I had enormous misconceptions about Norway before I went there – I confess this was my second trip but the first had been funded by other people and was work based. This was a very spur of the moment long weekend away to visit family who have re-located to the Stavanger area, so costs were kept to a minimum. The stories are true that it is pricey to dine out etc, but this was a great chance to get away and see something a bit different in early June when the days were so long. The weather forecast looked good (sunny and clear blue skies); the flights were amazingly good value (with Norwegian Gatwick to Stavanger at about £70pp) and we were booked into accommodation chez famille.
We arrived on the late flight into Stavanger and it was really mild – gone were the images of Norway being cold and dark, although I’m sure Winter can be pretty bleak. We left the airport and city behind and headed up the coast a little bit to my cousin’s house and without taking our bags in they suggested we go down to the waterfront. This was at about midnight and my body cried out for sleep but I was intrigued to see “the jetty”. I knew that they lived on the waterfront, but had no idea what it would be like. You couldn’t see too much in the semi-darkness of after-midnight but there was an incredible moon shining right over Stavanger city which we could see sparkling in the distance. A sense of peace descended – we were out in fresh Norwegian air, surrounded by water and mountains enjoying the moon. We stayed there until about 0230 – nobody wanted to move – this was something that we never get to see at home. It was heaven and we hadn’t seen it in daylight yet!
We awoke to the news of breakfast on the jetty! Hurrah! The sun was shining, the coffee was strong and breakfast had never tasted better. I dangled my feet over the edge but couldn’t quite reach the water. We were sitting on the edge of a fjord with crystal clear water, mountains, rocky islands dotted around, boats merrily bobbing etc. Stavanger is the starting point for a lot of the fjord cruises but happily we saw no evidence of the cruise ships at all. I had packed my swimsuit and was tempted to jump in then and there but I had heard how freezing it was going to be and chickened out. The clarity of the water was such that you could see every crab, starfish and jellyfish intimately. Our neighbours came down to join us and in what I imagine to be “true Norwegian style” plunged straight into the icy water with what sounded like fluent cursing but in fluent English told us it was lovely and refreshing – yeah right!
We had many plans laid before us but I would have been really happy to stay exactly where I was with a book and just be in the middle of nature. It was so peaceful! Dutifully though we had to go and see some of the local area. First stop Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock – an “easy walk” so we were told. I made my excuses early claiming unfitness, general office lifestyle etc but was told again that it was an “easy walk” so we strapped on our hiking boots and Camelpaks and got the ferry over. (Easy walking in my mind doesn’t require Camelpaks, snacks etc). Anyhow let’s just say that I didn’t find it easy at all and managed about 1 1/2 miles before my lungs decided to stop working!
Much more to my style was cocktails on the harbour front in Stavanger town centre (averaging about £10 per drink). There were loads of people crammed into every outdoor space around the harbour – obviously the sun was creating a holiday atmosphere and red faces were sitting on boats, in bars and almost hanging from the rafters. We had dinner in a quirky old wooden restaurant on the waterside which resembled an old ship inside. It was possibly the best steak I’ve had in a long time although we could have been more adventurous and gone for reindeer or whale!
The following day was slightly overcast and perfect for fishing I was told so the boys went off in a little motor boat to catch us lunch and it was a feast of Pollock…Us girls sat on the terrace looking at the views, reading, chatting and watching the boys row back because they’d run out of petrol. Our friendly neighbour went out to rescue them after a while – lovely people these Norwegians. They don’t like to assume that you’re in trouble but only too willing to help. It probably comes from being quite outdoorsy folk – they all just seem so capable. The evening was sailing time – but there was no rush….Because the light lasts so long you don’t have to hurry anything, so after a meander along the shore we went sailing at half past 8 at night. No wind and very gentle but quite pleasant to be on the water in the bright sunshine – it could have been midday! We were gone for a couple of hours and there was our lovely neighbour to meet us and help put the boat away.
The following day after a communal breakfast with our neighbours and a spot of impromptu Beatles over the breakfast table we headed for the old part of Stavanger – all white-washed and cobbled streets with beautiful photo opportunities especially with the white against the blue sky. We also covered the other side of the harbour with loads of pretty coloured streets and shop fronts, the oil museum (more interesting than it sounds!), gorgeous chocolate shops, the cathedral and park and a smashing pub for lunch. There is no shortage of places to choose from and whilst it is expensive, everything we had was large portions and amazing quality
We saw some further delights yet on the way back to the airport which we weren’t expecting at all. Norway to me is not a place with sandy beaches and yet there is the most beautiful stretch of sand at Sola just near the airport – it has a pretty nice hotel on the beach too. We also visited a beautiful church on a bluff which has crumbled down and rather than rebuilding in stone has been renovated with glass which opens out on to a lovely bay below – quite inspiring if you were listening to a sermon. There were also the 3 massive swords in the rock on another sandy beach which was packed with day trippers, kids with buckets and spade, people hunting the shoreline for shellfish.
In short there were enchanting surprises that gave us a weekend that seemed to last a month. You have to try it – money be damned!