“Do you wanna build a snowman? Come on, let’s go and play!” No, I did not want to build a snowman. I despise cold weather. I hate fighting my kids to get layered up to go outside only to have them need to pee or decide they don’t want to be outside five minutes later. I share Olaf’s sentiment: “Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle, but put me in summer and I’ll be a – happy snowman!” And yet it was the first week of March—still winter— and we were off to Norway. As much as I dread cold weather, I have a harder time passing up cheap tickets. So off to Norway we went.
The only thing my kids know about Norway is the important stuff: Elsa and Anna are from Norway. And we were going to Arendelle—also known as Bergen, the inspiration for the fictional kingdom. Don’t believe me? According to Conde Nast, “This UNESCO Heritage Site is the old merchant quarter of Bergen and the only preserved business district from the Hanseatic period. The wharf of Bryggen inspired the design of the city of Arendelle…” Obviously our time in Bergen would have a Frozen twist.
The anticipated cold weather plus a lack of prior planning had me less than excited as we boarded our flight to
the arctic Scandinavia. We booked train tickets from Rygge airport (outside Oslo) to Bergen. The littlest has been dealing with some car sickness issues, particularly immediately after flights, so eight hours on a train seemed a wiser decision than seven hours in a cramped car. We wanted to drive back from Bergen to Oslo and quickly realized it was cheaper to rent and return in Oslo then to rent from Bergen. My husband nobly offered to drive while the kids and I took the train. A long train ride where the kids could spread out and move or be trapped in a car with whining kids confined to their car seats. The decision was easy.
The train was the right choice. Even though we hadn’t booked far enough out to reserve the family car, the standard class cabin was perfect for my restless kids. They decorated the free coloring packets distributed in the dining car, visited the toilets a zillion times, walked and hopped up and down the aisles endlessly, and finally napped.
A day of hectic travel and two little boys still passed out in my lap guaranteed I was a sweaty, smelly mess. The train pulled into another station to collect more passengers and the seats behind us suddenly filled up. A quick glance back and I was mortified. Hans (as in the prince from the Kingdom of the Southern Isles) and at least five of his twelve equally attractive older brothers were now seated behind me. Cue the farts. Not MY farts—the adorable sleeping baby in my arms was audibly, and odorously, passing gas. And I tried not to hum the lyrics that popped into my head: “Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy, but I’m somewhere in that zone—’cause for the first time in forever I won’t be alone…” But wait, I’m NEVER alone. And I was NOT the gassy one. And yet the Frozen lyrics still filled my head. Thankfully, Kristoff is more my type and his real-life incarnation had yet to board our train.
The attendant passed through to check tickets and, thanks to my loud daughter, everyone in the car now knew we were Americans. As the Southern Isle princes compared the student IDs they’d just pulled out, they decided to work on their English. With nearly perfect southern drawls they took turns practicing the same phrase: “Straight from the county jail!” I smirked and closed my eyes imagining how many more Frozen characters would cross our paths in the next few days.
A Day in Bergen with Kids
Despite arriving in Bergen at 11PM, my kids were still wide awake before 7AM the following morning. Someday they’ll learn it’s ok to sleep late on vacation. You could spend a week exploring this scenic coastal city. We had a day. Since Bergen is the ‘gateway to the fjords’ it seemed only fitting to begin our day with a fjord cruise. The fjord tour begins at the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf and gave us a great opportunity to explore the beautiful World Heritage site before our cruise began.
We opted for the three-hour Fjord Cruise to Mostraumen. Even in winter, the landscapes were breathtaking. In summer, various waterfalls are visible along the route but we only managed to spot the remnants of one frozen waterfall from our catamaran. It was a gorgeous, sunny day but the kids and I opted to spend most of our time on the lower, enclosed deck with occasional trips to the super windy and brisk upper deck to get an even better view. The cruise was stroller-friendly, had plenty of room for us to spread out, and even had a small bar that served drinks and snacks.
After solid naps on the cruise, the kids were ready for lunch and the second part of our ambitious day. We ate at our staple travel restaurant and browsed the picturesque shops of the famous Bryggen wharf. No trip to Bergen would be complete without a trip up Mount Fløyen on the Fløibanen funicular. My kids had been eagerly awaiting this all day. And their Frozen logic made sense. Mount Fløyen is one of the seven mountains surrounding the city center of Bergen. It was an obvious possibility for the location of Elsa’s North Mountain ice castle and had to be explored.
The tram ride up easily accommodates strollers and was less than a ten minute ride to the top. Whereas there was no snow to be found in Bergen, Fløyfjellet (the top of Mount Fløyen) was covered in 3-6 inches of snow and significantly colder than the city below—perfectly fitting if Elsa’s lair was nearby. After a thorough search, we determined Mount Fløyen was not the North Mountain. But the awesome snow-covered playground and incredible glass-enclosed ledge overlooking the city quickly had their full attention. My fearless kids at the edge of a mountain peering down at the city below brought more lyrics flooding into my head: ‘It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all…’
If we’d had another day in Bergen, we easily could have spent half the day exploring and hiking atop Mount Fløyen. We also would have visited Fantoft Stavkirke, a reconstructed 12th century stave church, and taken a tram up one of the other seven mountains, Mount Ulriken. We did manage to wave to the largest IKEA in the world as we drove out of Bergen the next morning. But, ultimately, I am satisfied with the amount of sightseeing we accomplished in a day in Bergen with kids. The sights we would see on our road trip across Norway the following day would more than make up for anything we missed in Bergen. And sometimes you just have to let it go…
*All lyrics quoted are from the soundtrack of Disney’s 2013 animated film Frozen (‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’, ‘In Summer’, ‘For the First Time in Forever’, and ‘Let It Go’).