07/11/2017 - 07/14/2017
Stavanger is the third largest city in Norway but the population is less than a quarter million, which would make it an inconsequential small town in most other countries. We definitely got more of the small town feel when we arrived. Our Airbnb was perfect for us: clean, spacious, and simple. As with Bergen, most of the action was around the small harbor. The old town was adjacent to the harbor, on a little peninsula jutting out into the North Sea. We had a good dinner at 26 North, in the Radisson Blu hotel, the night we arrived. We were lucky to get a table in the busy restaurant without a reservation, even though it was mid-week.
The next morning, we walked back down to the harbor area and found a miniature version of the wharf market in Bergen, except without the seafood stalls. All the seafood was in the market restaurant, but it seemed like a weak cousin of Fjellskål in Bergen so we gave it a pass. We checked out the small produce market nearby and then ate at a ramen shop at a shopping mall on the far side of the peninsula.
We had a little time to kill before our Lysefjord boat tour, so when we came across a cool playground called Geoparken we let the kids go crazy for an hour. All the playground equipment is made from discarded parts of oil rigs. It's not as dangerous as it sounds, hopefully!
The Lysefjord cruise was a lot shorter and simpler than the Norway in a Nutshell tour, but I found it more scenic and enjoyable. Lysefjord's cliffs are breathtaking, jagged walls of granite that plunge directly into the sea. It was less overcast than it had been on our Sognefjord cruise as well, which made the water much more blue and reflective.
Some of the other highlights of the cruise were an interaction with friendly and hungry mountain goats, a waterfall close enough to soak us with spray, and a fjord's-eye view of Preikestolen. This rock "pulpit" which juts from the top of a high cliff is one of the signature rock formations of the Norwegian fjords. People hike up there in huge numbers in the summer months, but I can't even look at pictures of it without feeling sick to my stomach. I've seen videos of kids playing on the rock and even eating lunch with their legs hanging over the edge, but the thought of my own kids being up there is unimaginable. Fortunately, falls from Preikestolen and other popular formations like Trolltunga are extremely rare, with far fewer deaths than have occurred at American sites such as Half Dome.
On our return we found the wharf area in full swing, with outdoor cafes full of customers despite the chill. The source of the crowd was clear, a huge cruise ship docked a few yards away. A fully-kitted rock band played on a stage next to the water's edge. We climbed the hill behind the wharf to the Valberg Tower, an old watch tower that once was the highest vantage point in Stavanger.
We wandered back through the largely pedestrianized old town to the Ethiopian restaurant we had selected, which proved to be one of the better Ethiopian meals we've had. According to the owner, there's a good-sized Ethiopian community in Stavanger.
The next morning we took one last walk down to the harbor and the old town. This time we got a closer look at Stavanger's Byparken. Like most of Norway's parks, it had its share of whimsical touches. Then it was time for a quick lunch and the three hour drive to our last destination in Norway.
We only had two reasons to be in Kristiansand. The first was that it was the departure point for our ferry back to Denmark the next day. The second was Dyreparken, a combination amusement park and zoo that has a lot of positive commentary in guidebooks and online. We try and mix the things we want to do with stuff that will make the kids happy and help them remember the trips. Watching our kids have fun is a good memory for us as well. We arrived at the park at around four in the afternoon, which gave us three hours before it closed. We paid the rather brutal general admission prices, foregoing the waterpark which required a separate ticket. There were only a few rides that were free with admission, and they weren't particularly exciting although naturally our kids wanted to try all of them. We eventually got them away from the rides and walked to Kardemomme by, a miniature town based on a popular Norwegian children's book. There didn't seem to be much to that place either, except for a little train that did a quick circuit of the town.
We ended up having to rush a little bit through the zoo, which was a pleasant arrangement of boardwalks through large outdoor exhibits. It was good not to have to see animals in cages, but of course the downside to that presentation is that many animals couldn't be spotted at all. On the way out of the park we found people standing in a long line for a luge ride that we'd missed earlier. Despite the line we managed to get a ride for each of the kids. The luge seemed quite fast and the track left the ground completely in sections which would have made for an interesting video, but unfortunately I wasn't wearing my video sunglasses for the ride.
We located our Airbnb with some difficulty, and found the owner hadn't left us any towels or bed linens. The bedrooms were in the basement that could only be accessed via a ladder descending from an unprotected hole in the ground floor. Not ideal. We drove to downtown Kristiansand and found ourselves dinner at a mediocre tapas restaurant. The downtown pedestrian area was different from the other Norwegian cities we'd visited in that it wasn't focused on a wharf. We encountered the first neoclassical McDonald's I've seen as well as an energetic outdoor concert. Unfortunately, the security wouldn't let us into the concert with the kids but we were still able to enjoy the band from outside.
We followed what seemed to be the main street and eventually encountered a small park with a beautiful square fountain and grassy embankments for the kids to roll around on. Once they'd tired themselves out it was time to bring another busy day to an end. When we got back to the Airbnb, we immediately hustled the kids down to the basement to neutralize the hole-in-the-floor hazard. Fortunately the mattresses were clean so the lack of sheets didn't present too much of a problem.
The ferry to Denmark didn't leave until late afternoon so we had a few hours to see Kristiansand in the day time. The historic quarter of town is Posebyen, the only neighborhood to survive a huge fire in 1892. Unlike the historic quarters of Bergen and Stavanger, Posebyen is very quiet and residential. We strolled up and down the main pedestrian street, and Spenser did his best impression of a chess piece. For lunch, we found a Mexican restaurant close to the train station which had a very unique interior decor.
I was a little nervous about the three hour ferry ride to Denmark after our experience returning to Sicily from Malta, but the ride was smooth and there was a play area which occupied the kids. Cleo got a kick out of some Norwegian cartoon characters that were patrolling the ferry, although we had no idea who they were.
We arrived on schedule at Hirsthals, in the far north of Denmark, but our day wasn't close to over. We still had to find dinner and get to Aarhus, two hours away.