Monday, June 06, 2011

Regular, normal Bergen

...which means rain, and lots of it, apparently. My weather superpowers have failed. At 4am, there were a few wispy clouds, but by 7 it was raining. Ah, well. We have good raincoats and we aren't going to melt.

Our first goal today,though, is to get our laundry done. There is a self-service and drop-off laundry about five minutes away, we scoped it out last night. But, we missed the little sticker that said it opened at 12, and not at 10, so we walked back and joined the walking tour of Bryggen instead.

It's really interesting-- Bergen has a very long history of trade and fishing, and a big chunk of that was controlled by the German Hanseatic League. They populated the wharf, ran the trading, and in general defined society in Bergen up until 1754 or so. They dictated the rules about living arrangements in the wooden tenement houses -- including the rules about fire: as in, there will be no flames, at all, in he tenements. The only buildings allowed a fire or candles or lamps was the common house at the end of the alley (called the Shotstuene) where they ate communal meals and gathered for warmth in the winter. The Hanseatic museum is a preserved house for the apprentices, journeymen, and managers of the League; it's a fascinating building with surprisingly colorful decorations. The cupboard-beds for the journeymen and apprentices are tiny -- quite like sleeping in a small, coffin-like box. Ugh.

At the end of Bryggen is the Bryggen museum,which outlines the archeological efforts around salvaging and protecting the existing wooden buidlings. Its only been i the last fifty years that everyone agreed that they should be saved -- prior to this, they were a hazard, an expensive curiosity and most Bergen residents wanted them razed and repalced with "modern" buildings. Luckily, after the huge fire in 1955, the cultural finds and remains under the foundations were cataloged, analyzed, and renewed interest int he history of the area as Norwegian history (and not just german history) ensured that the stretch of buildings is conserved. It's cool to walk down the narrow alleys with the buildings leaning inwards, the third-story winches hanging over the shared path,andthe second floor galleries open to the weather. There are some huge new braces holding up a few of the buildings, and cables holding some of them together, but they are working to stabilize the buildings.

They build on the rubble of the fires, you see -- every time one of the buildings was destroyed, they simply pushed the rubble and wood into the harbor and built the new house on top of them. Now that the groundwater is seeping through to the wood foundations (instead of the flow coming from the sea, where the sea-water actually preserved them), the wooden piers and beams are rotting and the buildings are collapsing. They are hoisting up the facades and replacing the rotted parts under the water level. I wish they had more information about the restoration project, but only a single plaque on the wall and beams and cables are any hint of what's going on.

We ducked into one of the original common houses at the back of Bryggen for lunch, which was a collection of "norwegian tapas" (hey,their description, not mine!) -- small plates of traditional norwegian foods. We tried fish stew, akavit-marinated salmon and asparagus, smoked mackerel with apple compote, marinated sausage, potato salad, and bread with bacon butter. Yes, you read that right: BACON BUTTER. I had no idea there was such a thing, and it is delicious. It was an interesting (and eye-wideningly expensive) lunch, though. Although we've still managed to avoid pickled herring, or herring in any of its many forms. Hm....

We cannot get into Hakon's Hall, which is a shame. They have closed it for a music festival, so no one is allowed in whilethey set up. It's supposed to be a cool building. We did climb through Rosenkrantz's tower, although the really interesting part of the tower is the exhibition on Hakon's Laws -- the city codes and rules that defined where things could be bought and sold, how to buildhouses, how to handle crime, and how the city should be run. We made a quick walk around the bastions in the rain and then headed back to the hotel when we really started getting wet.

Rain I can handle, but when it's coming down hard enough that the fronts of your pants get soaked, it's time to call it a day and dry out. We're watching Will & Grace re-runs with Norwegian subtitles at the moment, and considering where to have dinner.

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