Exploring my home

I was inspired by Italian tourists recently and walked around in my new neighbourhood as a tourist. I heard buzzing outside my window and it turned out we had another visit by a cruise ship. Haugesund is a small town, and there’s nothing spectacular to see here, but we do have scenery and history of course. There will be fifteen visits by cruise ships this season, six by Costa neo Romantica alone. This Italian ship just made it’s third visit this summer.

I recently moved to the island of Risøy. It’s not exactly Utsira, which is 70 minutes by ferry from Risøy, known for being the smallest municipality in Norway and the most western island. Risøy on the other hand is literally just a stone’s throw from the main land, and we have a bridge, so it doesn’t feel like an island.

This is where the cruise ships dock and many of the tourists from these ships walk to the downtown area on the other side of the sound, which is about 800 metres. I live on a side street, and if the tourists follow the signs leading them to the bridge, they’ll bypass my street. Many take this detour, however. That’s probably because they can spot Our Saviour’s Church, so they walk towards it. The people living here don’t see this as something special, but the tourists seem to like what they see. Maybe they see Haugesund as a small, picturesque town on the edge of Europe? Much like we do when we travel south and take pictures of toothless old Greeks and Italians because we for some reason think these people represent something we wish we had.

Incidentally, the bridge opened in May 1939. I’ve never thought of Risøy as anything but industry. The ship yard Aibel, which employs 1800 people, is important to the town. When I walked along the harbour I also passed a place where I worked as a young man. I worked for Iglo for two seasons packing whole round frozen mackerel. It was hard work and I am still feeling the effects. I needed the money and continued working even though I experienced a lot of pain the first day of my second season. It resulted in a permanent injury, which has been very disappointing. I like physically hard work, but sadly that hasn’t been possible to the extent I want since 1992. The buildings were demolished in 2010 and replaced by Aibel’s parking deck and office building.

There is also a new office building where there used to be a school. During World War 2 the Nazis used it for a prison camp for Soviet POWs. They had a general policy of underfeeding and overworking the prisoners, and that included Haugesund too. The prisoners in this area built cannons with underground tunnels between the batteries. One of these were built where my name comes from, Ytreland, but there’s nothing there today. It’s one of the very dark chapters in our history, one that seems to slip our minds. I have referred to this as remembrance culture in previous posts. There are World War 2 heroes we don’t talk about and also Norwegian traitors. Norwegians can’t be blamed for what the Nazis did, but it is a sad fact that companies and individual business men used these POWs to create wealth. There were kind people here, though, because locals reportedly fed and befriended these Eastern Europeans (mostly Russians) through the fences. These prisoners may have been fighting for a dictator that was just as bad as Hitler (Stalin), but they ended up in Haugesund because they were our allies. These individuals made another sacrifice we didn’t appreciate after the war. This was all new to me and it’s interesting how I keep learning new things about my hometown.

It’s fascinating to discover Haugesund in a new way. Risøy is more than industry. It’s a pretty nice neighbourhood. There are some houses here that have been abandoned for a long time, but the island seems to be going through a renewal. There is a mixture of old, new and some old that have been refurbished. I have some nice memories from the neighbouring island Hasseløy, and I’ve always favoured that of the two, but it could be nice here as well.

The next visit will be by the German Mein Schiff 4 that transport no less than 2 500 people. It is nice when people come here and like the stay, but there’s one thing I don’t like. You can’t run a ship that big without electricity, and they use as much of it as this town of almost 37 000 people. The only option is to never stop the engines.

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