Copenhagen Day Six

Today we planned a trip to Roskilde to see the Cathedral and the Viking Ship Museum.

Roskilde is about 22 miles from the centre of Copenhagen. Travelling in England such a vast distance by train needs serious planning. You’ll need to check if there is a strike this week. Engineering works and a bus replacement? Cancelled trains due to management ineptitude? A signal failure somewhere in Scotland? Is it a full moon timetable? Has it snowed in the last two weeks? Leaves on the line? Bizarre restrictions on times you can travel on a specific ticket? Can I catch the 9.24 do I have to wait for the 10:00? Is there a remote chance of there being a seat, or will I have to stand for 40 minutes? Can my credit card handle the fare? Which of sixteen discount cards do I need to use? Then you give up and drive because you want to get there before teatime.

In Copenhagen you get on a train. The seats are wide and comfortable. There are no time restrictions. Travel when you like. It is all one fare. Trains run 24 hours a day every 10 or 15 minutes. There are lots of empty seats. There is fast, free and unrestricted WiFi. You can use the same ticket on a train, bus, metro or boat. Nobody is shouting into a mobile phone or screaming at their children. You get there in 23 minutes.

Is there anybody at Southern Rail listening?

We had a bit of a late start and it was almost 11 am by the time we reached Roskilde Cathedral. The cathedral, on a small hilltop overlooking Roskilde Fjord, was the first gothic cathedral to be built from brick. It was started in the 1170’s but took a hundred years to build mostly due to the lack of cheap flights to bring in bricklayers from Poland.

The cathedral gets 125,000 visitors a year from around the world. There was a large entrance sign and arrow on one side of the building pointing around the corner. We walked all round the building looking for a ticket office and front door. Having done the complete circuit and reached the sign again we stood and checked the Google to see if it was open. It was, the Google assured us. We started round the building again, together with another couple who had done the same. Tucked into a shady corner was a plain grey closed door which, it transpired, was the entrance. They used to have 250,000 visitors a year until the ‘Enter Here’ sign on the door fell off.

Like any church in continuous use since first built, Roskilde Cathedral has undergone many changes. Chapels within the cathedral were demolished and rebuilt. The occasional fire has led to restoration and reconstruction, often with major stylistic changes. Around it, the structure of the medieval town is still visible, with some medieval buildings and a few fine 17th and 18th century houses remaining.

The cathedral had a bit of a fall in fortunes during the Reformation of the 1530’s. The king decided he, not the church, owned the building and contents, slapped around the odd bishop, and helped himself to anything he fancied, which was most of the contents. Still, it did give him plenty of space to create tombs for him and his descendants. And did they take it seriously. The next several hundred years was witness to the most extreme bout of willy-waving known to man. Every succeeding king tried to make his tomb larger and more ornate than the last. And some of them are very large and ornate indeed. The later royals have calmed down a little and the recent tombs are simpler and stylish. Almost forty kings and queens of Denmark are buried in the cathedral.

We spent a couple of happy hours here with Madam checking off her list of every king and queen. I knew that she had an encyclopedic knowledge of every minor member of the British royal family. I did not know that this knowledge also extended to the Danish royals. She rattled off a long list of Federick this or Christian that and their various brothers, sisters and illegitimate children but the details blur a little in my memory. All I remember is that the current queen Margrethe’s husband had a bit of a hissy fit and decided he didn’t want his remains in Roskilde since he was only given the title of Prince and not King. When he died earlier this year, he had his wish granted and half his ashes were scattered in Danish waters and the other half at Fredensborg Castle north of Copenhagen. He was French, a bit chubby and had a penchant for goose liver pate, so nobody was much bothered.

A walk through the park behind the cathedral led us to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde harbour. This museum has the remains of five original Viking ships from the 11th-century. The five vessels originate from a blockade about twelve miles north of Roskilde. They were sunk into harbour inlets to prevent invaders reaching the city by sea. The boatyard specializes in reconstructions of Viking boats using the tools and materials available at that time.

I was really only there in the hope of finding a Viking hat with horns in my size but alas only the usual pens, guide books and tacky souvenirs were available in the gift shop. I did ask the woman serving but she was a bit sniffy and said that was just a myth. There is no such thing, she said. I don’t believe her. I have seen the pictures.

We had hoped to take a tour of the harbour in one of the reconstructed Viking ships but they were fully booked by the time we got round to it. Instead, we took a brief tour of the shipyard where the guide explained at length how they were at the forefront of experimental archeology, creating nails from bog iron ore and planks from felled oak trees. Due to the immense amount of labour used smelting iron and splitting oak logs, each boat cost many hundreds of thousands of Euros to build. The on-site blacksmith created an iron nail while we watched and the carpenter hacked half-heartedly at an oak plank to demonstrate the techniques used.

We wandered around the remains of the ships, located in a specially built hall. It was directly on the water so you could see the sea behind the ships. It was well presented but there is only so long you can look at lumps of 11th century wood without needing a cup of tea. On the way out I noticed a workshop with an open door. I poked my head in and saw a very large and impressive table saw, an electric bandsaw and a lot of modern tools and perfect machined planks of wood.

Tivoli Gardens is listed as the number two attraction in Copenhagen by TripAdvisor. The park opened in 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world, after Dyrehavsbakken in nearby Klampenborg, also in Denmark. It has one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters built in 1914 along with more modern rides that promise 4G forces and one which will turn you upside down at 100 km/h.

It’s probably great if you have deep pockets and young children with strong stomachs. Admission is over £14 then each ride costs between £3.60 and £10.70. Games of chance, with decidedly poor odds, were available if you needed a giant bar of chocolate or a stuffed giraffe. Not a real giraffe obviously.

There is a central lake and gardens and many restaurants and bars. In the evening it is lit by thousands of bulbs and we were promised a light show if we stayed until 10:45. We got there at 8pm and were bored by 9pm. It was nice enough, the gardens were pleasant and there were plenty of deckchairs if you could get over the smell of raw sewage wafting from the central drains. They seemed to be having a problem and there was a tanker with an impressively large hose down a drain in the center of the seating area.

Since neither of us had any desire to hang upside down seventy feet above the ground after dinner, or hang about by the drains, we strolled round the gardens a couple of times then sat in a bar waiting for the light show. I had a Danish beer served in a German beer-hall glass in an Irish Pub.

The light show? Oh dear. Somebody needs to go to Vegas to get some tips.