It’s a Nice Place to Live…

…but you wouldn’t want to visit here…

…is a line Sitkans sometime use when referring to people coming off cruise ships.  It rains a lot and your odds of getting Sitka on a rainy day are pretty high, but when you live in Sitka you see the nice days and really appreciate them.  Bergen is the same way.  It rains more than 200 days a year and has rainfall similar to Sitka’s.  If you come on a cruise ship you are likely to come on a wet day.  And we did.  I’m not complaining because we have had so many unseasonably nice days on this cruise, we were due for a typical day.  And like in Sitka, sometimes Bergen clears up in the late afternoon, right as the cruise ships are leaving, like it did today.

We arrived in a dense fog, looked out our window, saw nothing, and stayed a while longer in bed.  Apparently, everyone did because when we got to breakfast late, we found everyone else there too.  We got off the ship at about 10.

But today was complicated by more than rain and fog.  Because it was raining, I went to a taxi and asked the driver how much it would cost to take us to the stave church.  He didn’t know what we were talking about.  He said he would take us to another nice church.  Not what we wanted so we decided to walk in the rain to our next choice, the Hanseatic League Museum.  It was a good thing that we did not take the cab because today turned out to be a legal holiday and cab rates are much higher on holidays.  We did not know it was a legal holiday, the feast of the Ascension until later in the day.  As the day progressed several Norwegians told us it was a holiday but none of them could tell me what it was celebrating “some church thing” was the best we got.   I googled “Norwegian bank holidays” to find out.  It meant lots of things were closed, for instance you could stand in the rain waiting for a bus for a very long time. (No one on the ship told us it was a holiday.  Turns out they didn’t know either.)

To complicate matters the two museums we wanted to visit were closed and not for the holiday.  The Hanseatic League museum, which has been around for 150 years in a building put up on the 1700, is sinking.  We walked by where it was on the map (we’ve been there before) and found only a building wrapped in scaffolding and plastic.  That was the museum.  It closed in October.  They estimate 6 years to jack the building up and put it on new footings. 

Then we went looking for the Bryggen Museum, which tells the story of old Bergen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s closed for maintenance but will reopen sometime in June.  Wandering around in the rain, dodging tourists zooming by on segues and electric scooters and working our around other tourists clumped under scrums of umbrellas on walking tours, we found the Hanseatic Museum Store.  That’s where we learned about the sinking museum.  They moved some of the exhibits to other buildings in the Bryggen World Heritage site, so we went from building to building learning quite a lot about the league.

The Hanseatic League was a group of cities that controlled trade in the Baltic and North Seas for about 500 years.  It was mostly German and the league settled many cities like Riga in Latvia and Tallinn in Estonia.  In Bergen the league did not control the city but was given license by the King to operate from Bryggen, what is now the old wooden precinct of Bergen.  The Norwegians caught and dried cod and shipped it to Bergen, the league bought it for grain to feed Norway.   The German Merchants lived in Bryggen in rotation, but as time passed some became permanent residents of Bergen.  Bryggen consisted of wooden tenements, warehouses, storefronts and offices.  Because of fear of fire no open flame was allowed in Bryggen.  Cooking, eating, meeting, partying (and warming up in the evening) was done is a special building, or group of buildings, called the Schøtstuene, or Assembly Rooms.  After those activities the merchants in Bryggen then went home to the tenements and offices and slept at least two to a bed.  Many of the German merchants were only in Bryggen in the summer, going back to Germany in the winter, working their way up the mercantile ladder.  Many of the museum exhibits are currently in the Schøtstuene. 

The Norwegian Fisheries Museum is perhaps a mile away in some old fish warehouses built in the 18th century.  There is a free bus connecting the two museums.   The Fisheries museum had exhibits on gear, types, fish types, and on rubber duckie bathtub toys.  (Sitkans will appreciate this) demonstrating how ocean currents work based on research done when a container of rubber duckies was lost at sea and the bath toys started washing ashore along the world’s oceans.  (Sitka got a fair number of them.)  This is a great museum for kids, lots of interactive things.  But for me, aside from conversations with the staff about fishing, weather and eating whales, a multimedia presentation about three generations of fishermen called “Quotas, Capitalism and Love” was particularly m9oving.  It is about how the introduction of individual fishing quotas has changed life for fishing families.  All three generations fish but the youngest, while he grew up fishing, has the skills and can afford a boat, can’t afford to buy quota share. 

We had time for a coffee and pastry at the museum bistro before heading back to Bryggen and a walk along the waterfront looking at ships under clearing skies.  By the time we sailed out the weather was beautiful.

On the next post some pictures of the Bergen sail out.

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