Friday, July 18, 2014

Trippin' home - Stavanger, Norway

Having reached the half-way point in our trip, it was time to go to my point of origin: Stavanger, Norway.

I hadn't been back there for a while, and much has happened in the mean time..

[Warning: Long post!]
My previous trip back to Stavanger was in 2011, so three years ago!

In that time, I've gotten married(!), lost a grandfather[1] and an uncle[2], gotten a nephew[3], moved to a new country and then become a vagabond..

Naomi tells me I should visit more often, and I think she may be right...

Our schedule, due to visa limitations for Naomi, was short and full.
We did some sight-seeing, visited family and friends (ok, one friend), got lost (more on that below) and ate a lot of cake.

Cakes

First, the cakes - my grandmother and I have birthdays within two days of each other, and Naomi has hers not long after mine - so we had loads of cake. "Kaffe og kake" (coffee and cake) is a Norwegian tradition, as well, just for visiting..

My favourites, as always, were the marzipan-covered cakes (yes, there were two), probably because marzipan is delish..
Marzipan cake #1
Marzipan cake #2
There were other cakes, too - cheese cake, chocolate cake, "success" cake.. the list goes on... so my sweet-tooth was well and truly satisfied!

Bergen

My grandmother had her 80th birthday, and instead of hosting a big party, she wanted to get away from it all. The plan, then, was to go to Bergen by bus, take the scenic railway to Flåm (including a fjord cruise) and fly back, all in just three days.

The plan went reasonably well - the bus trip was good, lots of scenery to see and two ferry trips included.
We saw Bergen quickly - took the Fløibanen cable-railway up to the lookout point (Fløyen) above the city and were lucky with the weather so we could get a good view. We also walked a little around the city, and were surprised that most of the vendors at the fish market were not native Norwegians, but instead from other countries like Spain.
View from the lookout point


The scenic railway ("Norway in a nutshell") trip involves getting on the train from Bergen to Voss, a bus to Gudvangen, the fjord cruise (2 hours in the sun!! bring a hat!!) to Flåm, then the actual railway to Myrdal, with a stop at a pretty cool waterfall along the way.
Fjord cruise ferry
Waterfall as seen from the fjord
After Myrdal, it was back on a regular train, back to Bergen. That took two hours, but felt like forever..

That round-trip package costs (at the time of writing) 1145 NOK per person. We knew we'd qualify for a 30% discount due to our EUrail ticket, but as my mother had booked the tickets online and there was no option to apply the discount, we ended up without the discount.[5]
As it turned out, my mother was paying for it all, as a combined birthday(s) and wedding gift, so we got the best discount of all! Tusen takk, mor!

After we spent the final night in Bergen, it was time to fly back to Stavanger.
We wanted to fly, as we'd already spent many hours on the bus, so we'd prefer a faster return.

We showed up to the airport about two hours early, after a much faster bus ride to the airport than expected - it only took half the time, in fact.
We went through the fun of check-in (thankfully, only carry-ons) and security, where they took my 150mL deodorant (Naomi didn't like the scent, so no biggie) and my mum's hair spray. Oh well.

A little while afterwards, we saw that the flight was 30 minutes delayed.. Annoying, but at least it wasn't cancelled.
We relaxed in the waiting area until the appropriate time and thanks to my keen mum, we lined up at the gate...
Side note: Naomi and I don't really join the line at the gate. We wait until there's no line, so we can just walk through. Mum is a bit more keen..

We were standing at the gate, and the announcement came through that the flight was delayed some more, that a part had just been flown in from Oslo and we'd get an update in 15 minutes. We sat back down.

15 minutes came and went, no update...

After a further 20 minutes, the Departures board changed from "More info at 18:05" to
cancelled

Yup..
We have travelled for six months in mostly developing nations, with minor delays being the worst of it, and here we are in my home country and the damn flight is cancelled... *sigh*

The staff at the gate, whom I'd spoken to when the delay was announced, had vanished.

There were no information announcements, except to say that the flight was cancelled, see the staff at the Service Desk for more information.

The Service Desk was, of course, on the Departures check-in floor, i.e. outside the security line.
Mum and I went down to investigate, leaving the four others with our bags. We joined the line..

One open window..
Patient people.. no rioting at all!
The handling of this cancellation was extremely poor. A 12-year-old boy who was travelling alone was standing in tears in the line, until my mum told the staff about him. To their credit, they took him away, presumably to help him get home..

The people at the very head of the line were spoken to by staff, while everyone else were just standing there, wondering what was going on. It was as if it was the first time a cancellation had happened, and no-one knew how to handle it.. (but Norwegian Air has apparently had a bunch of criticism for similar events and should have procedures in place..)

There was some talk circulating that a bus to Stavanger was being organised...
Or people could get the first flight the next morning, but the airline wouldn't pay for the hotel.
Apparently, even though the result (flight cancelled) was the same, the cause of it ("technical fault") was such that they had a loophole to weasel out of hotel room payment..

I had popped back up (again, through security...arrgh) to let the others know what was happening, and everyone went downstairs, in case this bus eventuated. We waited.

This lasted a long time - the line barely moved. Finally, we got a combination of information, mostly from fellow passengers, that there was a plane to Oslo that connected with a Stavanger service (as no further flights directly to Stavanger were scheduled for the evening).
Then, another window opened (yes, they had a huge line and one window open until this time!!) and we could book spots on these flights as replacement for the cancelled flight, naturally at no further cost.

The flight was scheduled for 20 minutes later, so we hauled ass to the check-in, got our boarding passes, and went through security (my third time, for those of us counting...arrrgh!!).

We had waited about 35 seconds before the boarding started, and we were on our way to Oslo...

Less than an hour later, we landed in Oslo.

After a meal (free, thanks to mum asking for it at the service counter in Oslo), we boarded the flight to Stavanger, and got there at about 23:30. If we'd caught the 'coast bus' rather than the airport bus, at the same time, we'd have been home before then.. like three hours earlier.. oh well..

In the taxi (with a nice Iranian guy who was starting the job that day), the clock ticked past midnight, and everyone shouted "Happy birthday" to me. Smiley

Five minutes later, grandma, who was obviously lost in her own thoughts[4] earlier, said "Oh look, it's past midnight, happy birthday!" Smiley

Getting Lost

On one of our first days in Stavanger, we'd been to grandma's house. There are two lakes near her place, one takes over two hours to walk around, the other about 40 minutes.
There's a path between the walk-path around the small lake and a hill top cafe which is near mum's house (where we were staying). I've been on this path dozens of times. Dozens!
So when it came to the time to return home, we (Naomi, her mum and I) decided to walk back.
Given the option of following the road or walking partially around the lake, I suggested the latter, as it's scenic, and the sun was still up.

We set off, and found the lake with no problems. We started our walk around it, and I was looking for the path, which I'd been told was "just the same as always".
Worse places to get lost exist..


We got to a part where I thought "Hang on.. this doesn't look right".
"It might be back where we came from..."


I scouted ahead, and no, the path was not the one I remembered.

At this point I'm already kicking myself for not going down here earlier to find the right path. But we'd not really had time to go out walking.. so it was time to find this stupid path, preferably without dragging my mother-in-law through too many bushes.

Wouldn't you know it, I found a path. Not the right path, but a path nonetheless..
This path lead to a road of houses, which I'd never seen before. I was so confused!
What happened to having been a local? Who put these houses here!!!?

They were certainly older than three years, so it was obvious that I was at fault, not the house-owners..
We used a GPS (defeat admitted!) and followed the streets around to where I did recognise the area, and realised what had happened: we'd gone too far around and then circled, via the streets, even farther around the hill, so we approached mum's house from the opposite direction.

Luckily, we'd met a friendly cat along the way, so nobody was mad at me. And after all the cakes we'd eaten, we were happy to walk some of it off..
Friendly cat


I looked at Google Maps later to see where I'd gone wrong.
Here's the route we took:

Here's the route we should have taken, saving about 700m walking:

Have you ever been lost in your own backyard like this? Leave a comment, so I don't feel like such an idiot..

Catching up

It was great to catch up with my childhood best friend, Thomas, this time.
Last time, I had neglected to advise him of my travel plans, so when I called him to say "I'm in town", he replied with "I'm out of town" (in the North of Norway). Ooops!

This time was different - he knew we were coming (just not the exact dates, my bad!) and we managed to meet up.
I had met his wife before (before they married, actually), but got to meet his two giggling daughters.
His house was really great - next to a beautiful lake and with a great yard for the kids to play in.

I was so caught up in talking that I didn't take photos! As with most of the photos on this blog, these were taken by Naomi..
Yard and lake

Cheese, crackers and sparkling wine

Old friends

Komler!

For our final dinner in Stavanger, I finally got my old favourite, komler, a potato ball that has been described as "eating glue" by unkind critics..
None-the-less, it's a Norwegian favourite, and given that my other previous favourites (Joika kaker and meat cakes) are not off my vegetarian menu, I'd been looking forward to these!
Sceptical look at the "bonus" meat that grandma added "for authenticity"..

They were a tad dry, but all the same, delicious!! (Once I'd scraped off the bacon bits and moved that chunk of meat to another plate).

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Footnotes

[1] - My granddad was a warm and loving man, who I spent lots of time with as a boy and who I miss terribly. I got to see him in 2011 before he passed away in 2012.
[2] - We were all shocked to have lost my dad's younger brother so suddenly. He was a great guy, who I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with.
[3] - My brother and his partner made me into an uncle! Cute little boy, who will no doubt be blowing up fireworks in the streets soon, if his dad is anything to go by..
[4] - In her defence, she was busy chatting with the driver and guiding him on which roads to take, so it's not that she wasn't paying attention.
[5] - This is not to blame my mother, who organised everything and took such great care of us. This was meant to be a criticism of the website for not having the option available. Apparently, I was misunderstood about my meaning.