Stavanger is a mid-sized city and one of the many former capitol
cities on the south-western coast. They do a lot of ship building and they
are the base for most of Norway’s off-shore oil platforms. Much like
Oslo, Stavanger is very gray and industrial, making it less visually attractive
to tourists like myself. As in all Norwegian cities, Stavanger has it’s
small, clearly defined social center lined with bars, restaurants and clubs
where one can see and be seen, but of all the Norwegian cities that I visited,
Stavanger really lacked the special character that I cherish about Norway.
As is the pattern in Scandinavia, after a night out, once you’ve had
your fill of over-priced drinks, you are required to make your way to the
square to pacify your post-bar munchies. Stavanger’s specialty is baked
potatoes, piled high with bacon, butter, sour cream and, you guessed it, corn
and thousand island dressing!
Stavanger was my first stop on my European tour where I visited
with my long time friend Inger, shook off the jetlag and prepared for my trip
to the Arctic Circle. It was the last day of university exams in Stavanger
and Inger and her roommates were all out taking their tests. The place was
all mine for the day, but due to our late arrival in Oslo I missed my connecting
flight to Stavanger and had to cool my heels for two hours and catch the next
plane. Consequently, I only had three hours to get settled and sneak in some
shut-eye before the requisite last-day-of-school, drinking binge would start.
All the travel books tell you that recovering from jetlag is
facilitated if you sleep a little on the plane and then do your best to tough
it out until evening before you allow yourself to sleep again. I would have
loved to do this, but divine intervention kept me from getting my Zs like
I had meticulously planned. Normally I can sleep like a Nyquil-addled toddler
when I’m on a plane, but as is the unspoken routine when I am on a flight
longer that three hours, I was seated between a humungous German man who should
have been legally forced to buy two seats and a young mother across the isle
on her first trans-Atlantic flight who, upon learning that booze was free,
promptly chugged three airplane bottles of wine before we even got
the meal, despite the fact that she was traveling with two small children.
This kind of torture happens every time that I get on a long flight,
which is simply more evidence to the fact that God hates me. I am constantly
on flights that are three hours or less where I have about 12 seats to myself,
but when I have to hunker down for the long haul, that’s when God likes
to stick it to me. This seating arrangement totally buggered my carefully
planned European flight schedule which goes as follows:
Hour one: Read my book, clear my head from the take-off and
prepare to eat.
Hour two: Eat, drink water, keep reading until the trays are collected.
Hour three: When they shut off the lights and start the Hugh Grant movie,
I get comfortable. If people are still restless I may jack up some tunes.
Hours four though six: Sleep.
Hour seven: Wake-up refreshed, eat breakfast and go on my merry way.
Unfortunately, this flight went something like:
Hour one: Was treated to the German guy’s life story.
Read for grand total of seven minutes uninterrupted. Young mom gets shit-faced.
Hour two: Due to lack of space, my elbows were pined to my sides, thus I was
forced to eat my meal using only delicate hand and wrist movements. Mom has
stopped acknowledging the constant, shrill noises from her children.
Hour three: German guy did his best not to take up half my seat, but it made
little difference. I was temporarily relived of his attention when he turned
to his other neighbor to tell her his life story. Mom passed out with purse,
toys and part of one leg hanging out into the aisle. People trying to get
by used my seat back for support.
Hours four through six: I tried to sleep. I could not sleep. Two Melatonin
did not help the situation. The German guy started over-heating and since
I was in near-full contact with him, his body heat short circuited my internal
thermostat and I began to sweat. The two young, boisterous girls sitting in
the row behind me thought that the Hugh Grant movie was the funniest thing
that they had ever seen in their lives. To their credit, the offspring of
the boozing mom fell asleep.
Hour seven: I somehow fell asleep, but 16 minutes later they turned on the
lights in the cabin and started serving breakfast. Then I realized that I
was very, very close to missing my connecting flight in Oslo and the adrenaline
The weather in Stavanger was almost identical to the weather
that was in New York as I was heading out of town. Humid and raining, though
it was an unpleasant 80 degrees in NY and it had to be less than 50 in Stavanger.
I had not counted on having to test the water resistance of the Office so
early on in the trip. Despite what I thought was conservative packing, the
Office seemed to weigh about 50 lbs and my suitcase felt like 100. The Norwegians
even found it necessary to slap a big, orange “Heavy” sticker
on my bag, which probably explained why it was the last one off the luggage
truck in Oslo, causing me to miss my connecting flight. Some of this weight
was only temporary, thank heaven. I was hauling four bottles of booze as a
gift to Inger and her roommates in addition to being weighed down by the extra
clothes that I packed for my dubious trip up to the Arctic Circle.
I arrived at Inger’s house. Steps. Lots of effing steps.
When you have what seems like 50 lbs on your back and 100 more that you have
to carry awkwardly with only one hand (one frickin’ handle
on my suitcase, what design genius was responsible for that?), steps are not
your friend. Eight to the front door. Then 22 up to her apartment. Finally,
surprise, her room was on the third floor. Eighteen more, narrow, 100 year
old Norwegian steps with a totally useless railing. My arms were lifeless.
My back was exploding in spasms. I had been drenched in sweat three times
since leaving Ben’s place in Brooklyn. I was filthy, but too exhausted
to shower. I went to sleep.
My first few days in Stavanger were spent either very drunk
or very hung over. Those damn students were really happy to be done
with their tests. After I got that out of my system, I knuckled down for some
serious writing. If I was going to get anywhere, I was going to have to get
very disciplined with the writing. I have a very time consuming writing style.
First I just get the facts down and if something funny should pop up in the
process, woo hoo, but usually this draft is dull, dull, dull. Then I reread
and edit for coherence. Then it’s time to kick out the funny and make
it entertaining. Then I reread and edit until I go blind and then I’m
done. It helps to have at least one liter of Coke and a fair assortment of
chocolate to keep me focused and amped. It ain’t easy, but hey, when
has the talent ever been easy?
Turns out, I had plenty of time to get writing done as there
was very little in the way of things that I actually wanted to do in Stavanger.
In fact, as far as visitor offerings go, Stavanger’s main attraction
is a one and half hour trek by ferry and bus outside of the city. I was only
a few days into my travels and I had already caved on my no-hiking clause.
I was convinced through a series of colorful brochures presented to me by
friends that I had to take the hike up to Preikestolen (“Priest’s
Pulpit”). Despite the consequential stiffness/soreness that kept me
mostly immobile the following day, this challenging two hour long hike almost
2,000 feet up nasty rock faces and over marshes to this dramatic cliff was
truly a gift of awesome scenery. At the top, one is treated to a view off
the sheer drop overhang that draws it’s fair share of both base-jumpers
and suicidal people every year. (The chair-like, or pulpit-like, shape of
the cliff is where Preikestolen gets it’s name) People with the cajones
to do it, can crawl right up to the totally unprotected edge, hang their heads
over the side and look straight down at the terrifying, vertigo inducing view.
At the beginning of our climb up, I preached long and hard that, with my fear
of heights, there was no way in donkey balls that I was going to hang my head
over the side that cliff. However, two hours later, I was singing a whole
new tune. Basically, I felt that with all the effort I put into getting up
that bastard, there was no way that I was cheating myself out of the thrill
of the cliff side view. The climb had been made even more challenging than
usual due to a short, but unexpected downpour just as we were arriving at
the bottom of Preikestolen. This brief burst of moisture made the climb very
slippery and also succeeded in riling up the 837,9485,938,938 flies that live
along the path. The swarming hoards of bugs didn’t really bite, but
they were annoying as hell and determined to fly up my nose. According to
the locals the bugs don’t bite, but when you smack them dead, they leave
little burning, itching welts on your skin. I took this hike 10 days ago and
I still have those unsightly wounds as I write this.
After five days in Stavanger, I was ready to move north.
Go to Bergen