A Bit of Medieval Norway in South Dakota

A Bit of Medieval Norway in South Dakota

The Borgund Stavkirke, located near Laerdal Norway, was built about 1150 AD.  In 1969, Americans of Norwegian immigrant descent created an exact replica in Rapid City, South Dakota.  They had the permission and architectural plans supplied by the Norwegian government and the help of a master carver in Norway.

stavkirke south dakota

The Stavkirke is entirely made of wood and joined together with wooden pegs.  There is not one nail holding the structure in place not even in the roof.

The carvings of snakes and dragons are a holdover from Viking beliefs that represent the battle between good and evil.  Dragons were believed to be good (which is why they were always on the prow of a Viking ship).  The Stavkirke has lots of dragons as well as crosses showing the merging of older pagan beliefs with Christianity in medieval Norway.


Inside the Stavkirke, the ceiling is constructed like an upside-down Viking ship hull.

stavkirke interior

The front door has replicas of the original door furniture – a ring and a lock.  The ring was both a door knocker and a sanctuary ring in medieval  Norway. If an outlaw could hold onto the ring, they would be spared being killed.  Of course, he could also starve to death holding onto the ring since no one was bound to help him.

stavkirke lock

On the grounds is also a Norwegian settler’s log cabin which was relocated from nearby Keystone, South Dakota.  The immigrant, Edward Nielson, came to the the Black Hills in 1876 to prospect for gold.  Originally from Hole, Ringerike in Norway, he was 33 when he arrived in South Dakota.

stavkirke log cabin

The statues are a bit cheesy but this house has stuff typically brought by Norwegian immigrants.  It is an amalgam of a typical early settler’s house and not everything shown was available in each house.  The immigrants brought some tuff from Norway when they emigrated which was usually whatever they could fit into a small trunk like the one shown below.

settler's trunk

Being master craftsmen, the immigrants were able to put their woodworking skills to good use by making what they needed for their new life, starting with a house itself and then all the interior items, such as beds, children’s toys and cooking utensils.

I found this painting of a nostalgic scene from Norway touching.  This immigrant painted this scene from memory and he would never see his old home, family or friends again.  The journey was arduous and expensive to undertake and visits home would have been an impossibility. I didn’t have such worries when I moved to England because I knew I could visit my family and friends in the USA often.

settler painting

I am amazed at the courage it would take to pack your whole life into a trunk, leave everything you know behind and move to an unknown and somewhat hostile environment.  I don’t think I could have done it – could you?

Peaceful Coexistence in Copenhagen

Peaceful Coexistence in Copenhagen

I found Copenhagen an interesting mix of the old and the new, tradition and subversion.  For example, the Church of Our Saviour is a traditional Baroque church situated near the hippie commune of Christiania.  In another example, the Royal Library is a complex of two very different buildings – one traditional and the other strikingly contemporary.  Amazingly, all these contradictions exist side by side with no apparent tension between them.

Royal Library

The Royal Library in Denmark houses every book that has ever been printed in Denmark since the 17th century.  Founded in 1648, and situated over four sites, the library building in Copenhagen harbour was built in 1906.  In 1999, however, an addition was built which is striking and very contemporary.  Designed by Danish architects, the addition is known as the Black Diamond because its exterior is made of black marble and glass.  The two parts are connected by bridges and each part is equally striking.

The Church of Our Saviour

The Church of Our Saviour is a Dutch baroque style church in the Christianshavn section of Copenhagen built in the late 17th century.  It is famous for its spire which has a winding staircase on the outside which can be climbed by intrepid visitors.

Church of our Saviour Spire

You have amazing, vertigo-inducing views over Copenhagen from the spire.

The spire is black and gold with stairs that turn 4 times anti-clockwise around it.  With each turn, the stairs get narrower and then at the end it just stops (with no warning).  At least there are railings on the side of the stairs.

church of our saviour spire railings

You climb a total of 400 steps to the top of the spire and the last 90 steps are outside.  The inside steps take you past all the church bells which are also famous for the melodies they play every hour.

stairs at church of our saviour

We were a little stunned that you can bring children on this climb including the outside.  All patrons are advised that they are proceeding at their own risk.  There are, however, no security guards at the top of the spire.  You really are on your own with a bird’s eye view of Copenhagen.


Christiania is an 84 acre self-governing zone within Copenhagen established in 1971 by a group of hippies and artists who took over an old, disused military base.  They wanted to set up a community where people lived by the rules of freedom and tolerance.  Today, the commune is thriving with approximately 1000 people.  With no cars, the preferred mode of transportation are bikes.  All this 70’s style peace and love is about 10 minutes away from central Copenhagen and down the street from the Church of Our Saviour.

Christiania bike

You are cheekily reminded that Christiana recognises no law other than its own (and that goes for the EU too!).  I am really impressed with Danish tolerance of this mild rebellion.  If it were the USA, the FBI would have stormed the grounds decades ago.

Christiania sign about leaving the EU

Photography is not allowed on the main drag, aptly named Pusher Street, because drugs are sold openly.  The sweet smell of pot wafts through the air but not any more so than Camden Market in London on the weekend.

Christiania is actually Copenhagen’s second most-visited tourist site (after Tivoli Gardens).  Slightly puzzled looking tourists wander around the area inhaling second-hand pot smoke.  The locals are either going about their business or chilling in their own happy buzz.  Apparently, Christiania has its own currency but I was able to purchase a Pepsi with Danish Kroner.  Christiania appears to set itself apart from Copenhagen and, yet, is sensible enough to still be a part of it.


I would love to see more of Copenhagen.  I was in the city for a long weekend as part of the Hive 2014 European Bloggers Conference and didn’t have much time to sightsee.  Next time, though, I will definitely take the family.  Mr. N will like all the great restaurants and the children will love the canal tour and Tivoli Gardens.  I am not brave enough, however, to take them up the spire of the Church of Our Saviour!

Stepping Back In Time In Bayeux

Stepping Back In Time In Bayeux

Bayeux is a beautiful town in Normandy which we visited during our recent road trip around the Battle of Normandy sites.  It is famous for the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the Norman conquest of England.  Having escaped relatively unscathed from World War II, the town is full of medieval buildings.  The River Aure flows through the centre of Bayeux and adds to its charm.

River Aure

Although the Bayeux Tapestry was supposedly woven by William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda and her ladies-in-waiting at the end of 11th century, in all likelihood the needlework was done by monks in England.  William the Conqueror’s half-brother, Bishop Odo, commissioned it for the Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Bayeux which dominates the centre of town.

The Bayeux Tapestry would originally have been displayed in the town’s cathedral but now is in a museum in the centre of town.  Listed as a UNESCO world heritage item, the Bayeux tapestry is 70 meters long and 50 centimetres high with 58 separate scenes.  Its depictions of the battle scenes are understandably favourable towards the Normans.  It was almost destroyed during the French Revolution when it was used as a wagon cover!

I thought the tapestry was amazing.  The amount of detail is astounding.  It’s easy to tell that war in any century was a gruesome event.  The colours, moreover, are still vibrant, especially for embroidery that is over 900 years old.  You are given an audio guide which explains the scenes of the tapestry very well.  You are rushed through the visit, however, because the commentary is fairly speedy and there is no pause button on the audio guide.  Presumably, they need to keep people moving in periods of heavy visitor numbers.

bayeux tapestry copy

Consecrated in 1077, the Bayeux cathedral was meant as a place of worship for religious people, such as the priests and monks.  As such, the cathedral has very few stained glass windows.  In the Middle Ages, stained glass was used as a teaching mechanism for the masses to understand the teachings of the Catholic Church.  The religious, however, should presumably know their catechism and, therefore, stained glass was not needed.

This giant bell, named Therese-Benedict, was on display in the nave of the Bayeux Cathedral when I visited last month.  Being installed on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, this bell has special significance because it has been 156 years since a bell has been replaced.  It will be run for the first time on the 14th of June during the height of the 70th anniversary celebrations.

bayeux bell

The town of Bayeux is very pretty with cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and mellowed stone buildings. Its buildings survived the carnage inflicted on other towns during World War II because it was the first big town to be liberated by the Allied Forces on the morning of the 7th June 1944.  Bayeux served as the provisional capital of France in 1944.

The Bayeux war cemetery is the largest British Commonwealth cemetery from World War II in Europe.

bayeux war cemetery

Although there was little fighting in Bayeux itself, the cemetery is the resting place of many who died in the region.  Located just outside of the town, the cemetery has had a major facelift with brand new tombstones and landscaped grounds. It is a fitting tribute to the brave men who sacrificed their lives for the greater good.

We really enjoyed our visit to Bayeux and wished we had more time to wander its cobblestone streets. You can easily combine a trip to Bayeux with visits to the D-Day landing beaches.