In July/August 2023, Merge spent two weeks in Norway, and this next series of posts reports on some of the places she visited.
Situated along the western coast of Norway, Haugesund historically was known for its Viking history and herring fishing. Today, it has transitioned to its contemporary role as a significant player in the shipping industry. And it is also known for the annual Norway International Film Festival which has been taking place every August since 1973. With a population of approximately 40,000 residents, this coastal town occupies an area of around 73 square kilometers.
There are two easy options to explore the city on a tight timeline – the City Train and the Hop On-Hop Off bus — Merge chose the former. At NOK 290 (approx. USD 28), the cute City Train is an easy and enjoyable way to explore some of the city’s key sights.
Harald Fairhair, the inaugural king of Norway, established his residence in Avaldsnes, also known as the Homeland of the Viking Kings, a mere 8 km (4.9 miles) away from the present-day Haugesund town. Following his death around 940 AD, Fairhair’s resting place is thought to be at Haraldshaugen, a burial mound situated by the Karmsundet strait. The town and municipality of Haugesund derive their name from this location. In 1872, the national monument at Haraldshaugen was erected at this location to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Hafrsfjord in 872, an event traditionally regarded as the unifying moment of western Norway under a single monarch.
The city has some fun sights right in the centre of town that are easy to walk to. Two must-sees on Merge’s list were the Var Freisers kirke (Our Saviour’s church) and the Fishermen statue. The church stands in the geometric heart of the town’s grid network of streets. From the church, if you look straight down towards the water, you will see the Fishermen statue, just three blocks away. The statue stands as a tribute to the town’s maritime heritage, specifically herring fishing. The bronze monument depicts two fishermen, reflecting on the challenges of a seafaring life. The statue commemorates the contributions of those who have shaped Haugesund’s history through their connection to the ocean.
Probably the most unusual sight in Haugesund is the Marilyn Monroe (yes, that Marilyn Monroe!) statue. Before Marilyn Monroe changed her name, she was Norma Jean Mortensen. Her father, Martin Edward Mortensen, was from the Haugesund area. Given that the city has been the home to Norway’s International Film Festival for the past 50 years, the city proudly erected this statue on the quay front in 1992. Ironically, DNA testing in 2002 determined that Monroe’s biological father was actually Charles Stanley Gifford, her mother’s co-worker with whom she had an affair in 1925. No matter, as a nod to her father of record, the statue is still there. So Merge wandered over to get a picture. And was a little surprised to see that the statue depicts her as a little plumper than we might have seen her in North America. The photo is here — you can decide for yourself!
By far the greatest hidden gem in Haugesund is the newly-opened (since January 2023) Viking Planet museum! The focus of this interactive immersive digital museum is to present a more realistic and historically accurate portrayal of the Vikings than most people may have from purely Hollywood experiences. And they have succeeded! Using technology, they’ve created an experience that not only lets you get up close and personal with Viking raids and ambushes, but also with the religion, family, art and other everyday life activities of the Vikings. Interactive screens outlining Viking history, a short movie, object displays, an opportunity to write using the Viking Futhark (their runic alphabet), and a digital selfie station are just some of the fun things Merge got to see and do at the museum. And there is also a store upstairs if you want to take home some souvenirs. With an entrance fee of NOK 250 (approx. USD 24), this is, hands down, the best bang for your buck in Haugesund, even more so if you’re a fan of Vikings!