Icelandic Viking ship

Iceland: Visiting the Viking World

Iceland was totally off my radar. 

Yes, I’d seen some of my Facebook friends post some pictures and I’d heard a few rumblings about “Iceland is cool”.  And of course, because I cross the Atlantic so often, I’d seen that Icelandair advertisement about “#stopover”. 

But I didn’t really know very much about Iceland. 

Wow.

map of Iceland

Where to start? 

We packed so much into a long weekend, but there is so much more to see and do. Despite being a small island with a population of around 330,000, Iceland has a long and rich history.

Visiting in high summer, the first thing I noticed was that during our overnight flight, there was no ‘night’.  Departing from the east coast of the U.S., it was nearly dark when we took off, but we quickly caught up to the sun and before dropping down below the heavy cloud cover to Keflavik airport, the sun was blazing in the window of the plane. 

While only a tiny island portion of Iceland actually lies inside the Arctic Circle, the country is far enough north that around the summer solstice, it never gets completely dark.  Remarkably, we sat at an outdoor café sipping a beer at 11:30 at night – no lights on.  So cool.

Viking Ship Icelander

Icelander

First Stop Iceland: Viking World

Upon landing in Reykjavik, our guide said out first stop was breakfast.  That sounded great since our flight, unexpectedly to me at least, didn’t serve any food.  He said we were going to “Viking World”.  For some reason, probably in my hungry and sleep-deprived state, that struck me as seriously funny. 

Viking World Museum

Viking World Museum

Despite the ‘unique’ name, the museum was really quite informative.  I learned some history of the Vikings, their arrival to Iceland from Norway and their raids on Ireland (about which I already knew a bit).  You can board the model of the Viking ship, Icelander, which is ideally suspended with the bow facing out over the harbor.  As you gaze out through the massive glass window, it’s easy to imagine sailing off towards the sea to fish, raid and pillage.   

Over the bow of Icelander

The bow of Icelander looks out to the Atlantic

The ship is an exact replica of an actual Viking ship, built in 1996 to scale and with similar methods and materials.  She is a seaworthy vessel; she crossed the Atlantic to New York in 2000 for the millennial celebrations.  

Viking clothing on display

Typical Viking clothing you can don for a photo

Notwithstanding the fact that no self-respecting Viking ever wore a helmet with horns, there are multiple plastic horned helmets available for picture taking.  There is even a gift shop, where you can buy your own! 

plastic viking helnet

Everyone needs a plastic, horned, Viking helmet.

Viking World is open early and makes a great ‘first-stop’ in Iceland.  They provide a traditional Icelandic breakfast of cereals, bread, cheese meat and yogurt.  And, after a trans-Atlantic flight, much needed coffee and tea. 

typical viking clothing

For more information on visiting Viking World go to their website here.

Not Only for Americans! Smithsonian American History Museum

All too often, when visitors from other countries come to Washington, D.C., they bypass the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  With limited hours and so much to see, their  time is usually allotted to the Air and Space or Natural History Museums.  American History is just so…specifically American!  As a guide, I too, have been guilty of assuming that this is one museum that isn’t really of great interest to foreign visitors. 

But I think that is wrong! 

Recently I’ve had the chance to spend considerable time in the American History Museum and I have discovered its amazing exhibits!   Stuff that is of interest to everyone! 

Has anyone in the world not marveled at Dorothy tapping her ruby slippers together 3 times while saying, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!” ? 

Ruby Slippers - "The Wizard of Oz", 1938

Ruby Slippers – “The Wizard of Oz”, 1938

And who doesn’t love a train?  Seeing the early locomotives close up, shiny-clean and sparkling is amazing! 

Transsportation Exhibit

Transportation Exhibit

Recently, for the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the actual “barouche”, or open carriage in which he and Mary Todd Lincoln rode on the afternoon of April 14, 1861 was on loan from the Studebaker Company.  It was a spectacular sight, especially with his monogram emblazoned on the doors. 

Abraham Lincoln's Barouch

Abraham Lincoln’s Barouch

Today, June 12 is the 28th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s great challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev:  “Tear down this wall!”  A section of that iconic wall is on display, complete with graffiti! 

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

For anyone with an interest in transportation, the America on the Move exhibit is spectacular.  Beginning with horse drawn carts and wagons and moving through trains, buses, cars and motorcycles, nearly every imaginable mode of transportation is represented. 20150610_141953

American Presidents no doubt play an integral role in the world, but the First Ladies are the ones with whom there is always a keen fascination.  From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, The Inaugural Gowns exhibit displays their particular sense of style and is a clear demonstration of how fashion in America has evolved in 250 years.  Alongside are the china settings each lady selected for use during her tenure in the White House. 

Inaugural Gowns of the First Ladies of the US

Inaugural Gowns of the First Ladies of the US

From toys to transport, watercraft to war and advertising to agriculture, the Smithsonian American History Museum has exhibits of interest to everyone.  No more will I recommend foreign visitors to skip this venue in lieu of the others.  It is not to be missed on any visit to Washington, D.C! 

Smithsonian Museum of American History is located at 14th St. and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. and is open daily from 10 am to 7:30 pm.  There are gift shops and a cafeteria located on the premises. 

http://americanhistory.si.edu/