Friday 11th May 2012, Helsingor
Modestine seems better! It was such a relief this morning when she started straight away. Our gratitude to the delightfully friendly and helpful staff at the Citröen garage in Nustrup.
Our bill for the campsite at Charlottenlund worked out at almost exactly £30 a night. It was excellent and to be recommended. Having paid it we left Modestine in the parking area and walked through the wet woods, luminous with the brilliant green spring foliage, to the gardens of the Charlottenlund castle which is used as offices and research labs by the National Aquarium of Denmark. We fondly imagined the walls inside lined with mermaids in special tanks. A stroll through the grounds took us to the ice house decorated with carved polar bears, and a timbered cottage beside a small lake.
We had planned on visiting the Ordrupgaard museum which houses a renowned collection of paintings by the French Impressionists. We arrived to discover it would not open for another two hours. So we finally left Copenhagen and Charlottenlund behind and made our way northwards along the coast road following beside the Oresund. Across the water was the shore of Sweden with bright fields of yellow rape shining beneath the lowering clouds.
It had been recommended to us by friends that we should visit the museum of modern and contemporary art at Louisiana near the little town of Humlebaek. As we’d been unable to visit our preferred choice and our guidebook waxed lyrical about Lousiana’s splendours we joined the crowds at the ticket desk. I suppose we have to visit these places to be sure they are not for us. The 19th century house at the core of the museum is splendidly set on the cliffs overlooking the Oresund. The gardens stretch right down to the sea and there are some lovely pieces of sculpture set around the gardens including several by Henry Moore. Indeed, this was by far the best bit of the cultural experience for me. Try as I might I find it hard to appreciate a lot of modern art and always have an uncomfortable feeling that an attempt is being made to dupe me. Rather like the fairy tale of the Emperor’s new clothes everyone admires it until some innocent person points out there is nothing to it.
The works on display come from around the world. Indeed there is very little from Denmark. Most of the galleries are below ground and cover cinema, photography, applied arts, textile design, puppets and more. There was a special exhibition on avant garde women artists working during the interwar period including the Dada influenced Sophie Traeuber-Arp. We were particularly impressed by the way in which she worked in monochrome relief with split levels that created space with small displacements and shadows, exploring form through small graphic evocations of spatiality created simply with contrasts of black and white. To us it seemed to deconstruct the prismatic paradigm, resolving polychromality into an intense chiaroscuro and challenging our very perceptions of colour!
Leaving Louisiana we continued north to Helsingør. All along the coast there is residential development but it has been excellently done. Houses are attractive, individual, set in well tended gardens and there is an air of quiet affluence. There is never any litter to be seen in the Danish countryside.
Helsingør stands on the Danish coast at the narrowest point of the Oresund. Across the water is the Swedish port of Helsingborg which would seem to be like Helsingør but without the alcohol and with even higher prices. Ferries cross throughout the day. Mainly it seems they bring over Swedes who load up their cars with readily available alcohol from the many drink shops lining the quayside in Helsingør and drive straight back to Sweden on the next ferry, laden down with Carlsberg and whisky. To us Danish alcohol prices seem very high but to the Swedes it’s well worth the cost of the return ferry ticket.
But of course the main reason we were in Helsingør, or as we know it in English, Elsinor, was to see Kronborg Castle, home of the sad Dane Hamlet immortalised by William Shakespeare. In fact Shakespeare never visited Elsinor and Hamlet is based upon a legendary figure from Danish history lost in the mists of time. The castle is spectacular anyway though it had closed by the time we arrived. The staff left us to wander around the grounds and into the chapel while they locked up the rest of the castle. We climbed onto the battlements and imagined the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father walking the ramparts.
Around the town we were disappointed not to see lots of tacky Hamlet souvenirs. There were no Yorik skull ashtrays allowing smoke to coil out through the eye sockets and no chocolate Hamlets in the sweet shops - a pity that, it was Kernow Bunny’s last hope of a reprieve from being eaten. Indeed, apart from a hotel near the port named Hamlet, as was one of the ferries, and a street named Opheliavej, we found nothing to remind visitors of the town’s links to Shakespeare’s play.
The town looked rather nice with many bars and cafes, much as you’d expect in a port, but particularly one catering for Swedes on an alcoholic binge. We moved on to this nearby campsite where the wind is howling around and the trees smothering us with their withering blossoms.
Saturday12th May 2012, Holbæk
All night the wind howled, bending the trees and banging our electric cable against Modestine’s side. The rain poured down while snug inside we piled on an extra blanket and drifted off to sleep. Today it has continued in much the same way. The wind has been blowing directly from the north, straight off the Norwegian glaciers. Denmark is made up of an archipelago of low islands with fingers of land stretching out into the sounds and fjords, so, surrounded by sea whipped up to a fury by the winds, we have been soaked, rocked and buffeted throughout the day.
We’ve avoided the main roads and motorways, travelling around our particular corner of Sjæland on quiet, minor roads, passing through villages of well cared for properties, many with thatched roofs, others built from painted wood planking and some with grass growing on the roof. At Gilleleje we discovered an Aldi store and replenished Modestine’s larder more affordably than we could in Copenhagen. We are of course buying food that needs almost no cooking as we have nothing but a gas ring now Remoska is off on sick leave.
Towards the furthest northwest tip of Sjæland a finger of land reaches out into the sea. Here was once the home of the Polar explorer Knud Rasmussen. He travelled extensively in Greenland by dog sledge and made ethnological studies of the Innuit people. He was also involved in expeditions to find the location of the magnetic North Pole - on a day like today it probably occurred to him that Norway and Sweden were not doing too good a job shielding his home from the winds blowing directly off the polar ice cap, so set off to discover why the gales seemed to by-pass the rest of Scandinavia and hit his straw-thatched cottage head on as its first place of call in Europe!
An explorer seemed an interesting change from art galleries so we drove on until we ran out of land when we parked and struggled down a blustery path onto the cliff top – yes, a real cliff! Here we found a lighthouse and what had until this year been the Knut Rasmussen museum, the thatched cottage overlooking the sea where he had lived and where he wrote scientific articles and recorded his travels. A recent fire has swept through the house, built in 1916-18, and it was now partially burnt out and in the process of restoration. It looked as if many of the contents would have been destroyed.
Down at the quayside in the nearby little fishing port of Hundested the waves were breaking over the jetty wall and the rain was hitting our windscreen horizontally. We watched as the tiny car ferry struggled in to shore, pitching and tossing in the waves. Eventually it managed to dock and discharged its cargo of two cars and a lady with a bicycle. Within ten minutes it was heading back across the mouth of the sound with five foot passengers, a car and three bikes.
Nothing would have induced Modestine to go on board! So we gave up that plan, deciding instead to drive around the fjord and visit the eco-village at Torup. A group of local people have built a collection of houses in various styles and designs and live together in an ecologically balance, self sustainable village. When we arrived it all looked rather scruffy and alternative. The buildings were all very different. Some were built of wood, others were dome shaped while others had grass covered roofs or thatch and one was being constructed with just slit windows and the roof showing above ground. There was even one house up for sale so the community has been established for some time. They run an eco shop with a cafe and gift shop. The prices are quite high and the goods seem to have been purchased from all over Europe, including muesli from Dorset. I admit to not being convinced that the scheme really works.
We drove on down the fjord to Roskilde, the ancient capital of Denmark. In the twin-spired brick-built cathedral the kings and queens of the kingdom lie buried. We hoped to visit the museum of Viking ships but there was barely thirty minutes before closing time. We were told we could come in and wander around the water’s edge where several reconstructed Viking vessels were moored and could look around the workshops but couldn’t go inside the main building. The boats really are aesthetically beautiful as well as functional. The knowledge and skill of the early Norse boat builders is very impressive. The workshops explained all aspects of the craft from seasoning and preparing the timber for planking, rope manufacture and caulking, the tools, axes and chisels used and how they too were made and even how the carving was done to produce the beautiful slender lines of the prow with its traditional Viking carved dragon’s head.
We explored the streets of Roskilde. It seems a pleasant town, very sleepy compared to Copenhagen, but then it has long ago given up its role as Denmark’s capital. There is a modern shopping precinct and several interesting ancient brick buildings clustered around the cathedral but the weather did not encourage us to explore and we pitied the freezing bride who was posing for photographs in front of the cathedral. The thought of drying out and warming up decided us to press on to this campsite at Holbæk. It is right on the edge of the fjord but the wind and rain have finally eased so hopefully everything will be calmer tomorrow.
We have received an email this evening that has saddened us. Many of you will remember our adventures with Modestine’s fellow Romahome Erik around Greece. Tonight on his way back from Scotland a van ran into the back of him on a bend, crushing the fibreglass bodywork beyond repair. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured but Erik will be sorely missed not only by David and Lesley but by us as well.
Sunday13th May 2012, Gronninghøved, Jutland
Would you believe that Modestine wouldn’t start this morning? Can you imagine how sick it makes me feel in the pit of my stomach to hear her spluttering and choking but getting nowhere? We’ve learned a few tips recently about starting a recalcitrant engine and eventually, after prodding a few wires here and squeezing a rubber bulb there she eventually sprang into life. However, nobody has been able to discover the real problem and I know that although she has been working perfectly all day, the likelihood is that she will not start in the morning when I may be less fortunate in getting her moving. Our enthusiasm for exploring Denmark has therefore waned considerably.
We decided to head back to the mainland and perhaps return to Germany where at least we can explain our problem and what has already been done rather than wait for a garage to do the same tests all over again. In any case, nobody would be available on a Sunday so now we were moving we didn’t want to stop in an isolated corner somewhere and be stuck again.
So we crossed Sjælland back over the long road bridge linking it to Fyn and then the next bridge linking Fyn to Jutland. We used the motorway and stopped a couple of times. Modestine started perfectly each time. We are now camped at the nearest campsite we could find to Nustrup. Our hope is that if we have trouble tomorrow I may be able to get her going and return to the helpful Citröen garage we used there just a week ago.
Not far from here we found an interesting little village, too insignificant to figure in our guide book. Christianfeld was established in the 1773 as a Moravian community, very similar to Niesky, in Saxony which we described in 2006. The Moravian and Bohemian Evangelical community, known as Herrnhutters, were followers of the martyred Johan Hus. They were expelled from what is now the Czech Republic during the religious wars raging between 1618 and 1648. They sought freedom for their religion, founding towns in various countries across Europe. Christianfeld was established in Denmark with the royal approval of King Christian IV. The Moravian Church, became an international missionary church. Their towns are an excellent example of early town planning. Buildings were laid out on a grid system, crossing at right angles. Houses, a church, schools, businesses and even a hotel were established. The brick houses, all in a coordinated style, were built around a central grassy square with a fountain. Along one side was the church building, a large, light room furnished with pews, a lovely organ loft and a central dais. The floor is bare boards sprinkled with sand, and the furnishings are all in white.
The community still exists today. The brotherhood owns and manages a hotel and a ceramic stove works. It also produces and markets honey cake using a recipe that has remained unchanged since the 1770s. In the past it ran schools teaching girls needlework and housekeeping while boys were taught carpentry, barrel making and bread baking.
As we were leaving the town we discovered God’s Acre, the cemetery, where all the matching headstones are laid out in long rows, the men on one side of the central path, the women on the other. Moravian Church burials are still taking place today.
Finally we moved on to find this campsite down near the sea. We appear to be alone here. It is a pleasant place but we are more concerned with wondering whether we will be able to leave here tomorrow!
Related links to earlier travels
Oi bin to oybin Includes the Moravian town of Niesky.