As I rode on a bus from Voss to Gudvangen in Norway, the friendly driver announced, "There's a Viking Market this weekend in Gudvangen. Some Norwegians like to amuse themselves by getting dressed up like Vikings, but it sure doesn't sound like fun to me." That would have discouraged most folks, but not me ... because it's where I was headed. From the minute Georg Olafr Reydarsson Hansen contacted me on Facebook and told me he was the organizer of the annual market, I had made up my mind to go. If Norway is on your list of dream destinations, I'll venture a guess that you'll want to go as well.
In the bosom of a fjord, under a sky of cotton ball clouds, 500 authentically Viking-clad re-enactors from 20 nations brought the Vikings back to life. Bearded Georg, in a fur-trimmed hat, a glint in his eye and a large sword in a scabbard at his waist, sailed up in a Viking ship to oversee the event.
I walked around, open-mouthed, as I met needle binders, blacksmiths, a fire juggler, rune crafters, a poet who uses Old Norse metric forms, sword fighters, actors, cooks, potters, candle makers, artists, furniture and blow horn artisans and leatherworkers who congregated to learn, exchange information, eat, sleep, perfect their crafts and yes, of course, have fun. In real life, whatever that means, they are scholars, miners, jewelers, traders, administrators, students, businesspeople, teachers, marine archeologists, cartoonists and musicians.
Within half an hour of arriving, I was hooked. I changed my travel schedule and spent two days there.
I learned that in 1066 Harald Hardratha (Hard-Ruler) was the last of the Viking Kings. He attacked York in 1066 and when only 6 of the 200 ships that had set out returned, one of them bearing Harald's body, it was the end of the Viking Age. I found out that Vikings, indeed, sometimes wore horned helmets, but they weren't worn in battle, and that the Vikings didn't refer to themselves as Vikings. They were traders who wanted wine, honey and silk, and they offered iron and grindstones. They were also reindeer hunters, farmers, craftspeople, blacksmiths, storytellers and other humans whose lives were not consumed by raiding and pillaging. Women were important in Viking society and they had democratic leanings.
When I met Lars Magnar Enoksen and learned that he writes books on Vikings and runes, I glued myself to his sleeve and followed him around. He said that ever since he was a little kid, he would go by himself to museums and stare at the artifacts. When he grew up, after stints as a punk rocker, a writer for Disney comics and a martial artist, he went to Iceland to track down the last people alive who knew about the form of Glima wrestling which was practiced by the Vikings. One was 80 and one 90 years old, and the latter tossed him before he could say "hello." So, with fate on his side, Lars learned the old form of Glima before it was gone forever. When I asked him how it differed from other wrestling, he said they use eye gouging. After I gagged and sputtered, he said they don't yank out eyes but merely press them. And it sure puts a crimp in the opponent's style.
Besides being a scholar and a Glima guy, Lars is also a Viking sorcerer. And the first night, in the silvery glow of moonlight, right there in the fjord, after quaffing mead from a horn and spitting it back on a rock, I learned how to do a Galdur, or incantation.
But that, my friends, is for another blog....
If you are interested in experiential travel, check out my new book, Life Is A Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel. Published August 1, 2010. $14.95 ISBN : 978-0-9818708-8-5. You can order it through my website, http://www.JudithFein.com, or wherever you buy books.