Monday 15 January 2018

Norway diaries : A wintry wander around Stavanger

During our first trip to Stavanger last year in April, we asked our local guide if the lake in the town centre just down the road from our hotel was used for skating in the winter. She said that it did sometimes freeze over but it was quite rare. I was therefore delighted when we arrived last Sunday and it was not only frozen solid but also covered in snow. 

There were some disgruntled ducks and swans splashing about in the area that hadn't frozen over and over the next few hours, it did thaw somewhat (as you can see in the picture), but one half of the lake stayed frozen for the entire week that we were there.

The wintry landscape seemed perfect for Norway and somehow made it all seem extra magical.

We were lucky because the Christmas decorations were still up for the first day of our visit but by the second day, they'd all been taken down. I particularly liked the red heart lights in the tree overlooking the lake, which add a little splash of colour to the frosty scene.

The animal statues dotted around the park and the town in general looked extra striking with their dusting of snow.

My favourite statue is the little boy with the ducks, just next to the frozen lake with its real ducks.

Heading out of the park, I wandered past Stavanger Cathedral, known as the Domkirken. It was completed in 1125, the founding year of Stavanger, and is the oldest cathedral in Norway.

The cathedral is bang in the middle of the town centre (and 100 yards from our hotel), with pedestrian streets of shops heading off in all directions and this rather striking gentleman looking down on all the shoppers bustling about. His name is Alexander L. Kielland and he was one of the most famous Norwegian realistic writers of the 19th century, classed among "The Four Greats" of Norwegian literature, along with Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Jonas Lie. (Thank you wikipedia !)

A vintage, Soviet-looking truck caught my eye and I went to investigate - it turned out to be a food truck selling baked potatoes, fish and chips, chicken and other takeaway food. It was closed but, even if it had been open, we didn't fancy picnicking in the snow !

I continued my walk by heading into the port area, which leads out into the fjord. As well as historic boats from the maritime museum, there are ships related to the oil-industry and you can also take a cruise through the fjords from here.

I love the way art is integrated into the town wherever you look, whether in statues, such as this one staring out at the water, or the colourful street art that pops up all over the place.

There are informative displays dotted all around town, which I don't remember noticing last time, which give lots of fun facts about Stavanger in the past with things to twist, turn and lift to keep the kids interested.

I wandered along the quays, looking at the maritime museum and the souvenir shops that we visited last spring, but most of them were closed because we were out of season.

I glanced up at the old district, called Gamle Stavanger, with its cobbled streets and rows of uniformly white houses, but I didn't fancy slipping up and down the steep hills in the snow.

If you had to sum up the scene in one word it would be white : the houses, the snowy streets and even the sky !

The numerous murals add a welcome splash of colour though.

I found the tourist information centre but it was closed as it was Sunday. We popped back later in the week and had a lovely chat with the Russian lady working there - she wasn't at all keen to let us go though, so I think she must be short on visitors !

So, where next ?!

I decided to head back through the port to the town centre, past the Port Authority and another funky and brightly coloured mural.

The Sandnes ship, with its bright green hull standing out against the grey/white backdrop, looked very striking, in its berth opposite the maritime museum

Then my eye caught the name of its berth-mate : the Rogaland. The last time I saw this ship was when it was brought to Dunkerque and transformed into a hospital ship during the filming of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk film last year !

In a similar vein to the celebrity handprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Stavanger harbour features various plaques with the footprints of Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Turning back into the shopping streets, I cut through the town centre and out of the other side.

This led me into the quieter residential areas of Stavanger, which still feature predominantly white wooden houses.

I spotted two very different churches - the dark, reddish, brick-built St Petri Chruch, which dates from 1866, and the more traditional, white, wooden Hetland Church, built in 1854. The one thing they both have in common is that they have a geocache hidden just next to them - yay !

After all this roaming around, it was time to meet up with my colleagues for a spot of lunch.

We opted for a very Scandinavian-looking coffee shop, selling sandwiches and soup.

I opted for a Reuben sandwich, filled with pastrami, sauerkraut and cheese, which was tasty but cost an eye-watering 89NOK - just over £8. This is expensive but typical of Norwegian prices, with a bottle of beer or cider costing about the same in the bars. Our discoveries - both culinary and geographical - continued in the afternoon when we went for a beautiful walk along the pathway at Hafrsfjord.

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