This past weekend a friend and I went on a viking tour of Denmark. We rented a car and set off from Berlin early Friday morning. The plan was to drive to Rostock, a port in northern Germany, and take a ferry across the water to Denmark. From there we’d drive up to Roskilde, the sight of a long-ship museum where we could see the remains of several long-ships that had been excavated in the 1960’s.
We would be gone for three days, so I didn’t need to pack too much stuff, but nonetheless I wanted to be prepared. We were staying in hostels and would have the car, so lugging bags around wasn’t going to be a problem. The only gamble I took was with clothing. The weather was slightly cooler in Denmark than in Berlin. It’s summer, so luckily the weather only fluctuated between 15 degrees to 25 degrees Celsius.
I was going to be doing all the driving as my friend could only drive manual and I could only drive automatic. I hadn’t driven since I left the US over three months ago, so I jumped at the chance to drive a long road trip. We rented the cheapest automatic car we could find from a car rental place at Alt-Tegel airport. The night before we left I realized we did not have a male to male 3.5mm audio cable. These are crucial for road trips as they allow you to play your own music from your phone or mp3 player through the car stereo if the car as an audio-in jack. I managed to get to the electronic’s store half-way across Berlin 4 minutes before close the night before our trip.A bit sleepy and late (we had to take a bus and the airport is outside of Berlin a bit) we arrived at the rental place where we hoped they would accept my US driver’s license. I read somewhere that I could drive in the EU for 6 months on a US license before having to apply for a EU one. I read up on EU road signs before the trip. They were all really logical and I quickly memorized them. When my flatmates and I tried to rent a moving truck they said no and wouldn’t rent to us on my US license. Luckily they accepted my license at the airport, but there was a problem. The Ford Focus we had booked was not available. The agency only had one automatic car in stock, and so they rented that to us for no extra charge.
The automatic they had in stock was a tricked out BMW X3 with all the bells and whistles. This car had all sorts of interesting features: light door handles, key-less ignition, in dash navigation system, large automatic sun roof, self opening/closing rear hatch, rain sensing windshield wipers, automatic headlights, separate climate controls, heated seats, front and rear parking radar, and most importantly an audio-in jack with steering wheel audio controls. The strangest feature of this car was an automatic engine off/start mechanism. Whenever I slowed to a stop at a light or a traffic sign, the car would automatically kill the engine. When I released off the brake it would start again. This scared me at first because I thought the car had stalled at the light, when in reality it’s just a fuel saving feature. The other weird “feature” was that while playing music from your phone, the radio would intermittently interrupt to provide you with traffic and weather conditions. While cool at first, this quickly became annoying and I found the button to disable it.
We tossed our stuff in the car, checked our mirrors, and put in our destination. Luckily the airport was outside of Berlin a bit and our destination was taking us further away from Berlin. This way I didn’t have to drive for the first time in 3 months through the middle of one of the busiest cities in Germany. After we got farther out from the airport my friend pointed out that we were about to get on the autobahn, that magical and legendary place with no speed limit. It was quite and amazing and freeing feeling to not have to constantly be worrying about speed traps, or a cop behind a bush with a radar gun. This freeing sensation however was quickly replaced by a paranoia for staying in the right lane. In the US I had often stayed in the left lane. I was usually going a little faster than most of the other cars on the road, but was within reason that I wasn’t breaking the speed limit too excessively. On the autobahn however, the moment you pull out into the left lane you must keep checking your rear view mirror to make sure that some other car isn’t gaining on you at 100 mph. If you see a little speck in the background with it’s right blinker on, he’s telling you to get the hell over because he’s going much faster than you. Despite this, I did get to break 100mph (160 kmh) and actually cruise at that speed for quite some time. The best part was how the road we meant for it. The only other time I had broken 100 was in Alaska on a long narrow stretch through some open plains in the wilderness. That wasn’t the best decision because that long narrow stretch rapidly ran out. Here, however, the road just kept going and going, very gently sloping, with no sudden turns or anything. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of construction on the autobahn, so this little slice of heaven usually doesn’t last for more than 5-15 minutes at a time.
One of the coolest things in the landscape while driving through Germany was the wind farms. The land was dotted with these massive towers with their spinning blades. We even saw several solar power stations along the way. After several hours we arrived at Rostock. We were told to park in a specific lane for cars and then had to wait about an hour for our ferry to arrive.
You’re not allowed to stay in the cars during the crossing, so we had to go up top. The journey took about two hours, during which I sat out on deck, listened to music, and enjoyed a cigar to go with the scenery. Every so often I will find myself in a really wonderful situation and it’ll take me aback. Here I was, on a ship bound for Denmark, thoroughly enjoying myself. I was really unhappy in South Carolina and now here I was, on the other side of the world, doing something cool. I still have plenty of stressors and things to worry about, but in this moment life was wonderful. I live for little moments like this; moments where you take a step back and think “Wow, I’m really here, I’m really doing this. This is amazing!” It just made me think how lucky I am to be able to do this.
After two hours we landed in Denmark! While driving off of the pier, I noticed a sign that said (through pictures) that you need to turn on your headlights. Apparently it’s Danish law that you must always drive with your headlights on. I promptly turned mine on, and damn was I glad I did. A few kilometers away from the pier was a police checkpoint. The officer waved me through, but the pulled the car in front and behind me for not having their headlights on.
There were lots of round-abouts (or traffic circles) all over Denmark. One of the very first ones we came upon had a freakin trebuchet in the middle of it! I had not really heard of Roskilde before going there, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out they build a lot of replica viking ships the old fashioned way. They’re amazing to see, and even more amazing when you realize they’re sea-worthy.
The even had a rope-maker exhibit set up
This was especially cool to me. Years ago, in another life, I did historical reenactments like the people at these museum sites.
I was primarily interested in late 15th century War of the Roses, but before that I was researching rope making for a trebuchet my group built:
Anyways, continuing on. We walked around the ships and eventually made our way to the museum building. Inside were the remains of several actual long-ships! As we left the museum, there was a large group of people gathered in a field working on swordsmanship and sparring, something else I did for several years in another life. I wanted to go and say hello, to see what kind of swordsmanship they were doing (I did longsword) but I don’t speak Danish and I didn’t want to interrupt them. Our hostel turned out to be right across the street from the museum, which was awesome. The rooms were inside this two level box thing that felt very modern and Scandinavian. The walls were a little creepy though.We were both really tired from that day’s journey and my friend quickly passed out on her bunk. I wanted to get some drinks and have another cigar, so I went out looking for some place that was open. Oddly enough, it turns out they have 7-11 in Denmark. This was extremely strange to me since 7-11 is an American convenience store chain that I’ve only really seen in the northeastern US. I ran in, got some drinks and a sandwich, and drove back to the hostel.
While out walking around the harbor having my cigar, I noticed a small brown purse on a park bench. I looked around and it didn’t look like anyone was near by that might own said purse. I opened it up and found that it was full of cash, credit cards, an iPhone, and the IDs of some young Danish student. Not knowing what to do with it, I carried it back to my hostel and explained to the gentleman at the front desk that I had found this outside on a near by bench, that everything was still in it, and that perhaps he would know who to contact about it. The problem was that the woman’s phone was in her purse too, so reaching her would be problematic. I was about to go up to my room when I figured it might be a good idea to wait around the bench. I’m sure the person who lost their purse would be frantically retracing their steps once they realized it was missing. I started walking back towards the bench when two Danish women ran past me in the direction of the bench. I ran after them and when I turned the corner I saw them standing around the bench looking all over. I ran over to them and tried to mime purse and money, but it turns out most Danes speak perfect English, so when I asked “did you lose your purse?” the woman switched to English. I told her I had found it, that everything was still in it, and that it was waiting for her 30 meters away at my hotel desk. She was immediately relieved and happy that someone had found her purse. I told her I’ve lost my wallet twice several times before too and I know how much it sucks, so I’m glad I could help.
The next morning we got up and began our drive to the Trelleborg viking fortress in Slagelse.
While driving through Denmark, what struck me the most was just how lush and green the fields were. They were like seas on grass and the wind created this amazing wave effect.I took some short video of the waves of grass to show you:
The entrance to the fortress museum:
This was a really neat way of displaying arrow heads. The points were suspended on steel rods coming out of the wall. The effect was like you were about to be hit with a volley of arrows. A cut-away of how the walls were constructed: In a special room away from the rest of the exhibit, surrounded by black curtains, were the remains of two people found in Trellebog. There are lots of bodies buried here as people lived, fought, and died here.
A viking man A woman Two children On the way up to the fortress ruins there was a reconstructed hall. The actual fortress used to contain several of these buildings.
After Trellebog we got back in the car and made our way down to the next ferry that would take us off the island and back to mainland Denmark. On the way I wanted to stop by the Kattegat sea and get some sand and water for my travel collection. We arrived at the ferry just as it was arriving.
A short clip of us departing:
As we were almost half-way to our destination, the captain came over the loud speakers and said that they had received a distress call from a sailboat that was taking on water. As we were the nearest ship in the vicinity, we were going to divert course to assist them! Our ship was now part of a potential rescue operation! As we got closer we could see the sailboat that put out the distress call. You can’t really tell from the pictures, but it was listing forward and to port. It was taking on water in the front left pontoon but we didn’t know how fast. I then heard some sound other than our ship and looked up in time to see a rescue helicopter thunder past. It had been dispatched from a local coast guard station to ascertain the situation. My guess was that it was in contact with our ship to coordinate any rescue efforts as it circled us several times, hovered near the sailboat, and disappeared for several minutes before returning again. Our ship lowered two men in an emergency boat and they sped off to the sailboat to see what was going on.
Here’s some video of the action:
After about 45 minutes of circling the sailboat, during which at one point I thought we were going to come along side it, it was decided that they sailboat would make it to land before sinking and the rescue was called off. It was a little anti-climatic, but good that the people on board were ok and that they would not need to be pulled from the water.
We got off the ferry and drove to our next hostel and then to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, where the men’s bathrooms were a little….strange.
We watched the Germany vs Ghana football (soccer) game and went to bed. The world cup is going on now and it’s a religion here in Europe. Everywhere you go TVs are turned on to the latest game. Some cafes have big screen TVs pointed out into the streets for the passer-bys to stop and watch the game. (This week is USA vs Germany, which should be a lot of fun)
The next morning we drove to our last viking settlement. Haithabu, in Flensburg.
The settlement was surrounded by a giant semi-circle earthen wall which you can still walk on today. In the center are some reconstructed buildings with living history interpreters carrying out work and crafts. Just like in Roskilde, there were people here working on building ships from scratch the same way the vikings did, with no power tools or modern materials. As always, the ships are quite beautiful.
After Haithabu we started our 4 hour drive home, back to busy Berlin. The whole time I was in Denmark I couldn’t stop thinking about how ridiculously clean and nice the country was. From what I saw driving around through the various towns, everyone was very nice and helpful, the environment was gorgeous, and everything just had the feeling like people actually cared about where they lived and took pride in their quality of life. I’m really not sure how they do it. My friend assures me that the rest of Scandinavia is just as nice, if not better than Denmark, which just doesn’t seem possible to me, but I guess I will have to go and see for myself.
(Until next time!)