The first Norsemen came to Iceland at the end of the 9th century. The Vikings were seeking to expand their territory and to spread their culture to many parts of Europe. Historical records reveal that Ingólfur Arnarson was the first Norseman to come to Iceland and make it his home for the remainder of his life. He brought along his wife, Hallveig Fróthdóttir in 874 AD.
Throughout the long centuries of settlement, Icelanders had to overcome an inhospitable climate and deal with frequent natural disasters in this volcanically active region. In addition to the earthquakes, eruptions, flash floods and avalanches, the Black Death swept in from Europe and killed more than one third of the inhabitants. In spite of the hardships, a remarkable culture flourished and spawned literature that equals much of what was flourishing on the continent.
The Saga Museum was built to share key moments in Icelandic history with visitors to Iceland. Life-like models of historical figures based on the descriptions found in the Viking chronicles were created in wax. These were dressed in authentically produced clothing; weapons and other objects were placed alongside them in order to convey a sense of the period.
The figures are placed in dioramas arranged in chronological order, depicting scenes of everyday life along with some of the most gruesome events of the past. Men, women and children of modern day Reykjavik were chosen to act as models for the production of the figures and it is said that visitors are likely to meet some of these same people as they move about the city.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We were surprised to arrive in Reykjavik by noon after having a late breakfast in Vik and then seeing some of the natural formations around the town on the southern coast. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, and after a morning with low clouds and little rain, we were forced to make a dash for the museum through a cloudburst.
The Saga Museum is listed as a must-see in the Lonely Planet Iceland, and though the National Museum sounded interesting as well, it was the Saga Museum that was included in the ‘things to see during a two-day visit to Iceland’. For that reason, we headed to the Perlan (The Pearl); a space ship shaped modern building set atop the highest hill in Reykjavik. The Saga Museum has been incorporated into the complex, which also features space for exhibitions and concerts. There is a revolving restaurant on the top floor and shops for souvenirs.
We were more than a little surprised at the steep fee for the Saga Museum, but as the weather was so nasty, we carried on to view the displays. While it was very well presented, the Saga Museum really amounts to not much more that an Icelandic Madame Tussauds. There was really very little I learned from the displays that I didn’t already know from junior high school social studies classes and some of the displays would surely scare the daylights out of young children.
When we had finished walking through the displays, I noticed a young man holding a remote control, seated in front of a television monitor, watching a film about how the wax models were made. I wanted to watch it as well, but I had to cross in front of him to reach the other seats. I begged his pardon, and ducked low as I scooted by. After watching for a while, and seeing no sign of Anil, I returned to the exhibit to take photos of some of the scenes.
When I returned to the film, Anil was seated beside the same young man. I was surprised that he was still there, and ducked once again to take a seat with Anil. That’s when Anil started to laugh. The joke was truly on me for the young man was just another wax model. The reflection of the monitor on his glasses had made it appear that his eyes were blinking in the bright light.
We left the darkness of the museum and set off to explore the Perlan. The rain had worsened so we stopped for a cappuccino and a desert hoping that it would let up a little so that we could venture out onto the wrap-around deck for a bird’s eye view of Reykjavik. The rain finally stopped but the clouds were so low that there wasn’t any view to speak of.
It wasn’t yet 4:00pm and we mulled over whether we wanted to return to the guesthouse for the evening or set off on the highway towards the north coast. We hadn’t made a reservation at the Peace Hotel so there was no reason to stay in the city. We could get a two hour head start towards Akureyri, and have that much less distance to cover the following day.
We consulted our guidebook and I found a guesthouse situated just outside a town called Borgarnes that sounded ideal. We decided to take our chances that they would have a place to stay, knowing that the town was big enough to offer other accommodation if a room was not available at the farm.