Norway done our way
From Page 1 the fjord. A traditional stave church with a welcoming atmosphere draws us in. Known locally as the English Church, it is a memorial to Margaret Kivikne, the nature-loving daughter of an English vicar. Since her death 115 years ago, visiting Anglican clergy have held summer services for tourists. We find it empty except for a friendly black cat sprawled piously at the altar.
At Balestrand we must make a decision whether to visit the Jostedal Glacier, requiring a full or half-day excursion, or take the morning ferry to Bergen. It is a tough call. The glacier is worthy but Bergen, a small seafaring city on the west coast, will be a spectacular sight during the tall ship races. We lean towards spending more time there.
The four-hour ferry ride along the Sognefjord to Bergen is one of the globe’s great journeys, enhanced on this occasion by craft of all sizes under sail. I plant myself on deck, kaiser-like, chilled to the bone but determined not to miss any of this majestic scenery. An Englishman summed it up best: ‘‘ Norway has noble prospects,’’ Samuel Johnson declared.
As we near summery Bergen I regret that the snowcapped peaks are behind us, but the town looks invitingly merry. The historic area, Bryggen, with its toy-town row of timber warehouses, is hidden behind a forest of masts festooned with flapping pennants. Bands, food and souvenir stalls draw surging crowds.
It is almost too festive. We consider visiting Grieg’s home 8km south of town but the dizzying funicular ride to the top of Mt Floyen is right before us. Up we go. At the top, forested trails and a lake provide refuge from the city while Bergen, far below, assumes a peaceful aspect. We choose to walk down but it proves to be long and steep. Parkland eventually gives way to charming narrow streets where wooden houses with sunny balconies form descending ranks into town.
We recover over fish and chips mere metres from vessels that evoke another era. Bergen’s 900-year history was partly written by the Hanseatic League, an association of German merchants and their apprentices who conducted business all over Europe in the Middle Ages. This city was one of their main bases.
The merchants would have regarded the mass of vessels and partying in an aloof mercantile way, because league members lived dour, monastic lives when away from home. (Or so the story goes. Prostitution was rife in this area.) Their apprentices endured horrific hardships but many eventually prospered. The league’s living quarters have survived, making for a fascinating tour that sets out from Bryggen Museum.
In a moment of mother-daughter unanimity we agree Bergen has an intrinsic atmosphere not enhanced by festival crowds. And therein lies the true
To the plinth degree: The Aker Brygge precinct of Oslo Harbour is home to many charming statues
beauty of Norway: tiny, ageless towns where life advances against a background of glassy fjords and peaceful mountains altered only by the seasons. And the girl at the check-in counter was correct: the people indeed are friendly. Leonie Coombes was a guest of Nordic Travel and Scandinavian Airlines. Scandinavian Airlines has released special business and economy class fares from Australian ports to more than 40 European cities including Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki via its Copenhagen hub. For sale until August 31 for departures to December 31, business class starts at $4849 return (taxes and surcharges included) ex Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, via Bangkok. Economy class specials start at $1679 via Bangkok or Tokyo; departures ex Cairns available. Complimentary transit packages, including accommodation and transfers between airport and hotel, are available between flights in Bangkok or Tokyo for passengers with connections of six hours or more. More: 1300 727 707; www.flysas.com.au. The Oslo Card is available at most hotels, Central Station and tourist information offices (an equivalent is available in Bergen at similar outlets). The cards provide admission to many attractions at no further cost, free public transport (buses only in Bergen) and reduced prices on many goods, tours and services. A 72-hour adult Oslo Card costs about $80 and a 48-hour Bergen Card about $49. More: www.visitoslo.com; www.visitbergen.com. Australia-based Nordic Travel offers a range of itineraries and packages in Norway and other Scandinavian destinations. More: (02) 9968 1783; www.nordictravel.com.au.