Our Norwegian Saga: Bryggen

September 11, 2018

Rising late, feeling somewhat more refreshed and human than after the transatlantic trek that had occupied the previous two days, we gave ourselves some freedom to roam. We had nothing to do today in Bergen but explore the harbor area. The only downside? It was raining—again.

Fisketorget in Bergen, 2003

In 2003 we had wandered these same streets in a bit more sunshine: visited the shops in the colorful old Hanseatic buildings along the harbor, wandered through the fisketorget (fish market), and even visited the modern multi-level indoor mall, the Galeriet, nearby. A few of the details had changed. There were some new stores, some new restaurants but, by and large, this part of Bergen seemed and felt much the same. Perhaps visiting a city that is almost a thousand years old, after the passage of only fifteen years, isn’t enough time to notice any dramatic difference, barring war or pestilence or some other great upheaval.

The Bryggen was our main attraction for the day, a long set of Hanseatic commercial buildings lining the Bergen docks on the eastern side of the Vågen harbor. For almost four hundred years, the German merchants in control of the Hanseatic league conducted a booming trade from these distinctive buildings. Today, there is still trade—as many of the buildings are now home to numerous shops selling a wide array of Norwegian-made, or at least, Norwegian-themed items. There are also museums and restaurants to serve the cultural and culinary interests of the steady cavalcade of tourists trooping along the dock.

Skinfell Sheepskin Blanket, A Shop in the Bryggen, 2018

Today we were part of that throng of tourists, looking for gifts and mementos, hoping to stumble, maybe, upon some treasure to marvel over—like the skinnfell, a block-printed sheepskin blanket, that we saw in a store selling traditional crafts. We knew about skinnfells because Joan’s great-grandmother had brought one with her from Norway when she first came to America. Though the fate of Great-Grandmother’s skinnfell is unknown, we have become admirers of this remarkable Norwegian folk art. Although we certainly coveted it, we didn’t bother asking about the undoubtedly astronomical price. There was no point.

In addition to the usual souvenir haunts, we found a stone carver and his array of Norwegian minerals. There was a shop filled with fishing tackle, camping gear, and some Norwegian-made knives by Helle and Brusletto. There was an art gallery and a store with wood carvings. There was more than enough to see and do to consume most of the day. Like many who had come before us, we were participating in the commerce that had been the lifeblood of this city for centuries.

We continued to dodge the rain. For the record, it is hard to shop seriously with umbrellas. Do you carry them dripping into each store? Do you hold them with one hand and shop with the other? Do you lay them on the floor by the shop door and hope they are still there when you exit, and have not escaped, protecting some other shopper?

We finished the day early, wet and still a bit tired. We spent some time simply relaxing and sampling our grocery finds, among them Norwegian beer and cider, resting up for a more crowded day tomorrow. This had been a good day, an auspicious, if somewhat damp, start. We were glad, after all, as Andrea had enthusiastically declared upon our arrival, to be “in Norway.”

Joan and Greg with the Bryggen in the Background, Bergen, 2018


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