Time travel in Gudvangen’s Viking Valley

At Njardarheimr, near Flåm, visitors get a taste of ancient crafts, warfare, and even food

Njardarheimr

Photo: Michael Kleiner
The Viking guide at Viking Valley/Njardarheimr in Gudvangen shows the surprisingly heavy Viking helmet. Contrary to popular belief, Viking helmets did not have horns. The idea “probably started with the opera and then Hollywood adopted it,” he said.

Michael Kleiner
The Norwegian American

Modernity met history as my family docked at Gudvangen on July 2. We didn’t come in wood boats with dragon heads protruding from the top. The two-hour ride from Flåm around Aurlandsfjorden and Nærøy­fjord was on Visions of the Fjord, “the world’s first electric hybrid vessel built from carbon fiber,” navigating smoothly and quietly in the off-and-on rainy weather.

After a quick lunch at Gudvangen Fjordtell and browsing the souvenirs in its gift shop, we took the brief walk over a bridge to 1,000 years ago, Viking Valley/Njardarheimr. Though it could be argued they have 21st century eco standards: living off the land and using local products.

Njardarheimr

Photo: Michael Kleiner
A Viking woman at Viking Valley/Njardarheimr spins wool.

We joined the 45-minute tour (which leaves every 30 minutes during the summer) of the Viking community of 20 buildings, tents, crafts, farmland, food, and of course, Vikings in traditional attire, with the beautiful backdrop of the mountains and fjord. Materials from Nærøyfjord, such as peat and shingles, were used to construct the buildings based on knowledge from Viking history. Decorations have the Njardarheimr Vikings’ own touch of the traditional Viking design. Additional buildings are planned.

The guide said the word Viking means “pirate.” Many people associate Vikings with boats at sea, pillaging and plundering like pirates. According to dictionary.com, “the word is a historical revival; it was not used in Middle English, but it was revived from Old Norse vikingr, ‘freebooter, sea-rover, pirate, viking,’ which usually is explained as meaning properly ‘one who came from the fjords.’”

The guide pointed out that not all Vikings were sea warriors. There were people who stayed behind to build communities with a culture, religious beliefs, and governmental structures that influenced modern society. Vikings excelled in building construction, trade, exploration, and farming. For the most part, they were non-violent. They had a democratic society. Women had equal rights but did not have political rights. If a woman had an issue to raise, she had to ask a man to present it at the ting.

At Njardarheimr, a woman demonstrated spinning wool, which was a common vocation for women. From the yarn, they tied knots, which made whatever items they were making stronger. Clothes and blankets were displayed.

The guide showed us different tools and weapons, such as axes and spears. He dispelled another myth—about the Viking helmet. The items were passed among the group. They were surprisingly heavy, especially the helmet, which did not have horns. I had heard that Viking helmets didn’t really have horns. So, where did that notion come from?

“Hollywood,” he answered. “It probably started with the opera and then Hollywood adopted it.”

Then, the Minnesota Vikings, and probably any sports team with the Vikings as a mascot. And some Norwegian marketers. A couple of days later we went into Norway House on Karl Johans Gate in Oslo, and there was a basket of plastic helmets with horns!

The guide also expanded on why it didn’t make sense for the helmets to have horns. “If you were in battle, someone could just hit the horn with a sword, and you’d break your neck.”

Njardarheimr has an area with posts adorned with paintings of different gods, which made me think of Native American totem poles.

We also met the resident ram, who came out to greet the guests.

Njardarheimr

Photo: Michael Kleiner
Jack Kleiner takes aim in the archery activity at Viking Valley in Gudvangen.

My 19-year-old twins, Matthew and Jack, took turns at archery. They passed on ax throwing. Visitors can also try jewelry making.

Though we didn’t sample any, Viking food is served in “Heidrun,” made using ingredients available in Viking times. Fare includes soup with coarse bread, homemade sausages with cabbage salad, freshly baked pan bread with salmon or salami, and grilled fish and meat.

Admission to Viking Valley is NOK 200 for adults; NOK 98 for children ages 4-15; free for children younger than four. Children younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.uk.vikingvalley.

Michael Kleiner has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com

See also Norway in a Nutshell off-season: www.norwegianamerican.com/travel/norway-in-a-nutshell-off-season

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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