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.

stavkirke

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

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.

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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!

Why You Should Visit Bayeux France:  A City Famous For Two Invasions Nearly 1000 Years Apart

Why You Should Visit Bayeux France: A City Famous For Two Invasions Nearly 1000 Years Apart

How did Bayeux France find itself at the heart of two invasions that shaped world history that took place nearly 1000 years apart? An accident of geography locates Bayeux just a few miles from the Northern coast of France. Bayeux France is famous for the Bayeux Tapestries (a UNESCO world heritage listing) commemorating the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. Conversely, Bayeux is also the first city liberated in France from the Nazis in 1944 during World War II. Among the cool things to do in Bayeux France are visiting the 900+ year old Bayeux Cathedral, the Bayeux Tapestry Museum and the Bayeux war cemetery.

What Makes Bayeux France Special?

The ancient city of Bayeux Normandy is nearly 2000 years old. Along this epic timeline you had the Gauls, the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the English, the French, the Germans, the Allied Forces and the French again.

The River Aure flower through picturesque Bayeux Normandy  which escaped unscathed from World War  2

The River Aure flower through picturesque Bayeux Normandy which escaped unscathed from World War 2

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 – the day after D-Day. With the arrival of General de Gaulle’s French forces on June 14, Bayeux was briefly the capital of Free France until the liberation of Paris!

Bayeux is famous for the Bayeux Tapestries 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.

 

5 Cool Things to Do in Bayeux France

There are plenty of things to do in Bayeux France apart from soaking in its small city charm especially if you are a history buff.

Bayeux Tapestry Museum

The Bayeux Tapestries shows the events leading up to the conquest of England by William the Conqueror and his Norman forces in 1066.

Fun Fact! Although usually referred to in the singular, the Bayeux Tapestries are in actuality a series of tapestries. 

The Bayeux tapestry facts

The Bayeux tapestry scenes are great propaganda starting well before the Norman invasion and depict William as a fine upstanding friend of Harold.

King Harold reneges on his promise made at Bayeux that William would be his successor. What is a Norman-mere-generations-removed-from-his-Viking-ancestors to do? Invade, of course. King Harold had it coming.

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 Bayeux Cathedral.

The Bayeux Tapestry in France was almost destroyed during the French Revolution when it was used as a wagon cover!

The Bayeux tapestry length is remarkable –  70 meters long and 50 centimetres high with 58 separate scenes.

William’s invasion of England was the last time anyone was able to successfully invade the country. Fascinated with the Bayeux Tapestry in France, the Nazis were on a mission to proved that it was people of Germanic ancestry who invaded (not the Normans) as part of their goal for European domination.

A Bayeux tapestry image shows the level of detail in the famous Bayeux Tapestries

A Bayeux tapestry image shows the level of detail in the famous Bayeux Tapestries

Bayeux Tapestry Location

The Bayeux tapestry location has changed over the years. The Bayeux Tapestries would originally have been displayed in the nave of the Bayeux cathedral but now is in a museum in the centre of town.

Bayeux Tapestry Scenes

I thought the Bayeux tapestry scenes were amazing, propaganda or not.  The amount of detail on the Bayeux tapestries 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 Bayeux tapestry scenes 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.

Moreover, you are on a walkway in the Bayeux Tapestry Museum similar to what is done for the crown jewels at the Tower of London. Presumably, the Bayeux Tapestry Museum needs to keep people moving in periods of heavy visitor numbers.

 

Bayeux Cathedral

The Bayeux Cathedral, Notre Dame de Bayeux, is a large gothic structure in the center of the old town.

Dedicated to local hero, William the Conqueror, who was present at its consecration in 1077, Bayeux Cathedral has elements dating back to the 11th century. There are guided tours of Bayeux Cathedral available during the summer.

Bayeux Cathedral was the first Bayeux Tapestry location but now it resides in temperature-controlled comfort at the Bayeux Tapestry museum in the city center.

Bayeux Cathedral was the first Bayeux Tapestry location but now it resides in temperature-controlled comfort at the Bayeux Tapestry museum in the city center.

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.  Presumably Sainte Chapelle in Paris is full of stained glass because the king liked it even though he knew his catechism.

Did you know? 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, is a recent addition to the Bayeux Cathedral .  Installed for 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.

This bell, named Therese-Benedict, was installed at the Bayeux Cathedral to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

This bell, named Therese-Benedict, was installed at the Bayeux Cathedral to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Therese-Benedict rang for the first time at the Bayeux Cathedral on the 14th of June 2013 during the height of the 70th anniversary celebrations.

Bayeux War Cemetery Bayeux

The Bayeux War Cemetery is a British cemetery holding the remains of 4000+ soldiers (both British and other nationalities) who died during the Battle of Normandy.

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

The Bayeux war cemetery is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth war dead.

The Bayeux war cemetery is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth war dead.

Why did the Bayeux cemetery get designated for the British war dead? The nearest D-Day landing spot would have been Gold Beach which was the assigned landing spot for the British forces (along with some other Allied forces such as the Polish and and the Dutch).

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

 

Battle of Normandy Museum Bayeux

The Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy commemorates the events from the Battle of Normandy – an event that spanned 3 months from June until August 1944.

It’s only 14 miles from Bayeux to Omaha Beach which made it the first city liberated by the Allied Troops after the D-Day invasion.

It’s only 14 miles from Bayeux to Omaha Beach which made it the first city liberated by the Allied Troops after the D-Day invasion.

You can’t miss the Bayeux museum of the battle of Normandy  – just look for the tanks sitting in front!

The Old Town of Bayeux

Despite being in the thick of the action for hundreds of years, Bayeux France is remarkably well preserved with many charming buildings dating from the 16th through the 19th centuries. We’re talking half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, water mills, canals and a street market which combine to create a picture perfect little town that is compact and easy to walk.

There is plenty of things to do in Bayeux France in addition to visiting the Bayeux tapestries

There is plenty of things to do in Bayeux France in addition to visiting the Bayeux tapestries

The city itself was not destroyed because of the foresight of the British during World War 2 who built a by-pass road that skirted the city and was used for transporting soldiers and weapons.  Nearby cities like Caen were not so fortunate and were heavily bombed which result in much less historic charm.

Getting to Bayeux Normandy

Bayeux is not overly touristy. It only gets about 1 million visitors a year. Getting from Paris to Bayeux by train is relatively straight forward.

The Paris to Bayeux train connection has  around 7 direct trains a day during the week (less on the weekends). You take the Paris to Bayeux train from Paris St Lazare station. The journey by direct train takes a little over 2 hours.

The Bayeux train station is located a short walk from town and there are also taxis available at the station.

You can easily combine a trip to Bayeux with visits to the D-Day landing beaches. It is only 14 miles from Bayeux to Omaha Beach if you would like to visit and are staying in Bayeux.  You can get from Bayeux to Omaha Beach by bus (about an hour on Line 70) or taxi (about 20 minutes).

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Bayeux France has been part of 2 epic invasions a thousand years apart (the Norman Conquest and the D-Day Landings)

Bayeux France has been part of 2 epic invasions a thousand years apart (the Norman Conquest and the D-Day Landings)

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