Category Archives: Norway and its fjords
Hard to believe that in the 11th century Bergen was the capital of a region that included Iceland, Greenland and parts of Scotland. For many centuries it was the largest city in Norway, and its importance as a centre of trade was established by its membership of the Hanseatic League, a powerful network of cities that combined forces to promote and protect trade.
Take the funicular railway up to the top of the mountain, and you can linger over fine views of the harbour or go walking along the network of tracks away from the hustle and bustle of visitors. Or drop into the Domkirken (Cathedral) and watch a dress rehearsal for a
forthcoming wedding or listen to the organist practise on the huge Rieger organ which has 61 stops and its sound reverberates in the almost perfect acoustic.
On the way back to the ship, we witnessed preparations for a city-centre cycle time trial (which we missed by only two hours!) and saw this ingeniously designed three-wheeled motorbike full equipped with cameras. If you have ever wondered how sports photographers get such good close-ups of cyclists as they are speeding downhill at over 50 mph, the answer lies with machines like this one.
Stavanger was little more than a small fishing village for centuries, but in the 19th century an influx of herring and sardines in the waters offshore kick started a lucrative canning industry that saw over 70 canneries open. One has now been converted into a museum, with all the original work areas preserved, even down to the authentic smell of the smokery.
Then in the 1960s, oil was discovered off the coast, dragging Norway onto the list of the world’s major producers of ‘black gold’ and, literally, making it an oil-rich state. Like Aberdeen in Scotland, Stavanger underwent major cultural and demographic upheaval, its population rapidly becoming the most cosmopolitan in Norway. The Norsk Oljemuseum (Petroleum museum) is no ordinary exhibition building. It is built as a North Sea Oil Platform, giving the visitor the opportunity to experience, in a 3 dimensional environment, what life is really like on a working rig. You can climb into diving bells and rescue craft, you can play with the drilling mechanisms and the monitoring equipment. Like many good museums today, it is a real hands-on experience that will keep you engaged for hours.
As we made our way back to the ship, we wandered through Old Stavanger, with its cobbled streets and its whitewashed timber houses, complete with small pretty gardens and picket fences.
A 10 minute walk from the harbour and we were in the centre of Oslo, staring up at the Radhuset (City Hall). Its design is more in keeping with a power station than a local seat of government, but inside there is the richly adorned Ceremonial Hall where, each year on December 10th, the Nobel Peace Prize is presented (the only one to be presented outside Nobel’s native Sweden).
Across the road is the Nobel Peace Centre, where the work of past and present Peace Prize winners is on display, providing a meeting place where reflection, involvement and discussion can take place. By just two days, we had missed the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi (from Burma) who had come to give her Peace Prize lecture 21 years after her son had received the prize on her behalf. Characterised as ‘Mother Democracy‘, she has become an iconic figure-head of one country’s struggle for freedom.
Amongst the many museums in Oslo, the National Museum of Art had to take
priority, even if just to see Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream‘, the most iconic painting from the expressionist movement. What strikes me about the painting is that, if you take away the figure in the foreground, you are left with a visually attractive view of a fjord at sunset, with two people walking along, basking in the dying rays of sunshine. But this is what Munch himself had to say about the circumstances surrounding his painting:
“I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun was setting. I felt a breath of melancholy – Suddenly the sky turned blood-red. I stopped, and leaned against the railing, deathly tired – Looking out across the flaming clouds that hung like blood and a sword over the blue-black fjord and town. My friends walked on – I stood there, trembling with fear. And I sensed a great, infinite scream pass through nature.”
En route to Oslo, our cruise ship docked at Ijmuiden in Holland, providing passengers with an opportunity to visit Amsterdam (some 35 kms away). Taking the road less travelled, we hopped on a local bus which took us to the nearby town of Haarlem, a miniature version of Amsterdam (but without the red-light district!). In fact, not only did Haarlem in Holland give its name to the much more famous Harlem in the USA, but New York itself was originally called New Amsterdam, reflecting the scale of Dutch migration in the 17th century.
With its pretty cobbled streets, flower-bedecked houses (it lies at the centre of the bulb-growing district), its Grote Markt, canals and bridges, what really stands out to a cycling enthusiast like me is the huge number and variety of bicycles. Holland is a country, par excellence, where the bicycle plays a hugely important role as a means of transportation. Whether you are cycling on your own or taking the children to school, there are bikes to suit all occasions. Whether you need to carry your weekly shop or go to the DIY store for building materials, there is a bicycle for you. The typical Dutch design for bicycles is eminently ‘sensible’: they are designed to be comfortable modes of transport capable of carrying significant loads. Bicycles that we comically call a ‘sit-up-and-beg’ will usually have their origin in Holland.
The impact of sailing in and out of some of Norway’s spectacular fjords beggars description in words. Even photos fail to adequately capture the moment, bereft as they are of the interplay of all the senses when those moments occurred. As we entered the Sognefjorden (at 128 miles/206kms, the longest fjord in Norway) in the small hours of the morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed just after 5am, to spend three hours watching the sun rise over the mountains and bathe the stunning landscapes in an awe-inspiring combination of light and shade. As deep as the neighbouring mountains are high, at times the width of the fjord only just allowed the passage of our ship, adding to the sense of astonishment.