Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Stavanger, Norway

We both worked on Monday afternoon, but Tuesday Bea's language class was cancelled, and so we decided to take the bus to Stavanger for the day. The client in Australia I've been working for mentioned that he enjoyed his time there, and I'd previously done some research and found that there's a dairy close by that makes farmstead cheese, although I forgot about that and didn't contact them, but we wouldn't have had time for a side trip anyway. As always, next time ... The bus left Flekkefjord at 7:00am, before the sun came up. Bea dozed in her seat across the aisle, other passengers walked by occasionally to get some of the free coffee from the machine at the front of the bus (Norway is very civilized), and I set my camera to "take pictures fast" and tried to capture some of the scenery from the window.

We arrived in Stavanger around 9:30am, having been delayed on the road by construction traffic and a stalled vehicle at a particularly inconvenient spot in the road where it narrowed to cross a bridge. This annoyed half the passengers, who had to leap off the bus at the Sola air terminal and run madly for their flights, but Bea and I weren't in any particular hurry, and the cathedral didn't open up until 10:00am in any event. We walked out of the bus terminal and around the pond in the center of the old part of town, a pond that Bea said used to be surrounded by large graceful homes and not much else, though now modern buildings are crowding in on all sides. The oil and gas industries employ many in this area, and there are hordes of non-Norwegian workers as well, which explains the amazing number and variety of ethnic restaurants I saw in town.

This is the school where Bea's father lived and studied, as there was no highschool in Flekkefjord. It's still an active school, and there's a university here now as well, opened just in the last decade, and with close ties to the fossil fuel fields, though Bea was rather scornful of the fact that it doesn't offer a PhD in education.

Since we'd only gulped down a quick cup of coffee before leaving the house that morning, and there was still a half hour before the cathedral opened, we decided to get something to eat. Bea wanted to take me to the oldest house in town (built around 1700, though they found pieces of wood in the basement from an earlier structure dating back to around 1100 or possibly earlier), now converted into a restaurant with a lovely outdoor seating area for summer dining. We went inside where it was warm. Pastries and open-faced sandwiches were on offer, and though I'd brought some GF bread, they had it in stock and made me a shrimp-and-egg sandwich on nice seeded bread (nicer than my bread in fact). The gluten-free lifestyle is easy to follow here, and I was never once charged extra for the substitution. Breakfast was delicious.

We walked across the cobblestones to the cathedral - all of the old city center is covered in cobblestones, some more closely fitted than others. It was sometimes a challenge walking down or up the steeper streets, and Bea remarked several times on the difficulties of wearing high-heeled shoes here (not that she was wearing them then).

The Stavanger cathedral is the oldest in Norway, having been built around 1125, and "the only one of its cathedrals that have been in continuous use since the 1300s" according to the Norwegian Wikipedia site. Bea likes it a lot, and she wanted me to see it while we were there.

The interior of the cathedral is famous for its carved epitaphs and ornate carved pulpit, all done by Scottish artisan Andrew Smith Lawrenceson (or Anders Lauritsen Smith, which was his Norwegian moniker) in 1650 or thereabouts. They're detailed, often macabre, full of saints and angels and pious paintings of 17th-century upright church families in the area.

Apparently Adam and Eve were led into temptation by a goat. I can believe that.

The carved stone was less complicated than the carved wood, and from at least 200 years earlier. I liked the head of King Eirik Magnusson, and the finials on the steps leading up to a small narrow tower (closed off). The cathedral is lit with iron chandeliers and sconces designed by Emanuel Vigeland, the younger brother of the sculptor Gustav Vigeland, whose works I would see later in Oslo.

Apparently not everyone was focused on a higher power during the last service.

Once I'd seen the cathedral, I wanted to see the town, and Bea wanted to find some socks. The cathedral is on a square (called "cathedral square" in case you were wondering) that is surrounded by the older section of town, and many of these older buildings have been converted from homes to shops, though I think there are often apartments above them as well. With the mix of university students (local and international), long-time residents, and offshore oil workers who come into town on their free days, there's something for everyone in Stavanger. I bought a nice older wool ski sweater in a Salvation Army shop for 199kr (about $35) patterned in cream and pine green (to match the socks I'm knitting!) with brass clasps at the neck. It's VERY warm. According to the label it was made in Norway by a company called Neptune, and there's a leather patch on one sleeve that says "Telemark." Google has not proven helpful in finding out if this manufacturer still exists, or if not when it stopped making sweaters, but looking at the font style on the label I'm going to guess that it's from the 1950s or so. Could be earlier. Any Norwegian knitwear specialists out there who can help?

There was a small market in the square, with one vendor selling plants (lots of heather in pinks and whites) and flowers, a hot dog cart, and three or four produce stands backed up by trucks full of plastic or wooden crates filled with vegetables - mostly of the cabbage or root variety, though there were lettuces and tomatoes as well - and fruit (apples for the most part). I bought some "extra sweet Norwegian carrots" and two "Aroma" variety apples, and a bag of fresh spinach for dinner.

I climbed up to the top of one of the hilly streets to a tower overlooking the town and the harbor, and cannons along the wall. Norway was invaded by the German army and there are still reminders of the war everywhere. Valberg Tower, though undoubtedly used in the war, was built in 1853 for the city guard (who used to carry nasty spiked maces with them, according to one statue I saw in town). The clouds had moved in, and it was starting to rain, and the bus was leaving, and so that was Stavanger. I sat on the same side of the bus for the ride back so that I could see the other half of the countryside, and on the way out of town I noticed a field with long rows of well-lit greenhouses. Bea said they were growing tomatoes in them. I'd asked earlier if Norway was in any way self-sufficient as far as foodstuffs went, and she said that while they had the fish requirements pretty well covered, and produced a lot of potatoes and beets and turnips and things like that - cold-weather vegetables - most of the food had to be imported, especially with the increase in population over the last few decades.

Although it was barely after 3:00pm the thick cloud cover made the rocky landscape even more dark and forbidding. It started to snow as we headed up into the mountains, and both Bea and I were glad that we hadn't taken the car for this trip. It's much nicer if someone else has to worry about driving in weather like that.

We ate the spinach for dinner that night, mixed with the gluten-free pasta that I'd brought with me, along with some mixed-legume dal in coconut milk that Bea had pulled out of the freezer to thaw. I used that to top my pasta, and that was a fantastic combination (her secret to tasty dal is a variety of peas and beans and lentils, and a jar of mango chutney added halfway through the cooking time). Bea put basil pesto and grated cheese on hers. The hot food was a comforting contrast to the cold rain hitting the windows and the water of the fjord off the deck outside, and it was good to settle down afterwards with a movie (La Tête en Friche/My Afternoons With Margueritte) and a last glass of wine, and woolen socks to knit.

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