The Disney Website simply introduces Norway with the words “Welcome to the land of the Vikings!”
Disney of course had a Wooden Longboat and a shop that sold Viking helmets based on the traditional image of the Norsemen but whilst we tend to retain the school boy image of them it actually becomes increasingly evident that Viking society was quite complex and popular conceptions of them are often in conflict with the truth that emerges from archaeology and modern research.
A romanticized picture of Vikings as noble savages began to take root in the eighteenth century and this developed and became widely propagated for over a hundred years. The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes and intrepid adventurers are part true, part fable but no one can be absolutely sure of the accurate ratio and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd.
In Florida in October the sun was permanently shining and the Viking story was played out under blue skies but I visited Haugesund in Norway in January and this was a very bleak experience. On an especially depressing morning, the city crippled under the weight of a leaden grey sky, we set out in a northerly direction along the black granite coast towards Haugesund’s most famous visitor attraction, the Haroldshaugen Norges Riksmonument a couple of kilometres outside of the city.
At EPCOT the Norway Maelstrom ride is on water with the occasional splashes that leave a few damp patches on your summer clothes but Norway in January in the rain and drizzle is a much more authentic getting wet experience! We joined a handful of local people in brightly coloured ‘North Face’ kagools and hiking boots who were wandering along the coast line cinder path stopping occasionally for no apparent reason to stop and stare out into the grey nothingness of the North Sea.
We found the monument and it struck me as a bit strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a monument that commemorates the Viking Age and a starting off point for longships full of heathen bullies on their way across the North Sea to rape and pillage a part of England where I now live.
Disney and the Real Thing
Haraldshaugen was erected during the millennial celebration of Norway’s unification into one kingdom under the rule of King Harald I and was unveiled on July 18th 1872 by Crown Prince Oscar to commemorate the one thousand year anniversary of the Battle of Hafrsfjord. Truthfully I found it a bit disappointing I have to say, a seventeen metre high granite obelisk surrounded by a memorial stones in a Stonehenge sort of way, next to an deserted car park, a closed visitor centre and an empty vending machine but I’m sure I am being unfair because places such as these are not really meant to be visited on a cold, wet day in January.
We walked back along the same route and into the suburbs of the city which felt rather like a deciduous tree coping with winter; existing, hibernating, waiting and watching for the first signs of spring. The people with pale complexions, weary streets, grass burned brown by frost and houses battered and besieged and firmly closed to the outside world, a city beaten to the edge of submission by winter and still only part way through.
By contrast, in Florida in October we left Norway with the sun beating down and moved on to China…