Little did I know that the desire for a cappuccino would send me to another country onboard a Viking ship, But that is exactly what happened.
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Sans the cappuccino the idea may have been pertinent a thousand years ago but in the day of jet skis not very probable, nevertheless it happened. Here is how. As I biked down for a well-deserved jolt of lunch java at a Malmo seaside café I encountered a strange sight. The guest dock was occupied by a sight , my blue never seen before. A three headed dragon (as I later found out, a Russian mythological creature called Zmey Gorynych) sticking out of the bow of a boat ending at the stern with a tail dipping into the marina. A wooden vessel drenched in a deep ocean teal. Kinship (pun intended) struck at the heart of the Wondering Viking in me and with only foam left in the cappu- cup it was time to inquire as to what, who and why the three-headed beast had berthed.
A Russian flag fluttered in the breeze added to the wonder. An explanation in the form of an excerpt from Gotlands Allehanda, a local Swedish newspaper, by the gangplank gave some information of this Viking quest. I tried to strike up a conversation with the red and white tunic clad bearded man onboard. His English was but a few words and my Russian even less. Even so he waved me onboard and pointed to a large triptych map, covering the deck’s table. The map detailed the journey starting near Kazan along the mythical Russian artery of Volga leaving it at St Petersburg, across to Stockholm, stopped by Gotland, Karlskrona, Bornholm before landing at Malmö.
The deck was lined by typical Viking era shields, there were helmets with chain mail and a few swords. Clearly this was a conquest in progress, but only one man left to guard the ship as the other were off to… not likely raping and pillaging. Instead, I found out later, they were indulging in some cultural time travel and visited then 15th century Malmö castle. As I and boats only present crew member ended up speaking more with our hands than tongues I only managed to surmise that he was the skipper and had taken a break from steering 40 foot yachts to join this expedition. After a cursory look below deck I left with a promise to return later in the day.
The afternoon sun stood lower and I found the deck filled with diners in costumes as I came around the corner at the marina. The decks long table was covered with bowls and plates filled with potatoes, fish, bread surrounded by the entire crew and guests. I was invited to enjoy Russian hospitality, luckily in the absence of vodka. With one dinner already under my belt I only after the convincing insistence of the hosts to agreed to a pirogi. A lady of the Russian diaspora living in Malmö explained to me that this was the crew under the leadership of Father Feonisij a burly bearded man also in a tunic sitting at the armchair at the tables end. It was at her invitation and insistence they had even landed in this marina as Malmö was not in their original plan.
The plan was to follow in the swell of Viking Chieftain Rurik who in the 9th century ruled a good chunk of today’s South Western Russia and Belorussia. He was certainly of Scandinavian descent perhaps Danish which however was still not sure so it remained a wish to find out. The journey had begun in early May and thus far taken the ship halfway through a planned four month journey, which would continue along the Swedish west coast up to the Norwegian capital Oslo and back down the Danish East coast, along the German and Polish coasts till the winter break in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad bordering Lithuania. There after the journey would continue the following year.
I was invited down in the ships innards where it became obvious that this was a true home build, mostly out of solid wood. The cabins were well laid out and every inch of space utilized with onboard galley and toilet. The walls and surfaces held typical Russian decorations with lots of displayed wood and berths covered with patterned quilts. The whole build had taken three and a half years. I thanked the skipper for the tour and almost stumbled over a helmet with chainmail as I climbed out from the lower deck. The evening ended with yet another proof of in this case borderless Russian hospitality in the form of an invite to sail with them to the Danish capital of Copenhagen the following day. Now there was an offer I could not refuse.
Armed with a bag of peaches, nectarines and bananas figuring that fresh fruit was not often filling their pantry I arrived the following morning to find that I was not the only one joining the sailing on the day. It was a joy to board with a Lithuanian couple from the UK, a Belorussian father and son, the Russian-Swedish lady and her daughter as well as at the last minute Ali from Iraq who had delivered vegetables and fresh produce in the morning.
We set out around 1330 and as the ship steered out of the harbor a gust pushed the wooden hull lightly into the rocky side of the pier with a cracking thud. Quickly Nik one of the crew went down under to find out if we were taking on water before even leaving the harbor. We all looked a bit concerned before he returned with the ships mate and signaled all OK.
Luckily the seas were quite calm even though there was wind enough to hold a regatta on the Öresund. A curious Swedish coastguard vessel swept by for a quick peak. As we approached the main shipping lane “Flintrännan” a dark menacing contour approached from a distance portside. That it was a Navy vessel was undoubtedly so but who’s? As we got closer we all spotted the Cyrillic lettering declaring her name Perekop. The sailors stood along the railing and our crew waved, whistled and shouted across the water to their country-men. The Russian Navy did not return our salute as the dark grey ship continued North.
When we crossed under the bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen I started to wonder if I had misunderstood our destination as we appeared to be overshooting Copenhagen. I glanced at the modern navigation equipment hidden in the wooden pulpit of the skipper, noting that we were making just over 4 knots but could not figure out the chart on the screen. Then after the bridge the skipper turned sharply westwards and the silhouette of the Danish capital approached slowly. We hit a bit of a swell from a large cruise ship leaving Copenhagen and were waved at and photographed by passing leisure boats as we slowly approached our destination.
Without my participation or input it had been decided that I would be an honorary Viking as we arrived in Copenhagen. This entailed a wardrobe exchange and within minutes I was transformed into a lead role in fur hat, green tunic, red and yellow belt, wrapped leggings and a wolf cape. By the time we docked and disembarked onto the wide concrete pier by the Danish National Theatre I was also brandishing a long, heavy and shiny sword. As the Russian welcoming committee and bystanders approached I and father Feonisij posed for pictures under the dripping jaws of Zmey Gorynych. I had with the help of a half dozen Russian conquered Denmark as never before. Spassiba Balshoj!
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