A stranger no more, discover Norway’s charmingly pristine harbour town of Stavanger with Esther Hor
DO get outdoors especially when you are at the gateway to the rugged fjords of Norway. Carved and formed by glaciers of an era gone by, the Ice Age old Lysefjord offers all 42 kilometres of nature’s crowning glory. Hiking enthusiasts will find Stavanger a convenient base to explore both Preikestolen (Pulpit’s Rock) and Kjerag. Preikestolen is perhaps Norway’s most defining postcard picture – a natural viewing platform with a sheer drop of 604 metres proffering majestic 360 degrees view. Kjerag is more spectacular with daredevil opportunities of base jumps or stoking claims to the bragging rights of standing on Kjeragbolten (a rock wedged in mountain crevasses) atop 964 metres of vertical abyss. If doing that gives you the chills, content yourself with a fjord cruise or kayak for an alternative perspective of mountain splendour.
DON’T let the sky high prices in Norway deter you from an adventure of a lifetime. Yes you might come away from this trip being utterly broke but think of it as an investment into your account of eternity. That said, there are ways to scrimp on every cent you have, or Norwegian Krone in this case. Norwegians are relatively helpful and that extends to picking up hitchhikers. Have thumb, will travel. Couchsurfing is another incredible option that gives you an insight into the way locals live, on a pay it forward or back basis.
DO visit the Geopark or the adjacent Norwegian Petroleum Museum. Oil is one of the reasons Norway is what it is today, and Stavanger is the oil capital of Norway. The park is cool in a quirky way, built from remnants of their first oil platform and colourfully splattered with graffiti-like art. Sunset often bathes this park in lovely golden hues, giving it a curiously retro feel.
DON’T worry that you will run out of things to do, even if Stavanger is perhaps a tad small. There are a wealth of museums to fill up on that brain juice – the Norwegian Canning Museum and Rogaland Museum of Fine Arts to name a couple. In your walkabout, keep an eye out for random statues that dot the streets like punctuation marks at the end of sentences.
DO understand what Allemansrätten means as you will grow to appreciate it. Loosely translated as freedom to roam or “everyman’s right”, this term gives all the right to access, walk, cycle, ride, ski and camp on any public land which is great to stretch the penny a little further and to fully enjoy the wilderness.
DON’T expect it to be sunny all the time even in the height of summer as Stavanger does get a fair share of precipitation due to its location by the sea. On the plus side, you get to watch cruise ships docking in the harbour and tourists scampering in search for cover.
DO walk the cobbled streets winding their way down to the harbour, lined with fashion boutiques and fantastic eateries. Øvre Holmegate or “the colourful street” is an epitome of this, with quaint cafés and shops painted in an array of fresh pastel colours making for a pleasant atmosphere. During summer, a myriad of flowers adorn the streets, adding to Stavanger’s rustic appeal.
DON’T expect everyone to immediately understand the way you pronounce names of locations and streets. Simply have where you are headed written down to avoid getting confused stares and creased forehead responses that seem to have become the staple reaction to uninitiated tourists everywhere. Even among themselves, Norwegians speak different dialects depending on their place of origin, adding to the linguistic hodgepodge. But rest assured, English is widely used.
DO amble around Gamle Stavanger, also known as Straen – the largest surviving wooden house settlement in northern Europe. Just on the western side of the main harbour, this stunningly picturesque area is mercifully free of tourist tat. The long rows of ornate 18th-century whitewashed clapboard houses are immaculately maintained, complete with picket fences, cheerful flowerboxes and perfectly manicured terraced gardens. There is little architectural pretension, but here and there flashes of fancy wooden scrollwork hint at their nineteenth-century pedigree. Contrary to popular belief, most houses in Norway are not white in colour as salt and humidity in the sea breeze discolour the walls rapidly so this fortunate anomaly and its succession of narrow lanes rightfully stand out. Formerly home to local seafarers, craftsmen and cannery workers, the area has been maintained as a residential quarter and you’d be able to peek through the windows to catch a glimpse into the marvels of yesteryear and the unpretentious habits of the locals.
DON’T underestimate your budget or you will end up having to live off the cheapest meal in Norway – a McDonald’s cheeseburger for the Norwegian Krone equivalent of €1.50.