The Land of the Vikings…
There is a lot more to Norway than men with beards and bloody axes but the Disney Website simply introduces Norway with the words “Welcome to the land of the Vikings!”
Whilst it suits Disney to retain the school boy image of them it actually becomes increasingly evident that Viking society was much more complex and popular conceptions of them are often in conflict with the truth that emerges from recent archaeology and modern research.
The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes and intrepid adventurers are part true and part fable but no one can be absolutely certain of the accurate ratio and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd. Disney of course had a Wooden Longboat (its gone now I understand) and a shop that inevitably sold Viking helmets based on the traditional image of the plundering Norsemen.
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 one especially depressing morning with 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 driving rain and penetrating drizzle is a much more authentic getting wet experience I can tell you!
We joined a handful of intrepid local people in brightly coloured ‘North Face’ kagools and sturdy 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 as though searching the horizon for long lost Viking ancestors returning from a raiding expedition.
We found the monument and it struck me as a bit strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a memorial that commemorates the Viking Age and a starting off point for longships full of heathen bullies on their way across the North Sea to plunder and pillage a part of England where I now live.
Disney and the Real Thing:
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 chained up 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; hanging on to life,existing, hibernating, waiting, watching and hoping for the first signs of Spring. The people with hats pulled down low and pale complexions, weary streets, grass burned brown by frost and houses battered and besieged, paintwork picked bare by the frost and firmly closed to the outside world, a city beaten to the edge of submission by winter and still some way to go before it was all over.
By contrast, in Florida in October we wandered through Norway with the sun beating down and after the shops and the bakeries there was a water ride that took us back to a mythological version of Norway’s Viking days.
Norway Maelstrom Ride…
Boats passed through scenes of seafarers and Vikings and then through an enchanted swamp and was then forced backwards down a waterfall by angry trolls. The boats floated rapidly past scenes of polar bears and living trees, before coming to a stop on the edge of another waterfall and after again rotating to a forward-facing position plunged down into the stormy North Sea. It then passed dangerously close to an oil rig before coming to an abrupt end in a calm harbour and after that there was an obligatory film about the history and folklore of Norway.
I understand that the ride is soon to be closed down and later reopened as a new experience to exploit the popularity of the film ‘Frozen‘
I liked the Norway pavilion and I place it in third place after Mexico and Morocco.