The Land of my Forefathers

18 July 2012


Bergen’s historic waterfront.

Now I have arrived in Bergen, Norway. Norway isn’t just another destination in Europe to me because it is quite literally the “land of my forefathers,” since my father was born here. A trip to Norway (together with Sweden, Denmark, and Holland) was the the first trip that I ever took that got me out of North America, when in 1988 I traveled in Scandinavia with my sister. Now, almost a quarter century later, I am meeting the same sister here in Norway, and we will visit family again. (Familial note: this is not the same sister with whom I traveled to Norway in 2009.)

Bergen is a beautiful city with many stately historical buildings and an attractive waterfront filled with ships and ferries and a lot of people. Summer is definitely the time to visit Norway, and being in Bergen at the height of the summer tourist season is a good reminder of how Europe’s tourist destination cities are swamped with visitors. I went to the tourist office on the water front to get information about ferries and you had to take a number and wait for it to be called. My number was almost 50 beyond the number currently being served. I waited around for a few minutes and the line wasn’t moving, so instead of waiting at the tourist office I walked directly next door to the ferry terminal and bought our tickets for tomorrow’s passage with a minimum of a wait.

Because of the geography of Norway, ferries are an important mode of transit. Most of the major cities of Norway are on the water, and it is often quicker to take a boat from one to the other than to drive. Although driving in Norway is beautiful, it means taking very narrow and winding roads over mountain passes where snow and ice can still be found in the middle of summer. What is true now, in the twenty-first century, was true in spades in the past: travel on the water was quick and convenient, while travel over land was long and arduous. This has shaped the history of the region, as I have recounted in many posts about the Vikings (which are, for me, a particular historical fascination).

My sister and I ate dinner in one of the historic buildings along the Bergen water front, where the walls and the floors stand at eccentric angles.

Because travel by boat has shaped the region’s history, to travel by boat is not only convenient for the tourist, but is at the same time an historical experience. It is remarkably beautiful to approach Bergen by way of the air: one passes over countless small rocky by forested islands, many of them uninhabited, but many of them also with one or a handful of houses on them. This kind of settlement pattern is a legacy of the sea-going and fish-dependent commerce of the region. So I am really looking forward to departing Bergen by boat tomorrow and seeing the city from the vantage point of the water, which is how my ancestors would have seen it as they went about the ordinary business of life on the rocky shores of Western Norway.

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My sister warming herself in the sun that came out in the evening, around 8:00 pm.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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One Response to “The Land of my Forefathers”

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