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The Settlement Exhibition is a fascinating insight into Icelandic history and can be found in the very centre of Reykjavik. The main attraction is a Viking-age farmhouse and its importance lies in the fact that it can be dated almost precisely. This is because in 871 a well-documented volcanic eruption coated most of Iceland in ash and the farmhouse was built very soon after this cataclysmic event. The farmhouse is 85 square metres in area and appears to have had a spring either underneath it or very close to one of the walls. The building is centred within the exhibition allowing various information boards around the edge to give indications and insights into everyday life around 1000AD. The most fascinating facts are given in some of the historic information that’s provided as background to the settlement of Iceland.
Studies of the mitochondrial DNA carried in the female line and of Y Chromosomes carried in the male line indicate that 80% of Iceland’s male settlers were Norse, whereas 62% of the women were Celtic, most of them coming from the Outer Hebrides, where it seems most Vikings heading for a new life in Iceland stopped off to obtain a wife. Researchers know this because two strands of mitochondrial DNA found in Icelanders and Hebrideans are unique in the world. A Haplogroup is an ancestral family whose distinct characteristics allow geneticists to study how humanity spread throughout the world. Haplogroups represent the branches of the tree for mankind and they stitch together so that every male in the world can be located on the tree by a test that looks for a rare mutation called a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP for short) on the male Y-chromosome. There are also two very rare haplogroups (C and Z) found in Icelanders that are of non-European origin; four out of every 1,000 Icelanders carry haplogroup C, which originates in Asia and is today found in Native Americans and Asians. It’s not possible to say which of these destinations the DNA comes from. Only two out of every 1,000 Icelanders carry haplogroup Z, which is found in the peoples of the Kamchatka peninsular in Russia and in the Sami of Northern Scandanavia.
This fact indicates that the ancestors of the Vikings travelled from Eastern Siberia to Northern Scandinavia before again moving on to Iceland. Just in case you believe that all Icelandic stories are about men rampaging and pillaging consider the tale of Audur Ketilsdottir. She was the wife of Olafur the White, who conquered Dublin and became king there. However, he fell in battle and so Audur and her son Thorsteinn escaped to the Hebrides. Thorsteinn followed in his father’s footsteps by conquering half of Scotland before dying in a battle. Audur had to flee once again, so she ordered a ship be built and she headed from Caithness to the Orkneys and then on to the Faeroes before arriving in Iceland – a nightmarish journey these days let alone then when all longships were open to the elements – where she lived for the rest of her days in a place called Hvammur in the Dalir region.