The flight to Copenhagen (København) marked the end of the solitary portion of my trip. I would be meeting up in Denmark with my girlfriend Liz, who was taking a separate trans-Atlantic flight to join me for the last ten days of traveling. We were planning to spend the next few days in Copenhagen, followed by a series of stops in Oslo, Bergen, and Iceland. This meant a slightly more restrained pace of sightseeing and that was fine with me by this point. I was sick and tired of staying in hostels and more than ready to change over to grownup lodgings in actual hotels. As far as what we were about to visit, we had several friends who had traveled previously in Denmark, and one of Liz's close friends spent a semester abroad in Copenhagen. Everything that we had heard about the city had been extremely positive, and we were looking forward to this stopover.
After so many morning spent traveling by train, it was a nice change of pace to be flying from Prague to Copenhagen. This was a beautiful morning with mostly clear skies and I had an excellent view out the window as the plane flew across eastern Germany, crossed the Baltic, and then began to descend over Zealand, the island on which Copenhagen is located. The Danish countryside was a lovely sight from up here on a clear day, with towns and small cities interspersed between fields of green and brown, and with the blue of the sea never far off in the distance. An extreme geography buff might recognize the Roskilde Fjord in the first picture above, while the second one overlooks the city of Hillerød in the foreground and the body of water known as Arresø in the background. The landing was smooth and uneventful, which is always the goal with airplane travel.
My flight landed several hours before Liz's plane, and as a result I spent the morning hanging out in Copenhagen's international airport. This was far from the worst place I'd been stuck killing a few hours, and I appreciated the free wifi and numerous food options available for breakfast. One small challenge was figuring out the gate where her plane was going to land; ever since the security changes at airports, people arriving at the airport to pick up family and friends haven't been allowed back into the area with the actual gates themselves. As a result, all of the informational displays at airports now only list departures, not arrivals, and I was unable to find out where her plane was coming in. Eventually I reasoned that Icelandair probably only had one gate at the airport for both arrivals and departures, and the place where one Icelandair flight was scheduled to depart in the afternoon was probably where her flight would be coming in as well. Sure enough, I had the right location and we were able to meet up right at the gate when her plane touched down. This was like an earlier era of airplane travel, which no one gets the opportunity to experience any longer.
We went to our hotel first to drop off our backpacks. That was another nice thing about having a hotel room for the next three nights, the ability to drop off everything instead of needing to carry it on my back as I'd been doing for the better part of the last three weeks. We were staying close to the main train station in Copenhagen, which I've pictured above. Don't be fooled by some of the graffiti on the walls down by the tracks themselves; this was a large and meticulously clean station that ranked up there with some of the finest I had seen on my trip. We would grab breakfast from the plethora of food vendors in the train station on most of our days in Copenhagen. Speaking of food options, we also had to stop to grab one of these danishes when we saw them for sale. There's a reason why the pastry dessert gets its name from this country - delicious stuff indeed.
There was still an afternoon left to do some sightseeing, and we decided to walk through the nearby downtown and get a feel for our immediate area. The first major attraction that we came across was the Christiansborg Palace (Christiansborg Slot), the seat of the Danish Parliament and the Danish prime minister. This is the only building in the world that houses all three of a country's branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. There has been a castle of some kind on this spot for almost a thousand years, with the original castle dating back to the 12th century. The ruins of that original castle can be viewed down in the basement of the current palace; the present Christiansborg Palace is the third to stand on this site, after the first two burned down in major fires in 1794 and 1884. The Danish royal family hasn't lived here since the early 19th century, and the current palace was built in Neo-Baroque architectural style in the early 20th century. The big statue in the main courtyard represents King Christian IX, the monarch at the time that the current palace was under construction. We were just passing through and didn't try to take the tour of this building, which likely would have been worth stopping to see.
Copenhagen is a city defined by the water and the trade that has always flowed through it; the city's name in Danish (København) literally means "merchant's harbor" in its original uncondensed form. One of the best ways to see the city and get situated was via a canal tour on one of these short barges. The reason for the lack of height became apparent during the tour, as we passed underneath a series of low bridges - very low bridges in some cases:
That was a very tight squeeze indeed. No commercial boat would have been able to pass through here, only small pleasure craft and these flat boats used for the sightseeing tours. These pictures were taken while passing through some of the canals that ring the downtown parts of Copenhagen, especially in the Christianshavn region just to the east of the city's center. There were other boats everywhere, and it was difficult at times to know where the mainland ended and some of the city's islands began. Christianshavn appeared to be a trendy part of the city to live in, between its easy access to the historic downtown and its location right on the water. Apparently this was originally a militarized portion of Copenhagen, fortified against enemy attack and used for heavy shipbuilding industry. The tour guide pointed out some of the major sights as we passed through (in Danish, English, and French) and we planned to return to several of them on the next day.
Our boat tour also headed out into more open waters, albeit still within Copenhagen's sheltered harbor with land flanking us on both east and west. It was nice and cool out in the harbor, with a sea breeze blowing everyone's hair about and the afternoon sunlight reflecting off the small waves. Absolutely delightful weather to spend on the water. The boat headed up to the north end of the harbor, near the entrance into the Baltic proper, before looping around and returning back to the south again. Along the way the tour guides pointed out objects of interest as they passed on either side. The large rounded building with the modern design was the Copenhagen Opera House (Operaen), one of the most modern and expensive opera houses in the world. We didn't go back to visit it more closely, but the information on the Internet states that this was finished in 2005 at a cost of more than $500 million. It would be worth seeing although getting out to the opera house's location could be a little tricky, given that it's located on a small island. Probably easier to take one of the ferries that cross the harbor. The other building with the big dome was Frederik's Church, part of the Amalienborg palace complex, which we would be stopping in to see later. The view from the water, with the fountains rising up in the foreground, was a unique way to see the building.
We also passed by Copenhagen's most famous monument, the statue of the Little Mermaid from Hans Cristian Andersen's fable. This statue sits at the noth end of the harbor, and it can be a bit of a hike to walk up from the downtown area to see the statue. That doesn't stop tons of people from visiting every year, and on this day the statue was again quite crowded with tourists. We would come back to see the Little Mermaid from the opposite side by land; this was a chance to get the view from the sea, with all of the visitors staring at our boat as it passed by. After the boat tour wrapped up, we ate dinner at a restaurant and headed back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, we woke up at a normal time (not the insanely early rising that I had been doing for much of the trip) and picked up breakfast in the nearby central train station. Our goal for this day was to explore the historic downtown part of Copenhagen, hopefully visiting a number of the places that we had passed during the boat tour on the previous day. We stopped first at Copenhagen City Hall (Københavns Rådhus), a building that we had walked past a couple times on the previous day. The city hall's architecture was nothing particularly special, but it did sit in the middle of a fair-sized public square, and the clock tower was visible from a good distance away. This structure is unsurprisingly the home of the city's municipal government, and although the current building is only a little over a hundred years old, a city hall of some kind has sat on this spot since the Renaissance era. We hadn't been planning on going inside this building, then saw that it was open and went in to take a look.
I was glad that we did take a little time to investigate the interior. The City Hall building had an impressive open space inside, this enclosed area with a skylight above and lots of Danish flags draped down from the walls. There was a series of carvings built into the stonework of the walls, in the late Victorian fashion that was commonplace when this building was under construction. Liz (a fan of owls) particularly enjoyed the carvings of those avians above several of the doorways. There was some kind of art display taking place in the main courtyard when we passed through, although by now I've forgotten what exactly was being showcased to the public. Off in a side room, there was a huge clock known as Jens Olsen's World Clock which has something like 15,000 parts. It's supposed to be ridiculously accurate at keeping time, almost as good as the finest atomic clocks that are in use for official record keeping today. The clock was an obsession of its creator, who unfortunately passed away before this clock was constructed. There was a lot of information about Jens Olsen and his passion for mechanical clockmaking on the walls surrounding this exhibit.
Perhaps my favorite part of the City Hall building was the stained glass display pictured above. It was a colorful version of Copenhagen's coat of arms, rendered in large scale near the ceiling of one of the walls. I liked this picture so much that we made it part of our collage of pictures after the trip was over. While I won't pretend that I know all of the heraldric symbolism behind this image, it was a highly memorable way to think about Copenhagen as a city. I wish that I had something as awesome as this for a coat of arms.
After leaving City Hall, we walked down Hans Cristian Andersen Boulevard towards the harbor, where we planned to stop next at the Royal Library (Det Kongelige Bibliotek). Liz and I both have Ph.Ds and have spent a lot of time in libraries over the years, and this unique building next to the Christiansborg Palace was one of the places that we wanted to see. The building is apparently known colloquially as the "Black Diamond" due to the shape of the most recently constructed portion of the library. This building dates from 1999 and was constructed in the shape of two overlapping cubes, with lots of odd staircases and ramps connecting the interior together. There were also connections to the older portions of the library, which looked more traditional with formal rows of books and quiet study spaces. We weren't here to research anything, and enjoyed walking through both parts of the library. This place also had a delicious (if slightly pricey) cafe where we picked up a quick snack to eat, and a beautiful garden outside the back of the library with a large fountain in the center. All in all, it was a very pleasant place to stop and spend some time visiting.
From the Royal Library, it was a short jaunt across one of the bridges spanning the harbor and over to Christianshavn. The view from land was slightly different than what we had seen by boat on the previous day, but mostly this part of the city continued to be spanned by numerous canals with expensive-looking houses flanking them on each side. This was the part of Copenhagen most reminiscent of Amsterdam, and that comparison was heightened by the large numbers of bikes that we kept seeing across the city. While the Danes weren't quite as bike-obssessed as the Dutch, bicyclists were still everywhere throughout Copenhagen. We were heading towards a notable church named the Church of Our Saviour (Vor Frelsers Kirke), which was easily visible throughout Christianshavn due to its curved spire. That twisting central tower can be climbed by the public, and I specifically remember an episode of the American TV show "The Amazing Race" being filmed in Copenhagen that had the contestants climbing to the top for one of their challenges. We were looking to make the climb ourselves for the panoramic views of the city that would be visible from the top.
First though, if we were going to stop at the church, we might as well take a look at the interior. The Church of Our Saviour was a moderate-sized building on the inside, with an interior of near-unrelieved white aside from some golden stars painted on the ceiling. The architectural style of the building is Early Baroque, with the main portion of the church dating to the late 17th century and the central spire finishing construction about five decades later in 1752. The relatively spartan design, with only the main altar and the pipe organ along the back wall holding any kind of ornamentation, attests to the differences in worship style between the Catholic churches I had been visiting in the Habsburg domains and the Lutheran church that we were encountering here. Without making any kind of religious judgment, I think that I can state that I prefer this more abstract design style to some of the overwrought monstrosities that I had encountered in Vienna and Prague.
Of course, the main reason that visitors come to the Church of Our Saviour is to climb the central spire. There was a line (and a small charge) to take the steps up to the top, and we had to wait about half an hour before our turn came to head inside. The spire is just under 300 feet (about 90 meters) in height, and it requires marching up a series of spiraling staircases to reach the outside viewing platforms. The wooden staircases themselves were a treat to see, as much of the wood appeared to be original carvings that dated back almost three centuries. About halfway up there were a series of enormous gears and church bells on display; this church is known for its carillon that rings every hour throughout the day. We were not caught next to the bells when they started ringing, which was fortunate since they are apparently deafeningly loud to anyone in the immediate vicinity.
Soon enough, we reached the height of the outside viewing area:
There isn't really a viewing platform at the Church of Our Saviour, just a staircase that keeps right on spiraling up towards the top. The steps head upwards in a counterclockwise direction, and according to legend the church was supposed to spiral in the opposite direction. Whoops. That's probably not true but it's pretty amusing either way. Near the top, the steps became extremely narrow and eventually curved right into the central spire. It was very windy at the top and there was only the little guardrail with fence standing between each person and a 250 foot drop. This wasn't the place to go for anyone with a fear of heights. However, the reward for climbing all the way up to the top of the Church of Our Saviour was the view. The city of Copenhagen spread out before us in every direction, with the pointed tops of churches and palaces sticking up above a sea of more modest buildings. The harbor was easily viewable off to the north, and the Baltic extended out to the horizon in the east. It was another glorious day of blue skies and blue waters, and the city of Copenhagen looked marvellous from this vantage point. If the Danish tourism board wanted to attract visitors to come and see the city, they couldn't have asked for better views than this.
We stopped to get lunch afterwards, and then returned back across a different bridge into downtown Copenhagen. Back on the west side of the harbor again, we passed through the crowded waterfront district of Nyhavn. This is the name for the small area surrounding this narrow inlet of water, which is bordered by a series of picturesque townhouses that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. This is one of the most photographed parts of Copenhagen, and it often shows up in promotional tourist materials. Perhaps for that very reason, Nyhavn was absolutely packed with visitors when we were walking through, and it was so crowded that we were dissuaded from spending more time poking through the restaurants and shops that line the central waterfront. We did appreciate the colorful historic houses, and we would have looked around a bit more if it hadn't required fighting through a mass of people every few steps.
A short distance to the north of Nyhavn was the Amalienborg Palace, the current residence of the Danish royal family. This is one of the more unique palace complexes that I can recall seeing, consisting of four identical palace buildings surrounding a central courtyard. Each of the four palaces differs in its interior design despite the shared exteriors, and only one of the four buildings is open to the public, with the other three continuing to be used by the Danish royalty as residences. The palaces were constructed in the mid-18th century shortly after 1750, and they were designed with classically-inspired facades. The statue in the middle of the courtyard depicts King Frederick V, who not surprisingly was the Danish king at the time that the Amalienborg was under construction. (Side note: every single Danish king was named either "Frederick" or "Christian", and keeping them straight is a giant headache.) There's also a really neat line of construction that links together Frederik's Church (the domed structure) with the Amalienborg palaces and then the Copenhagen Opera House on the other side of the harbor. All of them are situated on a line together, and it makes for some great sight lines.
We were also lucky enough to see a ceremonial procession of some of the Royal Life Guards while we were in the central courtyard. Apparently the monarch was not in residence because the guards wear red coats when that is the case. One of them is actually hanging up in the little guard booth in the first picture above. The Amalienborg is used much more often by the Danish royal family in the winter, and they usually spend the summer in one of their other residences while the city is crowded with tourists.
The northwest palace of the Amalienborg is the one currently open to the public, which has been transformed into a small museum dedicated to showing how the Danish royal family has lived over the last few centuries. The official name of this building is Christian VIII's Palace, and many of the decorations in the museum are dedicated to showcasing what it looked like during his reign in the first half of the 19th century. Some of the highlights of the museum were the banquet room with its long table and ornate candleholders, and the ballroom with a wide open space set aside for dancing. Speaking of footwear, everyone who went inside had to wear little plastic booties over their shoes, with the goal of protecting the hardwood floors from damage. This was an amusing addition to the tour; the last place I had worn the same footwear was in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska at the ends of the earth. The Amalienborg Palace was just a bit nicer when it came to accomodations than the Prudhoe Bay Hotel!
Back outside the palace again, we had a chance to take in those sight lines mentioned earlier, with Frederik's Church to the west and the Opera House across the water to the east. The architects really knew what they were doing and placed fountains in both directions to complement the view. For my money's worth, this is the prettiest spot to visit in a city full of pleasant viewpoints. Definitely make sure to walk through the Amalienborg courtyard and take a little time to enjoy the sights if you have the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen.
We wanted to see the statue of the Little Mermaid next, and that meant walking further to the north along the edge of the harbor. As I mentioned before, it can be a bit of a hike to get out to where the statue is located, but on this sunny day the walk along the waterfront was an enjoyable trip. The breeze coming in off the water was delightful and there were plenty of boats passing by to watch. Along the way, we encountered this large fountain with a statue of a woman riding behind a group of cattle. We had no idea what this was supposed to be since there wasn't a sign nearby with an explanation; I looked it up while writing and discovered that this is known as the Gefion Fountain (Gefionspringvandet), built in the early 20th century and depicting the Norse goddess Gefion plowing the sea with four oxen. This is apparently based on a well-known Scandinavian folk tale that hasn't passed into other cultures. The green-colored hill in the last picture is part of the Kastellet, a 17th century bastion fortress that used to protect the entrance into Copenhagen's harbor. The gate into the fortress can just be seen on the left side of the photograph. If I had been alone I likely would have stopped here, but we decided to pass this up in favor of seeing other sights along the way.
The statue of the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue) was unchanged from the day before, including the crowds swarming around it. There's a good-sized parking lot nearby designed to cater to the tourist trade, and a series of tour buses kept rolling up and dropping off visitors to take pictures. We were part of that swarm of tourists, of course, and the small bronze statue certainly is an iconic landmark. The Little Mermaid has been extremely popular ever since the statue was first put on display in 1913; for the same reason, it has been a frequent target for theft and vandalism. This poor statue has had its head sawed off twice, has been drenched in paint repeatedly, and was even blown off its base with explosives at one point. The travails of the statue at this point have grown to mirror those of the mermaid in the Hans Cristian Andersen tale. We took some pictures with the statue and stopped to get water from one of the numerous vendors near the statue, then headed back towards the city center.
The walk along the harborfront brought us back to the Amalienborg complex, and from there to Frederik's Church with its bronze dome. This building is more popularly known as the Marble Church (Marmorkirken), which was the sign that we saw on all of the tourist materials. Regardless of the name, this church was also designed and constructed at the same time as the rest of the Amalienborg structures in the mid-18th century. Like so many other buildings from this period, the architecture behind the church was done in Baroque style, with the dome imitating many of the others I had seen on my travels. Apparently the church was left incomplete at the time of its construction due to the death of its main architect, and it wasn't completed for almost 150 years, finally finishing in 1894 after having been sold off to a new group of investors. Frederik's Church is probably most noteworthy for its circular shape, which is very rare when it comes to Christian houses of worship. Most churches are rectangular in some form, designed to mimic the shape of a crucifix. That was not the case here, and the use of white marble (and, less expensively, white limestone) called to mind some of the federal buildings in Washington DC, especially the dome in the Capitol building. At the same time, there was a beautiful altar at the back of the church, and I liked the use of blue and gold colors to set it apart from the rest of the building. There was also a pipe organ wedged into one of the archways on the sides of the church, and a series of religious symbols painted on the walls between each archway. It was a strange mixture of religious and classical elements of design, but the whole thing worked for me.
When we visited the museum at the Amalienborg Palace earlier, we had picked up a discounted 2 for 1 price that also included entry into another one of Copenhagen's palaces, the Rosenborg Castle. With the afternoon beginning to draw to a close, we hurried over to the castle before visiting hours finished for the day and our ticket would no longer be valid. The Rosenborg Castle (Rosenborg Slot) is an older building than the ones that we had been visiting throughout the day, with this structure built in grandiose Renaissance style in the first two decades of the 17th century by King Christian IV. He was one of the most famous kings in Danish history, known for a lengthy reign that saw Denmark become deeply embroiled in the Thirty Years War as well as lavish construction projects. Both of these kingly interests eventually resulted in the virtual bankrupting of the Danish state, but the bill mostly came due after Christian IV had already passed away. Lucky fellow.
The Rosenborg Castle was one of those vanity projects developed by Christian IV. The building is located on a tiny island in a park a short distance to the west of Copenhagen's city center, and the structure was originally a country summer house. After the king was done with it the building was something else entirely, a small but opulent palace built to cater to Christian's personal tastes. Every room in the castle had heavy ornamentation of some kind, whether it was the painted ceilings, the innumerable portraits lining the walls, or the... whatever the heck was going on with the red-colored wall hangings in that one room pictuerd above. Most of this place felt excessively garish to me, and the whole place was reminiscent of the Residenz palace that I had visited in Munich. It was a neat place to visit, but I can't imagine actually wanting to live in a place that looked like this.
The castle also held some significant collections down in its basement, which has been converted into a series of display cases. Aside from the impressive wine cellar, there were also a whole bunch of ceremonial hunting weapons from the 17th century. Some of these guns were covered in gilding and carvings, which probably wasn't great for firing accuracy. In addition, there was a collection of little soldiers crafted out of gold, several hundred of them in all, stored down with the barrels of wine. Did Christian IV play with these toy soldiers like the Rick Moranis character in Spaceballs? He was the king, I guess he could do what he wanted.
More importantly, the Rosenborg Castle is also where the Danish crown jewels are kept on display. This collection has everything that would be expected of royalty, from crowns and precious gemstones to swords and scepters and even golden utensils used at table. The massively overdone crown pictured above was the one that belonged to Christian IV, and by this point in time we were getting a pretty good impression of his personality, between the palace and this particular piece of headware. The more modest crowns are the ones that are still in current use for state ceremonies by the reigning king and queen. We also liked some of the gemstones on display, which came in just about every cut and color desired. The collected crown jewels are obviously worth a fortune, although anyone who managed to steal them would have a difficult time finding a seller for their ill-gotten goods.
We were lucky that we were able to see the collections in the basement, as Rosenborg Castle was closing for the day by the time we were finished. We stopped and took a few pictures of the surrounding park after exiting, and were able to get a better view of the little island on which the castle was situated. This park is known as the King's Park (Kongens Have) for obvious reasons, and it's one of the most popular places in the city for the public to visit. We saw dozens of people relaxing on the grass, exercising on the pathways, or eating a picnic meal with family members. This would be a wonderful place to spend a few hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon in the summer. We were finished sightseeing for the day, and went out to get dinner at a restaurant, then headed back to the hotel. Neither one of us were terribly interested in bar hopping or clubbing, and even if we had been, I wouldn't be posting the pictures on my website.
For our third day in Denmark, we decided to head out of Copenhagen on a day trip to visit the town of Helsingør. Located about 30 miles / 50 kilometers to the north of Copenhagen's city center, Helsingør is the location of a famous castle known as the Kronborg. William Shakespeare used this castle as the inspiration for the fictitious "Elsinore" in his famous play Hamlet, and some of the movie versions of Hamlet have been filmed at the Kronborg as a result. We took a train from the central Copenhagen station up to Helsingør, which was an easy trip of about an hour's length. These two pictures above, believe it or not, are both from the Helsingør train station at our destination. Would you ever think that the interior pictured above came from a public train station? Very impressive indeed. The Danes had outdone themselves here.
The town of Helsingør was delightfully picturesque, especially along its waterfront. We were right on the Baltic coast here, and the Swedish city of Helsingborg was easily visible on the other side, only a handful of miles away. That's the whole reason why the Kronborg fortress was constructed in the first place, in order to control the narrow channel of water known as the Øresund and dominate the entrance from the North Sea into the Baltic. Anyway, the town was just starting to open for business on this Friday morning, and we were able to stroll past some of the waterfront stores as we headed towards the castle. The building above with the modernist architecture of glass windows was Helsingør's library, a beautiful facility that was highly kid-friendly. We spent a good 15 minutes walking around inside even though most of the books were obviously written in Danish and we couldn't read any of them. There was also a maritime museum located next to the library, but it wasn't open when we walked past and didn't look interesting enough to come back again later.
Ever since we had arrived in Helsingør we had been able to see the fortress looming in the distance. As we drew closer to the Kronborg, we were able to get a better sense for its distinctive features. The castle is located on a little spit of land that juts out into the water surrounding it on three sides. The Kronborg is then further surrounded by an outer wall, an interior moat, and then an inner wall to create concentric rings of fortification against outside attack. The oldest structure on this site was constructed in the 1420s to controll the shipping lanes through the Øresund straight; that medieval fortress was then rebuilt in the 1580s into a Renaissance castle by King Frederick II. Unfortunately that castle itself burned down in 1629, and was rebuilt by (you guessed it) King Christian IV in one of his many building sprees. Despite its formidable defensive location, the fortress was captured by a Swedish army in 1658, which looted the castle pretty thoroughly and carried off everything of value. The Kronborg was used by the Danish army for most of the following three centuries, with lengthy spans of time where it was employed as a prison. It has been open to the public as a tourist attraction ever since the 1930s, and the Kronborg is one of the more popular destinations to visit in Denmark.
This was the interior courtyard that greeted us when we entered through the main gate. The medieval origins of the fortress were on full display here, with high walls on each side surrounding a central open area with a well to provide fresh drinking water. At the same time, the rough walls of the medieval Kronborg had long since been replaced by a Baroque palace with fine decorations on the interior. The whole castle complex was huge and nearly everything was open to the public to explore, from the tops of the castle towers down to the basements far underground. We spent several hours here taking in the sights and both thought that this would be an amazing place to bring kids, who would be overjoyed to race around investigating everything in the place.
The first area that we decided to explore was the Royal Apartments. This was the section of the fortress set aside for the use of the Danish royal family (as the name suggests), and the current furnishings are mostly intended to replicate what the rooms looked like in the time of Christian IV. The rooms had a lot of heavy tapestries on the walls and stone fireplaces in each chamber; I suspect that this place could get mighty cold in the winters, especially before the advent of electric heating. The wooden floors in this suite of rooms were an interesting touch, and not something that I had seen before in a castle of this size. The most noteworthy location in this section of the fortress was the ballroom, which takes up most of one of the Kronborg's walls and measures about 250 feet (60 meters) in length. It's a gigantic room and I'm not exactly sure what the idea was behind making it so large. There couldn't have been that many people at the Danish court who needed to go dancing. And how exactly did they keep a room of this size heated in the winter? Even with huge fireplaces at both ends large enough to walk inside, the middle of the ballroom must have been freezing. I don't believe anyone thought this idea completely through.
The staff at the Kronborg is well aware of the connections of this place to the "Elsinore" of Shakespeare's Hamlet, and there were a series of performers enacting scenes from the play while we were visiting. This is apparently a tradition each summer and it adds another fun activity to watch while visiting, although since the scenes are taking place at different times and in different locations around the castle it can be pretty confusing for anyone who hasn't read Hamlet. The ballroom is used for the climactic scene of the play, the duel between Hamlet and Laertes (Act V, Scene II) complete with the dueling foils. The players did a fine job enacting this scene, especially given that they have to put on the same performance multiple times each day. It was even performed in English and not Danish - hooray for using the original text of the play! There were several other scenes from Hamlet taking place elsewhere in the castle, but this is the only one that we stopped to watch in full.
Another path from the central courtyard led to the top of the Cannon Tower (Kanontarnet). This was yet another version of the innumerable tower climbs that I had done on this trip, and as usual it consisted of a series of narrow steps spiraling upwards to the top of the fortress structure. From the viewing platform at the top, we had breathtaking views looking out in all directions. To the southwest across the town's narrow little harbor was Helsingør itself, with its church steeple pointing up above the rows of historic houses. To the north and east was the narrow straight of the Øresund, with Sweden easily visible on the other side. A strong swimmer could easily make the 2 mile crossing to the other side, and ships can make the passage to the other side in minutes. That's also to say nothing of the conditions in the winter, when the Baltic has historically frozen over on occasion and allowed people to simply walk from one side to the other. Finally, the Cannon Tower also provided an excellent vantage point for looking down into the Kronborg itself, with a bird's eye view of the central courtyard. We were once again fortunate enough to have near-perfect weather, with clear skies and comfortable temperatures. I wish that sightseeing was always as pleasant as this.
The next part of the castle that we visited was the chapel, the Kronborg Slotskirke. This room is relatively small, especially in comparison to the mammoth ballroom, and dates back to the late 16th century when the fortress was first refurbished by King Frederick II. I found the non-symmetrical nature of this design interesting, with the way that the wooden paneling on the left side of the room was not imitated on the right side, which instead had a series of windows open to the exterior of the castle. The chapel also had some detailed wooden carvings with bright coloring, located on the sides of the pews and above the royal seating area on the second floor. Fun fact: this chapel was converted into a gymnasium when it was being used as an army barracks, and only turned back into a chapel again when the Kronborg was restored for public use. An interesting history for a chapel, to say the least.
The last place that we had yet to visit was the basements below the Kronborg, and they turned out to be one of the most enteraining stops in the whole complex. This was where the remnants of the original medieval fortress were located, and the informational displays did a good job of pointing out where the stone foundations of the original structure could be found. There was also a large statue of Holger the Dane, a mythical figure who supposedly slumbers under the Kronborg and will one day awaken in an hour of need to save the Danish homeland. Holger is a popular figure in Danish culture and the gift store sells several different souvenirs based around this statue. Further below was a staircase that led down into a poorly-lit area in the deepest basement of the castle. This was a surprisingly large area that had to have spanned most of the area underneath the Kronborg proper. It kept going and going for long minutes on end as we walked through. There were only a handful of lanterns scattered here and there to provide light, and at times we walked through almost total darkness. Everything down here was made of stone and the floor was lumpy and uneven. My camera did yeoman work in trying to capture this area, and the dark image above was the best that it could do. If it sounds like I'm complaining about the basements, then I'm not doing a good job of conveying how we felt - this place was awesome! It would have been an amazing area to play hide-and-seek, or create a terrifying Halloween setup in the blackness under an actual castle. We were surprised that they would keep this place in such a dark state given potential legal liability concerns, but hopefully the staff will stick to their guns and keep things the way they are now. Wandering around the basements was a ton of fun.
After we left the Kronborg, we decided to walk over to a nearby beach and dip our toes into the water for a few minutes to relax and cool off. This did offer up the chance to take a few more pictures of the fortress from different angles, and get an unobstructed view across the water to the Swedish side of the channel. However, the problem was the beach itself: it was packed with what appeared to be rotting seaweed of some kind, which drew large swarms of flies to feed on the decaying plant material, and then birds to feed on the flies. It was... not a pleasant place to go in the water. Despite these conditions, there were several families with kids swimming out in the water, which indicates that they either didn't care or the Danes were a lot tougher than we were. We made discretion the better part of valor and headed back to the town to get some lunch. There was an outdoor festival taking place in the central part of Helsingør, and we were able to get a tasty meal from some of the numerous food vendors.
We had spent most of the day touring the fortress, and we still had to take the hour-long train ride back to Copenhagen. By the time that we returned, evening was drawing near and we headed to our last destination in Copenhagen: the Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is a historic amusement park that has been open since 1843, making it the second-oldest amusement park in the world. Between its rides and its depiction of foreign parts of the world, Tivoli is the place that pretty much invented the concept behind the modern amusement park. Walt Disney was directly inspired by Tivoli when designing his own parks in the 20th century. Tivoli is also one of the most visited amusement parks in Europe, with close to 5 million people stopping by to see it annually. We had walked past Tivoli every day since it was located near our hotel, and we wanted to see the place before leaving the city. These are some of the pictures of the main entrance and the Asian-inspired buildings on the initial entryway path. For a historic park located in the middle of a major city, Tivoli is surprisingly large, and this was only the area near the main gate.
We wandered around the park for some time, checking out the various different attractions that Tivoli had to offer. There's an entrance fee to get into the park and then an additional ticket-based system to use any of the rides; not being huge amusement park fans, we were content to explore the area without getting on anything. There were relatively few big roller coasters at Tivoli, no doubt due to the space constraints that the park has to operate within. There were lots of smaller rides similar to what might be seen at a state fair, however, as well as lots of carnival-style games with prizes. The park also has a series of small lakes with boats including the large wooden ship that looks like a pirate vessel, which is actually a restaurant on the inside. We had planned to eat dinner in Tivoli, but not at the pirate-themed restaurant due to its very expensive prices. Instead we had this charcuterie platter in the German-themed portion of the park, which was an absolutely delicious mix of pretzels, cheese, and four different kinds of meat. Liz and I will still reminisce about this meal from time to time - it was that good.
The sun was beginning to set at this point and dusk was falling over Copenhagen. At Tivoli that meant that the lights began to turn on, which transformed the park with their multicolored soft glow. Many of the lights were inspired by Japanese lanterns and were quite pretty as the daylight faded away. We also noticed that there was a large crowd forming near the stage for a public concert. This is one of the traditions at Tivoli, which stages concerts throughout the summer at the main stage. We had unwittingly arrived for Friday Rock in Tivoli, which was preparing to begin once the sun went down completely. If we hadn't needed to get up early the next morning to catch a train to Oslo, we would have stayed to listen to the Danish group that was about to perform. Instead, we left through the main entrance again and returned to our hotel for the last time, pleasantly tired after a long day of sightseeing.
Here's one picture of the two of us from back at the Little Mermaid statue. We thoroughly enjoyed our three days in Copenhagen and would happily come back to see some of many attractions that we missed. This is a wonderful city to visit, and the outstanding weather that we were fortunate enough to enjoy helped to make this a memorable trip spent together. We were heading next to Norway's capital city, in the hopes that it would treat us as well as its Danish sibling. Copenhagen was going to be a difficult feat to top.