Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Cycling Across Southern Denmark -- Part 2

We left off our last post at the eastern side of Lolland Island, and pick up today on Falster Island, where we soon turned north.  Before crossing the bridge to the city of Nykøbing on Falster we photographed the heart of the older part of town. We liked the human scale of the place.

Once on Falster we did a quick ride through Nykøbing and then headed across the island to the Baltic Sea coast.  Along the southeast coast there is an extensive beach area much-visited by Danes and Germans in the summer, filling 6,000 summer cottages plus numerous motels and campgrounds.  Sounded a bit too busy for us.  But the 20 km of coast along the northeast edge of Falster that we explored was very low key.  Our route was a series of roads, some paved, some not, which paralleled the shore.  It was mostly forested, with long stretches of the shore undeveloped.

We've seen a huge number of thatched homes in Denmark, more than anywhere else we've been to so far in Europe, but the thatch has always been on the roof, and only on the roof.  But in this area they seem to like thatch so much that they also use it on the sides of some houses!  It's an attractive look, we think, and is supposed to keep the homes drier and warmer.

A small ferry took us to an also small island that was joined to the island of Møn by a causeway.  Not many cars use the ferry since a large bridge a few km away is more direct, but many cyclists do ride the ferry because that large bridge is also off-limits for bikes. 

Møn is not large, about 35 km / 22 mi long, 8 km / 5 mi wide, but our sources said there was much to see here, so once again we booked an apartment for 3 nights.  On the way to the main town of Stege, where our lodgings were, we spent an hour at a small church called Fanefjord Kirke.  The churchyard was up to the usual Danish standards of green and tidy, and the view of the fjord (actually an undramatic estuary, quite unlike the fjords of Norway) was quite peaceful.

But the interior -- Stunning!

These were artworks we spent some quality time with.  The pulpit was up to the standards of some of the best we've seen in Europe, as was the sailing ship hung from the ceiling (a common item in older churches and cathedrals in parts of Europe we've visited).

But the frescoes on the walls and vaulted ceilings . . . we've never seen anything this fascinating before!

Here are a few highlights: the devil quite graphically seizing Judas's soul after he has hanged himself; the creation of Eve from Adam's rib and then the Fall of Man thanks to the Serpent and his apple; God creating the Creatures of the Sea (including mermaids - this is Denmark after all); St. George and the Dragon; and the Last Judgment with the sinners being led off to Hell by the Devil.

The oldest frescoes date from c. 1350, but most were done around 1500.  At some point during the Reformation they were whitewashed over, and not rediscovered until another church on Møn uncovered equally stunning drawings on their own walls in the 1890s.  The ones here were partially restored in the 1930s by a museum conservator, and more thoroughly just 11 years ago.  

That second church, Elmelunde Kirke, also has wonderful frescoes by the same artist or group of artists, called The Elmelund Master.   Once again  St. Peter, this time assisted by an angel, leads souls through the door to Heaven.  The Elmelund Church had an even more impressive pulpit than Fanefjord's.  The carved Last Supper altarpiece is also a treasure.

What the church also has is a Bronze Age (about 2,500 - 3,500 years ago) burial mound right in the churchyard.  This is of course not accidental.  The locals didn't exactly flock to this strange new religion, Christianity, when it came to Denmark.  As a way of integrating the new faith into the old one, the church was deliberately placed in this heathen holy place.  The Fanefjord Church is also close to a similar mound reputed to be the grave of an ancient queen, but that one is a short distance from the church itself.

We've been largely, though not slavishly, following National Bike Route 8, about 500 km thus far.  It has now merged for a while with Route 9, which we will use off and on as we head north to Copenhagen  and Helsingør.  But first we have our stay on Møn to complete.  Our apartment was a few hundred meters outside the old city walls of Stege, though well within today's city limits.  We settled in, emptied the panniers, and rode 2 km back past the City Gate to a large supermarket, doing our best to guess how much food we needed for our 3-night stay.

The next day was, again, one of those special rides with no heavy wind-catching luggage.  However, the hills ensured that we got a good workout.  Both photos just below, by the way, were taken on the Bike Route 8 loop around the island.  The traffic was low but cars did come by, sometimes rather fast, and the road is of only ordinary width.  Yes, Denmark is a bike-friendly place, but it is definitely behind the Netherlands and Germany in consistently providing routes safe enough for young kids (or aging adults like us).  

We had two destinations.  The first was Liselund Castle (Liselund Slot), jokingly referred to as the world's only castle with a thatched roof.  It was closed at the time but we could get a view inside through one of the windows.  The gatekeeper's cottage was also a charmer.

Our second destination was Møns Klint, the Cliffs of Møn.  These are tall, almost vertical limestone cliffs, renowned as one of Denmark's most dramatic coastal features.  But the bike route getting there was quite hilly and partly on rough dirt roads, and by the time we got there we were too beat to hike down to the beach for the best views.  The best we can do is this shot that subtly suggests the unseen drama, plus an 1842 painting of the cliffs by Louis Gurlitt that we saw later in the National Museum of Fine Art.

We had one more day on Møn, but rain moved in.  It let up after lunch, however, so we hopped on the bike to explore a nearby fuglereservat, or bird sanctuary.  A viewing platform gave us a wide view of the salt marsh there.  Now this  was as flat as the Netherlands, one of the few places in Denmark we could say that about.

Our next destination was the historic city of Roskilde, 133 km away.  We did that over 3 days to have a relaxed view of the area we were going through.  We left Møn by bridge to our final island, the largest of the many that make up 40% of Denmark.  In English it's called Zealand, but the Danish spell that Sjaelland.  That's the town of Kalvehave below us as we descended from the high bridge. 

We were mostly on quiet back roads with no particular tourist sights to visit.  With help from a guidebook we were able to route ourselves past Vallø Castle.  Queen Sophie Magdalene, who owned it, turned it in 1737 into a place where spinster daughters of the Danish nobility could live if they found themselves without any other castle to call home.  In recent years it has also welcomed widowed and divorced women, including women not of noble birth.  Understandably, it's not open to the public except to look in from the main entrance.  Turning 180 degrees around, the second photo shows the rest of the castle estate, probably little changed in the last few centuries.

Our lodging in Denmark, as elsewhere in Europe, has been a mix of hotels, B&Bs and (for stays of a few days) the occasional apartment.  But a dearth of lodging choices led us to try a Danish youth hostel in the small city of Køge.  It was spartan but clean, and we had a 4-bed room to ourselves so neither of us had to climb up to a top bunk.  It had a community kitchen as well as a dining room that served a modest choice of food. Louise preferred to cook, and we were surprised to find no one else using the kitchen.  At $104, it was one of the least expensive nights we had, and we agreed we'll stay in a hostel again if it seems as well-run as this one.

Roskilde is an ancient town, going back to the late 900's.  It became the seat of one of Denmark's first bishops, and soon became the capital of Denmark.  40 kings and queens are buried in and under the cathedral, including some recent ones, even though it has been 6 centuries since the city was Denmark's capital.  The city is also home to one of the oldest rock festivals in Europe, attracting around 80,000 each of the last few years.

But rockers we are not, and our reason for visiting was to see Roskilde's biggest draw, the outstanding Viking Ship Museum.

Roskilde was a tempting place for other Vikings to seize and sack, so some time around 1070 AD the locals deliberately sank five old vessels in the main harbor channel to block a route their enemies might use for a sneak attack.  In the 1960s these were discovered and ultimately recovered, using coffer dams to access the remains.  No vessel was totally intact after such a long time, but enough was there to put them on display using metal frames to show the original shape of the entire vessel.  By luck, each of the 5 sunken boats was built for a different purpose, so the complete collection gives a broad view of Viking boat technology.

The longship above, what remains today followed by a scale model of what it once may have looked like, could hold 65-70 people, with as many as 60 oars in motion in a pinch.  The museum has built a full-sized replica which can cruise at 2.5 knots using 30 oars (apparently, these days it's hard to come up with 60 people at one time, all wanting to do that much hard labor).  Using just the sails, on a good day it clipped along at 12 knots.  Analysis of the rings in the wood show that the ship was built in or near Dublin Ireland, where there had been a Viking settlement from 800 AD on.  

The next photo is of a boat built in Norway from pine and later mended with oak from elsewhere.  It probably started out being used for fishing and/or whale hunting, but later modifications suggest it became more of a transport vessel before being sunk for that barrier.  The following three photos are of a larger transport vessel built in Norway and probably skippered by a crew of 6-8.  The museum estimates it sailed at 5-7 knots, though their replica has hit twice that in particularly strong winds.

The next boat is a small longboat built for 13 pairs of oars, probably carrying 30 warriors.  It could also be sailed at 6-7 knots.  

There were signs around explaining various aspects of the Vikings' shipbuilding methods, such as the different ways they cut the boards and how they attached them to make a hull.


In the outside boatyard were several fellows working on the next Viking reconstruction, using tools and methods like the ones originally used, such as axes and adzes for cutting and shaping, or treenails and metal rivets as fasteners.  

We had biked two hours to reach the museum so didn't have a full day.  Even though we were there 'til closing trying to see everything, we ran out of time to have the ultimate thrill of going out in a Viking-replica boat.  But we did get to admire the ones that were tied up at the dock and the one that was out "to sea" in the late afternoon.  All in all, it was one of the most interesting museums we've seen in our travels.

Out on the main pedestrian street in front of our hotel the next morning we watched a parade of several dozen parents transporting or accompanying their kids to school by bike, all of them turning down the same side street to the nearby elementary school.  Yes, this is what a bike-friendly country looks like up close.

We were now an easy 45 km from the hotel we booked months ago as our last stay in Denmark, but were two days too early!  We were lucky to find a manor house and estate that had been converted, with several additional buildings, into a destination hotel for business conferences and the like.  It was comfortable and oh, so quiet and peaceful with that large garden right outside our room.

We've complained about some aspects of Denmark's bicycle infrastructure, particularly in the countryside where paved routes turned to dirt and bike routes were sometimes on less than ideal roads with no shoulders.  But coming into the area around Copenhagen, the system shined.  Denmark is in the middle of a multi-year project to create "bicycle superhighways," designed to be "as direct as possible and with as few stops as possible."  The ideal is to have bicycles completely segregated from cars and from pedestrians and to avoid all traffic lights and road crossings, but perfection is a tricky thing, and it's doubtful a 'perfect' one will ever be created, though they're getting close with some of them.  

So far 8 have been opened, with 7 more due by the end of 2021.  Another 30 in the metro Copenhagen area are thought possible, though that's at least another decade away.  The route we took from Roskilde to the outskirts of Copenhagen is one that is not yet done, but many of the elements are there.  For now, the trip to the edge of Roskilde was on a lane in the highway that was reserved for buses and cyclists only.  Since no buses came by while we were on it, that worked just fine for us, though obviously they need to work on that part a bit more.  Once in the countryside we had a safe bike path, though we did have traffic lights at busy road crossings every 1 to 3 km, about half of which required a stop since they were red when we got to them.  When we turned off the route on the edge of the big city, the bike path was still alongside the road and separated from it, and now had a pedestrian path alongside it.

Our turn-off was to a cycle path that largely circles Copenhagen, a relic of Denmark's defensive wall around the city foolishly built in the late 1800s.  The country had been so traumatized by the war with Prussia in 1864 that it spent enormous sums to build a structure that was obsolete almost as soon as it was completed.  But the park alongside these old ramparts does give the residents today a great place to bike or walk in a half-km-wide greenbelt around the city.  As for that sign, it helps explain why we weren't in a hurry to visit Denmark.  Jeff's rudimentary knowledge of German allows us to generally know what signs mean in Germany, and the similarity of Dutch to German plus our numerous visits to the Netherlands has us rarely scratching our heads when we come to a sign in Dutch.  But Danish, though it has also evolved from German, is a bit further from German, and of the 30-plus different words in this sign, Jeff could only puzzle out six, such as 'you' (du) and 'dog' (hund).  With the help of Google Translate, we now know that it tells pedestrians they can walk on the ramparts, but at their own risk;  that cyclists should stay on asphalt and gravel paths only; and that you need to leash your dog.  Whew!

This path was also part of National Bike Route 9, which we rejoined when we turned on to it, but it is definitely not part of a bicycle superhighway.  It twisted and turned and mostly stayed in the greenbelt, but we had to stop several times to be sure we knew where the heck we were, and/or to carefully guide the tandem around barriers like this.  Well, at least we weren't in the middle of heavy car and truck traffic!
Our wonderful hotel was across the street from the eastern shore of Zealand, and across the water was Sweden, perhaps 20 km / 12 mi. away.  A large cruise ship was making its way north along the far shore, leaving the Baltic for the North Sea.

The next day we got even closer to Sweden by biking north on the Danish shore to Helsingør, Denmark, which is only 6.6 km / 4 miles from the city of Helsingborg, Sweden.  Ferries plied their way back and forth, back and forth, a new one every 20 or 30 minutes.

Helsingborg appeared to be highly industrial, and we were not at all enticed to take the ferry over and back "just for the heck of it."  What we had on the Danish side was far more interesting:  Hamlet's castle of "Elsinore."  Except it's not Elsinore, that's just what Shakespeare called it, probably because he (like so many others) couldn't spell Helsingør.  And in any event the name of the castle itself is Kronborg.

The castle overlooks that narrow way into or out of the Baltic, and the king collected a king's ransom in tolls back in the day.  Today it brings in new treasure in new ways, thanks to the 1/3 of a million tourists per year who visit.  We were two of the non-paying customers, we simply enjoyed exploring the grounds, enjoying the views, and using "Elsinore" as a backdrop for a photo with our tandem Little Red as we pose the question Hamlet the Cyclist might ask today: "To bike or not to bike — what a silly question."

At last we reached our final hotel, a former hunting lodge that was converted to a hotel, Schaeffergården.  We looked at our bike computer and saw that it was only 22 km shy of 3,000 km for the summer, so off we went to Copenhagen and back, testing out a completed Cycle Superhighway, Route C95.  Note the white C in a red circle 'branding' it as a superhighway.  The route was "super," and we only encountered three traffic lights each way, half of which were green when we approached.  We've read that the average bike commute in Copenhagen before the first cycle superhighway was opened was a modest 6 km.  The average bike commute in the neighborhoods served by the superhighways that have opened is now double that, with many more users.
Sure enough, our ride also got that bike computer to read 3,000!  With that task accomplished, we turned our attention to the 2-hour task of cleaning and packing up our beloved bike for the trip home, at this wonderful location in the Schaeffergården garden.

We were down to two days of sightseeing in Denmark without the bike.  The first of these saw us taking the light rail to the National Art Gallery of Denmark, the largest art museum in the country.  One of the first things to attract our attention was a painting of Kronborg Castle, which we had just seen two days earlier.  It was done in 1829 by Danish painter C. W. Eckersberg.  As you may have noticed from our blog entries, the Danes have a ton of castles, and the following two photos are images of a castle we did not get to, Frederiksborg Slot.  The first  is of the castle at midnight by Norwegian artist J. C. Dahl, done in 1817, the last one Christen Købe's view of Frederiksborg in the the evening, painted in 1835.

Mermaid sightings are rare these days, but the Danes seem to have seen quite a few in the past.  Besides the one we showed you in the Fanefjord Kirke and the famous statue of the little mermaid in Copenhagen harbor that you've seen or heard about, at least two more were lurking inside the museum.  The first (below) was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale The Little Mermaid, and was painted in 1847 by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann.  The statue -- who knows?  Perhaps it was sculpted from an actual mermaid sighting.  It was done in 1921 by Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen.

As Denmark's major art collection, the museum had a number of noteworthy paintings.  Perhaps the most famous one, a painting you've likely seen reproduced in art books before, is Henri Matisse's portrait of Madame Matisse, also known as The Green Line for the bold shadow line running down Madame's face.  The museum also has several excellent works by the renowned Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, such as Evening Talk (1889), Workers on Their Way Home (1914) and Death Struggle (1915), the last of which evokes some of the 'weirdness' of Munch's most famous painting, The Scream.

What we were most interested in seeing, however, were paintings by or about Denmark.  There were lots, as you would expect.  Three good genre paintings were The Waagepeterson Family (1830) by Wilhelm Bendz, depicting the family of a Copenhagen wine merchant; Julius Exner's 1853 Visiting Grandfather, which needs no explanation; and Peter Hansen's Playing Children, Enghave Square, depicting a small park in Copenhagen in 1908.

A Sardine Cannery in Concarneau looks like it ought to be set in Denmark, but though it is by Danish artist Peder Severin Kreyer, it is actually of a cannery in Brittany, France in 1879.  The painting that follows is a sort of 1828 genre painting without people, entitled The Rear Courtyard of Charlottenborg Palace.  It's a good counterpoint to all those other castle paintings above, and it shows a side of life that rarely makes it into fine art.  A similar type of painting became popular in the United States some seven decades later and became known as the Ashcan School of Painting.  Well, the Danes got there first!

We'll close with a painting that illustrates something we saw in Denmark more than elsewhere in Europe but have not yet commented on, pollarded trees.  In Laurits Andersen Ring's 1898 painting A Road Near Vinderød, Zealand, the trees have all been heavily pruned at some time in the prior few years and then seen new branches spring up.  This process, called pollarding, used to be done mainly to harvest leaves for animal grazing during the winter, or to force the new growth to shoot up staighter-than-normal for wood that could be used as fence posts or other building purposes.  Nowadays it is most often done to limit the height of trees.  We never did find out why in Denmark it is still done, not especially widely, but more than we've seen elsewhere.

Fine Art is one way of getting into another culture.  Another way is through its architecture and artifacts, particularly vernacular examples.  The Frilandsmuseet, or Open Air Museum, a part of the National Museum of Denmark, was just the place for us.  Two buses with an easy transfer got us there.  It's one of the largest museums of this type in the world, containing over 50 buildings carefully disassembled from all over Denmark and rebuilt here.  All parts of Denmark were represented, including the Faroe Islands, an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark that is 200 miles NNW of Scotland and about half-way between Norway and Iceland.  The buildings and artifacts that make up the museum represent rural life in Denmark from 1650 to 1950, including areas that were part of Denmark in this time period but are no longer Danish, such as parts of southern Sweden and German parts of Schleswig that we discussed in our last blog entry.

In that last blog we also talked about the U-shaped houses, with rooms on three sides of an open court, and one of the first farm buildings we came to was just such a place.  We call it a farm building rather than a farm house because it was one continuous structure with indoor lodging for both man and beast, and working space as well such as the cobbler's workshop.  Another place nearby had much smoother floors, but the ceiling rafters were a bit of a challenge for tall Jeff.

Many of the buildings let you mentally populate the place with all the people and animals that are known to have lived there at a certain point in time.

Many houses had additional information to help you picture life at some past time.

One large building with multiple apartments had each one done in a way that represented a different time period, from the 17th to the mid-20th centuries.

There was a mill that was a mechanical engineer's dream, though it had hardly a piece of metal in view.  Unlike some museum villages of this type, there were no craftspeople making and shaping things, but there were a few guides who wandered about and could tell you more about pretty much any building or its contents.

And of course there was thatch, nearly everywhere, and in one  group of buildings it looked like thatch on steroids.

Not all the roofs were thatch.  Some were sod.  The first one is from the part of Schleswig that was taken by Germany but came back to Denmark in 1920.  The second photo is of the parlor in this house.  The second and third houses are from the Faroes, where life is lived pretty much on the margin as far as the elements are concerned.

We'll close our tour with a smattering of other parts of the museum, ending with a place where the kids were able to let off some steam.

And then it was over.  89 days after landing in Germany, it was time to leave.  We took the light rail to a station near the harbor and then walked the last 3 km to the Regal Princess, our home for the next 13 days as we traveled across the Atlantic to New York City, where we caught a flight home to Seattle.  Everything we have needed for our biking and adventuring in Europe this past summer is in those four suitcases, one bike pannier (the other empty one is in one of the suitcases) and two small backpacks.  

As we left Copenhagen we saw just to our south the Øresund bridge, which since July 1, 2000 has connected Denmark and Sweden for cars, trains and internet cables.  In our photo you can see most of the 8 km that are bridge, and on the right the artificial island where the road and rail descend into a 4 km tunnel for the rest of the trip from the Scandinavian Peninsula to the main part of continental Europe.  An hour later our ship was passing an old friend, Kronborg Castle.  Behind us was another cruise ship, with industrial Helsingborg on the Swedish shore behind it.

And with those last glimpses of Denmark, we'll close today's blog entry.  We will shortly write one more short entry to share what our repositioning cruise across the North Atlantic was like before putting the Redtandem blog in Winter hibernation.

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