Cultural and Culinary Surprises In Reykjavik

Reykjavik's Culture House, which contains their oldest extant manuscripts, the Eddas and prose Sagas

I frequently travel during otherwise unpleasant and therefore undesirable times of the year, weather-wise, partially because these times represent the off-season when flights are cheaper, and partially because the things I like to do are done indoors, like going to museums and discovering new foods I’ve never tried before.

Yesterday I did both, before returning to my room, exhausted from jet lag. Last night’s tour of the non-existent northern lights was cancelled due to unusual weather (eg.: unceasing fog, and then rain) and so I retreated indoors to critique my photographs and take stock of my journey.

Skyr, an Icelandic invention. Technically a very soft cheese, it is closest in taste and texture to yogurt, and is served as part of a traditional Icelandic country breakfast. Delicious, simple and good for you, too!

My hotel, the Odinsve, is a four star hotel, but those are four Reykjavik stars, not four Paris stars, which just means that the view, now that the fog has cleared, is not of anything more fabulous than the Atlantic ocean, but it’s a great view of a turbulent sea. Along with constantly-available wireless access, crucial for my happiness, the bed is the best I can remember having on any trip. I sink into it each night with the blissful sigh its marshmallow softness elicits from my aging body.

Now that the fog has cleared and the rain storm has passed by, lo! there is a view out the window

The hotel’s primary selling point, aside from being clean, comfortable and spacious, with excellent service from the front desk (nothing to complain about), is that it’s in the center of town, close to anything you’d want to walk to. Since ‘what you want to walk to’ is mostly made up of one long shopping street, Laugavegur, the Odinsve is ideal for the walker. It’s within a few blocks of the strange, Lord Of The Rings-style Hallgrimskirkja (Reykjavik’s church, which, even as I type, is ringing its bells, possibly in anticipation of Easter service).

Some of Iceland’s national treasures are on display in the Culture House’s featured exhibition; Medieval Manuscripts – Eddas and Sagas. It includes principal medieval manuscripts, such as Codices Regii of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, and law codices and Christian works, not to forget the Sagas of Icelanders.

The Odinsve is also within walking distance of the Culture House, one of those English-major “must-sees” I wrote down long ago on some list my brain keeps for me, of places I had to see before dropping off this mortal coil. I have long been interested in the home of the Eddas manuscripts, primarily because they are amongst the oldest illuminated manuscripts still in existence that tell the stories of Norse sagas and family feuds of 1270 AD, not thrilling to everyone, but of great interest to English majors, as well as lovers of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Tolkien was so inspired by the Eddas and Norse Sagas, he based his entire scholastic and fiction-writing career on them. Without the Icelandic sagas, it is unlikely we would have The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion or The Hobbit, amongst all the other tales inspired by Norse myths and lore Tolkien wrote.

Iceland’s literary influence is profound, since it was here during the Viking years (approximately 780 AD to 1100 AD) the skaldic tradition of groups of court poets emerged, eventually influencing the development of bards and troubadors that took hold in France, and later, England.

Understanding the link Iceland represents to literary tradition is important, and one we should not forget just because they’re stuck here at 64˚ N, 21˚ W, so close to the arctic circle you can watch icicles form.

The second of three sons of Erik the Red, the first European colonizer of Greenland, Leif Erikson sailed from Greenland to Norway in 1000, according to the Icelandic Eiríks saga (“Saga of Erik”), and was there converted to Christianity by the Norwegian king Olaf I Tryggvason.

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