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Trip Report Bergen, Lindblad/National Geographic Cruise, Oslo

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On Tuesday, May 24, my husband and I flew nonstop on SAS from Newark to Oslo and then picked up our 45 minute flight to Bergen. We went right outside the arrivals terminal in Bergen and took the Flybussen to the last stop at Bryggen right outside our hotel, the Radisson Blu Bryggen. The Flybussen was a very easy way to get to the city. Because of the music festival going on in Bergen, we had a very difficult time finding a hotel room but thought we had a great situation with the Radisson Blu Bryggen because that was the location where we would meet our Lindblad/National Geographic cruise on Sunday. We were surprised to find that the hotel was undergoing major construction. We took our bags up to the room ourselves and were shocked at the amount of construction going on right on our floor. Our reservation was for what they called their “business class” rooms but, if the other rooms in the hotel are smaller than the room we had, I can’t imagine how one could turn around in them. In addition to being very small, the one window in our room looked out on a brick office building, and we couldn’t even see enough of the outside to determine what the weather was. The room rate was ridiculous considering what we got. The only great aspect to the hotel was the location.

We left our things in the room and walked up Bryggen and stopped in at the Baker Brun and shared a traditional sandwich of shrimp, mayo, cucumber, tomato and sprouts on a baguette. It was very tasty. Then it started to rain which was a weather situation we learned to get very used to during most of our time in western Norway. We walked through the Fish Market (which was much smaller than I had imagined it would be). We stopped in at the Tourist Information which was in a beautiful building with interesting frescoes. We went to the Hanseatic Museum and the woman behind the desk said she would do an English tour at 2:30 and that they probably wouldn’t have any other English tours during the week we were going to be there. The tour was very interesting and we learned so much more than if we had gone through the building on our own. If you don’t do the tour, you really need to have some guide book which describes the museum room by room. We walked along Ovregaten and visited the Assembly Rooms (Schotstuene) since they are included in the Hanseatic Museum entrance fee if you visit both on the same day. There was no tour and no English descriptions in the Assembly Rooms but I had some information I had taken out of various guide books and that was enough. The Mariakirken was closed until 2014 so that was a disappointment. We walked back through the back alleys of Bryggen visiting many of the shops. I had made a reservation at Enhjorningen for dinner. This restaurant was located just a few doors from our hotel. It had a lovely old interior and you felt as if you were in someone’s home for dinner. Our nice jeans with a nice top were perfectly appropriate here and at all the restaurants we ate in in Norway. We ordered the fish soup, fried angler fish and steamed halibut and everything was delicious and the portions were substantial and came with delicious sides of potatoes and vegetables. We were too full for dessert. Service was typically leisurely.

Some things we noticed about Norway. The people were very nice, friendly and helpful. They speak English beautifully. Most menus had English translations. Dress was casual and fancy clothes were not necessary any place we went. There are no water fountains anywhere so be sure to carry a water bottle with you. Most public bathrooms have a charge so keep 10 NOK and 20 NOK coins available. We also needed the coins because every museum required that we put our backpack and camera bag into a locker. You needed the coin to lock the locker but it was returned when you picked up your items.

Thursday morning, May 26, we woke up to rain. Breakfast was included in the price of our room and it was served in a nice, large and airy area off the lobby. There was a large selection of hot and cold foods and we had no complaints about the breakfast. We walked over to the Tourist Information and bought the Bergen Card which I determined would make sense for us to have for 48 hours. We walked over to Rosenkrantz Tower (Hakon’s Hall was closed during the music festival). We had a bit of trouble finding the correct entrance to the Tower. The 10 AM English tour was all booked but we took a brochure and went around by ourselves which was fine because between the brochure and the English information posted in each room, we learned more than enough to make the visit enjoyable. There was lots of climbing up and down steep, narrow winding stairs. After walking around the grounds a bit, we headed to the Bryggen Museum about one block away. This museum wasn’t large and didn’t take that much time. I found the exhibit about life in Bergen in the Middle Ages to be the most interesting part of the museum. The signage had enough English to give us an idea of what the exhibits were about. We then walked over to the Domkirke and arrived in time to listen to the end of an organ recital. We walked a little farther on to visit the Leprosy Museum. This was a great disappointment. The building was basically empty. A few of the cell-like rooms had photos inside. They gave us an English booklet which gave a lot of information but it was hard to relate any of the information to what we were seeing. At least this museum was on the Bergen Card. We would have been disappointed if we had had to pay for this one. A tour in English also probably would have been helpful but none was offered while we were there. We walked to the Lille Lundegardsvann and walked around this lovely landscaped man-made lake which was the location of Bergen’s art museums. We used the Bergen Card to visit all three of the museums which contain the work of mostly Norwegian and Scandinavian artists. Our dinner that night was at Pingvinen which I had reserved before leaving home. It seemed to be very busy and popular. The menu for the evening was listed on a blackboard and you go up to the bar and order. They very nicely explained all the offerings. We ordered two main courses (meatballs and fish gratin) and they were both very tasty, large portions and very reasonable prices. One of the guide books had said that the restaurant was cash only but they did take credit cards.

Friday, May 27: The weather was sunny so, after breakfast, we went up the funicular buying round-trip tickets which, with the Bergen Card, gave us the return trip free. There was a very nice view from the top and it was not very crowded that early in the morning. Later in the day we saw very long lines waiting to board the funicular. We stayed at the top for about ½ hour before taking the return trip. Using the Bergen Card, we took the tram out to the Hop station intending to visit Grieg’s house, Troldhaugen. We tried to follow the directions in the guide books and in the Tourist Information booklet but could not figure out where to go. When we got off the tram we didn’t see any signs. It turned out that we needed to turn in the direction the tram came from and walk to that end of the station and we would have found the signs pointing to Troldhaugen. Instead, we asked a woman who was in her yard and she very nicely took the time and drew us a map and gave us directions. It took us a back way and, but after a few wrong turns and then further directions from a store owner, we finally found Grieg’s house. We were really surprised that there weren’t more signs from the tram stop telling people how to get to this tourist attraction. But we had a bit of an adventure and got to walk through some very pretty areas. Our Bergen Card gave us a discount on admission. We first visited the new museum and its exhibit on Grieg’s life and then headed to the house which was on a hill. There were no official tours and a docent took us around and told us about Grieg and his life. You are only allowed to visit the main floor of the house and it isn’t very large so it does not take that long. After the house, we walked to see the Composer’s Hut (you cannot go in but can see the inside through a glass panel), the graves of Grieg and his wife up in the rock face and the turf roofed concert hall. We made our way back to the tram station going the way we should have come up. But again there weren’t adequate signs pointing to the station and, at times, we had to guess about which direction to go. We took the tram one stop back towards Bergen and got off at Paradis in order to visit the Fantoft Stave Church. Again, we tried to follow the directions we had (there were no signs in the tram station area that we could find) but we couldn’t find the correct hill to go up (it was the hill on the far right). We got directions (incorrect, it turned out) from a group of school kids, and then from a man walking his dog, a man in his car who stopped guessing we were lost and from a woman out for a walk which finally put us on a muddy, narrow path through the woods. We were laughing so hard figuring we would never find our way out when the path ended at a paved road which was, apparently, the hill we should have come up in the first place. Nailed up on a tree was a small, dark sign pointing toward the church. The path went uphill and included some areas of stairs. The church was beautiful and in a very peaceful setting. We spent time walking around the outside looking at the building from all directions and then went inside. This building was a reconstruction after the original was burned down in the late 1990s. It was a very peaceful place to sit and relax. Reaching the tram station by taking the correct hill was very easy and we took the tram back to Bergen. Using the Bergen Card, we visited the Western Norway Museum of Decorative Art. The collection was not that large but the silver exhibit was beautiful. I don’t think this museum would have been worth paying for but it was free with our Bergen Card. The sunny day had turned cloudy, windy and chilly. Since it was too early for dinner, we walked around the university area and then just wandered around some neighborhoods until Lilla Escalon, a tapas restaurant which came highly recommended, opened. Contrary to what the guide books say, this branch of the restaurant did take reservations. They led us downstairs to a very attractive basement area. On the waiter’s suggestion, we ordered the 10 tapas plate dinner. There was so much food and it was all delicious.

Saturday, May 28: We ate breakfast on the later side and they began to run out of items on the buffet and the eggs were a bit cold but we found enough to fill us up. The weather was pouring rain which just did not let up. We walked over to the Grieghallen, the concert hall, for a free concert given by an oboist and pianist. They had set up chairs in the lobby of the hall and every seat was filled. The concert was part of the Bergen music festival. After the 45 minute concert, we had to go out again in the pouring and windy weather. This was a day to stay indoors so we walked over to the Culture History Museum which was on the university campus. Most of the exhibits had English descriptions and it was a fine way to get out of such awful weather. My favorite exhibits were the ones on the Vikings, Norwegian folk art furniture and the amazing models of Bergen in the past. When we left the museum, we discovered that our formerly waterproof jackets (made by Helly Hansen, a Norwegian company) were, after about 15 years of use, no longer very waterproof. Stores closed early on Saturdays in Norway but we found one sports apparel store open in one of the malls. Their waterproof jackets weren’t quite what we needed and they would have cost the equivalent of $500-600 so, instead, we bought a spray bottle of waterproofing material. We went back to the hotel and went into the “ironing room” and sprayed both jackets and let them dry. The spray helped a bit but we realized these jackets would need to be replaced once we got home. We had dinner reservations at Opera Café right across from the National Theater. You go up to the bar to find out the specials for the evening and to order and then they bring the food to your table. We had bread and aoli and a salad to share as starters and vegetable curry and penne with mushrooms for main courses. The portions were large, very tasty and reasonably priced. Although it was about 9 PM once we finished, since the rain had stopped and it was still very light out, we walked through Klosteret, an area of small cobblestone streets and alleys and old wooden houses. This area gave us the feel of what Bergen must have been like in the past.

Sunday, May 29 started out pouring rain but the weather improved as the morning went on. We packed, relaxed, checked out and brought our luggage downstairs where the representatives from Lindblad/National Geographic were collecting the baggage for transfer to the ship. All of the people on the cruise met in the lobby for a buffet lunch. We were given the choice of a bus tour of the city with stops at Grieg’s house and the Fantoft Stave Church or 2 levels of walking tour with a stop at the Hanseatic Museum. Later, we were then transferred to the ship, National Geographic Explorer. My husband and I had never taken a cruise before and we weren’t sure what to expect from this ship which held about 148 passengers. We loved every minute of our two week trip through the fjords and up to the arctic. Our cabin had a large window and was very spacious (nicer than our hotel room in Bergen) and there was a very nice bathroom with shower. We were cabin 104 which was in a great location allowing us to very easily get anywhere on the ship. The food was wonderful, the crew and naturalists fabulous, our fellow passengers extremely friendly and we made so many new friends. Everything was very casual and we lived in jeans, hiking pants, fleece tops. The only time people wore something a little nicer was the final dinner on the ship and by “a little nicer,” I mean clean pants and a nicer top but no one dressed up at all. We are sold on Lindblad and have added a number of their trips to our list of places we want to go.

I won’t go through the cruise and everything we did. We saw a lot of wildlife including many types of birds, polar bears, seals, walruses, reindeer and different types of whales. We learned so much, took so many photos and really improved our photographic skills.

On June 11 we left the ship and flew by charter flight to Oslo. We had made plans to stay in Oslo for a few days. The Flytoget (the train from the airport) was closed for the weekend because of construction so we took the Flybussen to the city. The driver was very nice and called out our stop in English, helped us get our bags out from under the bus and gave us exact directions to walk the few blocks from the bus stop to the Hotel Continental. The walk was about 2-3 blocks in one direction and then 2-3 blocks in another direction. The ground was very flat and it was an easy walk even pulling our large duffles. The city was filled with young people and lots of loud music and we were told they were celebrating the end of exams. The Hotel Continental is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, and I joined their free member program which gave us a room upgrade and free internet access. The hotel is a great location for any sightseeing and for the airport train which was across the street (and then a bit of a walk through the station). The staff at the hotel was wonderful and very friendly and very helpful with any questions I brought to them. They had made all our dinner reservations before we left home and, at each restaurant, we got a prime table. Our room was very large with a view of the harbor and a nice sized bathroom. The only problem is that the air conditioner didn’t seem to work. We heard other people staying at the hotel mentioning the same issue. It wasn’t much of a problem so we didn’t push the issue. Also there were almost no drawers in which to put clothing. Since we had so few clean clothes left, this wasn’t an issue for us and we left most of our stuff in our suitcases. A plate of grapes and truffles and a Molton Brown gift set were on the table for us when we arrived.

Sunday, June 12: The hotel breakfast buffet was very extensive and good quality. Sunday and Monday were religious holidays called Whit Sunday and Whit Monday. After many e-mails to the Oslo Tourist Information, I received a spread sheet showing what was open on these holidays and what was closed. Most stores were closed both days but enough tourist attractions were open to keep us busy. The weather was beautiful, sunny and very mild. We walked over the bridge next to Central Station to get to the Oslo Opera House and took the English tour we had reserved before we left home. Walking around the Opera House and up over the roof was an amazing feeling. Oslo was very busy and filled with tourists, many of which probably came off the two huge cruise ships which docked in the city each day we were there. We walked over to the tram stops in the plaza in front of the central station (there is a major Tourist Information bureau right there) but we couldn’t get the ticket machine to accept our credit card. It might have been because we don’t have a chip in our card but this was the only place in Europe we have ever had any difficulty. Since the trams were filled anyway, we decided to walk up Karl Johans Gate, stopped at the hotel to drop off our jackets and fill our water bottles and walked through some lovely and very quiet residential neighborhoods to Vigelands Park. The park was very crowded with tour groups and lots of families and children who enjoyed climbing on all the statues. We walked all through the park enjoying the scene and the statues. We walked back to the hotel to relax before walking the short distance to Aker Brygge and a delicious dinner at Lofoten Fiskrestaurant. We had been to the Lofoten Islands on our cruise. We ordered Lofoten fish soup and halibut and the cod special for main courses. The portions were sufficient. We wanted to finish with coffee but they didn’t serve decaf and, at 9:30 PM, it was too late for regular. The service was very leisurely. My husband purchased ice cream from one of the many stands along the Aker Brygge. Although I fell asleep quickly, my husband complained that there were very noisy people outside even at 3 AM which kept him from falling asleep.

Monday, June 13: Another sunny day. How different the weather in Oslo was from the weather in Bergen. After breakfast, we headed to the Radhuset (City Hall) which was very near our hotel. We walked all around the outside of the building especially looking at the beautiful large woodcuts which line the main courtyard and tell Norse mythological stories. Below each woodcut was the story in English and Norwegian. We went inside to the lobby for the free 10 AM English tour which left from the “Guide” sign in the lobby. Every room had posted a full English description so I’m not sure that the tour was necessary. Be sure to see the rooms on the second floor. The interior of the building was beautifully decorated and a must see. We had purchased the 72 hour Oslo Pass at our hotel and used it at our next stop, Akershus Fortress and Castle. The grounds of the Fortress and the small museum in the Fortress visitor center are free. Our Oslo Pass got us into the Castle where we were given an audio guide which gave full English descriptions, stories, etc. about the Castle. From there we walked along some of the ramparts and then used the Oslo Pass to visit the Resistance Museum. This very interesting museum told the story of Norway leading up to and during World War II. Most of the exhibits had English descriptions and this museum was well worth a stop. We walked over to the T-bane stop at National Theater to take the #1 to Holmenkollen to go to the top of the ski jump. Our Oslo Pass got us free transportation and, when we got off at Holmenkollen, the signage led us right to the ski jump. We made the mistake of climbing the stairs of the ski jump to the main level. If instead you go off to the left, you can walk up the paved road following the chair lift right up to the main level with much less effort. My husband took a ride in the ski simulator which he said was fun. We then climbed a short flight of stairs and entered the ski museum which also led to the elevator up to the viewing platform. We got out of the elevator at a small platform which looked out over the city and then we climbed a flight of stairs to the top, open air platform with an excellent view in all directions. It was a bit hazy while we were there so my husband was disappointed with his photos. The Ski Museum was not that large and, after walking through the exhibits, we took the train back to the National Theater stop which was directly across from our hotel. Our dinner reservation was at Solsiden, a restaurant which was only open from May until September. It was located on the water just under the Akershus Fortress. Although considered one of the best and most popular restaurants in Oslo, it was very casual. The food was very good but expensive. They are known for their seafood platter but, looking at it on the tables around us, we realized it was going to be too much food and wasn’t what we felt like eating. We learned that they do not totally translate all the menu items into English. I ordered the redfish which came with small pieces of a pink meat. The waiter told us it was veal tongue (I don’t eat veal nor tongue so I pushed those off to the side). Veal tongue wasn’t mentioned in the English translation but we could see it in the Norwegian. Just be careful in case you have any food issues. I enjoyed everything except for the veal tongue.

Tuesday, June 14: After breakfast, we walked over to the Royal Palace in the rain. There was no security, no fences, no gates around the Royal Palace. We then walked over to the three university buildings hoping to see the Munch paintings in the Aula, the middle building, but a sign indicated that they were undergoing conservation work and were not available for viewing. We then walked down the block to the National Gallery using our Oslo Pass to get in free. The Gallery was laid out very well and each room had a letter posted so you can just follow the alphabet and make sure that you see each room. The art was mostly Norwegian and Scandinavian. My husband wanted to purchase a Norwegian knit hat so we stopped at the Dale store on Karl Johans Gate and he was able to find the exact hat he wanted. By this point, the rain had stopped and it was much warmer and more humid. We stopped at the Museum of Decorative Arts. We got in free because we were still wearing the stickers we got at the National Gallery but our Oslo Pass would have gotten us free admission anyway. We were surprised at how warm and humid the museum was. We saw the exquisite Baldishoi Tapestry which looked as if it had been woven last week and not in 1100. We walked through the royal dress exhibit, the glass and ceramics, etc. It didn’t take too long. We walked over to Damstredet, a short block of old wooden houses. Our next stop was the Domkirke which had a beautifully decorated ceiling, pulpit and royal box. The organist was playing while we were there which was an added treat. We took the T-bane from Central Station and went two stops eastbound to Toyen in order to visit the Munch Museum. When we came out of the station, the signs were very clear and we found the museum without any difficulty (it was a very short walk). I read that before the robbery of The Scream there had been no security at this museum. Well, they have certainly changed that! When you first walk in, you have to go directly downstairs and put any bags into a locker. Then you go through security like in the airport taking everything out of your pockets. Then you first buy your tickets (free with the Oslo Pass) and go through further security barriers until you are finally in the museum. We passed by the conservation department and, through the large glass windows, we were able to see the Munch paintings we had hoped to see at the university that morning. We really enjoyed the museum. They told us that, in the future, the collection will be moving to a new arts development next to the Opera House. Apparently, a decision has not been made what to do with this space. We took the T-bane back to the National Theater stop and walked a few blocks to the Nobel Peace Center which was also free with the Oslo Pass. They had a very interesting exhibit on Nansen, a Norwegian national hero. There were heartbreaking photos dealing with the refugee problem throughout the world and a beautiful artistic display of all the Peace Prize winners and a video about the most recent winner who was jailed in China. Dinner tonight was in Theatercafeen which was right on the corner of our hotel. We had hoped to find reindeer on the menu of this more traditional restaurant but perhaps it wasn’t the right season. The restaurant was very lovely with high ceilings, beautiful lights and mirrors. The clientele was dressed a bit more business-like than we had seen in the other restaurants but our nice jeans and nice tops worked fine. The food was delicious (my husband had veal and I had lamb) and the portions were substantial. Although the desserts sounded so tempting, we were too full.

Wednesday, June 15: After breakfast, we walked to the harbor in front of the City Hall to wait for Ferry 91 to Bygdoy Museums. It was a beautiful day. We got off the small ferry at the first stop and went to the Folkmuseum first. Our Oslo Pass got us into the museum for free. We went first to visit the Stave Church which was much darker inside than the one we visited in Bergen. It was also crowded with groups of tourists and school children. We wandered around the museum property going inside some of the buildings and taking a lot of photos. We then went over to the Old Town section spending some time in the building which was a reconstruction of an apartment building with representative apartments from various decades. We walked through the rest of Old Town going into many of the buildings. We didn’t have time to spend in the exhibits showing folk costumes, Sami culture and toys but we had seen many exhibits dealing with the first two topics at other points on our trip. It was a short walk to the Viking Ship Museum which was also free with the Oslo Pass. This was a very impressive museum and well laid out. Some of the most interesting sights were the artifacts found with the three ships. There were extensive English descriptions. There was also a very interesting exhibit on the upper floor about the bodies that were found on the ships. We were planning on walking to the Kon Tiki and Fram Museum but a #30 bus pulled up just as we left the Viking Ship Museum and we used our Oslo Pass to jump on and take it to our next stop. We were very pleased we did because it seemed as if it would have been a much longer walk than we anticipated. The Fram Museum was also free with the Oslo Pass and was much more interesting than I expected. The actual ship was the main attraction of the museum and you could climb aboard and go below. Around the ship on the walls of the museum were interesting stories and photos of Amundsen’s expedition plus other artifacts and stories. All the information was in English. Then we went next door to the Kon Tiki Museum (also free with the Pass) which didn’t take too long to go through. The most interesting part was seeing the raft and the reed ship. While waiting for the ferry back to the city, the skies opened up and the rain started again. Luckily, it didn’t last too long. Dinner tonight was Vietnamese food at Xich Lo upstairs in a shopping center on Karl Johans Gate just past the Parliament building. We had a wonderful table right by an open window overlooking Karl Johans Gate which was perfect for people watching while we waited for our food to be served. The food was very tasty, the service was typically leisurely.

Thursday, June 16: We checked out after an early breakfast and went through the train station across the street to take the Flytoget train to the airport. We were able to use our credit cards to buy the tickets in the machines in the station. Everything about using the train was easy except, when you get on the train, you need to go up two steps to get to the area where you can store your luggage and then sit down. That didn’t seem like the best design feature when you are dealing with heavy bags. The train was fast and very comfortable. Unlike any of the other trains in Norway, you need to swipe your ticket at the airport in order to get out of the train station.

This was one of our favorite trips and we are looking forward to doing another Lindblad cruise soon.

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