Discovering the Vikings in Northern Europe
PHOTO: Vikings display at the archaeological museum in Stavanger, Norway. (photo by Jason Leppert)
It seems appropriate that Viking Ocean Cruises would delve into the world of the Vikings when in the Baltic and Nordic regions of Europe, and that’s exactly what we’ve done onboard the line’s latest Viking Sky.
Chairman and CEO Torstein Hagen likes to reference how Virgin Galactic says, “space is Virgin territory,” when mirroring that, “Scandinavia is Viking territory.” In fact, our first taste of Viking culture was in Alborg, Denmark where the ship’s included two-plus-hour walking tour came upon a recreation of a Viking village.
We were greeted by a musically-merry band of traditionally-dressed villagers—a woman and three bearded men. Thankfully, one was portly, so I could more easily relate to the process.
Tents were pitched with simple wooden polls and draped cloth, and historic metal weaponry and jewelry were on display. Small samples of mead—a liquor made primarily from honey and wheat—were also passed out for us to try, and I must say it was quite tasty with the sweet going down very smooth.
It was here that we were told the Viking helmets did not actually have horns on them, but that they were added mythologically by the English. The thinking is that such imagery was added to explain away some sort of demonic origins for the Viking strength and ability to defeat foes.
Once we arrived in Stavanger, Norway, the optional three-hour “On the Trail of the Vikings” shore excursion promised more in-depth cultural discovery.
A bus ride took us from the ship to the local archaeological museum on a typically rainy Norwegian day. Along the way, our guide spoke a little of the local history, citing thriving industries of Herring fishing and canning before oil in more modern times.
At the museum, we were given the very specific date of June 8, 793 to be considered the beginning of the Viking Age. Even though there was a tableau of seemingly menacing Vikings in mannequin form, our guide explained they were not Vikings.
Interestingly, she instead explained Viking is a verb, not a noun; it’s something you do, not something you are.
Apparently, there has only actually been one Viking helmet found to this day because they were not buried with the defense. The belief was that in Valhalla they would not be required as immortals. Also, while funeral pyres were floated on boats, they were eventually retrieved and buried.
Our time at the museum ended with a neat traditional Viking snack of dried mutton, hazel nuts, sour cream, flat bread apple and apple juice. It gave a great sense for how the hearty diet sustained their longevity.
Following the museum visit, we made a brief stop at the Sverd I Fjell monument that was erected in 1983. Three giant swords appear struck vertically in the ground, signifying peace.
Our museum guide said that it was the Christian Vikings defeating the pagan Vikings that started the Middle Ages. So, it was appropriate that we also drove by a church where it’s said Christianity originated in Norway.
The tour concluded with a visit to the Domsteinane stone circle which actually predates the Viking Age and is not entirely known what it was used for. It could’ve been a gathering place for religious purposes, but it’s only speculative.
Back onboard, the Viking Star has its own wonderful Viking Heritage exhibit which helps infill many other details from “Why did they travel?” and “What was their life like?” to “Where did they go?” and “What is their legacy?”
Perhaps most interesting is the simple test, “Are you a Viking?” The genetic condition Dupuytren’s contracture causes those with Viking DNA to have fingers that curl in towards the palm because of thicker tissue on the hand.
This post first appeared on TravelPulse.