Archives, Europe

Stavanger, Norway and the Tall Ships Festival: The End of an Era

Norway was the last stop on my European Whirlwind trip this summer, and was actually full of some rest.

At this point in the game, I had begun to slightly loath my bag as it had gotten heavier and heavier over the course of my trip. I was tired and the continuous flying and airport navigation was kind of kicking me at the knees. On top of my task of physically delivering myself to Norway, the friend that I was supposed to stay with informed me that she was on vacation in the Southernmost part of Norway, and wouldn’t be back to Stavanger  by the time I arrived.

Big bummer.

So, although it sucked to fork out the money (because everything is expensive in Norway) the ease of booking a hotel right from my phone, and arriving to a staff full of smiling- English speaking faces was honestly exactly what I needed. I spent my first day in my cushy queen bed, with my beautiful Spanish dress on eating crab salad and trail mix I grabbed from the grocery store. The pressure to “do something” was lifted because I was in a space that was actually (if only for a short time) my own. Plus, being in a small town, there really wasn’t a ton to do which was another great pressure alleviated. I simply got to enjoy time in the Norwegian sun for a full day and feel no guilt about it.
Once I felt properly rested up, I ventured out to explore the festival that just so happened to be going on when I arrived. The Tall Ships Festival. Now, I’ve heard of similar things going on in Duluth, Minnesota, only two hours from where I grew up in the States, but had never given it the light of day. This was mostly because I didn’t know what the heck a Tall Ships Festival would entail. When I arrived at the port, however, I was taken aback by the sheer volume of… well, ships! Big, small, long and tall, every nautical dream I had ever had became a reality that day. Large pirate-like ships loomed next to me, and pristine sails of large colonial ships gently swayed in the breeze overhead.

It was like a dream. The sun was out, music was playing, locals chatted, food was being cooked and everyone was happy. And it was free! I couldn’t believe my luck at stumbling upon Stavanger on that particular weekend.

Unfortunately, that evening the rain came through and canceled my plans to cruise one of the ships, so I again relaxed that evening.

The next morning I gorged myself on a Norwegian brunch that was free with my hotel stay, and let me tell you, although I would never normally eat fish for breakfast, Norwegians know how to make it work. The sheer variety of fish on just one table probably outnumbered the amount of fish I had ever eaten in my life. Pickled, raw, roasted fish of all colors and textures. I had no idea what any of it was, but I loved it.

Full and happy, I left the hotel to again be greeted by the sun and strolled the streets briefly before walking into the local church. I was raised catholic, and therefore have no problem attending a mass, even though I now attend a protestant church back home. In fact, when I travel going to church, it’s one of my favorite things to do. Seeing religion from a cultural standpoint is so interesting to me. For example, in the UK they made a very big point to bless the royal family, as they are am embodiment of the church. In Spain, the blessed virgin Mary is a much bigger deal. And in Norway, I found blessing the sea was highlighted.

Also, the service was in English. In this tiny Norwegian town, who is full of mostly locals, they were confident enough to say “Yeah, let’s have mass in English this morning, enough of our parish is fluent and we want to be welcoming to the visitors.”  I died! How different their mentality is from that of the US!!! I would never get to walk into a church and have foreign visitors be welcomed so warmly and openly, let alone have the entire service in another language in order to accommodate them! I felt honored.

After church, I finally met up with Hanna, my friend, for lunch before packing up and relocating to her house. In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful hills lied this beautiful white house with a perfect little garden out front and a second floor terrace overlooking it all. Cozy, but still very minimal and Scandinavian, was Hanna’s house. It was the best place I could have asked for.

Before we lost the light, Han decided to take me to a hidden waterfall not far from her place, which I was thrilled to go to! We drove to the base, walked a bit through the fields and trees before arriving to a bluff that opened up to a short drop-off and a deep pool of water. The Waterfall was small but steady, and the water was icy cold. A few other people gathered there before and after us, but the time Han and I were just there alone, I heard the land sing. Not like Ireland where the tune was sing-songy and melodic, but a deeper, older, Nordic drumbeat that resonated through my soul.

I was in a hidden waterfall, in Norway, just because I wanted to be. I placed myself in that situation simply because I wanted to experience something great. I live a cool life y’all and if I said it once, I’ll say it again, sometimes I’m just simply overwhelmed by it.

The next morning, rain again canceled our plans, this time to hike a nearby mountain. So, instead, I met Hanna’s sister and we watched Ladybird, which they didn’t really fully grasp because of the cultural gap. Interesting to see and think about later.

That night I was already packing up and heading back to the airport for my connection in Oslo. Fully intending on staying in my hotel I had booked, I would be traveling to Dublin the next morning to then fly back home to the States. This is another instance of when meeting people comes in handy while traveling. A friend Johanna who had studies abroad at the U of M with me a year prior, happens to live in Oslo. Now, although she and I were not great friends, she saw I was in Norway, asked if I would be in Oslo at all, and if I needed a place to stay for free. What a dream!!! I saved my last bit of money, and got to catch up with a person I hadn’t seen in over a year, it was very special. Kindness is a universal language!

My next, and final morning I was exhausted. Frankly, I think my body had come to terms with the fact I was going home, and finally allowed itself to feel the exhaustion my mind had been pushing away for weeks. But, I didn’t want to get too comfortable. My connection in Dublin would be tight and as I had learned in France, missing a flight really, really sucks.

So. There I was, with my bag poised over my shoulder and hugged tight to my body for minimal bounce, running through the Dublin airport to make my one-hour connection home. I ran off the plane, stamped my passport, switched terminals, made it through security, to only be held up in line at US customs. It’s cool that Dublin pre-checks people before they actually leave, but of course the lines were slow moving. Suddenly, all the familiar feelings of me being stranded in a foreign city came rushing back to me as I glued my eyes to the clock. Boarding had already begun when I was in security and I did not have the time to waste.

I eventually made it through and was off running again, this time much faster, wildly trying to find my gate number without losing speed. As I arrived, I saw the “Final Call” warning blink on the screen, and the two air hostesses tried to quickly wave me in. When I saw the door was still open, I literally leapt in the air with my fist up, whooping and hollering that I had made it. I felt like a contestant on the Amazing Race, and I’m pretty sure I scared the hostesses a bit. I didn’t care though, I made it! My exhausted self had delivered both my body and my stuff safely onto my correct flight, and honestly it couldn’t have been more seamless.

As I passed through the boarding tunnel, a huge mix of emotions hit me. Relief and excitement, yes, but also a sense of finality. My year abroad had ended, and now the great unknown lied before me. Officially graduated into the adult world, I had no idea what lay ahead. My plans had simply run out. I also felt happy. A generic feeling, yes, but true all the same. I had just spent a year, traveling the globe, doing things I had always dreamed of, and things I never thought I would. It was a hell of a ride, one that helped me become more of the person I always wanted to be.

I sat in my seat on the plane and was launched into the night air, and into a new chapter of life.

To read about my other adventures in Europe and South America, click below:

Dublin and Greater Ireland

4 Lazy Days Around Barcelona

London and Characters

Berlin, Germany

Ultimate Guide to Rio de Janeiro

Another Patagonia Guide

Dreamy Buenos Aires

Colonia, Uruguay




3 thoughts on “Stavanger, Norway and the Tall Ships Festival: The End of an Era”

  1. Hi Monica,
    Just heard anBout your blog from your mom and have really enjoyed reading it. You should write a book or better yet you could have your own “traveling with Moni” show. We (your mom, aunties, uncles and, Grampa are all so proud of you! What a fun, spiritually fed and rewarding life you have. God sure has blessed you with good friends, family and friendships. Kudos to you! Hope you have a sweet birthday.

    I am going to Mayo on Monday for my 6 month check up. Pleas say a prayers that everything goes well and I continue to be in remission.

    Auntie Bonnie


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