Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trekking Across Denmark

"Across Denmark" sounds pretty daunting, doesn't it? It's a total of three hours from coast to coast, including traffic from Copenhagen. But off we went this morning, fortified with extra wienerbrod and sugar-buns and a deadline to arrive in Roskilde before 10am.

Stopped for fuel -- which is expensive here, of course. it's on par with the rest of Europe (about 8 bucks a gallon) and we imagined the horror and chaos if gas hit $8 int he US. It's four now, and from all the wailing and breathless media coverage, you'd think it was a sign of the apocalypse. We've got a little diesel Hyundai as a rental car, which is great, actually. Good gas mileage, diesel is a wee bit cheaper, and a small car is much easier to maneuver in the times we've had to drive it into the city. Mark fits in it easily, which is the primary consideration. Renting a car is always a bit of a crap shoot when we go on vacation -- they have brands and makes of cars here we dont' see in the US, and some of them are tiny indeed. There is a little Fiat compact that we see dozens of that is, perhaps, a little smaller than a SmartCar, and a few Ka's (a car so small they dropped the r, we joke) and some truly microscopic little Mazdas. An awful lot of people drive very nice Audis and Mercedes, but most cars are small, serviceable, and easy to park. We actually saw a pickup truck today, and it warranted a second look -- we hadn't seen any before. We've got the car for the whole trip, which sounds a little insane when you consider that we're staying put in one city for three or four days at a time. Only at the end of the trip are we driving anywhere substantial, and between the major cities (Stockholm - Copenhagen, Copenhagen to the ferry to Norway, etc. I tried out the rental just picking up the car for the few days we needed to drive between places, and frankly it was much cheaper to get the car for the whole month, even if we had to pay for parking in every single city (which we didn't -- we had free parking at Stallmastaregarden and at the Kong Arthur, and at today's B&B. Score!

Roskilde, our first target for today, is best known for the Viking Ship Museum, which is on the "must-see" list for Denmark. it's more than just a few (5) salvaged ship skeletons -- it's a working shipyard where they test out buidling ships in the traditional way. In 2007, they built a replica of one of the found ships in the museum, The Sea Stallion, and sailed her to Dublin. There is a cool exhibit about it, and a film about the experience. The ship sits outside at the docks ehre, along with over 30 other ships of various sizes and origins, from huge viking longboats and trading boats, to smaller fishing vessels and tradtional danish and Faroese fishing boats. All made by hand, with traditional tools and traditional methods. It's really fascinating. There are workshops at the museum showin blacksmithing, woodworking, ropemaking -- it's a real,working ship yard. I love the old bones of the five ships that have been put together from the salvages pieces. The boats were scuttled on purpose to block the sound, and retrieved piece by piece and measured, preserved, and put together.

Just up the hill from the ship museum is the huge Domkirke -- the burial place of all the Danish kings and most of the Danish queens since the 14th century. The church itself is a mish-mash of styles -- it's obviously been added to nearly continuously for centuries. It's a brick church, too -- for some reason, having a huge church built of brick seems a bit odd to me -- I don't htink of brick as something you build tall towers with. But apparently it is. Inside, all the nooks and crannies are filled with monuments/mausoleums and coffins. Some of them are...big. And ostentations. That's what happens when you are royalty, i guess, and someone else gets to design your memorial. They're stunning and enormous and gaudy in most cases. Some of the side chapels have lovely paintings,and one is done in absolutely amazing trompe l'oeil that was real enough taht i jerked back to avoid whacking my elbow on what looked like a large carved head on the wall...but which was absolutely flat. The church has a lot of odd, dark, rather forbidding decorations, otherwise -- the King's Door is frightening, really, and there are weird gates of turned metal that look more like the doors to a dungeon than the doors to a tomb. Interesting, but in a rather strange way. Apparently Harald Bluetooth is buried here, but it is noted int he little guidebook that he is "walled up".

We made a quick stop in Ringsted to see the oldest brick church in Scandinavia...which was of course closed (unexpectedly, actually, it was suppoesd to be open and only a little handwritten Likkut sign on the locked door). But that was ok. We stopped at the ice cream shop in the main square, to make up for it.

The only other thing on the "must see" list for today is Trelleborg Viking fortress -- a huge round hillfort dating from 980 that is on the western coast of Zealand, just before the huge bridge to the rest of Denmark. Our GPS failed us miserably on this one, and refused to recognize that it even existed and so we had to rely on the too-small map to try to find the place and missed twice before hitting ont he right tiny little farm road. I should note that it was labelled, but only if you came from the other direction and were paying attention tot he tiny turnoff into the one-lane road. We did eventaully find it, but it took an extra half and hour and we arrived just as the museum part closed. Luckily, the site itself is open and we got to walk on the earthen mounds and see the burial grounds of this huge viking fort. it is a mighty familiar sort of place -- like the ring forts of Ireland and the remainso f round forts from the Roman era -- a high earthen wall surrounding a community of houses. The foundations here are odd: the shapes of the houses/buidlings is roughtly boat-shaped and they are arrangedi n groups of four to create interior courtyards. It's a rather impressive place, really, and I enjoyed being able to compare it to the other forts that I've seen from earlier (and later) eras. The technology might be a bit different, but the basic structure is the same. Interesting.

I timed things perfectly, of course. Just as walked back to the car, it started to rain. Hah! We got to do our drive-to-the-other-coast (a drive of maybe 90 minutes total) while it rained, and by the time we reached our B&B for thenight, it had stopped. Cooled off about 35 degrees, too.

One thing that is very noticeable is that Denmark is FLAT. Really, really flat. The hills roll gently, but from high ground I think you can see all the way to Germany.

We checked in (into the renovated stable block) at our B&B and then grabbed our coats to walk into the little town of Ribe.

It's ADORABLE. Seriously, the main part of town is an extremely well-preserved medieval trading town, with curving cobbled streets and precariously leaning half-timbered houses. The winding roads change names every block or so, but as long as you can see the spire of the church (by far the tallest things for miles) you can usually get your bearings. We walked through town, reading the plaques on buidlings that were built in the 17th century, some earlier, and ended up on their main pedestrian street to look at the shops and cafes. Closed, of course, since it's after 6, but we had a good look around, checked out which restaurant we are supposed to meet at later for the Night Watchman's tour -- a huge draw in thsi teensy little town -- and clomped back to the room to get warmer clothes.

I went from long sleeves to a t-shirt today and just about broiled at lunch, then by dinner was in silk long underwear, a long-sleeves t-shirt, a fleece, and my rain jacket. And gloves. if I had a had, I'd be wearing it. The wind can be fierce.

So - off tonight to the night watchman's tour at ten, and then tomorrow? Up through Jutland to Arhus and Aalborg.

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