Across the Öresund (or should I say, the Øresund)

22.26 Fredag, 14 Juni, 2013

On Tuesday, I arrived in Copenhagen around 19:00, and found my hostel quickly because it was pretty close to the train station (fortunately!).  Then, I just spent the evening relaxing in the hostel, and I went for a short walk around town a little later.

Danish Flag

The Flag of Denmark

Denmark

A map of Denmark (the labels are in Swedish)

On Wednesday morning, I went down to the City Hall Square to meet a tour of the city.  On the tour, we walked through the old part of Copenhagen and then finished near the royal palace.  Afterwards, I went to see the obligatory tourist trap of Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid, which is a statue based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid.  Basically, it’s just a statue of a mermaid sitting on a rock in the harbor.  And it’s called the “Little” Mermaid for a reason: it’s little.  Barely life-size, in fact.  If it weren’t for the crowds of tourists and all of the souvenir stands around, you might just pass it and not even notice it.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid – Possibly the least impressive thing in Denmark

I was starting to get tired by that point, so I wandered back through the city, seeing some other parts that I hadn’t seen on the tour, and stopping at a café for dinner.  When I made it back to the hostel, I was very tired and wasn’t feeling well (I think I had a fever), so I went to sleep early – 20:00!  I slept until 9:00 the next morning, and was feeling much better by that time – but, then it was raining in Copenhagen, so I went to a nearby café and had a long brunch before going out for the day.  When I finally managed to get going, I went down to the Nyhavn area and took a boat tour through the canals of the city.  Copenhagen has many canals, as it has always been a major port city (its location is very strategic for controlling traffic into and out of the Baltic Sea).  Nowadays, the canals are mainly for tour and leisure boats.  The Nyhavn canal is now a “wooden ship museum,” and an area in the Outer Harbor area that was once a military base now contains old warships that are open to visitors as museums.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Köpenhamn

There are many fancy spires along the canals in central Copenhagen

Kastellet

View from a bastion in the fortress, Kastellet

The King's Gardens

The King’s Gardens

I took a break at the hostel after the boat tour, then I walked down to the Christianshavn area (the area that used to be a military base, which is actually an artificial island), which is a very nice part of town with many expensive apartments overlooking the canals.  But actually, I came to see Christiania, a neighborhood in Christianshavn that since the 1970s has claimed to be an autonomous breakaway state from Denmark and the EU.  In reality, though, Denmark doesn’t actually recognize it that way, but just kind of ‘looks the other way.’  This means that as long as the police don’t see what goes on (aka what is sold) there, they don’t do anything about it – so everyone makes sure the police don’t ‘see’ it (meaning you’re not allowed to take photos with the drug dealers in the ‘Green Light District’).  Obviously, the place is filled with hippie-like people, and it’s a pretty ramshackle town, but it seems to be doing okay – there are about 900 permanent residents right now.  Although, since Christiania operates as a pure democracy, having 900 people means decisions are rarely made.  They do have three laws, though, the first one being “you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.”  It was interesting to see, but I’m glad to be “back in the EU.”  After my visit to Christiania, I stopped for dinner, then went back to the hostel for the night.

Entering ChristianiaLeaving Christiania

The entrance/exit sign for Christiania

Friday, my last day in Europe, was a fun day!  I took the train to the city of Roskilde, just west of Copenhagen, to see the Viking Ship Museum.  I know, this is the third one I’ve been to, but they just keep getting better and better!  At this museum, located in the harbor, there are five real Viking ships on display that were excavated from the bottom of Roskilde fjord about 50 years ago.  These ships had been intentionally sunk there around the eleventh century in order to make the approach to Roskilde difficult for attackers – Roskilde used to be the capital of Denmark, so it was an important town to protect!  As part of the museum’s research about the Vikings, they attempt to prove their theories by actually building and testing replicas of the ships they have found.  So, in addition to the five real ships (which are largely incomplete and certainly not seaworthy anymore), the museum has its own shipyard where they build replicas that are actually seaworthy and look as they would have in the Viking times!  Their research even involves sailing one of their replicas to Dublin and back to prove the seaworthiness and speed of the warships!  The museum even makes its own rope and sails for the rigging, and they use the same tree species, tools, and techniques as the Viking shipbuilders did.  The whole harbor is filled with Viking ships, and you can watch the shipbuilders working on new ones (apparently, you can buy a Viking ship from them, so they can practice their skills), and you can even ride on a Viking ship!  Of course, that’s exactly what I did!

Viking Ship Museum

Part of the Viking Ship Museum’s replica collection

Along with 9 other people, I rowed a small, 10-oar Viking ship (with a guide, of course) out of Roskilde harbor, and then we raised the sail and sped out into the fjord, going almost against the wind.  After getting a brief lesson on the parts of a Viking ship and how to row it, we got in the boat and pulled out our oars.  When we first started rowing, it took a while before we somewhat looked like we were all doing the same thing – some people even started off rowing in the wrong direction!  But soon, we were out of the harbor, so we put away the oars and raised the sail.  We sailed pretty quickly for a while while the guide told us about the ship we were on.  Then it got exciting as we had to rotate the sail around to head back to the harbor.  The wind was quite strong and it got a little confusing trying to figure out which ropes the guide was telling us to pull, so it took a few minutes, and we were really being pushed to one side.  To add to that, as the sail finally got set on the other side and the wind started taking us back towards the harbor, one side of the boat was almost underwater, since we were all still sitting on that side.  Once we finally all moved over to the other side, it was smooth sailing again!  When we got back near the harbor, we dropped the sail and let our momentum (and the guide controlling the rudder) glide us all the way up to the dock.  The only thing that was missing from making it a complete Viking experience was a far-off land to plunder – oh well, maybe next time! :p  It was an interesting experience and a lot of fun!

 Viking Ship Museum

Viking ships are not very big, but they are lightweight, sturdy, and fast!

Sailing a Viking ship!

Sailing on the fjord!

After leaving the museum, I walked back through the town and had dinner at a Danish steakhouse called Jensen’s Bøfhus that I have seen in many places throughout Scandinavia.  I wanted to have a good meal on my last night in Europe, so I was willing to go to pay the price for an actual restaurant rather than a food stand on the sidewalk – although by Scandinavian standards, Jensen’s Bøfhus has somewhat reasonable prices.  For the record, I had the ‘American’ BBQ Burger for dinner and a waffle with ice cream for dessert (våfflor are a common dessert in Scandinavia) – it was a delicious meal!  But then it was time to head back to Copenhagen and get packed up and ready to go to the airport in the morning.

 

About the title: The Öresund/Øresund is the channel that separates Sweden and Denmark.  In the Swedish alphabet, there are three extra letters, Å, Ä, and Ö.  In Danish and Norwegian, these same sounds are used, but they use the letters Å, Æ, and Ø.  So, Öresund is the Swedish name and Øresund is the Danish name.

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