Part 5 of 5. Written while the vacation was underway.

But before Stavenger, DUMPEN.

That is my name for it. Some days you open the curtain and see a vista of unfamiliar beauty; sometimes you see an industrial dock with a little blue paint to indicate this is a port for visitors as well. Today was the latter, and just to jar awake any lazybones who were not up and out and fishing at the break of dawn, the city provided a human alarm clock.



We had a “Waterfalls and Nature” excursion at 10 AM. Off the boat, down to the buses; in front of the ship were two men pretending to be Vikings, one Indonesian, one Black. I find this interesting. If you got off a ship in Africa, and there were people in Native Garb soliciting you for photographs, you would be surprised to find a pale Dane, no?

Met up with the rest of the group - ourselves, the West family, and Luis the Cuban, who was one of the last men to see Che alive. We were handed umbrellas by the dock staff - I was going to take our own, but when I looked over the rail I saw them handing out brollies, and we stowed our own. Time passed; no one from the cruise group was there to direct us to our excursion. I inquired; other end of the dock. So we went to the other end, where there was no bus. I inquired; they had no news of any bus, but we were bade to wait in the shelter of the Port building. (It was cold and raining.) After a while I said this is odd, and volunteered to go back to the ship to investigate. (Always fun to tell Alan West to hold down the post while I reconnoiter.) Back up; made calls; learned nothing. When I returned my wife and child were inside by the gangway.

“We’re in a different port,” my wife said.

Eh? This isn’t Eidengloggenfjorden, or whatever? No. It’s Haugesund. Why? There was a detour on the fjord. (More about that later.) So there was no excursion at all. But we could take the buses into the city and explore! We got on the bus. A man from the bus line collected our umbrellas. I noted that it was raining, quite impressively, and he said they would give us umbrellas when we got off. On the way over the bridge the driver pointed out some local attractions, which included the bridge to our left, and if we looked to the right, another bridge. The brochure said the downtown had a pedestrian mall - “Hundreds of shops with a wide variety of goods. Haugesund is the shopping destination of more than 100,000 Haugalanders and the No. 1 shopping town in Norway.”

A bold assertion, one that was instantly disproved by a cursory glance of the place as the bus trundled to the church where we were deposited. Wet, yes; that’s expected. But rather careworn and modest. Well, we’ll see. We got off the bus. There were no umbrellas. I asked the driver if she had any; she did not. I told her the man at the port took them away and said there would be some when we got off.

“He fibbed,” she said.

I borrowed one from the Wests and we headed off through the town in the pounding rain. It seemed to be characterized by a lack of anything. Few stores were open. Empty storefronts. Lots of pizza:



And cheerful urban vistas:



In the square, a statue of the first two guys to realize that if you go that-a-way, you can get out of town.



One coffeeshop where men sat at a counter by the window looking out with the bleakest, most Godforsaken expression you can imagine. But now it was revenge time! I insisted we press on, not be lazybones who wanted to back to the ship. Let’s walk the full eleven blocks of downtown. We’ll find something! Of course my wife got the joke, and knew I wasn’t serious. Much.

Back to the church and back on the bus. The driver paused at the park to tell us a little about the king who unified Norway and how he had long hair once but ended up bald later, and then he said he was very sorry there was really nothing here for us, but one could take a bus out of town to see interesting things. He also apologized for not taking us to the Herring Museum, because their insurance required them to stick to a particular route, and the Herring Museum was not on it. But we could walk 15 minutes in the rain, he said, if we were really interested in herring.

Back to the ship. We were supposed to pull out at 3:30 for scenic fjord cruising. We’re here until 10:30.

The story, pieced together from differing accounts: there’s a bridge we can’t get under.

While this is possible, it seems to be one of those things a cruise line would know in advance, no? Apparently it’s under construction. Okay. But part of the story - again, no one is telling us specifically what has happened; no shipwide announcements, no letter in the box outside your stateroom - says that the bridge is now done and it’s low. Forever. For good. Which means that whoever screwed up the bridge and barred the entrance of cruise ships has virtually destroyed the economy of the towns beyond that depend on these behemoths. Imagine that.

Imagine being that guy. Or those people. Or that company. Looking at the bridge every day, billions of kroners spent, the span complete and solid and strong for the ages, and you did it, and you screwed up and made it too low and laid waste to the livelihoods of everyone who served the ships. AND YOU HAVE TO CROSS IT EVERY DAY.





In the end there’s just the long trawl back to port, nothing to see off your balcony but the two halves of the big blue world: the sky above and the sea below, a thin line keeping them apart, as if a few pixels kept one from bleeding into the other. We’re heading back to Amsterdam now, and there’s nothing to do but pack (done) and get your boarding passes (bought some internet time, only to learn online check-in is not available for my flight) to amuse yourself with the Trivia contest or go hear a speech or, in my case, go make one. And eat! There’s always eating.

Yesterday was Stavenger: a modern oil city. . .



. . . with an old wooden town on the docks. I loved it.



Oh, sure; strenously statist architecture:



Public statuary that figured, in different locales, this guy:



A Children's Museum that had the creepiest thing ever seen in a children's museum:



But I'm not doing it justice. There's a cathedral with stark staring heads - the fellow in the middle seems to have bad cold:



He's also watching over the saint who caught a bird to catch a Frisbee:



It's the Houston of Norway, or so they say. None of the rude raw yee-haw spirits that might suggest. They have oil in common. We skipped the Petroleum Museum, looking in on the Canning museum; too many kroner for the lot of us. But ho, a selection of old herring labels! Exclamation point used non-ironically!



At the end of the afternoon we wandered back to the ship - obviously; it's not like we're going to swim home - and this was the view of the old and the new:



There's more, but there really isn't. Another day at sea, some lectures given and lectures heard, another meal, the fargin' Baked Alaska Parade, the packing with the usual regret and relief, the up-and-out morning, and the sudden end of life on board.

But when you go to bed the night before you dock, that's when the cruise ends. The next morning you wake in a thing that wants to expell you like a swallowed stone. The end comes the night before.

With this.







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