was well organised and went like clockwork as we were divided into groups by carriage, each with our own guide.

The journey took us through countryside which was previously East Grmany. On arrival in Berlin our itinerary said that we would have 5 hours of free time to explore the city, so it was a pleasant surprise when we arrived to have a 2 hour bus tour with our guide to point out some of the main points of interest, before we were let loose for a few hours to explore on our own. For some reason the tour operators think the only things of interest are those associated with the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of East and West Berlin. Hence we and ten thousand other tourists descended upon the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the few remaining portions of the wall.

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Brandenburg Gate

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Part of graffitied remains of Berlin Wall

During our free time we did enjoy exploring other parts of Berlin particularly around Museum Island where .there are many beautiful historic buildings now being used as Museums. Unfortunately time precluded doing them justice.

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On the return trip to Warnemunde in the train we enjoyed snacks beer and wine provided by our guides plus interesting stories of their time under the communist regime.

A pleasant surprise awaited us on our return. As we approached the terminal building on the pier we could hear clapping, cheering and loud music and assumed there was a function on in a nearby building. However, to our surprise as we approached the terminal next to where our ship was docked, we realised that it was coming from outside the Viking Sea and was a guard of honour formed by at least 100 of the crew to welcome us back with cheering, clapping, loud music and many high fives. They must have kept this up for at least 45 minutes until the last person had gone through security in the terminal and through the guard of honour.

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It was such a nice homecoming after our long day out, as by this time it was about 8.30pm. The party continued on the pool deck or the World Cafe with a German buffet dinner of bratwurst sausages, sauerkraut and salads.

Posted by themaggiej 07:45 Archived in Germany Comments (3)

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