Visiting the World of Vikings


An ad taking up an entire page in the daily newspaper with the proud image of the Viking ship The Icelander caught my eye on our National Day, June 17.

The Icelander is the exact replica of the Viking ship Gokstad from 870 AD. In 2000, The Icelander sailed to New York to commemorate Leifur Eirkíksson's discovery of America one millennium earlier.

The ad in the paper announced the opening of the Víkingaheimar (Viking World) museum in Njardvík, a town on Reykjanes peninsula near Keflavík International Airport.

Who doesn’t like Viking legends (and I’m not talking about drunk Scandinavian tourists in the Viking pub in Hafnarfjördur)? I'll never forget Kirk Douglas's Viking funeral in The Vikings from 1958 where the floating vessel was set on fire by flaming arrows.

This perhaps explains why I took a one-and-a-half-hour walk from the bus station at the Duus House in the neighboring town Keflavík to Njardvík to visit Víkingaheimar with a stroller in the pedestrian-unfriendly (as I discovered) Reykjanesbaer municipality on a day where the municipality’s buses don’t run (although it was possible to take the bus from Reykjavík to Keflavík as usual).

I don't recommend repeating my mistake of taking a walking one way and taking a taxi back. Fortunately, whenever there isn’t a national holiday, buses do go to Víkingaheimar from Keflavík and you can ride the Reykjanesbaer buses for free.

Arriving from Reykjavík, just before you reach the former US military base, you see a giant Viking sword stuck in the middle of a roundabout, which is your sign where to stop. The street which leads to the museum is called Víkingabraut ("The Viking's Road"), fancy that.

It's easy to spot the place from afar because the museum's glass building permits the famous ship to be visible from outside. Located so close to the ocean, the ship seems to blend in with the waves behind it, smart design!

Luckily, the weather wasn’t rainy so I could appreciate the whole length of the townscape, including some swans and ducks in the proximity of my destination. Doubtless, Njardarvík is a fabulous location with its vast fields, for such a project.

When finally I got there at 6 pm, just few minutes before closing, the opening party was almost over. Yet, it was enough time to get inside the ship, take photos and walk around the small two-floor exhibit, which is a donation from the Smithsonian Institution.

I overheard the reception manager boast about the great interest tourists have in the museum and so many groups having booked a tour of it that the staff is wondering whether to work during Christmas to cope with demand.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed to hear that the Viking village in the surrounding area has not been constructed yet but is only a plan for the near future.

Fortunately, there was one Viking blacksmith still hanging around in front of an empty tent, so I could take a photo of him for this article. I was seriously wondering, though, whether this exhibition was any different from the one I've already seen before at The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

I went to the webpage of The Icelander's expedition and the webpage of Víkingaheimar to find out. There I read the captivating story of the man whose vision made all of this happen, captain and shipwright Gunar Marel Eggertsson.

Coming from a family of shipbuilders in the Westman Islands, Eggertsson claims to be a direct descendant of Leifur Eiríksson. His grandfather’s admiration for the Viking shipbuilder's excellence inspired his dream for a transatlantic voyage at the early age of ten, which he continued to pursue, working on fishing boats at 14, then becoming a shipbuilder at 25.

Later, by taking the position of second-in-command on the Norwegian Viking ship Gaia in 1991, Eggertsson was able to single-handedly build The Icelander between 1994 and 1996.

Eggertsson used the drawings of Gokstad from the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo for the construction of his ship. Through a detailed on-site observation of the excavated ship, Eggertsson was able to make The Icelander a more exact copy of the ancient Viking ship than Gaia.

This information changed my whole perception of Víkingaheimar. It was no longer about Vikings, but a Museum of Fulfilled Dreams, which celebrates the persistence of a man who is truly in love with ships.

Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – [email protected]

Kremena is filling in for Alana Odegard.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.