In Search of Vikings

From cunning seafarers to merciless warriors, the myths and legends of Vikings have captured the imagination for generations. It is documented that they reached faraway shores from Newfoundland to Constantinople, yet nowhere else in the world can you truly get a sense for their fascinating way of life than in Norway.

Norseman’s Capital

Today’s Oslo buzzes with energy from modern neighborhoods, cutting-edge food and the most technologically advanced way to board a Viking ship. The Viking Planet is Norway’s first all-digital museum that combines 4D and virtual reality to transport you back thousands of years to the Viking Age.

Through innovative and fascinating exhibits, you can learn about shipbuilding and navigation, weapons and wars, religion and mythology, and much more. You can even interact with holograms of Viking warriors to boot.

For a more analog experience, you may be inclined to visit Oslo’s popular Viking Ship Museum, home to three burial ships that were found as part of archaeological finds. It was the practice of Vikings to bury individuals of status within a ship and surrounded by ornate gifts, like swords and helmets, as well as oxen or horses for them to use in the afterlife. However, at the time of this writing, the facility was undergoing extensive renovations. The Norwegians plan to reopen this attraction in 2026 with an expanded space nearly three times the size of the current museum.

Further Afield

If you plan to visit before the reopening of Viking Ship Museum, an hour south of Oslo you can see a replica of the intricately carved bow of one of the excavated ships at The Slottsfjell Museum. Additionally, the museum’s Viking Hall displays Norway’s fourth Viking ship — The Klåstad ship – the only preserved ship outside of Oslo. It is well worth the trek, as this is the area where the burial mounds were first discovered. Plus, you can see an actual replica of the Klåstad in the harbor of Tønsberg, which was built using tools and construction methods authentic to the Viking Age.

Nearby, an archaeological team has also uncovered five Viking longhouses at the site of Gjellestad, where a Viking ship was once discovered. These were the typical homes of the Iron Age, and its size was reflective of the social status of its owner. They were constructed out of basic materials and their roofs slightly resemble the bow of a ship. Among these longhouses found at Gjellstad is one of the largest ever to be recorded in all of Scandinavia.

Venture Beyond

Inspired by the Vikings’ passion for travel, you may find yourself continuing your exploration of Norway in Stavanger. There, you can really get a sense for the way Vikings lived. Long before its official founding as a city, the sheltered area surrounding Stavanger was an active agricultural and maritime community. A drive out to the reconstructed farmhouses in Ullandhaug provides a fascinating introduction to life at the height of the Iron Age, centuries before the Viking king Harald I defeated the last of some 29 regional princes to create the Kingdom of Norway in 872.

Near Trondheim fjord, you can journey to the small islet of Munkholmen. Not only is it a wonderful spot for a respite, but it also has a fascinating connection to the Viking Era. This remote land served as a prison during the Viking Age and later a monastery. A bit more inland, you can also witness the sacred site of Stiklestad. This was the location of the most famous battle in Norway where Viking king Olav Haraldsson was killed.  

In the northern coast of Norway, you’ll be amazed by the Lofoten Islands and the far reaches of Viking culture. There is a captivating museum called Lofotr Viking that offers insight into the role of a chieftain. It showcases the archaeological finds of a 272-foot longhouse – now the second largest of its kind after the recent discoveries at Gjellestad.

The Legacy of the Viking Age

During the height of the Viking Age, the Vikings were a force to be reckoned with in European history. Viking culture was unique because it was not tied to a country, there was no central government and they did not attempt to build a cohesive empire. What they had in common was that they hailed from the Scandinavian region in what is now Norway Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

However, as European lands became controlled by centralized leaders and defended by trained, standing armies, they were able to defend against Viking raids. Two hundred and fifty years of history came to a halt in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge where a final attempt to reclaim a portion of land from England was met with a resounding defeat of the Norwegian Viking king. Yet, the era has become almost legendary and left a lasting legacy on the world.

Resurgens

“We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress and we’re not going back. We are going forward.” – Congressman John Lewis, August 22, 2018 at the renaming ceremony of Freedom Parkway as the John Lewis Freedom Parkway.

Most of my belongings were still in boxes and I was using Google Maps to find the Publix Supermarket that was only three blocks away when I read they were renaming Freedom Parkway. How could I find my way around this town if the names of streets keep changing? But a few sentences later I learned it was to honor John Lewis and then it seemed too small of a gesture. Only the parkway? Mayor Bottoms should have renamed the whole dang city Lewislanta. Imagine the perseverance of this man to skirt death on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge fighting for the right to vote, to then be elected to the House of Representatives two decades later.

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Portal to Hope

I spent the Christmas holidays strolling through SoHo, hailing cabs on Broadway and taking in the elaborate window displays down 5th Avenue. It was the eve of the New Year and the new decade, and I was feeling hopeful about what 2020 would bring. I was also feeling particularly proud of myself for having cleverly paired my New York trip with a quick jaunt to Bermuda. Culminating my vacation with my feet covered in pink sand was the gift I was most eager to unwrap.

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Amor al Arte

The world’s great masters are not exclusive to Europe. From Brazil we have Tunga, best known for his fascinating sculptures about the human body. From Chile, Roberto Matta is a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art. From Colombia we have beloved Fernando Botero who created his own exaggerated style of Boterismo, and from Mexico the foremost muralist Diego Rivera. These are only a few of the influential and brilliant artists that hail from across Latin America. This region is also home to artistic movements grounded in heritage, history and tradition—and deserve to be exalted.   

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In Search of Enchantment: Tenerife’s Anaga Mountains

The term Isleña, meaning island girl in Spanish, is what we call my grandmother. A term of endearment exclaimed whenever she walks in the door. ¡Llegó la isleña! (The island girl is here!) I grew up thinking it was a reference to our Cuban heritage, but when I became more inquisitive about our family’s lineage, I discovered that her nickname was a tribute to her Canary Island roots. Her father emigrated to Cuba from Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the nickname, along with a strong emotional connection to Spain, was passed down to her.

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Shakespeare in Paris

I think every writer has a Parisian fantasy that revolves around Shakespeare and Company. Opposite of Notre-Dame in the heart of Paris, there is no greater setting. Adding to the romance, this is the bookstore where James Baldwin hung out, where William Burroughs researched medical books for Naked Lunch, where Anaïs Nin drank Bordeaux straight out of the bottle, where Ernest Hemingway often showed up drunk, and where Allen Ginsberg howled naked.

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Smithsonian: African American History and Culture

The same way you can’t not notice this building, you can’t not be moved by the collection. The National Museum of African American History and Culture feels like a sacred space. A Sunday school dedicated to celebrating the richness and diversity, as well as educating and preserving the hard truths, of the African American experience.

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The Art of Skin: Tattoos of Polynesia

“Your necklace may break, the fau tree may burst, but my tattooing is indestructible. It is an everlasting gem that you will take into your grave.” A verse from a traditional tattoo artist’s song

I was 19 when I got my first tattoo. I walked into a local shop, pointed to a design on a wall of renderings and unbuttoned my jeans. I wasn’t ready to show the world (let alone my parents) my skin art, so it was imperative to conceal my act of rebellion.

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The Buena Gente of Atlanta

“What’s the corn dog one?”

It took me a few seconds to realize that my Anglo friend was referring to the picture of a croqueta.

Clearly, there’s a serious deficiency of ventanitas in Atlanta (and in L.A. for that matter) that pop out croquetas paired with cortaditos. That’s right, restaurants here do not have walk-up windows, which means there’s no such thing as having to elbow through a wall of viejos arguing about politics. That is a cultural experience exclusive to Miami…until now.

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Driving in Miami: Survival of the Fittest

Public transportation in Miami is lackluster to say the least. And with long distances between points of interest, your best bet is to rent a car. I compiled a few tips on how to drive like a local, whether you’re landing in MIA or FLL.

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