Category Archives: Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings

Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach North America in what is today Newfoundland in Canada when Leif Ericson reached the Continent via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000.  Nearly a thousand years later many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century.

According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group.

Ethnic Norwegian immigrants represent the seventh highest from Europe (Germany is highest) and this partly explains the inclusion of Norway at DisneyWorld EPCOT World Showcase.

In Minnesota, 868,361 Minnesotans claim Norwegian ancestry, 16.5% of the population of the State.  No wonder then that in professional football the team from Minneapolis was officially named the Minnesota Vikings on September 27th 1960; the name is partly meant to reflect Minnesota’s importance as a centre of Scandinavian American culture.

The Club website helpfully explains. why it was chosen..

“it represented both an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest.”

The association between Vikings and sport is not surprising because physical strength, speed, resilience and endurance were important qualities for a Viking. As in the USA, England has its own Vikings with the Widnes Vikings Rugby League Football Club.

Widnes was one of the original twenty-two rugby clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895, making them one of the world’s first rugby league teams. Their traditional nickname is ‘The Chemics’ after the main industry in Widnes, but the club now generally use their more modern nickname.

In Norway, the Football club from Stavanger is not just nicknamed Viking it is called Viking Stavanger.  The National Team of Norway, who might be expected to be called The Vikings are in fact called Løvene which means Lions.  Other National Teams that are called Lions are Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Senegal and Singapore,

England are called the Three Lions.

On This Day – An Unexpected Meeting With Marilyn Monroe

January 15th 2011 and I was in the Norwegian City of Haugesund on the North Sea coast…

In the morning by a minor miracle the rain had stopped and the pavements had been dried off by the piercing wind so when we woke and discovered this we were hopeful of a dry day.

Breakfast turned out to be an excellent affair with a good cold buffet and a hot egg and bacon selection as well. There was a lot of chopped up fish, which, quite frankly, I could have happily managed without and some brown cheese, which is apparently quite popular in Norway, so I tried some and regretted it almost immediately. I think brown cheese is what you call an acquired taste and quite clearly two days was not going to sufficient time to get anywhere close.

We stepped out of the hotel into a drab world of semi-darkness that was just overwhelmingly grey and sad. Along the waterfront boats bobbing gently on the calm waters and except for the occasional piercing squawk of a seagull it was eerily quiet for a Saturday morning.

The best thing to do was to walk back towards the centre and soon we were on Haraldsgate, the main shopping area and the longest pedestrianised street in Norway but even though it was the weekend the streets were empty and the shops were seriously short of customers.

Even at midday it was still quite dark and although the Christmas lights were still twinkling this was doing little to lift the gloom and the overall impression on this mid January Saturday was that this is a town teetering on the edge of  terminal dullness.

I amused myself by taking pictures of frost picked windows…

We didn’t spend much longer in the shopping centre and were soon back on the main street where we noticed that the people seemed to be outnumbered by the statues. Every few yards there was a bust or a figurine of some kind or another and I was left with the impression that the city council must spend a considerable amount of its budget on sculptures and street art.

There were a few spots of rain now so we headed back in the direction of the waterfront and the hotel just in case we might have to make a run for cover and down at the harbour side we came across a statue of a young and flirty Marilyn Monroe.

The reason it seems that she should surprisingly turn up here is that her father, Martin Mortensen lived in Haugesund before emigrating to America in about 1880. After abandoning his family after only six months of marriage, he was killed in a motorcycle crash without ever seeing his daughter – Norma Jean Mortensen.  There is some dispute about this I am  obliged to add and there are alternative theories about Marilyn’s paternal heritage – no one really knows for sure.

The rain was getting heavier so as we had been walking for a couple of hours or so we went back to the hotel to shelter. Another really good thing about the Hotel Amanda was complimentary tea and coffee throughout the day so we were saving money all the time as we sat in the lounge to warm up and enjoyed a hot drink.

I usually prefer a beer at about this time when I am on holiday and because I thought it was rude not to sample a genuine Norwegian brew I slipped back to the co-op and spent my children’s inheritance on three small cans at a massive £3 each and returned with my purchases just hoping that the Frydenlund Pilsner and the original Hansa Fatøl would be worth every øre.

Suddenly the sky brightened a couple of shades of grey and the rain stopped so not having travelled eight hundred miles to Haugesund to watch television we found our coats and returned to the streets.

The wind buffeted us about and rearranged our clothing as we crossed back over the bridge and slipped into the shelter of the shopping streets again. Old photographs of Haugesund show Haraldsgate as a row of attractive timber buildings but over the years some of these have disappeared and have been sadly replaced with later inappropriate concrete and glass additions, a bit like any modern English town scarred forever by 1960s town planners.

It was still light and dry so we went on a rather pointless walk to a pretty church and then returned to the warmth of the hotel via the waterfront. We opened the wine and I had a can of Norwegian beer, taking care to enjoy every expensive drop and when the waffle machine was wheeled into action at three o’clock we were first in the queue at the trough of batter mix and prepared ourselves a tasty snack. I finished the Norwegian beer and I instinctively knew that I should have bought more.

Tonight the dining room was busy with Norwegian guests most of whom looked as though they were attending a tribute band retro rock concert, especially the men with their pony tails and platted beards. We were the only English people in the hotel and the Norwegians treated us with a sort of arms length curiosity because they were probably wondering what on earth we were doing there.

It was pouring with rain now so this ruled out any evening walk option so instead we made ourselves comfortable in the lounge, claimed possession of the television remote controller which put us in charge of channel selection and choose an English speaking film. Some Norwegian guests turned up but didn’t stay and this time unlike the Scott of the Antarctic story – arriving second at the south pole after the Norwegian Roald Amudsen, this time the English were there first and we were staying put.

Top Five Posts

Always, at this time of the year I spend some time looking at my statistics. This year I have been looking back over eleven years to find my Top Five most visited posts…

Number 5 – Catalonia, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

First posted – August 2013
Total visits – 16,792
Best Year – 2015, 8,717 visits
Consistently recording hundreds of visits each year
2020 – 194 visits

Number 4 – Sorrento – Vesuvius, Living on the Edge of Danger

First posted – April 2010 in a series about a holiday to Sorrento
Total visits – 18,183
Best Year – 2013, 4,213 visits
A very steady performer and always in my annual Top 10
2020 – 376 visits

Number 3 – Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

First posted – April 2010
Total visits – 18,287
Best Year – 2013, 5,016 visits
Did well for 4 years followed by a steady decline
2020 – 18 visits
I feel a repost coming on.

Number 2 – Royal Garden Party

First posted – June 2009
Total visits – 23.010
Best Year – 2015, 5,871 visits
Year after year, has always done well, especially in May when Palace invites go out.
2020 – 212 visits

Number 1 – Haugesund and The Vikings

First posted – March 2011
Total visits – 24,710
Best Year – 2012, 14,773 visits
It took me a while to understand this but then I found out that people in USA were searching for Minnesota Vikings Football and being directed to my post. Google put that right and the visits bombed immediately.
2020 – 9 visits

Thanks everyone for reading and Have a Happy New Year.

My Lead Soldier Collection – The Norman Conquest

Norman Knights 1066

William the Conqueror and a Norman Knight.

In England we have to National Day, no Independence Day, I am willing to wager that not many people would know the date of St George’s Day, in fact we tend to celebrate a day when we were invaded and lost our Independence.

The Norman Conquest of England is quite unique.  By their very nature most hostile invasions and occupations end up being only rather temporary but in this case, not so.

The Year 1066 is probably the most memorable in English history.  On October 14th (now officially Hastings Day) that year Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and most of his army with him were cut down in battle and William, Duke of Normandy earned his nickname “William the Conqueror”.

Read The Full Story Here…

Entrance Tickets – Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.

The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off  but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

These are the four faces of the clock taken from inside the top of the tower…

Iceland Cathedral

Read the full story…

Ireland, Holy Shrine of Knock – Pictures

800px-Knock_ShrineLoaves and Fishes KnockKnock Religious ShopKnock Holy Shrine 02Knock Apparation MosaicKnock Shop SouvenirsKnock Signpost

An Alternative Independence Day

In England we have to National Day, no Independence Day, in fact we tend to celebrate a day when we were invaded and lost our Independence.

The Year 1066 is probably the most memorable in English history.

On October 14th (now officially Hastings Day) that year Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and most of his army with him were cut down at the Battle of Hastings, and William, Duke of Normandy earned his nickname “William the Conqueror”. William, who was using Hastings as his base, then claimed the crown and changed the way England was governed forever.

Unlike the Scots who sing national anthems (unofficial) about fighting the English and the Welsh can’t get over the military campaigns and begrudge the castles of Edward I (even though they generate lots of tourist revenue) it is a curious fact that the English actually celebrate and embrace the 1066 Battle of Hastings. I suppose this says a lot about the nature of the English because instead of sulking behind a defensive nationalist barrier and bristling with rage and resentment we have actually hijacked the event and reorganised our subsequent history around it.

After the successful invasion William and the Normans set about imposing their military domination and completely reforming the previous Anglo Saxon administrative and political  regime and modern English history really starts from that date.  The subjugation and the transformation was so completely successful because the English (except Hereward the Wake of course) recognised the benefits of this, allowed it to happen and simply got on with their lives.  They didn’t sit in caves watching spiders or retreat to Anglesey to brood and get angry about it.

Today the French irreverently refer to the English as Anglo-Saxons (in the same way that we refer to them as Frogs) but their description is entirely incorrect because for a thousand years we have been Norman-English whereas the French do eat frogs!

In 1966, I was twelve years old and England went into a frenzy as the 900th anniversary was celebrated and it was such a success that Hastings Borough Council decided to mark the date every year as Hastings Day.

On the build up to the event there were commemorative stamps and gold coins, tea towels, pencil sets and mugs and everyone got in on the act: “Battle of Hastings 1066—Bottle of Guinness 1966” frothed a thousand billboards. ‘Whoosh! It’s another big breakaway conquest,’ proclaimed the makers of Bri-Nylon clothing in advertisements showing mounted Bri-Nyloned models setting out against the Saxons and another alternative version of the battle showed the Norman warriors armed with Desoutter Power Tools.  Heinz offered a chance to enter an archery contest in which the first 1,066 winners would be rewarded with Kenwood Chef food mixers.  Every English town that could claim the remotest connection with either Harold or William beckoned tourists with such  attractions as Conquest puppet shows, town-crier contests and battle re-enactments by grown men who still liked dressing up and playing soldiers.

  

Naturally, in the forefront of all this  was Hastings, which, as its local newspaper proudly pointed out, ‘is better known internationally than almost any other town.’  To give the anniversary its deserved importance and promote tourism, the Hastings Town Council spent a small fortune building a triple-domed exhibition hall called the Triodome.  The principal exhibit was intended to be the great Bayeux Tapestry but the tapestry is the property of the town of Bayeux in Normandy, which, fearing damage to the precious artefact, refused to lend it for the occasion, and so, rather than sulk,  like the Greeks and the Elgin Marbles, Hastings produced its own.

The Hastings Embroidery was made by the Royal School of Needlework in 1965. It took twenty-two embroiderers ten months to finish and it was intended to be a modern day equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry.  It consists of twenty-seven panels, each nine by three foot, and shows eighty-one great events in British history during the nine-hundred years from 1066 to 1966.

The Embroidery is worked in appliqué by hand, with the addition of couched threads and cords in the same way as the Bayeux Tapestry.  It incorporates tweed from Scotland, fabrics from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and feathers from London Zoo.  When completed it went on public display in Hastings, firstly in the Town Hall and then at the White Rock Pavilion.  The Embroidery is currently in storage, and, despite local campaigns to have it brought out of the bottom drawer, apart from two panels on permanent display in the Town Hall, it is not on public display.  The reason given is that to preserve the cloth and appliqué that special storage displays would have to made and the cost would be prohibitive.  I can’t help thinking there may be another reason – perhaps it isn’t that good?

I began this article by trying to rise above patriotic smugness but I cannot finish without reminding the French that, in a delicious twist of fate, less than three months before the 900 year celebrations of a French victory over the Anglo Saxons, England beat France in the World Cup group stages by two goals to nil.  France finished bottom in the group, England finished top and went on to win the Jules Rimet trophy!

More Leif Ericson – Statues in the USA

Leif Erikson Boston  Leif Erikson Minnesota

After recent travels to Italy I told the story of Giuseppe Garibaldi and how he is so famous that his statues appear all over the World and now I have been to Iceland and seen Leif Ericson and although not nearly as prolific in his bronze and stones appearances as Giuseppe, Leif does seem to have an impressive number of likenesses of his own, especially in the USA.

This is not entirely surprising of course because Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach North America in what is today Newfoundland, Canada when Leif Ericson reached the Continent via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000.

Nearly a thousand years later many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century. According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group.

In the two pictures above Leif can be seen in Boston, Massachusetts and then not surprisingly in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Below he is in Chicago, Illinois and (my personal favourite) Newport News in Virginia.

leif-eriksson-chicago  Leif Erikson Newport News Virginia

Reyjkavik, Vikings and Explorers

Vikings in the USA, Leif Ericson and the Axe Factor

Viking Longship

Outside Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s Lutheran Cathedral, is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson who was an Icelander born about 970 and who explored the oceans and the lands west of Iceland, establishing colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland and who according to legend reached America long before Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucchi.

The statue was a gift from the American Government in 1930 to mark Iceland’s 1,000th anniversary and in the United States October 9th is commemorated as Leif Ericson Day.  The date is not associated with any particular event in Leif Erikson’s life, it was chosen because the ship Restauration sailing from Stavanger in Norway, arrived in New York Harbour on October 9th 1825 at the start of the first organized immigration from Norway to the United States.

We found the monument and it struck me as rather strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a monument that commemorates the Vikings and a possible starting off point for long ships full of heathen bullies on their way to the British Isles to rape and pillage a part of England where I now live.

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland

The Vikings were Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic from the late eighth to the mid eleventh century.  These Norsemen used their famous long ships to travel as far east as Russia, as far west as Newfoundland and as far south as modern Spain in a period known (not very imaginatively) as the Viking Age.

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 embellished for over a hundred years.

The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes and intrepid adventurers is part true, part fable and part exaggeration and although if these guys paid a visit it is probably true to say that you probably wouldn’t want to put a welcome mat by the front door or get the best china out, no one can be absolutely sure of the accurate ratio of good and bad and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd.

But now it seems historical revisionism has gone too far for some people  especially for Professor Simon Keynes, an Anglo-Saxon historian at Cambridge University – ‘There’s no question how nasty, unpleasant and brutish they were. They did all that the Vikings were reputed to have done.’

They stole anything they could. Churches were repositories of treasure to loot. They took cattle, money and food. It’s likely they carried off women, too, he says. ‘They’d burn down settlements and leave a trail of destruction.’ It was unprovoked aggression. And unlike most armies, they came by sea, their narrow-bottomed longships allowing them to travel up rivers and take settlements by surprise. It was maritime blitzkrieg at first.’

It is now widely believed that Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach North America in what is today Newfoundland in Canada when Leif Ericson reached the Continent via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000.  Nearly a thousand years later many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century.

According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group. In Minnesota, nearly a million claim Norwegian ancestry, 16.5% of the population of the State.

No wonder then that in professional football the team from Minneapolis was officially named the Minnesota Vikings on September 27th1960 a name that is meant to reflect Minnesota’s importance as a centre of Scandinavian American culture.

The association between Vikings and sport is not surprising because physical strength, speed, resilience and endurance were important qualities for a Viking. As in the USA, England has its own Vikings with the Widnes Vikings Rugby League Football Club.  Widnes was one of the original twenty-two rugby clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895, making them one of the world’s first rugby league teams.

epcot-norway-viking

It probably also explains why Norway features at World Showcase at EPCOT in Disney World in Florida.

In actual fact however there is no real evidence that Ericson actually discovered America at all  and rather curiously his statue in Reykjavik faces east as though gazing back to the Old World of Scandinavia rather than the New World of America.

Today he looked out over Viking skies full of Icelandic drama with mountainous clouds as big and as grey as a medieval cathedral that closed around the city like a soggy cloak.

Steinunn first Icelandic cSettler

The Huldufólk of Iceland

“This is a land where everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect” –  Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

We have moved on from Wroclaw in Poland and its street dwarfs so I thought you might like some pictures of the Huldufólk. the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore who live in a mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds, of arctic chill, windswept valleys, gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss and winter scorched meadows.

“It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.” – Icelandic Singer Bjork.

In a land like this. of fire and ice, a place that is wild and magical, where the fog-shrouded lava fields provide a spooky landscape in which it is possible that anything out of the ordinary might lurk, stories flourish about the “hidden folk”.

According to Icelanders these are the thousands of elves who make their homes in the wilderness,  supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.

People in Iceland do not throw stones into the wilderness just in case they carelessly injure an Elf!

“It has caused a lot of arguments, as it’s something that’s very difficult to prove. Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do” – Terry Gunnell

If you are wondering where the Huldufólk are in my pictures? Well, according to Icelandic lore they are hidden beings that inhabit a parallel world that is invisible to human eyes, and can only be spotted by psychics and little children, unless they willingly decide to reveal themselves to people.

Sometimes however you can see their houses…

Have you been to Iceland – Have you seen the the Huldufólk?