Shore Blimey; NIGEL THOMPSON Is Wowed by Norway and Gorgeous Its Coastline
Byline: NIGEL THOMPSON
WHEN Mother Nature was handing out coastlines*, Norway must have been first in the queue. And probably second and third too.
There's not just a remarkable 52,000 miles of it, including the thousands of islands, it's also stupendously beautiful.
I'd flown to the very likeable Bergen with Scandinavian Airlines for a short city break in late September - but with some meteorological trepidation.
Bergen, it must be said, has a reputation for being a bit rainy. Extremely rainy, to be honest.
But Mother Nature was in a particularly benevolent mood for 48 hours and the early autumn sun shone from a cloudless sky with the glorious kind of light that you only really get in the northern latitudes. I joined the White Lady at the quayside by Bergen's daily fish market on a very brisk but delightful morning for a half-day trip up the Osterfjord.
The city, Norway's second largest, sprawls pleasantly around the superb natural harbour, and it took a good 20 minutes for the White Lady to clear the more urban area. It gave the passengers just enough time for a much-needed cup of hot coffee. Just the ticket.
Once into the fjord proper, the rush for the best viewing spot on the open decks began in earnest.
We glided across the calm, inky black waters, merrily snapping our cameras at the jolly little fishing villages which we saw dotted along the beautiful fjord shore.
There were cormorants by the dozen, stretching out their black wings on rocks to catch the gently warming rays of the sun, and perched like a sentinel on a post in the water was a majestic sea eagle.
As the White Lady reached the halfway point, we passed sheer cliffs rising from the water, and what little warmth there was from the sun was quickly lost in their dark shadows.
With the camaraderie you get on tourist transportation, everybody was soon swapping cameras to take pictures of each other posing in front of the glorious scenery.
All too soon the White Lady was heading back to Bergen, but there was a fine view of the harbour and the surrounding hills as we headed in.
Since it was a morning start, half-day tour (cost around pounds 45), there was still plenty of time - and daylight at the latitude - for some more sightseeing.
After a look round the modest fish market with its huge crabs and dustbin-lid sized slabs of smoked salmon, I headed to the Bryggen area, in the northern section of the harbour .
This is one of the oldest parts of Bergen, and features an area of wooden buildings built in the early 18th century on the fire-ravaged site of the city's medieval Hanseatic League trading district.
It has craft shops, cafes and restaurants and is a charming spot for a wander, fully justifying its prized UNESCO World Heritage status.
Fortified by another coffee, I headed for the Floibanen Funicular railway for a bird's eye view of Bergen.
This train whizzes up Floyen Hill, dropping you off at a viewpoint with a cafe and souvenir shop more than 1,000ft above the city.
It's a tourist and locals' favourite - and it's easy to understand why. Expect queues when you get there, but they do move quite quickly .
The vista of Bergen and its surroundings was wonderful - down in the harbour sat the vast white shape of the Grand Princess cruise ship and beyond, the sunlit waters leading eventually to the chilly Norwegian Sea. A return fare is pounds 7.
Bergen has a wide range of museums, covering art, science, local history, natural history, the sea and so on. But possibly the most curious is the Leprosy Museum, built on the site of a preserved lepers' hospital from the 18th century. …