Thursday, August 14, 2014

DAY 58 – 12 August 2014; In Copenhagen

Last night Fr Eldhose had asked me what I would like to see in Copenhagen. Denmark, to me, was Hans Christian Anderson and Hamlet. I shared this with Fr and he made out an itinerary to be followed for the day. The idea was to use the one day available to cover as many ‘City Delights’ as would be possible. For this, the day has to be planned meticulously; exactly what Fr did; we had a great day stretching from Christiana to Kronburg Castle.

It was breakfast first. The Kallappam and Egg Roast transported us right back to Kerala. Liya gets all the masalas from Kerala when she travels there or gets them couriered. Getting the masalas is only one part of it – putting them together with the rest of the ingredients the way she does requires exceptional talent. The tasty morning fare did delay us a bit in getting off the block. The Vor Frelsers Church, the Church of Our Saviour, was meant to be the first to be visited. When we got to the church it was said at the gate that it would be open only from 10 am. To fill the time we walked to Christiana, which is a self proclaimed commune occupying 34 hectares in the heart of Copenhagen. It is an erstwhile military area that was ‘taken over’ by the ‘hippie culture’ in 1971. It has about 1000 residents who are regulated by a special law that is not Danish. The commune administration decides on that. Hence, when they say: “Have Fun, Don’t Run and No Photos” they mean just that. There are ‘enforcers’ who ensure that the rules of the commune are kept. The commune is an entirely different world – there is an archway which on one side says, “Christiana”, and on the other says, “You are now entering the EU”! Drugs are sold openly within the commune. There are small enclosures where one can go in and sample the fares. We went into one and were explained the difference between Indian hashish, Marijuana, extracts of the plants and the use of some of them in medication! There were cookies too that were laced with Marijuana. The creativity of those living within the commune was on display everywhere – be it the graffiti, wall art or use of metal scrap. A special cycle is produced in Christiana that carries the same name, which is a travel cum transport tricycle. As we were strolling through Christiana stalls were coming alive to showcase the products of the commune. From the large number of them it was clear that Christiana is much visited by tourists.

The Church of Our Saviour is most famous for its spiral spire. It is a landmark that can be seen from any part of the city. When we got there after the visit to Christiana we still found it closed till 11 am. Therefore, after photographing the spire and walking around the premises a bit we embarked on a walking tour to Nyhavn so that we could do a Canal Cruise. The walk took longer than planned, at times in heavy drizzle, but gave us the opportunity to appreciate the buildings and their facades better than it would have been otherwise. Nyhavn is a 17th century waterfront that was created with Swedish war prisoners of the Danish-Swede war between 1658 and 1660. The canal that was the gateway from the sea handled merchant vessels and fishermen’s catch – hence, was popular amongst sailors for wine and women. It was converted into a ship and museum harbour in 1977 with a view to showcase the past glory of the waterfront. The canal that stretches to the sea is lined by brightly coloured townhouses that have residences, bars, cafes and restaurants that are nearly 400 years old. The guide on the Canal tour pointed out to a couple of residences used by Hans Christian Anderson, where he lived for over 18 years. The canal is also home to many ‘heritage’ wooden ships. At one end of Nyhavn is a Memorial Anchor commemorating the Danish sailors and officers who sacrificed their lives in WWII. The wooden anchor is from a frigate of 1872 vintage. It is a hot spot with tourists – one may miss the Memorial Anchor if there are large groups visiting it. The Canal Tour pointed out and described the importance of many of the city’s attractions such as the Opera House donated to the city by the founder of Maersk, its large office building, churches, castles, bridges, Little Mermaid (the icon of Denmark) and popular eateries. We visited many to explore them in some more detail.

When we got to the Amalienborg Arun, Sharon and Daison were waiting for us. Arun and Daison’s wife are Liya’s colleagues in the hospital. We spend time with them in the complex and the Church exchanging pleasantries, information and taking photographs. The Amalienborg consists of four identical classic facades and is the winter home of the Royal Family. The courtyard in the centre of the square has the huge equestrian statue of the founder of Amalienburg, King Frederick V, which was originally meant to house four noble families. When the Christiansborg Palace suffered extensive damage in a fire in 1794 the Royal Family bought the four palaces and have used them since as residence.

The Marble Church or Frederik’s Church is located at the apex of the Amalienborg Palace. The stately structure stands out with its huge green and golden dome, which is the largest in Scandinavia. Though designed in 1740 it stood as ruins for more than 150 years due mainly to paucity of funds. The front portico of the Church has “Herrens Ord Bliver Evindelig” inscribed on it in gold lettering, which means “the word of the Lord endures forever”. The interiors of the Church are not very elaborate but the huge pillars and the marble structure are truly awe inspiring.

Fr then took us to spend some time with the icon of Denmark, Den Lille Havfrue, The Little Mermaid. Like the Merlion for Singapore, The Little Mermaid stands for Copenhagen and Denmark. The bronze statue which is displayed on a rock has been there since 1913. The head of the statue was vandalised a few years back and was restored in China. The statue possibly was inspired by the popular fairy tale by the same name penned by Hans Christian Anderson in 1837.

There are Parliament buildings in many countries but the one in Copenhagen is most unique in that it houses the Supreme Court, the Parliament and the Queen’s Office. Its architecture makes the building stand out in the square. A short walk away from there is the old stock exchange with its spire made up of the entwining tails of four ‘dragons’; many have found a resemblance between the ‘dragons’ and the popular Walt Disney character ‘Snoopy’!

We did not have enough time to visit either the Tivoli Gardens or the Town Hall Square. But we drove around it. The Tivoli Gardens is right in the heart of Copenhagen City with a roller coaster that turned 100 this year. We spend quite a bit of time in Hillarodegade, the Park of which is home to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The statue was donated to Denmark by the Indian Government in 1985. We headed back home after that to refresh and set out to fulfill the rest of the programme.

The Oresund Bridge spanning Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmo in Sweden is a major attraction for it is the longest road cum rail bridge in Europe. While 8 kms of it is an overground bridge 4 kms of it is actually a tunnel under the sea! The magnificent bridge also carries data cables to facilitate Finland besides being the major road and rail connectivity between Scandinavia and Europe. It costs a car with passengers DKK 360, the equivalent of Euro 50. The road to the bridge is a split from the one leading to the airport. Hence, it is not uncommon for road users to miss the airport road and land up on the bridge. Once on it, the exit is only on the Swedish side. Therefore, the cheapest way to appreciate the bridge is lose one’s way! Naturally, we did too. The toll was avoided by explaining to the toll gate attendant that our intention was to visit the Blue Planet on the Airport Road, but took the wrong split. They seemed to be used to the predicament for the attendant immediately produced a leaflet explaining the return to Denmark, which had to be done in 15 minutes, and helped reverse the toll charge.

Returning from visiting the Oresund Bridge we took a short detour to the Blue Planet, the National Aquarium, which is located a short distance away from the airport. The take off and landings at the airport are best viewed from here. The Blue Planet is Northern Europe’s largest aquarium; the unique building has five arms from the centre giving visitors a feel of being under water and with the animals. At the time of our visit the aquarium was closed for the day.

Left over on the agenda for the day was the Kronburg Castle, immortalised by Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Located in Helsingor, the boundary city of Denmark, Kronburg is one of the most important castles in Europe and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fortification was important strategically as it commanded one of the outlets of the Baltic Sea. The history of the castle and the fortification spans the period from 1420, when its construction began, to 1923 when the army left the fort. The castle and fort were opened to public after renovation. The daily conducted tours include one where the history of the castle is told by Hamlet’s friend, Horatio! We walked on the periphery of the fort, from where the huge munitions dumps and cannons trained to defend the territory could be seen. Scale models of the castle and its reaches have been displayed to appreciate the stages in which the Castle reached its present form. On one side of the Castle is the old shipyard. It used to have dry docking facilities for repair too. They have all now been converted into a Cultural Centre where plays are staged and with walkways to enjoy an evening communing with the Sea.

The day had drawn to a close and so had our visit of Denmark. The plans for the day had been scientifically choreographed by Fr Eldhose and brilliantly executed. More than what could have been done in a day was done. When we got back home Liya got into the act once again and produced another feast of Porotta, egg curry, fish and prawn fry, prawn and green mango curry and thoran. I am sure to have missed a few items for I was busy gorging on the ones I have mentioned. The juicy melon was the right way to end the heavy meal. We had a long chat after the meal; it was difficult to take leave of the couple, but we had to move on to Gothenburg, Sweden, the 21st country in the journey.

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