BERGEN; Gateway to the Fiords

Everyone is familiar with the old wooden houses in the area known as Bryggen in the port city of Bergen, which was rebuilt on 12th century foundations after the fire that ravaged the city in 1702. Bryggen has a place on UNESCO’S World Heritage List, but the whole city of Bergen is a designated World Heritage City. It was the largest town in Scandinavia during the middle ages and because of its position as one of the Hanseatic League’s four most important trading centres, it dominated trade for almost 400 years from its incorporation in 1360.

The world heritage site consists of the old Hanseatic wharf and buildings, an attractive place for tourists and locals and a photographer’s delight. To stroll through Bryggen’s narrow alleyways is to wander back to a bygone age: many of the small wooden houses that line these streets date back to the 18th century and have been restored and refurbished in recent years to their current impeccable state. Not only is this a heritage site but it is a living, breathing one, part of a culture still active in this historical part of the city.

I can’t think of any other city that more deserves the designation of World Heritage City: it has a fairy-tale air with a charm and atmosphere not often found in busy places. Seven mountains form the backdrop to the city and everywhere are small wooden houses, their doorways flanked by pots of brightly-coloured flowers, old cobbled streets and alleyways, and of course, Bryggen.

Surrounded by fiords and a fantastic coastline with thousands of islands, Bergen is a base for active experiences such as fiord and river rafting, scuba diving, ocean rafting, sailing, kayaking, cycling and paragliding. Those whose liking is for mountains are spoiled for choice here as all seven of the mountains that surround the city have great walking trails (the tourist board will provide maps).

If the active life is not for you, then shopping could not be better in this city of traders, (take the hop-on hop-off bus), hop on the little sight-seeing train and be guided around the area, or take one of the many guided tours on land or by boat.

And it’s said that you’ve not seen Bergen until you’ve taken a trip on the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mt. Fløyen to view the city from the spectacular viewing platform 200m above.

Cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops abound in the area, many of them selling traditional and unique crafts. Bryggen’s Museum is the place to learn about the history of the city and an impressive collection of art is housed in a row of galleries lining the picturesque Lille Lungegärdsvann Lake in the heart of the city (Art Street); or visit the Grieg Museum for a half-hour lunchtime concert and a visit to the site of the composer’s unique grave.

If museums are not your thing, then just step into the Fish Market, the open-air fruit and veg market with its stalls full of the freshest berries I’ve ever seen, wander around the wharf and admire the fishing boats, tourist boats and naval vessels. Locals resting on the seats around the basin will be eager to chat with you, fishermen tending their nets will happily talk about fish and the ever-changing kaleidoscope will keep you entertained for hours.

I didn’t spend long enough there, a mere 3 days, but it gave me a taster of what the city and its environs can offer. Some people I spoke to had arrived by cruise ship and seemed happy with their half day there. I wouldn’t have been. I think I might have cried if I’d had to leave such a gorgeous place after only a few hours. But whether its 3 hours or 3 days, Bergen will offer the visitor a lot to see and a lot to think about.

NB. Best buy – The Bergen Card: Free entrances to many Museums and activities, heavily discounted entrance fees to other places. Travel free on the Light Rail and buses. 24 hours NOK 280, senior & students 224, children 100: 48 hour NOK 360, senior & students 288, children 130

The Queen Mary in Bergen. A sad sight to see such a big cruise ship in this lovely little place.

Gothenburg: New Beginnings

In Sweden last week, and despite the -4 degrees, I had one of the best walks I’d had in Gothenburg for many years.  I’ve always loved the city but on earlier visits to family, we’ve stuck to the areas I know and enjoy.

Fish Market
Exterior Fish Market, Gothenburg

My first visit is always to the Feskekorke – quite literally translated as “fish church” – where fishmongers have been hawking their freshest wares since 1847 and where the shop in the basement and the restaurant up top can satisfy both the inner and outer gourmand.  Sweden’s fish, in its quality, is the best in the world in my opinion.

The Avenyn

Then there’s the Avenyn, the wide Boulevard that runs from the centre of town up to the Konstmuseet, where one can see works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Rembrandt, and some truly delightful 19th-century Nordic art, including the beautiful, evocative paintings of Carl Larsson.  The old part of town is known as The Haga, well worth a visit to browse the chic boutiques in the narrow streets full of old Swedish charm, and to people watch from the cafés that serve everything from vegan to high-end Scandinavian food.  Many of these are housed in pretty 19th-century wooden dwellings that not long ago were slated for demolition.

Skansen Kronan, Gothenburg- Pixabay
Skansen Kronan, on Risåsberget Hill in the Haga district.

 

Shopping Mall, Gothenburg
Shopping Mall in Gothenburg

I never seemed to get beyond these places, partly because of the numerous coffee shops selling cinnamon buns that I found it difficult to resist.  In Gothenburg, independent coffee shops are the rule: ask for a Starbucks and you’ll be directed to the train station where you’ll find the only branch of the chain in the city.  Coffee comes strong and black but there us always milk on the side.  In many places, a second cup comes free.

This time in Gothenburg, however, we went somewhere quite different.Canal walk in Gothenburg

The Gothia River, which cuts through the city, was home to the massive Swedish shipbuilding industry between the mid-19th century and its demise in the 1970s, much like the shipbuilding industry in Scotland and Belfast.Canal walk in Gothenburg 2

 

At its peak, 15,200 employees worked in the industry; Gothenburg was known as a shipbuilding town and Sweden was a world-leading shipbuilding nation.

Work in progressIn recent years, however, the wharves, factories and large tracts of derelict land have been undergoing a slow and painstaking transformation.  The area of Lindholmen is now one of the most dynamic places in Gothenburg, a hub of entrepreneurial skills, universities, colleges, and a business hub to encourage business and academia to work together.   Cranes and overhead gantries are silhouetted against the sky, ferries bustle across the water carrying workers and residents of the new elegant apartments lining the embankment to and from the new ‘town’.

Stena Line Boats in Harbour
Stena Line ships awaiting passengers in the Harbour

Lindholmen has moved on and has morphed from a lively shipbuilding area into a flourishing residential town, businesses have relocated here and former industrial buildings have become sports halls, gymnasiums, and chic cafes and restaurants.  The well-laid out streets and paths along the waterside, the canals that run through the ‘town’ and the sense of a young, innovative spirit is palpable. The free ferry ride to Lindholmen

There are many ways of getting to Lindholmen, bus, tram, cycling or by the free ferries which runs every 8 minutes between Stenpiren and Lindholmspiren, weekdays between the hours of 07:00 to 18:00. The ride only takes 5 minutes.

AsOne of the sleek ferryboats that criss-crosses the river in Gothenburg we had walked from the train station in town we took the ferry and walked around the area, admiring the elegant apartments with balconies that overlooked the harbour, the colourful buildings and the ducks that waddled up to us when it looked as though we might stop and feed them.  Canal in Gothenburg (Lindholmen)It was a delightful walk in an area I’d never visited before, but it’s now on my list for further exploration and a return visit to the Turkish restaurant which served one of the best pastas I’ve had in years.

How’s that for Internationalism!

Gothenburg, colourful building
New colourful buildings in the University/Business area of Lindholmen

A few tips:

Invest in a Göteborg City Card. It may seem pricey at £28 for 24 hours, but this gives you free or reduced entry to most museums and attractions, free travel on public transport including the Gothia River ferry taxis, as well as some city tours.

Do have a ride on Electric bus route 55:  Gothenburg’s first route for electric buses runs between Lindholmen Science Park and Johanneberg Science Park via Avenyn, Brunnsparken and Götaälvbron. The buses are silent and emission-free and run on electricity from wind power and hydropower. The bus route is among the most modern in the world. Among other things, passengers can recharge their phones onboard and enter and exit the bus from indoors. Ordinary Västtrafik tickets are used to ride the bus.

Beware of cyclists – like many Scandinavian countries, the bicycle is king in Gothenburg. Don’t walk on the cycle tracks (the trails are well posted on the pavements) and keep a particular eye out for them on the pavements of the wider streets.  Bike station, Pixabay

End of the day over Gothenburg Harbour
Sunshine on a steely sea: late afternoon, Lindholmen, Gothenburg

 

The Best Salmon Restaurant in Sweden

Every once in a while one comes across a really superb restaurant in an unexpected place, sometimes on a main road, sometimes hidden away down a side street, and last week this happened to me.

On the long drive between Gothenburg and Oslo, I found Laxbutiken LJungskile by exiting off the main road to this “salmon house” recommended by my friend Kelly Andersson from Gothenburg, who spoke in very complimentary terms about the food.

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The self-serve coffee area.

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Cool, clean, Scandinavian decor

Situated beside a lake, with outdoor seating surrounding the elegantly designed restaurant, one could imagine the pleasure of dining in the outdoor space during a Swedish summer, but this was November, so it was inside for us.

The interior did not disappoint.  Elegant décor in grey and lime green set of the food which was arranged in a long glass cabinet behind which stood smiling waitresses with advice.

And advice was needed!   Here was more salmon than I’d ever seen served in more ways than I’d ever known.  Eight types of smoked salmon, from the basic Gravdlax to smoked salmon with different herbs and mixtures of herbs, there was poached salmon, grilled salmon, boiled salmon, salted salmon,

A salmon dish with sauces
A salmon dish with sauces

Salmon in every form
Salmon in every form

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A selection of salmon dishes

deep fried salmon, salmon pie, salmon cake and more.  To go with these were delicious sauces like caviar sauce, white sauce with dill, lobster butter sauce, Malibu sauce, and a deep green garlic and spinach sauce.

The choice was difficult so I eventually decided on the Large Salmon Platter which gave me five varieties of salmon, 2 sauces, salad and boiled potatoes (at an unbelievable 145 Kroner).  More than I could eat, I was relieved to be offered a “doggy bag” (a rather elegant box packed in another bag) to take away.

The simplicity of good ingredients well prepared and served
The simplicity of good ingredients well prepared and served