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Published: December 29th 2008
We visited the beautiful country of Norway over a period of 12 days during May of 2007. We started the trip in Oslo, staying two full days. Next, we took a flight from Oslo to Haugesund, where we visited my Uncle Knut's family on the island of Karmøy for five days. Then, we drove down to Stavanger, first stopping at Preikelstolen for the most amazing hike ever. We then spent 1.5 days in Stavanger, before ending our trip in Bergen. We spent two days touring the city, and another day completing the Norway in a Nutshell Tour of the Sognefjord. I did not write a day by day account of this trip, so instead, I will provide a brief summary of the places we saw and things we did.
Oslo: (Friday, May 18th to Saturday, May 19th, 2007)
We flew on Continental Airlines from Seattle to Newark, and then Newark to Oslo. We arrived in Oslo around 10:00, and took the Flytoget train from the airport to the central train station. From the train station, we walked about 15 minutes up Karl Johan’s Gate in order to reach our hotel.
Norway can be a tremendously
expensive country to visit, especially for Americans, so we opted to purchase the Oslo Package from www.visitoslo.com. Our pass included two nights hotel and the Oslo Pass, which allowed free travel on all public transport, free admission to many of the museums and sights, and free parking in Oslo (the latter was not necessary for us, but could be helpful for those with a car). We ended up paying approximately $375 for this package deal for the both of us, which we thought was an excellent deal, considering how expensive Oslo was.
Below is a brief summary of the things we saw and visited while in Oslo:
• Oslo Town Hall: The building is home to the City Council, administration offices, art studios and galleries. Construction began in 1931, but work was interrupted by World War II, before the building was finally finished in 1950. The City Hall also hosts the annual Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. The interior of the building features a massive hall with many beautiful Romantic Social Realism murals. Mike and I simply wandered our way through the impressive building, spending the majority of the time enjoying the impressive murals in the grand hall.
• Holmenkollen Ski Jump: We used Oslo's public transportation system to reach Holmenkollen, as it was located outside the city center. Holmenkollen is a ski jump tower that was originally built in 1932, but has been either renovated or changed 15 times since that time, although most occurred in preparation for the 1952 Winter Olympics. When we arrived, it was very windy, so it was quite chilly. It order to reach the top of the ski jump, we first took an elevator that carried us up a small portion of the way, and then we had to climb a ton of stairs. The trek was worth the effort though as views from the top were incredibly rewarding; you could see much of the beautiful countryside surrounding Oslo for miles and miles. In contrast, peering down the actual ski jump was nerve-wracking, especially to imagine how scary it must feel as a competitor prior to jumping; not something I would ever want to participate in!
• Akershus Fortress and Norwegian Resistance Museum: Akershus is a complex of various sights housed on a military base. We toured the interior of the castle (which was rather bland and not really that interesting)
and visited the Norwegian Resistance Museum. The museum explained the story of Norway's involvement during WWII including the Nazi invasion, the resistance movement, and finally, liberation. We learned that many of the Norwegian resistance fighters were shot to death by the Nazis right outside the entrance door of the building.
• Viking Ship Museum: This museum contains three amazingly preserved Viking ships from the ninth century and is located on the Bygdoy Peninsula. All three ships were excavated from the Oslofjord region during the late 19th and early 20th century. These ships were originally built as burial tombs for the nobility and they were buried in blue clay along with an assortment of jewels, food, tapestries, furniture, and many other important items of the time. This blue clay preserved the oak ships and enabled them to survive for nearly 1000 years until they were excavated. I was immensely impressed with not only the massive size of the ships, but the fact that the wood structure survived for such a long period of time in such amazing condition. The museum also contained a variety of other artifacts from the Viking period.
• Norwegian Folk Museum: Visiting this open-air museum
was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Norway. The museum contains over 150 preserved homes and buildings from all around the country that have been reassembled on 35 beautiful acres. Apparently, the museum is much livelier during the summer months of June through August when a majority of visitors tour the grounds, allowing most of the interior buildings to be opened and staffed by a guide. Since our visit occurred during May, there were only a few buildings we were able to access the interior of, including the incredible Stave church. However, that did not affect our enjoyment of the place. It was nice to be able to walk the grounds without being inundated with people. However, I would recommend visiting during a summer weekend rather than when we visited in May, as I am sure that the guides help to liven the place and make it even more interesting.
• Kon-Tiki Museum: Another museum located on Bygdoy Peninsula, which was created to house the balsa raft that Thor Heyerdahl sailed on from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. The museum also contains artifacts from Heyerdahl's other expeditions around the world. While the museum was interesting, we
didn't feel that the $7 or $8 entrance fee was worth the cost.
• Frogner Park (Vigeland Sculpture Park): Is a 75 acre park that is home to dozens of sculptures and works of art by Gustav Vigeland. In 1921, an agreement was created between Vigeland and the city of Oslo; in exchange for a free apartment to live in and support from the state, the artist would spend the rest of his life creating pieces of artwork to place in Frogner Park. Today, the park is home to 212 granite and bronze sculptures and probably just as many people admiring his work. There are several famous pieces, but we both had two overall favorites. One was the Monolith, which is the centerpiece of the park and a column that contains 121 inter-weaving figures carved onto a massive piece of stone. The other was Sinataggen (the 'Little Hot Head'), which was of a young little boy throwing a temper tantrum, and is quite popular and famous throughout Norway. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and gray the day we visited, so my pictures just don't do the statues justice as they would have had they been taken behind a bright blue
• National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design: Located in the central part of Oslo, this museum contains the works of many Norwegian artists, but is most well-known for the Edvard Munch paintings it owns especially one of the versions of The Scream
• Karl Johan’s Gate: A long boulevard and the main thoroughfare of Oslo that leads from the train station to the Royal Palace. We walked up and down this road multiple times, along with every other tourist in town. It can become quite crowded, especially closer to the train station, where there are lots of tacky tourist shops and chain restaurants looking to take advantage of the visitors. It tends to calm down as you approach the Royal Palace. Speaking of the Royal Palace, we weren't able to tour the interior of the building as it was closed during our visit, but in hindsight, I wished we had at least walked up to the gates to take some pictures.
• Hotel: We stayed two nights at Thon Hotel Stefan.
The hotel was quite nice and the breakfast was utterly amazing; it was buffet style, and included a ton of cold cuts, breads, fruit, and freshly
made waffles! We made sure to fill-up with food on both mornings as food in Oslo (and the country itself) was tremendously expensive. The hotel was centrally located, just two blocks up from Karl Johan's Gate which was convenient as we were within walking distance to many of the sights in Oslo.
• Food: With the exception of breakfast at the hotel in the morning, the only other place we ate at in Oslo was a Norwegian Pizza chain called Peppe's Pizza where we had some delicious Italian-style pizza. Although you might think of pizza places as one of the inexpensive "budget" options in a city, even Peppe's was ridiculously expensive. For two personal pizzas and two pops, I believe we paid nearly $50 US dollars; I didn't even want to imagine how much it cost to eat in a regular restaurant! When looking at the menu, we noticed that a glass of beer cost over $10 USD! Norway is extremely expensive when it comes to food, so I recommend finding a grocery store to shop at in order to purchase items to make sandwiches and other snack items.
Haugesund/Karmøy: (Sunday, May 20th to Thursday,
St. Olav's Church at Avaldsnes
And the Virgin Mary's Sewing Needle leaning against the walls of the church
May 24th, 2007)
We spent five days on the island of Karmøy, including a day-trip to Haugesund, which is located just north of the island. My Uncle Knut is from this area of Norway, so we had the opportunity to stay with one of Knut's childhood friends named Johnny. While on Karmøy, we slowed down the pace from our normal amount of sightseeing and spent much of our time meeting Knut's many relatives. Here is a brief summary of the things we saw and visited:
• Haugesund: We walked through the town, stopping in at a few shops and markets. We walked along the harbour, stopped at a statue of Marilyn Monroe (her father was from Haugesund), and took lots of pictures of the beautiful homes and waterway. We also visited the pretty and pink City Hall, (Radhus) which was built in 1931 and is considered one of the best neo-classical buildings in the country.
• Karmøy: We saw most of the sights on Karmøy, but the three listed below stand out as being the most memorable.
• St. Olav's Church at Avaldsnes: A nearly 800 year old gorgeous stone church that was erected in 1250.
Although the church is quite old, what it is probably more famous for is the adjacent 7.2 meter spire called Virgin Mary's Sewing Needle, which precariously leans towards the exterior wall of the church. The legend states that when the spire finally lands against the wall, the "Day of Judgment" is at hand.
• Viking Settlement at Avaldsnes:
After visiting St. Olav's, we walked behind the church down a rather steep hill to the Viking Settlement. This sight has been created to appear as what a Viking settlement would have looked like hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, access to the interior of the buildings was locked, but we were able to snoop around the property. This place is best visited in the summer months of June, July, and August, like so many of the other open-air museums in Norway.
Our most favorite sight on Karmoy was definitely the charming town of Skudeneshavn which is located on the southern tip of the island. This small town has an amazing collection of over 225 white wooden houses that have been well-preserved and taken care of. Skudeneshavn was quiet when we visited, as we arrived mid-morning on a week-day, but we really enjoyed
walking around the beautiful town admiring the many cute buildings.
• Outside of Karmoy, we took a half-day trip to Langfoss Waterfall, which was located about two hours away by car. Unfortunately, our visit occurred on a very wet, rainy, and foggy day, so I was not able to attain the blue sky photos I had been hoping for. On the other hand, the dreary weather probably added to the dramatic affect of the waterfall, which we were both surprisingly impressed by. The waterfall is 612 m long (2008 feet) and there is a path that one can climb all the way to the top for a great view of the surrounding countryside. We decided not to partake in the climbing as it was quite miserable out that day, and we didn't feel like getting any more soaked than we already were.
A great resource for listings of all of the sights above plus many others, can be found on this regional website,
which proved to be quite useful while I was planning our trip.
Stavanger: (Friday, May 25th to Saturday, May 26th, 2007)
After spending five days with the family, Mike and I
headed south to the city of Stavanger, but not before first stopping for what would end up being my favorite event of the entire trip. When I was a little girl, my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Knut gave me a photo book on Norway, which had numerous beautiful photos of the many famous sights in Norway. One of those photos was of Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), which is a massive cliff that protrudes 604 meters above the beautiful Lysefjorden and allows for stunning views of the surrounding area. In order to reach this amazing viewpoint, one must climb up very difficult and steep path that generally takes most people 3-4 hours round trip to complete. Although the elevation gain is only 334 meters, the hike takes a long time to complete due to the numerous ridges that the path goes along.
Knut, Kathy, Mike and I started this day-trip in the early morning hours, first catching a ferry from Skudeneshavn to Stavanger. Once in Stavanger, we had to take another ferry to Tau. After arriving in Tau, we drove at least 20-30 minutes until we reached the parking lot at the Preikestolhytta Youth Hostel. Although I was quite tired, the
good thing about beginning the hike before 09:00 was that there were hardly any other hikers on the trail. Now, let's talk about that "trail". When I hear the word trail, my mind sees images of a nicely manicured dirt path. Apparently, the Norwegian definition for the word "trail" slightly differs from mine. Aside from the first few minutes of hiking, the rest of the "trail" involved carefully climbing over huge rocks and boulders that were quite slippery from the moisture of the fog. I had to closely watch every step I took, for if I did not, I probably would have ended up with a broken ankle.
We finally made it to the Pulpit Rock about 2.5 hours later. However, instead of being greeted by the amazing views of the fjord, I was presented with lovely view of thick fog. My first thoughts were "are you FREAKING kidding me?!" and I became quite angry and irritated, as we had all worked extremely hard to make it up that mountain. Knut was much more even-keeled about the situation, and stated that it was "out of our control, and that there was nothing we could do". I, on the other
hand, refused to leave and was determined to stay until I was able to see a glimpse of the fjord. Knut said "alright, sounds good, well see you down at the parking lot" and turned around to leave while Mike and I sat waiting for the fog to disperse. Thankfully, the fog quickly lifted, and 30 minutes later, we saw the impressive views I had waited so many years to see. What was probably most impressive about the entire experience was the fact that there was no barriers or fences along any portion of the hike or even at the top. Theoretically, one could walk up to the top and jump right off, as there is absolutely no physical barrier preventing them from doing so. However, Norwegians are immensely respectful of the height, and even have the ability to sit right on the EDGE of the cliff without doing anything stupid to risk injuring themselves or loosing their life. You would never see anything like this occur in the US, so I was quite impressed. Climbing Preikestolen was more rewarding and also difficult than I ever expected. However, it is an experience I will never forget, and one that I
hope to repeat on our next visit to Norway, albeit hopefully on a sunny day in the summer!
After climbing Preikestolen, we took the ferry from Tau back to Stavanger, where the four of us met up with Knut's family as one of Knut's nephews named Ellef lives in the city. Here is a brief summary of the things we saw and visited during our 1.5 day visit of Stavanger:
• Gamle Stavanger (Old Stavanger): We walked around this beautifully manicured neighborhood several times during our visit. It is filled with a large collection of well-preserved eighteenth- and nineteenth century wooden structures, similar in idea and concept to Skudeneshavn.
• Norsk Hermetikkmuseum (Norwegian Canning Museum): Located in Old Stavanger, this museum was created in honor of the city's former involvement with the herring business in the late 19th and early 20th century. Apparently, the herring is smoked mid-June to mid-August on Tuesdays and Thursdays; thankfully, we weren't fortunate enough to be able to partake in that stinky experience.
• Stavanger Domkirke: This beautiful church was built between the years of 1100 to 1125 in the Anglo-Norman style. We were fortunate enough to hear some of the
amazing church organs play, which sounded simply amazing in the incredibly old building.
• Norwegian Petroleum Museum: This museum is dedicated to the discovery of oil in Norway's North Sea in 1969, has detailed information regarding the history of the industry, and also discusses the later transformation the oil business has had on the country. Prior to the discovery of the oil, Norway was a very poor country, and lives were dramatically changed after the new found fortune came to fruition.
• Waterfront: The architecture of Stavanger really blew me away. The city has undergone dramatic transformations in the recent years and is filled with dozens of colorful and restored buildings, similar in architecture style to those found in Bergen.
• Food: We ate out twice while in Stavanger, both times eating at an Italian restaurant called NYE La Piazza, which is located just right off of the harbor and offers a variety of pizzas, pastas, and other Italian dishes for decent prices.
• Lodging: We stayed two nights at the Skansen Hotel.
The hotel was located in the center of town, within easy walking distance of all of the major sights. It also included a breakfast,
which was good, but not quite as impressive as the one we had in Oslo. The hotel is decently priced, but substantially cheaper on the weekend, just like so many other hotels in Norway.
Bergen: (Sunday, May 27th to Tuesday, May 29th, 2007)
From Stavanger, we took a bus up to Aksdal, where Kathy and Knut picked us up. We then headed onto Bergen, where Mike and I would stay for three days, and Kathy and Knut two days. We saw quite a few things during our stay in the city, and here is another brief summary of things we did and saw.
• Bryggen (Bergen's Hanseatic Quarter): This wharf is lined with colorful wooden buildings, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings were built after a devastating fire occurred in 1702 and most have been meticulously restored.
• Rosenkrantz Tower: The building is the keep of the 13th century castle called Bergenhus fortress, which was once the former residence of the king when Bergen was the political capital of the country. It has been said to be one of the best preserved forts in all of Norway. Lucky for us,
Bergenhus fortress was an easy walk from our hotel, probably taking only two or three minutes. We opted to pay for a brief tour of the building, which we found valuable as it provided a short history lesson on Bergen and the Bergenhus fortress, which we otherwise would not have known had we wandered the empty building ourselves.
• Hakon's Hall: This building is also located on the grounds of Bergenhus fortress and was once the royal hall of the king. It is the largest secular medieval building in Norway. Unfortunately, although tours were advertised for the hall, they decided to cancel them on the day we visited, so we were unable to view the interior, which greatly disappointed Mike as he is a huge fan of medieval structures.
• Fish market (Fisketorget): This market was quite touristy, with more visitors than locals surveying the goods. However, the stands did have a wide array of different types of fish and other seafood available for purchase.
• Fløibanen: A funicular that climbs 1000 feet to the top of Mount Floyen and provides amazing views of Bergen and the surrounding countryside. From the top, it is easy to see
the lay-out of the city and it's many attractions. Along with the incredible views, we also enjoyed posing with the giant troll at the top.
• St. Mary's Church (Mariakirken): This is the oldest surviving building in all of Bergen, having been built in the 12th century. Our visit occurred during some sort of musical performance, so we were rewarded with amazing music that echoed beautifully within the old walls of the church.
• Bryggens Musem: This museum houses the remains of the first settlement of Bergen, which were discovered in 1955 after a large fire burned down a good portion of Bryggen. Neither of us were a fan of this museum as we found it a little boring and not too interesting. Part of our disinterest may be owed to the lack of English-language descriptions for the artifacts.
• The Hanseatic Museum: This museum is housed within one of the wooden buildings of Bryggen and is set-up as it would have been in the 1700's as a merchant house. Each of the room's have original furniture and accessories from the time period, including a bed cupboard with a pinup girl painted on the inside. The entrance
fee included a guided tour in English, which was highly informative and interesting. This was definitely my favorite museum in Norway, and probably one of the better small museums in all of Europe.
• Gamle Bergen: This small but quaint open-air museum was located about ten minutes from our hotel via a city bus. The museum contains homes and buildings built during the 18th, 19th, and 20th century that were rescued from various points around Bergen. We decided to purchase tickets for a guided tour as it was the only way to view the interior of the buildings. The museum is best visited on the weekends, when many of the interiors are open, guides are dressed in period costume, and demonstrations occur, such as baking cinnamon rolls in the home of a former baker. The guided tour was well worth the money spent, as we had the tour guide all to ourselves and were able to select which of the buildings to tour.
• Fantoft Stave Church: This church is located outside of the city center, probably a 10-15 minute drive from our hotel. Unfortunately, this stave church is a reconstruction of the original, which was built around
1150. The original was completely burned down by an arsonist in 1992. Although the church is an exact replica, it just doesn't quite evoke the same feelings and atmosphere as that of "real" stave churches, such as the one we toured in Oslo. It made me incredibly angry to think that a wooden structure survived unscathed for nearly 850 years, only to be destroyed by some crazy person.
• Troldhaugen: Edvard Greig was Norway's most famous composer, and he lived in this house, located outside of central Bergen, in the late 19th century. After his death in 1907, the building and the surrounding property were turned into a museum. While the interior of the rooms of the house were only somewhat interesting, I more so enjoyed the beautiful views from the property, which I'm sure helped to inspire Greig to compose some of his famous works.
• Norway in a Nutshell Tour: We spend one full day completing this famous tour of the Sognefjord as a day-trip from Bergen. We purchased our tickets for the tour ahead of time, which included a train ride from Bergen to Voss, a bus ride from Voss to Gudvangen, a boat ride
from Gudvangen to Flam, a train ride from Flam to Myrdal, and yet another train ride from Myrdal back to Bergen. Along the way, we saw and encountered some of the most visually stunning landscapes I seen in my entire life. My favorite moment from this experience was probably the stop the bus made at viewpoint at Stalheim over the Naeroy Valley; hands down, the most spectacular and dramatic view EVER. The icing on the cake would have been if the sun had cooperated that day, but otherwise, this was an amazing experience, and one that we plan on doing for a second time when we visit Norway again.
• Lodging: We stayed three nights at Thon Hotel Bergen Brygge.
The hotel was centrally located, with both Bryggen and Bergenhus fortress just a quick walk away, and harbor views from the front of the hotel. The price we paid (2685 Norwegian Kroners for three nights) included a buffet breakfast. While the breakfast had a wide array of cold meat and breads, it did not have the delicious fresh waffles that the other Thon Hotel we stayed at in Oslo had, so we were slightly disappointed. However, food aside, we would definitely stay
at this hotel again due to it's great location and relatively low price.
• Food: As previously mentioned, eating out at restaurants in Norway is tremendously expensive. Therefore, we once again decided to eat at the Peppe's Pizza chain and also once at McDonalds; our visit to the golden arches set us back nearly $20 USD, so that gives you good insight at the high cost of eating out in Norway.
Overall, we loved every minute of our visit to Norway. I was truly blown away by the natural beauty we encountered; from the rocky coastline of Karmoy, to the rolling green farmlands near Bergen, to the numerous waterfalls found everywhere, to the amazing scenery of the Sognefjord, this country defines "natural beauty" better than any other place in the world (my own opinion of course!).
Unfortunately, Norway doesn't always tend to be on the radar of people's priority list on places to visit; however, I believe that the smaller number of visitors lends to the unique solitude of the country. It wouldn't be the same if it was bombarded with tourists like Italy or France is. If you do decide to visit Norway, don't be surprised
at some of the reactions you might receive from those you inform. We heard many comments along the lines of "Why Norway?" or "What is so great about Norway" or "Won't you be bored; I don't think there is much to do there". Little do they know how ignorant they are, and how lucky you will be to visit this amazing country.
Then, there is of course the incredibly helpful and polite people of Norway. The thing that stands out most in my mind is the happy and relaxed atmosphere that can be felt everywhere. Life in Norway is based primarily on quality of life, and one only needs to sit down and talk with a local to understand how much more important happiness is than any sort of materialist concept. Life is good for those that live in Norway, and you better believe that their citizens are completely aware and incredibly proud that they live in the most livable country in the world (according to the Human Development Index of 2006).
Lastly, I know that the enjoyment of our trip was highly influenced by the interactions we had with my Uncle's family. The many conversations and discussions
we engaged in enabled me to understand Norwegian society and why they place such a huge emphasis on happiness. These simple interactions with Norwegians have forever changed my life and have drastically altered my way of thinking, more so than any other experience I have had while traveling.
You can view many more of the photos from our trip on the next pages (warning: there are many).
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