Sure enough, in the morning, it was still steadily raining and over the first cup of tea of the day there developed an awful realisation that this might turn into a ‘killing off time’ sort of day. We took our time getting ready and then stretched breakfast out for as long as we realistically could and discussed our rather limited choices.
As we lamented the weather and talked through the options however the rain started to ease off and by half past ten, although it had not stopped completely, it was at last possible to go outside and only get slightly damp rather than completely drenched.
It was another depressing morning, the city crippled under the weight of a leaden grey sky, as we set out in a northerly direction along the black granite coast towards Huagesund’s most famous visitor attraction, the Haroldshaugen Norges Riksmonument a mile or so outside of the city.
We joined a handful of local people in brightly coloured ‘North Face’ Goretex jackets and stout hiking boots who were much better equipped for this sort of weather than us and were wandering along the meandering coast line rough cinder path stopping occasionally for no good reason other than to stare out beyond the boulders into the grey, unwelcoming vast expanse of nothingness that is the North Sea. Little wonder the Vikings sailed to England, it must have been the tenth century equivalent of Brits flying to Benidorm.
We found the monument and it struck me as rather strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a monument that commemorates the Viking Age and a starting off point for longships full of heathen bullies on their way across the North Sea to rape and pillage a part of England where I now live.
The Vikings were Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic from the late eighth to the mid eleventh century.
The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes are part true, part fable and, although if these guys paid a visit it is probably true to say that you probably wouldn’t want to put a welcome mat by the front door or get the best china out, no one can be absolutely sure of the accurate ratio in their character of unwelcome guest or charming visitor and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd.
Haraldshaugen was erected during the millennial celebration of Norway’s unification into one kingdom under the rule of King Harald I and was unveiled on July 18th 1872 . Truthfully I found it a bit disappointing I have to say, a seventeen metre high granite obelisk surrounded by a memorial stones in a Stonehenge sort of way, next to an empty deserted car park, a closed visitor centre and an empty vending machine but I’m sure I am being unfair because places such as these are not really meant to be visited on a cold, damp day in January.
On the way back it started to rain again so we quickened our pace and returned to the hotel and made for the tea machine and the television lounge. Twelve o’clock was checking out time so we completed the formalities and then wondered what to do. The city museum was open from midday today but I couldn’t persuade Kim to step out in the drizzle for a second time so I left her in the comfy chair next to the log fire that was crackling in the grate and went back out by myself.
I wasn’t expecting a great deal I have to say but it was something to do for an hour or so and I walked back and went inside the rather grey and boxy utilitarian building. I
t wasn’t very busy and a young museum attendant greeted me in Norwegian which meant nothing to me of course so I just said that I would like to visit the museum. ‘You speak English’ she asked, ‘I am English’ I replied and she gave me a quizzical look that asked what I was doing there so I felt obliged to offer an explanation about cheap flight opportunities and never been to Norway before etc. and she seemed genuinely pleased to see me and in perfect English explained about the museum and suggested that I might find it nice to return in the summer.
As it turned out I wasn’t disappointed by the museum at all and a spent an interesting hour looking around the exhibits. As I left the museum attendant reminded me to come back in Summer, preferably in August when there is an annual herring festival – a three hundred and fifty metre long table along Haraldsgate with 101 species of herring to sample. The World’s longest herring table. That sounded like fun.
I walked back to the hotel where we watched television and counted down the clock until waffle time and shortly before three o’clock the batter arrived and we had a snack just ahead of the taxi arriving at quarter past.
This seems unfair but I wasn’t desperately sad about leaving Norway. Unfair because Haugesund is probably a much better place to visit in the summer when the days are longer and the place enjoys relatively good weather so I think we will have to return at a different time of the year.
By a mocking twist of fate as we sat waiting for the flight the clouds broke up and at the end of daylight hours a blue sky opened up to greet the plane and the next set of visitors enjoying a cheap flight bargain to a place they have never heard of.