Viking Boots


Summer of 2012 found me flying over to Europe for three weeks of touring with Alison Krauss and Union Station. One of the best parts of playing in a band is that it funds my bent for wandering and taking in beauty. In the past 20 years, Europe, England, Ireland, and Scotland have skinned me of more shoe leather and per diem than I care to count. St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, the British Museum and Library in London, and Heidecksburg Castle in Rudolstadt, Germany, have all been food for the eyes and soul of this wandering boy.

Four days into the 2012 tour we flew to Oslo, Norway. It was a day off, but much of it was burned up traveling, so I walked around the town for a bit, bought some food, and went to my room. I got online to research Oslo, and a thrill ran through my stomach when I saw The Viking Ship Museum—three ships used for burials—was three miles away. Sound check at the venue wasn’t until later in the afternoon the next day.

In the morning I armed myself with camera and coin and set out. There is something deliciously lonely about walking solo for miles in a strange country thousands of miles from home. I took time for a perfect cappuccino in a narrow cafe on a quiet street, looking in shop windows, listening to unintelligible conversations, and watching birds.

I wandered in town:

I wandered in parks:

As I came closer to the museum I smelled the salty edges of the sea, wanderers moored until the next wind drove them out again.

Three miles from the hotel, I entered the museum slightly footsore (I’d been in Europe four days already, remember). I went in, paid up, and saw how the Vikings crossed the North Sea. Basically, they used large, ornate rowboats.

Also, I saw some boots. The boots of a wanderer.

And combs to make things beautiful.

Museums always get me thinking about bigger things. I remember seeing the Persian Kings exhibit at the British Museum in 2005. There were floor tiles the prophet Daniel may have walked on, utensils, cups, dishes he may have used. My old pastor used to say, “Most people don’t put flesh and blood on the Bible.” I’ve pled guilty to that more than once. But as I looked upon the everyday household goods of Darius and Nebuchadnezzar, I felt a palpable closeness with Daniel, a sense of his utter reality.

I stirred myself and moved on to the Viking cart, which was in amazing condition partly due to how well it was built. Practicality and beauty mingle. I especially loved the reddish textures in the wood.

After two hours of slack-jawed gawking, I noticed I was really stretching it on time. The band bus would leave from the hotel for sound check at 3pm. I went outside, my mind and heart spinning with all the impressions and thoughts I’d gathered. Art, craft, beauty, courage, sailing by the seat of your pants, life, and death, we-never-really-own-anything-we-just-use-it-for-awhile.

I walked to the trolley stop outside the museum. It would ride into Oslo and be at the hotel in fifteen minutes. After all, time was short, I was tired, my feet hurt a little, and I had a show to play that night. Then the thought came, “If the Vikings could sail the North Sea in ships like that, you sure as heck can walk three more miles.” I didn’t have time to walk all the way back. So I ran.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


  1. Judy

    As an Australian – a country with only a short recorded history, it has been both shocking and marvellous, to experience the kind of moments you describe here – when I ‘touched’ history.
    This took me back to the wonder of visiting Rome – walking along the Appian Way and around the Forum and knowing St Paul had been there. I, literally, needed to touch the stones.

  2. Stacy Grubb

    Gosh, how I love this. I’ll likely never get to experience this world the way you have and do. I’m grateful for your willingness and ability to let us live vicariously for a mile or two.

  3. Rob Webster

    Exploring a new city is one of the great pleasures of life. I’m so glad you had the opportunity. Prague and Budapest were two cities that were my muses back in my days of missionary work in Eastern Europe. How I wish I knew photography back then.

  4. Mike Ramsey

    Keep the travel stories coming. Someday I may be able to see a FEW of the places you’ve already visited. Until then, I’ll accompany you, via your stories and photos. ‘Preciate ye!

  5. Caroline

    Loved every word and every photo. Found myself an inch or two away from my laptop screen, peering at those woodworking details, wondering about the men who had carved them, the men who’d worn the boots and used the combs. Thank you, Ron!

  6. Karen Buck

    Thanks for the tour! All the good things help us understand people better, including ourselves.

  7. John Dienhart

    I hope you can make it to the Pergamom Museum in Berlin some day and walk between the very same cobalt blue walls that Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego walked between on the way to the kings throne to tell him why they would not eat the kings meat. then in the same museum you can walk the steps to the Temple at Miletus. The depth and intensity of the reality of Truth is overwhelming.

  8. Rick Stern

    I went to a college and a seminary in Minnesota, both founded by Norwegian immigrants. If you said you were going to the Holy Land they asked, Norway or Israel? Thanks for the tour.


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