Travelling to the land of Fire and Ice

Last summer seems like so long ago, but in reality it is only a year gone, one rotation of the earth around the sun, twelve cycles of the moon around the earth. 525 600 minutes ago, I was in Iceland, on a trip of a life time.

I have always had an interest in History, and more specifically in the medieval age of northern Europe, which yes, meant I was obsessed with Vikings.  I have had the opportunity to take some medieval history and culture classes from amazing professors. But never did I think that I would get to study this stuff first hand, but because of Prof. McDonald and Prof. Somerville’s enthusiasm for the subject matter they cobbled together one of the best course I have yet taken at Brock University, MARS 3F50 Heritage of Viking and Medieval Iceland. I had always wanted to travel, but never knew if an exchange was the right thing for me, but this course offered me a chance to travel and extensive background knowledge. We started the course with a month of sitting in a classroom, which I realize does not sound that exciting, but we were studying and analyzing Icelandic Sagas, which are action pact and sometimes hilarious. Without this month of classes, I don’t think I would have ever fully appreciated the history and the opportunities that were presented to me in Iceland.  So after the required month of sitting in a dark room discussing island agriculture and Viking long boats, we set off on our epic adventure, and by we I mean me and 19 other students who were wonderful and just as epically nerdy as me. Iceland was a fairly short plane ride taking about 5 hours to get to Keflavik, where the international airport is located. We landed…on a foreign planet. I am not kidding the landscape looked like it could be from Mars if it had been a few shades closer to red. So, through our jetlag and weary eyes we all stared dumbfounded at this new land we had ended up in as we rode the bus to Reykjavik about a half hour away.

One thing that I most definitely did learn from this trip is that a walking tour of a city an hour after you have gotten off a plane is exhausting and slightly painful, but eventually we were all able to drag ourselves around Reykjavik and see all its sight and sounds from the harbour, to the house of parliament, and city hall to the shopping district we walked it all. This was only a taste of what was to come however; by the end of the trip we had made it all across all western Iceland. I got to see glaciers, puffins, farms centuries old and even a volcano spewing ash (we just happen to visit as Eyjafjallajökul was erupting and closing down all of Western Europe’s airspace). One of the major highlights of the trip was visiting the Arni Magnusson Institute where every academic’s dreams come true. The Institute is a big repository for many, many manuscripts dating from 9th century and on.  Having University privileges we were allowed behind the scenes and were ushered into a quiet room, with one very large table in the middle, upon which sat a selection of some of the finest documents I have ever seen. One particular piece that I fell in love with was Bestiary that was illuminated with the most bizarre animals I have ever seen, some snake like creatures even continued on multiple pages.  That day was spent in quiet reverie of these centuries’ old tomes.

When we travelled the country side we travelled in style… riding in a charter bus from the eighties equipped with something equivalent to eight wheel drive, and boy did we need those extra wheels, we went up and down mountains, traversed  dirt roads  that I swear weren’t really there, travelling far and wide to find natural wonders and historic landmarks. We made it to Þingvellir where the Vikings held parliament every summer and where the North American Plate meets the Eurasian plate.

There was so much more that we did and saw, that sometimes I wonder if it was all a dream, but then I pull out my photos or postcards, or the little bottle of ash I gathered, and it all comes rushing back. The opportunity this class offered me is one I will always cherish, and it has definitely been one of the more unique ways that I have ever visited a country. I truly believe that now I have a full appreciation for not only Icelandic modern culture, but its history and tradition beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Svifnökkvinn minn er fullur af alum!

-Zoe

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