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.

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.

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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Driving in a Winter Wonderland

The next morning started with us experiencing some of Bergen’s infamous rain. Because we had been repeatedly warned about Bergen’s weather, the three of us had packed umbrellas that managed to protect us from the worst of it.

Before the trip started, the three of us had agreed to rent a car for two days. Thankfully Chris knows how to drive in snow. Alix and I are both from California, so the extent of our knowledge when it comes to driving in winter conditions is minimal. In fact, it pretty much consists of what we researched on a maine.gov website when we were trying to figure out how to drive on black ice in the Lofotens.

So, once we sorted things out with the rental car company we left Bergen behind. Alix and I both wanted to see stave churches so I thought we should drive up to the Borgund Stave Church and visit some of the stave churches in Vik if we had time. However, we soon ran into our first logistical difficulty: snow. It hadn’t occurred to any of us just how much snow would be beyond Bergen. Bergen has a pretty mild climate, but as soon as you cross the mountains you enter a completely different world. Snow was absolutely everywhere. For safety reasons, we didn’t drive particularly fast, and to Chris’s credit he did a great job driving. To give you an idea of how treacherous the roads were, we saw one car that had slid off the road and a big rig that overturned. In fact, there was so much snow that the big rig couldn’t even lay on the ground properly. It had slid partially off the road and was at about a 30 degree angle propped up by a snow drift.

IMG_6228  IMG_6246  IMG_6241IMG_6250  IMG_6278  IMG_6286IMG_6292  IMG_6295  IMG_6312Because the Borgund church was just over a three hour drive from Bergen I initially intended for us to make a pitstop at the Stalheim Hotel. The Stalheim has a fantastic view, as you can see from the Google Images picture below.

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Unfortunately, the snow was making it look like the hotel might be the only destination that we would be able to make it to before dark. When we were on about hour three, Alix asked if I could look up the opening hours for the churches and for the hotel. This was where I encountered my second logistical error. All of these things closed around August/September. Turns out most attractions in the wider Bergen area close after the summer holiday season. Whoops.

Thankfully Alix and Chris weren’t too upset about this. Even though we never made it to the churches or the hotel (the driveway was completely blocked with snow) we all enjoyed the beautiful scenery that we saw along the way.

Lofoten Islands: Svolvær, Bodø

Thursday was essentially the last day of our trip. Alix and I had opted not to retrace our steps back to Moskenes and instead decided that we should drive overland back to Bodø. Little did we realize how long that would take. Eventually, with the help of our GPS system we decided that the best way to head back to Bodø was to drive to Lodingen, catch the ferry to Bognes, and drive the rest of the way to Bodø. In short, an eight hour journey.

Although we had a long drive planned for the day, we decided to spend part of the morning looking around Svolvær. Compared to many of the other towns we had stopped by, Svolvær was huge. Not only did it have a grocery store, it also had several well known companies established there. Because the weather was wet and dreary we only spent a small amount of time walking around, but we did enjoy stopping by the store of a local photographer and ended up leaving with our arms fuller and our wallets emptier.

IMG_1091  IMG_1095  IMG_1098Once we had safely bundled up our purchases we hit the road. While the drive itself was long it never failed to offer us some beautiful views. Alix and I were also incredibly lucky–we spotted a sea eagle! Lucky for us it flew right over the bridge we were crossing so we could hardly fail to miss it. We were much less successful in our attempts to spot a moose, but were pretty content with having seen the sea eagle.

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IMG_5627  IMG_5644  IMG_5673While our journey was long, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It did take eight hours, but one hour involved waiting for the ferry and the ferry ride itself was another hour. So, in total we had six hours of driving and two hours involving the ferry.

After we arrived in Bodø, Alix and I had dinner, returned the rental car, and admired some local graffiti before heading to the train station. We had decided to take a sleeper train back to Trondheim and were excited to see what it looked like. It was in fact cramped, neither of our standard airport carryons could fit underneath the bunk bed, but we managed to do just fine. I will also say that although I buckled in a harness around the top bunk, it wasn’t really necessary. NSB train rides aren’t always the smoothest (walking down the aisles while the train is in motion is usually similar to walking along any sort of path highly intoxicated) but the ride wasn’t so bumpy that I was actually in danger of falling out of the bed.

IMG_1114  IMG_1116  IMG_1118The train ride proved to be a fairly uneventful one, and we pulled into Trondheim’s central station at 7:47 am on Friday.

While getting to and from the Lofotens was a bit of a trek, I will say that it was definitely a worthwhile trip and one that I would highly recommend.

 

Lofoten Islands: Bøstad, Henningsvær, Svolvær

Today was our last day in Nusfjord so Alix and I spent some extra time exploring the town and taking pictures.

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IMG_5141  IMG_5148  IMG_5172After we were finished, we hit the road heading North. Our first stop of the day was the Lofotr Viking Museum near Bøstad. The museum was built after a farmer discovered Viking relics in one of his fields. When archaeologists came to examine the relics more closely, they realized that they were on the site of a Viking Age house. Now the house has been fully reconstructed and is an impressive 83 meters long. The Viking Museum is comprised of many different parts: the reconstructed chieftain’s house, the museum, Viking rowing ship, reconstructed forge, historical garden, and several other Medieval and Iron Age settlements. Unfortunately, most of this was closed since Alix and I arrived during the off season. We were however able to take a look around the museum and the chieftain’s house. The museum itself was surprisingly uninformative but Alix and I enjoyed wandering around the museum and having a look in the Viking house.

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I freely admit that I tried on the Viking helmet and played with the sword. The helmet was shockingly heavy and the sword was about as tall as I am. Afterwards, we walked around the grounds and enjoyed impressive views of the surrounding area.

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Once we were done looking around, we drove to Henningsvær. Henningsvæer is a fairly quaint town and has a small artist community that we wanted to check out. Unfortunately, most things were closed by the time we arrived but we enjoyed seeing one of the local glassblowers at work.

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After our quick stop in Henningsvær, we drove to our final destination for the day, Svolvær. Once we arrived, we were quite happy to check into our new rorbu and settle in for the night.

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Lofoten Islands: Å, Ramberg, Flakstad

Sleep, a shower, and breakfast helped Alix and I start to feel somewhat more human Tuesday morning. We were also excited to finally have a quick look around Nusfjord. Nusfjord is one of Norway’s best preserved fishing villages and it used to cost you 30 kroner just to walk around. According to Lonely Planet, many artists believe that the town captures the essence of the Lofoten Islands (pronounced Lu-fu-ten).

As far as Alix and I could tell, we were the only tourists staying in town. The main tourist season is in the summer, so coming in October meant that we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We had opted to stay in a rorbu, or a traditional fishing cottage. Rorbuer (the plural form of rorbu) are often renovated for tourists and come with their own kitchens and sea views. Alix and I were pretty big fans of ours. The beds were fine, the kitchen was sufficiently stocked, and the view was good (more pictures of the view later).

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Because Alix and I had had such a scattered amount of sleep, we decided to take the rest of the day at a slower pace. We hit the road for about an hour to get to the city of Å (pronounced Oh). Of course it just so happened that along the way everything we passed was breathtaking.

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Norway in its infinite wisdom decided to create roads called National Tourist Roads, in other words roads that are particularly scenic and geared specifically towards tourists. It just so happens that the main road through Lofoten, the E10, happens to be a National Tourist Road. This means that what was technically a 40 minute drive turned into an hour long drive since Alix and I kept pulling the car over to take pictures. We did eventually make it to Å though.

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Å used to be a fishing powerhouse, and until World War II was drying more than 700,000 cod a year. Cod is king on the Lofoten Islands and cod has been one of the biggest industries in Lofoten for decades. Even now, the Islands have an annual catch of around 50,000 tons. Little of the cod goes to waste. The cod is dried to make stockfish, cod tongue is eaten as a local delicacy, roe is salted, cod heads are sold to Nigeria where they are used in a local dish, and cod liver is used to make cod liver oil. Å used to process so much cod that a fishy smell was pervasive year round. The local attitude towards this was to simply say “you can smell the money.”

Cod is also a major player in local politics. According to Lonely Planet, in some northern Norwegian districts up to 90% of the population voted against joining the EU. Membership in the EU would grant other EU countries, specifically Spain, access to Norway’s inshore waters, thus allowing them to compete with local fishermen.

We spent most of our time in Å walking around the town and the Norsk Fiskeværsmuseum (Norwegian Fishing Village Museum). The museum was fairly low tech and Alix and I read sporadically from a paper guide that we were given. While we didn’t find the museum particularly informative (which to be fair was partially on us) we did enjoy walking around and seeing the dried fish, ship models, and cod liver oil vats.

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After the museum, we walked towards the edge of the city and the seashore. Apparently the area around Å has some of the world’s most dangerous waters due to the whirlpools that form with the tides. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the whirlpools and instead saw placid waters. Oh well, we still had a nice time admiring the view. Afterwards, we piled into the car and prepared to slowly drive back to Nusfjord.

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On our way back we stopped by Ramberg and Flakstad. Alix and I had to stop by Ramberg for its grocery store, but we were also excited to stop since it gave us the opportunity to check out Ramberg’s much more famous landmark: its beach. Yes, Ramberg and Flakstad have actual sandy beaches. It’s as if you were miraculously transported to California–at least until you get outside and realize that going on the beach requires several layers of clothing, a hat, and wool gloves.

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It was an absolutely amazing day.