Stavanger Area Wrap Up

Although I didn’t spend a large amount of time in Stavanger itself, I really loved what I saw and also really enjoyed the nearby area. Here are my tips:

  1. If you want to look around the nearby area (which you should) I would highly recommend getting a car and driving around. I would particularly recommend driving the two nearby national tourist routes, Ryfylke and Jæren.
  2. Ryfylke
    1. Definitely make a trip to Pulpit Rock, though be aware that it’ll be a hike to get there and that it’s mountainous. Go early in the morning to avoid crowds and check with the local tourist office to make sure that it’s open. The other famous rock formation in this area is Kjerag, which Abby and I didn’t make it to since it was still buried in snow even at the end of May.
    2. Pay a quick stop to Sandsfossen and Høsebrua to admire the waterfall and walk over the bridge.
    3. Definitely stop by Svandalsfossen waterfall. It’s incredible. Be sure to bring a waterproof jacket though.
  3. Jæren
    1. If you have the time, continue past Ogna towards Egersund, since the surrounding scenery is gorgeous.
    2. Check out the quaint church at Varhaug old cemetery.
  4. Stavanger is pretty small and easy to walk around so I would recommend doing that. It’s vibrant colors and street art also set it apart from most Norwegian towns.
  5. Check out the Norwegian Petroleum Museum to learn more about Norway’s relationship with oil. Also stop by the next door playground and see how they’re repurposed old shipping parts.

Ryfylke, Pulpit Rock, and More

Norway is a beautiful country. No matter where I go, I’m always amazed by the scenery. But, there are of course some things that are more beautiful than others. That is why the Norwegian government, in its infinite wisdom, created national tourist routes in Norway. Now you may remember me mentioning them when I was documenting my trip through the Lofoten Islands, but in case you forgot, they are supposed to be the most beautiful roads in Norway. They are also specially designed for tourists. They have many strategic turn outs to allow you to stop your car and take pictures, and many of the roads have notable landmarks and works of art scattered along the route. Now Stavanger happens to have two such roads, which is a large part of the reason why Abby and I decided to rent a car.

Today we decided to dedicate ourselves to driving Ryfylke, the more well known of the two roads. Now we weren’t able to find a good map of the road online, or at least not one that didn’t look vaguely like a cartoon, but after combing through the Internet and the Apple App Store, I was finally able to find a more useful app. So, if you happen to be driving Ryfylke and want to know where all of its landmarks are, I would recommend downloading Ryfylke MultiGuide.

Our first destination of the day was Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock. Pulpit Rock is probably Norway’s most famous natural landmark, and thus has a lot of facilities catering to the large number of tourists who go there. Because Preikestolen can get crowded, Abby and I decided to go early in the morning (it turns out teaching 8 am classes is useful in helping you get up early). Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on our side for most of the drive over, BUT just as we were debating coming back later in the day, the skies slowly started to clear and we decided to go ahead and hike the trail.

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Now unlike the United States, where you can usually just park your car next to your chosen major landmark, Norway makes you work for your pictures. So after Abby and I parked the car, we loaded up our hiking backpacks and started out on the 3 km (1.8 mi) trail. The terrain was hilly, but overall it was very well marked (maybe even too well marked–just about every rock along the way had a red T painted on it) and very well maintained. Although we were slowed down by crowds and my constant picture taking, we eventually made it to Preikestolen without too much of a hassle. It was well worth the trip. It was also terrifying.

IMG_2632  IMG_2635  IMG_2640IMG_2673  IMG_2694  IMG_2676IMG_2707  IMG_2727  IMG_2749Now I happen to have a fear of heights. It’s not debilitating by any means, but I would say that my fear is greater than that of your average person. So while I was thrilled to finally make it to Preikestolen, I was also absolutely terrified of its sheer rock faces. If you fell off of Preikestolen, I have no doubt that you would die. But, I figured that this was also a great time to try and conquer my fear. Trial by fire. That didn’t really happen. I was definitely less scared of the edge by the end of our trip, but I think it’s safe to say that my fear isn’t going away any time soon. That being said, I still did venture to sit on the edge. I owe Abby a debt of gratitude for putting up with my nervousness and shouted expletives.

IMG_2733  IMG_2732  IMG_2751IMG_2753  IMG_2755  IMG_2759IMG_3809  IMG_3805  IMG_3810After a quick hike back down to the car, we hit the road again. Before too long we were in Solbakk and searching for our second landmark, a set of prehistoric carvings. Unfortunately they were a bit difficult to find. We also ran into trouble when we misread a parking sign, thinking that it was telling us that parking was straight ahead, as opposed to right underneath the sign. But we managed to figure things out eventually.

The carvings were found in 1923 and date back to around 500 B.C. The petroglyphs depict two different types of ships and sun figures–telling us that Bronze Age people had sailing technology and that they possibly worshipped a sun god. After stopping for a few quick pictures, Abby and I hopped back in the car and continued driving. Our next stop was Svandalsfossen waterfall, but because it was located towards the end of the road, we simply spent the next few hours chatting and admiring the passing scenery.

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But before we could get to Svandalsfossen, we actually stopped by another sight first. Intrigued by a large plastic salmon figure next to a road sign, we decided to aggravate our GPS system and change course. We ended up stopping by Sandsfossen and Høsebrua bridge. Sandsfossen is a waterfall along one of Norway’s most well known salmon rivers, Suldalslågen. There is a salmon studio at the falls, but unfortunately it wasn’t open yet for the season. Apparently the salmon are particularly large here and a 10 kg (22 lb) salmon is not unusual, with some fishermen catching some that weigh around 20 kg (44 lb). The local record is a 21.5 kg (47 lb) salmon.

After stopping to admire the waterfall, we stopped by Høsebrua bridge, a short bridge built in 2013 that spans the river.

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From there we kept driving until we entered the small town of Sand. One of my co-teachers later informed me that this town is near the mountain that she famously fell off of (the story does have a happy ending since she ended up marrying the medical intern who was looking after her). It was also here where we were utterly confused by the ferry. Because we didn’t see a clear way to board the ferry, we simply parked our car in front of the ferry barrier and waited for the ferry to arrive. After much failed hand waving on the part of the captain, we were finally told that we couldn’t park in front of the barrier since we were cutting the line. Only after the captain came down to talk to us, did we realize that about a block away the road divides into a separate ferry lane. So Abby and I, as well as another tourist car, backtracked and got in line behind about five other cars. Luckily, our other ferry goers seemed more bemused by our confusion than annoyed at our inadvertent attempt to cut the line.

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Once we crossed the fjord to Ropeid, we continued to our last stop, Svandalsfossen fall. Svandalsfossen has to be one of the biggest and most powerful waterfalls that I’ve ever seen. The waterfall is next to the road, and due to the heavy rains we’d been having, the spray was so strong that driving past it was similar to driving through a car wash–and we weren’t even passing the largest part of the waterfall! Luckily the surrounding area is designed for tourists, so it was easy to park the car, walk around, and climb up a series of stairs in order to explore the waterfall. The waterfall has a 180 meter (590 foot) fall, and the waterfall used to power a sawmill. Nowadays, the waterfall is unregulated, but it’s still quite a force of nature. The first few pictures of the waterfall were taken at shutter speeds of 1/8,000 and 1/5,000 of a second, yet you can still see that the water moves too quickly for the camera to fully stop the action.

IMG_2987  IMG_2995  IMG_2997IMG_3009  IMG_3004  IMG_3030IMG_3040  IMG_3031  IMG_3060IMG_3053  IMG_3068  IMG_3066 Abby and I got as close as we dared, and while that wasn’t particularly close, we still ended our visit looking like we had just gone for a swim. Thankfully some genius invented both car heaters and heated seats, so we weren’t cold for too long. From there we took a longer route to head back to Sandnes via Stavanger. All in all we ended up driving in a loop, and although we were exhausted by the time we got back some time around midnight, it was definitely one of the best days that I’ve had here in Norway.

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On Top of the World

The next day proved to be my favorite day in Svalbard. Sarah and I woke up on the early side in order to hike one of the nearby mountains, Sarkofagen (the mountain on the left in the first picture). I hadn’t quite realized how much effort it takes to plan anything in Svalbard until talking more to Sarah. Major things that were included in our backpacks were: extra layers, water, flare gun, flares, and a rifle. If we had been scaling a mountain with more than a 30 degree incline, Sarah told me that we would’ve had to carry a shovel, probes, and avalanche beacons. These three things are used to help in the event of an avalanche. Fun fact: one of the biggest dangers with avalanches is suffocation. If you are ever caught in an avalanche you want to wrap your arm in front of your nose and mouth in order to help create an air pocket.

I will also say that there is a significant difference between hearing about polar bear preparations and actually seeing them. Soon after leaving the barracks, Daniel, the other person with us, half loaded his rifle in preparation for the hike.

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The hike itself was gorgeous. At this point in time I’ve traveled around Norway quite a bit, but Svalbard might just take the cake for the most beautiful scenery.

Luckily the path we took wasn’t too steep so we made it to the top of Sarkofagen within two hours. All in all we went from sea level to approximately 512 m (1,680 feet). We were climbing on glacier for a good part of the hike, and at one point contemplated on going into one of the glacier’s ice caves. Unfortunately, we realized that doing so would take quite a bit of time and would require getting a lot of extra gear that I lacked, such as crampons. So we soldiered on to the top of the mountain.

Some things that jumped out at me on this trip were that you could actually see the imprints left behind by former hikers. When you step in the snow you compact the snow on impact. When the weather is windy it can blow the surrounding snow away and leave a type of reverse footprint (see pictures below).

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Other fun things include picking a less steep climbing route to reduce the chance of starting/getting caught in an avalanche, my breath creating so much moisture that it caused parts of my eyelashes to freeze together, my breath creating enough moisture on one side of my face that the hair on that side of my face froze and went white with frost, and alternating between being cold in effectively -35°C weather and feeling incredibly hot due to the hike. I definitely felt like the queen of the world when I reached the peak of the mountain, and while I wasn’t technically at the North Pole I felt as though I was on top of the world.

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The hike down was much quicker, though because we did spend a lot of our time walking on snow covered glacier, it was a bit slippery at times. I definitely fell over more than once and scooted down part of the mountain on my butt. But it was all worth it.

After that we made our way down to Svalbard Gallery, a gallery with some local artwork, and then called it a day. Because Svalbard had only just achieved civil twilight, it was dark the majority of the time that I was there (wreaking absolute havoc with my circadian rhythm). That in addition to the cold weather meant that I spent a good portion of my time in Svalbard hanging out with some of Sarah’s friends and spending time indoors. I was even introduced to a Norwegian miniseries called Kampen om tungtvannet, which translates to The Battle for Heavy Water. The drama focused on the development of heavy water in Norway and how the Germans wanted to use this during World War II to try and build their own atomic bomb. The stars of the program were British and Norwegian intelligence agents who tried to disrupt the Germans and the heavy water plant. While I didn’t understand the majority of the show, it was still nice to watch. The skiing scenes also emphasized how poor my skiing is in comparison to most Norwegians.

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Bymarka 2.0

Because Alix and I traveled so much during the week, we decided to take this past weekend a bit slower. In traditional Norwegian fashion, we decided to go on a Sunday hike. So this past Sunday, we along with several other families piled onto the tram to go to Bymarka.

The last time I went to Bymarka was in September, but I was quite happy to go again because Bymarka is a fairly large city forest. It is 80 square kilometers (just over 30 square miles) and contains 200 kilometers (124 miles) of hiking trails, which means that there was still much we could explore. Unfortunately, because it was mid-October and we’ve experienced rain the last few weeks, most of the trails were fairly muddy. On the plus side, Alix has gone to Bymarka more often than I have and she was able to direct us around the many bogs that have formed in the park.

I have been told by people who love me that some of them really just like the pictures I post, so here are a few for you to look at. Unfortunately, our trip to the Lofotens has spoiled us a bit, and Alix and I were definitely less appreciative of the landscape since it couldn’t really compared to what we had just seen up North.

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Strikes & More Hikes

The teachers’ strike has finally ended! This was the happy news that greeted me on Monday, and I was excited to finally go to work at Byåsen towards the end of the week. Between my NTNU teaching schedule and my NTNU student schedule, I can only go to Byåsen on Thursdays and about every other Friday. The current plan is to help with a class called International English on Fridays and to stop in on most Thursdays to help with whatever classes teachers would like to borrow me for. This week I went to both International English and an English class that is part of the health vocational track. Overall the students seem to be fairly well spoken, if a bit shy.

This week has also been fun since I finally got to see my co-teacher at work. She does a really great job of engaging with the students and coming up with fun activities for them to do. I particularly enjoyed watching the students try to rap Disraeli’s 21st Century Flux, though I was surprised that the first dictionary they turned to when going through the lyrics was Urban Dictionary. I suppose that I’ll have to be the one diehard Oxford English Dictionary fan in the room.

On another note, I’ve gone on a few more adventures with the other Trondheim Fulbrighter, Alix. Two weeks ago we decided to try and pay Munkholmen, an island out in the Trondheim fjord, a visit since it can’t be accessed past early September. The only way you can reach the island is by boat, and because we decided to go with a sightseeing company, we got a tour of the fjord on top of our trip to the island. One thing that we learned on the tour was that during World War II the Germans had hoped to make Trondheim their northernmost naval base. In order to achieve this, they built two different submarine bunkers in the city, both of which are still standing today. In fact, one of those bunkers is now the home of the city and state archives. We also found out that the fjord contains a lot of salmon, which explains both the salmon vendor who comes to the nearby grocery store and the many fishermen who line the fjord on sunny days. As for Munkholmen, it used to by the home to a monastery which became fairly well known for its beer. Funnily enough Munkholmen is now its own brand of beer although these days it is non-alcoholic.

More recently, Alix and I had a nice sit down meal with one of last year’s Fulbrighters, Kam. It was great being able to ask her a bit more about her experiences as a Fulbrighter and to ask her for all of her Trondheim specific tips. Thanks to Kam’s advice I have now successfully found three of the Asian  grocery stores downtown (and thus the location of good ramen).

Lastly, I ended this week with a hike! This weekly hiking is starting to make me feel both more Norwegian and less guilty of the fact that I have yet to use my new gym membership. This week Alix and I, as well as another friend Tom, decided to brave the tram system and head out to Bymarka. Bymarka is Trondheim’s main forest and its location high up on a mountain offers some great views of the fjord. We decided to take it pretty easy so we mostly just walked around one of the lakes next to the Lian tram stop; however, we’re hoping to come back another time to explore a bit more of the forest. Until then, you’ll have to settle for some pictures of our fjord tour.

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The Charmed Cabin Trip

One of the great advantages to having a roommate who has lived in Norway for a year is that he knows just about everyone. This week it meant that I had the chance to go on a cabin trip that one of his friends had organized in Vekvessætra. Because the cabin was large enough to house 20 people, two cabin groups ended up merging to form what was ultimately a group of 24 people (don’t worry we didn’t wreck the cabin, some people slept outside in tents). The cabin was really quaint and even came with a traditional wood burning stove and an outhouse.

Because we arrived at the cabin in the late afternoon we didn’t actually get to do too much hiking. The hiking that we did do involved trying to find a lake…and instead finding a swamp. Two of the boys ended up trekking through the swamp until they found the mythical lake, but the rest of us turned back after getting thoroughly muddy and getting our feet soaked. The real highlight of the evening was getting to see the Northern Lights! Of course I didn’t bring my camera since I thought that nothing exciting would happen on our trip and the Northern Lights typically appear in winter. That was clearly the wrong packing choice. Sadly my iPhone wasn’t able to capture the Northern Lights because they were pretty faint.

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Anyways, there are a few important things to know about cabins and hiking in Norway: both things are a huge part of Norwegian culture, and it’s traditional for Norwegians to go on hikes on Sundays. There is also a pretty extensive cabin system throughout Norway, and you can rent a cabin from the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) for fairly cheap. Things get even better because once you are actually in the wilderness you can drink straight from streams and eat any of the wild berries. My group personally liked gorging on the wild blueberries.

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While our second day at the cabin did include slogging through a few more swampy areas we also got to see reindeer! They popped up out of nowhere and proceeded to calmly run around the mountain (and I admit they were doing a much better job than we were). We almost reached the summit of the mountain but decided to turn back at the last minute due to the weather. We ended up taking a slightly different route back from our original one, the result being that we got lost for two hours. While we had brought a map with us, it ended up being fairly useless since it didn’t have any features on it other than mountain contour lines. Our struggle to navigate back to the main road included wandering on a narrow ledge between a river and an enclosed pasture, talking to an elderly Norwegian man who couldn’t speak English, and asking for directions from a family that was quite literally gold mining in the river. Luckily we managed to find a cabin that had a road leading back to the main road. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to see pavement in my life.

IMG_0702   IMG_0717 All in all it was a truly charmed trip since I got to see both the Northern Lights and wild animals. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Strikes, Education, and More

The school year has officially started! As an exchange student at NTNU I have the right to take classes here (I even had to fill out a proposed schedule of coursework when I applied). As of right now, it’s looking like I’ll be taking a Norwegian class and a class on gender and Norwegian culture. Neither class starts until next week so I was able to enjoy lazy days and the bliss of sleeping in for most of the week. While my days started later than normal I was able to accomplish a few major things this week:

The Residence Permit

Everyone that I have ever talked to about the residence permit has hated the process. While the process itself is simple enough, it can be time consuming. Once you arrive in your designated city you are told to register at the police station within 7 days (at Trondheim they told me that they could care less about this step and that I should go home). You also have to book an appointment at the police station. Usually these appointments are only available four or more weeks after your arrival, which is less than ideal since I need my residence permit in order to get paid. Luckily NTNU schedules massive blocks of time at the police department for students which means that I was able to get to an appointment this week. I don’t have the physical residence card yet, but it is on its way! If things go well I should be able to open a bank account in about two weeks.

Byåsen

I finally got to meet my contact at Byåsen, the upper secondary school that I’m assigned to. Kirsti (pronounced Shisti) was able to take me on a tour of the campus and tell me a bit more about my role at the school. I’ll primarily be helping her with a class called International English although I may help her with some other classes and will have the chance to work with other teachers at the school, particularly one who is teaching American history.

Another highlight of this meeting was getting the chance to ask about the ongoing teacher’s strike. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I thought that the primary reason for striking was related to teaching schedules. Kirsti quickly shot down that notion and explained that while teaching hours are what is drawing the most media attention, the reality is that it is just one issue out of a series of issues that teachers are protesting. Some of the other things that teachers are upset about are:

  • The increased use of testing
  • Teachers already don’t get paid for overtime and the government also wants to stop teachers from getting paid when they act as substitutes for other classes
  • Currently when teachers reach the age of 55 they are given fewer classes to teach. Now, the government wants to stop this practice, but give new teachers fewer classes to teach. Teachers like the idea of giving new teachers fewer classes, but they also want to keep this same policy for people who are 55+

When this week started I was told that if things remained unaddressed that teachers would go on strike starting on Thursday. Today is Saturday and the strike is still ongoing. When I talked to Kirsti about the strike on Friday she said that it was quite possibly the biggest and most important teachers strike in Norway’s history, making it more unfortunate that I can’t actually read any Norwegian newspapers.

Scheduling & Teaching

I also got the chance to sit down with both Nancy and Kirsti to figure out my schedule for the semester. Unfortunately a lot of Nancy and Kirsti’s classes overlapped so it looks like I’ll be spending the majority of my time this semester on NTNU’s campus and every other Friday at Byåsen with Kirsti. I went with Nancy this Friday to help with our first class, Communication for Engineers. We weren’t able to cover too much in class since it was just the first one, but Nancy talked a lot about how to properly read scientific articles and how we’ll be teaching students how to improve the content and structure of their essays. We also require students to free write for at least 10 minutes and send in their writing at least six times by the end of the semester. I’ve already started to get emails from students, and some of them have some pretty interesting projects that they are working on. Most of the students are working towards their masters degrees and it’s fun learning a bit more about their passions and what they are hoping to achieve by the end of the year.

Lastly, it seems like no week will be complete without some sort of hike so here are a few pictures from the Estenstaddammen and Estenstaddamman lakes.

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