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Danish confluence

Lakshmi Sharath, Dec 9 2017, 21:55 IST
Roskilde, Denmark.Photo by author

Roskilde, Denmark.Photo by author

It's the kind of day when the wind turns lusty and starts flirting with you. The dark clouds cloak the sun as I sit on a stone bench in the charming Old Town of Roskilde, attempting to fit into the shoes of the legendary fairy tale author, Hans Christian Andersen.

A pair of massive metal galoshes is placed on the cobbled street below the bench. There is a story behind the sculpture; it's believed to be an interpretation of the fairy tale The Galoshes of Fortune penned by Andersen. According to the lore, a group of men want to escape to the medieval era and travel back in time by wearing these galoshes. However, I do not feel the need to fly into a land of fantasy as I'm in one right now, steeped in Viking lore.

Located on the island of Zealand near Copenhagen, Roskilde is one of the oldest capitals of Denmark. The railway station here is believed to be the oldest in the country, as the first train from Copenhagen chugged into the platform here in 1847. Stepping out of the portals of the station, my eyes feast on three towering jars standing tall at 16 feet. Referred to as Roskilde Jars, they commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the town, representing life, birth and death, and were created by Danish sculptor Peter Brandes.

From here springs the name

Pottering around the main square, Stændertorvet, the town seems more like a fairy-tale land carved out of Andersen's pages than a land ruled by the Vikings. But it takes its name from a Viking ruler named Roar as it was called Ro's spring. 'Kilde' in Norse referred to a fountain.

Every stone of Roskilde has a story to tell, but all roads lead to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 13th century Roskilde Cathedral, the first Gothic Brick Cathedral to be built in Europe. Buried in this massive cathedral are 39 Danish kings. But I'm interested in just one of them €“ Harald Bluetooth Gormsson. It was Bluetooth who made Roskilde the capital of Denmark and apparently built a wooden church, which is where the cathedral stands today.

Bluetooth owed his nickname to a dead tooth that looked blue, but he is known today for lending his name to the Bluetooth technology. According to my guide, he was one of the few Viking rulers who brought the warring factions together and hence became the inspiration for the technology that connected devices.

Standing beside the Roskilde Cathedral is the palace built in baroque style, painted in the characteristic Danish yellow colour. The palace is now a Museum of Contemporary Art.

It's not enough for me to step into the shoes of Andersen alone. Wearing a life jacket and struggling to hold an oar in my arm, I attempt to set sail into the wild seas like the Vikings.

We are sitting in a wooden boat that has been recreated in Roskilde, and it looks straight out of the Viking era. As we start sailing, the winds howl and growl as the sails come down. We are tossed around as the oceans turn choppy. It starts raining heavily. "I can handle thunderstorms, but this is something else," says Dylan, our instructor who has braved these oceans and sailed from Denmark to Ireland.

An hour later, we are back on the shore at the Viking Ship Museum where 1,000-year-old ships discovered during the Viking era are showcased. These ships, called the Skuldelev, were found on the Roskilde fjord during an excavation, stacked on top of each other.

The stacked ships choked the fjord and defended the capital from any possible assault from the seas. Walking around, I see a small boatyard where similar ships are recreated for sailing expeditions with the same tools, ropes and axes used by the Vikings. Some tourists assemble their own little ships and carry home a souvenir.

After the rain-wash

The rain abates a bit as the town shines in a fresh coat of paint. The streets are suddenly full of life as we head back towards the Old Town, stopping by Roskilde Museum. I see a small park with a colourful mural that talks about naughty nuns in a medieval convent.

Sitting in a quaint café and sipping a cup of hot chocolate, I'm lost in a time warp. Roskilde has an ageless spirit to it even though the town is over a 1,000 years old. And it beats to the rhythm of pulsating rock music as it hosts one of Europe's largest music festival every year - The Roskilde Festival. There is an energy here which is rather inexplicable. Perhaps it has something to do with the fairy-tale charm of Andersen and the adventurous spirit of the Vikings blended here.

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