Norway

After arriving late the previous night, I was due a lie-in. While I slept, my son explored the city for the first time. Oslo is centered around a harbour of restaurants and bars. Ferries lie ready to take visitors out to an outer island where there are several museums. One holds  the fabulous Gokstad Viking ship and other archeological finds such as those from a high status woman’s grave.

Later in the day, I took myself off to Akershus Fortress, built by King Magnus in the early 1300’s to replace Bergen as Norway’s capital. This was my second visit and I hoped to see inside the castle. I should have checked the schedules and had to be content with a few quick photos of the internal courtyard before the building closed – but not before a guide kindly pointed out the most significant rooms.

Here King Magnus entertained in style. Isa would have visited on important occasions in her role as dowager queen. In ‘Sisters’, a friendship develops quite naturally between Isa and Queen Euphemia given the latter’s literary interests and openness to the world around her. It was easy to imagine Isa and Effie walking the grounds or gazing out of the windows in the solid stone walls at the broad expanse of fjord below. Both had much in common, not least being unable to produce male heirs for their kingly husbands.

Around 1318, Magnus died whist in Tonsberg to the south and his body was transported by galley to his burial place at the Mariakirken on an inlet close by. He and Effie were interred in the church, but later the royal chapel at Akershus became their resting place. Mariakirken is now a ruin with just the low outline of the church visible. From my hotel window, there was a clear view of the ruins. It was here that Princess Ingebjorg and her cousin, Inga, married the two young dukes and I can only assume that Isa would have attended such an important state event and her only daughter’s wedding

In the grounds of Akershus Fortress, another museum told the story of the Norwegian resistance in WW2. To wander about the displays and see the old photos was very moving.

Norway in a Nutshell Tour:

The following morning, we were up early for our trip to Bergen. By transfering between buses,  trains and a ferry, we were able to see, in a short space of time, the highlights of a compact landscape – the high moors of bog and lake with a backdrop of snow-topped mountains; the Flam railway journey on an adhesion track; the Klossen waterfall with music and a maiden, presumably the spirit of the waterfall, dancing somewhat bizarrely up and down the hillside path; the astounding fjords; the steep bus ride down onto a small village and then the final leg of the journey, the train to Bergen. It was a long day, but worth the effort.

A Day in Bergen:

It was pelting down, and we did what all tourists do: we sought refuge in a museum. During my last visit, it rained, as so often happens in Bergen, and the Archeological Museum had been a great find. This time, the Hanseatic Museum proved ideal.

The Hanseatic League originated from German city states such as Lubeck and set up an effective trading network across northern Europe. In Bergen, the League was permitted to trade, but under restrictive conditions. The men were not permitted to socialize or intermarry and could only attend their own churches. The workers lived in harsh conditions, trading stock fish (dried sheets of cod) from the northern Lofoten Islands. Because of the high fire risk, the old wooden buildings were not heated and the men ate in a separate building. The Hansa came to Bergen around the time of King Eric in the late 13th century so Isa would have had an awareness of their activities. It was thought by King Magnus that his brother had been too lenient with them, allowing them to skim off a lot of the town’s wealth which should have gone into the royal coffers…

The wind was gusty, strong enough to disembowel our umbrellas. Across the road, the fish market proved to be great fun as we tried all the different tastes on offer. I was keen to find the site of the Kristkirke, the grand medieval church which had stood beside the castle at the end of the Bryggyn or wharf during the medieval period. Though there is nothing to support the idea, it seemed likely Isa would have been buried there, given her high status and long connection with Bergen. Perhaps, she lies near her countrywoman, Margaret, King Eric’s first wife and their daughter, the little Maid of Norway whose story is so critical to the history of Scotland…
At the Bergen airport, my son and I parted company. He returned to London whilst I headed north to Tromso via Trondheim to pick up my Hurtigruten cruise. As luck would have it, the clouds parted and the snow-capped mountains and rugged Lofoten Islands were clearly visible below.

Tromso lies within a broad fjord, surrounded on one side by a large mountain which has a cable car to take visitors to the top. To fill in the hours before my ship docked, I joined the happy, noisy locals in a beer.

Cruising the Norwegian Coast:

A few years back, my husband and I travelled on the Hurtigruten Coastal Steamer from Bergen to Alesund, taking in the mighty Geirangerfjord. So I was very keen to explore more of Norway’s northern coastline on this current trip.

In ‘Sisters’, Isa travels north by galley with her royal kinfolk on affairs of state and there is the capacity for her to do more of this in Book Two. With this broadly in mind, I chose to spend three days traveling from Tromso to Molde which takes in some spectacular and fascinating areas that are quite unique.

One of the great benefits of the Hurtigruten Cruises are the variety of optional bus or boat tours. They’re not free of course, but are worth it just for the unusual experiences they offer. I learnt so much for my research – these regions are rich in history from the Bronze and Iron Age   to the Viking period and on into the Middle Ages until now. If you want to know more, check the Hurtigruten website.

  • A Taste of Vesteralen – exploring the landscape, culture and economy of the region. In a lovely bay, a church from the middle ages and an excellent museum about the Vikings of the region formed the core of our trip.
  • Lofoten Islands – the mountain tops were shrouded in mist at times but the mix of sea, extraordinarily rugged islands and unique fishing villages with colourful houses and the typical red boat sheds was beyond stunning.
  • Vega Islands – the people have gained Unesco rating for their unique, symbiotic lifestyle, caring for the migratory eider ducks in a non-intrusive way, providing  comfortable annual nesting places and protection from predators, so that they might harvest the down from the nests for use in doonas. The collection of down for warmth has been an ongoing source of trade since the Viking era.
  • Trondheim and its Cathedral – Trondheim was once the capital of Norway in the early Middle ages. St Olav’s cathedral was the revered destination of the Pilgrims’ Way
  • Atlantic Road –  using superb engineering and design, bridges were constructed to connect a number of islands. To explore the islands and countryside and one of the old stave churches was a huge treat. I finished my tour in the town of Molde, its panorama of 220 mountains proved elusive, but a few poked their heads through the cloud. Most of the mountains I have seen over the past few days have had snow drifts on them, perhaps due to the cooler than normal temperatures. From my hotel room window, the vista was jaw-droppingly beautiful with Molde’s little harbour and the broad expanse of the fjord backed by the row of mountains. I watched the Hurtigruten sail away and settled into the next stage of my journey.

South to Stavanger:

The flight from Molde to Stavanger, both very small airports, went via Bergen. I can’t exactly put my finger on why I came so far south, apart from some intuitive desire to see the path that Isa would most likely to have taken when she travelled to Oslo or further to Sweden.

Given more time, I would like to have explored the Haugesand area to the north with its Viking past. It was here in 872 that a significant battle took place where Harold Harfagre became the king of Norway, uniting the country. Three enormous scupltured swords mark the location.

Despite my initial doubts about what I might do in Stavanger, I was pleasantly surprised. A multicultural food fair, the annual Gladmat, was in full swing. Down at the harbour area, the old 18th century houses were dwarfed by two monstrous, white cruise ships. Tents lined the harbour offering treats of food, beer and wine. The place was buzzing. Its atmosphere was contagious. Soon, I was surrounded by sociable folk who were keen to explore the beautiful weather and glorious treats on offer.

When the huge ships blew their horns, haunting sounds even in the bright sunshine of the evening, and then sailed slowly out of the tiny harbour, I had a glimpse of what Stavanger actually looked like. It was very quaint and had a gentile air with its old coloured houses. A medieval cathedral sat at the town’s core on a rise. Behind it, a lake and parkland with walkways,  benches and flower beds were well used with families out picnicking and playing with their children in the sunshine.

Tonsberg:

That night, I caught a sleeper train to Tonsberg in the east, near Oslo Torp airport at Sandefjord. Once again I wondered whether I was of sound mind, exploring these relatively unknown places on my own. The sleeper cabin was so claustrophobically small that my newly-met travelling companions and I fell about laughing at the improbability of  sleeping at all. But I was so tired I fell asleep immediately.
Next morning, we were offloaded at Drammen to make our changes. Those going to Oslo went by bus for the tracks were being overhauled. I found my way to Tonsberg on the excellent local trains and had a splendid day exploring the huge mound above Tonsberg on which had stood one of the greatest fortresses in medieval Norway. I was very glad that I had made the effort. The 360 degree view of fjord and farmland was outstanding. It was so clear that you could even see out past a cluster of islands into the distant sea lanes. The castle was strategically sited to catch glimpses of any Swedish forces coming up the coast. I sat on a bench and soaked up the sun, listening to the quiet sounds around me – birds and insects and the faint echoes of the past.
A more recent tower stands there now and holds a museum dedicated to the period. A bronze sculpture, a great idea, showed the layout of the castle grounds in medieval times. The site is known as the birthplace of Princess Christina who became a Spanish princess in the 12th century.
A traditional cafe with a sod roof stood down the hill a way. It was recommended that I try a delicious Norwegian specialty of cinnamon porridge – a warm, creamy, slightly soured yohurt with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. I was very glad I did!
At the base of the hill, another museum told more of the town’s history. I had a number of hours to fill before my flight to Edinburgh so the museum’s light and airy cafe was the perfect place to sit and write my blog.
Norway and Sweden had exceeded my expectations, but it was time to move onto Scotland.

One thought on “Norway

  1. I almost feel as if I am there with you Jeanette, travelling in the footsteps of the sisters.

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