The view through the plane window when approaching Stavanger airport in the early evening sunlight was simply spectacular – fields in different shapes and forms in varieties of green, rivers, lakes, farms and hamlets.
The receptionist wants to know whether I'm Swiss for the area code of my phone number indicated Switzerland. It turns out that she speaks Swiss German. She had picked it up from her grandmother and during regular four-week holidays in the Berner Oberland. Once again proof that talent and motivation trumps institutional learning.
It is about a half-hour walk from my hotel to the city centre that takes me along a lake and through some posh suburbs that appear as dead as residential areas the world over. At the pier I ask a man in uniform for directions. He turns out to be a pilot in charge of one of the huge cruisers towed there. We are three pilots on this one, he says while pointing to an incredibly large vessel that I think almost impossible to navigate. He could have stayed captain, he continues, but for family reasons prefers to work as pilot. Since I do not know the difference, I ask him to please explain. It is the area, he says, pilots only work in specifically assigned areas, in his case between Stavanger and Bergen. Ships are in his blood, he smiles, he started to row his first boat at the age of 5.
What exactly is a fjord? I wonder and the people I ask don't find my question easy to answer. Wikipedia informs me that it is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier. I so far had thought fjords unique to Norway but learned that they are also found on the costs of Alaska, British Columbia, Chile, Greenland, Iceland and and and. What also surprised me was that many Norwegians live on islands.
On my second day, I find myself at the train station and decide on the spot to take the train to Egersund, a small town by the sea that the gentleman at the information booth praised in the highest tones (it was his birth town). He made it a point that I should sit on the left side for the first half of the trip (in order the get a good view of the fjord the train was travelling along) and to the right side for the second half (because of the breathtaking view of the hilly and stony coastline).
On my third day, it is raining and a strong wind is blowing and so I only go for short walks in the vicinity of the hotel. One takes me to a nearby lake, another to a rather vast cemetery. On my way back, I stop at a Kiwi supermarket for Dutch strawberries and a 1 1/2 liter bottle of Sprite that costs four Swiss francs!
On my return flight from Stavanger to Amsterdam, I was sitting next to a young Chinese woman from Hong Kong who happened to work in a sausage factory near Stavanger. She prefers this work to an office job in Hong Kong where people are incredibly competitive and gossipy, she says and adds: Norwegian sausages are not suitable for Eastern people.
Eat in Hong Kong, live in Norway, this would be to her liking. Like all the Chinese I know she is fiercely opinionated and offers a lot of textbook knowledge about the world. She reminds me of a young Chinese English teacher in Fuijan province who took me on a ride on his motorbike up to the mountains near Quanzhou and who was so stunningly knowledgeable when it came to historical data that I kept uncharacteristically silent for most of our trip.