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Destination: when in Arendal; brawls and Disney whispers

Allow me to dispel a myth right from the start. If you've watched Disney's Frozen and decided to Google the origins of the name "Arendelle," you'll find that, indeed, the name (!!!) is derived from the nearly identical name of the coastal town. However, the comparisons pretty much end there. Despite Arendal's picturesque charm, with its beautiful centuries old wooden Sørlands houses scattered across rolling hills, the Disney resemblances are minimal. But as strange as the world can be, it still seems to be an impulse for hordes of tourists arriving in grand cruise ships mooring at Arendal's docks.

Coastal Town Norway

In previous articles, you might have read that I'm not a fan of cruise ships for various reasons, so I fervently hope that cruise ships will soon sail into the history books. While I do understand the boon they bring to local businesses, the environmental damage in terms of food wastage, toxic emissions, and shops filled with hideous mass-produced troll figurines doesn't bode well for the world in my view. Moreover, they mar the charming view one would normally have from the old town. And oh yes, mentioning fistfights in the title was mostly for clickbait; however, it seems that occasional disagreements do occur on Saturday nights on the streets. And Arendal even having a bit of a reputation. But honestly, where in the world doesn't that happen?

That being said (after all, it's a blog, not a scientific paper, and thus allows for outspoken opinions), it's time to delve into the highlights of Arendal. Because the internet loves lists, and I'm no stranger to them either, here's a sumup in random order of my favorite places in Arendal:

Arendal Jazzklubb: The mere existence of this place fills me with joy. It's a tiny stage tucked away behind the central square. But behind the unassuming entrance door, magical things occasionally happen. Such as today while writing, Nils Petter Molvær takes the stage there. One of my all-time favourite Norwegian musicians.

I first stumbled upon it in the middle of winter, with Arendal covered in about 20 centimeters of snow, turning it into a fairytale scene (no, not like in Frozen). I had previously attended a concert by Mathias Eick in Kristiansand and was so enthralled that I wanted to experience the exact same concert again. Luckily, there were a few tickets left for his Ravensburg album tour, and that's how I ended up at the Arendal Jazzklubb. I highly recommend attending a one of his concerts if you have a chance. Besides being one of the country's most gifted trumpet players, he strikes me as a remarkably sympathetic individual. Just the fact that he drives a green Saab from the 1970s tells me enough. The concert itself was incredibly charming. Knowing that his album was inspired by his family life made it even more special when it was revealed that a significant portion of his family was in fact in the audience (apparently, some of them live in or around Arendal). So, it's well worth checking out the Arendal Jazzclub's program if you're in the vicinity. The cream of the crop of the Norwegian music world performs here in the most intimate setting. Even if you're not as much of a music enthusiast as I am, you won't escape a bit of starstruck feeling.

Tromøya: While it's not officially part of the city, it's a stunning island. Especially the wide pebble beach is incredibly beautiful. It's picturesque in every season. Numerous burial mounds dating back to prehistoric times have been discovered here. For a cup of coffee and some treats, you can visit the most charming café on the entire island. Housed in an old farmhouse, surrounded by wild blooming rose bushes, it feels like a little paradise. Apart from locals, very few people know about this place. It's one of those spots you only discover through word of mouth. And what makes it even more exclusive are the opening hours, which are quite specific – a few weeks in June, the entire month of July, and a few weeks in August. So, be sure to check the opening hours in advance to avoid finding a closed door. If you have any wedding plans, Bjellandstrand Gård can turn your romantic ideas into reality. Otherwise, you come to Tromøya mainly for the stunning nature and the Southern Norway idyll. Plenty of campsites and outdoor activities for those who seek them. But you'll figure that out on your own, I assume.

Unwrapped Butikkafé: Just the thought of it makes my green heart skip a beat. It's by far the coziest place in town for a cup of coffee, but also for your breakfast or lunch, I can't think of a nicer place. They don't just serve coffee; they also sell handmade soap, various kitchen utensils, and, most importantly, a lot of locally produced food. I sincerely hope that this sets the blueprint for future retail – locally produced, minimal to no plastic packaging, and run by passionate people with their hearts in the right place. Really, I can hardly put into words what a charming shop this is. If you're reading this blog post and are inspired by the courageous and inventive people running Unwrapped, you're obligated to pay them a visit... and take a bar of soap for your loved one.

Kuben Museum: If you're into museums, Kuben is an absolute gem. Here, you can immerse yourself in the history of Agder. Within walking distance of Arendal's center, you'll find KUBEN, where you can experience the rich history of Aust-Agder through exciting exhibitions. The "LIVSTEGN" exhibition, new in 2022, takes you on a journey through the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age in Agder. From the arrival of the first people in the region to the end of the Viking Age – a span of about 10,500 years. In our exhibition, you can see some of the fantastic artifacts found in Agder during this period and learn how society transitioned from the Stone Age to the Viking Age. The exhibition offers various fun and educational activities for children, from meeting the fearsome serpent Nidhogg, gnawing at one of the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil, to feeling antlers, bones, fur, and tendons and guessing the animal they came from. For the little ones, there are also a few adorable sheep to play with and help care for, so the wolf doesn't snatch them away.

The "Enslaved" exhibition especially moved me. A three-part exhibition with slavery as its overarching theme. For Arendal, the story of Fredensborg is both local history and world history. The ship sank off the coast of Tromøy in 1768, and the wreck was discovered in 1974. The Fredensborg is considered the world's best-documented slave ship found as a wreck. The exhibition showcases many objects found during the excavation of the wreck. The final part of the exhibition deals with modern slavery, shedding light on various forms of slavery that still exist today.

Old town: Of course, taking a stroll through the old town of Arendal is a must. The buildings bear witness to the bustling activity that once thrived here. In fact, this was one of the most important ports on Norway's southern coast. Enormous fleets of sailing cargo ships must have brought a vibrant atmosphere to the town. However, with the advent of steamships, Arendal From here, vast quantities of timber were shipped to the rest of Europe. The colossal fleet of sailing cargo ships must have brought about a tremendous vitality. However, with the advent of steamships, the relevance of Arendal quickly waned, and the town lost some of its vigour. Yet, this is precisely what gives the town its charm. The beautiful wooden cottages and street names transport you back in time. (Take "Gibraltarbakken," for instance. A group of Norwegian sailors found that there was quite a bit of bickering in Gibraltar. Apparently, the same was true in Tyvholmen. That's why it's now called Gibraltartoppen. Whether it's true or not, who can say.) Naturally, you can also take a lift to the viewpoint for a splendid panorama of the town and the islands off the coast. Boarding one of the many ferries is another delightful way to view the town from a different perspective. But, of course, these are self-explanatory activities.

Even in the summer months, you might chance upon a festival. This is one of those places buzzing with activity during the summer. Additionally, the Arendals uka takes place; it's the country's foremost political spectacle, with all the captains of industry, significant PR firms, and, of course, politicians doing their utmost to make an impression. However, as a casual passerby, you may not be overly concerned with that.

To truly have yourself 'caught' by Arendal's hospitality, I wholeheartedly recommend reserving a night at the prison hotel. Of course, I have no knowledge of all the obscure types who may be reading my articles, but I'll assume for convenience that you've never spent a night in prison. Well, that's about to change. It's a bit of a gimmick, admittedly, but a very enjoyable one. And all this in Arendal of all places.

Naturally, you could opt for the usual path and enjoy a night's sleep in one of the ordinary hotel chains. However, what's even more enjoyable is renting a charming little microhome in Grimstad (just under a 20-minute drive from Arendal). Besides Grimstad being well worth a visit (and I promise to dedicate a separate blog post to it), this is by far the most original accommodation you can afford in the vicinity of Arendal. The birds will serenade you awake.

I must acknowledge that I've only scratched the surface of Arendal as a whole. But I did promise to share my favourite spots with you. And as you may have gathered by now, I've been quite enamoured with Arendal for quite some time. I hope you'll share my sentiments after spending a day or two there. Let me know on Instagram, alright?


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