Borgarnes’ 4-part Settlement Center is not a museum and not a typical tourist draw. One hour north of Reykjavik via a scenic drive, Borgarnes sits on a promontory shaped like a seahorse with the Settlement Center in a restored warehouse at its tip, the harbor. It’s an especially appropriate locale for a place devoted to Iceland’s settlement because this area was home to the first Icelanders.
Parts 1 and 2 were saga exhibitions. An audio guide that enhanced the experience automatically accompanied Ruth and my ticket purchases. The vivid commentary can be heard in many languages, including the recently added Chinese Mandarin. Because visitors proceed through several small rooms to hear tales, only one person per minute is allowed to enter. Photography inside was strictly forbidden. A screen near each exhibit’s entrance shows numbers as visitors await their turns to go in. Ruth and I didn’t have to use this system because we were there on a very cold, very rainy October morning.
We saw the Settlement Exhibition first. It was a multi-media, 30 minute immersion in the first 60 years after the arrival of the Vikings. Viking ships were superior vessels with 12 men crews able to transport 100 passengers. These voyages were millennia before the invention of the compass, so Vikings navigated by bird, whale, and the sun but not the stars. By the year 930, there were 33,000 settlers in Iceland when 36 chieftains created the world’s first Parliament, the Althingi at Thingvellir. These settlers’ history was well documented. About the time I got to the part about heathen gods and bloodletting, I wrote in my travel log, “Well done!” It’s no surprise that this Settlement Center wins lots of awards.
Part 2 was Egil’s Saga, also a half-hour media-filled show with lots of imaginative human-like figures, some of which might frighten small children. Egil Skallagrimsson had a long, active life and his story was exciting. Egil’s father arrived from Norway 10 years after the first land claims. The family’s entire history unfolded from room to room. Egil had one brother who was handsome, successful, and charismatic. Egil was not much to look at and a Viking given to violence, yet he became Iceland’s first poet/storyteller. His family saga reminded me of both Game of Thrones and a somewhat less regal King Arthur Legend.
Part 3 was a larger than usual gift shop, and upstairs was a highly regarded restaurant, which I saw but didn’t experience. One source complimented its lamb, fish, and, on occasion, horse entrees. Because only the first 60 years of settlement was covered, the narrator mentioned expanded, future displays, so I asked “When?” but received only a blank stare from the girl in charge. What’s already there, however, was definitely 5 Compass.