A Travellerspoint blog

6: Warszawa

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Early start as I had to catch a 10am flight to Warsaw. The airport was really funny.. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has changed the check in procedure and it is now all manual check in using little ATM style machines.. this is no issue and is quite easy to use and then you take your bag to baggage drop where the tellers then check your passport weigh your luggage and send it on its way…. (not sure how much time it actually saves because at least 1:10 stuff up or don’t know how to check in and they have to fix it!!)

Anyway the queue from the bag drop was at least 500m long.. it snaked its way through the whole of the downstairs concourse of the airport!! Just hilarious! I had plenty of time before my flight so I could find the whole process amusing.. there were plenty of customers who weren’t so happy!!!

Flight was uneventful and we landed at Chopin International Airport.. I learnt something today that Chopin was born and raised in Warsaw! On leaving the terminal (and there isn’t much of a terminal) I was accosted by at least two different taxi drivers trying to steal my luggage and take me to their taxi.. I did my usual “shake the head, no polish” and kept walking.. Found the tourist info desk and was sadly disappointed at the lack lustre response from the chick at the desk.. The only useful info she could give me was that it should cost me about 40 zlt to get into town.. So my taxi drivers came back again and tried to get me to go with them.. (at a price 3 times what the lady had told me).. not wanting to get totally ripped off I kept walking to the bus stop.. One nice old polish taxi driver stopped me and told me he would do it for 50 (about 16 dollars) so I accepted and hopped in.

Funny trip as he spoke very little English but we had a fun time he trying to tell me about different landmarks and me trying to work out what he was saying.. I worked out that Dobsze means Ok (this got used a fair bit) and that Jink-where is Thankyou..

Anyway arrived at my hostel to find it in the middle of the “Old Town”. It was rebuilt after WWII, and rebuilt so well that it has UNESCO heritage listing!! Really quite beautiful. Lots of really old, colourful buildings surrounding cobblestoned squares with fountains! Really nice..

First impression of Warsaw is really good—by the way, Warsaw is actually pronounced Varshava by the local population—the w sound in polish is pronounced with a v and they tack an a onto the end!).. Nice city but a spread city! Spent the afternoon just wandering the streets of the Old Town. Each building in the Old Town seems to house a different type of shop or museum.. I mean the Old Town must have more Antique stores per square meter than any other place! I just love it!! Each of the antique stores sells the strangest collection of gear.. today I saw WWII uniforms right next to a Marilyn Monroe poster!! Just great!

Decided to turn in early to get a good start tomorrow to start discovering the museums etc of Warsaw.

Posted by weary_feet 10:20 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

5: Royal Crypts

rain 13 °C
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Another early start and another train trip to another part of Denmark. This time I left Copenhagen for Roskilde. Roskilde is on the western side of Zealand and is about 35min from downtown Copenhagen (actually to get to the furthest part of Denmark from Copenhagen only takes 2.5hrs!)

The whole day was wet, windy and damn cold (top temp today was only 13 deg) and I was not really prepared for that cold a day so I was feeling a mite miserable for most of it!!

Anyway got off the train and walked into town to see Roskilde Cathedral. Roskilde is the traditional capital city of Denmark and was founded before 1000 AD. It was the main Viking stronghold in Denmark and has many Viking relics; it is also home to Roskilde Cathedral- UNESCO listed cathedral that houses all of the tombs of the Danish royal family since the 1500s.

I arrived at the church to realise that it was a Sunday and the cathedral wouldn’t be open til after lunch.. now considering it was about 10.45 and it was raining, cold and nothing was open I was feeling a touch grumpy with myself for not working all of this out earlier back in my nice snug room! I mean “deh, its Sunday of course the cathedral isn’t going to be open to visitors!” Anyway my guide book said that there was a Viking museum and village in the town so I thought I’d go for a wander and see if I could find it.. I mean I’d come all this way (not) on the train so I may as well stick out the time til the church opened—I did debate with myself for at least 10min as to whether I was better to just cut my losses and return to Copenhagen…

As it turned out the Viking museum was a very pleasant 10 min walk down the hill from the cathedral to the sea through the cathedral’s park lands. I blessed myself with holy water coming from a fountain on the way to the museum—the fountain is supposedly supposed to heal ailments and is dedicated to St John the Baptist.. I figured I couldn’t go wrong and anointed myself to keep away any bugs and germs… we all know that holy water is better than boiled don’t we??? (those of you who know my St Benedict story will know what I’m talking about).

The museum itself is based around a tonne of archaeological digs that have been carried out in the area and all obviously from the Viking age. The Viking age in Denmark is from 800AD to about 1300AD. The museum is home to 5 Viking age ships—not in as good shape as the ones we saw in Oslo but still interesting. I was fortunate to attend a guided tour that was conducted by one of the archaeologists so I got a bit more detail about their life and times. Apparently they had different types of ships—merchant, war boat and fishing.. The museum has examples of all three. The ships were excavated off the ocean floor and they believe that the ships were actually sunk by the Vikings to blockade part of the fjord leading up to Roskilde for defensive reasons.

When the Vikings went to war they had approx. 30 to 35 warriors assigned to each boat.. from a space perspective it means that each warrior had enough room to lie down but not enough to do much more! The bottom of the boat would be filled with provisions and weapons and at the most they could only carry 5 days of provisions with them, so it is likely that merchant boats would have gone with them to cook and carry food for the warriors.

Interesting fact- Vikings did not wear helmets with horns!! None have ever been found on any of the excavations so the archaeologists are baffled where that description of a Viking comes from!

The Danes have also built a replica Viking boat and have sailed it to Ireland. It took them 55 days round trip from Roskilde to Dublin and back! The boat was manned as it would have been in Viking days and looking at the footage you can see why they didn’t have any space.. they barely had space to sit let alone lie down to sleep!

After a journey into the Viking age I returned back up the hill to see the cathedral. The cathedral is one of the earliest erected in Denmark and is the traditional seat of the Lutheran (was a Catholic cathedral) Church in Denmark. It also houses the Danish Royal crypts. It is quite spooky to walk around a cathedral with all of these marble coffins everywhere.. I mean there are bodies that are decaying in there!!!! It was also quite different to the one I went to in St Petersberg—there it was very ornate and grandiose so it sort of took away from the fact that there were actually people buried inside! This cathedral is quite large and there weren’t’ many tourists so the vaults tended to echo a bit, it was quite cold and poorly lit so the overall feeling was quite spooky!!!

Like probably all royal vaults there were some monster mausoleums.. you could tell who the rich kings were!

Left the ABC and returned back to Copenhagen miserably wet and cold (that was partly because I lost my umbrella in the Cathedral and when I went hunting I discovered that it had been taken…. :( )

Oh well, last day in Copenhagen has certainly been different! Off to Warsaw tomorrow!

Posted by weary_feet 06:34 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

4: To be or not to be?

overcast 21 °C
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Today was a pretty exciting day for me as today was the day that I was getting out of Copenhagen and going to see Hamlet’s castle. To complete the experience I had made an effort to start reading Hamlet to remind myself of the plot. Interestingly I “get” a lot more of Hamlet this time round than I did when I was studying it for my HSC. There is quite a bit of humour in old Hamlet that I certainly did not understand last time I picked it up.. I think like all of those things when you have to read something for an exam you don’t really pay too much attention- you just focus on the bits you need to .. whereas this time round I could actually enjoy the story for its own sake!

Before I could go see Kronborg, I needed to get out of the hostel and move houses as the hostel was fully booked. Fortunately the rain had eased enough that my walk to the new hotel did not leave me drenched and needing a change of clothes! Anyway after moving in I took off to find Helsingr.

Helsingr is a 40min train ride from Copenhagen and is actually at the northern most tip of the island of Zealand (there are two islands in Denmark and a bit of land that is connected to Germany- the three areas are; Zealand, Funen and Jutland (this is the bit connected to Germany)). The trip itself was fairly uninteresting because it poured rain the whole way making it difficult to see the landscape. What I could see resembled lots of mansions, lots of green paddocks and the ocean (the train line follows the edge of the island). I’m sure on a clear sunny day the trip would be really beautiful.

Arrived in Helsingr and what a quaint little town (even with the rain coming down).. The town has been in place since before the early 1200s and it shows.. Many of the buildings are old stone and wooden houses that are brightly painted with cobble stoned streets. The crowning glory (pun intended!) is of course Kronborg Castle. The castle was first erected in the 1420s and was used to guard the strait between now Sweden and Denmark. The Oresund strait is the only entry point into the Baltic sea so was (and still is) a major shipping lane. The Danish king decided to take advantage of the growing sea trade and decided to tax all ships entering the strait. The tax was based on the value of the cargo entering the strait. The catch was that the king had first right of purchase, so if a captain tried to swindle the king out of his tax then he had the right to purchase the cargo at the value that the captain stipulated. In this way the king was able to keep the merchants honest and received his rightful taxes.

This tax is one of the key reasons that Denmark was once such a powerful and rich nation.

Kronborg itself is probably one of the better castles to go and visit (in my brief castle viewing history it is the best so far). For starters the castle staff let you go into the catacombs under the castle. The campmates (as it is known)is a series of tunnels and wide passages that run under the palace that were used as the palace barracks. Largely Kronborg has first and foremost been a military outpost always to protect the coastline of Zealand, so it stands to reason that they would have to have a large area in which to house the troops. Personally I would not have liked to have been housed in the campmates. The area is almost pitch black (and would have been without any form of torch). The walls are constantly dripping with water (well maybe that is only because it has rained continuously for days..), the roof is quite low in lots of places and of course the ground is cobblestones.. not the finest mattress in the world. Apparently the Kronborg garrison was a conscripted garrison. The story goes that when Kronborg was in need of more soldiers the captains would go out into the surrounding areas of Helsingr and “conscript” men into the army. This was done by getting them roaring drunk and then the soldier waking up back in Kronborg in the campmates.. Once in Kronborg the only way out was to serve your time (7 yrs) or to be killed.. Nice huh?

The castle itself is really quite a fine example. Many of the interior furnishings no longer exist (Kronborg was only used as the king’s castle until 1750 or so, after this time it was just a military base) but the actual façade and interiors of the building are just awesome.

Kronborg also allows you to climb to the battlements- so I was able to pretend to be Hamlet talking to the ghost up on the battlements of the castle! Well sort of, I was the only one up there (it was raining and quite windy) so I had to contend myself with talking to myself and pretending the wind was the ghost!! From the battlements I finished up Kronborg by walking into the chapel and seeing the beautiful 16th century organ and pulpit.

Really awesome day! To finish the story we were told that Hamlet is actually based on a Danish story about a Danish prince by the name of Amlet. His father was apparently killed, his mother remarried her brother-in-law (Amlet’s uncle)- Amlet went mad, killed everyone and then killed himself… Sound familiar? It is likely that Shakespeare never actually visited Kronborg but wrote the story based on stories of the court and the ‘Amlet’ story told to him by some of his actors (who did conduct some of his plays at Kronborg to the royal court).

Posted by weary_feet 06:16 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

3: Eric the Red

rain 16 °C
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Deliberately started late today as I needed to organise the next phase of my Teutonic trip to Poland. Therefore it was after lunch before I moved out of the hostel and into Copenhagen.

First stop was the National Museum of Denmark. It is situated inside one of the old palaces. The museum has a great collection of peat bog bodies. There are skeletons that have been dated to about 1300 BC that still have hair and clothes attached! The level of preservation that the peat bogs give to a skeleton is really incredible.. here are people who were buried over 300 years ago and you can still see what they were wearing!

The museum also has an incredible collection of Viking jewellery and artefacts (again thanks to the peat bogs of Denmark)—amazing array of Viking weapons.. some of the axes and swords they used in battle are pretty fierce looking.. I can imagine they would have struck fear into their enemies! Probably one of the most amazing finds is a full iron carriage from around the 1200s.. I was surprised by how many artefacts they have actually found in Denmark.

The museum also has a number of runic stones. Runes were used as the first type of alphabet in Scandinavia and were used by the Vikings to record their acts of conquest. The earliest runic stone comes from Kong Harold Blue-Tooth- as an aside, Blue Tooth (the mobile technology) was named after this Viking King!- and this granite slab is on display in this museum (although many of the runes are difficult to read)

After spending many hours wandering the corridors of the Danish museum I decided to go and discover more of the city. By now the rain had abated somewhat so I started the long trek out to the Little Mermaid via Nyhaven. Nyhaven is a waterfront street here in Copenhagen that is lined by outdoor restaurants. I stopped at a local ice-cream parlour and treated myself before continuing out to the Mermaid. Mary was in her castle today so of course I dropped by her house for a cup of coffee and cake (only kidding, I did stop for a photo though). Finally, I made it out to HCA’s Mermaid. She is very underwhelming (and the guides had warned me) but one of those things you just have to do..

Unfortunately the weather again closed in so I decided to call it a day and return to the hostel to upload more of my blogs that are outstanding from the Arctic Explorer.

Early night tonight, as I have to move to a hotel tomorrow (what a shame to have my own space again) before heading out to Helsingor to see Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg.

Posted by weary_feet 07:03 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

2: "It Burnt Down"

overcast 21 °C
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A slow start to my second day in Copenhagen as I planned to go on a free walking tour throughout Copenhagen which didn’t start until 11am. The tour itself was interesting. The tour guide isn’t paid any money to take us on a tour and we have no obligation to pay him anything! I think in reality he probably ends up making a fortune because today there were at least 60 people doing his “free” tour and I would expect most people would have tipped him min $10.. when you think about that he is raking in the dough! Probably heaps more than a regular guide! I guess like all of those things though, there will be days when you make a packet and other days when you have only 2 people show up who choose not to tip you!

Anyway back to the tour… Tour began at city hall (beautiful early 1900s building that has a very domineering sky line!) and ended at the Danish Royal Palace. Unfortunately for most of the tour it rained! Our guide did a pretty good job of keeping up our spirits.. He is a pretty good story teller and kept us all going with stories about Copenhagen and its founding fathers. Copenhagen was first settled well over 6000 years ago but from a written history point of view nothing really happened until the dominance of the Vikings, from about 800 to 1200 AD. At this time Copenhagen as a city really came into its own as the Vikings controlled all of the shipping in and around Europe. Moving through the middle ages the Danes became more and more powerful as a country largely due to sea trade and the custom that this trade brought into the country.

Of course the tour took in some aspects of Hans Christian Anderson, where he was born, where he lived and what he wrote. I did not realise the amount of well-known stories he wrote.. I was surprised to hear that he wrote Snow White, Thumbelina.. most of those Disney movies are all his! And of course he wrote the Little Mermaid…. We didn’t get as far as the statue on today’s tour but I might have to venture out that far tomorrow to get my obligatory photo!

We also heard a bit about the impacts of the wars on Denmark;, that is to say not as much of an impact as Norway had! And the impact of fire on the city (the answer to every question on our tour was “And it burnt down”)! The city as we see it today was largely built in the mid 1700s after two horrific fires scoured the city.. I would love to know what it looked like 500 years ago!

Spent the afternoon walking around Rosenburg Palace. Rosenburg is a palace built in the 1600s that has been used as a museum for the past 200 years. It houses the crown jewels of Denmark and houses a large collection of paintings and regalia from previous kings and queens of Denmark. The palace itself is impressive from the outside but a little disappointing inside.. For one it isn’t set up very well as a museum.. There are no guided tours, audio guides or anything in either Danish or English so you sort of wander around and just look.. It also needs a bit of a spring clean and some decent lighting! The jewels themselves were as I expected.. Large, flashy and in some cases tacky.. but boy do I want a piece of it!!!  I would say that the Danish jewels are probably nicer than the Swedish and Russian but the Russian Armoury far outranks it in the case of sheer volume and presentation.. So far the Russian Armoury is still number 1.

By now it was getting on late into the afternoon and still pouring rain so I decided to have an early dinner (Chinese) and head back to the digs for some serious interneting to work out the next phases of my trip. Finished the evening chatting to a German lady and a French man in the dining room about everything but world peace!

Posted by weary_feet 06:35 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

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