I had visited Stavanger on my last Norwegian cruise, and I’m not sure how, but somehow I had missed seeing ‘Gamle Stavanger’, or Old Stavanger. So I was now looking forward to putting that right. Stavanger is located in southwestern Norway; to the west is the North Sea, and to the east is Gandsfjorden. First signs of settlement in the area were towards the end of the last ice-age, about 10,000 years ago. For many centuries Stavanger was merely a small fishing port, but in 1125 it became more important when St Swithun’s Cathedral was built by the English Bishop Reinald of Winchester. It finally received a royal charter as a trading town in the 15th century. In 1873 the first fish preserving plant was opened, and Stavanger became a prominent and wealthy area. By the 1920′s there were 70 canneries; and fish products, particularly sardines, were the most important export. Last time I visited Stavanger I discovered that the inventor of the sardine can key came from Stavanger! Over the years fish production decreased, and the last factory closed in 1983. As the sardine industry waned, the oil industry took over. When the first off-shore oil deposits were discovered in the North Sea in the 1960s, Stavanger was chosen to be the centre for Norway’s oil and gas industry.
We walked round the old harbour or ‘Vagen’, and the up into ‘Gamle Stavanger’, or Old Stavanger, where there are 173, 18th century, white wooden houses. The streets are straight, steep in parts, and cobbled with large rectangular cobbles, and interspersed with old-fashioned lamp-posts. The houses are really rather quaint, with plants on windowsills, and small, well-kept gardens, full of bright flowers and the scent of lilac. The houses were first painted white in the mid 19th century, and although this was once a poor working class area, the houses are now considered very desirable, and all have preservation orders.
In the centre of Stavanger there is a small lake called Breiavatnet. It is 310 metres square, and only a few feet deep, but is home to swans, ducks seagulls and sparrows, but only a few fish! It is fed by the Kannikbekken stream, which flows through the city, flowing down from Mosvatnet, a lake 37 metres above sea level, above Stavanger. We decided to stroll around the lake on our way to Stavanger Museum, so imagine our delight when we spotted a couple of swans and a cygnet, then two cygnets, and then lots of cygnets……..
After hanging around photographing swans and cygnets, and then popping into an art gallery, we finally found our way to Stavanger Museum. The museum was established in 1877, and has various departments, including natural and cultural history, a children’s museum, a toy section, with a huge plastic doll and some interactive exhibits, a basement with whale and fish skeletons, rooms full of local flora and fauna, birds, mammals etc – far too much to see in a short time. In the centre of the bird room was my favourite – an audio-visual experience that involved putting on headphones and a mask. Once you had ‘kitted up’, and started it, (by looking hard at a bar that said START!), you were flying with the seagulls, almost literally! It was an incredible experience; wheeling and soaring over the fjords, up cliffs, down across the open sea and over the waves, past a lighthouse, and through the wires of an oil rig. If you turned your head and looked to the side (if you could keep your balance), you could see other seagulls flying with you, and hear their cries. Truly amazing!
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for as long as I would have liked (and I don’t usually like museums!) So it was back to the harbour and the Independence of the Seas before it left without us. And even more unfortunately, an end to our last day on Norwegian soil.