The addictive flavours of history

Lata Ganapathy sees Viking ships, snow-white peahens and an ominous-looking statue of Holger the Dane in Copenhagen, Denmark

July 11, 2014 05:57 pm | Updated July 21, 2014 04:31 pm IST - chennai:

Rosenborg Castle, Denmark’s Royal Treasure House. Photo: Lata Ganapathy

Rosenborg Castle, Denmark’s Royal Treasure House. Photo: Lata Ganapathy

The first thing that rouses me is the warm light flooding my cozy room. It's not quite 4 a.m. in Køge, a modest town 39 km from Copenhangen. This is, after all, the Nordics; hence the long days of sunlight, where even the nights resemble dawn. I look out of my window and gasp at the splendidly kept garden. A quaint bench beckons invitingly as bursts of thriving  Rhododendrons  nod in the crisp breeze. Shaking off my tiredness following a long transatlantic flight, I get ready to explore the capital of Denmark. 

I begin at Roskilde Cathedral, the first Gothic red brick church in Scandinavia built during the 12 th and 13 th centuries. The glossy brochure informs me that this is a burial spot for Danish royalty. The church itself is quite beautiful and has undergone many stages of renovation over the years. Carved sarcophaguses in marble, elaborate frescoes and a charming wrought-iron latticework gate catch my eye. On the upper floor, I linger (unknowingly near a Danish sign that says “Don't linger”) to admire the long, slender arched windows. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the cathedral also houses a museum that allows me a quick walk through its history.  Across the road is the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde where the focus is on ships, seafaring and the boat-building culture from ancient and medieval times. I saunter along the various live displays — the Viking Ship Hall with its five original Viking ships, the traditional Nordic wooden boats and Viking ship reconstructions docked at the Museum Harbour. 

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On Day Two, I purchase a 48-hour Copenhagen Card for 469 DKK which allows unlimited travel on public transport and free access to over 75 museums and attractions. The S-Train, complemented by the Metro, is spacious and quite fabulous, and despite all the signage and announcements being in Danish, I am switching lines and trains with ease in no time. And yes, it also has free WiFi. 

I walk from Copenhagen Station towards Strøget, known as Europe’s longest pedestrian stretch. The buzz is infectious. I try not to be distracted by the colourful little shops — one has a row of brightly-patterned bean bags for tired walkers — and the innumerable cafes selling fragrant varieties of fresh breads.  Illums Bolighus , a famed Danish departmental store, draws me in, and I do a fair bit of damage to my wallet in the 10 minutes I spend there.  

Churches, monuments and buildings with patina spires steeped in history pop up at every street corner. The old segues into the new aesthetically — something I wish we’d adopt back home. Cyclists pedal away purposefully. I recall reading somewhere that a third of the workforce in Copenhagen bikes to work. Young, old, fit, unfit, politicians, officers, tourists — practically everyone seems to cycle. They carry their bikes into specially marked coaches on the train, carry them out, and off they go — stockings, short skirts, suits notwithstanding. 

The Rundetaarn is my next stop. The 17 th  century observatory, the oldest functioning in Europe, is a must-see. Built by Christian IV, the Round Tower has a gradually sloping 209-m-long spiral brick walk that goes seven and a half times around the hollow centre. The small arch windows that break the monotony of the white walls offer intermittent views of the street. The view from the top is nothing short of breathtaking. A quirky hat exhibition in the Library Hall and the Bell Loft are welcome stops along the walkway. 

I step out and am delighted to see a pianist’s (sharply dressed in black tie) recital in progress on Købmagergade, a street dotted with performers. As I soak in the sights and sounds of the Old Town, I head towards Rosenborg Castle , Denmark’s Royal Treasure House. 

The King’s Garden , just ahead of the castle, is a stunning expanse of jewel green, symmetrically lined trees and lots of manicured shrubs and flowers. The Rosenborg Castle is most known for the Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia and while that section is indeed absorbing, I marvel at some of the other exhibits — the porcelain and glass cabinets, an ornate writing desk used by Christian IV, a guitar with intricate carving in tortoiseshell and ivory. 

On my way back to the station, I stop at Tivoli briefly and realise it’s not my cup of tea. An amusement park with screaming tourists on roller-coasters is a bit of a surprise. To add to the surreal experience, a snow-white peahen walks up to me and sits on the grass. 

It’s my last day in Copenhagen and I have so much more to see. I start off with a canal tour which gives me an interesting and varied perspective of the city — glimpses of the Amalienborg Palace , the Christiansborg Palace , the Black Diamond Library , the very modern and massive Opera House and, not to forget, the Little Mermaid . I spot couples and families enjoying a lazy Saturday morning on their boats. The Old Stock Exchange is riveting with its prominent spire and four dragons at the base.  The Marble Bridge is "not actually made of marble" informs the young and witty guide during the canal tour.

Gammel Strand is a busy street with its markets drawing the shopper out of the tourist. I stop to have a deliciously fresh orange, apple and ginger concoction at  Joe & the Juice  and walk to the Amalienborg Palace for a closer look. It’s the winter home of the Danish royal family. The brightly-coloured townhouses of Nyhavn, the craft and jewellery stores, and the ubiquitous ice-cream shops that dot the streets enroute delay me but I am in no hurry.

I then take the train to my final stop, the Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, where history and drama converge in a sensational manner. Made immortal by Shakespeare as Hamlet’s Elsinore, this Renaissance castle with a gorgeous moat is set against an utterly picturesque backdrop of the Øresund. A big fire nearly destroyed the castle in 1629 and what exist today are the renovated Baroque-style interiors. In the dank, dark and eerie casemates below, a towering statue of Holger the Dane waits to be roused for battle. Just as I leave the castle, I spot an engraved statue of Shakespeare, a quiet witness to all the history. 

As I wait for my train to Stockholm the following morning, I am almost unwilling to leave this pretty city, quite sure that I wish to savour the flavour just a bit longer.

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