“If you came back, you wanted to leave again; if you went away, you longed to come back. Wherever you were, you could hear the call of the homeland, like the note of the herdsman’s horn far away in the hills.”
~Johan Bojer, The Emigrants
Trying to correctly pronounce the names of Norway’s towns was starting to get the best of me. Before we left home, I’d found a great little YouTube video that explained how to say the three extra letters in the Norwegian alphabet: Å, Ø and AE. The A with a circle above it, for example, is pronounced “oh,” – a great help when we arrived in Ålesund.
When it came to pronouncing Stavanger, however, I didn’t even look it up, assuming that the city was called Stah’-venn-jer. But when we boarded the boat for our tour in the Lysefjord to Pulpit Rock, our guide greeted us with, “Welcome to Stuh-vang’uh.” I could have used one of those face-palm emojis to express my inner frustration!
Stavanger is Norway’s fourth largest city and one of its oldest, dating to the 12th century. Known as the “Oil Capital of Norway,” Stavanger sits on the southwestern coast and has a population of about 146,000. The city’s old town called Gamle Stavanger is known for its 18th- and 19th-century wooden houses, which I couldn’t wait to explore.
But first we had a boat to catch.
Lysefjord Cruise to Pulpit Rock
The boat that would take us on the Lysefjord was docked close to the Seabourn Ovation. It reminded me of a ferry, with a main level of forward-facing seats on both windowed sides and in the center. Shortly after leaving the port, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get the photos I was hoping for and headed upstairs to the open deck, along with a few other camera-toting travelers.
Our tour guide, who began by telling us that she was named after the Norse goddess Sif, provided non-stop commentary as we sailed, covering everything from Norwegian schools and child care to the cost of housing to what she prepares for dinner. It seemed that she wanted us to get a real understanding of Norwegian life. I would have loved to have soaked it all in, but I was far more focused on what was going on around us on the top deck, taking in the scenery and enjoying the moment.
Our boat pulled into a narrow space in the fjord, slowing almost to a stop as we neared a dark opening in a mountain known as Vagabond’s Cave. Sif spun the story of the mysterious opening, which involves a group of vagabonds who were on the run from the local sheriff to avoid paying taxes and escaped by hiding in the cave. Whether or not the legend is true, it’s a fascinating, almost eerie place, surrounded by jagged rocks that soar above the fjord.
Officially known as Preikestolen, Pulpit Rock is a steep cliff that rises 604 meters – about 1,982 feet – above Lysefjord. The views from its almost flat top make it a popular destination for adventurous hikers. Part of the Scandinavian Mountains, it is considered the most iconic natural landmark in Norway.
About Those Norwegian Waffles
Before returning to Stavanger, we were dropped off at a waterfront restaurant for waffles and coffee. After seeing waffles offered in cafés throughout Norway – and tasting the delicious waffles at Nordkapp as well as in Germany – I was curious about this engaging custom. Norwegian waffles are heart-shaped, thinner and softer than their American counterparts and are typically dusted with powdered sugar and served with jam and sour cream. No maple syrup on these waffles! Like cake in Germany, waffles are a sign of welcome, especially when guests stop by for a kaffebesøk, or coffee visit.
“These heart-shaped delights are more than just a scrumptious snack; they’re a symbol of kos, togetherness, and Norwegian culture at its finest.”
After a quick lunch on the Ovation, Herb and I headed into town. Stavanger Torget, or square, is a short walk from the port and a bustling gathering spot. A tall silver monument takes center stage in the square. We couldn’t figure out what it was, but I later learned it was created by Arnold Haukeland in 1968 commemorating sailors who were lost at sea. Known as “Navigation Monument,” it is also called “The Shrimp.”
Near the monument, we happened upon footprints of Al Gore cast in bronze in the sidewalk. It turns out that a Stavanger-based human rights foundation called Point of Peace took a page from the playbook of LA’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater (now called TCL Chinese Theater) and asked Nobel winners for casts of their feet to decorate a peace pathway by the harbor.
Stavanger’s Old Town is a treasure trove of restored wooden buildings built in the 18th- and early-19th centuries. Charming white houses with colorfully painted front doors and doorsteps overflowing with pots of flowers line cobblestoned streets. Once traditional workers’ cottages, the houses on Øvre Standgate are especially beautiful. Some buildings are owned by the municipality, but most are privately owned.
Our last stop was a sharp contrast to Gamle Stavanger, but an equally charming one in a most colorful way. Øvre Holmegate, known locally as Fargegaten, or Color Street, is a shopping and dining destination with buildings painted in almost every color imaginable. Local hair stylist Tom Kjørsvik came up with the color idea in 2005 as a way to create a vibrant environment that would draw more visitors to the area.
“The houses on either side of the street were painted in different colors, based on a Miami Vice-inspired color scheme suggested by the Scottish artist Craig Flannagan. It’s not the colours alone that make the street work, but the very deliberate colour combinations. Each house was given a series of colours for its façade, doors and window frames, designed to harmonize with its neighbors.”
The street is literally bursting with color, a sensory overload that makes you smile as you walk from one end to the other. Even the outside décor seems to be purposeful in its color selections. Overhead triangular banners, round ball-like lanterns and flower boxes add to the ambiance and blend well with the colorful buildings. I kept thinking how the street could have been a caricature of color, but instead I found it to be beautiful, whimsical and simply fun.
Back on the ship, I repacked my travel purse, replacing notes about Stavanger with those for the next day’s port. Farsund would be our last stop in Norway before heading to Denmark. We were booked on an excursion to the southernmost point in mainland Norway, which I thought would be a perfect full-circle moment after standing the northernmost point in Nordkapp.
And then it hit me. Farsund. I hadn’t checked on how to pronounce that town, either.