Blackbirds in Bergen

I’ve just returned from my favourite annual trip to Bergen, a Viking city in southern Norway with a history built on salted cod and North Sea oil. My sister moved there two or three years ago after meeting her own Viking called Haakon, and now we visit her every year to explore the mountains, colourful streets and majestic fjords.

Friday night found us drinking gin until 3am, and on Saturday we awoke with slight headaches to devour poached eggs and coffee. To remedy this we decided to climb Stoltzekleiven, a steep stairway carved into Sandvik mountain that rises 1,286ft high and consists of 908 stone steps. It was hellish, but the view from the top stretched out over Bergen and after a few deep inhales it was worth the climb. From here we walked to the next mountain Fløyen, passing cold, dark lakes and forests carpeted with moss. I was amazed at the number of blackbirds living in Bergen, possibly due to the rich harvest of rosehips that still lingered in the shrubs. At the top of the mountain the temperature dropped rapidly and ski gloves passed between pale hands, and by a lake I spotted my first ever dipper, white front blazing as it skimmed across the water like a black pebble.

We spent the rest of the weekend eating pickled herring and wandering through Bryggen, a series of Hanseatic buildings dating back to the 12th century when the city became a thriving trading port. The November air in Bergen is so cold it makes your brain ache, but we warmed ourselves with waffles and breathed in as much as we could to feed our organs with bright, clean oxygen. Bryggen’s walls are painted blood red and Indian yellow, and in the shadow of a doorway next to ‘Jack’s Country Saloon’, a fierce but rather forlorn stuffed polar bear stands with claws unfurled, a reminder of Norway’s Arctic history and the wild north beyond Bergen and Oslo.