EUROPEAN TOUR 2010 PART VIII - Denmark
Helsingør to Copenhagen
August 12 to August 20, 2010
Start 61,083 miles (97,732 km) :
End 61,164 miles (97,863 km) cumulative
Helsingør to Hillerød
Plaque honoring Shakespeare at Kronborg
“To be, or not to be” that is the fatal question put forth by William Shakespeare’s tragic character Hamlet. So what is the connection between Shakespeare'splay and Denmark’s Helsingør?
Hamlet, the play, is set in a castle named Elsenor. This actually was the castle at Helsingør. It is really called Kronborg. More than just a castle, Kronborg was a fortress that was used as a very large toll booth.
There is only a couple km distance between Denmark and Sweden at this point. Denmark used to comprise all of today’s Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. So the kings of Denmark decided to impose a “Sound Dues” for all ships passing this narrow channel. With the money from these dues they built this ornate toll booth.
In reality there was a king Almed. But he never lived in the fortress. Now why Shakespeare would choose a castle way over in Denmark for his Hamlet setting is anybody’s guess. But he did and that now puts this old toll booth high on the tourist itinerary as well as on the World Heritage list.
Today there is a plaque on the wall dedicated to the bard, although I don’t think too many tourists even notice it. In August they put on performances of Hamlet in the courtyard. Wouldn’t that be something, to see Hamlet where was intended to be set.
One night spent in the nearby campground was enough. It wasn’t a particularly great campground. But before we could go on we needed to do something about Brian’s crank. For some reason the crank on his non-drive side refused to stay on. We tried switching his crank bolt with mine to see if that was the problem. But still about every 5 miles or so he would need to retighten it. So the problem was either the crank or the bottom bracket.
First thing in the morning, before we packed the tent, we headed over to the nearest bike shop. The mechanic confirmed that it was the crank that was worn and needed replacing. Fortunately he had one of the right length in stock. It’s one very heavy duty crank. We had to have him install it as we don’t carry a hex wrench having sufficient lever arm to get it really tight. So the whole thing wound up costing 300 DKR (200 for the crank, 100 for the install). Another broken part and we’re still counting.
Once we got that new problem resolved, we packed up and went to have a look around Kronborg fortress. It truly is a wonderful castle.
Kronborg was originally built by Erik of Pomerania after he introduced the Sound Dues in 1429. These dues produced an enormous amount of wealth for Denmark for over 400 years. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s when the rest of Europe put pressure on Denmark, and paid then a fat sum of money, that these dues were abolished.
Old King Erik didn’t do too well later in life. He had been married to a 12 year old girl. She never bore children and after a while got so sick of the king she left him to become a nun. King Erik lost favor with the population and was forced to abdicate. He wound up his days as a pirate plying the waters of northwestern Denmark.
A view of Kronborg fortress
After walking around Kronborg we rode onto Fredensburg to stop by Fredensburg Slot, slot being the Danish word for castle or palace.
Fredensburg is the palace that is currently used by the royal family. So while you can walk onto the grounds you can go no further than the very young, serious looking soldier in the big furry black hat guarding the main courtyard. Ah well, it’s a nice building to look at anyway.
As we left Fredensburg we noted black clouds building up to the south. So we hustled on to Hillerød camping hoping to make it before the rain started. The weather report had said to expect 2 inches overnight and it looked like it would be right.
The rain started just as we pulled in. The camp owner told us to just quickly set up the tent and then check in later. So we scrambled. Sprinkles started coming down as we laid out the ground cloth. Drops came fast as we unrolled the tent inside. We were getting wet as we rushed to get the poles assembled. By the time we were snapping on the rain-fly and pounding in a couple of stakes it was a deluge. We left the tent to fend for itself, grabbed the bikes, and headed for the cover of the common room. That was the end of the dry period for that night. Fortunately this campground has one of the best kitchens and common areas we’ve ever seen. So we were nice and comfy despite the drenching.
Hillerød to Roskilde
Small sample of the spectacular ceilings in Frederiksborg Slot
Sitting in the middle of its very own lake at Hillerød is the beautiful Fredricksborg Slot (aka castle). This castle was originally built at the time of Christian IV in the late 1500s. A tragic fire in 1859 destroyed all but a couple of the magnificent rooms. Being such a remarkable structure, the Danes, with some significant pushing by the brewer J.C. Jacobsen, had the entire castle rebuilt complete with all its former splendor.
Frederiksborg Slot seen from the gardens in back
Rather than return the building to its former role as a palace for the royal family, J.C. Jacobsen suggested that it be made into a national museum. It was to contain Denmark’s most important collection of historical portraits and paintings. It also contains fine examples of period furnishings and decorative arts.
Another view of Frederiksburg Slot and its moat/lake
We began our tour by walking up the main road through two front gates separated by a moat. Once through the second gate we found ourselves in the central courtyard where the main feature is a beautiful fountain.
Central courtyard of Frederiksburg Slot
Since the museum had yet to open we continued around the side of the castle and then to the back to have a look at the gardens. The present configuration of the gardens is in the Baroque style matching drawings made in previous years. At some point the original Baroque style was replaced with Romantic style and now it’s back to Baroque.
Once we finally entered the castle/museum we were amazed at not only the opulence of the rooms, artifacts, and paintings but also with how extensive the museum is. It covers some 3 floors with many rooms on each floor. All rooms are filled with furnishings and paintings. We were particularly amazed with the different ceilings.
Brian admiring one of the bedroom setups in the Frederiksborg Slot.
As we stood admiring a particular painting of a bunch of 17th century boats one fellow came up to us and said something to the effect that each painting has a story to tell. This particular painting shows the Danish naval fleet with the Dutch naval fleet being joyously greeted in Copenhagen.
The story behind this is at one point the Swedes decided they wanted to put an end to the Danish monopoly on collecting dues at Helsingør. So they put in place a blockade. The Danes asked the Dutch for help in breaking the blockade. The Dutch helped because they wanted to keep the passage open. The Danes and Dutch prevailed and this painting was made to commemorate the victory. Isn’t it something what you can learn from other folks standing around in a museum.
Painting showing the Danish and Dutch fleets being greeted in Copenhagen.
The museum was enormous and we could have spent even more time. But we regretfully had to move on.
We did not have too far to ride this day and within a short time we came to Fredrickssund. This harbor town is home to many pleasure yachts and a few authentic antique or imitation antique ships. There was a small steamer used for tourist trips and we even saw our first modern remake of a Viking ship. We’d see a whole lot more of these replicas in Roskilde.
As we left Fredrickssund we happened across a bunch of tiny thatched roofed huts. These half sunken little buildings were recreations of several Viking dwellings found in the nearby area. They were all built about a meter into the ground. Some were wattle and daub construction while others were more like adobe. All were thatched and were itty bitty. With them being built partially underground in such a wet environment we wondered how they kept them from flooding during snow melt and heavy rains.
Recreation of a Viking era house at Frederikssund
Continuing on to Roskilde for the night we found a very nice campground on the Roskilde Fjord right across from the town. The evening was perfect and the view over the city looked just like an old landscape painting with a perfect blue sky with white puffy clouds and an old twin steeple church on the horizon. The sunset now graces many a camera as it was magnificent.
Hillerød to Copenhagen
A young boy admires the skeletal bow of one of the Viking ships at the museum in Roskilde
Out in the Roskilde Fjord in an area called Skuldava sat a hazard for fishermen and sailors. According to the legends told by the local fishermen this rocky barrier was a sunken Medieval ship. Other than these tales there was no information.
Curiosity got the best of the marine archeologists. So in the 1960s they decided to do a little exploration to see what may actually be there.
A traditional bridge with 2 recreated clinker style Viking ships
What they discovered was not one boat but five. Each had been filled with rocks and then intentionally scuttled. This was a barricade that had been created on purpose.
Also, they weren’t Medieval ships. This was an incredible find of five individual and unique clinker style boats from the Viking era. In clinker boats the longitudinal panels making up the hull are laid with overlapping seams.
Cross section of a clinker style Viking age ship construction
All five boats were excavated and brought out of the water in thousands of pieces. The pieces were researched, assembled, and then placed in a purpose built museum at the harbor in Roskilde.
Based upon the evidence archeologists concluded that the Vikings had placed a permanent barrier of vertical pilings pounded into the ocean floor in a long row extending across the mouth of the bay. A small gap in the pole barrier allowed their boats to pass into and out of the bay. In times of conflict or threats the gap could quickly be closed by scuttling boats thus sealing the mouth of the bay.
There is no evidence that Roskilde was ever actually attacked. But at some point there must have been sufficient outside threats for them to go through the scuttling process. In any case it’s left us modern folks with an important resource on Viking ship types and construction.
Each boat is different. Two were warships, a couple were merchant ships, and another was the type of boat used by farmers. One of the warships is the longest Viking ship ever found. It’s 30 m long and could hold 60 rowers plus another 5 men with other duties such as captain, steersman, etc.
For the most part only small sections of the boats remain, usually less than 50% Using these remains plus information gathered from old sketches, descriptions, and remains of other Viking ships they were able to built a metal outline that represents the rest of each boat.
The remains of one of the Viking ships
Another part of the museum is a workshop where they build exact replicas of these Viking age clinker style boats as well as other ancient boats. In their small harbor you can find 39 of their creations. A few are used for boat rides of the bay where you, the museum visitor, act as crew and do the rowing.
Modern day Vikings getting ready to cast off
One of their latest and most major accomplishments was a recreation of that 30 m long warship. Their new boat, named Sea Stallion, was intended to be an exact, operational replica. But how to make it work was something they needed to answer first.
Archeologists found no evidence of the sails, riggings, booms, or anything other than the hulls. Since the boats were intentionally scuttled it’s likely the Vikings first removed everything they could. So based on other sources the modern craftsmen had to guess. The purpose of the Sea Stallion was to see how well they did.
Sea Stallion on its trip to Dublin and back
They built it, added sails and rigging, did test runs, and then sailed/rowed it to Dublin and back. The entire venture was a huge success.
One interesting thing they did learn was that it was difficult having all 60 oarsmen rowing at one time. The spacing was such that they’d be hitting each other in the back every stroke. So they found having 1/2 row while the other half rested was the best way to go. The full compliment of rowers would be used only when high speed was needed.
The sea Stallion now rests on land out front of the museum. There was no indication as to what they plan to do with it. It’d be sad to see it just sit and decay.
The bow of the Stallion as it now sits in front of the museum
After touring the museum we rode the 25 km over to a suburb of Copenhagen. It started to rain just as we were arriving and it did not stop. It just poured and poured and poured.
This turned out to be a record rain storm for Denmark. Roads to the north were flooded waist deep. Danes were all astonished at just how much rain they were getting and this is a place that is used to getting wet. We saw in the paper that their rain fall for the month of August was almost 5 to 6 times normal, probably mostly due to this record storm.
We had managed to get our tent pitched without it getting too wet. Under normal circumstances it would have been in a spot that drained well. But the rains were just too much. About half the tenting area turned into a shallow lake. Our tent was just on the edge of this lake, on the water side of the edge. Fortunately the folks at the campground let us sleep in the common room. Otherwise it would have been one very difficult night.
A statue of Bishop Absalon, founder of Copenhagen
August 15 - August 19
After spending an entire morning getting mostly dried out we finally moved into the tent. Of course we had to move the tent as well since more rain was expected. This time we wanted to be on shore rather than in the lake.
It was while we were moving the bikes that we discovered that the second rear rack brazon on my bike had now sheared off. So having successfully used our only 8/9 mm open box wrench to affect a splint on one side we wanted to do the same again. So off to the hardware store, which was surprisingly open on Sunday, where we found a perfect wrench. An hour of so later our second temporary repair was done and hopefully it would last the rest of the trip.
On our second day in Copenhagen we finally got to the city.
Copenhagen has no shortage of things to do. So for our first day we began with a long walking tour of town. I was a bit surprised by the city. For years the main pictures I’d seen of the city was of it’s old harbor, which they actually call the new port. This is the area with the old small warehouses and old style sailing boats that are always shown in Copenhagen’s tourist brochures. I actually expected this area to be very large, sort of like Amsterdam.
The old port at Copenhagen
It turns out this old port district is quite small. It encompasses only a street or two. That was a little disappointing.
Also I had hoped to see the little mermaid statue. It’s Copenhagen’s iconic figure representing Hans Christian Anderson’s famous character. But for the first time ever the statue plus the rock it sits on had been removed. It was sitting in China for their World Expo. They expected some 8 million people to view the statue in China.
In the meantime the only thing Denmark visitors got see was a large screen showing a webcam of the crowds in China. It would have been much more fun if they had made it a 2 way webcam so you could wave at the folks on the other side.
Our tour took us past the royal palace where we had just missed the noon changing of the guard. Two rows of palace guards now stood stock still facing each other. People were all gathered around waiting for something more to happen. But the show was already over. So we rambled on.
Palace guards after the changing of the guard was over
As with all of these cities on canals or rivers, boat cruises are a must. So we took the one that was not only less expensive but also offered boats with covers. It hadn’t rained yet, but why take the chance.
Denmark's’ National Library, the Black Diamond
For our last two days in Copenhagen we spent the entire time in the Denmark National Museum. This is a wonderfully extensive museum covering the history of Denmark from 100,000 BC to the present. It covers 3 floors of a very large former palace. some of the artifacts are absolutely remarkable.
For example, in their prehistoric section they have the world’s oldest bow. Clearly this bow doesn’t look like a first effort or trial run. The shape is too precise. It has nicks on the ends where the string was tied. It tapers smoothly toward the ends and has a cutout for the hand. The person who made this knew what they were doing.
The long skinny stick on the left is the world’s oldest bow
The museum also has the world’s oldest known string instrument, a mouth violin. Plus they have Europe’s oldest blank style boat.
It was a fascinating museum. All signs were in English making it all that more worthwhile. And best of all it was free. In a country where everything is so expensive, free entertainment for a couple days is something not to be turned down. Even with 2 full days we could have spent more time. There was so much to see.
We had a choice, spend 3 days riding through the corn fields of Denmark or spend those 3 days riding Germany’s Weser river. The river route won. So we hopped on a train then a ferry and headed back to Germany.
APPENDIX A – ROUTE
August 12 - Route 6 thru Fredensburg to Hillerød, 30.74 km
August 13 - Cycle route 2 along hwy 6 to Frederikssund. Cycle route 40 thru LillenRøbæk, Svestrup, Jyllinge to Veddelev, 52.51 km
August 14 - Hwy 156 bike path to Rødovre, 29.89 km
August 19 - Bike paths to Copenhagen train station, Train to Rødby, Ferry to Germany, back roads to Burg and Wulfen. 28.28 km
APPENDIX B – CAMPSITES, HOTELS
August 12:Hillerød camping in Hillerød (158 DKR/night)
August 13:Roskilde camping in Roskilde (162 DKR/night + 6 DKR/4 min shower)
August 14:Rødovre Camping near Copenhagen (193 DKY/night)
August 19: Wulfner Hals camping in Fehmarn(18.50 €/night)
Lonely Planet Scandanavia 2010
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.