We were flying north in Europe for the first time since Iceland in 2007 and after we crossed the North Sea the plane approached the rugged and heavily indented Norwegian coastline and crossed a scattering of ghostly islands and through the darkness we could just about make out small hamlets and villages clinging determinedly to the granite rocks.
We shall see later that Norway comes close to the top of a lot of lists compiled about the countries of the World and we start here with the fact that it has the longest coastline in Europe (Greece is second and United Kingdom third). As the plane dropped lower and lower on its final approach we could see boats swaying in the water and waves crashing against the shore – we seemed to be dangerously close to the water but then we hit tarmac and with only a short runway the pilot hit the brakes in what seemed to be a bit of an emergency stop. It wasn’t of course and everything was under control and soon we were leaving the aircraft and heading for the small terminal building.
Ryanair weren’t making a big profit out of this flight because there were only forty passengers on the plane which was probably a good indication that Norway in mid January is not a popular tourist destination and once through duty-free and passport control thirty-seven got on the bus for the three hour journey to Stavanger which was an even bigger clue that Haugesund is not on many people’s itinerary as a tourist destination.
After a short wait the bus driver finally conceded that there were no more passengers and set off towards Haugesund along heavily salted roads with piles of cleared grit stained snow and ice piled up on either side. We could see the lights of the city ahead and a ring of snow streaked mountains in the background and soon the bus passed out of the bleak countryside and into the streets of Haugesund and after just a short wait at the main bus station the driver, who had a strange 1970s retro haircut, obligingly went off route to drive us to our hotel down on the waterfront.
The Hotel Amanda was warm and welcoming with a log fire burning in reception and as Haugersund is home to the annual Norwegian film festival the whole place had a movie theme with appropriate memorabilia and every room named after a famous film. We would have liked the Gladiator suite but we were allocated Shane, named after the famous 1953 Alan Ladd western, which although not as exciting as Ben Hur or Spartacus was better than the Rosemary’s Baby room on the opposite side of the corridor because I could have guaranteed nightmares if we had been sleeping there. I can’t imagine what sort of sick mind would have thought that was a good idea for a hotel room name?
In the hotel dining room there was a help yourself waffle maker so we tried that and a glass of the duty free wine and as we sat in the window it began to spit with rain and soon it was coming down really hard driven into shore by a strong wind off the North Sea. We attempted a short walk but it was that sort of driving rain that a cheap umbrella cannot protect against and after only a few metres our coats and trousers were getting soaked so we were forced to abandon any thoughts of evening exploration and return to the hotel where we sat in the room drinking wine and listening to the rain pouring down outside. It was a good job that we had brought the wine with us because a small bottle in the mini bar was a laughable 85 krone, nearly £10.
And there were more price shocks to come when we investigated restaurant prices from a menu left in the room presumably for humorous entertainment. With a green salad at 150 krone and a main meal an average of 300 it was obvious that dining out would be a pricey business so we were grateful therefore that the hotel rate included an evening buffet which although not very thrilling at least it wasn’t a wallet busting experience.
As we dined the weather got worse as the rain turned to sleet and then to snow, back to sleet again and then full circle back to driving rain and when we finally went to bed we began to wonder how we might entertain ourselves for two days in Haugesund if it was going to continue like this.