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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Journey to Denmark and Sweden, #3

Our hosts live in Helsingborg, which is across from Helsingor. It's at the Oresund Strait's narrowest point so it's possible to see Kronborg Castle from the opposite side.

The ferry to Sweden took 10 minutes to cross-over, which is barely enough time to put your feet up. My distant cousins, Erik and Bim, live with their daughter, son-in-law and 2 kids. The visit exceeded all expectations and I couldn't have asked for better hosts. We spent two days in Helsingborg and visited nearby Sofiero Castle.

It's really more of a mansion than a castle, really. It was built in 1905 and was originally owned by the Swedish royals but was donated to the city of Helsingborg in the 70s and is now used as a public garden and art gallery.
As for Helsingborg itself, it was a small and narrow city with a lively shopping street for pedestrians and a pleasant stretch of woods to the north. It tends to get bypassed by foreign visitors in favor of the larger city of Malmö to the south which is, after all, connected to Copenhagen by bridge.

Next up: The drive across southern Sweden.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Journey to Denmark and Sweden, #2

The next day, we took the train north from Copenhagen to the town of Helsingor. There, in the train station, we met with Erik, one of my distant cousins who lives with his family across the water in Helsingborg, Sweden.

He brought us through Kronborg Castle, which is Helsingor's star attraction. Built by Denmark's King Christian IV, it had been funded by the collection of tolls from ships passing through the Oresund Strait.

Kronborg Castle was supposed to be the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The Bard had never actually set foot there, but the place had a contemporary reputation of being Renaissance Europe's premiere party-spot.

Apparently, the exterior cladding of the castle is sandstone. I'm not sure why they chose it, since it erodes quickly under precipitation. The result is that the outside wall is under perpetual restoration.

Many of the paintings and tapestries inside were still present, although quite a number of them apparently got carted-away by the Swedes in the mid-1600s, along with the bronze fountain in the courtyard.

We had a chance to tour the castle interior, including what was once the largest dining hall in Europe. As a bonus, we were able to walk through the catacombs underneath.

Down in the former stables and barracks, we were able to catch a glimpse of its 20th century statue of Ogier the Dane, the legendary giant of old who supposedly awakens and springs to life whenever Denmark is threatened with foreign invasion.

The obvious wise-ass response is to ask where he was when the Nazis invaded. Well, apparently, some of the Danish anti-Nazi resistance groups took the name of Ogier the Dane, so I guess that counts.

Next: Journeying through southern Sweden.