Monday, August 1, 2016

Norway's heritage and beauty are on display in Stavenger

 Originally a Viking settlement, Stavanger is known for its accessibility to stunning fjords around the coast of Norway. Despite gray and hazy weather with occasional heavy rain the day we visited Stavanger, the beauty of these magnificent waterways provided plenty of “wow” moments.
Rugged rock formations and clear, blue water are hallmarks of
Norway's stunning fjords.
Exquisite scenery

Our small boat was able to get
very close to the cliffs.
For an introduction to the wonders of Norway’s fjords we scheduled a boat ride to Lysefjord, 15 miles east of the city, and cruised around several islands off Norway’s southwestern coast. During the 20-mile journey we admired abundant waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and pretty fishing villages. We saw salmon farms, passed under a bridge too low for large ships, and admired dozens of holiday houses (popular with Norwegians) that were sheltered by the fjords or mountains.
In the fjords, waterfalls are too
numerous to count.
As we went deeper into the fjord, the mountains became very steep, yet our small boat was able to go very close for excellent views of the craggy rocks, a cave, and even mountain goats. The scenery exploded with lively colors and geometric formations. Had the weather been more agreeable, we would have tackled the challenging trek to Pulpit Rock, Stavanger’s most famous outcropping that rewards hikers with breathtaking views of the fjord on a clear day. But rain and cold temperatures convinced us that a boat ride was a better option for taking in nature’s dramatic handiwork.

Pulpit Rock is the flat outcropping at
the top of this sheer cliff.
Since the prevailing Gulf Stream (which usually blesses Stavanger with some of the country’s best weather) couldn’t overcome the cold and rain, I spent as much time as was comfortable on the open deck of the boat--hat pulled down over my ears and scarf tucked around my neck--admiring the ruggedly beautiful scenes and taking pictures of the impossibly blue water. As a treat, we stopped at the Visitor Center and warmed our chilled bodies with fluffy round waffles and hot tea before continuing the boat ride.
Waffles and jam--yummy!
Past to present

Stavanger is the fourth largest city in Norway with 130,000 people, although 20 percent are foreigners brought in by the oil industry. Previously a poor country dependent on fishing and canning, especially of sardines, Norway’s fortunes changed dramatically when oil was discovered there in 1969. As during Viking times, Stavanger is still a major hub for fishing and commerce.
White wooden houses in Old Town are an important to Stavanger's heritage.
Back in the city we wandered among the markets and pretty white wooden houses in Old Town on Stavanger’s west side. These well-preserved 18th and 19th century wooden buildings are considered national heritage monuments. Across the water, forming a backdrop to the yacht harbor, were colorful old warehouses that have been restored. The oldest building in Stavanger is St. Svithun’s Domkirke, a cathedral built between 1100 and 1150, the only Norwegian cathedral that has remained almost completely unchanged since that ancient time.

Stavanger is a picturesque city; it’s pedestrian-friendly with narrow streets filled with boutiques, restaurants, and galleries. Utstein Kloster, built around 1260, is Norway’s best preserved medieval monastery. Another outstanding feature is the northernmost tropical garden in the world, filled with 15,000 colorful flowers, palm trees, bamboo, and banana trees. History buffs can follow the economic growth of Norway through visits to the Norwegian Canning Museum, in operation until the 1950s, and the Petroleum Museum, built to resemble a small oil platform.
Larry enjoyed the amazing views
in Lysefjord, Norway.
Still, it’s the staggering natural scenery that visitors marvel at most and locals love to explore. Norwegians enjoy a lifestyle in which all land is open and free for people to roam. If an area is fenced, ladders often allow people to go from one side of the fence to the other, and camping is allowed almost everywhere for up to 48 hours (While it’s courteous to ask permission to camp on land owned by someone else, it’s not a requirement). This openness, unique to Norway, encourages healthy activity and enjoyment of nature.

We agree that it’s a wonderful way to appreciate the beautiful panoramas of this long, skinny Scandinavian country.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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