Monday, 25 December 2017

Brugge (Bruges), Belgium

The town of Brugge lies in the north west of Belgium.  Every year, millions of tourists visit Brugge, drawn to its unspoiled mediaeval charm.  Although the town is in Belgium's Flemish-speaking region, it is better known by its French name, Bruges.

I paid a very brief visit to Brugge on a cold and wintry weekday afternoon in December 2017.

Bus services in and around Brugge are provided by Belgium's Flemish region transport provider, De Lijn.

A network of bus services operates within Brugge itself.  Some of these operate into the historic heart of the town.

I found small single-deck buses on these services.  These vehicles have two sets of doors.


The hub of Brugge's bus network is at the railway station, around 10 minutes' walk from the centre of the town.

The conventional layout for a two-door buses has the second set of doors at the centre of the vehicle.  However, some of the older buses in Brugge have the second doors at the rear.

Full-size single-deck buses operate on a number of other services, both within Brugge and to nearby towns.


Articulated buses also operate on some routes.  I found them on both a local service within Brugge and an interurban service.


In the rural area surrounding Brugge, demand-responsive minibuses provide a link to villages which are not otherwise served by the bus network.  These minibuses do not operate into the centre of Brugge, or to the railway station, but instead connect with other buses on the outskirts of the town.

Fares on De Lijn buses in and around Brugge are simple.  At the time of writing, a flat fare of €3 applies to any journey.  This allows interchange for up to 60 minutes, and can be bought from the bus driver as well as from Lijnwinkel enquiry officesTickets can also be bought more cheaply by text message, at €2 (plus a small connection fee), or for €1.50 per trip using a 10-journey Lijn Card.  Group tickets are also available for five or more people travelling together, at €1.25 per person.

An all-day ticket is available for €6 if bought from sales points, or €8 if bought on board the bus.  Three-day and five-day passes are also available.

These fares and tickets apply across the whole of De Lijn's network across Belgium's Flanders region, with the exception of a couple of express services from Brussels or Antwerp into the Limburg province.

Brugge is in the West Flanders province, which covers the whole of Belgium's coastline.  In this province only, De Lijn offer a 7-day pass costing €24 for one person or €36 for two, and also a family one-day "Multimix West Flanders" ticket (for up to 2 adults and up to 3 children) for €20.  Although valid in Brugge, these tickets can only be bought from sales points on the coast.

Brugge is less than 15 km from the Dutch borderBus route 42 from Brugge crosses the border, to reach the Dutch town of Breskens.  Although De Lijn operate some journeys on route 42, the majority are provided by a Dutch operator, Connexxion (website only in Dutch).  De Lijn fares and tickets apply between Brugge and the border town of Sluis on all buses, irrespective of operator.  Connexxion fares and ticketing applies beyond Sluis.

Long-distance international coach services serve Brugge, using a coach stop on the far side of the railway station from the town centre.

Within the old town, there are several services catering for tourists.

A sightseeing tour operates all year round, using minibuses.

The tour is operated by City Tour and picks up at the market square in the heart of Brugge.

There are also horse-drawn tours which operate from the market square.  I did not see them on the day I visited Brugge, but that may have been because of the weather conditions.

Brugge has a network of canals, and boat tours are operated from early Spring until late Autumn.  The Visit Bruges website has more information about the boat tours.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, on Norway's west coast, is Norway's second largest city with around a quarter of a million people living there.  It is a popular tourist destination, partly as a gateway to the Norwegian fjords.

Bergen is one of three Norwegian cities with a tram system, as well as being home to the country's only trolleybus system.  The public transport system in and around Bergen is coordinated by Skyss.  I visited Bergen in July 2017.

Trams had operated in Bergen until 1965, when the system closed.  Following a break of 45 years, trams returned to Bergen's streets in 2010.

Although they system currently comprises only one line, this has been extended out from the city since it opened.  It now links the city centre with Bergen's airport.

From the city centre terminus, the tram line initially run on-street.  However, as the line head into the suburbs, it is on its own reserved track.

It is not just the tram route which has been extended since opening in 2010.  The trams have themselves been lengthened with additional sections to provide greater capacity.

As a reminder of Bergen's previous tram system, a heritage tram operates on occasional Sundays over a short section of line leading from the technical museum.

There is a project to extend the heritage line into the city centre, with some tracks already restored.

The Bergen's Electric Tramway site (mainly in Norwegian only) gives further information about the heritage tram.


Trolleybuses were introduced to Bergen's streets in the 1950s, as the previous tram system was declining.  One trolleybus route survives today, linking the city centre with Birkelundstoppen to the south of the city.

Bergen's trolleybuses are articulated, with four sets of doors.

Although route 2 is operated mainly by trolleybuses, I found diesel and gas-powered buses, both articulated and standard, in use as well.

Articulated buses are used on some of Bergen's busiest bus routes.

These include routes 3 and 4, which pass the Bryggen World Heritage Site (below).

The tanks on the roof are a sign that many of these vehicles are powered by gas rather than diesel.  The articulated buses I saw all had three sets of doors.

Standard single-deck buses with two sets of doors are used on most other bus services within Bergen.

Many of these, too, are gas-powered.

I noted some short-length single-deck buses in use on service 11, which operates through narrow streets in Bergen's old town.


There is also an infrequent minibus service which runs through Bergen city centre four times per day on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only.

At the opposite end of the scale, I understand Bergen has a pair of bi-articulated buses, but I didn't see them when I was there.

Bus services heading into the region surrounding Bergen are also coordinated by Skyss.

Most of the buses I saw were standard single-deckers, with two sets of doors.  Most of these carried the Skyss orange and white colour scheme.



I also noticed a three-axle bus operating.

There was an exception to the Skyss orange and white livery.

On route 320, which operates into Bergen from the north, I noted three-axle buses in white and green colours.  They nevertheless operate part of the Skyss system, and carry the Skyss logo.

At certain times of day, route 320 does not carry passengers for local journeys entirely within Bergen.

The "kun avstiging" display, on this bus arriving in Bergen, means "no boarding".

The Skyss network also operates on water.  Ferries connect Bergen with nearby islands.

These leave from quays very close to the city centre.

Fares on Skyss bus, trolleybus and tram services are based on a zonal system, with a single zone covering all of Bergen.

At the time of writing, the single fare within Bergen is NOK 37 if bought in from a ticket machine or ticket agent, or NOK 60 if bought on board a bus.  A single-journey ticket can be used for transfers (including a return journey) for 90 minutes after initial validation.  A 24-hour ticket costing NOK 95 is available from ticket machines and agents but not from bus drivers; there is also a 10-journey ticket, offering a discount compared to buying 10 individual tickets.

As well as traditional paper tickets, Skyss also offer ticketing with smartcards and mobile phone apps.

Separate fares apply on the ferries.

There is one bus service in Bergen on which no fares are charged.

I observed this vehicle in a dedicated livery operating a free service between Bergen city centre and the city's Ikea store.

Bergen is one of the growing number of cities with a public cycle hire scheme.

Bergenbysykkel is seasonal, operating from mid-summer until mid-autumn. 

Although the tram now links Bergen city centre with the airport, there is also a dedicated coach service.  This operates under the Flybussen brand.

I found both 2- and 3-axle coaches operating on Bergen's Flybussen service.

The coach is more expensive than the tram, but it is more direct.


Longer-distance coach services link Bergen with other destinations both within Norway and further afield.


Coaches operate from a coach station close to the city centre.  The coach station is beneath a multi-storey car park.


As well as buses, trolleybuses, trams and ferries, Bergen is also home to a funicular railway and a cable car.

The funicular railway Fløibanen climbs from a base station in the city to a viewpoint 320 metres above sea level, overlooking Bergen.  It is popular, with queues of people at busy times.

Fløibanen operates all year, seven days a week.

The base station is in a short tunnel. 


A short distance out of the city centre is Mount Ulriken, which rises to more than 640 metres above sea level.  This is home to Bergen's cable car.  The cable car system has two cabins which counterbalance one another.

I found when I visited that a long (and slow-moving) queue can form at busy times.  The cable car operates 7 days a week in the summer season, dropping to 6 days a week for most of the rest of the year.  For a month during winter, it closes altogether for annual maintenance.

During the summer season, a double-decker bus operates between the Ulriken cable car and the city centre.

This "novelty" vehicle has just 39 seats - 24 on the upper deck and 15 below.

Outside the main tourist season, the Ulriken Express does not operate.  The cable car base station is a short walk from trolleybus route 2.

For the many tourists visiting Bergen, sightseeing tours operate around the city during the summer season.

Sightseeing Bergen operate a hop-on, hop-off tour from May until mid-September.

I found this convertible open-top minibus in use.

On days when cruise ships are in port,  City Sightseeing provide competition using convertible open-top double-deck buses.

I also found a road train providing tours, from a stop on Bryggen.


Bergen has a number of museums.

A dedicated shuttle bus links three of them, operating from May until September.

The Visit Bergen website has details of the museum shuttle.

Tourists are also catered for on water, although some of these services may be seasonal.

Small boats provide a ferry service between the fish market in the city centre and Bergen's aquarium.

Various vessels operate tours in and around Bergen, and out to the fjords.

Bergen is a popular destination for cruise ships, calling in on their way to and from the Norwegian fjords.

Ships also provide scheduled services into and out of Bergen.  Fjord Line provide a departure most days from Bergen southwards to Stavanger, then overnight to the Danish port of Hirsthals.

Meanwhile, the famous Hurtigruten voyage sails from Bergen each evening, at the start of its six-day voyage northwards up the Norwegian coast into the Arctic Circle.  On its way it will call in at many places large and small, including Trondheim and Tromsø.

Although many of Hurtigruten's passengers are on board for a cruise, the ships also provide a public transport link to communities along the coast.

I noticed this coach in Hurtigruten promotional livery in Bergen.

It appears that it was transferring passengers between the ship and Bergen's hotels, at the start or and of their coastal voyage.

Finally, I can't leave Bergen without mentioning its main line railway.

Bergen is the terminus of a line from Oslo.  The line ranks as one of the most scenic in Europe, if not the world.

Four trains per day link Bergen with the Norwegian capital, a distance of nearly 500 kilometres.

The Oslo-Bergen line is operated by NSB, Norway's national rail operator.
At Myrdal, a remote station high up in the mountains, the Oslo-Bergen line connects with a branch line which descends to the small settlement of Flåm, on the edge of a fjord.

The branch line is branded
Flåmsbana, and is sustained more-or-less entirely by tourism.