Icelanders: A Historic, Nordic Cool
Iceland has long occupied a unique position in in the cartography of my travel imagination—not only is it a stepping stone on the way to Europe, but for me personally, a stepping stone to my past.
My grandfather was a Norwegian, lured to Canada by the promise of a simpler life during the perilous times between the First and Second World Wars, and thus the vestiges of Viking blood still run through my veins. Legend has it that Iceland was first inhabited by Ingolfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who made his home where Reykjavik now stands, and so when the opportunity arose to guide a B&R trip in Iceland this past summer, I jumped at the chance to dive deeper into the currents of my own ancestry.
Icelanders: Nordic Cool Meets Celtic Warmth
The Icelandic people are a complex blend of Nordic cool and Celtic warmth. Many share the obvious genetic traits of Scandinavians (tall and slim platinum blonds with ice-blue eyes), and while their temperament can also feel a bit reserved at first, they blossom beautifully once you get to know them.
One of my favourite personalities we met on our Iceland trip was Johanna, the owner of the Lysuholl horse ranch and guesthouses. In addition to providing trainers and Icelandic horses for us to ride, she welcomed us into her home for a lavish home-cooked meal of smoked chicken and other delicacies. As the evening progressed, we were joined by Ragnihildur, an Icelandic saga storyteller, and as the Brennivin (a sort of Icelandic schnapps) began to flow the evening got ever more raucous. It finished with an all-out arm wrestling challenge that left me exhausted and Johanna triumphant (and undefeated by B&R guides).
A True Viking Feast
As a result of some last-minute changes to the itinerary, we did not have a final night organised, so my co-guide and I had the challenge to come up with something memorable on our pre-trip. We brainstormed ideas with Fridrik, the owner of our last hotel, Hotel Ranga, over a few drinks, and following the B&R guide mantra of “why not?” came up with an inspired solution.
We tracked down the manager of a Viking saga museum in the nearby town of Hvolsvollur (who looked exactly like the mad professor in Back to the Future), and convinced him to let us host a private Viking feast in the replica of the great dining hall that had been painstakingly re-constructed.
We greeted our travellers with champagne and smoked salmon, and then appointed a couple celebrating their anniversary as the King and Queen of the Feast. Once we had dressed everyone in historical period costumes, our King and Queen led the procession onto the great hall, where a massive fire raged in the hearth, a leg of lamb slowly roasting in the coals, and we set about celebrating our adventures with local delicacies (including Hakarl, a dish of Greenland shark that has been left to rot for about six months to remove the poisons in the flesh) and some not-so-local wines.
What more fitting way to end a trip that brought us closer to the spirit of Icelanders than by following their customs? What is it they say about imitation and flattery, again?