Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Posted on 7/2/03


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 took over.

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.

Priest’s Pulpit


After five days in Stavanger, I was ready to move north.

Go to Bergen

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