Thursday, July 9, 2015

The land where Vikings came

St Anthony, NL – If we have too many days like this one, we’ll have to take a vacation from our vacation.  With three major adventures between 9 am and 10 pm, it’s been packed!

First on our agenda today was a boat trip to see whales and icebergs. It was sunny and clear as we got on board and set off out of St Anthony’s harbour toward the Atlantic Ocean. Once we were out of the shelter of the harbour, we knew how smart we’d been to take a seasick pill. The boat heaved up and down on great swells of frothy seas, but our stomachs were rock solid!
It wasn’t long before we spotted the first billowy cloud of a surfacing whale, and moments later, its humped back, followed by its magnificent tail as the whale plunged underwater again. Steve, our guide, told us it was a humpback about 40 feet long, feeding on small fish near the rocky shore.

Many more whale sightings kept us riveted to the water’s surface. At one point there was a pair of whales within a couple hundred feet of our boat which we followed for several minutes. It was an awesome sight!
The boat then turned toward an iceberg caught in a small inlet. Steve said yesterday it had a tall spike, but this had dropped off and was among the bergy bits bobbing near the shore. We approached the berg for a closer look at its blue-green shadows just as the sun caught its upper portions and made them sparkle.

Steve dipped a net into the water and scooped up a chunk of iceberg for us to touch and taste. He chipped off bits of it to sample – so we had a taste of 10,000-year-old water as it melted in our mouths!
On our return journey, we watched some gannets, with six-foot wing spans, soaring above the waves and then dive-bombing the water like Kamakasi pilots to catch fish. They pierced the water like spears with their sharp beaks and their wings tucked tight against their bodies.

It was a terrific tour with lots of information about sea life as well as local lore. One thing that amazed me was that in winter, polar bears sometimes hitch a ride on an ice floe and end up in town. Last winter there were about a dozen that did this, and then swam out to sea, sometimes paddling for miles, working their way back to their polar homes over pack ice and open water.

After a comforting lunch of seafood chowder and pan-fried cod at the Lighthouse Café, we drove out to L’Anse aux Meadows, the UNESCO heritage site of the Viking landing. We were surprised to learn that this was discovered only 50-odd years ago by a pair of Norwegian researchers who were looking for evidence of Vikings in the new world. Local residents always thought the remains of sod houses had belonged to Indian bands, but the discovery of a few small items – a pin for holding a cape, a spindle and an ancient iron nail – confirmed the Norse presence 1000 years ago.
Reconstructed sod buildings, and costumed interpreters sitting by crackling fires, brought the past alive for visitors. A reproduction of a second Norse settlement that we visited outside the historic site included an enormous wooden boat, the Snorri, that actually sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland a couple of years back to commemorate the anniversary of the landing.

In keeping with the Viking theme, we headed back into St Anthony for a Viking feast in a sod building, complete with helmeted warriors and wenches who served the tables. The entertainment included a mock Viking court, with us as councillors who voted on punishments by pounding on the tables with our fists. We left with full stomachs and certificates stating we were now honorary Vikings! Fun!

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