The Best of Norway and Scenic Train. That was the title of our four night pre-cruise extension prior to boarding the Viking Jupiter for our 15 day Trade Routes of the Middle Ages Cruise which would leave from Bergen, Norway in the fall of 2022.
A Viking representative met us and a few dozen other Viking travelers at the Oslo airport in Norway and guided us to our waiting bus for a short ride to the Hotel Bristol, located in the heart of downtown Oslo. We had time to relax and do a bit of unpacking and have any questions addressed by the Viking representatives at a special Viking table, then rest up for our activities during the structured and free time ahead of us.
Oslo, population about 1.1 million, is the capitol of Norway. It is a cosmopolitan city with numerous museums and tourist sites. After a delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel, we boarded the bus for a driving tour of the area with our knowledgeable guide Anne Greth Haugen. As we rode to the Vigeland Sculpture Garden she told us about the artist.
We arrived at Vigeland Sculpture Park. which contains more than 200 sculptures in granite, bronze, and cast iron by Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). The theme of the park is the circle of life. Accordingly, none of Vigeland’s figures are clothed.
Figures include infants, nursing mothers, families at play, and older people. Some of the sculptures were modeled after Vigeland’s friends and relatives. A huge monolith featuring figures from birth to old age is the centerpiece of the park. We literally could have spent days there enjoying these works and the beautiful grounds, but it was on to more tourist sites.
The peninsula is about 15 minutes from downtown Oslo. It contains five museums and is well landscaped with numerous hiking and biking trails, beaches and several restaurants. It includes the summer home of the royal family as well as pastures for their cattle and horses.
The museum features the rich seafaring heritage of Norway. Vessels from 2200 years ago until modern times are depicted. Our highlight was watching a live presentation explaining and demonstrating how the Vikings were able to construct their boats. They were experts in boat building without the use of saws. Everything was with a sharp ax.
We were told that the Vikings used easily bent young oak trees in the boat construction. The oak eventually hardened and the finished boats were strong and waterproof. A recovered small boat from the Viking era was on display. These guys were tough.
After exploring the museums, we opted to look around downtown Oslo. The highlight was a trek up to the roof of the Oslo Opera House which was constructed in 2008. This is built in the form of an angular arch which seems to lift from the sea. The view from the roof was worth the hefty climb. Walking to the top of the opera house is a must for any able-bodied visitor to Oslo. We visited pedestrian mall, then had dinner at the Central Railway Station in preparation for our group’s train ride to Bergen.
The Ride on The Bergen Railroad and a Visit to Bergen, Norway
Well, we may not have ever taken a ride on the Reading Railroad –except for all the monopoly games during our childhood – but thanks to this Viking pre-cruise excursion, we did get to experience the Bergen Railroad which took us from Oslo to Bergen for two sight-seeing days in Bergen before we boarded the Viking Jupiter
Our Viking guide Anne Grethe Haugen led our group on the five minute walk from the hotel through the Oslo Central Station, Norway’s busiest train station. It is clearly much more than just a train station with its range of restaurants, cafes, small shops and of course an information center for tourists. It is also within walking distance from the Oslo Opera House and the Royal Palace.
The seven hour trip from Oslo to Bergen is described as one Europe’s most beautiful train rides. It crosses the Hardangervidda National Park and Northern Europe’s largest mountain plateau. The railroad was built in1909 and reaches an altitude of 3,600 feet, the highest of any train in Northern Europe. The weather was miserable so we did not get to see any wildlife as we looked through the large window panels on the train.
Our guide was with us to answer questions and turn our attention to significant scenery. She pointed out a glacier and a few deep valleys by the train tracks. We encountered several areas where coverings were built into the surrounding mountains to protect the train from falling snow and rocks. These coverings hurt our views, but safety is paramount. Except for the pouring rain, our arrival and transfer to the Hotel Thon was seemless as we began our visit to Bergen.
With a population of about 285,000 people, Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. It is considered the gateway to the Norwegian fjords and is a stop for over 300 cruise ships annually. Its wharf area is on UNESCO’s list of world Cultural Heritage sights. Viking Ocean ships are registered here. Bergen was founded in1070 by King Olaf and was the capitol of Norway until 1300 when King Haakon V moved the capitol to Oslo. The Hanseatic or trading league established an office here in the 14th century and utilized some of the buildings that line Bergen’s waterfront.
Our local Viking guide took us to the Bergen Museum which is built over an excavation sight and exhibits which trace the history of the region. It was interesting to see how the area developed.
Our next stop was the Gamle or Old Bergen Museum.
This interesting museum features 55 actual wooden homes that were built and lived in from 1700 to 1900. Rather than renovating the homes, the city decided to move them to a museum where the past could be viewed. We visited an old barbershop, dentist office and hairdresser in the various wooden structures.
We had been to Bergen in 2017 and we knew that one of our objectives was to get some reindeer sausage and fish stew. Of course the place to get them was the Bergen Fish Market. Established in 1796, this iconic tourist area provides all manner of raw and cooked fish. We found a stand that not only had fish stew, but also cooked up reindeer sausage. We sat down to enjoy these Norwegian dishes and were content and ready to board The Viking Jupiter for our next adventure.
Note: This pre or post trip extension is offered to several tours that originate or terminate in Bergen, Norway.
Article by Burt Davis and Dianne Davis
Photos by Dianne Davis or Burt Davis