During our stay in Reykjavik in Iceland, we made the hour-long drive to Borgarnes, going through a five kilometer tunnel underneath one of the bays, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the restaurant of the Settlement Centre. We then took the tour through the museum, which consisted of two thirty-minute audio tours that covered the history of how the Vikings first came to populate Iceland as well as their turbulent history once they arrived. The early history of Iceland is told through Viking Sagas, one of which is the Eglis Saga. Egill Skalla-Grimsson was a famous Viking and poet whose story is used to provide an understanding of the first people to populate Iceland. It isn’t just a recanting of his poetry, but is the tale of his life, beliefs, fortunes, and misfortunes.
It is a bloody history filled with mythical tales of beasts, witches, and betrayal. The Settlement Centre does an excellent job of relating the relationship between Egill and his father, brothers, and mother and how that shaped his manhood. Most importantly, the Viking Sagas correlates the history of the individuals that shaped the creation of the nation and how the country and its culture grew and changed over time to what it is today.
We knew that the Vikings were great seamen and that they had conquered the oceans long before the rest of Europe had done so because of their invention of the keel. One interesting fact that we learned was that they didn’t use the stars to navigate, despite their ability to travel such long distances, eventually leading to the discovery of North America. The reason, once we learned it, was quite obvious. There are times of the year when there are no stars visible or not visible for very long due to the length of the days during the summer, so obviously they couldn’t rely on the stars. Instead, the Vikings learned to navigate by following the birds, the migration paths of the whales, and other patterns that allowed them to travel back and forth between Norway and Iceland with ease.
Borgarnes is definitely worth visiting and the restaurant at the Settlement Centre is one of the best on the island. It is a beautiful drive along the coast with stunning views, even as you drive across the bridge that leads you into town. Even if you’re driving the ring road that goes around the entire island, stopping at Borgarnes is something that is well worth the time. We hadn’t originally planned on going to Borgarnes, it was one of those last-minute whim decisions and we couldn’t have been happier with the unexpected surprise and the history that we learned while we were there.