Of all the European countries we visited, Norway was hands down my favorite. It didn’t have grand palaces like Russia, extravagant parliaments like England, or famous historical classics like Germany, but what it did have, that those countries lacked, was extraordinary natural beauty and unparalleled peacefulness. We visited Norway’s 2nd and 12th largest cities, Bergen and Ålesund, as well as two villages nestled deep within the Norwegian fjords called Geiranger and Hellesylt.
My first blog on Norway crammed all four of these places into one blog; however, now that I finally have access to all the pictures, I will divide them into three separate blogs. Ålesund and Bergen will have their own entries, while Geiranger and Hellesylt will be in a blog together since we visited both on the same day and they are much smaller. I am starting with Ålesund, as it is the first Norwegian city we visited.
The 12th largest city in Norway, with a population of 44,096 (per the World Population Review website), Ålesund is as perfect as a medium-sized Scandinavian city can get. It’s picturesque, charming, and colorful, and the poster child for quaint Norwegian cities. It consists of 7 small islands: Hessa, Aspøya, Nørvøya, Oksenøya, Ellingsøya, Humla, and Tørla. We visited Aspøya and Nørvøya, as that is where the town centers are located. If you climb to the fjellstua viewpoint (mountaintop viewing area), you can see all the islands laid out before you (unfortunately, we did not get to 😢).
Ålesund is where I first learned that Norwegians share the Swedish and Finnish passion for trolls. We encountered multiple souvenir shops dedicated to the little creatures, as well as the first “statue” to them (the Swedes and Finns apparently drew the line at erecting statues). Trolls are heavy in Norwegian culture and history, with stories being passed down orally via Norse mythology for centuries. Everywhere you go in Norway (and really, Scandinavia) you will see trolls.
We visited 3 main places in Ålesund: Ålesund Church, the city police (polti) station, and the Art Nouveau Museum.
We began our visit of Ålesund by aimlessly wandering around, with my stepdad being the only one with a true mission in mind: find the police station. We followed him throughout the city center, eventually coming upon a large stone church that looked incredibly old and very European. This turned out to be Ålesund Church.
Located on the island of Aspøya, it was founded in 1855 and completed in 1909. It is built of stone and concrete, in the Art Nouveau style. Only three years after its completion, taking a whomping 54 years to build, it burned to the ground in 1904 during the great Ålesund Fire. This was a massively devasting fire, with nearly the entire town being burned to the ground and having to be rebuilt. Finally, five years later in 1909, the church was completed and consecrated.
We unfortunately could not go inside the church; however, it was cool to view it from the outside, as it was over 100 years old. We do not have many century-old churches in the United States, save for a handful that have survived in New England.
Located at Kirkegata 22, 6004 Ålesund, Norway, there are conflicting reports as to the hours of operation. According to the website Visit Norway, the church is closed on Mondays and Saturdays “unless a cruise ship is in town”, except if a wedding ceremony is happening. They also state that the church is closed to tourists “before and during funerals”. However, according to Google, the church is open from 4pm to 8pm every day except Friday, Sunday, and Monday. And according to users on Google, the church is actually now closed on Mondays and Thursday through Saturday, only open Tuesday (4pm to 8pm), Wednesday (8pm to 9pm), and Sunday (11am to 12pm). Sooo… it’s confusing and would seem best to just find out when you arrive in Ålesund.
After vising the outside of the church, we moved on, maneuvering our way towards the city’s police station. Crime is incredibly light in Norway, and there are but a few police stations within the entire city. We eventually found the Ålesund Police Station, located at Nedre Strandgate 50, 6005 Ålesund, Norway.
It’s been a while, so I can’t recall exactly how we ended up talking the kind government official into a tour (or if he offered), but we got one (and we picked up two police officers along the way). I was in awe at how nonchalant and tiny the police station/courthouse/jail was. All three were lumped together, because that’s how little crime they get – in fact, the worst crime they usually deal with is cellphone theft. There were exactly zero prisoners in the jail, either incarcerated or awaiting trial. The official informed us that they had already finished court for the day, and the judge saw all three cases before 9:30 am, as that’s how minor the crimes were. We learned that Norwegian police officers do not carry guns, but they do have them locked inside of their vehicles “just in case”.
The government official first took us to the courtroom that they use for their cellphone theft cases, a single room that looked like it came from an Ikea catalog. My mother was a deputy district attorney at the time (retired now), so this was really her jam. There was even a throne (where I assume the judge sits).
Next, we linked up with the first policeman, who began our tour of the police station/jail portion of the visit. As we made our way through the building, we picked up the second police officer. They brought us to the jail portion, as there were no inmates currently being housed there. The jail cells reminded me of the jail cells in the United States, albeit cleaner and more sanitary. We also went to their garage and got to look around the police cars, as well as ask questions about their day-to-day operations.
After that, we moved to the dispatching station, meeting two very nice police dispatchers. They were more than happy to chat with us, given that the phones aren’t exactly ringing off the hook in this city with an extraordinarily low crime rate. I highly suspect that is the only reason all these people were so willing to give four random Americans such a detailed tour. I cannot imagine this would’ve gone the same way in say, London or New York City.
Now in my older years, I am very grateful for the government official, the two policemen, and the two dispatchers who all took the time out of their day to give us an impromptu tour. Touring a foreign country’s police department is an incredibly unique experience that most do not get to partake in (unless they’re under arrest – then it’s probably not such a fun experience), and it is not your typical touristy attraction. It’s definitely a memory I deeply cherish.
Moving on to the Nouveau Museum, this is something that mainly my mother wanted to visit. It’s located inside an old pharmacist’s building and is open Monday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm. It costs 85 krone to enter ($10.55 USD). Children under the age of 18 are free.
Officially called Jugendstilsenteret, it’s located at Apotekergata 16, 6004 Ålesund, Norway, in the old Swan Pharmacy (built in 1907). It is both an art nouveau museum and the Norwegian national center for Art Nouveau. It too was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1904 and rebuilt in an even thicker art nouveau style. According to the website Visit Norway, “The rebuilding created one of Europe’s most characteristic architectural environments in the Art Nouveau style. Jugendstilsenteret offers insight into this style by means of authentic interiors and objects as well as temporary exhibitions. We also work with documentation, education and consulting.”
I was not wild about this place; however, I am not a fan of art nouveau (or art museums in general – the only exhibition I can think of that I liked was Andy Warhol… and that… was because it was thee Andy Warhol). Nonetheless, for those who are fans of this art style (or art in general), you’ll love this place.
I genuinely enjoyed visiting this wonderful little Norwegian city. There is much more to do here other than what we did, including hiking to Fjellstua Viewpoint and up Aksla Mountain, the Atlantic Sea Park, Sunnmoere Museum, Alnes Lighthouse, Brosundet i Ålesund (an historical hotel landmark), Aalesunds Museum, Waldehuset Museum, or kayaking through the canals. There are tons of hiking trails, multiple different walking tours throughout the city, as well as sight-seeing tours that take you into the countryside. There is quite a bit to do here, and Ålesund can easily fit into any Norwegian sight-seeing trip. Don’t pass up this quaint little city!