With the completion of this week, I’ll have been in Copenhagen for the longest amount of time since I first got here! It’s kinda weird to think about and not something I can get used to because next week I’m off to Iceland for the Viking Class study tour. The summer is flying by! Before I know it, it’ll be my last week in Copenhagen with only a few more days to spend in Sweden before I head home to the States. Perhaps that’s why this past week has been spent in a flurry of tourist activity, prodded by the knowledge that Copenhagen will soon be a couple thousand miles away. But I had some familiar faces to join me on this tourist renaissance: my dad and brother! They came partly as a fun father/son summer trip and partly because my birthday was on Monday, although they left Copenhagen for Berlin on Sunday so they didn’t quite make it. But it was still a very lovely weekend with them and super nice to see some family.
The first week of the Vikings class was … interesting. Unfortunately for someone who is actually really interested in Viking history (a.k.a. me), most people in the class are only there for the sole purpose of going to Iceland. And the professor knows and recognized this, handing out the entire study tour itinerary on the first day of class. I won’t complain too much on this blog but let’s just say that the class is not fulfilling my hopes and dreams, I hardly feel like I’m re-living the Viking age and my brain is hardly filled to the brim with new knowledge. Added to that, Copenhagen isn’t even a Viking city! The shift of power to Copenhagen is actually relatively recent in history, the capital used to be Roskilde, which was a very important Viking age city. Dublin, Ireland is more Viking than Copenhagen. But that’s okay, we got to go to the Danish National Museum last Friday to look at the Viking exhibits, which were pretty cool. They had some amazing examples of rune stones and some incredibly preserved mummies from the pre-Viking era!
For those who are unaware, the Viking age is said to have begun in 793 A.D., with the attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne, an island off the coast of the old English kingdom of Northumbria. From this point all the way until about 1066, Vikings from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark pillaged and plundered all over Western Europe. Fun fact: the term ‘Viking’ actually comes from a verb that meant ‘to plunder’ so people would go ‘a viking’, which then became a title of the people doing the action! The Swedish Vikings even made it to Russia and Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the Norwegians made it all the way to North America. Viking ships were incredible, able to sail through open sea as well as rivers, which made them capable of pillaging wherever they felt like it. There are lots of debatable reasons as to why the Vikings started expanding. One is that there was some favorable climate change, which allowed Scandinavians to have better nutrition and resources, subsequently producing lots more children, who eventually had to compete for land. This competition then lead to the young men leaving their homes in search of new land, wealth, and glory. Another reason is that there was political unrest as Harald Bluetooth (his initials in the runic alphabet make up the Bluetooth symbol!) tried to unite Norway under his crown and banished everyone who wouldn’t pay tribute to him. A final reason is that they made some technological advances with shipbuilding techniques which allowed them to sail over more territory, prompting more trade and encouraging more plundering.
Okay, end of history lesson, but I highly encourage anyone interested to do some research on the Vikings. They’re a lot more complex and cool than the stereotypical giant with a horned helmet. I have a nice book list from my class so just let me know if you’d like any of those titles!
My dad and brother arrived on Thursday but since I had school the next day, we really just walked around and ate some food while they tried not to succumb to jet lag. We did have one wild adventure where we tried to rent some city bikes at rush hour and on the busiest street of Copenhagen… would not recommend. Although now I can say I biked in Copenhagen, the bike city so I guess it was all for the narrative. We met up on Friday after I had spent another few hours in the museum and walked over to an area of Copenhagen called Christiania. It’s on its own little island and is home to a very cute canal, the Church of Our Savior with an amazing golden spiral that you can climb up, and Freetown, a small village formed by squatters in the 70s that basically has its own laws. And having your own laws basically means that weed is legal. The buildings are sort of shabby and a lot of it is absolutely covered in beautiful graffiti, if you can see it through the haze of smoke. Just kidding, it really wasn’t that bad but there were a ton of people getting high. There was also lots of great music, one stage called Christiania Dub Club blasting music and another called Nemoland that hosts free concerts every Sunday evening in the summer. One of the cobble-stone streets of Freetown is lined with booths selling green and there’s also a bazar type of square, with lots of jewelry, clothing, and paraphernalia vendors! It was wild, it felt like stepping into an entirely different world.
We walked around there for a bit and then finally decided to grab some food near the metro station, we were not prepared to walk all the way back to Copenhagen’s city center, it’s a pretty long walk! We had surprisingly delicious burgers and then took the metro to Nørreport station, which is the largest metro station other than Copenhagen central. Nørreport is also conveniently place right smack in the middle of all the shopping areas so we were able to wander around there, eventually stumbling upon a piazza-esque square that was host to a large swing dancing group! In the center of the square there was a large, round stage where a ton of people were dancing. There was such a good vibe that we decided to stay and grab a drink and watch the dancing. I got a delicious Irish coffee with khalua, would definitely recommend.
We took our leave of each other after that magical little hour and I headed back to my apartment. I was in a people mood so I hung out at a party on the third floor of my building. We were being way too loud and were getting some complaints so we had to move our festivities to the outdoors, where some of us went on to this club called Butchers, conveniently right accross the street from our school building. That was quite the experience. It doesn’t really start getting busy until after midnight! Apparently it’s not a good night for Danes unless you stay out until like 4 or 5 in the morning.
I turned in early, however, because our Saturday adventure took us to Malmö, Sweden, just a 30 minute train ride away! It was great, I really liked Malmö. It had a rather sleepy vibe, very different from the hustle and bustle of Copenhagen. It was also a rather gray and rainy day so that might have had something to do with it. Our first major stop was Malmöhuset, which is a very modest castle/fortress built in the 1430s. I think it’s a really important stronghold that played a huge role in the Swedish-Danish wars. But it was sort of hard to focus on the history because my dad and brother are not big museum people so I had to focus on keeping them out of trouble instead. The museum also included a cannon tower and modern art wing but we didn’t go into the latter. We did stop in the maritime and science museum, which was pretty cool. We got to go into a part of a Swedish-made submarine! I can’t even imagine having to live in a submarine, that would be so miserable.
The rest of Malmö was food, food, food. And some walking too. We first stopped by this little taco shop, modeled after Southern Californian tacos! It was actually really good, although I can’t compare them to Southern Californian tacos because I’ve never had those. But the guy working said that that’s where the owner is from and he came over to Sweden and opened a taco shop. He sounds like a pretty interesting guy! We walked around the city a little more before stopping into this super cute cafe to experience the Swedish concept of fika, which is sitting down with a friend or two and relaxing over coffee and pastries! Definitely my type of thing. This cafe was owned and run by these two younger guys, one of whom used to live in Copenhagen! They make all their stuff and their decor was spot on. We sampled the carrot cake (heavenly), a gluten-free chocolate cake with some sort of whipped cream on top (amazing), and a piece of banana bread (incredible). We chatted with them for a while and waited for the run to stop before we headed back to Copenhagen.
And as if we hadn’t had enough food already, we decided to ball out for dinner as a celebration of sorts. We went to what used to be the meat-packing district and what is now a super trendy food and bar scene, still called Meat Packing district. It was really packed (hehe) so we grabbed a place where we could, which happened to be at this amazing Indian food place! It was so good, I felt very satisfied. Thus ended the Cusack reunion in Europe! I was sad to see the boys go but excited for their continuing tour of Europe. I had a quiet night at home, I felt exhausted and needed to process all that food.
I had to catch up on reading on Sunday as well as take care of a few administrative-type tasks but I managed to have a nice little solo adventure. I had made plans with some of the people in my building to go back to Christiania for the free concert every Sunday but they forgot we made those plans and didn’t end of joining me. Which wasn’t a bad thing, really, I had a good time by myself and I really enjoyed going back to Christiania. It was even more packed this time than on Friday because of the free concert at Nemoland. People were packed into the space in front of the stage and even on the hillside around it! It definitely had a festival-like feeling to it and that was a fun energy to be around. Plus it was almost my birthday so I was absorbing the good vibes and adding them to my own.
I began my birthday day with a hearty bowl of birthday porridge from the same Bowl Market that I went the first day. It was delicious and I felt incredibly satisfied by my choice in breakfast foods. I wish that the U.S. had more porridge places, that should definitely be a thing. It’s such a good breakfast food and good for you too! Class was class and we had a take-home test due the next day so that was sort of a bummer but a classmate and I continued playing the tourist by going to Rosenborg Castle, which is located right in the King’s Garden.
I think I wrote a little bit about it in my first post because we saw the outside of it during the DIS-cover scavenger hunt thing. The inside was pretty wild! It was extremely extravagant and some of the rooms even tried to copy rooms from Versailles, including a sadly pitiful room full of mirrors. There were also a ton of really fancy clocks, almost a few for every room! I thought that was a little strange. The great hall was also pretty cool. There were three lions guarding the thrones of the king and queen, a little excessive but definitely gets the point across. In the basement, you could see the crown jewels, which are still in use today! There aren’t as many as the crown jewels in London but there are still a lot and they are exquisite. I don’t think I’d personally ever wear them, they’re a bit too gaudy for me but it was really impressive to see. And I liked the fact that I was exploring a castle on my birthday!
My roommates were really sweet and one made me a chocolate cake with a google-translated ‘Happy Birthday’ in Latin! I was so grateful that they took the time to do that. And someone got a card and they all signed it! We got some ice-cream and red wine to complement the chocolate cake and it was really a nice ending to my birthday. I’m excited to be able to legally drink when I get back home, there’s a whole new world of possibilities for me now! I really want my first legal drink to be in a meadery but we’ll see where the wind blows.
Tuesday continued the tourist theme and I went with one of my floormates to the Glyptotek after class. It’s free admission on Tuesdays and has an amazing Classics collection! As well as Ancient Egyptian art and some French painting, which was fun to see also. After the Latin on my cake I was really missing the Classics so it was super fun to see some more familiar faces. The French painting collection also had some amazing Degas, Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. I had never heard of Gauguin before but his landscapes are gorgeous. We spent quite a long time there, almost 3 hours! There was a lot to see and getting in free is no joke so we utilized our time there. One of the coolest things about the Glyptotek is this massive room in the center that is almost like a botanical garden type of set up. It has a massive ceiling, koi ponds, and lots of benches and plants. The only downside is that is was really fricken hot in there.
Wednesday was an all-day field study for class where we visited the Roskilde cathedral, the Viking ship museum at Roskilde, and then the Viking fortress Trelleborg! We had a lot of mixed information coming into the day: we weren’t going to go inside the cathedral, we had to meet at 9:15 but we weren’t leaving until 9:30, we’d be getting back home around 3pm, we were supposed to go to Trelleborg first… blah, blah, blah. I guess I said I wouldn’t complain but here it is. It was a rainy day so our professor thought that if we did the mostly inside stuff first, we might be able to wait out the rain for Trelleborg, which was actually a good strategy. And we did get to go inside the cathedral, which was another bonus. Except, the professor talked to us outside the church for a while and by the time she finished, we had a really short amount of time in which to explore the entire cathedral, use the bathrooms, and see the farmers market that happens every Wednesday right outside. I was slightly bitter, I really like taking my time in museums and especially in cathedrals and this entire trip was really rushed. But at least we got to go and I’m happy about that.
Roskilde Cathedral’s major claim to fame is that is has the most buried royalty in all of Europe! And man does it have a lot of buried royalty. They believe that Harald Bluetooth built a small church there when he shifted his seat of power to Roskilde but nothing remains of the previous church. The cathedral itself was started in the 12th and 13th centuries and has been added onto ever since! Every time a chapel runs out of room for the monarchs, they built another one. One of the only bummers about this cathedral is that is was white-washed during the transition to Lutheranism during the Reformation so the walls of the church’s nave are a little bland but there is still plenty of extravagance to go around. We had to quickly go through it all and didn’t get a chance to go to the cathedral museum but it was still an enjoyable experience.
The Viking Ship museum at Roskilde was also pretty cool. They uncovered five viking ships that had been sunk to create a barrier in Roskilde’s fjord. It took them almost 30 years to rebuild and restore the ships and they are quite incredible to see! For some reason, I thought that all Viking ships would look the same but, like most ships from any civilization, it really depends on what they were being used for. War ships were longer and skinnier, built for speed and carrying warriors. Trade ships were typically shorter but deeper and wider to accommodate lots of trading goods. Two war ships and three trading ships were apart of the Roskilde find, making it one of the best Viking ship finds ever! Historians have been able to learn so much about Viking ship building techniques from studying these ships and putting them to the test in real life. The museum is host to a working ship-building yard that utilizes Viking age tools and techniques in the attempt to recreate what the ships would have been like. You can even sail a reconstructed Viking ship around the bay, which my class will actually be doing during our final week. The museum also has a ton of different craft booths, where you can learn how to weave, work in a smithy, and even participate in reconstructing a ship. It’s a super cool museum and I really wish we had more time there.
Our final stop of the day was Trelleborg, which is one of five fortresses constructed by Harald Bluetooth around Denmark and southern Sweden, used as a show of force for consolidating his power in Denmark. It was an incredibly big fortress with the remains of 16 big longhouses inside the ramparts that were most likely used as barracks. Outside the ramparts, there are an additional 15 longhouses that would have housed the other people working at the barracks, like cooks and prostitutes and the like. These fortresses are really unique, especially in the Viking age. Small forces would have been kept around a chieftain’s home but I don’t think it was common to have such a large standing force in one place. This just makes Harald’s show of power all the more impressive!
The museum at Trelleborg also reconstructed a Viking longhouse, which you can go into and sit around the fire. It was incredibly dark with only one hole in the ceiling to let out the smoke, which meant that the entire hall was super smokey! But it was really cool to be inside one of these longhouses and really imagine what it would have been like. The museum also had a tiny area filled with small huts where you could do activities like smelt a Thor’s hammer, bake Viking flatbread, paint a shield, and carve your name in runes on a piece of wood! Because we didn’t have much time, I opted to make the Viking flatbread, which turned out to be surprisingly good. The dough was already made for us so I’m not sure exactly what was inside of it but we got to roll it out and cook it on an iron pan over an open fire. The amount of smoke was ridiculous but the delicious bread made my burning eyes worth it.
All in all, it was a pretty good day and it felt nice to get out of Copenhagen for a little bit. We had an abstract due Friday for our final paper, which I think I’m going to write about the use of cults in the Old Norse religion. It should be a nice weekend because we don’t have any homework before our study tour! So stay tuned for my very own Icelandic saga.