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.

How much to tip your ambulance driver and other advice when traveling with COVID

After two years of successfully evading the virus, it finally caught me 4,000 miles away from home.

Driving between sublime places like Florence, Siena, and Lucca, you can catch a glimpse of the mundane side of Tuscany. The strip malls, the car dealerships. The industrial parks with empty loading docks. The barren fields with crumbling structures festooned with graffiti. The red tiled roofs of homes that dot the side of the highway. Details that never make it into brochures or into the stories you’ll share with your friends when you get back home.

I, on the other hand, was desperately trying to memorize it all. Making note of landmarks and highway signs, as they zoomed by the window of my ambulance.

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UNESCO’s Lesser-known Treasures

On your travels throughout the Mediterranean, you will undoubtedly come across a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Italy alone is home to the most places with that designation at 58, and Spain and France are close behind with 49 and 48, respectively. The icons, like the historic center of Rome, the works of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, and the Acropolis in Athens only begin to scratch the surface of the treasures this region holds. Below are four destinations where you can explore UNESCO Sites that may not be as well-known as their aforementioned siblings, but are awe-inspiring nonetheless and play an equally important role in preserving our shared history.

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The Art of the Baltic: Cruising Northern Europe

There is nothing that I long for more than to look toward the horizon and see a legendary castle illuminated by a golden sun. From the Scandinavian architectural treasures of Denmark and Finland, to the awe-inspiring art of Russia and Germany, the glorious countries that encircle the Baltic Sea are the epicenter of beauty, elegance, and splendor…and just the journey we can all use.

Thinking about a voyage to Northern Europe in 2022? Here are a few of my favorite ports:

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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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Twists and Turns in Tenerife: Canary Islands Wine Tour

Good company, good wine, good welcome,

Can make good people.

(Henry VIII, 1.4.6-7)

I boarded a small van with a group of strangers. We exchanged pleasantries and discovered that we were all in Tenerife for different reasons, some for pleasure others for business and me for a little of both. But it was our shared love of wine that was the reason for our paths crossing on this impromptu tour.

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Mediterranean Must-eats

Anthony Bourdain’s final book World Travel: An Irreverent Guide will be published this fall. It’s slated to be an illustrated collection of Bourdain’s reflections on his favorite places to visit and eat. It was his TV show that gave me the courage to explore places through food. While at home I am a finicky eater, but when I’m abroad I force myself to be as open as possible. When I’m anywhere in the Mediterranean, though, I don’t have to try that hard. Every. Single. Things. Is. Delicious.

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Leather at First Sight: Shopping in Florence

Illustration by Explore Magazine

We were about to start our dinner when the notion of love at first sight was brought up. Our group went around the kitchen and shared their views, which ranged from a resounding rejection of the entire theory to a sweet and serendipitous how-we-met story.

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Sorrento For Me

I’m often asked what is my most favorite place I’ve ever visited and, without hesitation, I always answer Amalfi. But it’s not for the reasons you think. Before reaching the picturesque coast, I traveled from Naples to Sorrento with five strangers and an Italian driver obsessed with disco in one of the best (messiest) car rides I’ve ever been in (and that’s saying a lot.) That prelude made reaching the coast all the more special.

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Whoosh You Were Here in Madeira

Spread appeared in Explore Magazine

It was a familiar sensation. The feeling of complete surrender, the incessant giggling, and the particular sound that skating over pavement makes. It wasn’t until my toboggan reached the bottom of the five-kilometer hill that I remembered why. I had recreated my favorite childhood pastime (to the detriment of my mother’s nerves): riding a skateboard while being towed by a friend on a bicycle.

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