Copenhagen and a Hat with Horns

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Many people born in the USA consider themselves something other than just American. They may be Italian-American, German-American or Irish-American, even though their ancestors emigrated to the USA in 1878. They are still uniquely proud of their heritage. Try telling an Italian-American, who has never been within a thousand miles of Sicily, he isn’t Italian and you may wake up next to a horse’s head.

Madam had an ancestor born in Denmark. I forget the exact relationship but it was something like her great great great great grandmother’s cousin twice-removed was from Copenhagen. With all that Viking blood coursing through her veins, she is clearly Danish-American. Unfortunately, this sounds like a breakfast pastry.

“I’ll take a grande half-fat latte macchiato with an extra shot please. Oh, and throw in one of your tasty Danish-Americans. Make that to go.”

I hope there are no real Danish or Italian-Americans reading this, or I may be in trouble. I loved the Cannoli I had in Little Italy. Honestly. It was the best squirty pastry I’ve ever had.

Hoping that Madam will recognise a long-lost relative from amongst the crowds, off to Copenhagen we shall go. I have to admit it wasn’t high on my bucket list of places to visit but whatever keeps Madam happy. I suppose there is the off chance that I might find a Viking hat with horns.

The World Happiness Report has, for the last several years, had Scandinavians, including the Danish, rank as the happiest people in the world. Both the UK and the USA are much lower. The survey uses both objective data such as levels of crime, income, access to education and health care, along with subjective questions like “how do you rate your life?”

Scandinavia has, to put it bluntly, crap weather for much of the year. Snow carpets the ground throughout the winter with temperatures struggling to get much above freezing. It gets dark by 4pm. It will be windy and cloudy. Summer is better but seems over in the blink of an eye. Taxes in Denmark are amongst the highest in the world. Personal income tax rates can reach 60%. VAT (sales tax) is 25%.

So what is there to be happy about?

If we believe the media hype, it’s all about the Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah). This is a difficult word to translate but means something like ‘comfort’ or ‘cosiness’. It’s a glass of wine with friends or a cup of cocoa in front of the fire. It’s being in, and appreciating, the moment. Treating ordinary moments as special.

Hygge has spawned an entire new industry. Retailers, never slow to jump on the fad gravy train, are offering Hygge Tealight Holders (£49), Hygge Stonewashed Blankets (£115) and Hygge Cushions (£40). Publishers join in the fun with more than a hundred books on the hygge lifestyle. Many of the books have only a few dozen pages. I sympathise with the authors. After all, how many different ways can you say “We have friends coming round, open a bottle of wine”?

If a packet of cocoa and a pile of firewood was the secret of happiness, we would all be in a state of eternal bliss. I think there is more to the Danes happiness than a cosy evening in front of the fire.

Every Dane, from the moment of birth, gets free high quality healthcare and education. They are paid to go to university. Public transport is widespread, efficient and affordable. They get ten months of maternity or paternity benefits. They retire with absolute security and a generous pension. Vacation time is around seven weeks. Denmark has one of the lowest gaps between rich and poor in the world with the minimum wage of around $20 an hour. In effect, they are all middle class. They do not celebrate ambition and the constant striving for promotion or more money. Danes believe it is more important to pursue a career you love rather than one with a larger paycheck. Time spent with family and friends is more important than the size of your car.

Some claim the Danish model is socialism but successive governments have committed themselves to free markets, private ownership and free trade. It has a low level of bureaucracy and encourages business start-ups. Perhaps it is socialism with a small ‘s’ and capitalism with a small ‘c’. Either way, it seems to work.

But enough of the politics. Copenhagen calls.

Our flight landed in Copenhagen airport just before 5pm. When we booked the flight and hotel as a package, they offered us a private car transfer from the airport to the hotel and back for £148 per person. Having looked at a map before booking I could see that the airport was only a few miles from the centre of Copenhagen so I declined their kind offer. The local train ran direct from the airport terminal into the city. From there we walked only a few minutes to the hotel and had completed check-in within 40 minutes. Cost for a single journey £4 each. Even a taxi from the rank would have only cost £35. A transfer for £148 leaves a tidy profit for somebody. I splashed out on a 48 hour city pass (£17 each) which gave us unlimited travel throughout the city, including from the airport.

Our room on the first floor overlooked the harbour. A pedestrian and bicycle path was below our window. A little further out into the harbour a section was partitioned off and swimming lanes and a diving board added. Several hardy souls were swimming. The water temperature was a toasty 19C (66F). I asked Madam if she fancied a dip but she declined. I’ve no idea why.

I sat and watched the bicycles passing below the window for an hour while Madam went through her extensive unpacking and checking routine. So many bicycles. So little Lycra. It is the chosen transport in Copenhagen for young and old. Businessmen with briefcases balanced on the handlebars. Mothers with children in a seat on the back. One man had an old wooden Carlsberg beer crate fastened on the front with his dog sitting in there watching the world go by.

By the time Madam had finished checking under the bed for dust and reorganising the pillows and towels to her satisfaction, it was too late to do much else but pop into the mall conveniently located next door to the hotel. As soon as we walked in the front door, Madam saw a Tex-Mex restaurant, so our dinner choice was set.

Whenever we spoke to people who had visited Copenhagen, they would tell us how expensive it was. We were mentally prepared for a week’s bread and water diet with just the occasional ice cream. You have to have ice cream. Prices were certainly higher in the tourist areas. A lot higher. Once you moved into the areas the locals used it wasn’t quite so bad. The first meal we had in the local mall, with two entrees and three drinks (Madam insisted on two margaritas) came to 327Kr (£39). You would struggle to pay less in London.

Other things were pricier. A cup of coffee in a chain coffee shop was 45Kr (£5.35). A non-chain cafe 35Kr. A beer in a bar or restaurant was 55Kr (£6.55). On the other hand a bottle of Danish pilsner beer from the local supermarket was 3.5 Kr (42p).

Would you like to know the cost of sending a postcard from Denmark to the UK?

I bet you would. I’ll need a small drum roll please. If you don’t have any drums handy just use a couple of pens on a desk.

Ready?

Good.

Sending a single postcard to the UK costs 27Kr (£3.21, or $4.35). Don’t expect any postcards from Madam.

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Day 2.

I stood watching out from the open window while Madam went through that long and mysterious process that women have to do before declaring they can leave the room. After many years of marriage I am still clueless what is involved. I shower, dry and dress. I’m ready. What she does? I’ve no idea. All I know is it takes a long time and involves many electric appliances and odd-smelling substances in small pots and tubes.

I watch the pedestrians and bicycles pass below. A young man stopped and looked at the ground and shook his head. He picked up a discarded coke bottle and deposited it in the bin. A woman by the swimming lanes dipped her hand in the water and recoiled as though touching a hot stove. Two young blonde women jogged by, ponytails bouncing. Dozens of cyclists wearing office clothes. A group of Japanese tourists jumped into an unmanned boat moored to the harbour wall for a selfie. It was 8am.

We headed into the centre on the local train. It was only a twenty-minute walk but the station was opposite the hotel, and included in our pass and I don’t think we ever had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a train. The central station has four entrances and, being new and clueless, we managed to pick the one that led into the former red-light district. At least my guidebook said it was former. It wasn’t. We walked some distance into the district, becoming increasingly lost. We finally found a bus stop and the bus, fortuitously, dropped us back at the station entrance we should have taken in the first place.

There is a local ordinance that all tourists must visit The Little Mermaid. They won’t let you back on the plane until you have shown them a selfie with the statue in the background. It is the iconic attraction that everybody associates with Copenhagen.

The crowd spread along the railing overlooking The Little Mermaid was ten deep. Many more were scrambling over the slippery rocks to get their picture taken in front of the statue. Japanese selfie stick were being waved menacingly in the air. A steady stream of tour buses disgorged more visitors. Souvenir shops and stalls were doing a roaring trade, selling miniature replicas of the mermaid. Madam bought a £7 ornament.

The Little Mermaid has had a rough life since she was unveiled in 1913. In 1964, her head was sawn off and stolen by artists from the Situationist Movement. If you, like me, have never heard of this movement, I offer you this explanation from Wikipedia:

‘The intellectual foundations of the Situationist International were derived primarily from anti-authoritarian Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism. Overall, situationist theory represented an attempt to synthesize this diverse field of theoretical disciplines into a modern and comprehensive critique of mid-20th century advanced capitalism.’

I wonder why that never caught on.

Her head was never recovered, and a duplicate was made and installed.

In 1984 on a warm evening in July, two bored young men sawed off her arm, returning it two days later. In 1998, she was decapitated once again but this time the head was recovered and reattached later that year. In 2003, explosives were used to blow her off her base. She has variously been covered in red paint, a dildo attached to her hand and dressed in a burqa. I could go on, but you get the idea. Strictly between you and me, it has always been just a copy – the original is kept hidden away, quite wisely, by the descendants of the sculptor Eriksen. Please don’t tell the throngs of tourists.

Everybody says the statue is smaller than they expected. I heard this so many times, I somehow imagined it would be a foot tall at best. In fact it is only slightly smaller than life size, larger than I expected, which I think is just the perfect size. The stains running down from the top of her head suggest that it is a favourite perch for pigeons when the tourists leave them in peace. Some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue as they say.

We followed the harbour south along the waterfront through an obviously affluent area, eventually reaching the Amalienborg Royal Palace. The Danish royal family are big on palaces and official residences. Summer palaces, winter palaces, second summer palaces and palaces just for eating their dinner.

Amalienborg is the official winter residence of the family. It is not just one, but four different palaces flanking an open square. The four were built by four different aristocratic families in the middle of the 18th century as private residences. Following a fire at the then current royal place at Christiansborg in 1794, the royal family took over the buildings. Accounts differ whether the king paid for the buildings or merely gave tax exemptions and promotions. Madam explained who lived in what building but it was all a little lost on me. I think the queen lives in one, the crown prince in another and their dog in a third. I may have got the bit about the dog wrong. Flags fly at various buildings depending on who is home, who has popped out to the corner shop for bacon, or who is walking the dog. You may need to ask Madam for the exact details.

There is a changing of the guard at noon every day and propitiously we arrived at a few minutes to twelve. Crowds already lined the square, cameras at the ready. A sole policeman stood guard in the centre of the square. Excitement mounted as noon approached. The buzz of conversation got louder and tourists jockeyed for prime position at the front. Twelve soldiers, wearing black bearskin hats, marched smartly into the square and did a right turn directly in front of Madam. It was all over in two minutes.

Nyhavn is Copenhagen tourist central. It’s the one with all the brightly coloured houses either side of the canal. Historic wooden boats line the quay. Most of the buildings are now restaurants with rows of outside tables almost reaching the water. It was lunchtime and every table was packed.

King Christian V opened the canal in 1670 to allow ships access to central Copenhagen. The oldest house dates from 1681. After a bit of a tiff with the British in 1807 and a spot of, probably well-deserved, naval bombardment, the wealthy merchants moved out. The area then became well known for sailors, pubs, prostitutes and general debauchery. 

Coincidently, or perhaps deliberately, Hans Christian Andersen moved into the street at this time, living in three different houses over the next twenty-odd years. We didn’t bother to scramble over dozens of diners and tables to see the memorial plaque at number 67. We did stroll the length of the street amongst the tourists and frantic waiters dodging between tables. It would have been nice to linger and look at the boats but there was barely standing room on the quay, let alone anywhere for a sit down.

Our guide book told us that Copenhagen was walkable and we wouldn’t need public transport. Amble across the centre in an afternoon it said. Even with our city pass, taking buses and trains where possible, we had walked over five miles by 1pm. The guide book also had no mention of The Little Mermaid. You have to wonder who writes these guides and whether they even visit. To moan a bit more, just a random glance at their recommended restaurant list included Noma as one of their top choices. I’m sure this two Michelin star restaurant serves amazing food but you have to book weeks or months in advance and pay them £275 per person to even get a reservation. Hardly a sensible suggestion for somebody spending a weekend in Copenhagen, is it? Other sections, I found later were completely wrong. Anybody need a guide to Copenhagen, going cheap?

EDIT: I eventually found a brief reference on page 103 and I quote: ‘The Little Mermaid … must rank as one of the most overexposed and overrated pieces of sculpture in the world.’  There was no mention in the index nor the contents of the guide.

Being hot and knackered, we headed back to the hotel for a rest. Just as we left the train, a pigeon flew close overhead and left me a little present. Today I was the statue. Some people believe a bird pooping on you will bring good luck and riches. I suggest that those people have never had to clean pigeon shit from their ears. I decided I don’t like pigeons.

After a brief rest, we headed back into the city and I had a £15 sandwich in the Tivoli food hall. The menu was in Danish, so I had no clue what each cost before I ordered. It was all looking and pointing. It was a nice sandwich – one of those open face ones. They call them Smørrebrød so they can charge more than a regular sandwich.

I’m being a little unfair in calling it a sandwich. The filling is piled high enough to make half a dozen British Rail sandwiches. The Danes have a reputation for design and they have turned the humble sandwich into an art form.  They are often a delight to the eye as well as the palate.

Smørrebrød includes countless open-face sandwich combinations, from basic to lavish. The word derives from smør og brød, or “butter and bread.” The basic bread is rugbrød or rye bread. This is buttered and toppings added. Traditional ingredients include pickled herrings, thinly sliced cheeses and meats, cucumber, tomatoes and smoked fish.

I think it worked out at about £1.50 a bite.

One of the waitresses yesterday recommended a visit to Strøget. This is one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets stretching to almost a mile. After a struggle to find the start, we spent an hour or so walking its length. Pleasant enough but very crowded and with more gift and souvenir shops than is either healthy or desirable. Madam bought two postcards 7 Kr each (84p).

We stopped off at the local mall on the way back to the hotel for some sushi. Due to an ordering cock up by our waiter, there was a long delay before our meal arrived. Hunger gripped me by then and I gulped down a roll. I like wasabi. It clears the sinuses. The roll was 90% wasabi. Strong wasabi. My eyes bulged and watered. My glasses misted. My nose ran, dripping into the soy sauce. My throat constricted. I gasped for breath. I drank a pint of water. I mopped sweat from my brow. My sinuses shrivelled up into a small ball and retreated, whimpering into a dark cranial recess. I may never hear from them again. I do not recommend the wasabi tuna roll.

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Day 3.

This morning started with a visit to the Botanic Gardens. There were just a few people strolling or walking their dogs – a pleasant change from the crowds of yesterday. It was nice enough but just lots of different trees and shrubs, rather than flowers. A walk amongst 50 shades of green. There was a butterfly house and a palm house I wanted to visit but it was hot and the sun was beating down. Spending an hour in a glasshouse didn’t appeal.

We picked one of the hottest weeks during a heatwave that had spread across the northern hemisphere. It wasn’t as bad as California which recorded a high of 49C, or Algeria at 51.3C but it was still uncomfortably hot. Walking in blazing sunshine in high temperatures was more tiring than we expected. When you visit a traditionally hot climate, you can often pop into a shop or cafe to cool down but the Danes have never embraced air-conditioning. Their focus is on keeping warm in subzero temperatures. If was often far too hot to spend a lot of time in museums or restaurants.

In search of a cooling breeze, we headed to Amager Strand beach on the far eastern coast of Copenhagen. You can see the bridge to Malmo in Sweden a little further along the coast, fading into the distance but I couldn’t make out the Swedish coast. The sandy beach was a popular area with the locals and was already packed by noon and a steady stream of new visitors were arriving from the train station or on bicycles. We sat on a bench for a while but there wasn’t much to do apart from sunbathe or swim.

A proper seaside town would have slot-machine amusements and a pier. Tacky gift shops selling buckets and spades. Pubs selling two-for-one cocktails and a promenade with interestingly shaped slicks of slippery vomit. Sticks of pink rock with an alarming quantity of E numbers. Kiss Me Quick hats and donkey rides for the children. Spilt beer and broken bottles. Cheap tattoo parlours where you can get ‘Carpa Diam’ tattooed on the back of your neck along with unusual intimate piercings. Feral ten-year olds on bikes boasting about their lastest ASBO.  A brawl every evening at 11pm sharp.

These Danes just don’t know how to have fun.

A short metro ride back towards the city found us in Christianshavn. Our guidebook promised us cobbled streets and charming houses and courtyards. After much searching, we found one street with a couple of old houses but that was about it. We caught a bus back to the hotel so Madam could take a nap.

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Day 4.

Our first visit of the day was to the Danish National museum in the centre of Copenhagen. I was mostly interested in the Viking exhibits which were wonderful and absorbing. Vikings in these parts had a habit of making offerings to the gods by dumping them in the local bog. These included jewellery, weapons, boats, animals and the occasional human sacrifice. The lack of oxygen in the bog preserved many of these and they are on display in the museum.

Having been to Jorvic museum a couple of weeks ago, I found this ten times better. I know it was Denmark, so it probably should have more stuff but the way it was displayed was far more thoughtful. More about education than entertainment. Sadly, the Jorvik museum with its long queues probably makes ten times as much money as the National Museum and that, after all, is what counts nowadays. I could have happily spent all day in there, but they didn’t have air-conditioning and they didn’t believe in opening any windows. We were both sweating liberally by the time we had finished the Viking exhibits.

It was a lovely museum spoiled only by the two young women on the ticket office booking us onto the 2pm tour of a seperate Victorian house that Madam had specifically wanted to see. We waited several minutes after 2pm, only to be told that the last tour for a week had been at 1pm. Madam was a little grumpy to hear this and remonstrated with any of the staff that would listen. Their response was to shrug their shoulders as if to say “We are blonde, what do you expect?” This made her very grumpy indeed.

The afternoon visit was to Rosenborg Castle. The Visit Copenhagen website tells me:

‘A royal hermitage set in the King’s Garden in the heart of Copenhagen, Rosenborg Castle features 400 years of splendor, royal art treasures and the Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia.’

It was all gold and gilt and twiddly bits of decoration, along with a bunch of tapestries and picture of deceased royals. After the first couple of rooms, they seemed to blur together. How many pictures of 18th century monarchs or how many elaborate carvings can you take?

I don’t remember much more of the castle apart from the King’s toy soldiers in the basement. There were 250 in all, in gilt silver. I couldn’t help wondering how many of the starving poor outside the palace gates all that gold and silver would have fed. I’m sure the ruling class would argue that the poor would just breed faster if you fed them. More poor at the gates and the king wouldn’t have had any toy soldiers to play with. That would never do.

The vault in part of the basement held the Danish crown jewels. Madam loves that sort of thing and I had to hold her back from asking if she could try on the crown. There was a young guide giving a private tour to four American tourists in the jewel room. We caught the last couple of minutes of his talk. At the end, one of the Americans asked “If the queen rules Denmark, is the Prime Minister just for show?” I tried to suppress a laugh. I really did.

Day 5.

“Mmmmm…” said Madam “These bananas taste just like the ones in England.”

She pondered this profound thought for a minute and continued “I like Copenhagen but I wouldn’t want to live here.”

“Why not?” I asked.

She gazed out over the harbour enjoying her Danish-just-like-English banana and thought for another minute and said “I don’t speak Danish.”

I did wonder about our complete lack of knowledge of the language when we booked the trip. Normally we attempt to learn a few words like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘do you speak English’ and ‘If I speak loudly and slowly in English will you understand me?’ Due to two other trips in the weeks before, we didn’t even get round to that. We need not have worried. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a single Dane that didn’t speak English. Some of them were so fluent you would have sworn that they were a native of an English speaking country. I later flipped through the TV channels in the hotel and many were in English.

Spoken Danish still sounds something like “fladen laden dahden dodle due nic den naden noodle” but after a week there we started to understand some of the written signs and menu items. It helps that some of the words sound similar even if the spelled words have weird and joined up letters like æ and ø. For example In and Out are Ind and Ud. Cold is Kold. Forty Six is Seksogfyrre (think six and forty). Parking is Parkering. Free is Fri. Give me a month there and I think I could manage to order a pizza in Danish if the server was very patient. It helps that the Danish word for pizza is pizza.

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Today we planned a trip to Roskilde to see the Cathedral and the Viking Ship Museum.

Roskilde is about 22 miles from the centre of Copenhagen. Travelling in England such a vast distance by train needs serious planning. You’ll need to check if there is a strike this week. Engineering works and a bus replacement? Cancelled trains due to management ineptitude? A signal failure somewhere in Scotland? Is it a full moon timetable? Has it snowed in the last two weeks? Leaves on the line? Bizarre restrictions on times you can travel on a specific ticket? Can I catch the 9.24 do I have to wait for the 10:00? Is there a remote chance of there being a seat, or will I have to stand for 40 minutes? Can my credit card handle the fare? Which of sixteen discount cards do I need to use? Then you give up and drive because you want to get there before teatime.

In Copenhagen you get on a train. The seats are wide and comfortable. There are no time restrictions. Travel when you like. It is all one fare. Trains run 24 hours a day every 10 or 15 minutes. There are lots of empty seats. There is fast, free and unrestricted WiFi. You can use the same ticket on a train, bus, metro or boat. Nobody is shouting into a mobile phone or screaming at their children. You get there in 23 minutes.

Is there anybody at Southern Rail listening?

We had a bit of a late start and it was almost 11 am by the time we reached Roskilde Cathedral. The cathedral, on a small hilltop overlooking Roskilde Fjord, was the first gothic cathedral to be built from brick. It was started in the 1170’s but took a hundred years to build mostly due to the lack of cheap flights to bring in bricklayers from Poland.

The cathedral gets 125,000 visitors a year from around the world. There was a large entrance sign and arrow on one side of the building pointing around the corner. We walked all round the building looking for a ticket office and front door. Having done the complete circuit and reached the sign again we stood and checked the Google to see if it was open. It was, the Google assured us. We started round the building again, together with another couple who had done the same. Tucked into a shady corner was a plain grey closed door which, it transpired, was the entrance. They used to have 250,000 visitors a year until the ‘Enter Here’ sign on the door fell off.

Like any church in continuous use since first built, Roskilde Cathedral has undergone many changes. Chapels within the cathedral were demolished and rebuilt. The occasional fire has led to restoration and reconstruction, often with major stylistic changes. Around it, the structure of the medieval town is still visible, with some medieval buildings and a few fine 17th and 18th century houses remaining.

The cathedral had a bit of a fall in fortunes during the Reformation of the 1530’s. The king decided he, not the church, owned the building and contents, slapped around the odd bishop, and helped himself to anything he fancied, which was most of the contents. Still, it did give him plenty of space to create tombs for him and his descendants. And did they take it seriously. The next several hundred years was witness to the most extreme bout of willy-waving known to man. Every succeeding king tried to make his tomb larger and more ornate than the last. And some of them are very large and ornate indeed. The later royals have calmed down a little and the recent tombs are simpler and stylish. Almost forty kings and queens of Denmark are buried in the cathedral.

We spent a couple of happy hours here with Madam checking off her list of every king and queen. I knew that she had an encyclopedic knowledge of every minor member of the British royal family. I did not know that this knowledge also extended to the Danish royals. She rattled off a long list of Federick this or Christian that and their various brothers, sisters and illegitimate children but the details blur a little in my memory. All I remember is that the current queen Margrethe’s husband had a bit of a hissy fit and decided he didn’t want his remains in Roskilde since he was only given the title of Prince and not King. When he died earlier this year, he had his wish granted and half his ashes were scattered in Danish waters and the other half at Fredensborg Castle north of Copenhagen. He was French, a bit chubby and had a penchant for goose liver pate, so nobody was much bothered.

A walk through the park behind the cathedral led us to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde harbour. This museum has the remains of five original Viking ships from the 11th-century. The five vessels originate from a blockade about twelve miles north of Roskilde. They were sunk into harbour inlets to prevent invaders reaching the city by sea. The boatyard specializes in reconstructions of Viking boats using the tools and materials available at that time.

I was really only there in the hope of finding a Viking hat with horns in my size but alas only the usual pens, guide books and tacky souvenirs were available in the gift shop. I did ask the woman serving but she was a bit sniffy and said that was just a myth. There is no such thing, she said. I don’t believe her. I have seen the pictures.

We had hoped to take a tour of the harbour in one of the reconstructed Viking ships but they were fully booked by the time we got round to it. Instead, we took a brief tour of the shipyard where the guide explained at length how they were at the forefront of experimental archeology, creating nails from bog iron ore and planks from felled oak trees. Due to the immense amount of labour used smelting iron and splitting oak logs, each boat cost many hundreds of thousands of Euros to build. The on-site blacksmith created an iron nail while we watched and the carpenter hacked half-heartedly at an oak plank to demonstrate the techniques used.

We wandered around the remains of the ships, located in a specially built hall. It was directly on the water so you could see the sea behind the ships. It was well presented but there is only so long you can look at lumps of 11th century wood without needing a cup of tea. On the way out I noticed a workshop with an open door. I poked my head in and saw a very large and impressive table saw, an electric bandsaw and a lot of modern tools and perfect machined planks of wood.

Tivoli Gardens is listed as the number two attraction in Copenhagen by TripAdvisor. The park opened in 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world, after Dyrehavsbakken in nearby Klampenborg, also in Denmark. It has one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters built in 1914 along with more modern rides that promise 4G forces and one which will turn you upside down at 100 km/h.

It’s probably great if you have deep pockets and young children with strong stomachs. Admission is over £14 then each ride costs between £3.60 and £10.70. Games of chance, with decidedly poor odds, were available if you needed a giant bar of chocolate or a stuffed giraffe. Not a real giraffe obviously.

There is a central lake and gardens and many restaurants and bars. In the evening it is lit by thousands of bulbs and we were promised a light show if we stayed until 10:45. We got there at 8pm and were bored by 9pm. It was nice enough, the gardens were pleasant and there were plenty of deckchairs if you could get over the smell of raw sewage wafting from the central drains. They seemed to be having a problem and there was a tanker with an impressively large hose down a drain in the center of the seating area.

Since neither of us had any desire to hang upside down seventy feet above the ground after dinner, or hang about by the drains, we strolled round the gardens a couple of times then sat in a bar waiting for the light show. I had a Danish beer served in a German beer-hall glass in an Irish Pub.

The light show? Oh dear. Somebody needs to go to Vegas to get some tips.

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Day 6.

We splashed out on two Copenhagen cards which gave us entrance to the city’s major attractions as well as travel on all public transport for one price. One of those included was the land train which is a 45 minute tour around some of the more interesting areas of the medieval city. The first train we tried to board was full so we had an hour to kill.

What else do you do for a spare hour but go to a Ripley’s Believe it or Not, also included in the card. Their website breathlessly tells us that it is only place in Copenhagen where you’ll find the Taj Mahal built from 300,000 matches and a picture of Queen Margrethe produced from pocket lint, and metal junk art. I’ve seen these “Odditoriums” in various cities around the world and often wondered about them. They did indeed have a matchstick Taj Mahal and a picture of the queen, along with deformed stuffed animals, distorting mirrors and optical illusions. As we were leaving, I asked Madam what she thought of it. “Cheesy” was her succinct and accurate reply.

There was plenty of room on the second train. It was better than I feared and took us around some areas we hadn’t seen. Even nicer when we got to sit down instead of walking. It was only marred by five loud and annoying tourists. I’m not sure if they were Japanese or Korean. They demanded the ticket seller took their photograph sitting on the train, then spent the entire trip peering into their phones and shouting loudly to each other. I don’t believe they looked at anything on the tour. They could have saved money by giving the driver a few Krone tip for a picture then left the rest of us in peace. Madam got very excited about halfway around the tour when she saw an American Pie Shop. I stopped her from jumping from the moving train by promising to go back later that afternoon.

Our next stop was the Glyptoteket Art Gallery. They had a large advertisement on the outside of the building which promised Manet, Van Gogh, Monet, and Gauguin. I think I saw a couple from Monet and two from Van Gogh, one suspiciously unsigned. The rest were from, shall we say, lesser known artists. There were a large number of paintings from Gauguin, probably more than I’ve ever seen in one place. Madam examined them and immediately suggested we planned a trip to Tahiti.

The pictures were oddly arranged over three floors. A couple of rooms of paintings then you had to go up to the next floor to see more. Then again up another floor to see the rest. I have a bit of a weakness for French impressionists, so had only intended to see those but we wandered around some of the statues and the Golden Age of Danish painters (1800-1860) exhibition which was almost empty of visitors.

We watched a young French couple go from room to room, stopping only long enough to take each other’s photo in front of the largest picture in the room. They didn’t pause to look at a single picture. All they needed was a photo to prove they had been there. Everywhere we go we seem to be seeing selfie tourism. Whether it is Stonehenge or The Little Mermaid. People who rush from attraction to attraction pausing only long enough to take a selfie or a photo of their friends before rushing to the next. I just can’t seem to see the point. Are they just trying to impress their friends, real or online? Get Instagram likes? Make the world think they are seasoned travellers?

I think it was Kurt Vonnegut that said ‘we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be’. This was decades before social media and the Instagram selfie age. Our image we present to the world via our Facebook or Instagram accounts is not us. It is just a collection of data on some remote server. To try and present ourselves as art lovers because we have a selfie in front of a Monet or two does us, or our friends, no favours.

Our Copenhagen card included a canal boat tour. At this point we were willing to do most anything that involved sitting down and not walking.

I’m always a bit suspicious about canal tours – so many of them just cruise past a few apartment blocks telling you how much they cost, then start hinting they would like a tip at the end. This one restored my faith. The young woman guide started asking if anybody would like the tour in Danish. A few raised their hands. Then she asked in English. Most of the rest responded. Then she asked in Spanish. One family said “yes please.” Obviously they said “sí por favor.” but you probably already worked that out. The tour included views from the canals of the Opera House, the Royal Palace, Christiansborg Palace and, of course, the Little Mermaid. The guide was the most entertaining we had in the city. Fun and knowledgeable and perfectly fluent in all three languages. And just a little bit cute.

My feet were still a bit sore, even after a 45 minute sit down. Madam astonished me by almost running down the road. Her feet were a blur. She was darting in and out of groups of meandering tourists. Ducking under selfie sticks. I struggled to keep up. I called after her. All I heard was “pie… pie… pie… pie”. I had completely forgotten about the American Pie Shop. We made it there just a few minutes before they closed and she selected a large slice of “S’Mores Pie” to take back to the hotel.

For those of you unfamiliar with this peak of American culinary expertise, this is a sickly sweet confection consisting of cracker crumbs, heavy cream, sugar, chocolate, eggs and marshmallows. 

We made our way back to the hotel for the evening and Madam started on her pie. I asked how it tasted and she just said “Mmmmmm.. Mmmmm …. Mmmm… mmmm.”

I wasn’t sure if that meant it was good, or that her teeth had stuck together.

DSC05094

Day 7.

We were up early and took the 8:30 train to Hillerod some 24 miles from Copenhagen.

Madam wanted to see yet another royal palace, Frederiksborg Slot. Literally translated this is Frederiksborg Castle. This summons up images of battlements, a moat and portcullis. In practice it was another palace with endless rooms of royal portraits and over-ornate furniture. Eighty-three rooms of it. I summoned interest for the first twenty or so rooms but my enthusiasm and my body flagged by thirty and I was frantically searching for a cafe by room forty. There wasn’t a cafe and their coffee machine was broken. I would have had much more fun with a bow and arrow shooting invading armies from the battlements of a proper castle, or prowling through castle dungeons.

An exhibition in the basement did make the entire visit worthwhile. There were dozens of portraits by the Australian-born visual artist Ralph Heimans. Several of the Danish royal family were featured as well as English royals and actors. And boy, can the man paint. You could get close and see the brush strokes. Stand back and you would think you were standing in front of the subject. Give me a thousand years and a mountain of paint and canvas and I could never come close to being half as good as Heimans.

After a short ferry ride round the lake, we headed back into the city and walked down Strøget looking for somewhere to eat. We had managed to book our week during the annual jazz festival as well as the hottest week of the year. It would have been lovely to sit in the square and listen to the outdoor concerts but every place with outside tables was packed. Sitting inside in the heat wasn’t an option.

We headed back to the hotel and the buffet in the neighbouring mall. Buffet food is often disappointing but this was probably one of the nicer meals we had in Copenhagen and half the price of eating in the square.

Our Final day.

Our flight home wasn’t until 5.25pm so we arranged a late check out and planned to do one last excursion. Another royal palace if Madam had her way, or maybe a canal cruise if I had mine. In the end we just looked at each other and realised we were just about Copenhagen’d out. It is a wonderful city packed with amazing sights and lovely people and I could have happily spent another week there, but we had walked 55 miles during the week, often in almost unbearable heat, and it was starting to show. Instead, we just lounged around in the hotel room for a few hours, packed and took the train to the airport.

We were reluctant to eat at the airport but we ended up there at lunch time and the first place we saw served Smørrebrød sandwiches. There wasn’t much else that we fancied so we settled on this. My experience of airport food is that it is usually overpriced and often dire. What I hadn’t counted on was the Danish ability to deliver quality. The Smørrebrød were so good that Madam was picking them apart and studying the menu description, trying to work out how to recreate them at home. Have you ever had a meal that good at Gatwick or Heathrow? You don’t need to answer that – it was a rhetorical question.

I had a few Krone left after lunch and a couple of hours to kill. Rather than sit at a bar or read, I had a wander around the mostly expensive shops. There was a gift shop with the usual fridge magnets, keyrings and ornaments. The sort of stuff you buy then look at it when you get home and say “What on earth did I buy that crap for?”

My eyes wandered to an upper shelf and I saw it.

Oh yes I did.

Oh yes.

A VIKING HAT WITH HORNS!

hat with horns

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