It always rains in Bergen. That’s what I was told, anyway.

It’s not completely true, but they do get a LOT of rain. It doesn’t take away from the city’s charm, though.

The colourful wooden buildings along the wharf that housed the trading centres of the Hanseatic League in the 1700s are now a world heritage site – the Hanseatic League ruled trade in large parts of Northern Europe with a rod of iron from the 1400s to the 1800s. Stepping into them is like stepping back in time, with the view over the harbour through the original glass windows (now a bit greenish) not so dissimilar. Less crowded, though – at its height you could apparently walk across the water from boat to boat without getting your feet wet.

Going up the Fløibanen or funicular railway is a great way to see the panoramic view and when there’s snow, you can ski back down.

Each of the cities I’ve visited has been distinctive and Bergen is no different: there are beautiful houses from the end of the 19th century of a kind I haven’t seen anywhere else in Norway. And the most discreet McDonald’s I’ve ever seen.

Good on you, Ronald…

One of the most scenic train routes in the world
Crystal clear

I really want to do the trip from Oslo to Bergen by rail as it’s reputed to be one of the most scenic in the world, but the prospect isn’t looking good as I arrive at the Sentralstasjon through torrential rain and with fog hanging around the taller buildings.

Half an hour into the trip, though, the rain stops and the sun begins to break through, creating some amazing cloud effects. Cloud Appreciation Society (yes, it does exist), take note! By the time we get into the really spectacular stuff, it’s bright and clear, and the views are indeed mind blowing.

What is also mind blowing is the number of people who feel obliged not only to take photos of particularly amazing scenery, but effectively to try and capture the entire six and a half hour journey on camera. I’m all for having a record of your trip but the woman in front of me must have taken hundreds of pictures, and the result is most of the stunning views have her phone slap bang in my line of sight, pressed against the window so she isn’t troubled by any reflection. That’s why I don’t have so many photos of this particularly journey myself.

Can’t help thinking it’s time we developed some etiquette around this, and a bit of consideration towards your fellow travellers wouldn’t go amiss either.

Inside the Hanseatic Museum. Draughty, dark, but in its heyday a hub for traders from across Europe
This part of Bergen is a world heritage site

No rain 🙂

I spend the day as a tourist, going up on the Fløibanen and trying out the panoramic setting on my camera. (Enough space this time not to be in other people’s way, so I don’t feel guilty snapping away.)

The centre of Bergen is small and easy to walk round. As a fan of small coffee shops, I’m in heaven. I also visit the Hanseatic Museum, housed in one of the wooden buildings where merchants lived, ate and slept as well doing business. The building is original, and two things strike me. First, it’s incredibly draughty. In some places you can see daylight between the joints, so with the wind and rain sweeping up the fjord it must have been quite something in the winter. Second, of course there would have been nothing much you could do about that. Fireplaces not advisable in a row of wooden houses! Even the lanterns are large and very elaborate, because a naked candle flame would have been just as dangerous. So my guess is they’d have been dark places too, especially in winter.

I see a number of people – not dozens, but certainly more than two or three – out and about in traditional Norwegian dress, and I’m intrigued. I suppose I should ask, but it seems over intrusive for a Sunday morning. I wonder if they might be on their way to church, but later my Bergen host, Eirik, says he doesn’t think it’s likely they’d dress up. Unless for a family event like a baptism, possibly. Maybe that’s it.

Workstation at A2G Kompetanse: one of the places where people who haven’t completed school qualifications get a second chance

I’m met at 8.30 by Beate Solvik, who takes me to A2G Kompetanse – a privately established organisation that supports people into work who are at risk of being marginalised. That includes people with learning difficulties, who may not have the right qualifications because schooling was disrupted, or who face other barriers such as severe social anxiety. They have developed a new course for school leavers with Asperger’s, focusing on social skills and strategies for the workplace, and they’re excited by the results they’re seeing.

So is NAV, the state welfare body, which employs A2G to deliver the course in Bergen. Siri Møll of NAV, who joins us, has a long track record in this area and talks me through some of the approaches they are adopting around access to work. Support both for employers and employees is absolutely essential, but when you get this right, she says, the results are positive all round.

In the afternoon I venture up into the suburbs to meet representatives of Statped (you may remember my first meeting with Statped was in Tromsø). I have yet another really interesting conversation with Eldrid Rasmussen and Christine Johannesen around the reasons young people don’t complete their education: Christine is part of an international study trying to establish a cross-European strategy for tackling this. Of course there are many factors to take into account, but undoubtedly a number of young people in this category have learning difficulties and have experienced school being unable to meet their needs. In Norway, the actual numbers aren’t as high as elsewhere in Europe, but they are rising and the government wants to tackle the issue.

I finish the day feeling I’ll need at least two reports, or possibly a PhD thesis, to do justice to all I’m finding out.


Raising awareness is crucial to improving prospects for young people with learning difficulties
Reception area at the Statped office in Bergen

I’m sure I remember saying I’d never, not ever, attend a breakfast meeting, but I’m glad I made it along to this one. Bente Ubostad and Unni Sagstad have worked with and on behalf of people with Asperger’s and autism for many years, and they also know the Scottish scene well: Unni attended one of Mindroom’s conferences in Glasgow several years ago. Among other things we talk about national guidelines and strategies, and the importance of getting the framework right. It strikes me again that, as I talk to people about this project and its aims, they are not only interested but hugely encouraging and supportive. I’ve been told time and again how important what I’m doing is, and I’m clearly not the only one who believes it’s time for a bit less talk and a bit more action.

There’s a lot to be said, of course, for doing as much as we can to make sure it’s the RIGHT action. But sometimes we spend so long over that part, we fall into the pit of no action at all – and the effects of that, both short term and long term, can be just as catastrophic.

So let’s not kid ourselves that by using the language of caution we’re somehow being responsible. That can be a cop-out, too.


Next: Oslo