Stavanger was a quiet regional trading town until the discovery of oil in the southern North Sea field in 1969. It is now Norway's third-largest city, and Europe's oil and gas capital, with some 280 oil service companies.
Norway – Fact Check

Pretty towns powered by oil and fish

Photo by Lucas Vallecillos

Norway – Fact Check Pretty towns powered by oil and fish

Stavanger, Norway has always based its wealth on what the Book of Genesis says “the waters brought forth abundantly”, but the early settlers could never have imagined that would have included offshore oil.

Kayoko Nakata
Kayoko Nakata Writer

Its historic center holds the Norwegian Canning Museum, a former factory that now shows the evolution that took in the industry and its economic importance. Next to the cathedral, the oldest in Norway, is Fisketorget, the former fish market. This has also been converted, this time into a smart, modern restaurant, where Carmen tells me they cook the country’s best salmon. Chef Karl Erik Pallesen, however, has other ideas. “Because of the quality of the salmon we have today, I advise eating it raw, in sashimi or sushi,” he says. I would never argue with a cook in their own kitchen and he is, of course, right.

The Norwegian Petroleum Museum tells how offshore oil has overtaken fish as the source of Stavanger’s – and Norway’s – present wealth. Opposite it, I watch some kids playing in the colorful Geopark, made with materials recycled from the petroleum industry. “The park was built for Stavanger’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008,” says Carmen. “Its topography is a 1:500 scale representation of the Troll gas field in the North Sea.”

From Stavanger, I follow the I-39 north through striking landscapes where every bend throws up a new surprise: a valley, a waterfall or a magnificent viewpoint. Long tunnels carved through the rock and two ferry crossings take me to Bergen, the second-largest city in Norway.

Bergen was founded by King Olaf III in 1070, on a deep natural harbor, whose calm waters are protected by a fringe of outlying islands. The best place to see its excellent location is from the 320-meter-high Floyen viewpoint, reached by a small funicular. I admire the neat city center laid out below – hugging the sea, across which small boats trail wakes, while the sound of ship’s horns echo off the mountain. As evening falls, the lights of the city twinkle into life, making the view even more picturesque.

The next day, I meet with Anders Dyrkon to explore the historic center, with its famous fish market, where visitors and locals haggle over salmon. We start at the Hanseatic Museum, set in an old wooden building with interiors that are original to the period of the 18th and 19th centuries. “From the Middle Ages to the 18th century, the Hanseatic League controlled all business dealings here,” says Anders. “Local herring and cod was sold to Central and Southern Europe, from where they bought products such as wheat to the markets in Norway.”

The museum is on the waterfront in Bryggen, an exceptional collection of historic, commercial wooden buildings painted in attractive colors. Now another Unesco World Heritage Site, Bryggen was inhabited only by German merchants, who controlled the Hanseatic League. “They were unmarried and sworn to celibacy while they lived here,” says Anders. “The merchant and his apprentices shared a house that also contained the warehouse. No heat or light was allowed in them because of the risk of fire. Each block of houses shared an assembly hall and kitchen. It was a monastic existence.”

After a last visit to Kode, the Bergen Art Museum, whose excellent collection includes the works of Edvard Munch, I leave Bergen behind and drive up the E-16 towards Flam.

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