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Discover Denmark

by Debra Bokur

Nov 13, 2017

© Mapics | Dreamstime

Destinations / Europe

Rain illuminates Copenhagen’s gray sidewalk, but in a not-so-bad way — it’s warm, and the silvery rain is light, with small rainbows glimmering through the drops in the distance. The walk from the metro station was drama-free, thanks to the city map folded and tucked into the pocket of my jacket against the moisture; and there’s the outline of a castle directly in front of me that entirely transcends weather.

Park and Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark

Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo: Mindauga Dulinska | Dreamstime

 

This castle is the historic Rosenborg Castle, constructed during the 1600s. Despite the dampness, I linger in the landscaped King’s Garden and admire the towers and silhouette of the pinkish exterior. Built in Dutch Renaissance style, the castle is home to several permanent collections that include royal portraits and the lustrous, glittering Crown Jewels. It’s the trio of life-size silver lions I particularly want to see, and I find them silently guarding the Knights’ Hall and the Throne Chairs of Denmark.

 

I’m not exactly looking for ghosts or Vikings, but I’ll go on record as saying I’m not opposed to bumping into one, especially if it’s a Viking ghost. This is Denmark, after all, with a tapestried history of warriors and Shakespearean spirits. While modern historians have yet to agree entirely on Copenhagen’s earliest history, many trace it to Sweyn Forkbeard, who exiled his father Harald Bluetooth, and became Denmark’s original king.

 

Post-castle tea is called for. The rain dissipated, now more heavy mist than actual drops, and I make my way to the Royal Smushi Café for something comforting; my choice based less on reputation than the fact I’m amused by the name. Stepping through the doors delivers me to an interior landscape that might have been inspired by a children’s fairytale, possibly involving magical cake. There’s a brief moment of complete disconnection, followed by sweeping joy as a myriad of scents engulf me, and I catch sight of a cake frosted in what appears to be a garden of cascading roses, and an almond tart topped with nuts that swirl outward in an intricate pattern of vines and petals.

 

Created by Lo Østergaard, the shop is part-café, part-retail space, and while I’m awaiting delivery of my smushi (a creative, sushi-inspired interpretation of the traditional Danish open-face smørrebrød sandwich), I wander beneath the chandeliers and among the offerings and admire the paintings and illustrations displayed throughout the space. When my teapot and plate arrive, I’m charmed to find they’re Royal Copenhagen porcelain; and the fork, spoon and knife nesting against them are by renowned Danish designer Georg Jensen.

Little Mermaid Statue, Copenhagen, Denmar

Little Mermaid Statue. Photo: Vera Kozlenko | Dreamstime

While I wandered through the halls of Rosenborg and paid my respects to the Little Mermaid statue near the water at Langelinie park, my husband was exploring the Danish Museum of Art & Design. A furniture designer-hobbyist himself, he’s been eager to see the museum’s permanent collection of chairs and Japanese crafts. Housed in an enormous space once Frederick’s Hospital, the building was established in 1757 and later renovated by architects Kaare Klint and Ivar Bentsen.

 

One of the more interesting things he learns during his visit and later shares with me over dinner is how Danish — indeed, Scandinavian — design was heavily influenced by Japanese art and design following World War II. Coupled with access to innovative materials and newfound exposure to the Japanese aesthetic, Danish furniture and object designs took a sharp swing away from their traditional, colorful folkloric aspects and toward a more minimalist and functional form, evolving and emerging into what we think of today as modern Scandinavian design.

 

The next day is slightly drier, but the still stony-gray skies suggest this might change at any moment. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast beside a window overlooking the street in the dining room at our hotel, the regal, 5-star Hotel D’Angleterre on Kongens Nytorv, watching throngs of cyclists pedaling off to their day at work. By mid-morning, we’re on the train heading north out of the city to the small waterside town of Helsingør, where Kronborg Castle is located. Massive and imposing, the castle is part of literary history, and served as Elsinor Castle in Shakespeare’s dark and enduring play Hamlet.

 

Kronborg is everything a Shakespeare-obsessed writer like myself could have hoped for. Brooding and austere, the massive structure faces the waters of the deep sound separating Denmark and Sweden. Stories say that buried deep beneath the castle, the hero Holger Danske lies sleeping, entwined within the length of his own beard, prepared to lurch awake in a single second should Denmark ever need to be defended. There’s a statue in the castle depicting Holger dozing in a seated position, his shield resting against his leg, ever ready.

 

On the way back to the city, we make a slight detour and get off the train at the station in the village of Humlebæk. From here, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Curious about the name, we learn it was chosen to honor the three wives — each called Louise — of the builder of the estate, Alexander Brun. Later, museum founder Knud W. Jensen appropriated the name; today, the museum’s impressive collections of paintings, drawings, films and sculptures by some of the world’s most important artists form a backdrop to ongoing cultural events.

 

We linger at “Gleaming Light of the Souls,” an installation created by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The roughly 13- by 13-foot space is like an interactive, mirrored mini-galaxy, built above a reflecting pool and filled with balls of light. Visitors can step inside and stand above the pool while the lights spiral gently through a spectrum of colors. It’s otherworldly, and so mesmerizing that James has to take me by the elbow to lead me away while I’m still contemplating this country’s lasting artistic connection to Japan.

Moorish Palace installation in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Trivoli Gardens. Photo: Mikhail Markovskiy | Dreamstime

 

We spend the following day, our last in Denmark, at Tivoli Gardens, strolling among the amusement park’s historic attractions, with Moorish towers and fantastical fountains. Tivoli is also the location of Nimb, a boutique hotel and restaurant collection (which, happily, also includes Cakenhagen, home to divinely inspired sweets). After an enjoyable meal of herring and a small glass of Peter Heering Cherry (Denmark’s national liqueur) at Nimb’s brasserie, it’s time to prepare for the journey home. We make our way back to the soaring Hotel D’Angleterre to pack, still ghostless and Viking-free, but with plenty of tales to tell.

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