Monthly Archives: July 2008

36 THE SWEDISH RIVIERA

36 THE SWEDISH RIVIERA

July 30, 2008

After my time off the ship in Copenhagen and the intense emotional experience of reconnecting with my Danish friends, I had a hard time getting my mind and heart back into the ship and the voyage.  My thoughts and feelings were elsewhere, and it took a few days to get fully re-engaged in the voyage.  That may have been part of my problem with our next stop, the Swedish resort island of Marstrand.  When we came into the harbor my comment was, “This looks like the Swedish Riviera.”  Of course, I’ve never been to the Riviera, so maybe I’m being unfair to it, but the warm weather, the rocky hills with few trees, the many boats, the red tile roofs, and the fortress looming over the town reminded me of my mental image of the Riviera.  The harbor was fairly small for a ship of our size, and the Picton Castle had just enough room to swing at her anchor.

Our view of Marstrand from the ship.

Our view of Marstrand from the ship.

When I got a chance to go ashore after a day of on-watch heavy labor on the ship in the hot sun, at first I felt like a tourist.  Then I realized that in this resort town not far from the major Swedish city of Gothemburg, everyone is a tourist, and if I didn’t look like a tourist, I would be even more out of place.  To be totally truthful, I never really got into Marstrand very much.  Sure, I strolled along the waterfront people watching and looking into some of the stores that sell what stores in tourist towns always sell.  I had a great lunch with my friend Thomas—the second mate—of smoked mackerel, smoked and baked salmon, and a seafood pate, washed down with the local beer.  We explored the fortress and walked along the rocky shore where the Swedes were enjoying the sun and the water, but my heart wasn’t totally into it.  Maybe it was because my heart and mind were still in Copenhagen, or because I don’t know any Swedish, or the people weren’t that friendly, or I have absorbed some Danish antipathy towards the Swedes, or I was frustrated because I spent a lot of time trying in vain to get wifi to get on the internet to send my journal entries to you.  But while it was interesting to see how the Swedes play, Marstrand wasn’t my favorite place.  I think I will like Norway better.

The view from the fortress.

The view from the fortress.

The Swedes enjoy the shores of Marstrand.

The Swedes enjoy the shores of Marstrand.

My low opinion of Marstrand may have been shared to some degree by other members of the crew, but they are a resourceful bunch who could find fun in a barrel.  As usual, once ashore they all scattered to find their own experience.  Most explored the I town and hiked the island, two checked into a grand old hotel, a number spent a night ashore camping in the woods, the usual group hit the local bars to drink beer and meet the locals, one made his usual exploration in search of the seedy side of life, two spent all night at a big party set up in a cavern—a “rave in a cave,” Thomas and I enjoyed the local seafood and explored the castle, many swam from the rocky shores and dove from a small dock, and some enjoyed the topless Swedish women.  Back on board—since the weather was hot and the water was warm—some of the crew rigged a line to the end of the foreyard, to use as a swing, launching from the height of the foc’sle to swing out over the water and drop into it.  Nate, who grew up on an island in Puget Sound, did fantastic aerial acrobatics.  The evening brought a quiet, lingering sunset.



Our passage from Martrand to Norway was a fairly slow one in light air.  Once at sea we re-established the rhythm of the watches and resumed our usual duties of helm, lookout, scubbing the deck, washing the dishes, cleaning the heads, etc.

On this passage the Captain held the last of his periodic classes on making a ditty bag.  Not only does each participant come out of the class with a useful storage container, but more important, he or she is introduced in the process to the basic skills of the sailmaker: seaming, tabling (hemming), making grommets and sewing them in, and sewing on a rope at the top as you would sew a rope on the edge of the sail.  In this final class, the Captain showed us how to make and install a sturdy wooden bottom, and slice on a rope handle, called a becket, and serve the splice with marlin tightly would around it to protect and preserve the splice.  We all gathered in a circle around the Captain and watched with rapt attention, eager to learn these traditional skills.

During our night watches we enjoyed the almost midnight sun.  This far north, the sun sets after nine o’clock, with a long lingering sunset, but the sky never gets completely dark.  There is always a glow in the sky, as the sun—which has set in the northwest—moves across below the northern horizon to rise in the northeast.

35 IS THIS THE FUTURE?

35 IS THIS THE FUTURE?

July 28, 2008

Windmills on the coast of Sweden.

Windmills on the coast of Sweden.

From five or ten miles offshore, the western coast of Sweden looks much like the coast of Maine—green hills with higher hills behind them.  Except for one thing: the windmills.  While we in the US bemoan the soaring price of energy and gasoline at four or five dollars a gallon, Europe has been dealing with much higher energy costs for a long time.  In Denmark the price of gasoline when I was there was over eleven dollars a gallon.  As a result, in order to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, the Danes and Swedes have made a heavy investment in huge windmills to generate electrical power.  My guess is that they are happy that they did as the price of oil has risen.  Any power they can get from the wind represents oil they don’t have to pay for or fight for.  In addition, I saw a nuclear power plant on the coast of Sweden.

Windmills outside Copenhagen Harbor.

Windmills outside Copenhagen Harbor.

I have seen these windmills in Germany, the smaller Danish islands, in profusion around Copenhagen, and in Sweden.  Is this the future for us in Maine and the United States as well?  I can hear the arguments on both sides.  On one hand, wind and nuclear power would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and by extension some of the strange alliances and wars we find ourselves in, and they would reduce pollution and global warming as well.  On the other hand, I can hear a lot of people saying, “Sounds great, as long as someone else pays for them and they’re not in my backyard where I have to see and deal with them.”

I don’t know all the practical and financial considerations, so there may be problems and costs I don’t know about, but they make a lot of sense to me.  The fact that they have built a lot of windmills must bring down the cost of each unit, and I think the advantages listed above are real. Maybe the visual pollution and investment are worth the advantages.  And I found that much as I like wild natural vistas, I got used to seeing windmills.  What do you think?

34 A DAY IN COPENHAGEN

34 A DAY IN COPENHAGEN
July 26, 2008
We spent five days in Copenhagen, but my priority was seeing my Danish friends so I had little time in the city.  It was a choice I happily made, in part because I had seen a great deal of Copenhagen when I lived there years ago.  Still, it is a city that I love and if I had the time, I could have easily spend a week there getting reacquainted.  I did take most of one day to walk around the city with my friend Thomas, the second mate of the Picton Castle.  Thomas indulged me in a quick nostalgic tour of the popular tourist sites.

We walked out to see the Little Mermaid statue—nauseatingly overrun by tourists—and visited another tell ship in port, the Italian Navy’s Amerigo Vespucci.  This mammoth ship, with its immaculately uniformed crew of 400, is about as different from the Picton Castle as is possible.  More interesting was the magnificent Geffion fountain, wandering through picturesque Nyhavn, and visiting a nautical antique shop.  We had a memorable lunch overlooking the harbor from a herring buffet, eating our fill of many preparations of the tasty fish.

Nyhavn.

Nyhavn.

The Geffion Fountain.

The Geffion Fountain.

We strolled up Stroget, the famous walking street of fancy shops, mobbed with throngs of people on this beautiful day.  We still found some areas that were beautiful and not too crowded, like this square where people were selling flowers and ice cream.

A square along Stroget, the walking street.

A square along Stroget, the walking street.

Stroget is a wonderful place for people watching, and I saw many interesting faces.  There were even costumed performers posing as human statues.

An ice cream vendor.

An ice cream vendor.

A human statue.

A human statue.

The town hall square.

The town hall square.

At the end of Stroget is Radhusplatzen, the Town Hall square, with hotdog stands scattered around its vast open space.  It was a place I remembered well from my student days, when I learned to say “Polser er beste i radhus platzen.”  A return through the antiques district and an ice cream in the shade to cool off from the hot day completed the tour.  Yes, it was touristy, but there is a time for touristy, and with Thomas’ good company, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I was sad to leave Copenhagen, for many reasons.  On our way out we saw a few more sights from the water.

The Amelienborg Palace.

The Amelienborg Palace.

Kroneborg Castle, north of Copenhagen.

Kroneborg Castle, north of Copenhagen.

33 FALSTER

33 FALSTER

July 25, 2008
During my second day with Lise and Lasse, they took me to her family’s summer home on the island of Falster, an hour-an-a-half drive south of where they live.  It was one of a series of beautiful warm summer days and, after a stop at Lasse’s job site in Copenhagen so he could tell them he was taking the day off, we sped south on a new highway—at least new since I was last there 40 years ago—and crossed a new bridge to the island.  Falster is a rural island of farms and little villages.  It is a place that time has forgotten, looking much the same as it did 40 years ago, and no doubt little different than it did a hundred years ago and more.  The cottage is in the village of Moseby, Lise’s father’s ancestral village and the place where he grew up.  He was a man with a strong sense of history who—when I was a student—took me to the Danish National museum and the museum of Danish resistance in WWII and explained the history to me.  Knud also told me about the history of this village, which meant so much to him that he changed the family name to an earlier spelling of its name.

The gently rolling farmland outside the village looked the same as I remembered, and I recognized the pink church with its square tower where Knud is buried.  The village too looked the same with its single street of cottages with a few farm buildings scattered among them, all surrounded by fields.  And there was the cottage, low, thatched roofed, standing just off the road like its neighbors, looking the same as it has looked for the 300 years since it was built.  Arriving there felt like a homecoming.

The Morsby family summer house in the village of Moseby, Falster Island

The Morsby family summer house in the village of Moseby, Falster Island

Lise’s brother John is also an engineer, who married a woman whose family also has a summer house in Moseby.  They and their son live on the Jutland peninsula, a day’s journey away, so they don’t get to visit often.  But they were vacationing in the village, partly to see her mother.  It was wonderful to see John, and meet his charming wife and son and to learn about their lives during a leisurely and sumptuous lunch of open-faced sandwiches and beer in the garden of the summer house.

Lunch in the garden of the house in Moseby with John and his family.

Lunch in the garden of the house in Moseby with John and his family.

One of the most distinctive parts of Danish cuisine, and my personal favorite, is the famous open-faced sandwiches or smorbrod for lunch (the initial O has a slash through it and is pronounced closer to “Er”.)  Smorbrod literally means “buttered bread.”  You usually start with a thin slice of a dark and dense rye bread and butter it.  After that, using this platform, the possibilities are almost endless: herring pickled, smoked, or in cream or curried sauce, or other fish; all kinds of sausages and cheeses; sliced turkey, chicken, ham or roast beef; sliced vegetables, and even (so that food group isn’t neglected) thin slices of chocolate.  But the real art comes in adding the condiments on top: a curried sauce called remoulade is my favorite, perhaps with French-fried onions on top.  There is a seemingly infinite variety of condiments, and applied artfully, they make the meal truly elegant to the eye and magnificent to the palate.  It had been long enough that I was a little overwhelmed by the possibilities and needed some help with the combinations, but I ate with relish.

Of course this leisurely feast was accompanied by plenty of beer and excellent conversation, not to mention the ambience of the shaded garden on a summer’s day with the view in one direction of the cottage and in the other a peek through trees at the fields beyond.  John and his family seem to have a quiet and contented life, though I suspect that they miss being closer to Falster and Copenhagen.  All of this extended family speak excellent English, and the conversation drifted back and forth effortlessly between English and Danish as we talked of our lives and those of our families.

After lunch we went into the house so I could show them some pictures of my trip on my computer, which I had picked up when we stopped at my ship on our way through the city.  It was fun to share my travels with them.  While my computer was on, I noticed to my utter astonishment that in this 300 year-old thatched-roofed cottage in this tiny, timeless, isolated village, I was getting wifi!  That such a place was wired for the internet amazed me with the contrast between old and new.  If it was there, I figured I might as well use it, and called Barbara on Skype.  [For those of you who don’t know, Skype is a way of making phone calls over the internet, either from a computer to a phone or from one computer to another, in which case you can see the person you are calling on your computer screen.]  I introduced Barbara to Lise and her family with each able to see the other, took the computer out into the road and slowly panned so she could see the house and village, and showed her the interior of the house in similar fashion.  Barbara had grabbed an old photo album of mine and held it up to her computer’s camera so Lise could see pictures of herself, her family, and the cottage that I had taken long ago.  It was a surreally wonderful experience that warped time and space.

The interior of the summer house in Moseby.

The interior of the summer house in Moseby.

We visited a nearby exhibit of local archeological artifacts and fossils, then drove to the local harbor and beach where we had gone when I lived there so long ago.  The sights of the stony beach backed by a low bluff topped with forest and the small and ancient fisherman’s harbor brought back floods of memories.  By then it was time to begin to wend our way back to Copenhagen.  I bought Lise and Lasse a dinner at a lovely old inn along the way, a nice cap to a perfect day.

Sailboats in one of the channels around Falster.

Sailboats in one of the channels around Falster.

Visiting the summerhouse where we had spent idyllic time long ago, and further talk about ourselves, our families, our lives, and our hopes and fears, further deepened and strengthened the  emotional bonds I felt with Lise and Lasse. Returning to my ship after such a different and emotionally intense experience was a difficult adjustment.  Everyone was talking excitedly about different parts of the city they had seen and different experiences with people they met.  It was impossible for me to convey my experience—so different from theirs—which had involved stepping into much more of the real Denmark and a far deeper connection with people than they were likely to have experienced or could understand.

32 COPENHAGEN—AN OLD FRIEND

32 COPENHAGEN—AN OLD FRIEND
July 24, 2008

Copenhagen is the first large city of our trip, and the whole crew seemed to look forward to it with eager anticipation.  I awoke in the morning after the night watch of our overnight sail from Kosor to see that we had just passed Elsinore, the Castle where Hamlet didn’t live.  (Shakespeare set his play there, but the castle was built after king Hamlet—if he really existed—would have lived. It is, however, a lovely old castle and the tourists don’t know this, so they come and enjoy it anyway.)  A few hours more and we were in the outer approaches to the harbor.  I saw a curved row of ten giant power-generating windmills and the huge new bridge to Sweden as we approached, evidence of new investments in infrastructure.  The harbor itself is a fairly narrow channel with new modern buildings interspersed with lovely old ones on either side. As we passed a docked cruise ship she gave three long blasts on her horn, a greeting from her captain to ours, old friends from when they both were crew on the Danish sail training ship Danmark. Along the shore we saw the famous statue of the Little Mermaid.  Taken from the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s story, this statue has become the icon that symbolizes the city. We tied up to the quay just outside Nyhaven, the “New Harbor,” a short channel built into the heart of city in something like 1600.

As we came alongside the quay, Chibley, the ships cat, was the first one ashore with an eager leap. Once we had tied up and had everything squared away and shipshape, the off watches began to scatter: to explore the city on one of the ships three bicycles, to visit the trendy restaurants and shops of Nyhavn, to stroll Stroget—the walking street filled with fancy stores, to seek out the city’s many parks and museums, or to just wander and see what they would find.  I saw an air of energy and eagerness among the crew greater than any other port we have visited

I did something different.  I made a nervous phone call.  Forty-four years ago (it is frightening to think of such a long time span) I was a student in Copenhagen taking courses at the University and living with a Danish family in the northern suburb of Kongens Lyngby.  It was a wonderful experience for me.  The Morsby family—with whom I lived—were a wonderfully close family with four children.  They all welcomed me into their family and I quickly felt very close to all of them.  They shared their home and their lives and taught me much about Denmark and about what a close loving family is like.  I went back to visit them in 1965 and again in 1968, but then I lost touch with them as I moved a dozen times in the decade after I lived with them and wasn’t a very good correspondent.  I never forgot them, however, and never stopped wondering and caring about what had happened to them all.

The member of the family I was closest to was Lise  (pronounced Lisa), then a very pretty and engaging teenager.  Recently I had obtained contact information for her and had written her a short letter from Ireland saying I would be in Copenhagen and would like to see her.  She had written an email back, saying that she would like to see me and that a visit could easily be arranged.

From the scant information I had, I knew that she is married with three grown children, living in a suburb north of Copenhagen.  What would it be like to meet?  Our brief notes gave no clue. Forty years is a long time.  What do you say to someone after all that time?  Would we be strangers?  Or would some of the old closeness be there? How would her husband look on a man who had once been in love with his wife?

There was only one way to find out, so I made the call.  A male voice answered, her son, who seemed to know who I was.  Then Lise was on the phone, and the old warmth was there.  The arrangements were quickly made: I would be off the next day and they would pick me up at ten.

A silver Mercedes van arrived at the appointed time and there they were: Lise—older but still very much the same person—and Lasse—her husband.  She seemed very happy to see me, and he welcomed me cordially.  We began catching up immediately as they drove me to their home, winding out of the city to a northern suburb.  I felt at ease almost instantly when I realized that the much of the old connection was there for both of us. Their house, much of which they built themselves, is modern without being self-conscious or pretentious about it.  Surrounded by trees, and beyond them by farmer’s fields, it is in a very quiet and pastoral scene.

Lise and Lassse’s house, in the country north of Copenhagen.

Lise and Lassse’s house, in the country north of Copenhagen.

Lise had been back to school after I had last seen her for training as a kindergarten teacher and had a long and successful career teaching little children.  Lasse is a civil engineer who works on the construction of large buildings.  His work had taken them on sojourns in exciting places like Morocco and Iceland.  Their oldest child, Christina, is an architect living and working in Holland.  Their two sons, Alexander and Michael, live at home: one an avid bicycle racer and the other an apprentice bricklayer.  Both are very handsome and nice young men.

We talked on for hours, remembering the old times, and talking of how things are now.  Lise told me about each member of her family—whom I was eager to learn about—her father’s sudden and premature death, her mother’s infirmities, her older sister’s marriage, three children and recent tragic death, her brother living in Jutland with his wife and son, and the baby of the family who is now married and with four children of her own.

Alexander, Lasse, Lise, and Michael at dinner in the garden of their home.

Alexander, Lasse, Lise, and Michael at dinner in the garden of their home.

I had thought that the visit might only last a few hours, but we talked through lunch and dinner and into the evening.  It was easy to accept their invitation to stay the night and it was wonderfully strange for me to sleep in a real bed—that didn’t move—in a real house far from the ship, my crew, and the harbor.

In the morning I took a walk through the countryside around their home: woods and fields golden in the morning light and impressionistic in the morning mist.  Here only twenty minutes drive from my ship and the city I was in a different world, a very Danish world that most visitors would never see, a world where I felt very accepted, comfortable and happy.  I was so glad I called.

       A walk in the early morning mist in the countryside near Lise and Lasse’s house.

A walk in the early morning mist in the countryside near Lise and Lasse’s house.

31 THE OLD DANISH SHIPS IN KORSOR

31 THE OLD DANISH SHIPS IN KORSOR

July 21, 2008
Denmark is a nation of islands, so out of necessity it has long been a nation of seafarers, to connect the parts of this small nation and to have commerce with the rest of the world.  The Danes developed vessels adapted to their often-narrow channels and small harbors, vessels that traded around the Baltic Sea to Danish, German, Swedish, and Norwegian ports.  They have been wise enough to preserve a good number of these old vessels—many of them now more than a hundred years old—which now earn their keep not by carrying farm produce and manufactured goods as they did a hundred years ago, but by carrying sail training students, charter guests, and—in one case—the logo of a Danish beer brewer.  Each year they gather at the port of Korsor for a rendezvous and race.  Our captain was invited to join them, and accepted.

For two days after we arrived, more and more of the old ships straggled into the harbor, until the harbor—ringed by an old fort and other old buildings and filled with these old ships—began to look like it might have a hundred years ago. Then there would have been a large number of these Baltic trading vessels here and maybe a big square rigged ship in from some distant voyage (in this case played by our ship.)

The harbor in Korsor filled with old ships. Ours is in the back on the  right, with all the square yards.

The harbor in Korsor filled with old ships. Ours is in the back on the right, with all the square yards.

For much of my life I have been a very amateur student of naval architecture/boat design, so walking along the quay and studying these ships fascinated me.  I was able to pick out one large three-masted schooner as Dutch built because its plumb stem and rounded counter stern are similar to the Dutch schooner Regina Chatarina I sailed on.

Galeass bows.

Galeass bows.

Elbe 5’ pump.

Elbe 5’ pump.

Galeas sterns.

Galeas sterns.

One traditional Danish type of sailing vessel is the galease, marked by a full round bow with a gently curved stem, and a flat, heart-shaped transom.  These vessels range in size from about 50’ and upwards, are usually painted black with white detailing on their rub rails, and are rigged as gaff ketches, although larger versions of the same hull design are rigged as schooners or even three-masted schooners, often with a square topsail.  There were many versions of this design in the harbor, as shown in the photograph above.  I spent much time studying the variations on the theme, with the same basic hull having sometimes a different pointed stern, and with a variety of minor variations in rigging.  I talked to the crews of several of these vessels at length about the differences and the origins and reasons for them.

At one point I was walking along the quay and encountered two of my shipmates, Luke and Tim, trying to talk their way aboard a vessel for a tour.  This ship had a crew of mostly teenagers and Luke was trying to talk to a very pretty girl about 16 years old.  He kept asking her a question, but she apparently spoke little English and couldn’t understand Luke’s heavy Australian accent.  Luke kept repeating his question and she would reply—in Danish—with the question, “What are you saying?”  And both seemed to be getting increasingly frustrated.  I understood what she was saying from my paltry Danish and said to Luke, “She doesn’t understand you, let me try.”  I then repeated Luke’s question slowly and clearly in an accent that she was more familiar with.  The girl understood me and gave us an answer.  I then went on to leave them to their quest.

One ship stood out from all the rest.  Painted white, this slim schooner has raked masts and a plumb stem and rounded counter stern more prevalent in the North Sea.  Her name is No 5 Elbe, and in a fleet where nearly every ship proudly flew the Danish flag, hers was German.  Her crew was mostly men over 50, so I had better luck talking with them than with the teenagers, and got invited aboard for a tour and heard her story.  She was built as a pilot schooner to deliver pilots to ships sailing up the Elbe river to Hamburg.  When she was eventually replaced by a power vessel, she was sold to an American, renamed Wander Bird, and sailed around the world as a training vessel for young people.  Her first mate on that voyage was a man named Irving Johnson, who had earlier sailed around Cape Horn on the great German four-masted bark Peking, and made a film of that experience which is now a classic among sailors.  Inspired by the idea of sail training for young people, Irving Johnson bought another North Sea pilot schooner and named her Yankee.  He and his wife Exy sailed that ship and a subsequent brigantine also named Yankee a number of times around the world with young people as crew.  As a boy I followed their voyages in the National Geographic, and those articles spawned my own dreams of such a voyage.  Irving and Exy Johnson started the modern sail-training tradition, and when the Los Angeles Maritime Institute wanted to start a sail training program they built two twin brigantines and named them Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson.  Several years ago I had the privilege of sailing on the Exy Johnson out of Los Angeles to California’s Channel Islands.

I was thrilled to see the vessel that started it all and to tour her.  Down below she is quite original, including some Victorian flourishes reflecting her having been built in the 1880s.  She was acquired in recent years by a group, who has returned her to her original name and original homeport and who sail her actively.

Danish flags flown on the old ships in Korsor.

Danish flags flown on the old ships in Korsor.

Monday morning was cloudy with a drizzling and spitting rain, but these ships had gathered to race and one-by-one they left the wharf and motored out of the harbor in a slow parade.  The Picton Castle was in the middle of this parade, standing out with her larger size and square yards like a cow among the sheep.  Once out in the open waters of Stor Belt they all raised sail, and we with them.  They were an inspiring sight as they milled around before the start of their race, like a painting from 100 years ago.  We started the race with all the rest, but then broke off to sail on to Copenhagen.

The traditional ships maneuvering before the start of their race.  No 5 Elbe is theWhite schooner in the foreground.

The traditional ships maneuvering before the start of their race. No 5 Elbe is theWhite schooner in the foreground.

30 THE VIKING FESTIVAL

30 THE VIKING FESTIVAL

I hadn’t planned on going.  We came to the port town of Korsor (the second O has a slash through it and is pronounced more like the French eur), on the western side of the island of Sjaelland—the island that Copenhagen is on—for a gathering of traditional ships.  And I had planned to look more closely at those that had already arrived.  But Korsor—once an important port for ferries—seems like it has been down on its luck since a huge bridge replaced the ferry, and there didn’t seem to be much of interest in the town after I had visited the little local history museum, and only a few of the old ships had arrived.

As I walked along the waterfront to see the ships I was hailed by my shipmate Nick, who said “Want to come to the Viking Festival?”

“Sure,” I said on impulse.  A kind local man had arranged for two cars to take a group of us on the twenty-minute trip to Trelleborg where there is an ancient Viking site and museum, which was hosting the festival.  I wasn’t expecting much, half anticipating that it was some sort of cheesy affair designed to bring in tourist money.

Outside the Viking long house.

Outside the Viking long house.

I was very pleasantly surprised.  The museum holds a lot of artifacts excavated from the Viking fortress that lies behind it—its earthen ramparts still visible after a thousand years.  A recreation of a Viking long house stands back near the fortress.  In a field behind the museum, between it and the fortress, was the festival.  It reminded me of a Renaissance fair I once went to.  All of the participants were dressed in Viking costume, and there seemed to be a great emphasis on authenticity and historical accuracy,
in their dress, in the canvass tents in which they were living, the open fires and utensils they were using to cook with, and the hand crafted wares they were selling.  Yes, there were wooden swords and shields for the kids, but also beautiful wooden chests, period jewelry, arms and armor, knives and other utensils.

Viking Maiden.

Viking Maiden.

Viking helmet

Viking helmet

I wandered among the tents drinking in the sights, feeling very much that this must be close to what it was like a millennium ago.  The tents were hand-sewn rough canvass, the clothing homespun, the cooking was over open fires with wrought iron utensils, the helmets and arms were hand-forged steel, and the wonderful smell of lamb roasting over an open fire permeated the air.  Merchants were selling their wares from their tents, much as they must have in Viking times.

Scenes from the Viking Festival.

Loud cries announced the re-enactment of a battle that took place on this site long ago, and I followed the crowds across a field close to the earthworks of the fortress.  Two long troops of men marched out of different sides of the fortress and formed up facing each other.  Each warrior was dressed in what looked like authentic Viking clothing, and carried what looked like authentic Viking weapons.

There was much yelling at each other, blustering and speechifying, which I didn’t understand since it was in Danish.  No doubt they were arguing the issues that led to the long-ago battle, psyching themselves up, and trying to frighten the other side. (Much like a modern political campaign, I thought.)
.

Lining up the battle lines

Lining up the battle lines

Eventually the speeches seemed to come to naught, and the battle lines tightened up and advanced on each other.  When they met, all of the warriors set to with gusto and there was the clang of sword against sword, the slap of swords and spears against shields, and individual warriors began to fall.  They continued until one side was decimated and vanquished.  Then all the fallen arose and there was a series of individual contests, the purpose of which I didn’t quite follow.

This mock battle was conducted with only a modicum of melodrama and considerable authenticity.  It wasn’t hard to imagine what the ancient battle must have looked like, though I never found out its outcome or historical significance.  I’m not sure how much historians know, but they do know from their excavations that a battle occurred since they have found mass graves of young men killed in battle.

The melee of battle.

The melee of battle.

After the battle.

After the battle.

When peace was restored, Nick and I returned to the encampment and wandered among the tents. At the tent of a particularly picturesque merchant he bought a reproduction Viking knife, beautifully hand made.  And at another stand we bought and ate a lunch of lamb, freshly sliced off a carcass being turned on a spit over an open fire, wrapped in a whole grain flatbread cooked on a skillet suspended over the fire.  We had watched as the food was prepared with our mouths watering.  To accompany this feast we drank a dark ale laced with mead—a wine made from honey.

The Viking merchant from whom Nick bought his knife.

The Viking merchant from whom Nick bought his knife.

In one tent a man was making and selling little medallions with runes—the written language of the Vikings—on them.  He and his daughter—a young woman whose flaming red hair blended with the long fur of her costume—had cast these medallions and were carefully filing the edges smooth.  I bought one with a double rune on it that the man said means “Safe journey and safe return.”  It seemed appropriate.

A little more time among the tents and in the museum and it was time to go.  I came away feeling like I had had a great experience that took me into another world and another time.