Steve Aldridge explores Slartibartfast and the Screaming Child
We had chosen a Viking pre tour covering Oslo, Bergen and a scenic railway journey between them. Part 1 covers the time before joining the cruise.
Against the backdrop of turmoil at airports headlining daily in the news, you’ll understand that we needed a little sit down when we were treated to some spectacular Norwegian efficiency:
- Norwegian Airlines took off on time from Gatwick and landed 25 mins early
- By the time we’d speedily cleared a very friendly immigration, our bags were already waiting for collection on the carrousel
- Whisked by luxury electric private car to the hotel in Central Oslo (40 minutes away), where our room was ready hours early
- That meant landing to hotel room in about 70 mins
A shock but a very pleasant one, all involved in the process take a bow!
We were based in the rejuvenated docklands area in Oslo which, over a period of 25 years, has been transformed from industrial/warehouse/cargo style operation to a trendy modern metropolis. The redevelopment has happened with a keen eye on the environmental impact and has won awards for the design. For example, the new financial district, housed in the aptly named barcode buildings, does not have a single parking space. It has been strategically located close to the central railway station and other modes of public transport.
Museums, theatre and opera house all add to the cultural renaissance of the area, whilst a walk along the coastline from the Opera House (where we enjoyed panoramic views by walking up the sloping roof) to the Astrup Fearnley Museum (contemporary art, with a sail like glass roof) demonstrated just how well the transformation had been executed.
A slight diversion took us to the City Hall (Radhus) where the walls adjacent to the entrance have a selection of 3D artwork and the front wall sports a clock face reminiscent of the Astro clock in Prague. Inside there are spectacular murals, wall hangings and paintings, plus helpful guides only too willing to explain the feast before your eyes. Somewhat disappointed that the Munch artwork wasn’t located in a restaurant/cafe but that’s just my sense of humour. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded at the Radhus each December.
Peppered throughout the city are sculptures of all shapes and sizes but possibly the most spectacular is the Vineland Sculpture Park where Gustav Vigland’s life work is on display. The park has some beautiful floral displays, but is centred around 212 granite and bronze sculptures largely displaying the cycle and symmetry of life. Whilst the allure of entwined lovers will do it for many, the most famous work here is Sinataggen (Little Hot Head) a child having a bit of a hissy fit (don’t forget his more tranquil sister close by). For us the central column and surrounding pieces were awe inspiring and the Crown Jewels of the park. Without doubt visitors need to allow plenty of time in the park to absorb all these wonderful works.
We were staying at the Thon Opera Hotel (very nice) so the start of our railway journey was a mere few steps away at the central station. Installed in our comfortable carriage, our lovely guide Agnes kept us informed along the way about the specifics of the magnificent views we witnessed. Impressive though Agnes’ knowledge was, she was wrong to tell us the fjords were created by glacial activity, when every Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fan knows they were Slartibartfast’s work! Our journey on the Bergensbanen treated us to gushing waterfalls, forests, tranquil lakes, colourful wooden houses (many with grass roofs), lush green meadows (often packed with beautifully coloured lupins) with snow-covered mountains in the background. Climbing to 4,000 feet above sea level we could see some glacial activity, creeping down the mountainside and carving a path as it went. Perhaps Agnes was right after all!
Bergen has over 200 days of rain each year and when it’s not raining it’s snowing, so we were quite privileged to have a fair amount of sunshine between the showers for our exploration of the city. Never has the mantra that there is no such thing as bad weather, merely inappropriate clothing been more valid…be prepared! We thought the central harbour was perhaps the most attractive area and enjoyed dining in the fish market area at Fish Me on our first night. We wandered along the Bryggen on the eastern side of the Vagen Harbour, admiring the collection of over 50 colourful (slightly wonky) historic buildings, many dating from the 1700s. Whilst strolling along the harbour front is pleasing in itself, we were rewarded by navigating the numerous alleyways weaving through the “Bryggen Block”. Along them is a plethora of artistic and craft shops/boutiques to peruse.
Our Viking tour took us to King Hakons Hall, the highlight being the impressive banqueting hall dating back to the 1200s. Onward to Gamle Bergen Museum also took us back in time, where a series of buildings have been collected (moved from the city centre) dating mainly between 1700-1900. The collection is brought to life by costumed actors who stay delightfully in character and enhanced our understanding of what living in this period was like.
On our final day we took the Floibanen Funicular 320m up Mount Floyen. A very smooth and swift ride, giving access to a variety of forest/mountainside walks. We took in two lakes and a good section of the forest during a couple of moderately demanding walks (steep inclines) but were well rewarded for our efforts. As well as a close up encounter with the local fauna and flora, there are impressive views over the city itself.
Next we set sail on the cruise element of our trip, covered in parts 2 and 3. Click to carry on and read part 2.
I’d like to thank Viking Cruises for their support on this cruise.
To find out more, visit Viking or call 020 8780 7900 to speak to a Viking advisor.