CAPTIVATING COPENHAGEN- THE QUEEN OF SCANDINAVIA

 

Copenhagen city fountain

Copenhagen city fountain

Copenhagen; a cool, compact city of green cooper spires, cobbled squares filled with outdoor cafes in the summer, and fantastic, fun filled theme parks. A roisterous, swaggering city that wears its heart on its sleeve and offers a warm welcome to miilions each year. Human in scale, Copenhagen is a city with a real heart and soul.

Compact and easily walkable, the city is brimming with wonderful sights. Passengers arriving by sea are greeted by the winsome Little Mermaid, the symbol of the city. Based on the story created by local hero, Hans Christian Andersen, the diminutive little waif sits silently on her rock, gazing with sightless eyes out to sea.

The sights and sounds come and go like so many ceremonial drum rolls. At the heart of the town is Tivoli, a twenty three acre theme park that gave the young Walter Disney the idea for the string of theme parks that still bear his name. A shimmering, ethereal wonderland full of captivating lights, theatres, restaurants and thrilling fairground rides, Tivoli is the very heart and soul of Copenhagen.

Stroeget is the main shopping street; a pedestrian only thoroughfare that winds along more than two kilometres. Filled and fronted with every kind of shop you could want- from the mainstream to the downright quirky-Stroeget also has many bars, restaurants and cafes, and it hums with life at any time of the day or night.

So, enjoy these few snaps of this pretty, welcoming little city!

A city of green copper spires

A city of green copper spires

The famous Gefion fountain

The famous Gefion fountain

Danish Resistance open air exhibit

Danish Resistance open air exhibit

Copenhagen statuary

Copenhagen statuary

The old naval barracks, Copenhagen

The old naval barracks, Copenhagen

City centre square

City centre square

City centre

City centre

Stroeget, the main shopping centre

Stroeget, the main shopping centre

That portico is pure classical Greek

That portico is pure classical Greek

Lots of Art Nouveau architecture here

Lots of Art Nouveau architecture here

Radhuspladsen, the town hall

Radhuspladsen, the town hall

Close up of the town hall

Close up of the town hall

The city has lots of quirky statues

The city has lots of quirky statues

The entrance to Tivoli Gardens

The entrance to Tivoli Gardens

The city is full of these great vistas

The city is full of these great vistas

Orsteds Park, Copenhagen

Orsteds Park, Copenhagen

City centre

City centre

Canal side setting

Canal side setting

THE LITTLE MERMAID- FIRST LADY OF COPENHAGEN

Copenhagen's maudlin Little Mermaid

Copenhagen’s maudlin Little Mermaid

She is one of the most iconic sights in the travel world. Sitting on a lonely rock in Copenhagen’s Langeline harbour, the Little Mermaid gazes out to sea with sad, sightless eyes, waiting for her lover to return.  Long, languid summer sunsets reflect lazily against her lithe, bronzed body. And, inevitably, the tourists come to gawp at her by the thousand.

Some actually never find her. They misread the directions to what is known locally as Den Lille Havfrue. And the lady herself is small, waif like and unassuming; an elfin, enigmatic legend that has now survived a century of long summer seasons and bone chilling winters. She is a stark, solitary presence, and more than a little wistful in her own way.

She’s seen some hard times, including at least two decapitations; the first of which necessitated the completion of a whole new head. She was deprived of her right arm, and once even suffered the ignominy of having paint dumped all over her. On another occasion, a very obvious sex toy was attached to her head by a women’s protest group. And on yet another occasion, she was even blown off her pedestal with explosives, and had to be retrieved from the bottom of the harbour.

But still, she survives. Based on a character from a fable by Hans Christian Andersen, she has become the symbol of Denmark. What the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, or the Statue of Liberty is to New York, so the Mermaid is to Denmark. Tiny yet indomitable, and always weathering whatever is thrown at her. Little wonder that people everywhere have fallen under her spell.

Those that did include Walt Disney, as witnessed by the animated film of the same name. Walter Disney himself has links to Denmark going back to the mid thirties, when he visited Copenhagen and fell in love with the city, as well as with the posthumous, collected works of Andersen. And it was Copenhagen’s legendary funfair at Tivoli Gardens that gave Disney the idea for the string of worldwide theme parks that now bear his name.

The Mermaid herself was unveiled on August 23rd, 1913, and paid for by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of the Carlsberg Brewery. Amazingly, the statue- a little over four feet in height- took a full four years to complete,

There were many raised eyebrows when she left Copenhagen for the first time over May to October, 2010, for a five month spell at the Danish Pavilion in Shanghai for Expo 2010.

But the little lady with the big legacy is now safely perched back on her rock again. And if you happen to be in Copenhagen- that roisterous, swaggering fun time capital of Scandinavia- then you should definitely stop by, just to say a quick hello.

FIVE MUST SEE SIGHTS FOR AMERICANS IN NORTHERN EUROPE

Ancient European dungeons; if walls could talk

Ancient European dungeons; if walls could talk

This short piece is mainly for the benefit of my American friends who might be thinking about coming to visit northern Europe in the near or distant future. Whether you’re on a cruise, or just working through some self devised itinerary, these are five of the great buildings and attractions of the continent that I would argue deserve your attention. They are not listed in any particular order of preference; the impact of each upon the individual is too damned subjective for such a superfluous kind of batting order. But each is uniquely compelling in it’s own way…

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli is the jewel in the crown of Scandinavia’s most boisterous and exuberant city; a shimmering, ethereal, twenty three acre wonderland of a theme park that dates back to the 1800’s. Here, a Chinese pagoda towers above a lake where a giant pirate ship provides the perfect grandstand for the twice nightly midnight fireworks each week in summer.

A wondrous maze of fountains, fairy tale lights and fun fair rides, Tivoli was beloved of the immortal Hans Christian Andersen. It’s also the place where one Walter Disney got the idea for his own, subsequent string of theme parks. He visited Tivoli in the 1930’s, and fell in love with the place. Chances are, you will too.

Geiranger Fjord, Norway

God blessed the twelve thousand miles of Norwegian coastline with an almost obscene level of beauty, and most people agree that Geiranger Fjord is pure, platinum chip scenic porn.

Sailing between the silent, towering, pine carpeted walls of rock is an incredible adrenaline surge. The silence is almost deafening You’ll see meadows in forty shades of electric green. Butterflies and jagged, snow capped mountains. Cows grazing by water so still that the scenery is reflected to mirror like perfection. There are vibrant, splashing streams that tumble down the mountain sides, and gaunt wooden stave churches, some of them hundreds of years old, scattered about a landscape that looks like something straight out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Petrodeverts Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Petrodeverts palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Petrodeverts palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

A monumental, swaggering statement in gold, gilt and marble, Petrodeverts was the summer palace of the Tsars of Russia. Built to exceed even Versailles in terms of beauty, scale and grandeur, it’s epic Italianate facade is the prelude to a stupendous spread of public rooms, each one almost awash in gilded opulence. Vast, impossible chandeliers hold sway above galleries lined with floor to ceiling mirrors.  Lacquered Chinese cabinets frame rooms filled with a glut of silver banqueting ware set on tables the size of the Titanic. The staircases are sweeping, magnificent, marble accented ascents.

In the gardens, a series of stunning, stepped fountains sweep right down to the edge of the Baltic itself, each terrace flanked by pairs of gilded, golden cherubs. When you see this vast former Royal playground, you get a sense of what truly triggered the revolutions that ultimately culminated in the Communist take over of October, 1917.

The Reichstag, Berlin, Germany

The most commanding building in this amazing city. And quite literally in many ways, since this is the seat of the German parliament. The vast, sprawling neo classical facade is impressive enough, with elements of ancient Greek architecture on display as well. The new, magnificent glass cupola, added by British architect Sir Norman Foster, offers almost Olympian-like views out over the most vibrant city in Germany.

It was famously burnt down in a coup orchestrated by the Nazis, in order to frame the opposition and consolidate Hitler’s total grip on power after his election in 1933. Today, children sit eating ice cream on the same steps that hordes of Russian infantrymen stormed in 1945 in the face of a desperate, fanatical resistance. Nazism died on those steps in many ways.

The Tower of London, London, United Kingdom

Even on the brightest days, the Tower manages to look at once menacing, sinister and forbidding. Hardly surprising when you consider it’s almost thousand year history. A site of great pageantry and a place of unimaginable pain and cruelty, every one of it’s gaunt, bleached stones seems to have centuries of agonised history seared into it.

You can see the amazing. glittering glut of the crown jewels, and some of the fetid, one time rat infested cells where scores of doomed men and women eked out their last pitiful days. You can even walk the silent, immaculately manicured lawns, and see the spot where no less than three Queens of England- Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey- met their grisly fates. All are interred in the adjacent, small church of Saint Peter Ad Vincula, once described as ‘the saddest place in all of England’.

This is just a snap shot of some of the great sites that litter the shores and cities of Europe like so many random exclamation marks. They all have amazing stories to tell. Many are poignant, all are powerful, each one is a  pointer to the past glories-and follies- of this proud, often prolifically violent continent.