Archive for August 14, 2014

Stavanger, Norway

     We arrived on July 27 at Stavanger (sta-VANG-ger, with a soft g), Norway. A fishing town for most of its history, Stavanger is now the third largest city in Norway with more than 100,000 people & the center of Norway’s booming North Sea oil industry. We were told that 1 out of 10 citizens is a millionaire (but a million dollars or a million kroner? It makes a difference with an exchange rate of about 6 to 1).  There is an oil museum here to emphasize this, but we didn’t go there.

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     We signed on for a boat trip to nearby Lysefjorden, a neighboring fjord. We headed out of the harbor, under a bridge. We passed a very large car ferry & a house sitting alone in the water. Lots of folks apparently have summer houses on the many islands in the area, most of which require a boat to reach them.


We passed a number of scenic islands & a bridge on our way to the fjord. Many of these islands had isolated summer or weekend homes.


     As we entered the fjord the landscape became very rocky & the cliffs on either side grew higher. The rocky cliffs were quite beautiful.  We saw a cave in one of the cliffs where some criminals had hidden out for a long time.


    We pulled over to the side to see 3 goats. This was obviously not a random sighting.  The goats knew all about the boat & when they saw us they hauled their little behinds over as fast as they could.  They were not disappointed, as the boat operator gave them some food.  It looked like they have a regular job in the tourist industry.

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     Next we came to the most famous item in this fjord & the reason most visitors come here. Called Pulpit Rock (Prekestolen), this is a flat-topped outcropping of rock at the top of one of the cliff walls, some 2,000 feet up from the water. It looks pretty tiny from the water, but it’s not really.

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Many people come out here to climb to the top of Pulpit Rock.  If you google it you will find pictures showing the unbelievably dramatic view from the top. We didn’t have time to do that, since from Stavanger you would have to take a bus & a boat & then spend 2 hours (at least) climbing to the top, then do the whole journey in reverse. Our ship would have been long gone by the time we got back.  So the boat trip was the best we could do. 

We couldn’t see anyone on Pulpit Rock from the boat & assumed that it was too early in the day for people to have climbed up there. But later I enlarged the edge of the rock in some of the photos above & discovered that there were already a lot of folks on top of the rock even this early in the morning. Below are  a couple of the pictures blown up to the point where you can see some of the people on top.  These are not high quality photos, because they have been enlarged so much, but they are worth seeing anyway.  You will see in the first picture a guy with his feet hanging over the edge, & in the second picture the guy in the middle dressed in stripes appears to have gone over the edge & is standing on some kind of ledge or crevice there.  This is 2,000 feet up & the view down must be dizzying; I would be nowhere near the edge!  These must be the same people who stand up on the roller coaster.  It’s amazing what some people will do for a thrill.

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We came to a lovely waterfall down the side of the fjord wall. The tour operator took a bucket & filled it from the waterfall, then gave everyone a glass full, telling us that this is the purest water in the world.  I believe him, but I must say it tasted like . . . water.  Cool & refreshing though.

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     We stopped at a fjord-side spot for a bite to eat. They served us Norwegian waffles, which were absolutely delicious.  They were accompanied by sour cream & some kind of jam, on which I took a pass. I was glad the jam didn’t appeal to me because there were a lot of bees there, who were thoroughly enamored of the jam.  Several of them died in the jam, but they looked like they died happy. The people who wanted to eat the jam were a lot less happy to find them there.

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And so we returned to Stavanger, accompanied by some stunning views of the fjord.

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     Back in Stavanger we decided to walk around the inner town.  There had apparently been some kind of festival because we saw work crews taking down tents & stages around the harbor.  It seemed odd to us that they were dismantling it on Sunday, since the weekend would normally be the best time for turnout at a festival.

     Anyway, we walked all the way around the harbor to visit Gamle (old) Stavanger. This is a neighborhood of mid 19th Century houses where people still live, so it is kept up in very good shape. We were told it is the best preserved “old town” in Europe, but really I can’t imagine how that would be measured. It was very interesting, though, with lots of white wood frame houses on cobblestone streets surrounded by many colorful flowers.

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     Walking back through the city we passed several kinds of street art. At the head of the harbor was a traditional statue of a man in a top hat & nearby was a more modern sculpture of . . . well, I don’t know what it is of.  There is a lake beyond the harbor that has a number of sculptures around it, including one of a boy with ducks.  On the side of a house was a striking graffiti-like painting of a horse two stories high.

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     The Cathedral of St. Swithun (also called the Domkirken) is the Lutheran cathedral in Stavanger. The first bishop of Stavanger was an Englishman from Winchester, where St. Swithun had been bishop.  He brought with him a relic, Swithun’s arm. With funds from the king he completed the cathedral around 1100 or 1125, about the same time that the town was founded here. This cathedral was built in a Norman Romanesque style. After a fire in 1272 the cathedral was rebuilt with a large extension in the Gothic style. We don’t have a picture of the outside of the church because it was covered with scaffolding and canvas for restoration work, but you can clearly see on the inside the spot where the Romanesque portion ends & the Gothic begins (hint: its at the wall with the crucifix at the top).

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     A few of the columns in the old part of the church have stone carvings at the top and/or bottom.  One of these, in the first picture below, is said to be Odin, the old Norse god.  When the Norse adopted Christianity many of them didn’t entirely give up the old gods for some time. On the base of another pillar (2d picture below) is a sculpture of a fish head with human hands on each side.  The fish head is rather worn down, & one theory is that parishioners would step on it in a ritual to push evil back to the underworld.  There are other sculptures on another pillar, but we don’t know who they are or what they represent.

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     On the cathedral walls are five “epitaphs” or tomb markers.  They are large (about 10 feet tall) carved panels with paintings in the middle of the family being memorialized.  They were made by a Scottish artist named Andrew Smith in the 17th Century.

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Andrew Smith was also the creator of the cathedral’s primary feature, the fantastically carved & painted pulpit (Prekestolen).  It includes carved renditions of scenes from throughout the bible, beginning with Adam & Eve at the bottom and ending with a triumphant Christ at the top of the canopy (in a classic pose of triumph with his fist in the air).  This whole ediface is supported by a column that is Samson looking down at the lion he has just killed.  We were told that at a time when most people couldn’t read, visual representations of the bible were important teaching aids in conveying the bible’s teachings.

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Finally there were various other features that made this church interesting.  A 14th century baptismal font carved from soapstone, a pipe organ (although far from the biggest or best we have seen) and a lot of sculpted stone. Altogether a most interesting church.

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   This is a good time for the flower segment.  We saw quite a few colorful flowers in Stavanger, but most of these are cultivated rather than wild.  A lot were in Gamle Stavanger.

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     So we walked back to the ship.  On the way we saw the Valbergtarnet, a fire lookout tower erected in the mid 19th Century. Today it is a museum, not to mention a landmark.

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     We sailed out through Stavanger harbor & headed toward the Netherlands, our next stop.

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I mentioned earlier that Stavanger is the center of the Norwegian oil industry & we saw evidence of that shortly after leaving the harbor.  It was far from the last oil platform we would see, many out much further into the ocean.

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We will conclude this episode, as we have often, with towel animals.

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