Tag Archives: fjords

Memories of Stavanger

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In 2006, one month after we got married, we moved to Norway (because one major life event in 4 weeks just wasn’t enough). We had never been to Norway before, but there we were with 4 suitcases and 2 new rings on our fingers. We arrived on a grey, rainy day in Stavanger, a small city on the Southwest coast.

Tall ship Stavanger

Three years later we left Stavanger with a toddler, a few more suitcases, and a deep love in our hearts for the city. It was truly a gift to live there for those few years.

I often think of Stavanger with a mixture of fondness and melancholy. I feel a strange heartache to think that it is all still there – our house, our street, our supermarket, the forest, the harbour – but I am not. Bizarrely, it seems to me that places that are dear to you should really freeze when you leave. It should all just pause and be preserved for when you return. I struggle to think that a city that holds such a place in my heart doesn’t hold me in the same regard; my absence doesn’t even register as a bit of a frown on the face of Stavanger. Gasp!

Harbour

This is crazy, I know. But not that crazy, right? Do you have places that you hope are just holding steady until your return?

Oh, but of course Stavanger is ticking along, as it should. And I will keep on loving it from afar.

There is so much to love: the cobbled streets of downtown that rose steeply from the harbour to the watch tower on the hill, the small tranquil harbour that somehow held enormous looming cruise ships, Gamle Stavanger (“Old Stavanger”) with its white wooden houses and cheerful flowers tumbling out of window boxes, the beautiful shops that adhered to the Scandinavian sensibility of effortless style, simplicity, and practicality with a quirky dose of fun.

Gamle Stavanger

Stavanger sign

Gamle Stavanger 2

Queen Mary cruise

Stavanger

I think about the Norwegian people who were fit and always so fresh-faced, who celebrated their national day by wearing traditional outfits called bunader, who valued family over work so much so that people would unflinchingly walk out of meetings simply because it was time to collect their child from school, who never balked at any weather but used every opportunity to get outside, who believed in the power of fresh air and would bundle up babies to nap outside in their prams.

People like our neighbours with their well-intentioned but unsolicited advice on everything from barbecuing to lawn maintenance, our Norwegian language teacher with her valiant effort to get us to say “Bare hyggelig” or “Jeg må gå nå” (any guesses?), or our midwives who proudly praised our choice of a Norwegian name for our baby.

May 17 Bunader

I picture the harbour where they held an annual food and wine festival called Glad Mat (“Happy Food”) at the height of summer that resulted in some of the best eating ever. There were vendors cooking over open fires, there were vintage boats serving cocktails, there was the French guy selling perfect creme brûlée in individual earthenware dishes, there was music and bunting, and the sky stayed light late into the night allowing everyone more precious time to taste and sip and be together.

Glad Mat

Creme brûlée

I remember the hills across the water just begging to be hiked on a sunny Saturday, beautiful trails through forests smelling of pine needles, clear pools of glacial water in the mountains and the way your feet ached as they soaked in the freezing water, the wild blueberries growing low and dense on the side of a hill.

Manafossen

Blueberries

I can still taste the Norwegian strawberries, too, so small, so sweet; the Skolebrød (“School bread”) – ubiquitous buns with a custard filling and a coconut topping; heart-shaped waffles with the heady fragrance of cardamom; the traditional, yet off-putting brown cheese that I happily and hungrily devoured in the hospital with my newly born baby girl swaddled next to me.

Boat house

I think of our cozy, but quirky house with its blue (!) toilets and wood-paneled walls. We had a backyard that was bordered by a beautiful forest and deer would visit regularly, usually to devour my tulips that had just emerged after a long, dark winter.  I also can’t help thinking of when I was accidentally locked out of the house in a torrential downpour by our 15 month old child. Hearing that bolt click closed was not a good moment.

Deer in yard

I remember winter days when the rain would come down in an endless drizzle and the sky would darken at 4:00 p.m, and I remember the lovely summer days when people would go to the beach in droves with their disposable one-use grills, and everyone would swim in the cold water until someone spotted a jelly fish and the kids shrieked. I also remember the poor boy who was stung by a jelly fish, and how his father propped him on the handlebars of his bike and cycled away to retrieve vinegar with his son screaming the whole way. Don’t worry – they were back 30 minutes later. You cannot waste a summer day in Norway!

Winter Hinna Beach

Coast

There is so much more about Stavanger that parades through my thoughts now and again from my favourite salad at Cafe Deja Vu to the resident swans at the pond behind the cathedral to the glass blower’s workshop to the funny shower curtains that were used to close off the alcohol sections at the supermarket after a certain time of day.

What an endearing, pristine place. If you have the chance, do go. As for me, I will remember it all with a smile on my face and hope one day that I can pick up where Stavanger and I left off all those years ago.

Winter Sola Beach

 

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We Odda go to Norway! (forgive me)

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Where: Odda, Norway (unfairly called Norway’s ugliest town by Lonely Planet!)

Looking down the fjord from above Odda. Kindly ignore the smelting factory down there.

Plate of food: At the time of our visit, Odda had not expanded its culinary offerings beyond hotdogs (which are a national obsession) and Dolly Dimple’s pizza (arguably another national obsession based on their sheer number of locations). Turns out that suited us just fine because we felt we earned pizza and beer after some day-long hikes and all of that fresh mountain air.

We did eat at a cheerful cafe in Kinsarvik at the other end of the Hardangerfjord. It was nestled next to the camping site and the ferry dock which sums up Kinsarvik in all its glory. The cafe was run by a Kiwi couple who served us some great fish and chips with fish caught from the fjord that morning. I love when you can look up from your plate and see the precise spot your food came from. Doesn’t happen very often, does it? Unless your apartment faces a Dolly Dimple’s….

The best: The beauty of Norway. Odda sits at the edge of a stunning Norwegian fjord in the Hardanger region. It is surrounded by deep green pine forests, glass-like water, and an iron-smelting factory (therein may be the argument for LP’s “ugliest” comment). We arrived there after driving from Stavanger, marveling at the views along the way: thundering waterfalls, rocky peaks, and perfect reflections in the lakes and fjords.

Mirror images from the road to Odda.

On one side of the Hardangerfjord is Folgefonna glacier and on the other there are apple orchards which were in bloom when we were there. It was spectacular to look out across rows of white blossoming trees to the dark waters of the fjord and the icy lip of the glacier above. The composer Edvard Grieg composed some of his most famous works here – it’s no surprise, this scenery nearly rendered me musical, too.

The fruit orchards and Folgefonna glacier on the far side.

Story that needs to be told: One of our hikes took us straight up out of the sleepy town through a pine forest. The path climbed sharply following the equally steep side of the fjord. We stopped often to admire the view and to drink fresh glacial water that poured from special spouts in the hillside. It was refreshing, but we could only drink a few handfuls before our fingers became red and stiff from the cold. We continued up along pathways made bouncy by the deep cover of fragrant pine needles until we reached a waterfall.

This was our destination chosen from our map, but we saw that the route continued upwards. We consulted the map and, indeed, you could follow the path up to a hiker’s hut. We still felt fairly fresh so we decided to forge on.

Soon we were above the tree line, walking through scrubby heather and over great bulges of rock. Out of the protection of the trees the wind howled and we were soon met by the cold air blasting off of the glacier. We piled on the layers we had shed earlier in the day with the exertion of the climb. Up and up we went. Colder and colder it became.

I started to lose interest in our little hike and I’ll tell you why: I knew that freakin’ hut wasn’t worth dying for.

Although we started walking on a sunny spring day, we somehow found ourselves smack dab in a foggy wintery hell. Clouds rolled in, obscuring the view and, more critically, the red-painted ‘T’s that showed the direction of our route. The wind stung our cheeks and cut through our many layers of clothes. Further along, hard-packed snow covered the rocks, making it treacherously slippery. I was forced to adopt the classic “walking on ice” technique. That is: I got low, my arms went wide, and I moved at the same pace as the glacier itself. I also cursed Norwegian weather, the steepness of fjords, and Edvard Grieg (for good measure).

This image does not properly capture the icy blast of glacial air coming from behind me. It does, however, capture my desire for this hike to be over.

Eventually we reached the small wooden hut and went inside. We sat on two simple benches to catch our breath. We looked around at the wooden floor boards, the one small window, and an empty tin can sitting on a beam. Then we looked at each other.

My face said this: “This clearly was not worth it”.

Matt’s face said this: “I’ll buy you a stuffed-crust pizza”.

“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” Henry David Thoreau