In the winter of 1904 a fire in the central city of Ålesund destroyed the homes of 10,000 residents. If the fire didn't get you, the cold would. The Germans heard about this calamity and sent four ships to help house some of the survivors. After that buildings were made out of stone in the Art Nouveau style that was popular around the time. The central city still sports numerous signs of this decor. Today this city of 36,000 has spread out much past the city center to some surrounding islands. We took a tour today called The Outer Islands. I had visions of something like the barrier islands on the Carolina coast, but instead we found ourselves on the agricultural edges of the city.
What made the trip amazing was all the mile-long tunnels we drove through deep under the sea, that tie these islands together. During the 1980’s a concerted effort to improve infrastructure and better unite the far flung parts of the country, lead to a tunnel-building boom. In my mind it was hard to justify the millions of kroner that must have been spent to construct a tunnel to the island of Giløy with its 700 residents. But now that the effort has been made, the tunnel is useable in all kinds of weather and keeps the far flung residents in touch with down town. The rock that was removed during the tunnel building became the foundation of bridges that also serve to tie all those little specks of rock together.
We drove to a mountain top for a scenic look back at the city. Sadly, the weather today was far from ideal. At least the rain held off until the tour was over. We stopped at a quaint church that had been built by a rich family. The wood carving on the altar and pulpit were spectacular. One of our fellow travelers could play the organ, which added greatly to the ambience of the place.
We had a hard time understanding the tour guide today, surprising since Norwegians start learning English in first grade and generally speak it as well as we do. Eventually, he admitted that he was from the Czech Republic. English must have been his fifth or sixth language. Every so often he used a word that sounded totally not-English in the middle of a sentence. We managed, but many of our fellow travelers don’t speak English as their first language either. He did not have the interesting stories that locals have at their fingertips. He said that yesterday he was working as a tour guide in Bergen. While we cruised here from Bergen, he drove through 37 tunnels and over two bridges.
Back in town we tried to wander around and see the Art Nouveau details on the buildings, but the rain dampened our enthusiasm. The wifi on the ship has been frustrating lately, so we went to a cafe, paid $7 for two cups of coffee and had the same frustrating wifi experience there.
Some days the rain will fall…