Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding - 29 April 2011

Decisions, decisions, decisions! William & Catherine’s wedding had created a unique opportunity to take an eleven day holiday and only use three day’s annual leave but was that the “right” thing to do? After all, people were flying into London from all round the world to be here for the big day and we were considering leaving. Eventually we split the decision in two and went to Denmark for the first 4-day break and put in hold the fate of the second 4-day break.

As the wedding hysteria grew we felt that it would be “wrong” to be here, so close to the action and not be there. But how hideously crazy would London be? The keen types were already camped up outside the Abbey, would we see anything at all? How early would we need to go to catch a glimpse? And so on.

We decided to do a reccy on Thursday night after work to get a feel for it all, check out the route and decide on a target vantage point. Although the Abbey precincts were manic and the Mall was entirely lined with happy campers, Whitehall was totally deserted; a plan was forming.
Although we own a tent and sleeping bags, we also own a nice warm comfy bed only 9 miles from central London. Cold, hard streets or warm ,comfy bed? Tough choice, and next morning when the alarm woke us at 0600 we were sure we had made the correct decision.

We were in Whitehall by 0745 and the crowds were there before us but only one deep along the barriers so it was just a matter of choosing a spot where there was a little gap between parties. The ladies on the right had been there since 0500 and the girls on the left since 0600 but they generously offered to let Christine squeeze in between. Since Murray can easily see over Christine, we were sorted.

With small camping stools to take the “wait” off our legs we were better set than most as we waited for the proceedings to begin. The crowd was extremely well behaved and would cheer at any random stranger that passed be they police, barrier erectors or road sweepers. Most of them got into the spirit and would respond with a regal wave.

Finally things started to happen and once all the parties had travelled from the Palace to the Abbey we sat and listened to the service via a PA system that had been installed, then without any warning from the PA suddenly the wedding party was on their way back to the Palace and we were scrambling to get the cameras out.

We had zero chance of getting back to Westminster Tube so wandered off with the rest of the crowd towards St James Park and stumbled across a place where the Palace balcony could be seen through the trees and armed with binoculars could watch “the kiss”.

And so to home after witnessing what London does best: Pomp and Circumstance.

Final day in Copenhagen - 25 April 2011

Having used our Copenhagen Card on the trains, metro and buses we thought we had better collect the set and take a water-bus. We caught the water-bus from our nearest stop and rode it to Nyhavn where we transferred to the commercial canal tour boat which was also free on the Card. This was a most interesting ride as it took us along canals on both sides of the harbour and through parts of Copenhagen that we had not yet explored.

Back at Nyhavn we caught a bus to take us back across the harbour to explore the island that King Christian IV convinced the merchants to create from some low-lying islands and swampy marshes. Commerce has long gone, to be replaced by very expensive warehouse conversion apartments with equally expensive yachts and motor-launches moored alongside. This area is also home to one of Copenhagen's iconic landmarks, Vor Frelsers Kirke, with its external spiral staircase winding up the last 150 of the 400 steps to the top of the steeple – an inviting “must-climb” with fabulous views over the city.

Just down below is the independent 'Free City' of Christiana where photography is prohibited, presumably to prevent the gathering of evidence of the open sale of hash. It is a “alternative” state and the contrast between the clean, orderly civility of Copenhagen and this trashy, unkempt, scruffy area could not be more marked. It is an interesting revelation of the “failure” of the alternative lifestyle, but I guess that depends on one's point of view; the residents may consider it a success to not be concerned about their surroundings, however it hardly seems “green” and environmentally friendly.

One of the warehouses in Christianshavn has been converted into an architectural resource centre and has a cafe on the 2nd floor with a bay window overlooking the harbour, and this made for a wonderful place to stop for a coffee and cake before crossing back to the mainland,

On the other side we had intended to head for another garden but found ourselves walking past some rather imposing buildings so looked at the sign outside to see what they were, It was the Christiansborg Slot, and as we discovered that the Palace rooms were also free on the Copenhagen Card decided to take a look.

Although the equivalent of some of the State rooms in Buckingham Palace, they were pretty much deserted, both of tourists and staff and we seemed to be able to wander at will. The set of millennium tapestries in the Great Hall were fantastically vibrant as we are so used to seeing 17th C tapestries that have long since faded and lost their glory. These tapestries were, naturally, a modern design and, over the series, told the history of Denmark from before the Viking era up until today with a little corner of the final panel left blank apart from the words “Fill in with your own imagination.”

By this time we decided that there was no point busing across town to see the gardens so we returned to Tivoli Gardens to see them in the sunshine. Having decided that all the food on offer was gold-plated we returned to the restaurant we enjoyed on our first day as the setting in Churchill Park was so delightful.

Finally it was time to collect our bags from the locker at the WakeUp Copenhagen Hotel and after enjoying another session of the Gospel Choir concert series in the Tivoli Gardens we reluctantly bade farewell to Copenhagen and caught the train back to the airport for our flight home.

Roskilde – 24 April 2011

There are two UNESCO sites near Copenhagen, and with our Copenhagen Card, we were able to travel to, and visit, the other site, Roskilde Domkirke, for free. The town of Roskilde is just a 30 minute train ride from Copenhagen. Roskilde used to be the capital of Denmark, and as it is at the head of a fiord, was a strategic position to defend and defeat invaders. The Vikingeskibs Museum, records the discovery in 1958 of five Viking ships, which were sunk in the 11th century, to block the obvious channel to the harbour.
The ships have been recovered, preserved and replicas made. The entrance fee allows you to see the original partial remains of the five ships, and a film puts the historic events together clearly, but for free, anyone can enjoy the harbour area, watch craftsmen at work, and see the replicas which have been made of each ship. One of these replicas has been used to sail to Ireland and back with a full crew of 65.

The Roskilde Domkirke is a dramatic setting for the burial tombs for all the Danish royalty. These are in various side chapels, and the difference in style is interesting. The building looks a lots younger than its age of 700 years.

On returning to Copenhagen, we endeavoured to catch a bus to Dragor. The guide book describes it as a delightful fishing village and says to take a bus 30, the information centre at the train station confirmed that, what could be easier? We had to wait some time for a #30, and after 20 minutes, it terminated miles from our destination. The driver said to take 4A, this too had no intention of getting anywhere near Dragor. Some helpful passengers gave us instructions, which had us walking miles out of our way, but eventually we discovered a bus which had Dragor on it's information panel. So we sat happily until the end of the ride.

Once there, it was worth the effort. All the houses/cottages in the old town are yellow, and many with thatched roofs. The harbour was not so much full of fishing boats, as pleasure craft. Being so close to Copenhagen, it must be a good place to moor a boat. Nearby, Oresunds Bridge connects Denmark and Sweden and is close enough to see the cars going over. We climbed Dragor Fort for a great view.

The harbour was lined with cafes, so dinner at the harbourside was another must. A very relaxing end to a difficult journey.

There was still plenty of day left (sun doesn't set until 8.30pm), so we visited the Tivoli gardens, which we can see out of our hotel window. These gardens are a great mix of fairground rides, amusement arcade games, heaps of restaurants, all set in wonderful gardens. The garden theme was of course Easter, and as Denmark is later that the UK, spring flowers like daffodils and blossom trees were everywhere, and at their peak.

A bonus for us on Easter Sunday, was the Tivoli Gospel Festival. This started shortly after we arrived, and finished as the Tivoli Illuminations began at 9.30pm. The singers were excellent, a few deck chairs were supplied (we managed to bag a double deck-chair – very comfortable and warm as the night grew cooler). Although we saw the gardens in the evening sunlight, if time permits, another visit during the day tomorrow, would be great to see them properly. After all, the Card allows any number of visits.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

N Zealand - 23 April 2011

Two years ago we spent the Easter break exploring the Zeeland that New Zealand is named after and this Easter we explored the Zealand it is spelt after. North Zealand, is the name of the area of the peninsular above Copenhagen and all bus and rail transport in the area is covered by the Copenhagen Card. As we wanted to visit two different destinations in this area we decided that the Copenhagen Card represented good value and gave us the freedom to roam even further.

Consequently, today was spent exploring the North Zealand northern coastline, after first visiting the former royal residence at Frederiksborg Slot. This stunning palace is well worth a visit. The interiors are literally room after room full of fabulous antiques. On the far side of the northern moat are wonderful formal gardens.

A train east across the peninsular, leads to Kronborg Slot, or “Hamlet's Castle”. As this is a UNESCO site, we decided to visit, even though it is not covered by the Copenhagen Card. But our advice would be to enjoy the outside, but don't bother paying the entrance fee. The interiors are starkly bare, and forbidding but the exterior and courtyard are free to stroll around. We later discovered the reason, it was never built as a palace, it was just a toll house collecting 'Sound Dues' for 400 years, a tax imposed on ships passing through the narrow channel between Denmark and Sweden.

But if it really was the castle that inspired Shakespeare to picture his hero there, then it is of interest.

On the point in front of the Castle a wall of fishermen were hauling Horn fish out of the sea at a great rate. The current obviously runs fast close in to shore there and it seemed the fish density was so great, that each cast would snag another fish. We never saw one hauled in that had actually “taken” the lure.

From Helsinger, we took a small local train north to Gilleleje. The evening was perfect to wander round a postcard pretty fishing harbour, with many thatched cottages. The style of thatching is quite different to the UK, and seemed surprising in such a cold country. We completed our visit with delicious fish and chips right of the edge of the harbour.

Returning by train to Helsinger, we then took the train back down the coast to Copenhagen.

Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen – 22 April 2011

The unusual occurrence of a fortnight of sunny weather, had resulted in the UK experiencing extremely high levels of air pollution, so it was great to be leaving for Copenhagen early this morning and as we flew out of Stansted, the brown haze extending as far as it was possible to see, was most unappealing. Thus it was a real pleasure to land in Copenhagen in beautiful sunshine, 1 hour 20 minutes later.

This was part two of our 'Baltic Cruise' and we hoped it would be less eventful than part one in Tallinn, where Christine slipped on ice and broke her arm on the first night. We were fairly sure that on this trip the only ice would be in our drinks.

Copenhagen has more than it's fair share of rain, so it was an real treat to enjoy the warm/hot sunshine, and all the sights were stunning. Spring comes later here, and daffodils are at their best, as were the many blossom trees in city parks. We spent our first day on a walking tour of the city centre, after checking into our centrally located hotel and finally, after 10 years and 42 countries setting foot in a country beginning with D.

As is common these days, much of the centre of the city is pedestrainised, and a pleasure to walk around. It's a pity London can't adopt this in more areas. The main shopping street, with about as many food outlets as other shops, leads to the famous sight of the Nyhavn Canal, lined with lovely old buildings, including the house lived in by Hans Christian Anderson. This canal is a wonderful spot to enjoy the crowds, but the food offered was less than appealing, so despite leaving home at 3:30am, we moved on, hoping for something better later.

After passing the palace with guards outside and the Marble Church, we finally came to a waterfront area, which is delightful, and has a brilliant cafe. We both enjoyed delicious salads, with wonderful light yet healthy local rye bread, and would definitely recommend the local cider with elderflower – delicious on a hot day, over ice.

The return route was through the gardens of the Rosenborg Slot – the royal palace built by Christian IV. This has a real Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale air about it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bluebells 2011 – 17 April 2011

With the M1 still closed, we drove south to Kent, and enjoyed the sunshine in the best British tradition – in the garden of a country home. Hole Park Gardens are a lovely tranquil oasis. You could be visiting in any era. In fact the classic Rolls Royce parked out front, looked totally at home.

The reason for visiting today, was their spectacular bluebell woods. These were picture perfect, but were almost incidental to the real gardens, with flowers and 'miles' of formal yew hedges.

After lunch in their Stables Restaurant, we took a meandering scenic tour of Kent and on into Sussex, enjoying the warm sunshine. We finished our tour with afternoon tea at Michelin Abbey. Another seemingly tranquil spot, which has had stressful periods in it's history. In the 15th century. Henry VIII's troups demolished the Abbey church, leaving the Cloisters, these were made into a country house, with the addition of a Tudor wing. Then children were evacuated here during WWII, until it was decided to move them to Wales during 1940, I imagine it was too close to the south coast, and the threat of invasion.