You know the story about the little girl selling matchsticks in winter? If you had read it as a child, you might have been reminded how fortunate you are to have a loving home and family. The author of this short story was none other than the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.
As children, we were rather fascinated with Denmark. Because of this and many other stories that Hans wrote, it piqued our interest in Scandinavia as a whole. So much that our (Mel an Suan’s) second long journey together was on a coach to touch the Scandinavian countries – starting with Denmark first of course! Well it started from the UK crossing over to Belgium (here) and touched Hamburg (here) before we actually made landfall in Denmark.
But once we were in Denmark we were all excited, for we were so keen to see the streets of a city that Hans wrote in one of his novels being paved with gold. That city, as we found out is
Copenhagen or København or Köpenhamn
Depending on how you spell it (English, Danish or Swedish), the capital city of Denmark is exciting. And we came here quite a few times during the time we lived in Amsterdam.
On our maiden journey to the city (way back in 1996), it was already quite late in the evening when we arrived and we had our dinner at one of the tour group’s regular restaurants. The weather was wonderful as it was bright and cloudless, because it is June and the days were long. We were then brought to the Tivoli, an amusement park cum garden, cum events center in Copenhagen (the Hard Rock Cafe is one of the shops just outside the ticketing office). That was in the days when we still collected the T-shirts. We still do collect, but it is only the pins that we buy since it takes up less space. Can you believe that we jumped onto one of the rides at the Tivoli immediately after dinner? Wow those were the days when we thought we were invincible…
City of castles and palaces.
Not quite paved with gold though but there were enough of these emblems of royalty throughout the city. The royal palace of Amalienborg is located in the middle of the it all, close to the waterfront. It is not fenced up and its octagonal grounds are open to the public. Today it is the official residence of the Danish royal family. Just remember not to sit on the kerb by the palace buildings or the guard will shout at you… someone (not Mel) had that experience… Now if you come here between 1130am till noon you might see the royal guards march to the palace for a change. For us the sentry guard will do.
Speaking of the guards, it might be interesting to see them march from Rosenborg castle to Amalienborg at the timing we stated above. Built originally as a summer ‘country’ house, it is constructed in Dutch renaissance style. If you are interested in Kingly Crowns, well one of them is on display inside the castle – that of King Christian IV.
Not far along the harbor would be Christianborg palace. But it is not solely for the use of the Royal family, as it houses the parliament of the country. Not to mention the judicial head too…
Copenhagen is a well organized city and is very easy to get around. And that’s largely because the historical center is relatively compact and fringed by canals and the harbor. There is still a large part of it that remains stone cobbled, making it sometimes quite hard to walk to the various scenic spots. So no stilettos here. You’ve been warned.
The Gefion fountain, with the depictions of legendary animals and characters of Viking mythology is one such stop. Located on the periphery of the Kastellet, it tells the story of how the goddess Gerjun created the island that is now Zealand, and on which the city was founded. Nearby is little St Alban’s church, built in the late 1900s to cater to the English living in the city. Just so you know, the Kastellet is still a military ground belonging to the defense ministry. It was intriguing to note that the pentagram shape of the fortress looks so much like the one in Lille – from the air at least. It must had been a formidable position to attack!
But today is a public park and thus we walked through to see the Little Mermaid statue. The mermaid had been restored after it had been vandalized a couple of times. We can never understand why the head of the mermaid was severed a couple of times in addition to being covered with paint. Perhaps the folks were trying to gain international attention with their actions. Whatever the cause, it is such a shame that this statue had to be the target. Now some tourists even climbed up to the statue to have their photos taken in the past. The rocks around the statue are wet and slippery and it is now expressedly forbidden. Don’t try this stunt! Here’s a slide show of the entire area:
There is actually a lot of things to see within the Kastellet. The original barracks are known as the rows. Squeeze yourself into one of the sentry boxes and try to imagine being out here in the cold winter as a lonely guard. Look out for the commander’s house, from which the officers lived and directed the operations of the citadel in defense of Copenhagen harbor. And gaze out over the water to Trekroner fort, which someday we will get to when we return to the city.
The Stroget, the main shopping street of Copenhagen would be the place that Suan become very familiar with. During our many times transiting in the city, we would stroll along this car-free pedestrian shopping street that rivals “our” Kalverstraat back in Amsterdam. Start from the beautiful square that is in front of the city hall – called the “radhus” in Danish. End at the Hotel D’Angleterre for a beautiful lunch. Yeah, we recalled having a “sparring” conversation with an American couple over the relative lack of freedom in our little red dot here. The outcome was amiable and we agreed to disagree over tea. That well read and traveled gentleman had the family name of a well-known computer brand.
Anyway. When one comes this far, the Nyhavn is but a stone’s throw away. An area now full of bars and restaurants, in the past it was a departure point for ships. Of course, one needs to find where Hans Christian Andersen’s house is when you come here. Did you managed to find it? The row of house painted in bright colors are really beautiful and we took time to let it sink in, having more time to explore than in the rush of a tour group on our first occasion.
Frederiksborg, Fredensborg and Kronborg castles
Castles. Yes more of them. The next three are not ones that traditionally gets a lot of attention from travelers. And we had the privilege of touching them because we transit through so often. All of them are outside of Copenhagen, which probably makes it less accessible in some ways though that’s not true from a transport perspective.
Frederiksborg castle is an old castle with numerous art and collections by the Kings of Denmark over the centuries. It was originally a noble house that was exchanged with the King in 1550. About 40km northwest of Copenhagen in Hillerød, it was built and rebuilt over the centuries, the landscaped gardens is one of its draws for the tourists coming here.
Fredensborg on the other hand is a smallish castle by the shore of lake Esrum about 50km north of Copenhagen. The royal family still comes here in the spring and autumn it is said. What we really liked was its gardens, which like Frederiksborg was designed to be enjoyed in all seasons. The tree lined walkway leads to the coast, and even in the cold of the November winds, we enjoyed the walk. Both castles weren’t constructed as fortifications as you can see but as palaces. And when you come here you will understand why the royals wanted to get a piece of the real estate here.
Kronborg castle – on the other hand was a fortress that guarded the Oresund straits. The Baltic sea ends here and connects with the North sea. The castle is the setting for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that made it known to the world. It was the site of numerous battles by various forces over the control of the sound. It also serves as a toll collection point for the Danish Kings on shipping, so a revenue generator too! However we think the better photos of the castle are from the outside. Back in 1996 we were on the ferry crossing over from the Danish side to Sweden. In the background is the fortress. Beautiful isn’t it? Today the castle is a world heritage site too.
All these hail from outside of Copenhagen. And you might want to know that there are lot out there too, such as
Slagelse . Have you heard of it?
Before 2001, we did not either. The only reason for knowing is that we went there. Whatever on earth for? And what could be there? You see, Mel had the pleasure of touring the company’s factories and one of them was located in this city about 100km southwest of Copenhagen.
Did not stay long and we had a train to catch, so it wasn’t much we saw except the St Michael church. Apparently an important trading center already 1000 years ago, it is one of the country’s oldest towns. If we were to revisit, the Trelleborg Viking site and the ring fortress will be our targets. Of course the town also boasts famous names – Hans was said to have done grammar school here.
A little off the beaten track but not as much as,
Getting onto Jutland
This part of Denmark is on the continent. It “juts” out like a finger from the north of Germany, perhaps earning its name… you know how places get their name from geographic features too right? Ok, so we made it up. The peninsula was named after the folks who lived there – the Jutes. They were part of the lot that made their way across to what we call the British isles during the 4th and 5th centuries.
Why were we there?
We were in Randers to stay the night. For you see in our Scandinavian journey in 1996, we had to make a transit from Gothenburg to this city before getting on a ferry back to the UK.
A market town that received its charter in 1302, it isn’t your average tourist stop. And while we did a quick orientation (on the coach), all we saw was the Jutlandic stallion bronze statue just outside of the old town area… a pity since there are supposedly 16th century timber houses there. But since our hotel was in the suburbs and on a hilly part of town, we could see the panorama of it even as we enjoyed beautiful sunflowers that trained themselves at it while the day wore on.
So this ends our little take on Denmark.
It has been such a long time since we last stepped into Denmark, or rather Copenhagen. Since it is the main gateway for folks arriving by air. Pleasurable is the word we can use to describe every journey we made there, although we still think the cost of living is one factor that might inhibit us from getting there again. Perhaps we can save up a little more to get there again. Anyone have tips on how to travel on budget in Denmark?
Numerous stops in Denmark over the years 1999-2005 after our 1996 tour