Visiting Roskilde Cathedral: Cold Days, Warm Hearts

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On a frigid, dreary day in Denmark at the end of March, Mike and I bundled up in our warmest coats and set out with our friend Carolyn to visit the Roskilde Cathedral in the city of the same name. Our first and foremost stop had been the Viking Museum nearby, but the cathedral was also a place we had looked forward to visiting. Although we knew the almost 800 year-old medieval cathedral was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we didn’t realize just how captivating the place would be until we arrived.

 

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To show just how enormous the medieval Roskilde Cathedral is, look at how tiny Carolyn (with the pink cap) and I are as we walk towards the door.

First of all, the cathedral is a massive building that dwarfs you and immediately makes you feel like the peasant you are. Yes, it’s that big. One of the amazing things about this huge building is that more than forty kings and queens of Denmark are buried within the hallowed church grounds.

First of all, the cathedral is a massive building that dwarfs you and immediately makes you feel like the peasant you are.

Even the Viking King Harold Bluetooth (985 A.D.) who introduced Christianity to Denmark and his son Svend Forkbeard, who conquered England, are supposedly buried there. That’s a lot of Danish royalty (or royalty of any nationality for that matter).

The large cathedral overwhelms your senses and immediately makes you feel its timelessness, its history and gives visitors the realization of something bigger and more powerful than themselves. If you are Christian, you definitely feel the presence of God, but even if you are not, I’m sure you will feel a spiritual tug at your heart and soul.

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The church is one of the first Gothic cathedrals in the 12th century to have been built of red brick, as this was a new medium for building whose use eventually spread throughout Europe. Like many older churches it has been reconstructed over several centuries. Different monarchs have added burial chapels and porches as well as other additions, so the building at present reflects the evolution of European architecture over the 800 years it has been in existence.

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The sarcophagus of Queen Margrete I whose remains were transferred to Roskilde in 1413 lies in the Cathedral.

I feel like the Cathedral is so rich in history that there is no way I could do it justice in a blog post, so I just wanted to touch on a few areas of interest through my photos and urge you to read more about it. And by all means visit this place if you are ever near Copenhagen. You will be better for it.

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One of the sepulchres in the Chapel of Christian I. The chapel was built in the second half of the 1400s.

The Viking Museum was wonderful, but this magnificent place had the three of us dumbstruck. We stayed there over three hours and we probably would have stayed longer if time had permitted. We kept wandering around with our heads turning in circles. I was getting a neck ache with all the looking up and down, and all around.

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Again, look at how small we look in the Christian IV Chapel which houses the coffins of Christian IV and his family.

We also were trying to be careful not to step on all of the holy tombstones on the floors of the church, even though many of them were worn by centuries of church congregants visiting their place of worship. All three of us wanted to give the place the respect it deserved.

What’s also interesting about the cathedral is that it is still a working church which is used on a regular basis. While we were there, we saw a class full of students praying together around the altar.  It was really lovely to see how the grand Gothic church still had a youthful presence.

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The window below is from Trolle’s Chapel, named after a royal vassal, Niels Trolle. It was just one example of the incredible wrought iron grating throughout the church.

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I have walked through many churches throughout Europe with some being much more ornate, some grander, some less so, but Roskilde Cathedral touched me in a way that some of the fancier ones didn’t. Have you been to a place, whether it be a church or just a field of flowers, that made you feel so small but so peaceful in your heart? That is how I felt in Roskilde Cathedral.

 

The Viking Museum at Roskilde

IMG_0915Just a short day trip from Copenhagen is a place that was a must-see for my seafaring husband, and I have to admit, I was pretty excited to go there as well. That place was the Viking Museum (or Vikingeskibs Museet) in Roskilde, Denmark, which houses five original sailing vessels from the 11th century.

If you think of what that means,  these boats, which were dug up in the fjord near Roskilde in 1962, were used, touched, and sailed by the actual Vikings!! So grab your Viking spangenhelm (helmet) and come along with us!

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Mike rocking a spangenhelm. (photo by Carolyn Stewart)

As you enter the parking lot for the museum, you notice the museum itself is not just one building but a group of buildings complete with an area near the harbor which is lined with many different types of Scandinavian sailing vessels, both large and small. The buildings house workshops where students are able to learn how to do various types of shipbuilding, woodworking and sailing related crafts like rope-making and sail-making.

On the day we visited, we saw a group of college-age students doing woodworking with traditional tools from the Viking period. In the indoor workshop, the students worked to plane a rudder scraping and sanding it with primitive tools.  All of the work done on the grounds is done with period tools including the felling of trees, splitting of the wood and actually constructing the boats.

It was freezing outside because we were there on a rather cold March day, so there were not many people visiting the museum, but I’m sure in the warmer months the place must be bustling with action. But in true Viking style, Mike, Carolyn and I braved the cold weather, donned our Viking garb and set forth to see the sailing vessels.

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Mike knows it’s serious business being a Viking, but I’m just happy to be along for the ride. (photo by Carolyn Stewart)

The main reason for our visit were the actual longships and sailing vessels that were inside the large Viking Ship Hall.  These five vessels were actually sunk on purpose a thousand years ago in order to make a defense barrier in the fjord as an underwater obstacle to thwart invaders.

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This ship was found in 1962 and was pieced together after the restoration process was complete. In the background, Mike admires the actual prow of the sailing vessel.

It’s truly incredible to come so close to a piece of history and to imagine the men who built the vessel and sailed it.  Thinking of what their lives must have been like, the harsh conditions they faced, their pagan beliefs and perseverance really makes you wonder how you would have survived in such an environment.

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Learning about the excavation process for the ships was just as interesting as seeing the ships themselves. The archeologists had to rope off an area of the fjord and drain it to begin mapping out the wreck site. The thick planks of wood which make up the vessels had been underwater for so long that they had to devise a way to keep the wood from shrinking and disintegrating when they took it out of the water. The wood had to be kept moist as it was dug up, and then placed in a chemical solution for a long period of time until the wood was preserved enough for it to be freeze-dried.

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A close up of the thousand year old planks that make up the Viking vessels.

While the museum collection is based on these five Viking ships that were excavated at Skuldelev in Roskilde Fjord in 1962, it also has a working boatyard where it has made replicas of the five ships and other Scandinavian longships. In the summertime, visitors are able to take cruises on a longship and help row it across the fjord and set the sails.

IMG_0915“From the museum’s own harbour, you can cruise around the beautiful Roskilde fjord and admire the museum’s large collection of traditional Nordic boats,” according to the Visit Copenhagen website.

It is incredible that the remains of these ships have survived so many years.  I highly recommend a visit here if you find yourself in the Copenhagen area.  It is an easy day trip as it’s only 1/2 hour away from the city, and you can also visit the Roskilde Cathedral while you are there, which is another fascinating destination full of history that is worth the trip to Roskilde alone.

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Carolyn tips her pink cap as she steers the Viking vessel away from the Vikingeskibbit Museet.

 

 

 

Licorice, Tivoli Gardens and Freetown Christiana

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This picture taken in Freetown Christiana is one of the places where photos are allowed. The unique autonomous anarchist community frowns upon photos in most areas.

Licorice, Tivoli Gardens and Freetown Christiana.   What do these three vastly different things have in common? Well, they are all located in Copenhagen, so there is that. But like the multitude of bike riders that roll through the Danish city each day, each offers a distinctly unique version of the Danish lifestyle, so I thought I would lump them together for my post today.

Lakrids, Lakrids Everywhere!

The word lakrids strangely conjures up images of water bugs to me, but it is actually the Danish word for “licorice.”  Since Carolyn is a huge fan of this bittersweet root candy, when we saw some beautiful hard candies in The Viking Museum that the cashier said were licorice, she jumped at the chance to try some.  Since I’m not a big licorice fan, I passed when she offered me one the first time, and her comment when she tasted them were that they were “different.”

Heads up.  This ain’t your grandma’s licorice.

Later she offered Mike one and I decided to take the plunge with him.  The taste was very, very different. Salty, weirdly so, with a strong bitter licorice flavor that was almost medicinal.  Mike promptly spit his out of the car window and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t finish that.”  I tried to be more polite and sucked mine to the end, but it was difficult. I vacillated between wanting to spit mine out and silently judging Mike for not seeing his through to the end.

According the the official Danish website, Denmark produces some of the strongest liquorices in the world. “Salty liquorice is a speciality in Denmark and contains a large amount of ammonium chloride (salmiac),” the website states. “The brand Ga-Jol is Denmark’s most popular liquorice candy, with the Danes consuming over 600 million each year.”  That’s a lot of licorice.

There is even a two-day festival each year in Copenhagen devoted to, you guessed it, licorice.

They also put it in just about everything: beer, fudge, even ice cream.

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The store Lakrids by Johan Bülow in Tivoli Gardens specializes in all things licorice.

When we visited Tivoli Gardens, there was a whole store devoted to just licorice. I was definitely a little scared after the whole hard candy incident at the museum, but when Carolyn pushed forward into the licorice store at Tivoli, I followed her in.  I mean, how often do you get to visit a licorice store? When we walked in, the sales clerk was handing out samples and because the licorice was covered in chocolate, I decided to give it a second chance.

It turned out to be incredibly delicious, and I was so impressed that between Carolyn and I sampling so many of the candies, I think we upset the sales clerk.  But then Carolyn bought three packages of them, and I bought a pack at the airport on the way home, so I think we balanced out their losses.

Back at our Airbnb the next morning, I went to go throw out the coffee grounds, and I saw the trash was sprinkled throughout with the beautiful little hard licorice candies Carolyn had bought at the museum. I looked around for the guilty party. “Who threw the licorice away?” James, who hadn’t been at the museum with us, very matter-of-factly said, “I did. Those were nasty.”

And that was that.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens is an old amusement park right in the center of Copenhagen and offers another unique attribute to this wonderful city.  Copenhagen’s beautiful buildings tower over this charming vintage amusement park and harken back to the era of simpler entertainment and family fun.  According to the Visit Denmark website, the park opened on August 15, 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world.

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Mike and James at the entrance to Tivoli Gardens.

The beautiful place was like taking a step back in time, very charming and nostalgic, but I think it is probably a much prettier place in the spring once the weather is a little warmer, and the trees and flowers are in bloom.  I can definitely see why they shut down in the winter.  We went on the opening night of the park on a rather frigid March evening, and the crowds were a little sparse at first and it was freezing cold. Still, Danish children ran around with cotton candy (was it licorice flavored?) and thrill-seekers rode the Dæmon (The Demon) rollercoaster screaming their heads off as they flipped upside down and every which way.

Tivoli Gardens also has the world’s oldest wooden roller coaster that is still in operation called the Rutschebanen that was built in 1914. It is also called the Bjergbanen (The Mountain Coaster) because it travels around a small mountain.  All in all, I think Tivoli Gardens is a must-see, especially since it is said to have inspired Walt Disney, but only if you like theme-parks. And definitely wait until the weather is warmer…

Freetown  Christiana

One of the most unique places in Copenhagen has to be Freetown Christiana, an “autonomous anarchist” community where people live a green-life without cars or property ownership.  According to the Visit Denmark website, it was established in 1971 “by a group of hippies who occupied some abandoned military barracks on the site and developed their own set of society rules, completely independent of the Danish government.”

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It was a pretty crazy place to visit with wooden booths set up in one area called Pusher St. where merchants sat selling large chunks of hash and other marijuana items. Just a few people were stoned when we walked through and it felt pretty safe overall, but we visited in the morning hours. The night hours could be different, so be careful.

As we ambled around, I felt like I was in a time warp although I enjoyed looking at the different houses and buildings; some had artwork painted on them, and some had cool mosaics like the one above.  One home was built into a hill like a bunker and it’s door was so small it looked like a hobbit house.

It felt like stepping back to what I would imagine a 70s hippie commune would be like, so if you want to see a really “far out” place in Copenhagen, walk through Christiana.

Just don’t take pictures because apparently “what happens in Christiana, stays in Christiana.”  It’s drug activities are illegal elsewhere in Copenhagen as well as Denmark.

Is the Danish really Danish? (And other facts about Nordic Cuisine)

Suppose I told you the raspberry Danish pastry that we know and love in the USA didn’t originate with the Danish.  Blasphemy, you say.

No, it’s true. In Denmark pastries are called Weinerbrød (which translates to “Vienna bread”) after their origins in none other than Austria. In the 1850s bakers went on strike in Denmark, and the country hired some from Austria to fill in for them.  When the strike was over, the Austrians went home, but the recipes remained to be used and improved upon by the Danish.

Variations of these delectable pastries were everywhere on our recent stay in Copenhagen, and I found quite a slew of them in the bakery near our Airbnb rental.    Carolyn and I made quite a few bakery runs in the morning while we were staying outside of the city center.  I think we both enjoyed the brisk morning air watching the residents zoom by us on bicycles as much as we did the bakery itself.

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The Danish Hindbaersnitter is a delectable treat found at many bakeries in Copenhagen.

One look at the hindbærsnitter above and my brain started thinking about Pop-tarts.  But truth be told, the taste of the hindbærsnitter is so much better that it’s probably not fair to compare the Pop-tart to one.  These pastries literally fall apart in your mouth with their buttery goodness and then if you’re not careful, they’ll fall apart in your hands. The trick is to eat them fast. At least that’s what I did.  But in Copenhagen they are more of a special treat for children’s birthdays and not an everyday breakfast food.  Made from two thin buttery cookie-like pastries with raspberry jam in the middle, they are topped with a sugary glaze and decorated with the non-pareils. Very sweet and delectable!

Not so with the next item. It’s called rugbrød and forms the base of the open-faced sandwiches called “smørrebrød” that are a popular meal for many in Denmark. The bread is very dense and chewy, and the one below was served before our dinner and was quite good.  It was so rich that I was afraid to eat a whole piece before my dinner came.

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This dense bread forms the bottom of the open faced sandwiches called Smørrebrød popular in Denmark.

I was glad I refrained from eating the whole piece when I saw my dinner.  A pile of tiny shrimp, some raw tuna, pan fried fish with several different relishes, some tomatoes and some sour cream topped with fresh dill and I was in heaven. The yellow relish in the little dish was my favorite. The Danish call it “remoulade,” but it is very similar to our tartar sauce only it is sweeter, has larger chunks of sweet pickles and pickled onions in it, and has curry and yellow mustard for flavor and color.

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My first meal in Denmark was truly a treat.

One rainy evening we visited Torvehallerne, which is a food market in the center of Copenhagen. It has two glass enclosed sections with about 60 stalls between the two, which was perfect with the rain. We tried a real smørrebrød from Hallernes in this market and it was incredible.

IMG_0164The lady who waited on us said we were lucky we came late (around 4:30 p.m.) because the line had wrapped all around the place earlier. I believe it. The food not only looked beautiful, but it was pretty delicious.

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A wide variety of smørrebrød was available at Hallerne’s Smørrebrød.

While I was enjoying my smørrebrød, I noticed this bottle of Linie Aquavit from Norway sitting on the counter. IMG_0159I had to do some research when I saw the label saying it “matured at sea,” especially for my husband, Captain Mike, who would also love to mature at sea, although not in an oak sherry cask. Apparently aquavit is a Scandinavian liquor that has the taste of caraway seeds and fennel with notes of dill and anise. The Danish like to drink it with fish, and I didn’t realize until I got back to Croatia and actually researched it that I had had some aquavit in on a day trip to Helsingør that came free with the pickled herring I ordered. It was delicious together, and I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the pickled herring as much without it. So order some if you try pickled herring. You will thank me later.  Anyway, the Linie Aquavit travels all over rolling around on the sea in the barrels which gives it a really smooth finish.  I wish I would have tried it with the Salmon smørrebrød I ate at the market, although really good, I think it would have been even better.  You can see the small flute of it in the second picture below.  The first one is my plate of pickled herring, served with beets, mustard and pork fat (!!). The herring is hiding under the pile of fresh dill.

The Torvehallerne market itself is a must-see if you visit Copenhagen.  I’m told it is very busy throughout the year, but it’s worth hustling through a crowd to see all it has to offer. It also had some seating and produce booths outside the glass enclosure, which probably would be a nice place to hang out if the weather is good. Here are just a few pictures I took by the seafood section:

 

 

My next posts won’t be so food-oriented, but will be on a few of the places we visited in and around Copenhagen, including my husband’s favorite, The Viking Museum in Roskilde.  Hope you will wander along with us for the next leg of the journey.