Cities / Towns Visited: 39
Countries Visited: 12
Steps Taken Today: 12,419
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,418,146
Once more, it was time for a day trip out of the capital to explore the other wonders of the nation, and after another tedious two bus, and train combo, we found ourselves in Roskilde. ‘Why did we come here?’ you ask, ‘Because there is a viking ship museum,’ I say. Just like many others, we too are fascinated with the, somewhat romanticised, story of this society of rough and tumble seafarers, who ruled the waters around northern Europe for almost 300 years.
Upon arriving, we purchased our tickets and headed through the outdoor exhibition. We were surprised and impressed to see that the historic society who run the museum, also work with shipbuilders to recreate traditional viking ships, using the exact same methods and tools they did more than a millennia ago. The indoor exhibition, which I’ll get to in a moment, houses five of the remains of viking ships found in the waterways around Roskilde in the 1950's, and preserved as best as possible given the methods available at the time. The shipbuilders have recreated a few of the ships found, including a large warship which they successfully sailed to Ireland, just like the Vikings did, using only oars and windpower to make their journey. Sitting on a wooden base, out in the sunshine, they are currently also building a replica of another of the ships, which is stunning to behold. Watching one of the shipbuilders cutting planks by hand with an axe really reiterates how much work and talent goes into the creation of these vessels.
They also have other craftsmen and women working at small booths, showing the skills needed to create these giant ships, from rope weavers, to blacksmiths, to wood carvers; many thousands of man hours goes into creating even a single small ship. Sitting alongside the pathways are pots containing a large variety of the different types of trees used for shipbuilding, accompanied by informative plaques explaining the trees different properties and which pieces of the ships they are best for constructing. There is also a large warehouse where even more shipbuilders are creating another vessel, under the supervision of the only shipbuilder left in the world who can still make a viking vessel by eye, without formal measurement techniques.
At this point we headed for the indoor exhibit to join the free English guided tour. As you walk in you are delivered to a balcony which looks down over the remnants of the five, millennia-old ships. Our perky Danish guide took great pleasure in explaining the lengthy efforts put in place to preserve them upon their discovery, which involved creating and artificial island and draining the water out to be able to carefully free the pieces from the mud, then soaking the pieces in a special wax like chemical in order to replace all of the water, so that they wouldn’t warp and shrink when they dried. She then explained how it took years to piece back together the thousands of shards of wood. It was incredible to learn that these old ships had been purposely sunk in the channels to prevent enemy troops from reaching Roskilde; an underwater barricade if you will. They include two wide based merchant ships, a small warship with its narrower hull built for speed, a small fishing ship, and the largest ship on display (that they originally thought was two ships as they didn’t think it could be as big as it is) is the biggest viking ship on display in the world at 30 metres, second only to the 32 metre one in storage in Copenhagen as they literally don’t have anywhere large enough to display it.
It was also interesting to learn that, despite what we all think, most of the ships, although brightly painted, rarely has dragon heads and other decorations we often see in films. They have small models beside the ships, to show you how they think they may have looked in all their glory. Our guide, who is a historian specialising in the Viking age, also made sure we had the right idea of who the Vikings were outside of popular culture’s representation; were talking no horned helmets (by the way they have only ever found one helmet from viking times, meaning they probably either melted them down for reuse, or they mainly had leather caps), and the majority of them were just basic fishermen and farmers, with only a small portion actually being seafaring warriors.
It was also fascinating to learn about their defence systems, including a series of beacons which were lit when incoming enemy ships were spotted, so that the guards could go out and try and block the waterways. To be honest though, it just made me look at my partner and say ‘Gondor calls for aid!’, and subsequently spend the next few minutes talking about how much we want to re-watch Lord of the Rings.
After somewhat catching viking fever, we decided to go and buy tickets to go on one of the Viking ships on which they take tourists out onto the bay. With both of the early afternoon slots booked out, we decided to buy some for the only time they had left at 4pm,and wandered off to the restaurant at the museum to have lunch. Ordering a ‘Viking Platter’ (basically a tasting board with Nordic delights like: smoked herring, Nordic cheese, viking style bread, and pulled pork), and some deer sausages, along with a couple of meads (one a sweeter version with a good measure of honey, and one apple based and flavoured with wintersweet), we settled in for a long lunch, enjoying the food and the company.
With a little extra time to spare, we headed back into the indoor exhibit. After watching a highly skilled woman manning a loom and hand weaving a section of sail for the recontructed ships they are working on outside (which take just as long to weave as it takes to build the entire ship), we moved on to read the plethora of information they have about Vikings. From their usual daily life, to the kinds of archaelogical finds they’ve discovered from the old civilisation, to a rather graphic and disturbing recount by a foreigner who visited the Vikings and witnessed one of their noble’s funeral rituals, which mainly involved filling a viking ship with the deceased; a large number of everyday items and weapons; an uncomfortably large number of sacrificed dogs and horses; followed by an innocent servant being taken on board into the tent set up to house the body, being gang raped by guards then murdered so that her spirit could serve the noble in the afterlife; it was equal parts informative and disturbing. I guess there is a little truth behind the cruel and violent stereotype surrounding them.
Finally, it was time for us to try our hand at Viking sailing. Life jackets on, we hopped aboard the vessel with another 12 tourists, and our two guides (read that as: the only two people on the boat with any idea on how to move this damn thing). With a crash course in sailing vocabulary and cox calls, and the words starboard and backwater whizzing around my brain, we were suddenly grabbing our oars and setting them in place. It was at this point my partner and I realised that we’d plonked ourselves in the two most important seats in the boat, and it was going to be my partner keeping the rowing pace for the rest of the boat. With that in mind we began our row out of the dock. To be honest we did a lot better than I though we would, what with us all being a somewhat ragtag crew. Eventually we hit our stride and made good speed out into the bay. At this point we were told to pull the oars in as we were going to set sail. All good I think; no troubles. The lady from the museum playing helmswoman asks me to swap seats; she needs to sort out the sail I think, that is until she hands me the handle to the rudder and tells me I’ll be steering now. I must say, a mild wave of panic washes over me at this point, I’m internally screaming, I don’t know how to steer a bloody boat. Naturally I just smiled and said ‘Sure’; What? Why did I just say that? (please read that in a high pitched incredulous voice). Come on Alex, everyone is looking at you, you can do this! I reverted back to the same mindset I had at my driving test, if the people I went to school with who could barely read or do simple addition can drive a car, surely I can steer a boat. ‘Push out to go toward port, and pull in to go towards starboard’ she says, ‘Aim towards that windmill on the hill’. ‘No worries’ is say in the calmest voice I can muster, and do as I’m told. At this point I’m on my own and she’s off organising my partner and the guy now sitting next to him to raise the sail and all of a sudden my partner is in charge of controlling the sail. So in summary, my partner and I were somehow now in charge of sailing a ship, despite having had about two sentences of dialogue about how to do so.
As we glide along the water at a steady clip my nerves calm. I’m heading dead on towards the windmill, the sail is steady, and the lady in charge doesn’t seem to be concerned at all, or making any corrections. By Jove, we’re pulling it off. The sun’s shining, the cool sea breeze is sweeping up and catching in the sail, and everything is… perfect. Now it’s time to turn back to the dock, and with a little fiddling, and some strategic ducking of the other oarsmen, we spin the sail around, I pull hard to starboard and we’re heading back in. As we near the narrow opening of the dock I think, ‘Surely she’ll take over,’ but of course not; she just verbally gives me directions and all of a sudden I’m attempting to direct the ship an arms length from the docks corner and swing it round in between two other boats on the dock. At this point it’s important to note that I suck at parallel parking a car; but may I just say I seem to be pretty damn good at doing it with a Viking ship. Maybe Scorpio really is a water sign, maybe I was a Viking in a past life, or, and this is much more likely, it’s just not as hard as I thought to steer a sailboat.
As we stepped back onto the dock, I was lifted out of that boat on sheer euphoria; nothing was wiping that grin off my face. Just call me Helmswoman Robinson. We headed back to the train, stopping briefly to take photos of the Roskilde church, but we had spent so much time at the Viking Ship Museum that we were too late to go in and see the graves of the former Danish royal family. To be honest though, I’d miss it all over again to relive the day. The entire trip home was just a jumble of us, two intensely introverted human beings, revelling in our impromptu stepping out of our comfort zone and not making asses of ourselves.
As we settled into bed I couldn’t help but be proud of myself. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things I am willing to do, even when they make me uncomfortable. I’ve always been a somewhat timid person, but I have my moments of boldness and bravery. I’ve never been one to shy away from standing up to teachers or employers who have done wrong by me whether that be unfair grades or unfair pay, and I take pride in standing my ground when I have the grounds to do so. I am rarely shy when it comes to asserting what is right, either in regards to myself, or in defence of others; at these times my sense of right overwhelms my inhibitions. But even without moral high ground based acts, I have come to also surprise myself at my ability to carry through on acts that often scare the living daylights out of me; like the time I went skydiving; or, you know, that time I quit my job, ended my lease, sold my car, and left everything behind to travel halfway round the world for an indefinite amount of time. What is my point here? Well I guess I’m just trying to say is that although it’s terrifying, and sometimes paralysing so, it is important to do things that scare you every once in a while, this is how we grow. Obviously don’t do life threateningly scary things, like swim in crocodile infested waters, or jump from high places without training and safety equipment. Be sensibly brave, challenge yourself, and marvel in your achievements.