Hamletting it up

Earlier in the week, the guests at the IRSE convention went to Helsingør and Helsingborg and saw Hamlet’s castle. I was quite jealous so on Saturday, I asked Anna the leading question of what we were doing the next day, so that I could convince her to change her mind to go to the castle if her proposal wasn’t as interesting. Turns out great minds think alike, or at least, Anna and I do, because she had already planned to take us to Helsingør!

We caught the train (the one after the one we intended to) from Østerport to Helsingør and enjoyed the view, the wi-fi and the power points from/in the train. (Note that I have actually worked out how to type “Ø”s on my keyboard without having to google the name and then copy the characters into this blog. It’s option O! Finally!)

From outside appearances, most of the buildings in Denmark and their doors seem quite old and old fashioned. The creepy thing about a lot of these doors is that they are traditional outward-inward opening doors but they open automatically, like a ghost butler is present. It’s particularly unnerving at apartment blocks when someone else opens the door from the inside and the door just opens, beckoning you in to the dark to be haunted. Where I was going with this explanation was that Helsingør train station, while a beautifully decorated historical building with chandeliers and carvings had automatically opening doors which we weren’t expecting.


We walked through the town, down Anna Street, past the cathedral and around a park which looked like it had the gorgeous Danish cousins of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who prancing around.



I also mistook this frontage for a souvenir shop, but it turned out to be a pub.

As we approached Kronborg castle, we heard marching footsteps and hooves. Expecting to see some sort of historical reinactment for tourists, we turned around, only to find that the sounds were coming from speakers only to give the illusion that the Swedes were about to storm the castle.

We took some obligatory photos around the castle (Anna and I practiced our royal waves again).








I even found a Danish Hobbit hole in the grounds!


Inside the castle we learnt about the ship dues that were paid to the Danish King which led to the funding to convert the fortress at Kronborg into the Renaissance castle that it is now and experienced an attraction that simulated being on a boat and paying these dues, and also what it would have been like to die a fiery death in the castle when a section of it burnt down.
I really loved how enterprising the kings were in order to maximise their revenue. Ships had to signal that they were intending to pay their dues. If they didn’t, Kronborg would fire cannons on them. Then, not only did the ships have to pay the original dues, they also had to pay for the cannon balls that were used to shoot at them. Brilliant!

We also learnt what “casemates” are and visited them. (Anna and I had originally thought that this was a Danish word, turns out it is actually English…) For those playing at home, the word “casemate” comes from a latin root meaning “home in the dark”. At Kronborg, the soldiers used to live underground in damp, poorly lit conditions which bred disease and death. In fact, the horses’ quarters had better ventilation. Fortunately, these soldiers were also paid with 8 litres of beer a day, so perhaps they didn’t even notice their rubbish situation. Here’s Anna starting off her journey into a section of the casemates which was actually light enough for me to take a photo without needing to be a statue myself.

At the beginning of the casemate tour, we met a legendary Danish hero, Holger the Dane the son of King Geoffrey (of Denmark) who fought for Charlemagne and was his Paladin. After 25 years of fighting, he decided to return home to Denmark. Very close to his home, he decided to break his journey and sat on a stone to rest his eyes, vowing that if Denmark ever needed his help to defend and flight he would wake up again. He’s still sleeping…


The guide of this tour, who was Swedish herself, told us how the Swedes invaded several times, one time melting down a magnificent fountain which had a revolving top driven by water pressure alone. Here’s a miniature model of the former fountain:


The Danish metro spend a lot of time, effort and chemicals policing and removing graffiti tags from trains. They even have a database with photos so that if a graffiti “artist” is caught tagging with a particular design, they can match that design in the system and charge him or her for all of the damage that they’ve done over the years. At Kronborg castle, one of the most prolific taggers is this guy:

– King Christian 4 (note he seemed to prefer hindu arabic numbers rather than Roman numerals)

The major renovations at Kronborg were carried out by King Frederik II for his wife and queen, Sofie. So there are a lot of S’s and F’s as a crest in the outer walls of the building, which might be fair enough, seeing as they paid for it. Their son Christian, upon inheriting his parent’s place, stuck his initials all over it, even though it was really already decorated. Here are some examples:


His monogram’s even in paintings with cherubs!

There were some other paintings which C4 commissioned and hung in Kronborg which were equally questionable. This man here appears to be eating either a baby or a cherub…


I mean, I really appreciate paintings, much more than your average Gen Y engineer, but I still find this one is also a bit odd:


I had my photo taken in a little room off the Queen’s chambers where it was advertised in the tour that the view hadn’t changed except there are tourists now instead of soldiers.

There is a gallery/giant hallway that connects the Queen’s chambers with the ballroom and court. This was an addition because the Queen didn’t want to have to walk through the whole rest of the castle to get to the action. There are some enormous paintings in this corridor. One of my favourites was the one where Queen Margrethe I of Denmark is being surrendered to by the Swedish king. Not only am I fan of this due to the “girl power” element, but I love how all the Renaissance ladies are lovely and curvy with chins.

Anna agreed that it would be a better world if we could all celebrate our chins more. We had an explanation of why they probably were so healthy looking… at a normal ladies lunch, these girls were eating 20 courses and 36 courses for a special occasion.

There were some spectacular rooms in the castle, but the one I found most impressive was the 62 metre long ballroom.


Originally, the king had tapestries showing 100 Danish kings of old all over the walls. In particular, this was to impress the Swedes when they came round for dinner. The problem was, at the time, there hadn’t actually been 100 Danish kings… so he used made up ones from legends to supplement the historical figures. Easy!

Some of the tapestries are still hanging in the castle, but in a darker room to protect them from the light.


Seeing as we were in the castle featured in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we decided to get a little dramatic in the courtyard. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same sort of photoshopping capabilities on my iPad that I usually do when at home so you will have to imagine where the swords and skulls are supposed to be in these photos:







In a similar way to Malmö castle, Kronborg isn’t decorated in its original furnishings… except for the chapel, which is spectacularly carved and guild-ed (guilt?). These are some of the highlights:




After leaving Kronborg, we walked a little bit along the water’s edge and saw some fluro lighthouses:


And the male Terminator 2 version of the Little Mermaid:


We stopped at a little Italian restaurant in a square in Helsingør. Fortunately for me, the menu was mostly in Italian not Danish, so I had a better chance at understanding than I had at other ordering attempts during this trip.

We caught the train back to Østerport and bought some pastries (Danish ones, what else?) from the supermarket.

Continuing our castle-related theme of the day, Anna and I relaxed in the evening by watching the first episode of the latest season of Downton Abbey and then went to sleep to have castle-related dreams.

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