“Hey, I want to go to Norway,” my roommate said in a coffee shop about a month ago.
“Okay," I said. "I’m in, let’s go.”
So far, this is how I have planned my trips outside of Hungary. In the past two months, I’ve learned how much I detest detailed planning, and traveling is no exception. Suggest a destination, tell me when to get on a plane and I’ll be in a taxi at 3 a.m. headed to the airport.
My whims, this time around, led me to the southwest coast of Norway, into the third largest city in the country, a place known as Stavanger. As I learned before getting off of Wizz Air flight 2421, Norway is known as one of the most expensive countries in the world. For a university gal on a budget, I quickly learned how to play the “use your Visa card only once a day” challenge while still having a great time.
So, here is a little guide for anyone who finds themselves staring down three massive vikings swords on the chilly shores of Rogaland County, Norway.
1.) Find Perales “Pau" de Sinope, Spaniard-turned-Norwegian Airbnb host, one of the most generous people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Pau took us in and made his home our home. He not only supplied us with two cupboards full of Nutella, Toblerone and nougat-filled Ritter Sport, but also bikes, hiking gear and delightful music taste. Without Pau, we would not have been able to have the experiences we did during our stay.
2.) Kiwi grocery store is your best friend. I visited at least five of these markets over the course of my three day stay. Here, look for the brand name “First Price” when shopping for food, as it is the cheapest. With that being said, find “First Price Røkt Laks,” damn good smoked salmon. It costs about 15.90 Norwegian Krones, or 2.06 U.S. dollars. Taking advice from my new Hungarian couch-surfer friend, I bought several packs to smuggle with me back into landlocked Hungary.
3.) When biking over three intensely windy bridges to outer Stavanger Islands, like Buøy and Hundvåg, fight the urge to capture every moment on camera. Your fingers and toes will thank you if you keep the blood flow pumping. The spectacular view of the sea and sunset-tinged mountains will be hard to believe with your eyes, let alone your average iPhone 5C camera. It’s probably better for your biking coordination if your phone dies from the cold anyways. I found bus stops to be a great place to munch on First Price Røkt Laks, check maps and to drink lots of water. I’m so proud of myself for giving up elevators for Lent and taking stairs instead, otherwise I’d have frozen somewhere in the hills of a Norwegian neighborhood.
4.) Do not look men in the eyes who bleat like sheep. I made that mistake and found myself in the embrace of a sun-burnt, mustache-stained bicyclist of 60. He gave me a hug and one too many kisses on the cheek. I’m still slightly speechless.
5.) Do join Pau for game night at Bluebird Kaffe Bar. As the night warmed up in the closed down cozy café, I was laughing with a bunch of Norwegians over our drawings in a game of “Ryktet Går,” known as “Telestrations” in English. If you end up with a “pregnant duck mother” drawing, you’ve won. Make sure to check out Coffeeberry, suggested by locals as one of the best coffee shops in Stavanger.
6.) SCORE! Actually, it’s spelled SKYR and I tried all four flavors. This protein-packed yogurt was our morning mascot and master-money saver. Add it to your biking stash of snacks, and the pit-stop at the bus-stop becomes even sweeter. I recommend the blueberry and mango version. SKYR even comes with its own spoon.
7.) When your new Hungarian friend reveals she is also a certified yoga instructor, you must join her and Pau in his mismatched living room for a few deep stretches. After three islands worth of biking, the quads and hips could use a bit more than just a downward dog. If you’re lucky, which you probably are if Pau is your host, he’ll set up a Pixar film on his projector screen, pop some popcorn and make you feel right at home.
8.) If you find Pau mixing peanuts, date paste and cocoa powder on his kitchen floor, he’s making energy dragon balls in preparation for the hike to Preikestolen. I joined him on the floor to wrap up my blisters, blissfully unaware of the icy trek ahead.
9.) After taking the Høgsfjord Ferry by car, you’ll drive 15 more minutes into the fjords and mountains, to find the base and parking lot of Preikestolen. In English, it is called Pulpit Rock. The trail in March is still full of snow, ice and steep inclines. We were fortunate enough to borrow crampons from Pau, who led us on the two hour hike to the top.
10.) Pulpit Rock rises 604 meters over the Lysefjord, and is one of the most impressive sights I have ever witnessed in my life. I was torn between wanting to stay up there for hours to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and getting the heck out of there because the wind bit and numbed every part of my uncovered skin. Even now, I can’t believe that I had the opportunity to hike this trail, and finding the right words to describe what I saw will never be enough.
11.) My last piece of advice is this: wherever you go, make sure you learn how to say thank you in the native language. In Norwegian, the word is “Takk.”
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