Stavanger, Norway

North Sea well

North Sea well

Despite its reputation for having Norway’s best weather, we woke up to a cold blowing rain in Stavanger. But in a way it was appropriate because Stavanger is the center for Norway’s North Sea oil business, and there are few oil fields where the weather is more rugged. We were told that oil companies bought licenses to explore in the 1950s and 60s but only hit dry wells. Most gave up. Phillips had drilled four dry holes by 1969 and was about to give up but had paid for a fifth, so they drilled one more and hit the first oil.

IMG_5471Stavanger has around 130,000 people ten percent of whom are foreigners. Our guide said it is reputed to be third most expensive city in the world, but unemployment is only at one percent. There were many commercial buildings for such as small town.

They heat with electricity but most also have wood stoves for the ambiance. School is compulsory through 10 years during which every student has at least eight years of English lessons. Most students stay after the 10 years either for trade or professional training in order to get better jobs.

Ullandhaug

Ullandhaug

All men between 18 and 44 serve one year in the military. Norwegians have free medical care, but dentists are not covered after age 18. Dentists are very expensive, and many go abroad for dental care.

Our tour took us to Ullandhaug, a replica of a fourth and fifth century iron age farm built on the original foundations in an archeological site. We entered a long house and sat on low benches covered with furs for a twenty-minute talk about life on the farm. It was hard IMG_5449work, especially for the women. Girls from the age of five were taught to spin wool (shed by sheep, not cut). Grinding grain in a hand operated grinding stone was an all day job.

272A couple dozen people would have lived in each long house. Cloth was dyed blue, a color for the rich, by soaking it in urine. Animals were kept at the north end of the house, so the wind blowing over them would provide warmth. Privacy was non-existent, and the smell must have been overwhelming.

IMG_5464St. Svithun’s, also known as Stavanger Cathedral, was founded in 1125. Cathedrals are expensive to build. King Sigurd, who was divorced, was denied marriage to his love Cicila, by the bishop in Bergen. So he went to the new bishop of Stavanger and offered the land and money to build the cathedral if he could marry Cicila.

IMG_5463It was built in a Romanesque style. A gothic tower and choir were added around 1300, but the original structure was well preserved, and it remains the only Norwegian cathedral to retain its original style. A baptismal font dates to the 1300s. Scottish craftsman Andrew Smith carved the elaborate pulpit in 1658.

Incomplete

Incomplete

At one point, the old Roman arches in front of the entrances were given elaborate decoration, but the scrolling only goes part way on the arch by the women’s entrance because women were considered to be “incomplete.”

IMG_5466Before oil, the people of Stavanger fished for herring. When the herring became scarce, they switched to sardines. It became a canning capital and also of ship building center. And when the sardines became scarce, they hit oil. We walked around Old Stavanger, what might be characterized as eighteenth century company housing and now Europe’s largest collection of wooden buildings. The houses are tiny but in a very convenient location and are quite fashionable. Current owners must agree to preserve the exteriors and gardens and water the flowers.

290Despite being one of the world’s largest oil producers, gas runs from eight to ten dollars a gallon with over 80 percent of the price being taxes. Cigarettes cost $17 a pack – also due to taxes. Social programs are expensive. Only the government is allowed to sell alcohol. DUI is determined to be at .1 % blood alcohol level, so most walk or take a bike to the pub. It is a beautiful country to visit.

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About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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