Nor­way done our way

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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

Check­list

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.

www.vis­itscan­di­navia.com.au

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