Cities / Towns Visited: 38
Countries Visited: 12
Steps Taken Today: 13,575
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,405,727
As usual, we decided it would be silly to come all of this way to only see what the capital city has to offer, thus we headed out after breakfast, catching the extensive bus / train combo into the city, to simply change trains and head back out towards the north. Our day was to be spent, once more, at a castle, but I was more excited about this one than most; you see, we were headed to Kronborg Castle, the location setting for Shakespeare’s famous work, and one of my personal favourites, Hamlet.
As we arrived in the town of Helsingør and rounded the corner to the narrow sound that separates Denmark from Sweden by such a small margin you can literally see the city of Helsingborg on the other side, we were faced with the stunning but imposing view of the shoreside fortification, with the castle at its heart. With the morning sun shining, and a light breeze lifting off the water, it was a near perfect moment.
Continuing on across the drawbridge, along the fortifications, and through the gate, we found ourselves in the courtyard of the massive square castle. We had managed to arrive just in time to buy tickets just before our Copenhagen Card ran out, saving us a goodly amount of cash, as well as being just in time for the guided tour of the church, courtyard, kitchen and cannons. With our dry witted guide both educating and amusing us in equal measure we completed the tour with a smile and a little more knowledge about the site. From the fact that this is a hugely advantageous position for the fortification, as it overlooks the main naval passage to reach trading ports in northern Germany, and as far as Russia; to the fact that the chapel is the only part that didn’t burn down in the 1700’s as it was the only part enclosed in stone, and thus still has its medieval interior; to the fact that the Queen Sophie (wife of the king who commission the building of a royal residence on the spot which had up until that point only been a military fortification) had demanded her husband King Frederik II have another wing built so she wouldn’t have to walk through the dirty courtyard to reach the chapel, a feat which he miraculously had achieved in only a year, which considering the fact it makes up a quarter of the castle is impressive; and from the fact that the courtyard used to have a huge fountain, but it was stolen by the Swedish during one of the many wars they fought with the country; to the fact that the castle has the oldest still functioning cannons, which are fired on the Queen’s birthday, but are so loud they have to open the windows on the corner of the castle, to save them from being shattered.
With the tour complete we ventured into the royal apartments to explore. Now, I mentioned that this is the home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and as a result they have actors who act out scenes from the play in full costume (but with somewhat more modern and easily understandable language) in the rooms they were literally written to be set in. As we wandered the rooms we managed to catch up to the actors playing out the scene where the King (Hamlet’s uncle) and Queen(Hamlet’s mother who married her dead husbands brother but a month after his passing) are being told that their son is crazy by their chief counsellor, Polonius. We carried on, room after room, watching them play out the scene where Hamlet kills Polonius accidently, thinking him to be spying on a private conversation with his mother, and through to where Ophelia goes crazy after Hamlet kills her father and rejects her (kudos to the actress playing Ophelia, she did crazy well). The best part was that the actors got the crowd involved, just as Shakespeare had intended.
By this time, we met back up with the guide to take a tour of the casemates. The dark damp tunnels, which used to house the soldiers who protected the fortress during war times, were extensive, and more than a little creepy in their lack of light, with corners filled with nothing but inky blackness, and our guide warning us that there are bat’s that live down there (something we were excited about, although we didn’t get to see any). In the shadows sits a massive stone sculpture of the fabled hero Holger, who is said to have been a warrior in days gone by, who, now sleeping, will awake should Denmark come under attack. The only obvious flaw to the story being that said hero failed to help at all during either world war, especially that bit where the Nazi’s came and occupied Denmark, and took Danish Jews and murdered them. Despite its fictional nature, the statue is quite impressive.
Returning to the courtyard having seen the beautiful interiors, as well as the massive grand hall which is one of the biggest in Europe, at more than 40 metres long, we headed up the tower in one of the corners, to bask in a beautiful aerial view of the castle the small town it protects, and the city across the water it protects them from. Coming back down to earth we arrived just in time to eat our packed lunch, then watch another few scenes of Hamlet, including the scene where Hamlet writes and gives a poem to Ophelia (which was written with help from one of the audience members); a scene where Hamlet chats idly with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, who is one of his good friends, including some ridiculous fencing moves; and the scene where the Queen and her new King come out from the chapel after the coronation, in which the court jester hilariously taught us all how to bow for the royal couple.
Having dappled in enough extras work, we headed for the last attraction; the exhibitions of the Royal apartments which house the king’s tapestries; an extensive collection of incredibly well preserved medieval woven artworks which depicts kingly escapades and many an exotic nature scene.
Having exhausted the exploration of ever available inch of this medieval site, we made our way back to the train, via an ice cream stall, and a purveyor of cinnamon buns, before taking the somewhat painful 2+ hour public transport saga home. As I though back to the castle it really hit me how surreal it was to be in a place which has been around so long that it was the setting for a play written more than four centuries ago. That when it was built my native language the way I know it did not exist; the things we know and take for granted, especially in regards to science and medicine, were but a far off discovery; yet Shakespeare’s words, and the themes he writes about are just as relevant today as they ever were. The world has changed, but the human condition remains the same; we still seek vengeance against those who have wronged us, there are still people driven to madness and deep depression by grief and unrequited love, and some people will still do anything it takes to gain power over others. It is a confronting thought to realise that seemingly everything on this planet changes and adapts, but we stagnate. What is the point of being a sentient and conscious species if we don’t use it to benefit the greater good? Creationists refuse to believe we evolved from animal origins, and yet we animalistically step over one another and sacrifice the wellbeing of others to benefits ourselves. We still have alpha males tearing down the weak to stay on top, and we still let these leaders leave the weak behind to perish. We’ve changed survival of the fittest into survival of the richest, but the rules remain the same. In the course of our evolution we have convinced ourselves that survival is more than just needing food, water, and shelter; but instead taught ourselves that we cannot survive without technology and social media. I am sad to say I’ve seen more than a few people in my life who I’m relatively sure would trample a starving child just to get to their iPhone charger, or pretend to help a person in need because they couldn’t possibly exist without a few thousand Instagram likes, and outside of this they wouldn’t spare the needy a second thought. Our creature comforts have made us turn back into creatures; our monstrous amounts of luxuries have turned us into monsters; we must transcend or we will surely perish. Shakespeare asked ‘to be or not to be?’, so what will you be?