Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Watch out for the vikings! (Revisited)

Suddenly, Spain is gone.

It makes me wonder about how easily this happens. But rather than think of some shiftless trait, I'd like to believe that it is due to having a broad comfort zone. Mind you, gone but not forgotten.

With Germanic efficiency we are whisked from Berlin to Hamburg. Fields of wheat, poppies and sunflowers - long gone in the Andalucian heat. The whole train rolls straight onto a super ferry for the crossing to Denmark.

København is to be our initial Denmark base. And a bloody nice place to wash up. A tourist office newspaper states: "Unfortunately many people criticise Copenhagen as being expensive. In reality, it is on a par with New York and London." Let me clarify. It's expensive. But quite a party town.

And what a language! Words seem extremely long with strings of repeated consonants, liberal doses of js and ys thrown mid word and then the vowels have little circles or double dots over them or slashes through os. But everyone speaks perfect English, and probably German, and French, and ... But the written word is nearly all Danish. And there's no correlation to English words. One word I have got the hang of though: Mad, which translates as food. That's important.

It's hard to tell if the name of this yacht is poetic, romantic, whimsical or something more powerful, But one thing for sure, it certainly doesn't roll off the tongue of an Anglophone.

I tried to understand some Danish TV news. I'm pretty sure the lead story was about a train being a minute and twenty seconds late. Everything is neat and tidy, everything works, everything is so organised, the people are polite - and handsome. And speaking of trains: international, domestic and commuter trains all have wi-fi hot spots in each carriage.

There's much acknowledgement to literary history. Hans Christian Andersen statues litter parks. Not to mention the poor, sad, little mermaid down by the tourist inundated harbour side.

But a really cool thing for us was completing another of those travel connections. As I've written about in the past, we visited the Karen Blixen house outside Nairobi, Kenya. Travelling, I read Out of Africa. Now we were able to visit her birthplace, and where she returned home to, Rungstedlund, and completed all her writings. And she features on the basic Danish banknote, the 50 kroner.

And my book for this trip: Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything (Doubleday, 2003). It's another from the stack that was at the side of the bed in Wilton. There's three or four more, now on their way to London. It's quite a read, but written with the characteristically Bryson readability and his beguiling narrative style. But already his layman's explanations mean I now understand what the theory of relativity is about - not the theory, just what it is about. And he gives the best explanation, making it quite simple really, of the Doppler Effect.

And here's something I didn't know, despite having visited. Dublin, Ireland, was founded by Danish Vikings as a ship building centre. (Live and learn, or travel and learn seems more appropriate.) Excitement was building as we visited a Viking museum in Roskilde. We will miss it by a few days, but the Havingsten fra Glendalough (The Sea Stallion of Glendalough), a replica of the Skuldelev 2 Viking ship built in Dublin in 1042AD returns from Dublin. It will be completing a 38 day trip around the south coast of England and back through the North Sea. This follows a 2007 trip from Denmark up to Norway, across to the islands of northern and western Scotland, down to the Isle of Man and then Dublin. It's a 30m long vessel, 4m wide, that took 7,000 iron rivets, 334 trees and 48,000 man hours between 2004-2007 to build. The video of the 62-man and women crew sailing it across the North Sea is pretty alarming.

On a Sunday afternoon we got to watch the finish of the Tour of Denmark cycle race. A six-stage event, contested by all the top teams, but by
'reserves' or 'apprentice' riders. The final 165km stage finished with seven laps in the inner city. There was a half dozen Aussies competing.

But the surprise was that they had a 'King of the Mountain' grade. I don't think I have seen a hill in Denmark. In fact the highest spot in the country is 172.5 metres - they need that 0.5.

But, CSC Saxo Bank riders took out first and second place in the big sprint to the finish. And for the record, Jakob Furgslag, a Danish local riding for Team Design Kokken won the tour.

We went across to an island the Danes call Hven, and the Swedes Ven. It's closest to Denmark, but is part of Sweden - handed over years ago as a settlement between the two warring neighbours. Ven was granted to one Tycho Brahe, a nobleman, and between 1576 and 1597 he created one of the first research institutes in the history of science, studying astronomy, meteorology, cartography and early medicines. It became a meeting place for scholars from all over Europe. Astronomy was his main interest, and today a series of planet information sculptures are placed around the island. There is also a statue of Tyco staring into the heavens.

Brahe was one of the believers that Earth was the centre of the universe, though conceded that the other planets did orbit the sun which, in turn, orbited Earth. He was at odds with Copernicus. However, one Johannes Kepler, well known to Kiwis and one of Brahe's first scholars on Ven, used all good old Tyco's collected data to in turn prove that Copernicus's theory was right - the sun was the centre of the universe. Again, live and learn or travel and ...

The island is a rural, low key place rather gorgeous on the eye. We experienced the most rain since Ethiopia a year ago, after three lovely days in Copenhagen. However, a climate with rain does make for green grass fields (with huge hares bounding about) and lush forests - something we have missed in Andalucia. But the farm cottage was a lovely place to hunker down.

The weather didn't stop us from getting out and about for some brisk walks. Our second day was much better, and we hired bikes and rode the network of cycle paths on sturdy, single speed bikes that felt like a steamroller after the Orbea. The cycle paths made great running tracks as well. There are power generating wind turbines all over Denmark (Europe it seems) but it was a surprise to see rows of them in the ocean on the way to the island.

Bikes and running remind me of events back in Copenhagen. I haven't seen so many bikes since Beijing. But man, you have to look out and take care as a pedestrian. Don't step off the footpaths without a good look for bikes. And running, oh boy, the lakes and canals make for some nice runs. But the tanned, blond chicks out running. Enough.

The label on the reverse side of a Tuborg stubby reads:

1. Seize bottle
2. Remove cap
3. Indulge.

No nonsense those Danes.

aka Max


Juan Jose said...

Mad, I'm Juanjo Carrasco. from Ciclos 2000 Antequera.

Today I have known your countryman. They are from Australia also and live in Villanueva of the Concepcion. They have said to me that they have spoken with you. I need to contact with them.
My e-mail is:
I wait for your response. A greeting.

Kevin said...

Good read Max, glad to hear you and Debbie are fit and well.

Cheers Kevin W.