Winding Roads, Flat Lands, and Dreary Skies

The next day we decided to tackle the second national tourist route, Jæren. While Ryfylke had directed us North, with Jæren we were headed South into Norway’s agricultural area. Now I’m used to seeing soaring mountains and towering peaks in Norway, so it was pretty strange to drive through the Norwegian heartland and not see a single mountain (granted it was raining so poor visibility might have had something to do with that). The sheep that we had seen on our Northern drive were replaced with fields, and, in one case, small trees that marked the beginning of a Christmas tree farm. Both Abby and I suspect that planting and harvesting happen later in Norway than in other countries, since it didn’t look like there was anything even beginning to sprout.

Not only does Jæren pass through one of the flatest parts of the country, it also passes by some of Norway’s most dangerous coast. The area is highly treacherous for ships, so while there are a number of beaches along the coast, there are also quite a few lighthouses. Although Abby and I did try and visit one of the lighthouses, it, as well as most of the sights along Jæren, was closed. Additionally, the weather was simply too miserable and rainy to really warrant getting out of the car and going for a quick adventure.

But we still managed to have a good time. We even managed to see one of the sights, Hitler’s teeth, largely from the warmth of our car. The “teeth” are cement blocks that were made during World War II to prevent the Allied forces from making landfall (see the second row of pictures).

IMG_3232  IMG_3231  IMG_3221IMG_3208  IMG_3210  IMG_3212Another stop at MingarWalker Glassblowing studio was actually a huge success. Abby was able to buy a wedding gift, and the local glassblower was incredibly helpful. We had originally planned to stop our drive at Ogna, the end of the tourist road; however, the glassblower advised us to continue past Ogna and on towards Tengs and Egersund. This ended up being great advice. The terrain slowly started to change and became more rocky and hilly, and of course was beautiful. To top things off, we even passed one old place that was modeled after an old American saloon.

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Our last notable stop was at Varhaug old cemetery. Our glassblower had told us that it was worth a stop since it has an incredibly quaint church on the premises. To give you a better idea of how small it is, it’s about 15 m² (161 ft²) and fits only 14 chairs. Lucky for us, we were the only visitors, so it wasn’t too cramped when we went. We even got to have some fun ringing the church bells.

IMG_3242  IMG_3236  IMG_3246IMG_3248  IMG_3241  IMG_3243After that we slowly made our way back to Stavanger. Thanks to the generosity of Heather, one of the Roving Scholars, we were able to use some of her accumulated hotel points to stay the night in Stavanger.

Once we arrived, our first task was to find the parking garage. We got directions from the hotel and then parked the car in what is by far one of the strangest car parks I’ve ever been to. The parking lot was solidly underground, and it also came with handy things like sinks. We speculated that it used to be a bunker, and sure enough after inquiring at the front desk we had our suspicions confirmed. Compared to most European countries, Norway doesn’t have many visible reminders of World War II, so it’s always a bit shocking to stumble upon something that shows the impact that it had on the country.
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The weather continued to be a bit dreary, and because it was a Sunday most things were closed when we walked around town. That being said, we still really enjoyed looking around. Compared to most Norwegian towns, Stavanger is filled with vibrant colors and quirky parks. Abby and I had a lot of fun playing in a playground next to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. The park is made out of repurposed shipping tools, so we had fun bouncing along on buoys and crawling along old shipping pipes. One of the things we also enjoyed seeing was a memorial “DEDICATED TO THE MEN AND WOMEN OF NORWEGIAN BLOOD WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE BUILDING OF AMERICA.” Stavanger even has a Norwegian Emigration Center that has an exhibit on Norwegian emigration to the United States.

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After that, we gratefully returned to our hotel and put our feet up. We felt like we were living the life of luxury by being in a hotel and having access to a TV. Neither Abby nor I has a TV in our student housing, so we had a lot of fun channel surfing and trying to decipher some of the Norwegian ads between our combined (and limited) Norwegian vocabularies. If you’d like to try it out, I’ve included the link to the one commercial that we did manage to figure out.

What we deduced is that this is an advertisement for Jarlsberg, one of the two big cheese brands in Norway (the other being Gulost). Things come to a head when the guy asks for Jarlsberg and is told that Gulost is fine since cheese is cheese. For the rest of the advertisement, the woman essentially says that “x is x” (even though it’s clearly not the case) and that her significant other should be satisfied. So for example, she says “hjem er hjem” or “home is home” when he’s being admitted to a mental institution. Basically the point of the advertisement is that cheese is not in fact cheese and that only Jarlsberg is Jarlsberg. Screw Gulost! Basically Abby and I spent a significant amount of mental energy deducing a Norwegian commercial for a cheese that neither of us particularly likes, but hey we felt somewhat accomplished by the end of it.

Electric Cars

In case you just couldn’t get enough of alternative energy, I thought I’d talk a bit about electric cars in Norway. Before coming to Norway, I think the most that I’d ever interacted with electric cars had been from spotting the occasional Tesla and being forced to watch the film Who Killed the Electric Car? (my English teacher had clearly failed to lesson plan that day). But this all changed when I moved to Norway. In Norway, I see electric cars everywhere.

Cars are expensive in Norway. They have very steep taxes, registration fees are exorbitant, and toll roads are everywhere. And while I initially thought that gas would be cheaper in Norway due to the oil industry, I was very much mistaken. Like most things in Norway, gas is quite expensive.

But things are quite different if you own an electric car. Most of these expenses disappear largely due to government intervention and the government’s desire to be environmentally friendly. Norway has been supportive of electric cars since the late 1980s. In 1990, the import tax on electric cars was abolished and made permanent in 1996, and a slew of economic benefits have been introduced since then. Electric cars do not have sales tax or the standard 25% value added tax (VAT), and they are exempt from road and ferry tolls and parking fees. Electric cars are free to charge and are subject to cheaper insurance. They are even allowed to use the bus lanes. In 2012, Norwegian government pledged to keep these financial incentives until 2018 or until 50,000 zero emission vehicles are on the road, whichever happens first.

It’s no wonder that the electric car is popular, since overall they are much cheaper than your average car. In fact, I’ve even seen a Tesla taxi around Trondheim (Tesla prices start at 105,500 USD). As things stand right now, there are about 37,000 electric cars registered in Norway, over 5,000 charging stations, and electric cars are responsible for about 6-12% of vehicle sales every month in Norway (Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association). It’s clear that electric cars are growing increasingly popular and increasingly practical.

But like most things, not everyone thinks the electric car is God’s gift to earth. As more and more electric cars join the roads, there are more and more critics. More cars on the road translates to more congestion–particularly in the bus lanes. Electric cars are about 75% of the vehicles in the bus lanes and can often clog up traffic. A fact that bus drivers and commuters are unhappy about. Although the number of charging stations is increasing all the time, the government has not quite been able to keep up with demand. Electric car owners complain that there are not enough charging stations and people who drive regular cars complain about how they still have to pay for gas. And although these are all valid concerns, I think the thing that troubles people most is what will happen when these financial benefits end. Many worry about the collapse of the electric car market, and it’s not an unjust concern. But I suppose there is nothing to do but to wait and see. I doubt that much will happen in my remaining time in Norway other than having a few more charging stations pop up around town. For now, my new goal is to simply catch a ride in the Tesla taxi.

Lofoten Islands Wrap Up

I’ve had a few friends tell me that they were planning on traveling to the Lofoten Islands so I figured I should wrap up and summarize the advice that I have for a trip:

  1. Depending on where you are coming from, you should budget for at least a day to get to the Islands and a day to get back.
  2. Your schedule will probably be dictated by ferry times (many of which you can look up here). The ferry runs fairly infrequently and is the quickest way to get to and from the Islands.
  3. Rent a car. Having a car makes it extremely easy to see the many beautiful sights that Lofoten has to offer. Many of the attractions on the Islands are also fairly spaced out, so it’s handy to have a car so that you can see everything on your bucket list. Alix and I did notice bus stops on our road trip, but I can’t testify as to how frequently the buses run.
  4. If you are planning on seeing some of the sights, double check their opening hours. Many places have limited hours in the off season or only open upon request.
  5. Rent a rorbu. Not only are rorbu fairly cheap and quaint, they also tend to offer you great views. Most of them come with kitchens so that’s one easy way for you to cut back on costs.
  6. This one is fairly obvious, but bring a camera. You’ll kick yourself if you aren’t able to document your trip.

From what I’ve heard and read, I would say that the best time to actually visit the Islands are during the on season (summertime) up through October. Many of the locals said that we had picked a great time to visit since we avoided other tourists, still had nice sunny weather, and were there for the beginning of the Northern Lights season. I would also say dress appropriately and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Alix and I apparently missed a spectacular display of the Northern Lights when we were traveling, so it’s worth keeping your eye on sights like Aurora Forecast and the Geophysical Institute. As for daylight weather, I’d recommend looking at yr.no.

That’s pretty much it for advice! Safe travels!