It was around the end of my 2001 trip to Iceland, one of the first days in the month of September. I was sitting around in my Reykjavík guesthouse paging through my Lonely Planet guide when I decided to check out the Saga Center in Hvolsvöllur. I walked over to the BSÍ bus station on Vatnsmýrarvegur and hopped on a bus to Hvolsvöllur, which is about an hour or two east of the capital.
It was before lunchtime, so I decided to walk around the town—really, it was just a village. I ook a wide loop around the area, seeing Icelandic schoolchildren in uniform being taken for a walk on this uncommonly nice fall day (fall starts early on the island that is Ísland). I saw a couple of pizza places, which looked interesting because for some reason Iceland makes really good pizza. (Good bread, good cheese—that’s more than half the battle.) In the end, I settled in at the gas station named after one of my literary heroes—Hliðarendi—and has a sandwich stuffed with hangikjöt, a tasty lunchmeat made with lamb..
Gunnar Hamundarson of Hliðarendi was one of the heroes of Njals Saga, that greatest of the medieval sagas. Outlawed by the AlÞing, he left his home in the Markarfljót Valley, but made the mistake of taking a look back. At once, he made the decision not to leave, because it the sight was so breathtakingly beautiful. He paid for this decision with his life.
The Saga Center in Hvolsvöllur was well worth visiting. It is, insofar as I know, one of only two museums in the world dedicated to a single work of literature, in this case Njals Saga. (The other one is in Borgarnes and is dedicated to Egil’s Saga.) The Saga Center was clearly a labor of love. I spent a couple of hours talking to a beautiful young Icelandic blonde who worked there. She was a very sweet lady who was suffering from some strange stomach ailment. I wonder whether she still works there.
That evening, I picked up my tattered Penguin paperback edition of Njals Saga and started re-reading it. In June, I will read it a third time. Why not? It is one of the greatest works to come out of the Middle Ages. I kept re-reading it until my plane landed in Los Angeles.