The sketch meeting in the Maritime Museum of Ílhavo was a nice excuse to get away for the weekend.
In the debate of architecturally neutral museums and museums that parttake in the exhibitions within, this one falls in the latter category. It goes back and forth, down and up, meandering along an exhibition of real life ships and objects of life aboard a fishing vessel, plus many many shells and a fish tank with a few unfortunate cod fish.
While during the sketch meeting, everyone was pretty much focused on their sketching activity, it was only later in the day that everybody started to mingle, just before the museum ended. The meeting gave place to a visit to a nearby illustration exhibition of one of the participants.
Sharing sketchbooks and techniques is an inevitable part of any sketch meeting. And so it happened with the fine people of Aveiro Sketchers and I, around a late lunch table of pizza in the fishing town of Gafanha, of the south bank of Aveiro’s lagoon.
It took us two years living in Sweden to visit its capital city. A few stolen days from the travels around the Iberian Peninsula finally gave us the chance to do that! It is a gorgeous city, with a lot of different areas, depending on what are you up to. It’s widespread and controlled in height, although easily navigable, sensibly planned, and has a stupidly efficient transportation system – as you would expect from a Scandinavian capital. The first day usually absorbs the shock of us wanting to visit a little bit of every part of the town. That let us to a walk around in tourist-riddled Gamla Stan (Old Town), the hip Södermalm district and the western area of the Djurgården (the King’s Game Park) island, where quite a few museums are based.
One such museum is the Vasa – a 17th century ship placed within a building. This ship was built at the peak of the Stormakstiden (the Era of Great Power – or the peak of the Swedish Empire) to serve as a royal flagship. The project was a fiasco, however. The ship had to high a gravity center and foundered right after setting sail from the harbour. Centuries later, in the 50s, it was recovered and turned into the most profitable tourist attraction in the country. Talk about a late break-even!
There is a great way of travelling around the strategic waterway known as the Öresund: the Öresund Rundt ticket. It gives access to all the trains around the strait on both sides, subway in Copenhagen plus two trips across the strait, one through the Öresund bridge that connects Copenhagen to Malmö, and one via the Helsingborg-Helsingør ferry. For the westbound trip, we chose the latter.
After crossing the gate from the huge access ramp to the deck of the ferry, we gasped, and then we wondered whether we were already on the boat or if we had one more gate to cross because that didn’t look like any boat we had seen before. It was nothing short of a food court in a shopping mall. Mind you, it was not that impressive of a food court, but we were on a friggin’ boat, not a mall! It seemed all the more surreal since the trip would only take about fifteen minutes. I tried to imagine finding the time to place an order, get the food, find a spot to sit, chug the meal and wash it down with coffee before ropes are thrown to the pier. Plus, an ad read: alcohol sold in Danish waters, tobacco in Swedish waters.
Feeling that our memories of an actual ferry experience, filled with the stench of diesel fuel and enamel paint rusting away from steel joints and bolts were being washed away by that glorified image of super-sized lattes and crispy sanitized hot-dogs, we rushed to find an outer deck! Didn’t stay long though. Too cold outside. Wind was blowing from the Skagerrak. But at least, it took us back in touch with an actual ferry experience – the bottom deck loaded with lorries, the seagulls hovering, the old customs buildings and the horns – all things that the inside of the boat was designed to obliterate from perception.
On the Helsingør docks, we proceeded to Kronborg, a 16th century fortification with a knack for drama. It is better known as the source of inspiration for the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But in a more prosaic perspective, it was the fortress responsible for charging dues from passing ships inbound to the Baltic and a great source of wealth for the Danish crown – going as high as two-thirds of the crown’s income at times. Around the fortress, a short strip of rocky shore surrounded by green grass, was home to idlers and leisurely fishermen. We settled, had our picnic with some Portuguese wine, harboured from the winds by the rocks.