Tag Archives: Sólfar Suncraft

Iceland, Leif Ericson the Axe Factor and the Vikings

Viking Longship

After the short break for tea, coffee, cake and to satisfy Margaret’s WiFi addiction we returned to the streets and walked up a long street which made its way to a high point in the city and the Hallgrímskirkja or the City’s Lutheran Cathedral which at seventy-three metres high dominates the skyline.

Outside the church 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.

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 almost one million people claim Norwegian ancestry – 16.5% of the population of the State.  No wonder then that in professional football the team from Minneapolis in 1960 was officially named the Minnesota Vikings; the name is partly meant to reflect Minnesota’s importance as a centre of Scandinavian American culture. 

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 faces east as though gazing back to the Old World rather than the New!   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.

We could have visited the cathedral but decided to leave that for another day and let the excitement mount and instead walked back to the alternative hotel to discover our fate.  Actually it was very good and when I checked the website it had a higher customer rating than the double booked Best Western and it was a few pounds more expensive (and we were promised the lower rate) so I decided to shut up and put up!

While Kim and Margaret rested Mike and I went out again onto the streets and walked towards the city airport where we watched domestic flights coming and going full of commuters and then we walked back to the city, up to the cathedral again and then dropped back through the grey streets flanked by brightly coloured houses and back to the hotel and by now I had overcome all of my annoyance with Luton Airport, easyJet, Sixt Car Hire and the Best Western Hotel!

Steinunn first Icelandic cSettler

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning – Iceland, Sólfar Suncraft

Sólfar Suncraft

Sólfar Suncraft

Beginning of a Voyage…

Good information on this site about Viking ships:

http://www.rmg.co.uk/explore/sea-and-ships/facts/ships-and-seafarers/the-vikings

Iceland, Economy, Happiness and Statistics

Iceland Cover

My first trip to Iceland was in 2007 when the country appeared to be riding the crest of an economic  wave, top of the United Nations index on human development and according to a study at Leicester University the fourth happiest place to live in the world.

Iceland had one of the richest economies in Europe, but it had a problem nagging away below the surface of the wave because its three main private sector banks had become so large that their assets amounted to more than ten times the gross domestic product of the country and eventually things went spectacularly wrong.

The economy bombed, the krona has lost more than half its value.  GDP dropped by 10% (I am not an economist but apparently that is quite a lot) in under a year and unemployment hit a forty year high.  Following negotiations with the International Monetary Fund a massive rescue package of $4.6bn was agreed by a combination of loans and currency swaps from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.  In addition, Poland offered to lend $200m and the little Faroe Islands offered 300m Danish kroner, which was roughly the equivalent of the United Kingdom lending 300 billion Danish krona or 35 billion pounds!  How generous was that.

Six years previously I had found the country horrendously expensive but that turned out to be a bit of bad timing  because immediately after the crash and only a year later the krona lost fifty percent of its value against the Euro.  Even taking into account six years of relatively high inflation, which even now remains stubbornly high at over 5%,  I was rather hoping for cheaper prices this time because it has now dropped to only the nineteenth most expensive country in the World to live in.

1000 krona

You would think that this would make people happy but evidently not because from fourth happiest in 2007 it has plummeted to eighty-eighth in 2013 and from the top of the human development index it has dropped to only fourteenth but remains in a top twenty which interestingly includes all of the other Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

On the positive side and despite losing its happiness crown in 2013 the World Economic Forum named Iceland as the World’s most visitor friendly country just ahead of New Zealand and Morocco (Morocco?) .  The least friendly country by-the-way was declared to be Bolivia followed by Venezuela and then Russia.  Well, in my personal experience (and that is all that  it is) I certainly wouldn’t put Morocco in the top three and I certainly wouldn’t place Russia  in the bottom three either.

Other facts that might make Icelanders sad is that it is the only northern European country not to win the Eurovision Song Contest  despite competing in twenty-six competitions and it has never qualified for the football World Cup finals or the European Championship finals.  On the other hand it does now have three blue flag beaches  and four blue flag marinas.

The weather was a bit of a surprise because we had interpreted ‘Ice land’ rather literally and were expecting sub zero temperatures, snow and lots of ice.   What we hadn’t taken fully into consideration was the effect of the gulf-stream that delivers warm water from the Caribbean directly to the south of the country and thereby keeps the temperature unexpectedly mild.

Reykjavik is on a line of latitude 64° north which is approximately the same as Anchorage in Alaska and Arkhangelsk in Russia but whilst the average October temperature in these two cities is about -10° centigrade in Iceland it is generally a degree or two above zero.  Whilst you wouldn’t step out on the streets in Anchorage or Arkhangelsk without a warm coat, woolly mittens and a flask of hot soup it really wasn’t absolutely necessary here.   Iceland it seems is a most inappropriately named country.

Iceland Landscape

When we arrived it was dreary and overcast but to be fair there was now some weather improvement and although there were still impenetrable steel grey clouds it had at least stopped raining.  It was only a short walk to the seafront and we found our way to the promenade and walked along to the Sólfar Suncraft, which is a stainless steel 1986 sculpture of a Viking long boat that occupies an impressive spot overlooking the bay and Mount Esja on the other side. 

Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the story goes that the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the comforting plumes of hot steam that were escaping from the nearby hot springs.

By early afternoon there were some promising pools of blue sky spilling through the clouds as we walked back from the sea and into the city centre and along the main shopping street of Laugavegur.  We were ready for a break so we stopped at a small café that we recognised from the previous visit and where on that occasion a coffee and a sandwich and a cake came to a very unreasonable 1,600 krona, or about £13 but this time it was way cheaper for four of us at about only £8 and I began to feel more comfortable about Icelandic prices.

Sólfar suncraft Reykjavik Iceland

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

Sólfar Suncraft, Reykjavik

It was only a short walk to the seafront and we found our way to the promenade and walked along to the Sólfar Suncraft, which is a stainless steel 1986 sculpture of a Viking long boat that occupies an impressive spot overlooking the bay and Mount Esja on the other side.  Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the plumes of the steam that were coming from the nearby hot springs.

Read the full story…

or:

Norway, Haugesund and the Minnesota Vikings

Iceland – Reyjkavik, Vikings and Explorers

We had been allocated a nice silver car with hobnail tyres that made a strange crunching noise that made me think at first that I had got a flat but a quick check revealed that everything was in order and the journey to the city was straightforward and uneventful.  In fact the tyres were studded with aluminium rivets designed for ice and snow and we hoped that this meant that someone at the hire desk knew that the sort of weather we were hoping for was on the way.

Read the full story…