About an hours’ train ride north of Copenhagen is the village of Helsingør, at the tip of North Zealand. In Helsingør sits Kronborg Slot, an immense fortification at the tip of the 4-kilometer wide strait separating Denmark and what is now Sweden, but at one time was part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Shakespeare fans will recognize this castle from Hamlet, in the village of Elsinore.
The castle also played a role in the facilitating the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a military coastal lookout, the Danish military in the castle confirmed that the Russian cargo ships carrying nuclear missiles had actually reversed course and were returning to the Soviet Union. How about that!
For as happy as the Danes are, it might seem that they and the Swedes aren’t exactly BFFs, though. There have been 11 Danish-Swedish wars across history, resulting in the capture of national treasures. Some of the descriptive tiles throughout the castle also take discreet jabs at the Swedes for this and that. And, in the casements of the castle lies the sleeping Holger the Dane, still at the ready to protect Denmark from invading Swedes if necessary.
Up until 1857, the Danish King could sit in his apartments and watch ships transiting between the North and Baltic Seas through the sound, always stopping to pay their sound tax.
Then one day an American ship passed by and refused to pay the tax. The Danes said, “OK,” and the sound tax was abolished. Just like that! Or so the video in the castle informed us.
The king was a thoughtful husband, having a corridor from the queen’s suite to the ballroom constructed to be wide enough so that she could pass through in her gowns without brushing against the furniture.
The ballroom, fit for a queen.
Though a fire in 1629 destroyed much of the castle, the royal chapel was spared. The interior was exquisite.
In Helsingør’s harbor, not another Den Lille Havfrue but Hans, the Little Mermaid’s brother. Andersen’s story never included a merman; this is just an artist expressing himself.
Helsingør was yet another Danish village filled with quaint architecture and happy, patriotic people!
We visited Helsingør on 1 May, May Day as it is known. Though this photo is of a side lane (I loved the buildings painted the color of the Danish flag), the main streets were alive. Unlike in Vienna, the stores, grocery, and banks were open! Markets were buzzing with activity; smiling, happy people (of all heritages, not just those who appeared Danish) filled the streets and restaurants, soaking up the sun and enjoying life on the North Sea.
Jack and I discovered early in our holiday that while the Danes have fresh fish at their disposal, their main courses reflect historic peasant cuisine, with lots of waste-not, want-not kinds of sausages, meat patties, and other pork and potato dishes. In the village we sought a restaurant serving fresh fish, which just happened to be owned by a funny (and happy, of course) Italian couple.
The menu was in Danish and Italian, but he was happy to translate what we could not decipher and suggested we start with an Italian smørrebrød and bruschetta with asparagus and Danish cheese.
The main courses were hungrily devoured before photographing, sorry. Just imagine a pan-seared ocean perch with a fruit de mer sauce for Jack; and a poached halibut with a Danish blue and asparagus “salsa” for me. A fresh catch lunch at a sunny Italian restaurant in a happy village on the North Sea.
Whatever the secret is, the Danish magic had worked. We were happy.