The city of Stavanger is an interesting one. Located at nearly the same latitude as the Orkney Islands in Scotland, it’s situated on the inward side of a large peninsula on the southwestern coast of Norway. The city is the third largest in Norway, though still serves as a home to fewer than 300,000 people and is home to a large portion of the country’s oil fleet.
Most of the city’s old town sits on one of two small hills which partially surround the old harbor – a picturesque area full of small cafes, parked ferry boats, and a few masted sailing vessels. In addition to the cafes the harbor opens up on a large square (which is on a bit of a hill), a small 4 or 5 station fish market, and the entrance to an old shopping mall. From the harbor it’s easy to see the large suspension bridge which connects the city of Stavanger proper with a series of small islands which serve as home to some of the city’s more affluent population. You can see part of the bridge as well as the masts of small sailboats, and the warehouse-turned-residential buildings in the photo above.
To my surprise it turned out that Stavanger was hosting the Conoco Phillips world beach volleyball championships. They’d brought in tons of sand and set up six full-sized beach volleyball courts along one side of the harbor, in addition to constructing a small free standing stadium around a final match beach/field. I’m not much of a beach volleyball fan, but was excited to have stumbled onto the event. In sharing some of the names in attendance with friends who play, it turned out that the event was actually fairly major and had a lot of the most well known women’s international players/teams in attendance. What made the event that much better was the open (free) access which was available to the six practice/elimination courts which almost all had games going constantly throughout the day. The events drew huge crowds which filled the harbor area and added to the level and sense of energy in the air. Not to mention the general appeal of a bunch of attractive international volleyball players wandering around the city.
A brief 5 minute walk from the old harbor, up a small hill, past a squat old cathedral and back down towards sea level takes you to a large pond which rests directly in front of the rail/bus station and is surrounded by a variety of shops, hotels, and other like-kind establishments. The pond is pretty, if not overly beautiful, and serves as a home to ducks, fountains and the occasional swan.
The city’s smaller side streets are typically beautiful cobblestone walkways lined by an odd assortment of heartily built structures. The town’s wet climate is reflected in the green vegetation and moss which can be found everywhere – including growing between the cobblestones. I found myself pleasantly strolling through the city’s quiet side streets surrounded by flowers – some planted, some seemingly wild – which line the city’s streets and decorate the town’s residential buildings.
From the rail/bus station I decided to brave one of the city’s hills. While not a significant climb, I’ll confess to being a bit lazy. The walk left me somewhat winded and my shins burning as I wound up the steep cobblestone streets. Despite a little huffing and puffing the climb was well worth it. When I finally reached the top I quickly found a small hole between two pitched slate rooftops and enjoyed the view: the bridge, bay and one of the nearby islands was about as picturesque as a highly urban landscape can be.
As I meandered through the city streets I found myself continually drawn towards the bridge. After all it was large, no doubt offered a unique view of the city and….well…it was there and let’s face it, that’s often more than enough reason in and of itself. Before long my feet found their way to the ramp leading up to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge. Dodging the occasional bicyclist I walked about 1/2 of the way out onto the bridge then paused and looked back at Stavanger. The view was one of a prominent cathedral, pointy pitched roofs, a few converted warehouses, and brought to mind the mental image of an old city given life in an even older story – a city near slumber, late at night, lit by oil powered lamp light and echoing with the quiet rattle of wagon wheels bouncing across cobblestone streets.
An odd visual to have in the middle of the day on a bright sunny day? Perhaps – but it brought a smile to my face and some how, some way, seemed to fit the city’s skyline.
From the bridge I continued my aimless meandering, wrapping back down towards the harbor, but not before winding my way through the city’s thriving shopping district which is full of middle-upper class shops and ritzy street cafes. As I wound my way up side alleys and down main streets I was constantly entertained by the large number of odd murals that decorate walls and street corners throughout the city – most done in a graffiti style, but showing far more care, time, and artistry than random graffiti scribble. Most were bizarre, but creative and fun in their quirkiness.
Tired, footsore, and feeling more than a little starved I eventually decided it was time to track down a supermarket, pick up some relatively cheap food (though still ridiculously priced) and then head home to the Hospihostelhotel. Watch the clip above for a look at the meal (sorry about the image/color quality, I was having issues with a lens at the time).
Let me just say, that shopping in foreign countries can be difficult. Especially when you’re in a supermarket and the local language is anything but easily recognizable. As I stood in front of the cooler I couldn’t help but shrug, sigh, and scratch my head as I grabbed what looked like pre-cooked and shelled shrimp tails and what I assumed was pre-cooked BBQ chicken. The whole time I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to poison myself by accidentally buying something that wasn’t completely cooked (like the chicken). Luckily, the extent of my surprise came in the form of the “shrimp” I’d bought. It was only after getting the container open, draining off the water and tasting a few that I google translated the words on the lid. Shrimp? Not so fast. Turns out they were crawfish tails. The good news was crawfish was equally acceptable and delicious as shrimp in my book. Still, I couldn’t help but let out a hearty laugh at myself. It’s the little adventures that stick out…and this was no exception.
The final meal consisted of several small pieces of bread, a coke, diced barbecued chicken, arctic fish roe/caviar, and pre-cooked/salted crawfish tails. The end result was an odd, but strangely complimentary assortment of tastes that left me stuffed and content – even though I’d faced more than a few surprises.
With a full belly and tired legs I crawled into bed, checked my e-mail, and watched a bit of Norwegian TV which surprisingly was mostly in English with Norwegian subtitles. The following day promised an adventure – it was time to say goodbye to Stavanger and hello to Bergen.