BERGEN, Nov 19 — Picturesque may be the best way to describe Bergen, the second-largest city in Norway. A single snapshot could encompass the towering Mount Fløyen standing guard over a maze of colourful wooden houses and narrow, undulating alleyways.
Indeed, we find one of the best ways to explore the city is on foot, starting wherever we are and slowly ambling towards the mountain.
Walking through Torgallmenningen, the town square of Bergen, helps prepare us for more of its lively character and fascinating past.
While flaxen-haired youngsters busk by playing classical instruments such as the cello and the light rail trams roll past, we are drawn to the Sjøfartsmonumentet (Maritime Monument). The mariners here mark the times of the Hanseatic traders all the way back to the Vikings.
Indeed, some claim that trading began in Bergen as early as the 1020s. Half a century later, King Olaf III founded the city, naming it Bjørgvin (“the green meadow among the mountains”).
We can certainly attest to this as we reach the foot of Mount Fløyen, one of the seven mountains (including the nearby Ulriken, Løvstakken and Damsgårdsfjellet) that give Bergen its other moniker: the City of Seven Mountains.
Nature is everywhere – as befitting a city so close to the sea yet surrounded by mountains — and joyfully co-exists with the buildings and its inhabitants.
Large trees offer generous shade as we wander from alley to alley. Birdsong fill the air as turtle doves and wood larks, tree pipits and thrushes, dip in and out of sight. Some nest in tree houses as quaint as the human-sized versions.
We stumble upon an old neighbourhood called Nordnes. It is a remnant of an earlier time when Bergen was the largest city in Europe... made of wood. And it’s wood as a building material — in addition to the crammed-against-each-other houses and surprisingly steep slopes of streets — that gives the area such a charming personality.
We find it hard to believe that only 20 years ago Nordnes was almost abandoned. This is where hipsters, who often get a bad name for gentrification, are often saviours of what was formerly neglected.
Add indie bars and restaurants, quirky shops and music hangouts, and a fresh coat of paint (of many, many hues) and watch a place come alive again.
Long considered the street art capital of Norway, Bergen today is full of vibrant, witty murals; we discover a new one around almost every corner. Dandies sitting on stools, little girls blowing bubblegum; there’s even one of a grinning sunflower. Every mural seems to be lit by a smile.
All paths lead to the foot of Mount Fløyen and soon we’re on board the Fløibanen funicular. The journey up to the viewing platform takes about less than 10 minutes. At 320 metres above sea level, Mount Fløyen offers panoramic views of the city, the fjord and the sea beyond.
Fairy tales come to life here. The Three Billy Goats Gruff in the form of the much-adored Fløyenguttene (literally “The Fløyen Boys” in Norwegian), a small herd of cashmere billy goats kept on the mountain to clear the vegetation. In the nearby enchanted Troll Forest, skogtrolls (forest trolls) – albeit man-made sculptures lurk. Signs on tree trunks warn playfully that witches are not allowed.
We wait for sunset, to see Bergen at its best, all aglow. The dying rays of the golden sun shimmering on the waters of the fjord. And then it’s time to leave, though we are loathe to part with the mountain.
So we skip the funicular. Instead we walk down the hiking trail, the forest murmuring with the whispers of trolls and witches, the secrets of the seven mountains.
Fløibanen AS, Vetrlidsallmenningen 23A, Bergen, Norway
Open Mon-Fri 7:30am-11pm; Sat-Sun 8am-11pm
Tickets: Adults NOK90 (RM46.80) return & NOK45 (RM23.40) single; children NOK45 (RM23.40) return & NOK23 (RM11.95) single
Tel: +47 553 36 800