The Hanseatic City of the North

by hopesfrenzy

Our final stop was the very place where we started our journey: Bergen, the city of seven mountains. We were staying at a hotel (which I don’t really recommend during a pandemic, but overall it felt somewhat safe). We dropped our luggage off at the hotel, then dropped the car off at the airport and took the train back into the city so that we could be on foot for the remainder of our stay – no more driving!

For a city of its size, there is a lot to do in Bergen and a lot of history. Until the 1830s it was the largest city in Norway, and it was one of the almost 200 cities with a Hanseatic League presence. The Hanseatic League was a commercial group of merchants that controlled much of trade across northern Europe for centuries.

We spent a lot of time in Bergen walking around, exploring the alleyways, and eating at tasty restaurants. One of the highlights of our visit was, surprisingly, a tour of the Leprosy Museum at St. Jørgen’s Hospital. Western Norway actually had one of the highest populations of leprosy in the world, and the work done at St. Jørgen’s led to the eventual treatment and cure for the disease that still plagues much of the world. Our tour guide was fantastic. It reminded me of my visit to Spinalonga in Greece, which was a “leper colony”. Our guide shared that she never uses the word “leper” but instead says “people with leprosy” because of the former’s derogatory and often discriminatory use in historical and current times.

Bergen is a city that is very much defined by its history. Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits on the water. Bryggen is the site of Hanseatic League warehouses and meeting rooms, and many of the buildings date from the 1700s when the last major fire destroyed much of the city. The colorful buildings lined up on the water represent Bergen. Beyond Bryggen sits Bergenhus Fortress and King Håkon’s Hall, the site of a couple calamities throughout the centuries.

Another site worth visiting was Gamle Bergen, an outdoor museum that maintains the look and feel of Bergen since the 1700s and after. The quaint streets were mostly empty for our visit, and we were able to explore freely and at will, although we did get drawn into a long, pretend conversation with the mayor and his wife at their home. It was silly to have four adults conversing about 18th century Norway in English.

Our last night we drank some of our favorite beers in our hotel room, went and got a cocktail at a local fancy joint, and walked around as the sun was setting across the city. The next morning, we took the funicular up the mountain to see the views of Bergen and all of its surrounding islands before getting one last set of baked goods and getting on the train to fly back to Amsterdam. It was a relaxing finish to a fantastic getaway, and one that was sorely needed. Looking back now (we are back in partial lockdown in Amsterdam), I’m so thankful that Europe was able to get things under control, at least for a little while.

Sightseeing with Stéphane
Location: Bergen, Norway

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