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Our favourite Viking facts

April 7, 2016 | Leave a comment

Our favourite Viking facts

We are proud to come from the lands of the Vikings. Here are some great facts about our forefathers that we’ve collected this week.

Lots of us watched the excellent BBC documentary this week called The Vikings Uncovered with Dan Snow and Sarah Parcak  – highly recommend if you get the chance to see it.

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  • Viking is something you do, not something you are. The word Viking comes from the people from the Vik, (vik means bay). People who would sail off to other places were ‘going viking’. The word Viking wasn’t used in English until 19th Century – before this, we were just known as ‘Norsemen’ or ‘Danes’.
  • The Vikings came from Sweden, Norway and Denmark. It was not known as one or several nations to the Vikings themselves – this definition came later. Lots of tribes and settlements that often fought each other when not busy travelling.
  • The first Vikings in the UK landed at Lindisfarme in 793. The stories from this visit are not particularly friendly and doesn’t portray the Norse men in a very favourable light. After this, the Vikings settled over much of England, Scotland and Ireland. There may have been some disagreements with locals at times, but we found a way around it.
  • No Vikings ever wore a helmet with horns. Ever.
  • North America was first visited by Leif Eriksson in around year 1000. They called it Vinland. Leif was the son of Erik the Red (Eiríkr hinn rauði) who was an all round pretty nasty guy having been banished from Scandinavia to Iceland for being too violent. Erik the Red was likely very ginger, hence his name.
  • Ginger Viking was then in exile from Iceland for 3 years due to ‘a few murders’ and spent this time exploring Greenland. This resulted in the first big marketing ploy in history: Erik marketed Greenland as ‘green and fruitful’, encouraging people to join him in settling there. Once they got there, they were not pleased, but they made the best of it, whilst Erik went back to Iceland.

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  • The Vikings settlements and journeys stretched from New Foundland all the way to the Middle East. We picked up spices in Constantinople, travelled through Kiev… Even made it to Jerusalem.
  • The Viking Age is commonly considered to have ended with the death of Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.

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  • Viking women could divorce their husbands quite easily – for reasons including ‘displaying too much chest hair’. After a divorce, men were required to pay maintenance. Women could also inherit property.
  • The word Beserk is a noun used to describe a Norse warrior who fought with uncontrolled ferocity – known as a Beserker. It comes form the Norse word ‘Beserkr’, from berr (bare i.e. without amour) and serkr (coat) .

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  • A long boat could travel up to 200km a day. The Vikings also had slower passenger and cargo ships called knörr (nothing to do with stock cubes).
  • A Viking long boat could take around 30,000 hours to build and wood from around 15 fully grown trees. They were usually built from oak – and 4000 nails.
  • Vikings used a liquid to start fires. They’d boil touchwood from fungus in urine for several days and then pound it into something similar to felt. The sodium nitrate would mean the felt would smother rather than burn, so they could bring fire along with them.
  • The traditional Northern English greeting “‘Ey up” is Viking – it comes from ‘se opp’ (look up).
  • Icelandic genetics today show a lot of British trace – suggesting that the Vikings picked up British and Irish people along their way there. The Vikings were active slave traders – slaves were known as Thralls and sold on markets across the world.
  • The word Bluetooth comes from Harald Bluetooth, who was really good at making people get on with each other and ‘connect’. The symbol we use for Bluetooth today is actually runes for his initials.

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  • The Vikings were really clean people, especially compared to, say, the English at the time. The Vikings had baths on Saturdays (the word Lørdag, Saturday, comes from the Norse word Laug = ‘bath’’. In England, the Vikings had a reputation for excessive cleanliness.
  • Viking Men ‘preferred’ being blonde – some dark-haired men would bleach their hair (and sometimes beards) blonde using lye. (This also helped keep lice away – a total bonus).
  • Vikings worshipped the Norse god of skiing and also loved skiing for fun. God of Skiing’s name was Ullr and was often depicted wearing skis and holding a bow and arrow.

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  • The medical name for a hangover, veisalgia, is an amalgam of the Greek  ‘algia’ referring to pain and the Old Norse ‘kveis’, meaning the ‘unease one feels after a period of debauchery’.
  • The Vikings had issues with the English sh-sound. Places like Shipton became Skipton. Most sk words in english are Viking in origin. We still have issues with the sh-sound today – many Swedes often mix up ch and sh sounds when speaking English (Shicken instead of chicken, shallenge, shild for child etc).
  • Vikings used an outdoor ‘loo’ and wiped their bums with moss and sheep’s wool [How do we know these things? Really? – ed]
  • William the Conqueror was the grandson of Viking king Rollo – the Norsemen were just a few generations from the Normans.

Thank you also to Dr. Tina Paphitis PhD, our resident archaeologist who is leaving us this week to return to University of London. If you happen to have any fun projects for Tina that will mean her digging sites involving Viking stuff and folklore in any place on the planet, do contact us and we’ll let her know.
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Disclaimer: While we will always try to be as correct as possible, no responsibility for facts in this article can be taken. We’re a cafe with a nice blog, not fact keepers of all things Vikings. So double check before you use any of these in any official capacity what-so-ever. Just to be sure.
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Aquavit tastings at the cafe 29th November 2014

November 28, 2014 | 4 Comments

It is no secret that we Nordics absolutely love aquavit. Okay, yes, it’s strong stuff, but we only do drink it when we’re having smörgåsbord and we’re usually pretty careful with the stuff.

The Nordics have been drinking aquavit for centuries – since the 15th century, in fact. The tipple is usually around 40% alcohol and flavoured with strong herbs such as dill, caraway and anis – making them a perfect partner for pickled fish, such as herring.

Tomorrow Saturday 29th November we’re honoured to be joined by the all-knowing Aquavit expert Jon, who will be on site from midday onwards, offering helpful teachings and tastings to all our customers about a range of different aquavits. In fact, we did similar taste training at the cafe this week and we learnt a lot about not only the Aquavits that we serve at the cafe but also different types available on the market. Jon is bringing several aquavit – and will be making some aquavit based cocktails, too.

Aquavit is usually drunk ice cold but when you do the tasting without food, you sip it instead of down it all in one – and this is why Rebekka, Trine and Joanna look a bit shocked in the picture as it is a lot stronger in flavour this way! Just remember, when you serve it at home, pop the bottle in the freezer for a good few hours before hand and serve the shots – with food – and you don’t need to sip.

If you are popping by on Saturday, join our competition, too: Everybody who buys any aquavit tomorrow at the cafe will be entered into a competition to win 2 extra bottles (A 700ml bottle of Hammer Aquavit AND a 700ml bottle of Jubilæums Aquavit) – winner will be drawn at end of the day and be notified by phone to come pick up their extra stash. Usual rules apply, no alternative prize.

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Ten cool Vikings

September 25, 2014 | 3 Comments

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Let’s face it: We have quite a few to choose from. Here’s our selection

BlueTooth

Harold Bluetooth

Dear old Harold. Not only did he have a blue tooth, but he was really good at unifying and connecting places – such as Norway and Denmark, where he ruled for many years. And this is why Bluetooth is called Bluetooth today: all because of good ol’ Harold and his incredible social skills.

Ragnar

Ragnar Hairypants

Ragnar is our choice because he has a great name. Also known as Ragnar Lodbrok or Ragnar Hairybreeches, it is likely this Viking ruler wore pants made out of fur. Either this or he was extraordinarily hairy. The sagas say Ragnar Lodbrok may have worn those renowned breeches as protection from the venomous serpents he battled to court his second wife, Swedish princess Thora. Fathered a lot of sons – so many so that historians dispute whether he actually existed or was several different people.

Australian actor Travis Fimmel plays a Ragnor in ‘Vikings’ – although his character is only very loosely based on the real Ragnar. And no hairy pants.

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Freydis Eriksdottir

Our fearsome Viking lady. Freydis was the daughter of Erik the Red (of America fame), married to a spineless man called Thorvard, she joined him on expeditions around the world. One time, Thorvard left her behind in Vinland (North America), fought the natives on her own whilst pregnant, became a farmer, gave birth to her son – until Thorvard came back for her, eventually. She joined Thorvard  on several more expeditions, also taking part in battles. Later on she became a bit too brutal for her own good and was feared amongst other Vikings for slaying men and women regardless. She also invented the sleeping bag (apparently).

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Ogmund Tangle-Hair

Not much is known of this Viking, other than he probably had a bit of a bad hair do.

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Leif Eriksson

Son of Erik (see below), brother of Freydis (see above), Leif was the one to discover North America nearly 500 years beforeColumbus. For that alone, he is on our list. Most likely born in Iceland.

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Erik the Red

Our favourite ginger of all and founder of Norse settlement on Greenland (after he was thrown out of Iceland for murdering a few locals). A master of marketing, he deliberately named Greenland to be more appealing to other potential settlers (having seen what Iceland had done to itself by not naming their island ‘valleys of green and warm earth showers’). Father of Leif and Freydis.

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Eysteinn Fart

Actually, his real name was Eysteinn Hálfdansson, but in one of the sagas, he’s named as Eysteinn Fart. Why? We guess he had a bit of a flatulence problem. He was Norwegian, and in Norwegian he is known as Eysteinn Fjert, meaning fart. Lived 720-768 where he was blown off his ship by a ‘gust of wind’.

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Lagertha

This lady was rather awesome. Wife of the man with the hairy pants, Lagertha was a Viking shieldmaiden from Norway.  Her name most likely came from Hlaðgerðr.

‘Ladgerda, a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All-marveled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.’

Ragnar dumped Lagertha to marry a Swedish princess, but when he got into trouble in battle, Lagertha still came to his aid bringing 120 ships for him.

The character in Vikings is loosely based on her.

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Thorfinn Skull-Splitter

The 10th-century Earl of Orkney, this fearsome named Viking was born on Orkney. The mother of his five sons was Grelad, a daughter of “Earl Dungad of Caithness” and Groa, herself a daughter of Thorstein the Red. Thorfinn died a very old man and is buried in Hoxa.  The modern Orcadian beer Skull Splitter is named after him.

King-Canute

Cnut

Cnut the Great (Old Norse: Knútr inn ríki) born c. 995, more commonly known as Canute.  King of Denmark, England, Norway, and ‘some Swedes’.  Son of the infamous Sweyn Forkbeard, his grandfather was Harold Bluetooth, so he was from good Viking stock.  Often had to be careful when spelling his own name.

Cnut is often described as being exceptionally handsome ‘except for his nose’.  Cnut was buried at Winchester Cathedral, where some remains are in chests above the choir.

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