January 15th 2011 and I was in the Norwegian City of Haugesund on the North Sea coast…
In the morning by a minor miracle the rain had stopped and the pavements had been dried off by the piercing wind so when we woke and discovered this we were hopeful of a dry day.
Breakfast turned out to be an excellent affair with a good cold buffet and a hot egg and bacon selection as well. There was a lot of chopped up fish, which, quite frankly, I could have happily managed without and some brown cheese, which is apparently quite popular in Norway, so I tried some and regretted it almost immediately. I think brown cheese is what you call an acquired taste and quite clearly two days was not going to sufficient time to get anywhere close.
We stepped out of the hotel into a drab world of semi-darkness that was just overwhelmingly grey and sad. Along the waterfront boats bobbing gently on the calm waters and except for the occasional piercing squawk of a seagull it was eerily quiet for a Saturday morning.
The best thing to do was to walk back towards the centre and soon we were on Haraldsgate, the main shopping area and the longest pedestrianised street in Norway but even though it was the weekend the streets were empty and the shops were seriously short of customers.
Even at midday it was still quite dark and although the Christmas lights were still twinkling this was doing little to lift the gloom and the overall impression on this mid January Saturday was that this is a town teetering on the edge of terminal dullness.
I amused myself by taking pictures of frost picked windows…
We didn’t spend much longer in the shopping centre and were soon back on the main street where we noticed that the people seemed to be outnumbered by the statues. Every few yards there was a bust or a figurine of some kind or another and I was left with the impression that the city council must spend a considerable amount of its budget on sculptures and street art.
There were a few spots of rain now so we headed back in the direction of the waterfront and the hotel just in case we might have to make a run for cover and down at the harbour side we came across a statue of a young and flirty Marilyn Monroe.
The reason it seems that she should surprisingly turn up here is that her father, Martin Mortensen lived in Haugesund before emigrating to America in about 1880. After abandoning his family after only six months of marriage, he was killed in a motorcycle crash without ever seeing his daughter – Norma Jean Mortensen. There is some dispute about this I am obliged to add and there are alternative theories about Marilyn’s paternal heritage – no one really knows for sure.
The rain was getting heavier so as we had been walking for a couple of hours or so we went back to the hotel to shelter. Another really good thing about the Hotel Amanda was complimentary tea and coffee throughout the day so we were saving money all the time as we sat in the lounge to warm up and enjoyed a hot drink.
I usually prefer a beer at about this time when I am on holiday and because I thought it was rude not to sample a genuine Norwegian brew I slipped back to the co-op and spent my children’s inheritance on three small cans at a massive £3 each and returned with my purchases just hoping that the Frydenlund Pilsner and the original Hansa Fatøl would be worth every øre.
Suddenly the sky brightened a couple of shades of grey and the rain stopped so not having travelled eight hundred miles to Haugesund to watch television we found our coats and returned to the streets.
The wind buffeted us about and rearranged our clothing as we crossed back over the bridge and slipped into the shelter of the shopping streets again. Old photographs of Haugesund show Haraldsgate as a row of attractive timber buildings but over the years some of these have disappeared and have been sadly replaced with later inappropriate concrete and glass additions, a bit like any modern English town scarred forever by 1960s town planners.
It was still light and dry so we went on a rather pointless walk to a pretty church and then returned to the warmth of the hotel via the waterfront. We opened the wine and I had a can of Norwegian beer, taking care to enjoy every expensive drop and when the waffle machine was wheeled into action at three o’clock we were first in the queue at the trough of batter mix and prepared ourselves a tasty snack. I finished the Norwegian beer and I instinctively knew that I should have bought more.
Tonight the dining room was busy with Norwegian guests most of whom looked as though they were attending a tribute band retro rock concert, especially the men with their pony tails and platted beards. We were the only English people in the hotel and the Norwegians treated us with a sort of arms length curiosity because they were probably wondering what on earth we were doing there.
It was pouring with rain now so this ruled out any evening walk option so instead we made ourselves comfortable in the lounge, claimed possession of the television remote controller which put us in charge of channel selection and choose an English speaking film. Some Norwegian guests turned up but didn’t stay and this time unlike the Scott of the Antarctic story – arriving second at the south pole after the Norwegian Roald Amudsen, this time the English were there first and we were staying put.