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Articles Blog

Alesund, Norway

Karyn Planett

Emily Dickenson said, “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.” 

Well, tell that to any sun-drenched citizen of Alesund who savors summer with an embrace greater than any Nordic chill. Though the winters are long and cold and dark, the summers signal an open-door policy where all Norwegians take to the out-of-doors and don’t retreat until long past the time you or I would wish to huddle near a glowing fire. So tip your hat to these fine folks and see just what keeps them here in this little slice of Norway. 

The Western Coastline 

If a crow flies in a straight line north to south along Norway’s western coastal border he’d have to flap along for 1,100 miles border to border. If a cod swam along the same coast skirting the contour of all the coves and inlets, shores and fjords, he’d have to log in some 13,000 miles. So, the moral to this story is it’s better to be a crow than a cod in Norway. 

Remember, too, the North Atlantic Ocean pounds this profile to remind us all that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Therefore, the hearty souls who inhabit this jagged tableau or any of the 50,000 offshore islands, give or take, have tales to tell and challenges to meet when calling the western coastline home. 

Alesund, as you’ll see on any map of Norway, stands with her face to the sea and her back to the Storfjord straddling the islands of Norvoya and Aspoy. And the history of her inhabitants is tied to the sea through oil production and fishing for only 4% of the country’s land is arable and 70% is mountainous, or covered with lakes, or carved up by glaciers. 

Oh, did you know that the average depth of a fjord at the ocean is 600 feet and the average depth far inland is 4,000 feet? Just thought you’d like this little factoid.  

Fire Chars The Face of Alesund 

Visitors to Alesund find it difficult to believe that this tiny fishing port dates back to the 9th century when a lad named Rollo the Ganger set about building a castle just nearby. Not much happened until 1848 when a legal township status was declared for Alesund. Everything went along swimmingly until 1904 when a disastrous fire swept through town with a roaring fury, consuming 850 homes but taking the life of only one soul--the lady who lived next door to the firehouse. Though there was little loss of life, the inferno left 10,000 locals without shelter to wander aimlessly in the ashy remains of this conflagration. They were homeless. 

Thankfully, German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II underwrote much of the town’s reconstruction. Local architects who’d been schooled abroad thus fans of the Art Nouveau style oversaw the rebuilding. This style was creatively melded with romantic and traditional Norwegian national styles to blossom into an unusual breed of Art Nouveau design. A casual walk along Apotekergata, Lovenvoldgata, Kongensgata, as well as back alleyways, allows visitors to stumble upon whimsical designs, fanciful interpretations of ordinary components, and photo-worthy images. Exhibits at the Jugen Art Center provide even greater insight into this unique look. Alesund has truly risen from the ashes. 

Well, back to the fish and their role in Alesund’s play. Klippfisk, a Norwegian dried cod favorite, was a veritable goldmine for the local fishermen. Over time, however, these salty souls began to turn away from fishing and focus instead on fish processing as well as fish farming no longer relying solely upon Mother Nature for their bounty. No more weeks at sea and lashing waves. They were content to remain home in Norway’s biggest fish-export harbor. There’s a Fishery Museum on Moloveien Street if you’re yearning for more information on this riveting subject. Otherwise, simply stroll down Brosundet Canal and chat up a local. 

Another sight worth mentioning is the Kirkegata, or the Alesund Church. Built in 1909, it’s noted for Enovold Thomt’s fine frescoes and stained glass windows that shine down upon 800 residents when filled to capacity. 

Further Afield 

A quick journey over to the islands of Giske and Godoy tempts many travelers. Sights not to be missed include the 12th century marble church on Giske, known to some as Saga Island and the birthplace of Rollo. The Alnes Lighthouse is found on Godoy Island and is a great vantage point for a shot of the sea. 

Sunnmore Museum is just minutes from the city center and features more than four-dozen old buildings in a natural parklike setting. Yachties and sailors will enjoy viewing the old Fjortoft boats and the Heland, a fishing boat known as the “Shetland Bus” that played an important role during the German occupation of World War II.   

Save Some Energy 

If you’re a shopper, you’ll want to peruse the hand-knit woolen sweaters, the painted wooden boxes, silver and pewter jewelry, embroidered linens, and the traditional dresses known as bunads. If you’re hungry, you’ll want to sample tasty, locally grown strawberries, geitost (a sweet goat cheese), and possibly aquavit, the Norwegian water of life that, ironically, was discovered when a medieval alchemist was attempting to make gold. Well, he failed at the task at hand yet this “failure” was a great success to others. You decide if you agree.