CopenhagenMotorhome News from Europe 46
The Little Mermaid
14th - 22nd May 2011
A Bridge too Far
Denmark. Copenhagen, The Island of Møn - and a few days in Holland on the way home.
What things might spring to mind when you think of Copenhagen? Tivoli Gardens perhaps, The Little Mermaid? There is more to it than that of course. As it appears you have nothing else to do at the moment, let us take you with us on a brief journey around some of the sights, just to see.
We'll make an early start at Vesterport Station – on the clean, efficient commuter rail network that serves this city well. 'But watch out for pick-pockets if you get off at Central, Hovedbanegarden,' a young lady at the campsite had told us.
Just down the road is the red-brick Rådhuset (City Hall), on Rådhuspladsen (CityHall Square). There, high up on the wall is the gilded statue of the Christian founder of Copenhagen, Bishop Absalon and on the corner, a statue of Denmark's famous fairytale writer, poet and major tourist attraction, Hans Christian Andersen (there's yet another lovely statue of him in the Park beside Rosenborg Slot if you keep your eyes
open as we head for the Botanic Gardens). Over there is an entrance to Tivoli gardens. We'll come back to Tivoli later when the Sunday crowds creep out of the woodwork. It will be more lively then.
Let's walk you along just part of the one mile long Strøget, the longest pedestrian shopping mall in Europe and pop into the Illums Bolighus store to ogle at the fine Danish designed housewares. It might also be worthwhile to rummage around in the Lego Store opposite to watch wide eyed kids fulfilling their dreams. Up the road a bit is the neo-classical Copenhagen Cathedral with its heavyweight statues of Jesus and his apostles and then, after a look at Rosenborg Slot and the Botanic gardens we'll have a quick whip round the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Sadly, the gallery we came to see, Danish Art from 1750 – 1900, including work of the Skagen artists, P.S. Kroyer and Michael and Anna Ancher, was closed.
After a spot of lunch we can then head off to the Danish Resistance Museum to see a wonderful record of the subversive attempts to undo Hitler's ambitions in a 'neutral' country during WWII when
Denmark was occupied by German troops. Before we head back towards town there's the long walk out to see that icon of Danish tourism, The Little Mermaid. Janice mentioned it first; it looks bigger than we remember it from way back when. But the tourists all love it, posing for the pictures that once upon a time made Kodak richer by the minute.
Are you tired yet? Get an early night and we can get an early start tomorrow! Many of Copenhagen's places of interest are free to enter, particularly on Sundays, so let's make the most of it.
It's Sunday and there are few people about at this time of the morning. Let's keep an eye out for those pickpockets and get off at Central. There are thousands of bikes outside the station - at 9 o'clock. We surmise they are left here for the weekend by commuters who pick them up again on Monday morning and scurry off to work somewhere in the city.
The central square of the imposing Christiansborg Palace, the seat of Danish Parliament, is all but empty at this time of the morning, dark clouds above masking a sunlit blue sky, and
Inside the Lego Store
then, over the bridge beyond the Old Stock Exchange with its twisted spire, is Christianshavn where we can rest a while with a coffee at a canal-side cafe to admire the colourful merchants’ houses.
We can't stop for long, they're changing the guard - a sort of major National non-event, at Amalienborg Palace at 12 o'clock. There's time to immerse ourselves in the delights of Nyhavn's canal-side cafe scene just back over the bridge, filling up now with strolling tourists in shorts and summer frocks admiring the beautifully turned out boats and soaking up the sun.
Amalienborg Palace is the grand home of Denmark's Royal family, a sort of Buckingham Palace in four parts surrounding a magnificent parade ground. At noon each day a few Royal Guards in bearskins march three-abreast on to the square, stand still for a while opposite the retiring guard until half the tourists walk away bored, and then, eventually, the old guard marches off. 'Nothing much happens in Denmark,' one tourist behind us observed. An elegantly attired, grey-haired policeman wandered around behind the backs of the spectators offering more friendly warnings about pickpockets - operating whilst arms are in the air waving cameras
at soldiers standing still. That's cities the world over, but one could never feel threatened here in Denmark.
If you still have any energy left we can spend a while in the National Museum; there's a good Viking history section - and we mustn't miss the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a wonderful setting for an outstanding collection of Rodin, Matise, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas........ It makes the heart race!
Probably through constraints of time, neither of us had been into Tivoli Gardens on our previous trips to Copenhagen. Tivoli was the inspired work of Georg Carstensen back in 1841 and it has all the ingredients Disney provides for the family today; the funfair set amidst floral gardens, a marching boys’ band, Tin Soldier style, smiling children with their empty - pocketed parents, ice creams and burger stalls, cafes and bars. I guess we're all smiles too, strolling hand-in-hand, people watching, listening to the laughter, the fairground music and the screams from the hardy adventurers on gravity-defying rides!
Copenhagen is a lively, sparkling city worthy perhaps of more time than we have given it. It has a vibrant, joyful feel unlike some of Europe’s cities - but we hanker for
wilder places and I think we need a holiday after all that.
An hour south of Copenhagen and we were in Møn, a little island at the mercy of the Baltic Sea attached to Zealand by a thread. It's a holiday hotspot for Zealanders in the summer - but not really for English motorhomers in the pouring rain. We had high hopes for Møn, the vast marshes at the westerly tip and the white chalk cliffs of Møns Clint to the east. We battened down the hatches when we arrived early evening and ventured out for a long hike in the rain to the cliffs early next morning in an attempt to raise the odds. This daring escapade was well rewarded, with tracks through ancient beech flushed with the sparkling green of spring, a carpet of wood anemones, the crystal ring of warbler song echoing through the trees on rolling hillsides, stark white cliffs, and hundreds of steps down to the cobbled beach! Given brighter weather we could have stayed in this pretty corner of Denmark for much longer, but the outlook was not encouraging and the decision was made to leave by the super efficient, roll on -
On the Island of Møn
The pilots' lookout - in the rain!
roll off ferry, from Rodbyhavn to Puttgarden in Northern Germany - 45 minutes for 600Dkn (£70). We really can't complain about a bit of rain, we've had two weeks of glorious sunshine to warm our memories of Denmark. It's time for that meander along the north coast of Holland we promised ourselves on the way home.
Extensive roadwork plagues the long stretch of motorway from Hamburg to Bremen making progress on this important international route somewhat slow and arduous. Now I'm beginning to understand the motorway signs saying 'Fart Kontrol' (we could do with some of that back home). The German motorway traffic is manic; endless lines of heavy lorries, BMW's and Mercs hurtling by at 80mph (they are few and far between in Denmark where perhaps they are seen as ostentatious and out of 'Danish' character, nothing ever seems to exceed 50mph and we were never overtaken by another vehicle except on the motorways). We had selected a convenient campsite overnight just off the motorway south of Zeven but the crossing bridge was closed in the process of being widened and a diversion was in place. 17 miles and half an hour later we reached the campsite. A
Holland - Hindeloopen
That famous swing bridge!
whole hour of driving, out and back, wasted. I recall similar frustrating problems in Zagreb and Luxemburg last year. Holland
By midday we were in Friesland, northern Holland. It's flat. Edam pancake flat. A landscape of Friesian cattle, black and white, heads down in the buttercups and clover, red -brick houses (Lego-like as Janice calls them), high gables, portrait windows, brick paved streets in tiny towns, long straight lines of trees on open fields like lollipops on sticks, cycle paths and speedy bikers seemingly determined to ride you down, ditches, dykes and dark canals with white swing-bridges all clean and bright as freshly painted Delft ceramics, croaking frogs at every turn and swifts just home for the summer calling excitedly as they circle overhead. The clogs, windmills and cheese come later.
A gentle ‘birding’ drive along the north Friesland coast brought us eventually to our campsite at Landal Esonstad, a purpose built, modern, pseudo Dutch village-complex of ‘holiday town-houses’ on paved streets and waterfront mooring for the family boat, free entry to the indoor swimming pool and sauna - and a well-serviced campsite, ours to enjoy for just 17 Euros!
Forty miles to the west is Harlingen,
where we parked across the bridge on a dedicated motorhome ‘overnight’ stop (€5). This romantic town is one of many ‘little cities’, in Zuidwest Friesland, as Dutch as a pair of primly painted clogs, with a bevy of old, tall-masted barges, multi-coloured merchants’ houses with magnificent gables by placid canals and a handful of interesting shops to poke around. There was more of the same to delight us at Makkum where we stopped for coffee and people watching in warm sunshine, at The Swan.
Holland’s minor roads are minor indeed, narrowed more often than not by marked cycle tracks and sufficient only for us to pass the occasional opposing vehicle by pulling onto the verge. Out beyond the IJsselmeer Dyke, the red sails of huge old barges filled with the warm breeze as we searched the distant marshes for local birds – those of the feathered variety. Some of our best birding to date actually came at our next stop on the dramatic marshland reserve at Workumerwaard, breeding black tailed godwit, ruff, redshank, redstart, yellow wagtail..... fabulous!
With time on our hands and sun in our hearts we ventured into yet another of those ‘little cities’, Hindeloopen, quaint,
small, a touch on the touristy, with its rather famous narrow swing bridge. It’s even more famous now. Somewhere we may have missed a sign as we entered the town, though it’s more likely we saw a sign but didn’t understand the double-Dutch message beneath it. As with most smaller towns and villages the streets are brick paved and narrow, a few new houses dotted around the old town, and suddenly, there we were, facing the town's narrow swing bridge, blocked by tourists’ bikes and chatting locals - watching this great white motorhome with two teddy-bears on the dash trying to navigate its way over the bridge! Bikes removed by the grinning crowd, and some rather inquisitive looks later, with no option to turn around, we crossed the bridge in shame!
The Zuider Zee (Southern Sea) is no longer, as many will know. Dammed in 1932, the huge freshwater lake, the Ijsselmeer, controls the water levels, the annual threat of floods has receded and much land reclaimed for intensive agriculture. But saved from both plough and development within this area is the Oostvaardenplassen nature reserve near Lelystad - a vast expanse of reedbeds, lagoons, marsh and grassy plain, a
haven for wildlife. Up at 05.30 we went to explore, to find the birds and seek out the hundreds of Konic ponies, wild cattle and herds of red deer.
Glorious sunshine greeted us at the small town of Hoorn (the Hoorn of Cape Horn fame in the golden days of Discovery). Our campsite, 't Venhop Camping gave us ACSI off season discounts, splendid friendly service and a pitch beside the mirrored dyke opposite, the tasteful summer 'mobile weekend homes' of city dwellers and their delicate, beautifully tended gardens. Hoorn town welcomed us with its dreamlike watchtower and boats in the harbour, and the never-ending Saturday market bounty: flowers, fruit, cheese, bread and cake stalls, anything and everything – and strawberries and cheese for tea.
With just one free day before our return to the UK, we made a flying visit to some of Holland’s staple attractions. Firstly, Edam, a calm ‘small town’, with pretty and immaculate toy town houses with neatly trimmed gardens, cobbled streets beside narrow canals and the old cheese market where you can buy your touristy red, yellow or green coated cheese for twice the normal price.
In Gouda, we found another ‘overnight motorhome’ (€5)
car park, Klein Amerika, a marching band touring the streets, a spectacular Town Hall set on a vast, busy square, a visit to the church where a free concert was under-way, Verdi’s La Traviata, afternoon tea at the Central Cafe and yet another market where we topped up on more cheese! (Gouda, of course)
By then it was late afternoon and we had to make a decision on where to spend our last night. ‘How do you feel about driving to Delft?’ Janice enquired. She’s the boss, and so it was; Delft by 6.30pm.
Another new destination for me and the excitement was too much. We walked the mile into town for dinner to celebrate another fabulous holiday! Delft was obviously trying hard to out-do Gouda in its day, the main square is truly immense and the gothic Town Hall equally enormous, surrounded on all sides by vibrant street cafes, coffee houses, a fine museum of Golden Age paintings, elegant gabled houses and shops selling the famous blue and white ceramics, the signature of this lively town.
A lot of people live on this congested piece of very flat land and, whilst there is a certain romance to the
heritage and landscape of Holland, the pace is several octaves higher than that in Denmark. It is indeed more driven, a faster pace, a crowded place. For all of that, we know our old cyclo-maniac pal, John, out there on the plains of Manitoba, would be happy back here in Holland with his racey bike and the wind in his hair.
Denmark surprised us. Our journey took us around the coast of Jutland with its endless wild beaches, its interior intensely farmed amidst the gentle ripple of hills and sparsely scattered woodland. Two weeks was sufficient for us; us lovers of landscapes gleaned from years of meandering though the hills and mountains of France and Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Scandinavia.... we have ‘flat’ in East Anglia, our home in the UK. In our two plus weeks in Denmark we saw just two policemen on foot-patrol in casual attire and two police cars. That says a lot about this quite tranquil country where there are cycle tracks everywhere, walking is a pleasant pastime, and you will find the country churches fascinating, many with amazing frescoes, and Viking history aplenty.
Shakespeare might well have discovered a bit of drama around
Birding on the marshes
Elsinor Castle, but there is little dramatic about Denmark. I think bucolic was more the word I was looking for. There is much for them to be happy and content with in Denmark.
I guess that's why we came, just to see, and why we have this passion for travel - to discover such things.
David and Janice
The grey haired nomads
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