The great thing about visiting friends in other countries is they can show you the out-of-the-way sights that not very many tourists from the U.S. get to see. Fortunately for me, my friends Tale and Erlend decided to take me on a mini-road trip around parts of southern Norway during my last day in the country. Below are some of the highlights from that trip including Utstein Kloster, Byrkjedalstunet Lys, Gloppedalsura Scree, Saloon Helvik, Varhaug Old Cemetery, and various other sights on Rv44. Definitely check them out if you’re ever in the area especially since many of the places played roles during World War II!
We made several jokes about the fact that they were taking me (Abbey) to visit an abbey on Klosterøy, an island north of Stavanger. There isn’t really public parking next to the Utstein Kloster, so we parked at the Utstein Kloster Hotel and walked from there. While we walked, I learned from Tale and Erlend that the metal bars that cover holes in the road are meant to deter sheep from wandering around. Sometimes we carefully traversed them even though the gaps were nearly as wide as the length of my foot. Sometimes we used the pedestrian paths that are blocked by gates (also to deter sheep).
Once we got to Utstein Kloster, we wandered around the outside so I could take some pictures. Lucky for us, we happened to run into the (Dutch) caretaker! He initially spoke to Tale and Erlend in Norwegian but then switched over to English once they explained to him that I did not speak Norwegian. This was my first time being in a country where I don’t speak the language AND can pass as a native. The next time I travel to Norway or anywhere else in Northern Europe I will have to be better about speaking up about my lack of non-English/non-Spanish language ability.
The caretaker was kind enough to take us inside Utstein Kloster and explain the history of the late 13th century monastery. He also showed us the sun dials that had been carved into the outside wall. When asked if monks still lived at the abbey, our guide joked that he was probably the last. We’re quite fortunate we ran into him, otherwise we would not have seen the inside of Utstein Kloster or learned about its history!
Journey Through the Mountains to Gloppedalsura Scree
After Utstein Kloster, we next made our way through the mountains towards Gloppedalsura Scree. Since it was late winter/ early spring in Norway, everywhere I looked there seemed to be small waterfalls coming down the mountains. Or maybe that’s just how Norway always is. I actually don’t know. Either way, it was a very different experience from driving through the farmland of Nebraska and Iowa.
Our first stop in the mountains was an interesting shop called Byrkjedalstunet Lys. It had candles of all shapes and sizes that were made in the store, a whole room dedicated to Christmas decorations, and a section of outdoor gear and wool sweaters. Of course in the outdoor section they had various taxidermy animals, as most outdoor stores do.
A little ways up the road from Byrkjedalstunet Lys, Tale and Erlend took me straight back in time to Gloppedalsura Scree, a valley filled with giant rocks. Gloppedalsura is the result of a 9,000-10,000 year-old landslide that occurred due to the freezing and thawing of an ice sheet at the end of the last ice age! My pictures do not even begin to do the sight justice considering we drove through the rocks for several minutes before stopping at the place where we took the pictures below. I can’t imagine what the rock slide must have sounded like when it happened!
What makes Gloppedalsura even cooler (especially to someone who loves history) is that it was a site of Norwegian resistance against the invading German army during WWII. If only it hadn’t been so windy and cold, I would have loved to spend more time there soaking up the history, both recent and ancient. Oh, and I would have climbed on the rocks some more instead of worrying about my camera and the wind.
Driving Along the Coast: An American Saloon and a WWII Battle Site
For the final leg of our road trip, we followed Rv44 along the coast of the North Sea. Our path took us to some marshy land on the coast. We also passed by Hitler’s Teeth, jagged cement slabs that the German army used to deter Allied tanks from coming to shore during Germany’s occupation of Norway. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of Hitler’s Teeth to share here.
Next we hit up Saloon Helvik, an interesting mashup of tributes to United States culture, including western saloons, Elvis, Route 66, and Uncle Sam. The saloon wasn’t open at the time that we visited, but the outside was entertaining enough to warrant a photo op.
The final site we visited was the Varhaug Old Cemetery, a churchyard that has been around since about 1200, though the latest chapel was built in the 1950s. Like much of our journey that day, the cemetery hold significance in WWII history, having been the site of one of the battles between Norway and Germany. You can even see bullet holes in several of the crosses! I would definitely recommend going during the late afternoon when the sun is setting over the ocean. It definitely adds to the peaceful, ethereal atmosphere.
A Brief Reflection
I’m so glad Tale and Erlend decided to take me around to all of these great places in southern Norway. If I had been traveling on my own, I definitely would not have known to stop by any of these places. So if you’re ever in southern Norway near Stavanger/ Sandnes, definitely look into renting a car and driving to Utstein Kloster, Gloppedalsura, and following Rv44. Maybe you’ll even see a rainbow!