Monday 18 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 4 - Number Two tries harder. Sometimes.

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise.
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster.
Bergen has, they say, 245 days of rain a year. Today was one of them. So the city, Norway’s second-biggest, once the capital, and clearly under more flattering conditions an attractive one, did not look its best with the cobbles treacherously slippery, low cloud hiding the tops of the surrounding seven peaks, and everyone scuttling through the streets, heads down. There’s a port with some impressive old-type sailing ships moored, as well as more modern marine traffic buzzing around; there are spires of various types, there’s elegant architecture both new and old; and there’s Brygge, the block of 18th century wooden houses where the Hanseatic League – a combination of the EU, and the Mafia, according to some - was based for 400 years. Those numbers don’t add up because Bergen has had many fires in its history, the worst of them in 1702 when 95% of the city was destroyed.

The houses are painted red, yellow, orange, with overhanging gables and steep staircases, and the one that’s been preserved for the museum as it was has cupboard beds (very short – they slept half-sitting because if you lay flat, you died, was the thinking), low ceilings, small windows and little comfort. After all those fires, candles and fireplaces were banned, so imagine what that was like in winter. They had separate assembly rooms that were lit and heated – but, come bedtime, brrrr!

My guide today was a bit uninspiring so, when she led everyone off to catch the funicular railway to the top of a peak that was swathed in cloud, I sloped off and poked around the shops and streets by myself. The shops are lovely, full of stylish goods (the clothes shops excepted – seems the current fashion is for baggy floral trousers that don’t look good even on the mannequins), all of them horrifically expensive. I remember that was my overriding impression of Scandinavia when I first visited in 1980 – I’d never seen so many beautiful things that I couldn’t afford.

I had a flat white only because I saw it advertised outside a café and felt obliged (verdict: too small and too strong. Not the proper thing at all). I saw an odd bronze statue of an old-fashioned homeless person, barefooted and leaning against the steps to a grand building – really, a bit of an insult to the real ones silently begging in the rain, I felt. I tutted over the ruthlessness of the municipal gardeners I saw ripping out still-flowering bedding plants to replace them with the next colour scheme. I inspected the displays on the fish market stalls and left one stall-holder bemused when I asked what the shiny black product was, and then recoiled at his answer, and his offer of a sample. It was smoked whale, people.

The sky brightened a bit so I took the smart modern funicular up to Floyen peak, but another cloud had swept in by the time I got up there and what could have been a spectacular view was substantially greyed out. Of course, by the time I had got back to the bottom, the cloud had blown away, and when I arrived back at the Silver Spirit just ahead of departure time, the sun came out and there was actual blue sky. Spit.

Later there was another lecture from the king of interet paranoia, which overran so far that I arrived only in time for the final Trivial Pursuit question of the day. I couldn’t answer it anyway: What is the biggest country by area in Africa? Algeria. My team scored a miserable 14/25 today, not even placed. Tch. But at least the US woman who didn’t know yesterday what year the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, had the perverse satisfaction of having two of her correct answers overruled. We’ve all been there, friend.

A delicious dinner was followed by the 95% genuine laughter from Jacob of the Philippines when, asked how I had enjoyed my super-tender Hot Rocks filet mignon, I replied, as per custom, “ My compliments to the chef”. 

Highlight of the day was the music: Angela on guitar and Alex on piano in the Dolce Vita lounge, over-the-top diva/comedienne Beverley Davison in the theatre doing spectacular things with her 350 year-old Guaneri violin, and finally the DJ up in the Panorama lounge, getting people up dancing in the midnight dusk.

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