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Norway - A Country of Forests, Fjords, and Lakes

2. Picture Book Travels: Bergen and the Grieg Home

The Scandinavian Airlines' in-flight drinking water was labeled "Norwater- Natural water springing from Norway's farthest region".

For Norwegians, the greatest pleasure in life is to go away on the weekends, out to remote mountain cabins to go skiing, hiking, fishing and nut and mushroom picking. If you ask them, they'll tell you it is a necessary evil of urban living.
The forests and fjords in the country hold a kind of magical beauty- which feels like trolls inviting us mortals into their hidden depths.

Bryggen wooden row-houses
Copyright1998 Setsuko Watanabe
Unlike most subdued Norwegian cities, Bergen, which is the gateway to the fjords, (population 220,000, second largest city in Norway), is a remarkably internationalized city.
Surrounded by seven mountains, it is the world's most northern ice-free port (60 latitude) and it rains there for 300 days out of the year.
Founded as a commercial city in 1070 by King Olav, Bergen prospered as a Hanseatic league city in the Middle Ages.

During those times, many foreign merchants lived in its Bryggen quarter and their row houses still line the streets with tall, sharp, wooden gabled walls. These houses were rebuilt after the fires the town repeatedly experienced and have now been declared world heritage site by UNESCO.

As with most prosperous port towns, the view from the ocean is beautiful.
Although the North Sea is a cold, dark copper rust color even in the height of summer, the Bryggen rowhouses, in melon, orange, lemon, peach and apricot pastel colors, are reflected in the water in a dance of an exquisite harmony, with the bright crimson rhododendrons adding the accent color.
The mountains, wharves, fortresses, and old and new houses, also harmonize with each other, and walking the hilly streets is just like turning the pages of a storybook. The Bryggen district and fish market are full of tourists, but at the same time, the quiet loneliness, which is peculiar to northern countries, still lingers.

Perhaps because many people from foreign countries have come to this city over the years, it has a very open and warm-hearted feeling. In fact, the driver of the taxi I got into was originally from Krakow, Poland and was a member of Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, a group which holds much tradition and pride. He tells me that driving a taxi is just his side job to compliment his income. After I returned to Japan, I received a concert ticket in the mail and when I went to Suntory Hall, he was playing the second violin.

Composer's Cabin
at Edvard Greig Museum

(Where he composed
while looking out over the fjord.)

Copyright1998 Setsuko Watanabe
Every summer the International Arts Festival, associated with Edvard Grieg, a native composer of Bergen, is held. While in Bergen, I visited the house where he lived during his later years, Troldhaugen (troll hill). The hill is facing a fjord dotted with many islands. This is where he created his Lyric Pieces, which combine old folk songs with the feeling of the Norwegian natural scenery.
Now the house is a museum. As a souvenir, I bought CD with a collection of Norway's melodies. Each song is a short piano piece, less than a minute or two long. As I listen to each, the scenery of Norway appears before me and then disappears. The still lakes, transparent fjords, mountain torrents, waterfalls, deep forests, fields, chilling winds, burning fires in pechka (Russian stoves)- and I feel the lyric sentiment overflowing in the simplicity and warmth of the music. As for souvenirs from Norway, this one CD is more than enough.

Bergen guide
Edvard Grieg Museum

Copyright1998 Setsuko Watanabe

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