From Iceland — Borgarnes: Dead bald guys and a surprise appearance by Bush

Borgarnes: Dead bald guys and a surprise appearance by Bush

Published August 20, 2004

This is not a Disneyland style theme park where you can go coffin riding, as you may at first presume, but the place where Skalla-Grímur, Kveldúlfur and Egils´ son Böðvar are buried. There is also a relief commemorating Egils´ journey to claim his son´s body by the Danish artist Anna Marie Nielsen, as well as the piece “Raven of Odin” by Ásmundur Sveinsson. Egil´s sorrow at the death of his son drove him to write the immortal poem Sonatorrek. The great man himself is buried in the graveyard in Hrísbrú, near Mosfellsbær. Past the town is the island Brákarey, connected to the mainland by bridge. The island is named after the slave girl Þorgerður Brák, who was stoned to death there by her master Skalla-Grímur, for attempting to prevent him from beating his son.
Borgarnes is one of the few towns in Reykjavík that does not have much of a fishing history. The first house there was built in 1857, and the number of residents did not reach a hundred until 1909. The town instead made a living out of being the centre for trade and communications in the Borgarfjörður area. It still serves that function and is a natural stopping point for anyone heading north or west from Reykjavík. By the road you find a small mall selling everything the car driving traveller might need, from gas to snacks to the obligatory hamburger and fries.
Before you cross the bridge over to Borgarnes, you come across Motel Venus. There aren´t many places in Iceland that use the word Motel and the building´s strategic location, less than an hours´ drive from Reykjavík and still outside Borgarnes city limits, make you wonder whether this is the place of choice for Reykjavíkians engaged in adultery.
Within the city, the natural climax to a walk is up by the church, built in 1959 but one of the few churches in the countryside built to resemble churches rather than spaceships. From there you can get a nice view of the surrounding area. What you won´t see from there is Bjössaróló, a playground hidden at the edge of town. It was built and maintained by craftsman Bjössi from discarded items. Bjössi was a man who genuinely liked children, in a time before this invited accusations of paedophilia. It is sad that after his death the playground has fallen into something of a state of disrepair.
Borgarnes also has an up-to-date swimming pool. I ended my stay in Borgarnes with the obligatory burger at a place called Dússabar, which also calls itself a Filipino restaurant. Between bites, I looked up and saw a picture of W. Bush decorating the wall. I asked the Filipina waitress what the story was. She told me she liked to draw, and that she was now working on a picture of Davíð Oddsson. Well, at least that makes sense thematically.

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