By Cathy Carroll
Reed Travel Features
NEW YORK -- Just as the literary works of Shakespeare have long
drawn travelers to England, Iceland's sagas are piquing the
interest of American visitors, tourism officials said. The
Icelandic sagas are among the best-preserved documents from
medieval Europe and are considered a major literary achievement.
The anonymous 13th century authors are recognized as the first
Europeans to write stories in their own language, rather than in
Latin. But their greatest appeal, especially to Americans, is their
story lines, which do not vary greatly from today's blockbuster
There are the romantic adventures of the outlaws Gisli Sursson
and Grettir; the tale of the rogue warrior poet Egill
Skallagrimsson, and the epic "Njals Saga," frequently compared with
Homer's "Odyssey." "As it is in American history, often people
sympathize with the outlaws. The same thing happens in all our
stories," said Halldor Bjarnason, director of Iceland Safari Travel
He offers tours focusing on the sites referred to in the sagas
and has found the number of Americans on the tours is increasing.
About half of the 25 members of the tour this summer were from the
U.S., compared with just two who joined last summer, he said.
During a 14-night tour, guests travel to the farmhouse where
Grettir was raised and to Vididalstunga, the origin of the largest
Icelandic calfskin script, "Flateyjarbok." That evening, the group
takes a boat trip to Grimsey, where Grettir was killed. "The island
is about 4.3 miles from the land and is only accessible by boat --
or, as Grettir did, swim to and from it," Bjarnason said.
Last year, the tour was rather primitive, with tent
accommodations, he said. Although he said he received many
compliments about the trip, in 1998 accommodations will be in
hotels, and a five-night itinerary also will be offered. He has not
yet determined pricing, he said.
The itineraries combine saga folklore with bird-watching and
nature tours, Bjarnason said, and customized tours for groups also
can be arranged. Iceland Safari Travel can be reached by calling
(011) 354 562-4222; fax (011) 354 562-4204.