Stavanger is a place in Norway. I say this because the reactions when I announced my trip were “where is that place”. Taking a quick look at what I was told I might find there seemed to educate me to expect a place with eternal 24 hour rain each day, where the highlight of the town was the National Petroleum Museum and a place that was centric to oil production. This opinion was further influenced when on the outbound British Airways flight from London, being generous the plane was perhaps 20% populated, a small Airbus 319, suggesting that an 8.30 am flight to Stavanger was not a mecca for travellers, and in the only row on the whole plane with three customers, they all sat talking, loudly, about the exciting topic of winches and other seemingly oil rig decorations through the flight.
Landing at Stavanger airport is also not designed to induce idyllic thoughts. The airport is small, clean and functional, but passengers are greeted with a huge mural photograph seemingly showing a man about to jump off a very high cliff, and this is closely followed by a large SAS advert (the airline, not the military organisation) inviting people to “get lost”. My own personal experience was then not further improved by a 45 minute wait for a taxi driver to appear.
Leaving the airport one might think that the whole of the Stavanger road transportation system was being replaced. Wherever one looked there was digging and building, though with little sign of the workers. Aliens arriving in Stavanger would certainly have rapidly reversed their spaceships and headed off to more succulent climes such as Birmingham or Croydon, or even Clacton-on-Sea.
So a fair summary as I approached Stavanger city centre, was that I had low expectations that had actually been exceeded by this seeming awfulness. How wrong could I be? It took around an hour to fall in love with Stavanger. The Radisson Blu Atlantic Hotel sits on a central small lake and from the 11th floor the views are impressive, of the lake, of the city buildings and the distant mountains. Walking around the lake is a nice start taking maybe 20-30 minutes and counting around 1500 steps on my Fitbit. There were nesting birds, and in fact a huge egg in a nest, which I presume belonged to the scary swan nearby, were really cute sights. Plenty of various seabirds in attendance including the greedy seagulls who seemed to own the benches for themselves and certainly used them as their own personal toilets. The only surprising thing was maybe the number of beggars sitting on their blankets around the lake, and even more so the fact that the lady here had expensive looking streaks of colour in her hair.
The walk down into the town, described as the “old town”, although not looking that old to me, was a nice walk, where cars were either prohibited or certainly discouraged. The walk takes one along the harbour or we should call it port, as a huge cruise liner from Holland America called “ Rotterdam” ( could their name have been a little more inspiring?) sat right next to the quayside to the extent that passengers could have hopped off any lower tier balconies. In 2011 Stavanger hosted 130 cruise ships. The quayside is lined by bars and restaurants all with nice looking menus that ranged from Reindeer to Burgers with a lot in-between. A few museums poked their heads out as did any number of coffee and snack shops no doubt designed to deal with the cruise liner passenger’s appetite. The whole atmosphere was relaxed and happy. Bars promised live music in the evening and the beer was flowing it seemed all day.
There was not 24 hour daylight as was suggested but maybe 20 hours certainly. The photographs show how the lake looked in the afternoon and also at 4.30 am.
A few facts about Stavanger. it is the fourth largest city in Norway with a population of around 150,000. Unemployment rates are low and lower than many other european countries at around only 2%.
So will I return to Stavanger? Certainly. A great option for a weekend break.