The final installment of my eight-week incongruous journey to three very different places.
From the northern tip of Jutland I then turned back south to Denmark’s second largest town of Aarhus. On the way there I stopped at a small town to see a Viking fortress located a few kilometers out of town. I walked the four kilometers out to the ring fortress, stopping at a very interesting recreated Viking village and then back to town. I would not be visiting the largest Viking ring fortress at Trelleborg, so I was glad to see this one, though it was a little hard to imagine it as a fortress. Later seeing the layout in museums made it seem more real, but at the time looking at a raised ring of grass with a young man riding a rather loud lawn mower, without a Viking to be seen, it was hard to imagine.
Aarhus is a big college town, students make up approximately 10% of the population. This makes it really young and lively. Yet I wasn’t feeling very young or lively when I rolled into town, and I spent my first day locating accommodation, doing email, visiting the tourist office, finding food, and enjoying the main shopping street. On the second day I joined a bus tour taking in the main sites, such as the Cathedral (the longest in Denmark) and Den Gamle By (the Old Town) for a really good price. Den Gamle By is a man-made town recreated from a number of old historical buildings from around Denmark moved and restored in Aarhus. Unfortunately, we had only 40 minutes there, but it was really lovely and reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg with people walking around in historical costumes, including the shoemaker’s wife making pudding for visitors.
I traveled out to the Moesgard Museum, which is full of information about the Iron Age in Denmark, before the Middle Ages and the Vikings. The center piece of this exhibit is Grauballe Man, a “bog man” recovered from somewhere in Jutland. The bogs, swampy misty areas, were places of worship and many riches were sacrificed to the bogs to bring good luck. In addition, it seems people were often sacrificed to the bogs, though they did not go willingly, as they are found with their throats cut or strangled or beaten. The interesting part is that all of this can be determined easily as the composition of the bogs almost perfectly preserved the people thrown in them. The skin is tanned to leather and the skin is oxidized to red, but you can see the hair on their heads, and their beards perfectly intact. Even the pores of their skin are still visible. While it sounds rather macabre, it was still fascinating. Only Grauballe Man was on display at the museum, but there were pictures of other bog people who had been found around Denmark. Amazing that the man died 1700 years ago, and they can tell he was about 30 years old, had fractured a bone in his youth, and his last meal! Really cool.
From Aarhus I hatched a plan to visit yet another Aquarium. I learned there was one with a Shark center in Grenaa, in the same county as Aarhus. I also found out there might be bus from Grenaa to Copenhagen. Of course, this was the bus the tourist office insisted did not exist. The Kattegatcentret was really cool, the shark center was amazing. Unfortunately, I had to leave at 2 PM to catch the last bus back from the Aquarium to meet the possibly non-existent bus to Copenhagen.
The bus did exist! Interestingly the bus was loaded onto a boat, which then crossed the Kattegat from Jutland to Zealand for 75 minutes. This was so more interesting than taking the train again. I arrived in Copenhagen at 7 PM, and headed in search of a place to stay. I found the loud, noisy, crowded City Public Hostel located in the perfect spot and surprisingly a great place to stay for four nights.
Copenhagen at last! I had only a few days left and so much to see. After gorgeous sunny weather for 10 days, it turned cold with on again off again rain. The wind was very strong. I bought a Copenhagen card, which gives free entry into a number of museums, and discounted entry on others, plus free transport on buses, trains, metro and harbor buses in North Zealand for three days. In order to get the most of this it meant I had to run around like crazy, riding buses for fun, but it turned out pretty well.
On my first day I headed north to Rosenborg Castle. Built over three small islands in a lake, the site is simply impressive. Lucky for me it rained only when I was inside and then became sunny again when I came out. I took a boat around the lake to get more views of the castle (and because it was free with my Copenhagen Card) and then sprinted to the train station so that I could get to Helsingør. The tourist office told me there was another train. Why I continued to believe the Danish tourist offices…the train only went halfway, and then I had a 30-minute wait for the next train out on a cold and windy platform, all by my lonesome. The whole time muttering under my breath about how I was never going to trust the tourist office again. Then to Helsingør, the famous Elsinore of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Kronborg Castle, where Shakespeare set his dramatic play, is built on a promontory, the closest piece of land between Denmark and Sweden. The castle was built with defense purposes in mind, and for the collection of the unpopular government “Sound Dues,” a toll paid by all ships passing from the Baltic to the North Sea. The weather was just rainy and cool enough to imagine how on a dark night Hamlet’s father’s ghost would have haunted the ramparts.
The following day I visited Roskilde, the Viking capital of Denmark, where the Cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site, contains the sarcophagi of 39 Danish Kings and Queens. From Harold Bluetooth to the parents of the current queen Magarethe II. Rather awe inspiring. It was the Viking Ship museum that really interested me though. Five Viking ships were raised after hundreds of years sunk in the waters of Roskilde Fjord. Over the course of 10 years the wooden ships were restored and put on display in this amazing museum. They are also in the process of building one of the war ships using Viking tools with plans to sail it to Dublin.
On my final full day in Copenhagen I ran around to more museums and more castles; the sun was back out again, no more rain clouds in sight. I also met my friends from Singapore on their first day in Denmark. Though I was to leave the following day we agreed to meet just one more time before I headed to the airport. We decided to visit the Carlsberg Brewery for a tour.
This is where I should break in and preface this particular part of the story. First of all, I rarely drink. I am not a complete teetotaler, but I probably average two drinks a year. Yet, I really enjoy factory tours and, for some reason, especially those associated with alcoholic beverages. This also happened before I became a diplomat. Actually, I just cannot bring myself to reveal the full story to all in this forum. At any rate, it involved a rare drink of alcohol just before heading to the airport, a pocket knife, which I used solely to cut bread, cheese, and vegetables to make sandwiches while staying in hostels, a mistake placing said knife into my carry on instead of checked bag, a burly airport security officer, and a police report. Every few years I get to discuss it again during my security clearance review. Sigh. I have not returned to Denmark since and I would love to do so with my daughter, so I hope enough time has passed so I do not have to spend some extra time explaining this particular tale at immigration.
This is the end of the account of my Summer of 2003 travel extravaganza. I really enjoyed re-reading my trip notes, though I regret that I do not have more pictures. I did more and saw more than I remembered. I could have seen more had I not been willing to take the slow route, less direct route to and from many places. I am thoroughly impressed with the dedication I showed to the journey. I used so many types of transport-planes, buses, trains, boats; I did a fair amount of walking. This is not how I travel these days. Not a value judgement, not better or worse, just different. Always an adventure.