Bergen has 'City by the Bay' feel

Europe editor Kenneth Kiesnoski explored the hilly Norwegian port of Bergen. His report follows:

ergen promotes itself as the "Gateway to the Fjords." I'd amend that to the "Golden Gateway," as this port -- where gaily painted wooden houses line steep, hilly streets -- reminded me as much of San Francisco as of Oslo or Tromso.

Besides the similar terrain and architecture, both cities hug their nation's west coasts and boast cultured populations, fantastic dining and relatively balmy climates. Even the odd fog rolls into Bergen.

I arrived on an evening train from Oslo. After checking in at the Grand Hotel Terminus (see Room Key below), I took a short stroll to Bryggen, a wharf district built in the Middle Ages by traders from Germany.

I flashed my Bergen Card at the Olde Hansa restaurant there for a 10% discount on its wide menu of medieval fare.

The discount card -- available for 24 or 48 hours -- offers free admission or discounts at local museums, shops, eateries and attractions.

The next day, I was struck by Bergen's similarities with San Francisco. Bull's-eyes, or near ones, included:

•Wharfs: Less touristy than San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, Bergen's Bryggen quarter and nearby Fisktorget, or "the fish market," offer authentic, harborside flavor.

Free salmon and other fresh seafood samples were offered at the fish market, as were fruits, flowers and handicrafts.

Echoes of San Francisco: Bergen, Norway's colorful Meanwhile, the all-wood Hanseatic wharf at Bryggen is included on Unesco's list of World Heritage sites; I prowled its shops and museums.

A highlight was the Hanseatic Museum; housed in one of the district's best-preserved buildings, the museum has illustrated the livelihood of German traders since the 1700s.

• Quaint Houses: Bergen's homes give San Francisco's "Painted Ladies" a run for their money; multihued wooden houses line the city's steep, crooked residential streets.

The Bergen Guide Service offers city walks in the summertime; Bergen Card holders enjoy a 15% or so discount.

• Ferries: What's a visit to a port city without a boat ride? Bergen Card holders get half off on harbor tours and 25% off fjord cruises aboard Bergen Fjord Sailing's White Lady, which sails daily from Fisktorget in the summer and fall.

• Bridges: Bergen even has its own version of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 3,450-foot-long Askoy Bridge, completed in 1993, is Scandinavia's second-longest suspension bridge.

• Trolleys: Despite Bergen's hills, there are no trolleys here, but I did ride the renovated Floibanen Funicular to the top of 1,500-foot-high Mount Floyen.

The summit offers views of the Byfjord and seven mountains around the city; Bergen Card holders ride for free.

The Discover Norway alliance offers a new Triangle Tour to Bergen, Oslo and Stavanger.

The three-day program -- including rail, cruise and hotel -starts at $410 per person, double, in tourist class, and $525 in first class. For details, contact Scanam World Tours at (800) 545-2204 or at www.scandinaviantravel.com, or 5 Stars of Scandinavia at (800) 722-4126 or at www.5stars-of-scandinavia.com. Commission is 10%.

For more on Bergen, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board at (212) 885-9700 or at www.visitnorway.com.

Room Key: Grand Hotel Terminus
Address: Zander Kaaesgate 6, Bergen, Norway
Phone: (011) 47-5 521-2527
Fax: (011) 47-5 521-2501
E-mail:[email protected]
Web:www.grand-hotel-terminus.no
Manager: Erik Steinsland
Rack rates: $99 per person, double, including breakfast; special summer and group rates also available
Commission: 10% to 15%
Rooms: 131
Facilities: Restaurant, bar, cafe, banquet rooms
Review: Next to the train station and a short walk from the historic quarter, this hotel boasts sharp, modern rooms -- a contrast to the Old World charm of its ornate, ground-floor public spaces. Although depot environs aren't very picturesque, historical charm's a few steps away.

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