Warsaw Castle then on to Kiev

We weren’t really planning on being in Warsaw on this trip, we had intended to hire a vehicle from Berlin and then drive our way to all the destinations we wanted to see in Eastern Europe, but as luck would have it you can hire a car in Ukraine and take it wherever you want (Crimea excepted) but you can’t hire a car in Berlin and take it east for insurance purposes.  We were only in Warsaw to basically hop a cheap flight to Kiev, but we found ourselves with a free morning so we head off into the Old Town to have a bit of breakfast and have a look around.

I have to share yale’s super healthy picked Rueben sandwich that he had for breakfast – I had a boring old omelette (that cost about $5 – gotta love the exchange rate here compared to Iceland!)
The Warsaw opera house that was built in1825 to 1833, is known as the Grand Theatre in Warsaw or Teatr Wielki w Warszawieis. It is actually a large theatre complex consisting of spaces for the national opera company and the Polish National Ballet. It is one of the largest theatres in Europe can seat over 2000 people.  Warsaw’s Castle Square, Zamkowy w Warszawie, is located in front of the Royal Castle and a seriously picturesque and popular spot.  It’s surrounded by historic townhouses and cute little cafes.

In the middle is Sigismund’s Column, which sounds much better in Polish: the Kolumna Zygmunta Originally erected in 1644, it is for obvious reasons one of Warsaw’s most famous landmarks. The statue commemorates King Sigismund III Vasa, who moved Poland’s capital from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596.

The column used to be of red marble and was only 8.5 m high, with a 2.75-metres high statue of the king. However, on September 1, 1944, the monument was completely demolished by invading Nazi Germans and the bronze statue was severely damaged.  In 1949, the statue was repaired? recreated? and set on a new granite column so Sigismund’s Column now stands at 22 metres. The Royal Castle in Warsaw, or Zamek Królewski w Warszawie, is a castle residency that formerly served for several centuries as the official residence of the Polish monarchs, including Tsar Nicolas of Russia when Poland became part of Russia after the Napoleonic wars. The complex has been the primary residence of the Dukes of Masovia since the 16th century and has been the seat of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, being for the King and for the Parliament, with fancy Chambers for the Deputies and Senate. In its long history, the Warsaw Royal Castle was repeatedly looted and devastated by the invading  Swedish, Brandenburgian, Prussian and Tsarist armies. Seems everyone wanted a piece of this Castle at some point.

Looted and completely razed to the ground by the Nazi Germans following the Invasion of Poland in 1939, it was left in ruins and then almost completely destroyed in 1944 after the failed Warsaw Uprising.  The Castle has completely rebuilt and reconstructed with fundraising efforts to complete the project starting in 1949.  Many of the Castle’s curatorial staff took great pains to try and move as many of the more important elements of the Castle’s collection and design elements to the National Historical Museum before the advancing Nazi armies could loot and subsequently destroy it entirely.  Their heroic conservation and documentation efforts are the only reason the castle has been able to be rebuilt to its original splendour and contains any of its original artefacts today.  The inner courtyard:
The Great Assembly hall is the biggest and grandest room in the Castle. This is where royal audiences, state banquets, ball and concerts were held.   Audience chamber where the most important visitors were granted an audience with King Stanislaw August, including foreign ambassadors, papal legates etc. The Throne Room has been restored with much of its original decorations and furnishings, including doors, furniture and wooden panelling.  The Polish eagles in hand embroidered silver bullion over the back of the throne’s canopy were all ripped off the original embroidery by Nazi officers in October 1939.  The 86 copies here were modelled on one of these original eagles that was retrieved from the US in 1991. Beside the Throne Room is the Conference Room or Monarchs’ Portrait Room, which was used as a parade chamber.  Dedicated to the seven monarchs of Europe at the time, it is decorated with portraits that were commissioned of their likenesses.  The portraits were painted by Jan Bogumil Plersch between 1983 and 1786.  The parquetry is amazing! The King’s bedroom as part of the residential King’s Apartment.  Some pieces of the room were preserved before the Nazi destruction allowing the room to be recreated accurately. Ceremonial sword of state late 1700s. The Small Private Chapel off the Kings Audience Chamber.
The Marble Room was designed in 1640-1642 during the reign of King Wladyslaw IV and was little used until King Stanislaw August commissioned it’s restoration to famous architect, Jakub Fontana.  It served as a second antechamber to the Throne Room.  Thankfully most of the painting in this room were removed before the Castle was bombed in September 1939, and saved from the great fires that followed.

As luck would have it – the Castle is having an exhibition of fine arts that included some famous Rembrandt works.  Our entrance ticket included entrance to the exhibition (suck that piecemeal ticketed Krakow Castle!).  My photography sucks, but it is lovely to be able to see these pieces in person.‘Girl in a picture frame’, Rembrandt, 1641 (and detail below). ‘Johann Baptist Lampi the Younger’, Antoni Jozef Lanckoronski, 1817 (and detail below). ‘Still Life with a Celestial Globe’, Carstian Luyckx, 1660s (and detail below). ‘Francis I, King of France since 1515’, from the workshop of Joos van Cleve, ca 1530 (and detail below).‘Adam and Eve’, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1520-1525.
‘Mystic Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria’, Flemish School, c.1605. (and detail below)
‘Prince Wladyslaw Zygmunt Vasa’s Kunstkammer’, Antwerp School, 1626 (and detail below). Polish Organ c. 1640. All up we had a much more positive experience at Warsaw Castle than we did at Krakow Castle – no restrictive timed ticketing, more than one person actually selling tickets, staff were helpful and interested in making sure visitors found their way around okay and even pointed out seats to us in dimly lit rooms.  They allowed us to take photography AND they had exceptional books in their gift shops.  Bonus.

As we were heading out of the castle, I saw this small child playing the accordion in the street busking for money. I am always conflicted when I see things like this – especially at midday on a school day.  Has the child been put out here to beg money by the parents?  Is he in a position of some sort of servitude.  I gave him 1 Zolty and leaned down to take his photograph while he played.  I gave him a friendly smile and he looked right through me like I wasn’t there.  Completely validating my concerns – that poor kid didn’t want to be there playing for tourists  :/  The Old Town and Castle Square is just gorgeous little area to stroll around.  But alas, we had places to go and borders to cross!
From here we hightailed it to the airport headed to Kiev.  Thankfully our experience dropping off the rental car was much easier than in Dresden – you could actually find the place which is a good start, but because of our low expectations, we found ourselves all raring to go nearly an hour before our check-in opened, which made for some excellent chilled out time for people watching.

We saw many travellers losing their shit at check-in staff and even though we couldn’t understand a word, we could definitely tell at which point the guy was demanding to see the manager.  It was hilarious… in a pain + distance = humour, kinda way.Flight was uneventful. People cheered when we landed, and some were doing that Chinese thing where you run down the aisle before the seatbelt sign was off to try and get off the plane first, only to be told they had to wait for a bus to take us off the tarmac.  yale looked quite confused, he’d never seen that before.  Then when they did get us all packed into a standing only space bus, someone had left their passport back on the plane so we all had to wait another 10 minutes.

Queues looked dreadful at check-in, like chaotic and way too many people, but the staff cleared the hall quickly – turns out the rope lines were no where near as long as I thought.  We got picked up by a hotel driver and whisked to our hotel.  So far I have noted that driers in the Ukraine seem far more steady than those in Poland… so far.

Quick dinner of beef strog and honey cake and early night sleep.  The honey cake was a disappointment, no where near as nice as I remember from Moscow.

Reyjkavik: Museums, Penises and Puffins.

We started off the morning bright and early – well, by bright, I mean it didn’t get light until nearly 8am today, and by early, I mean we didn’t leave the house until nearly 10am!  We were heading out first to go searching for a monument… the Eve Online Monument.  Eve Online is not technically ‘huge’ in the world of MMORPGs (Did I get that right? I’m am guessing I probably didn’t and by my comment, you are probably guessing correctly that I didn’t care enough to Google it!) with roughly a million die-hard players – but it is huge in Iceland. So big that they have erected an actual physical monument to the in game plaers which is engraved with all the player names on it. We went hunting it out for a friend of ours who plays so we could take a photo of his avatar engraved on the monument… It’s not exactly easy to find – but there is an online map telling you roughly which area each name is located – and yes, we found Drakey’s avatar!  It’s something to do with spaceships and wars in space or something.  I dunno.  #computergaming #notmycupoftea After ferreting out the Eve Online Monument, I convinced yale to swing past the Sun Voyager (again) so I could see it in the morning light.  This is still such a stunning piece of art.  I love it… so evocative, you can imagine it sailing out across the fjord.  🙂   This time fewer tourists were there hogging prime spots – but there’s always one jerk.  This time a Kiwi, who stood around while his wife took his pictures and then he went wandering all around the sculpture – if it had been a car, he would have been kicking the tyres – while about 10 people are standing around shivering in the freezing cold waiting for him to fuck off out of our photographs! Urgh!We were then heading indoors for a while (thankfully!) to the National History Museum, which is quite an impressive building in its own right.

I have started doing up a full post on just the items we saw in the museum – most of them are items I have not seen published in other books and catalogues, so I have done my best to capture them (in the dodgy museum lighting conditions) and to keep their detailed descriptions accessible too.  I hope to get this done when I get on a train to Prague day after tomorrow… but we will see!  There were lots of wonderful artefacts from the dark ages and medieval periods, and the second floor contained the 17th to 21st centuries – which as per usual, I skimmed through and barely took any notes at all because, well it’s just too modern for my interests.  So here is a hint of what is to come in the full musuem post:

Around the corner from the museum is the famous Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church which I have written about previously in my past travels.  It is said to be designed with the volcanic basalt columns as an inspiration and influence.  Having seen the columns on the beaches of Iceland now – I can see it a lot more clearly and have a new appreciation for the building.  Previously, it just looked like a stark, way too modern, design to be a comforting place of worship – but now it kinda seems like it belongs here. We did a little poke around the shops here a little – I stooped to buying a t-shirt… which in my defence was only marginally more costly than a tea towel at the end of summer sales.  🙂
So, lunchtime rolls around and we find ourselves hunting for the Bæjarins Bbeztu Pylsur stand, which quite literally means in English: ‘The Best Hot Dog in Town’.  We find the little food truck exactly where is supposed to be not far from the Reykjavik harbour and to my surprise, it is surrounded by people standing around in the cold, which is about 3°C but with the wind feels about -1°, eating hot dogs!  I’m not so sure about this al fresco dining thing in this weather, but we dutifully line up for a hot dog. In August 2006, The Guardian newspaper selected Bæjarins Beztu as the Best Hot Dog Stand in Europe – big call. Since then plenty of famous people have come along and tried the now world renown, Bæjarins Beztu hotdogs.  Among them are former US President, Bill Clinton, and even cooler, James Hetfield of Metallica fame… and now borys and yale join this illustrious companie of people who have stood around eating hot dogs in sub-zero temperatures.

It was so cold, but the hot dogs were tasty enough, I guess.

Across the road from the hot dog stand is the moorings for the Icelandic Coast Guard.  This ship has been here each time I have been in Reykjavik – either that or they have three identical ships (not out of the question).  I have kept meaning to take a photo of it – it’s pretty impressive.  The Icelandic Coast Guard is primarily responsible for Iceland’s coastal defences and maritime and aeronautical search and rescue processes, but they have also been called upon to do things like bomb disposal?

So… after lunch, we made our way to the famous Icelandic Phallological Museum, aka the Reykjavik Penis Museum or the Reykjavik Dick Museum. *titter titter*.

It was founded in1997 by a now-retired teacher named, Sigurður Hjartarson.  It is now run his son Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson.  Apparently, the museum grew from what was just a private collection that started when Sigurður was given a cattle whip made from a bull’s penis when he was a kid. He then started collecting penises of Icelandic animals from sources around the country and has dicks in his collection that range from the 170 cm front tip of a blue whale penis to the 2 mm (0.08 in) baculum of a hamster, which is displayed under a magnifying glass.

The museum also houses many other phallic items and artworks.  Longtime poet and environmental activist, Danish Sculptor, Pjarne P Ejass (1945 – ) created this “Viagra Phallus” in the form of a scorn pole.  The work displays the artist’s contempt for all things that deviate from the normal course of nature, and the work is intended to convey his statement, “Stop Fiddling with Nature,”  The artist donated the work to the Icelandic Phallological Museum in the summer of 2004 and it was erected in May 2005.
yale for scale. A rather painful looking toothpick holder: Dried sperm whale penis: Preserved pilot whale penis: Various penises belonging to different dolphins and porpoises: And this magnificent specimen – is a Narwhal! Narwhal! Living in the ocean…!
(Only not so much this one anymore, he’s been lopped off and preserved in formaldehyde.) African bull elephant: An eland, a dromedary and giraffe penises: Killer whale penis:  yale for scale An artwork based on the penises of the National Icelandic Handball Team that represented Iceland at the Bejing Olympics in 2008.  😮  Freyr – Viking God of Fertility:

All up the Phallological Museum was kinda interesting – it seems to be a bit of a ‘must see’ when in Reykjavik, but only because you’re literally not able to see a collection like this anywhere else in the world.  The gift shop missed some huge opportunities though – can you imagine the dick related paraphernalia they could be flogging?  Instead, there is a handful of magnets and keychains and a few bad taste aprons and knitted elephant penis socks.

While we were leaving – some of the ladies working the reception at Dick Museum were about to have some lovely looking cinnamon scrolls for afternoon tea which smelled just divine.  They told me that they were from the food hall across the street, so naturally, we decided to go find some.  Fantastic!  Cinnamon for me, and liquorice and blueberry for yale… still warm from the oven, perfect for this sort of weather.

From here we did what was probably the first bit of real touristy shopping we have done since we arrive in Iceland.  We wandered down the main shopping street which pretty much leads from the Hallgrímskirkja church down towards the waterfront esplanade.  I got to stop in the Tuilipop shop this time, which was closed when I was here last – luckily their plush Freds are not very soft or I would have found myself buying a rather expensive and unnecessary plush toy to take home! 

Icelanders have come to have a love/hate relationship with the tourists that saved them from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.  They love the income and the jobs that are provided from the huge boost they have seen in tourism over the last decade, but they hate what it is doing to their island.  Downtown Reykjavik used to be full of useful shops for locals to go do their shopping and meet with friends, now it is full of what they derisively refer to as The Puffin Shops.  Any/all souvenir shops are known as Puffin Shops and for obvious reasons…
There is so much shit here with puffins on it – and because I have been here three times now and have yet to see a single goddamn puffin that isn’t stuffed (like the AUD$450 ones in the top left hand picture!), I flatly refuse to buy so much as a sticker with a puffin on it.  I think the puffins here are like the trolls – just some sort of myth.

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After a little wander down through the town, we decided to head towards the Perlan which is a landmark building with observation decks and gallery spaces, created from some old water tanks that were high on a hill overlooking the city.  Unfortunately, the Perlan was closed from 1 Oct to 14 Oct, so we didn’t get to go in or go up.  I guess it’s that time of year – they need to do maintenance before the winter sets in properly, but don’t want to be doing it when it is going to affect too many visitors.

Then it was sadly time to head back to our AirBnB and get packing!  Oh no… time to pack to leave Iceland.  I am feeling a bit sad about going actually.  We have had almost two weeks here and seen soooo many truly beautiful places and things, but I am left feeling like there is so much more we could see and do if we had more time and way more money.  I’ve never been in a country more expensive than this place – it really makes you weigh up your travel plans – How long have I got? How much do we think we can see? Can we afford to actually eat once we get here? If we make the trip longer to see more things, can we even afford the extra night’s car hire and accommodation?!  It is just nuts. For our last night in Iceland, we thought we’d go out for one final nice, but predictably, overpriced meal.  We ended up at the Geysir Bistro near Ingólfur Square.  It was a more relaxed environment that the last two restaurants we went to and the menu looked likewise slightly more modest. But the food – still fancy AF.  We toasted our last night with some Brennavin and congratulated ourselves on having only had one shit fight in two weeks in close quarters!  😛  It’s bound to happen – travelling with people is one way to really test the friendship/relationship!  All your best and all your worst will eventually come out.  🙂 

So here’s ‘Skål..!’ to Iceland.  I have no idea if I will ever be back.  I know there is still plenty of wonders here to discover – but there’s so many places I have never been, that doubling back here again seems highly unlikely*

*I said that last time… and look what happened!  Hoping the trick works again!  😉

Tokyo is on the way to Vancouver… right?

So we are off to Canad for Christmas with the family, and as it turned out they were going to be in California pretty much right up a few days before Christmas.  We had, however, blocked aside to go from the 15th, but there was no point in going to Vancouver Island when the people we were going to visit weren’t going to return until the 21st… so what to do?  Stop over in Tokyo it is.

Our transit yesterday was pretty ordinary – I am not fond of this budget airline nonsense.  Our TA is great, but she had us on Jetstar for this leg of our trip, and to be honest, it feels like a theme park – you pay the entrance fee and then the costs keep piling up… Want a drink? $$$ Want a meal?  $$$ Want to watch a movie?  $$$ Want a blanket for the flight? more $$$..!  Maybe if the flights were super cheap.  Maybe.  But this wasn’t because it’s Christmas and for the travel industry – that is kinda like flying a wedding flag at the function industry.  Prices are up, up, up!  Anyway, we got here safely and I guess that is the bit that counts, and other than a ridiculous cock up with our train tickets to Shinjuku (the stupid woman at the counter at the airport only sold us half a ticket, one to Ueno where we got off the Skyliner train and had to switched to the JR, but not a ticket that also included the JR portion of the journey.  Much confusion and angst ensued as the English-challenged JR employee was trying to sort us out at the other end, and there is never enough patience to go around after a 14-hour commute.  :/

Finally found our hotel after much getting lost; the Google map really struggles in among the tall buildings, and we checked into the tiniest hotel rooms ever.  Slept pretty good – thanks to sheer exhaustion I dare say.

Next morning up bright and early to hang out with Amane, a friend our son had met on our cruise around Japan two years earlier.  First stop was the Imperial Palace.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace was built on the grounds of an old Edo castle.  It is surround by 3.5kms of gardens and is smack bang in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate in the world. One one side of the moat is the serene gardens and castle grounds, and the other – Tokyo CBD highrises.  It makes for an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least. Most of the leaves have dropped from the trees, but some in happy warm spots are still in lovely fall colours.  The fortifications of the old palace are seriously impressive – that large block in the bottom left is taller than I am. After a wander around the palace grounds (the palace itself is not open to the public as the current Imperial family still reside there) we took a train to Asakusa to see the markets and visit the Senso-ji temple. The Asakusa temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple and considered one of its most significant. It is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy The markets leading up to the temple are full of fun touristy stuff and yummy street food. Hozomon gate. The temple with it’s five storey pagoda. A couple out buying good fortune charms… many focused on health, money, good fortunes, passing exams, fertility – you name it.  Need a charm?  They have a specific one for you. We decided to get our omikuji fortunes.  You put your 100Y donation into a slot and pick up a steel cylinder to shake out a numbered stick.  Then select your fortune from the drawer of the same number – and voila!  Your fortune told is told. 

Mr K got 12, I got 25 and the Teenager got 34. There are seven results for omikuji, ranging from the best daikichi (大吉excellent fortune) to the worst daikyou (大凶terrible fortune).  Naturally, Mr K picked a Best Fortune, I picked a Good Fortune and the others got a Regular Fortune… I actually want to go back and find a bad fortune too!  🙂
Dad fortune; best Fortune!  Apparently.

After getting our fortunes, we visited the temple proper, starting with the rituals of drawing good health and good fortune to our persons by waving incense smoke towards ourselves and ‘bathing’ in the smoke. We then went to the fountain and washed our hands and face before approaching the shrine – the water was freezing.

At the shrine, we made our offerings and said prayers to Guanyin and Buddha.   Afterwards we wandered the markets for a while and saw lots of ladies walking around in their yukata.  Amane says she only wears her yukata for holidays like New Years and festivals, but some Japanese young ladies like to wear them out on special shopping trips – and given it’s a week until Christmas there were plenty of people out shopping. From Asakusa we jumped another train and head to Ueno.  This area is popular shopping district (though I think that phrase could be applied to nearly all of Tokyo’s well known precincts.

It is also where you find the Ueno Park district.  Ueno Park was established in the late 1800s and is now home to a number of major museums, marketplaces, the Tokyo Zoo and is famous for its cherry blossoms when they are in season. The history of the park (it was built on the site of an old temple and was the site of a battle during the Boshin war is really interesting) but also long, so check it out on Wikipedia if you are interested.

We went to the zoo first, as it was likely to close earlier than the museum, and our day was made infinitely better by panda, otters, tigers, lions, monkeys, polar bears and cranes etc.   The otter enclose had this clever contraption on the outside of the cage that the otters could access by climbing a ladder and swimming through a tunnel.  They had been carrying stones back and forth but all swam back into the enclosure as we approached. This guy was staring intently at something just outside their enclosure – but we couldn’t for the life of us figure out what it was.  I doubled back around on the otters as we were leaving the park and was interested to see they were feeding them live fish.  The otters spent about ten minutes chasing their dinner down which I think is probably better for keeping them active and stimulated than just being fed.  They were also given clams to eat, which they had to smash open with their stones.  Alas I have no photos of their feeding – they were moving too fast and the lighting conditions too low.  

There was also this guy – a Secretary Bird, which now seems to make all Pokemon make sense.  It has the head of an eagle, the body of a goose and the legs of a stork!  It looks like a living breathing wild Pokemon.  😛 

There were also rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lemurs, prairie dogs and yes even kangaroos… but the most thrilling exhibition must have been the Bin Chicken enclosure.  Yes, the humble Bin Chicken is here for the world to enjoy – only weirdly, here they are called Sacred Ibis. 

After leaving the kids to chase more African animals – Mr K and I went back into Ueno Park to check out the markets.  The markets pop up for 3-4 days at a time and have different themes.  At the moment, there was a homewares market on with loads of lovely ceramics, tools, knives, chopsticks, woodcrafts, artworks etc.

After the markets, we went to the Tokyo National Museum to see some of the country’s treasures.  The museum itself is in an impressive building but was very oddly laid out (in my experience of museums at any rate). It was supposed to be in some sort of chronological order but there were some artefacts that were in the ordered layout of the museum, with a sign beside them saying ‘to see more of these Edo period samurai suits, go to Gallery X’. Same beside the sword exhibit.  I think it was done purposefully to get guests to go through the entire museum, instead of just heading for the samurai exhibits and then leaving.  🙂

Keman – Buddhist ceremonial ornamental pendant with design of Kalavimaka birds (mythical birds).  Bronze, Showa era, 20thC reproduction of Heian period 12thC orginal.Gosuku type armour – with two-piece cuirass and white lacing.  Edo period, 17thC.
Okitenuagui Type helmet with dark blue lacking – Azuchi-Momoyama Edo period, 17thC. Yoroi Type Armour with red lacing. 20thC reproduction of 12thC Heian period original. Gusoku Type armour – with two-piece cruirass and red lacing.  Edo period, 17thC Gusoku type armour – with two-piece cuirass and bear fur, Edo period 17thC. Pillows.  Baku (mythical beast) and nandina design in maki-e lacquer.  Edo period 18thC. Pair of Boxes for Shell Matching Game Pieces – Designs from scenes of ‘The Tale of Genji’. Edo period, 17thC. Boxes like these held painted seashells for a shell-matching game.  They were important in the wedding rituals of feudal lords, as shells with two hinged parts symbolised fidelity. Karaori (Noh costume).  Pine bark lozenges, peon and pheonix roundel design on red and light blue checkered ground. Late Edo period, 18thC. Sobatsugi (Noh costume). Dragone and cloud design on dark blue ground. Edo period 18th-19thC. Nuihaku (Noh costume).  Seigaiha waves, mandarin duck, and water lily design on red ground.  Edo period, 18thC. Chukei (Noh fan).  Old pine and sun design on gold ground.  Edo period 18thC. Japanese print.  Blindman’s Buff:  Allusion to Yuranosuke at the Ichiriki Teahouse.  By Chokosai Eisho (date unknown)  Edo period, 18thC.
The print alludes to a kabuki play based on the story of the forty-seven ronin. In the scene being referenced, the hero indulges himself in amusements to fool his enemies into thinking he has given up on avenging his master’s death.
Detail: Standing Daikoku Ten (Mahakala) by Kaiken.  Wood with polychromy and inlaid crystal eyes.  Nanbokucho period, dated 1347. Mokujiki Self-Portrait.  Wood, Edo period, 1804. Shallow bowl, Kingfisher design in overglaze enamel.  Imari ware. Edo period, 17th century.  Interestingly the museum makes no note whatsoever of the beautiful kintsugi repair work done to this dish. Inscriptions of Antique Compendium of Sword Inscriptions over Ages, Edo period dated 1717.

And that was day one in Tokyo done.  After this we head back on the trains to Shinjuku for some cheap and cheerful ramen dinners – misanthropes must love these cafes where you order your meal through a machine and then someone brings you food and you don’t have to talk to anyone!  And it was a very tired borys who, 21,946 steps later, hopped in the tiny (but deep) Japanese hotel bath and actually fell asleep in the tub!

Kronborg Castle to Nyhavn

Woke up this morning, way too early, in fact, early enough to see the early morning sunrise reflected off the building outside my hotel room window.  We had asked the Forum for ideas on what to do today, and the consensus had come back… go to Kronborg Castle and make sure we add in a stop in Nyhavn to eat local food and drink local beer and watch the people go by.  So that’s exactly what we had on our agenda for the day. We took the train to Helsingor, which took about 40 minutes from Copenhagen Central Station.  The Copenhagen Pass has been great – covered all public transport costs and nearly all our musuem and attraction entry costs.

Today we had simply stunning weather to go out and visit, Kronborg Castle, also known as Hamlet’s Castle.

Kronborg is both a castle and a major stronghold in the town of Helsingor, it is considered one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe and has been UNESCO World Heritage listed since 2000.  It was also immortalised as Elsinore in Shakespeare’s epic saga, Hamlet.

The castle is located at the north-easternmost tip of the island of Zealand, which is also the narrowest point of the Oresund Sound – the body of water between modern day Denmark and Sweden, just as it was at the time the castle was built.  Here, it is barely 4 kilometers to Sweden.  The coastal fortification was of major strategic importance as it commanded one of the few outlets to the Baltic Sea. The castle is surrounded by garrisons and barrack buildings. Main entrance to the castle keep. The central courtyard and the Canon Tower. Love the old Medieval spiral staircases with their worn stone staris. The King’s apartments. See that land over there?  That’s Sweden.  Much closer than you’d expect. We were headed into ‘the King’s Tapestry Rooms’, which I have to admit I was entering with some trepidation after seeing the very very frightening, Queen’s tapestries made for Queen Margarethe II on the occasion of her 50th birthday at Christiansborg Palace.  Thankfully these were not so scary.
Tapestires, late period, possibly 17th-18th century.  There was no information on these ones, they are not the “King’s Tapestries” that we were looking for. Small apartments with primarily 17th century furnishings. Another later period tapestry… …with a chick riding a goat.  Gotta love it. The King’s bedchamber… which seems very modest compared to some of the grand bedchambers we have seen for monarchs in the last couple of weeks.  Older tapestries in the Little Gallery, though these too, are still not the “King’s Tapestries” that we were looking for. Detail:  Pelican or Pheonix?

Finally, we found “The Kings Tapestries”  Teh walls of the Little Hall are furnished with seven tapestries that were originally from a series of some forty tapestries each depicting the one hundred Danish Kings.. The walls of the Little Hall are furnished with seven tapestries originally from a series of forty tapestries portraying one hundred Danish kings. These Medieval textile masterpieces include the Tapestry depicting Oluf (reigned 1376-1387 and Tapestry depicting King Knud VI (reigned 1182-1202) and they were all commissioned in 1580.  There are another seven tapestries from this Medieval series hanging at the National Museum of Denmark, which we visited the other day – but at the time, we could not find any information on the tapestries we viewed there because the Medieval galleries were not so well labelled.  So, mystery solved!  Unfortunately, other than these fourteen surviving tapestries, the remainder have been lost.

Tapestry depicting Erik VII and Erick VIII – Erick VII was brutally murdered in a regicide at a barn at Finnerup, but his fate is scarcely mentioned in the verses at the top of the tapestry.  His son, Erick VIII, is acknowledged for having avenged his father’s murder as is proper. Tapestry of Knud VI – the king wears richly ornamented body armour with sword and shield, emphasizing his royal regalia.  He bears a breastplate with the imperial eagle referring to his opposition to the then GeEmperorperor.   Tapestry depciting Abel – a quiet and pleasant scene with a group of hunters (both mounted and on foot).  The setting sharply contrasts wit hthe ferocious acts spelled out in the verses:  “For kingship I did crave, thus my brother I sent to the grave”.   The symbolism of the falcon with its claws on a smaller bird, while a poisonous snake slips through the shrubbery is a classical theme of good fighting evil.  In this case, the evil slips away leaving the brother in the grips of his king, err the smaller bird in the grips of the falcon.  Eventually Abel was killed himself in an uprising only two years after this ruthless assassination. Tapestry of Oluf – son of Norwegian King Haakon VI and Margrete (daughter of Danish King Valdemar II), Oluf was considered a king by name but not by deed.  Oluf died before he came of age and his mother Margrete was left to defend the kingdom from Sweden and eventually unite her three Kingdoms. Tapestry of Erick VI – wearing a crown and wearing an outlandish non-period costume, it is supposed to signify that he was king ‘in distant times’.  He draws the viewer’s attention to the animal life to the left of the king, a wolf lurks (the incarnation of evil) sneaking up on its unsuspecting prey.  All is reference to his ill-fated destiny, he was assassinated by the aforementioned Abel, who envied his crown.   The wolf preying on the bird that is preying on the eel. Tapestry of Christoffer II – surrounded by noblemen’s pursuits of the hunt and the tournament, Christoffer is being mocked for his lack of jousting and warfare abilities.. “For the Kingdom’s dignity little cared, much land gave away with others shared, against the subjects I was also tough, so from my throne they pushed me off!” Tapestry depicting Valdemar II “the Victorious” – clad in shining armour, the king caries his crown as the symbol of his royalty and brandishing a sword ready for combat.  The verses give a full account of his many successful war campaigns, and it seems at least one king has been remembered kindly by history! These tapestries are fascinating – I wish there had been decent information on the other seven that we saw at the National Museum.As I was saying earlier, Kronborg is also famous as “Elsinore,” the setting of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Hamlet (though how a guy born in Stratford upon Avon with no formal/noble education knew anything about Danish history which is effectively the middle of nowhere to an Englishman from Stratford, is beyond me!?!)   Anyway, Hamlet was performed to mark the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1816, complete with a cast of soldiers from the castle garrison. The stage was in the telegraph tower in the southwest corner of the castle. The play has been repeatedly performed in the courtyard by such famous actors as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi, David Tennant, Jude Law, and of course my own personal hero, Sir Kenneth Branagh.


We went back down to the courtyard to find the chapel which is located on the ground floor in the south wing, having been consecrated in 1582.  In 1785 the castle was fitted out as an army barracks, and the chapel was temporarily repurposed as a fencing hall and gymnasium with all the furniture thankfully stored away.  In the mid-1800s, the chapel was restored and reinaugurated in 1843. The nave of the Kronborg Chapel. Just gorgeous medieval timberwork, and gilded leather walls.

Next, we ventured below the castle to the veritable rabbit warren that is the storage cellars of Krongborg.  Here, according to Arthurian myth, a Danish King known as Holger the Dane was taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay.  Holger is said to have returned to rescue France from danger before traveling to Kronborg, where now he sleeps until he is needed to save his homeland.


Worn steps leading down the the dark cold cellars.
A statue of the sleeping Danish King, Holger, has been placed here, deep in the cellars of the castle… ever vigilant for his homeland.  On a less lyrical note – this statue was the most difficult thing to photograph ever!  They have him displayed in a pitch black cavern with lighting from several sides that slowly oscillates in brightness from very dim to overly bright.  I can think of no other reason for doing so, other than to make him hard to photograph!  Anyway, about twelve pics later and job done. The cellars penetrated even further under the castle than the chambers containing Holger’s sleeping statue to large storage areas.

We eventually popped back out into the bright sunlight to the battlements… with cannon pointing out over the Sound to… Sweden!
Interestingly, every ship that sailed through the Sound had to pay a toll.  These tolls were effectively a tax paid to the King of Denmark, calculated based on the value of the ship’s cargo.  The captain of any ship passing the sound had to estimate the value of his cargo and pay the taxes accordingly – to prevent captains from understating the value of their cargo and thereby reduce the toll payable, the King had the right to buy any cargo for the price stated by a ship’s captain… thus very cleverly dissuading the captains from undervaluing their cargo.  The Sound toll was only abolished in 1857. ALL our canon are for you, Sweden! Back into the main courtyard to access the Cannon Tower for views over the castle.  Another winding Medieval staircase. The views are amazing, you can see for miles, well at least 2.3 of them – to Sweden! And back to the town of Helsingor.

A quick turn around the castle’s gift shops and we were off to find some lunch at the nearby Maritime Museum.  The Maritime Museum may be one of the most unique buildings that I have ever encountered – it is built underground in what was a disused dry dock.  You could easily walk past it and not notice it at all, were it not for the signage.

Cafe in the base of the dry dock.

Lunch of fish cakes, seaweed salad, home made tartare and pumpernickel bread. The museum has mostly late period maritime exhibits. Cafe courtyard. Auditorium in the Maritime Museum.   After a quick jaunt through the Maritime Musuem, we head back into the city to partake of some typical ‘postcard’ Copenhagen. The weather was so lovely I took several photos and could not pick my favourite – so I have included a bunch here. Ann Weiwei, famous Beijing artist who is usually heavily represented at the Asia Pacific Triennial, has done a large installation work at the moment consisting of 3,500 salvaged life jackets that were used by refugees.  They have been placed in the window frames of the famous art museum, the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, for World Refugee Day.

Just beautiful!  We stopped for a waffle, and then whiled away the afternoon over beers and ciders.

Roskilde Vikingskibs Museet and Roskilde Cathedral

This morning Copenhagen turned on another delightful summer’s day – overcast and dreary, with the promise of patchy light rain all day.  So we jumped on a train for about 30 minutes, and head out of the city center to Roskilde to see the Vikingskibsmuseet.

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde is Denmarks’ national museum for ships, boat building and seafaring in the prehistoric and Medieval periods.  The museum centers around a permanent exhibition of five extant Viking ships that were excavated not far from the museum site in the 1960s, and they conduct research and education in the fields of maritime archaeology.

The Viking Ship Museum is an active experimental archaeology research centre, with over thirty years experience in building and sailing, reconstructions of archaeological ship finds. It is a multi-disciplinary working environment with a strong focus on research and education, where experts from many different fields collaborate in several different workshops towards reconstructions.

The first, most noticeable, aspect of the rope makers workshop is the smell – it has a distinctively strong woods/organic aroma from the various rope making materials.  Flax hanging to dry. FInished rope lengths that will be used in Viking ship reconstructions. Rope making equipment. Ropes were made of many differing materials, from bull rushes and flax to elk and seal hides.  Most ropes were tarred to retard fungus and bacteria and to protect from weather and deterioration. The elk and seal hide ropes had a natural waxy waterproof texture.

A little further into the complex is a ship building workshop where the master ship builders are constantly working on recreating and perfecting another Viking ship.  Clamps to hold timbers during construction.
The workshop may look reasonably modern with modern lighting in a modern building, but all the tools used are replicas of period tools that would have been used during the Viking age to build ships. Larger reconstructions are done in the outside part of the shipyard. 


Nearby is a timber yard, where timbers are being dried cut into planks using traditional wedging techniques.  Large sections of tree are laying about earmarked for particular use in upcoming reconstruction projects.

These diagrams demonstration how a single ship was often made using many differing timbers, each chosen for their particular characteristics, whether that is for strength, flexibility, durability or structure.

Different sections of these tree species have varying natural tensile properties, and the traditional Viking shipbuilders utilized these characteristics to good effect – choosing certain timber for certain ship parts, and certain sections from certain trees for their inherent natural properties that were most suitable for those parts.

Next, we saw the blacksmithy.  There was not supposed to be anyone working the smithy today, but happily, there was a guy there working the bellows and bashing away at some piece of iron while we were there, with a range of various period items made of iron in his forge.

Nails.  While it must be boring for the smith to make so many nails, they were integral to the ship building process.

Flax has been used to produce textiles in Scandinavia since the Iron Age.  Transforming the plant into fiber that can be spun, and then woven, is quite a long and complex process though.  Sails on the reproduction ships have so far been made of linen and wool, which archeological evidence also demonstrates were used for sailmaking, but no flax sails have been made at the Roskilde shipyard yet.  Sails are created of up to five long panels which are sewn together and then impregnated with fats, oils, tar or pitch to help prevent rot and to make them more windproof.

The Sea Stallion of Glendalough is the largest reconstruction ship made at the shipyard to date.  In the summer of 2007 and 2008, the Sea Stallion from Glendalough sailed from Roskilde to Dublin and back.  The Sea Stallion is a reconstruction of the 30 meter long warship, Skuldelev 2, which was originally built in Ireland in 1042 and which is on display in the Viking Ship Museum hall.   It traversed the North Sea, the Irish Sea, and the English Channel.  During the voyage, the ship passed through the very same landscapes which were part of Viking history 1000 years ago. (Photos by Werner Karrasch – photographer at the Viking Ship Museum). The summer 2007-2008 voyage:The Sea Stallion today.

There are plenty of other replica ships about based on the other Skuldelev ships that are in the museum.

Replica of a 3-sail smack 
This replica was built by Tom Nicolajsen and his students in 1995 as a practice vessel for the students.  The original smack was built of pin on oak in Assens for fishing in the southern Little Belt for eel, and cod and sometimes porpoises.  The smack is rigged with tow or three spritsails on removalbe masts and is typical of south and west Funen.
Oars: 4
Length:   6.3m  Breadth:  2.2m  Draught:  0.8m
Total sail area:  25 sq m
Crew: 2 men
Max speed:  at sail 6 knots, at oars, 3 knots.

Attamannafar from the Faroe Islands (centre in the picture)
Built by Niclas i Koltri of pine construction.  The turbulent and unforeseeable weather and strong currents between the islands required especially seaworthy boats that were also light enough to be hauled up onto the beach as required.  The Attammanafar carries a lug mainsail and a small mizzen mast, both of which are easy to rig down and store in the bottom of the boat.  The oars are the main source of propulsion in all kinds of weather.
Oars: 8
Length 7.8m   Breadth 1.9m   Draught:  0.3m
Sail area: 10sqm
Crew: 9 men
Max speed:  sail 6 knots, oars: 5 knots.  (pictured centre)

Oselver Faering, Norway, 1970.
Built of pine by Einar Killveit, at Hardanger in Norway.  The very broad planking, only three strakes in each side, distinguishes this type of boat.  Thanks to its particularly good rowing characteristics, it was used for traveling along the Norwegian skerries.  It was also used as a ‘trader’ for transporting light cargo of farm produce and made an ideal fishing boat.
Oars: 4
Length: 5.5m   Breadth:  1.55m  Draught:  0.2m
Crew: 2-3 men
Max speed:  5 knots.

There are many other replica boats around also, most of which are based on the Skuldelev finds in the museum proper.

On the lawn outside the Viking Ship Museum is a recreation of a 9th century labyrinth that was found close to the ruins of the monastic settlement of Glendalough in Ireland.  The site of Glendalough was an important place of pilgrimage for more than 1500 years.  The labyrinth and the movement through its paths are often used as a form of meditation – it is apparently considered very bad luck to step through and cheat your way out! Some other Viking games were also set out for visitors to try:

Thor’s Hammer Throw:
Thor, the God of War and Thunder, used his hammer Mjolner in the battle against the giants. The hammer was the perfect weapon; always returning to Thor’s hand once it hit its target.  Vikings didn’t actually use hammers as a combat weapon – they preferred swords, spears, axes and bows/arrows, but the myth about Thor and his hammer endures.

The aim of the Hammer Throw Game is to ‘hit a giant’.  The statues (giants) are positioned on the ground at different distances, each player gets only three throws of a hammer attached to a rope, with a view to knocking over the giants.  Whoever knocks over the most giants wins.  Can be played with many giants at different distances.
The ‘giants’ are around 45-60cm tall and have different weights and varying degrees of ugly.

Casting the Mooring Line
Ships and seamanship were important aspects of Viking life.  Good seamanship required robustness, nimble fingers and precision.  Ability to gauge distances and good throwing technique were essential for casting mooring lines for ships.

The aim of Casting the Mooring Line is to hit the targets with the stone.  Six stanchions (timber pegs) are sunk into the ground at varying distances apart, and mark the mooring posts you must hit.  The thrower stands behind a marked point and gets three throws with a stone attached to a rope.  Only the stone end should be thrown, while the other end of the rope (the ship end) must stay with the thrower (being held under the throwers foot, or pegged down).  The best throws hit the space in between the stanchions on the course.   Each thrower gets four throws for maximum points.

1pt         3pts       5pts      3pts        1pt

The Troll’s Head
There are many different versions of tug-of-war.  In a saga from the Middle Ages, Hasti has a tug-of-war competition against Hord.  The contest takes place over a fire and the two contestants pull opposite ends of a skin.  In ‘The Troll’s Head’ game, the aim is to force your opponent to step into the troll’s ferocious mouth.

A circle of rope or painted cloth is laid on the ground and forms the ‘troll’s head’.  The players hold hands and form a circle around the troll’s head (remove any finger rings that might get in the way).  Now you must run, pull and push to try and get others into/onto the troll’s head without losing your grip on one another.  Those who step into the troll’s head are out of the game. The last man standing is the winner.

Also popular is a traditional coits game with a cross bar target and rope coits of varying ropes (which have different weights).
After playing around on the green for a while, it was time to go sailing on a historically accurate Viking ship that had been built by hand, using traditional techniques and tools, right here in the Roskilde Viking shipyard.

And we have perfect Viking weather for such things – grey, dismal, and constant light drizzly rain.
Getting instructions on the various oar commands we needed to use. Captain never said, “Row ya bastards!”… not even once!  🙂  He just encouraged people to listen for the slap of the oars in the water and to try and get them in time.  Have to admit we were pretty terrible rowers but we managed to manouevre our craft into the open harbour. From here the sail was hoisted and we moved along with relative ease. Ballast in the bottom of the boat. Nearly getting knocked in the head as we tacked.After our bracing sail around the Roskilde harbour, we went over the Vikingskib Museet to see the remnants of some extant Viking ships that had been found in the Roskilde Fjord, and to hopefully warm up!

The Viking Age (arguably) covers approximately from 750 to 1100AD and was characterized by large-scale trading and raiding expeditions, national unification, some urbanization and a wide scale conversion to Christianity.  Around the year 1000, the power of the Danish realm was concentrated in Roskilde, as the new monarchical and ecclesiastical capital.  The town was unfortified but naturally protected at the base of Roskilde Fjord.  The town center was situated on a hilltop overlooking a wide landing place where ships could lay at anchor.

The towns primary protection from invaders relied on a system of signal fires (beacons) placed strategically down the fjord from the mouth of the fjord at Kattegat into Isefjord.  Beacons would have been set on high ground with good visibility to the next beacon.  The town’s secondary defense consisted of unseen sunken ships, piles of stone, driven posts and floating palisades near the island of Kolholm which allowed the three sailing channels to be blocked off when under attack.  Five sunk ships have been recovered from the Peberrenden channel that was used for this purposes.  They have been labeled Skuldelev 1 through to 5.  Skuldelev 1, 3 and 5 were filled with stones and scuttled between 1060 and 1070.  A few years later the barriers had partially disintegrated and two more ships Skuldelev 2 and 4 were also scuttled.  The channel was still navigable but required local knowledge.

The town’s secondary defense consisted of unseen sunken ships, piles of stone, driven posts and floating palisades near the island of Kolholm which allowed the three sailing channels to be blocked off when under attack.  Five sunk ships have been recovered from the Peberrenden channel that was used for this purposes.  They have been labeled Skuldelev 1 through to 5.  Skuldelev 1, 3 and 5 were filled with stones and scuttled between 1060 and 1070.  A few years later the barriers had partially disintegrated and two more ships Skuldelev 2 and 4 were also scuttled.  The channel was still navigable but required local knowledge.

The ships were initially investigated underwater in the 1950s and not long after a cofferdam barrier was built in 1962 allowing the area to be drained and hundreds of thousands of ship parts to be excavated.  There followed the worlds biggest jigsaw puzzle that took 25 years to complete, as the five Skuldelev collections of different ships, used for fishing, trading, defense, and warfare,  were painstakingly pieced back together.

They provide a unique perspective on Viking Age maritime culture; shipbuilding, seamanship and the ability to journey far from their homes.

Coastal Trader ship – small elegant trading and transport vessel, of the byrding type.  Made of Danish oak, it has decks of loose plans and an open hold for about 4 tons of cargo.  The ship would have been crewed by 5-8 men.

Wreck 5 is a small warship possibly of the snekke type.  Built of Danish oak, ash and pine party by reusing timber from other ships.  With 13 pairs of oars, and about 30 warriors, it is one of the smallest longships in a war fleet.  Along the sheerstrake are remnants of a shield rack.

The Longship was an ocean going warship, possibly of the skeid type.  With a crew of 65-70 warriors, it must have been the ship of a magnate, a vessel like those whose praises were sung in ancient skaldic verse and sagas.  The ship was built of oak, and tree-ring analysis of the timber revels the ship was built in the Dublin area around 1042.  Vikings had settled Ireland as early as 800AD and established several fortified bases along the Irish coast.  The long narrow shape of the ship allowed for great speed and the manning of 60 oars would have allowed the ship to keep moving even without wind.  The Sea Stallion from Glendalough is a reconstruction of this ship, and under sail, it has a top speed of 12 knots.

Small Fishing vessel – this ship is a combined rowing and sailing vessel probably built for fishing or seal hunting.  It was built of pine planks near Sognefjord in Norway.  Later an extra plank was added to increase the height of the side in order to transport more efficiently cargoes of livestock, trading goods or people.  During the alterations, the rowlocks were removed and the number of oars reduced.  The conversion suggests that the ship was probably used more for transport and less fishing, sailing with a smaller crew.

After the museum we stopped for a bite to eat at the shipyard’s cafe – New Nordic Viking Food as it was touted on the menu, so we thought we’d give it a crack.  A flatbread plate with a beer, some red wine and some mead… it was so good!
Beer-braised pork with crunchy crackling on flat bread with cabbage, grated carrot, pickled red onion, watercress and sea buckthorn salad with herbed crime fraiche dressing.

After lunch, we walked into Roskilde to see the famous Roskilde Cathedral.  Roskilde Cathedral is the first gothic cathedral to be built of brick – its success encouraged the brick gothic style throughout Northern Europe.  Originally constructed during the 12th to 13th centuries, the cathedral has many gothic and romanesque architectural features.  It was Zealand’s only cathedral until the early 20th century.

It’s beautiful twin spires dominate the skyline of the city of Roskilde. Towards the altar and the nave of the church. Pulpit, c.1610 AD. Gorgeous carved timber pews worn with age. Organ. Stalls leading towards the altar. I have no idea what this guy with the club is doing to that baby… but it could be a representation of the Slaughter of the Innocents. The magnificent altarpiece, c.1555 AD, was a gift from Christian IV of Denmark. The cathedral has been the primary burial site for Danish monarchs since the 15th century – to accommodate an increasing number of royals over the centuries, it has been extended and altered to contain a considerable number of burial chapels. Burial tomb of Margarethe I of Denmark. The crypt directly under the altar. Looking down on the crypts behind the altar from the choir balconies. Monument of Frederick II, in the Chapel of the Magi. Amusing tourist bus directly outside the cathedral!
Roskilde pedestrian shopping street – it’s a lovely quiet part of the city.  Roskilde Cathedral attracts barely 125,000 visitors each year and as such there is relatively little tourism hustle and bustle here, which makes a nice change from the Copenhagen CBD. Interesting juxtaposition of street art and period building techniques.After Roskilde, we head back to Copenhagen to rest our feets before finding somewhere funky and local to have dinner… Sadly, in our quest to avoid another Irish pub, (this area is just littered with them) we ended up at a Hard Rock Cafe !  😛