We figured that it was time to see a bit of Norway. As with a lot of immigrants with no local family connection, most trips for us since we moved here have been to either Ireland or Germany to see family. But Easter was coming with a 5 day weekend here and we decided it was time for a road trip. We’ve had the car since last year and aside from one road trip to Germany, it hasn’t really been earning it’s keep.
So all we needed was a destination and a plan. It had to be a reachable distance by car and in deciding this, we did what I’m sure all parents of young kids do before a long car journey (even if they won’t admit it), we checked the standing stockpile of travel sickness bags, affectionately known as ‘sickbags’ . We had 6, only 6, oh dear. After some intricate maths, and deploying some distance-to-sick probability algorithms based on a 5 year old and an 8 year old, we decided that we could make it the 400km south to Kristiansand without having to scrap the car afterwards. Kristiansand screamed out as it has the biggest dyrepark or zoo in Norway and even a hotel room for 4 with a possibility of a sea view.
One booked hotel room and a few packed bags and kids later, we were on our way. Apart from some motorway delays due to a traffic accident, we got to Kristiansand incident-free 6 hours later. We arrived at the hotel and gleefully went to check-in. As frequently happens when we are out and about, the local Norwegian (receptionist, in this case) speaks to me for a moment, switches to English and then switches back to Norwegian when communicating with the GERMAN once-was-blonde blue-eyed husband. They finished their nice little one-sided dialogue and we moved on. Dare I say that the galling thing about these situations is that my Norwegian is better than his but hey, I am not one to hold a grudge, no matter how smug someone looks, no, not I.
Now I’ve been to a few zoos in my time and the mainstay is, of course, the animals, and with a bit of luck, some feeding stations for humans too to keep chaos at bay.
This zoo is in large rambling grounds outside the city of Kristiansand and it has animals too, obviously. It also has an amusement park intermingled between the animal enclosures. So as you are going from the orangutans to the African fennec foxes, you can have a go on a heart-stopping train ride or a zip-line or even a merry-go-round if you are under 7. Or of course, you can just walk on the lovely rolling paths like normal people.
There are lions and tigers and monkeys and reptiles and a cheetah mom and pop with gorgeous cubs born last year, all lazing in the sunshine when we were there. I loved the big information cards as well showing which animals were endangered species and why. As the kids found out, goats and sheep and snakes will outlive us all but frankly, it’s just not looking great for many of the others.
Next, we came to the theme-park area of the zoo where suddenly, we were walking on to the pages of kid’s books, or so it seemed. All kids growing up in Norway are familiar with the work of Torbjørn Egner, a Norwegian children’s author. He may well be the Enid Blyton or Doctor Seuss of Norway. His books about Kardomomme By og Hakkebakkeskogen create immersive worlds about robbers coming to a peaceful town and the hierarchy of animal life in the forest. The kids jumped with excitement and recognition here. The immigrant parents were not quite as familiar with the characters and buildings from this literary world but we knew enough, which was all that mattered.
As we kept rambling through the animal park, it became clear that we were just too early in the season for the the numerous daytime shows, the late night amphitheater pirate show, a cruise in one of many big pirate ships out on a lake (no kidding), the film studio tour (still not kidding) and wait for it, a swimming world out on an island in the middle of the lake, incidentally also part of the ‘zoo’. Boy do these Norwegians know how to do zoos.
So we had a great time. The entry fee for the dyrepark or zoo is high but the fact that it’s a long way from being just a zoo (sorry, animals) justifies this. Next time, it must be summer and we will bring what we need to build a tree-house high up in a tree and stay for a week or two in the animal park, so suggested the kids.
Kristiansand itself is a lovely city, named by King Christian IV of Denmark way back in 1641 when Norway was under Danish rule. The most southerly city in Norway, it has a long shipping history and the lovely sea side walks and trendy restaurants by the old fish market definitely warrant a second visit.
However, we are thinking that we might cast the net a bit wider on our next road trip, go over the mountains out west to Bergen perhaps in the summer. We do have 5 sickbags left, after all.