Remember my last post where I talked about how great it was to take it easy and not burn yourself out? Well, I just walked over 26 miles in less than 72 hours and all I really have to show for it is a blister the size of a small grape. There were a few places in the greater Copenhagen area that I knew I absolutely had to visit and, because I’m cheap, I figured that the best way to do it would be to buy a 72-hour Copenhagen Card that would give me admission to a great deal of attractions as well as free transportation by train, metro, and bus. Thus began my whirlwind tour of everything I needed to see plus a few extras because why not.
Perhaps the most important destination for me was Kronborg Castle in Helsingør. Better known in English as Elsinore, Kronborg Castle is the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s no secret that Hamlet is my absolute favorite play, no matter how clichéd my choice might be. Of course I would want to make a pilgrimage to the place where it (kind of) happened. Even better, a live version of Hamlet was being performed in the castle all summer. In order for me to actually see the play in Denmark I would have to act fast as the performances only run until the end of August. I had just enough time to squeeze in Kronborg and everything else I wanted to do before my orientation starts.
I started my endeavor on Wednesday with a trip to Sankt Peders Bageri for an onsdagssnegle which literally translates to “Wednesday snail.” This is actually not a mollusk, but rather a cinnamon roll as big as my face served on Wednesdays for the low low price of 15kr. (less than $2.50!). This was my first real Danish pastry and it did not disappoint! Will I make this a weekly tradition? Perhaps. The bakery is kind of far from my dorm, but it was close enough to the train station to justify a quick stop on my way to Helsingør.
Having been sufficiently nourished, I headed underground and prayed that I would find the right train. Luckily, Helsingør Station is at the end of the line so the train itself said “Helsingør” and I didn’t have to guess. The train journey itself was very pleasant and even included a few glimpses of the sea as the route sort of followed the coastline.
Helsingør itself is on the northern coast and is a charming town, or at least the glimpses of it that I got on my way to Kronborg were charming. It was a nice, peaceful stroll along the water to get to the castle. Finally, I was here! The wait was over.
The Hamlet performance was undoubtedly the highlight of the castle visit. I love theater and I especially loved how informal and interactive the performance was. Sure, a lot of Shakespeare’s language was lost as they were trying to make it accessible to tourists but the setting in the various rooms of the actual castle more than made up for the simplification of the dialogue and plot. Where else can you descend into dark, creepy casemates to encounter Hamlet’s Ghost or witness the final duel in a lavish ballroom? The show was interactive as well and I talked about living in the New World with Polonius, shared a conspiratorial moment with Laertes, and was accused of being a drunk by Hamlet after I told him I had seen his father’s ghost.
While Hamlet was a reason enough to go to Kronborg, the castle itself was worth a visit alone. Living in America I don’t encounter buildings that are much older than 300 years so any really old building is automatically fascinating to me. Nothing is better than exploring a castle, but it’s extra fun when it’s creepy. Naturally, then, the casemates were my favorite part. Located underneath the castle, the casemates were used to house and protect soldiers when Helsingør was under attack. They are gloomy and damp and perfectly atmospheric. Europe has a different, more relaxed approach to liability than the United States which made exploring the casemates extra fun for me. They were dimly lit in some places and pitch black in others. There were holes in the floor and loose bricks strewn about. The only guidance given was a few directional arrows pointing to the way out and a vending machine full of flashlights at the beginning. Otherwise, I was on my own to wander around and imagine what life was like centuries ago.
I spent nearly 5 hours at Kronborg – much longer than I had anticipated. As such, I had to breeze through my second stop for the day, the Maritime Museum. I love boats almost as much as I love Shakespeare so a stop here was a must. Although the museum itself was well-done, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. For one thing, it was much smaller than I expected. This is not a problem in and of itself, but it was a slight disappointment. The museum also focused more on the experience of the sailors themselves which while interesting, was not exactly what I was expecting. With that being said, I definitely am glad that I went. The exhibits were well done and there were some cool interactive bits like a sailor tattoo stand and a transatlantic trade simulation.
My day in Helsingør was just the beginning. The very next day I arose early (for me) again for another train journey. This time my destination was Roskilde. Again, I found the town very charming on my walk to my first stop. I had originally planned on going to the Viking Ship Museum first, but on my way there I ran into caution tape and a craft services tent. Apparently, some sort of filming was happening right in front of the Roskilde Cathedral that was blocking the road to the museum. Being unfamiliar with the city, I tried to follow the caution tape around the filming area but it ended up funneling me straight into the cathedral. This was fine, as I had wanted to visit it anyways and it was apparently closing early that day so if I had followed my original plan I would’ve missed out.
The Roskilde Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a Lutheran cathedral so it is more modestly grand than the gilded Catholic cathedrals and churches I visited in Italy last summer. It was interesting to compare the two styles and I think I prefer Roskilde’s quiet magnificence to the flashy Italian churches. Roskilde Cathedral definitely felt more “church-y” and it seemed like it would be easier to worship there without so many distractions.
That’s not to say that the Roskilde Cathedral isn’t impressive because it is. It is a towering brick structure where some 40 or so Danish kings and queens have been buried, starting in the fifteenth century. As such, there are several burial chambers that have been added to the chapel. These chambers hold ornately carved sarcophaguses which in turn hold the royal remains. I’m not going to lie, I found this kind of spooky and unsettling. I don’t consider myself squeamish when it comes to dead people. Amongst other things, I stroll through cemeteries for fun and I spent a semester in osteology class elbow deep in actual human remains. However, standing in the presence of all of these above-ground coffins gave me some seriously weird vibes that I can’t explain. Needless to say, I didn’t linger at the cathedral for very long.
Next up was the real reason I traveled to Roskilde: The Viking Ship Museum. Over a thousand years ago, during the Viking Age, five ships were filled with stones and sunk to the bottom of the Roskilde Fjord creating a defensive barrier. In more modern times, these ships were brought up from the bottom of the sea by archaeologists, preserved, and placed into the museum. Fifth grade Katie was beyond excited to visit because after doing a whole Viking unit during gifted class that year she was fascinated by them. Present day Katie was less enthused. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Vikings and seeing actual ships from that age was so cool. My experience was just tainted by the mass of humanity that brought their shitty kids to the museum. I was constantly elbowing and dodging children and strollers which was stressful at best. I would have loved to talk with the craftsman there who were building boats by hand the old fashioned way. Alas, I couldn’t get close to them.
Still, I did enjoy the museum and don’t regret visiting. Seeing those ships was a once in a lifetime experience and was an incredible way to get close to history. I just maybe shouldn’t have visited on what was forecasted to be the last true day of summer with sunny skies and a high approaching 80.
The third and final day of my 72-hour extravaganza approached and I was feeling so worn out I debated whether or not I even wanted to leave my room. The skies were gloomy and rain was imminent. I spent an extra hour or two in bed before I rallied and headed to the metro. I was headed to Frederiksberg to do a bunch of miscellaneous activities.
I first headed to The Cisterns. It’s an underground space that formerly held the city’s water supply. Now it’s an art space where various contemporary art installations are held. An exhibit called “IN IS THE ONLY WAY OUT” is currently occupying them. I can’t claim to entirely understand what was going on, but then again, I don’t think the purpose of contemporary art is to understand it but rather to feel it. I will say that wandering around the damp cisterns filled with mirrors and flames and Tibetan singing bowls made me more present and aware of my surroundings.
The Cisterns is conveniently located right across the street from the Copenhagen Zoo, and since I had some extra time and the zoo was included with the Copenhagen Card, I figured I could spend an hour or two there. I had fun walking around, despite the gloomy weather. Mostly I was excited because I got to see some white-and-black ruffed lemurs which are pretty much my favorite animal. I also got to see a sloth. So I’d say the detour was pretty successful.
Next I headed to Visit Carlsberg. I love beer almost as much as I love Shakespeare and boats so a stop here was a must. I thought it was going to be a brewery but it turned out that it was more historical. It showed you the way that they used to brew beer which was pretty interesting and dare I say educational. I also got to meet some horses and drink a free beer so really I can’t complain about my visit.
Finally, (finally!) I headed to Tivoli. It’s the second oldest theme park in the world, celebrating its 175th birthday this year! It’s also where Walt Disney got some of the inspiration for Disneyland. Needless to say, I’m smitten with Tivoli. It’s a gorgeous park, small and charming. I didn’t ride any rides although maybe I’ll make another trip to do so. I did eat a great meatball sandwich and ice cream in a bubble waffle cone, see an adorable pantomime performance, and walk several laps around the lake in the middle. I wanted to stay until dark so that I could see the park all lit up but as the sun went down I started to get cold so I decided to call it an early night.
As you can see, I had perhaps the most packed three-day period imaginable. I calculated my savings from purchasing a Copenhagen Card versus buying individual admissions and I ended up saving around $140. Despite my extreme exhaustion, I do believe that it was worth it as saving money is one of my favorite activities. Still, had I followed my own advice I certainly would not be dealing with blisters or feeling sluggish. I am slowly recovering from this burst of activity which is good, because I start my law school orientation tomorrow. Hopefully, I can get myself into a routine of classes and schoolwork so that I can add in some time to explore more of Copenhagen (and Europe) without burning myself out like I did this past week.
The key to life is balance after all. I think that my lazy weekend and action-packed week cancelled each other pretty nicely. Now I just have to work on achieving that balance in smaller, easier to handle chunks to spare myself some stress and exhaustion.