Seafarers and Sagas

Students and faculty from disciplines across the University of Miami set out to follow in the footsteps of Vikings.
By Jennifer Palma

Students and faculty from disciplines across the University of Miami set out to follow in the footsteps of Vikings.

Seafarers and Sagas

By Jennifer Palma
A summer 2017 excursion unlike any other united a group of University of Miami students and faculty throughout parts of Norway, Iceland and England.

In search of an authentic experience, a group of 11 students, led by three faculty members, embarked on a two-and-a-half week journey to follow in the footsteps of Vikings. Each day of the trip, the students journaled their experiences and shared their reflections with the hope of capturing a journey of extraordinary adventures. The series below reveals their greatest challenges and triumphs as modern-day Viking explorers.


WHERE SEA MEETS LAND

On a balmy day in late spring, the group of students gathered in a classroom with faculty members Terri Hood, assistant director of the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy; William Drennan, director of the Marine Science Program and professor in the Department of Ocean Sciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS); and Thomas Goodmann, associate professor, Department of English, to begin preparations for their upcoming trip.

Also joining the group was John Van Leer, associate professor in the Department of Ocean Sciences at RSMAS, whose previous travels in Iceland added a unique perspective throughout trip.

“Your field notebook will not leave your side,” Hood joked as she displayed a small bright yellow spiral bound notebook. Appropriately branded “Rite in the Rain,” the notebooks are used by researchers to record findings and discoveries—no matter how large or small—and would need to be accessible to at any moment for student researchers to accurately document each detail.

For half of the group, the field notebooks would be kept in addition to a personal journal. Students on the interdisciplinary trip hailed from various departments, and those interested in the literary side of Viking history would contemplate and compare their journey to the historical sagas and lives of great Nordic poets and explorers.


NORWEGIAN GREETING

Strolling through Bergen, Norway, was a warm welcome after countless hours of air travel from the United States.

“A vibrant palette of pink, lavender and white rhododendrons lined the streets as if they were greeting the group with open arms. It was almost as if every open space had sprouted a beautiful display of colors—it felt like walking through a real life Disney World,” wrote Ruth Goodin, a double major in geology and English.


FUELED BY WATER

The next day, the sky was especially blue on the drive from Bergen to Flam, and the scenery was never ending. An electric train to the small town of Myrdal broke up the driving for the day, and in addition to the magical vistas, students also reflected on less obvious sites along the way.

“Each mile of roadway weaved farther into the snow-covered mountains, and massive amounts of melting snow transformed into powerful cascading waterfalls,” reflected Kimberly Casanas, a senior in the Department of History. “The Flam train ride illustrated the beauty of preservation through natural sights,” she added.

“I don’t think many people noticed the inconspicuous grey buildings on one side of the tracks that were producing hydroelectric power,” wrote Goodin. “I realized that electrical wires ran above every train track we passed and was surprised to learn that 98.5 percent of Norway is powered by hydroelectric power,” she added.


VIKING TERRITORY

As the team ventured further into the land of the Vikings they couldn’t help but feel the influence of genealogy. Only a few days into the trip, most of the students cheerfully described that a waiter at a local restaurant had an uncanny resemblance to the build of a Viking ruler. In addition to the first Viking sighting, Liz Windisch, a sophomore majoring in English, shared her excitement of experiencing a cooler climate.

“This trip was my first time seeing snow—and on what a grand scale! Everywhere I looked there was endless white leaping and bounding over the mountainsides. Sky-blue glacial ice peeked through the tundra.”


ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS

“After a standard Norwegian breakfast—which consisted of eggs and bread—we travelled to a Viking Ship Museum in Oslo,” wrote Kimberly Casanas.

Also on the trip were Kimberly’s two sisters, Kristen Casanas, a senior in the department of history, and Kaitlyn Casanas, a senior in the School of Education and Human Development. As they scouted the museum together, they were overwhelmed with the immense size and intricate build of the ships.

“I can’t wrap my mind around how the Vikings could have erected these huge ships and sailed across the sea," Kristen wrote. "Their effort proves that people are truly amazing and capable of the impossible. My sisters and I read everything in the museum and tried to absorb every last detail to get an accurate portrayal of Viking history and culture. The Viking Ship Museum was fantastic and I’m thankful for my journal so that I have the information with me forever.”


ACROSS THE NORTH SEA

Although the Vikings made their journey by way of the North Sea, the group opted to bypass the traditional route of the seafaring men and traveled by plane and car when making the journey from Oslo, Norway, to York, England. Greeted by the majestic countryside, they spent their time exploring the grounds of the ancient walled city and visited the famed York Minster, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral and the largest surviving Gothic cathedral in Europe.

“Our knowledgeable tour guide shared many details about the church and the Roman ruins that lay beneath it. The amount of detail within the massive structure was overwhelming. Each joint in the ceiling was accented by a unique gold structure and the stained glass was magnificent,” penned Windisch.

Flanked by ornate architecture and filled with pieces of Viking folklore, the city also revealed insight into the Viking way of life. Kristen Casanas wrote, “The Viking Museum in York portrayed a very realistic view of life during the Viking’s time period. A set of woman’s bones revealed malnutrition as a child and showed that life was generally very difficult.”


NORDIC ISLAND NATION

For the last leg of their trip, the team decided to forgo following the Viking’s treacherous journey by sea and travelled by plane to Reykjavik, Iceland.

“In Iceland, during the drive to our hostel, the scenery looked like a completely different planet,” wrote Goodin. “We were surrounded by steam rising from the ground and for miles there were no grass or trees. It looked like the landscape was covered with cooled lava and blocky volcanic boulders—it was amazing!”

Matthew Trabold, a junior in the School of Business Administration, reflected on the difficulties of travelling on such rough terrain. “The drive was incredible. From one mile to the next, the landscape had radical changes. One can really get a sense of how difficult it would be to settle on such an extreme island,” he wrote.

 


THE SAGA CONTINUES

After a much needed night of rest, the explorers continued their tour to gain geological and historical knowledge of their surroundings. With varying areas of expertise, the three faculty members shared insight on many aspects of Viking culture and Icelandic topography.

“Dr. Hood pointed out the geologic features and different layers of earth. It’s helpful to explore with someone who is so knowledgeable and can interpret the history of an area by looking at it,” wrote Goodin.

“Dr. Goodmann is very familiar with Viking sagas, and we were able to visit the same areas that we read about prior to the trip. It made the experience very rich. Finally, Dr. Drennan knows a lot about a lot of things and since he has travelled to Iceland twice already, he was able to provide valuable insight to all of our experiences,” she added.

In the final days of their trip, the group would explore all that Iceland had to offer -- from geological masterpieces to geysers, glaciers, volcanos and everything in between. This time, much of the journey was covered by foot, and the group had a taste of what it may have been like to live and roam such a vast and diverse place.

Follow their journey below:

 

For information on Following the Vikings in 2019, contact Dr. Tom Goodmann at tgoodmann@miami.edu


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