August 15, 2010
We were leaving Copenhagen today and thankfully the rain had finally died down a bit. The owners of the hostel had mentioned that their basement room had flooded last night so it had obviously got heavier overnight, too. We packed up all of our stuff, had breakfast and then got the bus to the train station. After buying our tickets to Helsingor, about half an hour north of Copenhagen, we were told there were no trains running directly there as the line was flooded just outside the city. As a result we had to get a bus and then get a train once we were outside the city. Outside we were just able to catch a bus before it left and it took at least half an hour just to get to the next station. When we got onto the platform it was already packed full of people waiting for the same train but thankfully when the delayed train arrived it was empty so we were able to find plenty of room for us and our bags. The train ride seemed to take forever as parts of the line were shut in one direction so we were often waiting for a train coming the other way. We finally arrived in Helsingor just after 12 having originally expected to get there by about 10:30! We weren’t actually staying in Helsingor tonight so we were hoping there would be a left luggage place at either the train station or the ferry terminal but it seems there were neither.
We had one thing to do in Helsingor and that was to visit the famous Kronborg Slot, the castle made famous by Shakespeare who used Elsinore and the castle as the setting for Hamlet. The castle was about a 15 minute walk from the train station around the harbour but this wasn’t made easy by uneven pavements, gravel roads and 50 pound suitcases to be dragged! Thankfully we made it with just a few curious glances and were immediately directed to the bigger lockers which, even more thankfully, our bags just squeezed in.
We decided not to do the full castle tour but chose the casemates and royal apartments to visit. We started in the casemates which are a gloomy, dark series of tunnels underneath the castle. The corridors are on several different levels and actually served as soldier quarters during times of war. Within the casemates is a statue of a Holger Dansk, a Danish legendary hero who sits slumbering in the underground room, ready to spring into action and defend Denmark if the kingdom is threatened. No idea where he was during WWII…
We then headed inside the castle, a building which was built originally in the 15th century but has of course been altered many times by different kings over the generations, most notably after 1629 when a huge fire gutted most of the castle and it was rebuilt by Christian IV under its current guise and name. The castle is now listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and, from the outside at least, you could see why. The castle building is amazing and the sight along the water’s edge, jutting out into the sound which separates Denmark from Sweden, makes the castle seem quite impressive and important. And indeed it was during much of its early years when it was used to govern the sound and the ships who passed through there, the military presence ensuring those ships paid their “sound dues”. One room even included a bay window where the king used to sit and count the ships going through to see how much money was being collected. Like many similar buildings we’ve been to, the interior is just not as impressive as the exterior and the setting although the lengthy ballroom was ornately decorated and was once the largest royal hall in Northern Europe (who measures these things and keeps a record?).
We had a walk around outside afterwards and saw the statue of Shakespeare as well as some views from the top of the flag bastion. As well as a large flagpole they also had a number of old cannons stationed here. A group of Japanese tourists had decided to jump over the barriers and pose with the cannons despite signs telling people not to. They were so oblivious and rude to other people around and when one guy decided to climb all over one cannon I decided I would tell him to get off. I really don’t care that much but what does infuriate me is how hypocritical these people are. In Japan, they would never dream of trampling all over a war antique or disrespecting something like they seem happy to do everywhere else in the world. We visited the war shrine Tokyo which remembers all of Japan’s war casualties as well as Hiroshima and the touching, heart-wrenching A-bomb dome. Here there were people from all over the world and everyone was respecting the Japanese requests to acknowledge these memorials for the tragic places they were and still are. However, the Japanese invariably seem to grant the same respect when on foreign soil as they demonstrated here and as they demonstrated in Pearl Harbor where they were quite happy to climb all over the anchor of a sunken ship to pose for the perfect photo. It’s annoying, frustrating, hypocritical and infuriating that such a nation of people can be so warm, friendly and welcoming in their own country and be such idiots everywhere else.
After finishing at the castle we tried to get some food but the castle café was not an option. A burger, just a plain one, or even just a sandwich was over $20 and there was no way on any planet I’d pay that. We retrieved our bags from the lockers and dragged them back to the ferry terminal. There we found a 7-11 and grabbed some pastries and a couple of drinks. It still wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t a $20+ burger, either!
We were staying with a couple of friends in Helsingborg in Sweden for the next couple of nights and so before we boarded the ferry across the Øresund, we called Claus to let him know we were on our way. We boarded a ferry for the short, 20 minute journey and I spent most of it outside getting some pictures while Elizabeth rested her feet and watched the bags. Getting off the boat we were setting foot in Sweden for the first time and at the ferry port in Helsingborg we were met by Claus. We walked from the ferry terminal back to the apartment where we would be spending the next three nights with Claus and Goy. We met Claus and Goy when we stayed at their hotel in Phuket and when we told them we were coming to Scandinavia they invited us over. We spent the afternoon hanging out chatting to Claus and then went for a couple of drinks while we waited for Goy to come home. E tried a local beer called Pripps Blå. I think it is rare I don’t like a beer and this was no exception! Goy had been helping her family out all weekend catering for a couple of weddings and a birthday party and when she got back she was armed with loads of food for us for dinner! We were really being treated with a three-course meal of salmon pate and devilled eggs to start, steak and fried potatoes for the main course and crème caramel for dessert. We were all stuffed by the end and with Claus and Goy having to work tomorrow we all retired to bed to enter our food comas!
August 16, 2010
After a late lie in, we finally headed out into the town centre once our hunger struck! We didn’t have a whole lot we wanted to do in Helsingborg and we were really here to visit our friends. The town centre was really pretty and nice and quiet compared to some of the cities we’ve been in recently. We found a restaurant for lunch called Ebbas Fik, a diner style place modeled on Elvis and his generation. There we got two lovely Mexican burgers complete with spicy sauce and jalapenos and a massive serving of fries that was big enough for three. Even without the massive dinner last night we would never have got through all of this and so it proved as we left plenty of fries but fought through the messy burgers, which incidentally came served in a paper Cadillac!
After lunch we continued to walk around and passed the remains of the old medieval castle, a tower called Karnan. I hadn’t bought my camera out which was a shame as the views of the tower were great and I suspect the views from the top would’ve been equally so. We decided we would have a similar walk tomorrow but with camera!
We visited the information centre and got some info about other parts of Sweden we were going to visit and to try and find an internet café to print our bus tickets for our trip to Stockholm. We weren’t successful in that but decided we could email them to Goy at her work for her to print for us.
When we arrived yesterday Claus had let slip that today was his birthday and he had told us to keep quiet so he could see if Goy remembered! We decided that we had to him something so we found a liquor store and bought some nice bottles of wine to celebrate the occasion. Here in Sweden the regular stores and supermarkets are only allowed to sell low alcohol (up to about 4%) drinks and everything else is sold in government run liquor stores. I guess this controls the sale of alcohol a little more and also controls the price. I hadn’t spotted any as we walked around but Elizabeth noticed a large store as we walked around and we had a nice wide range of beers and wines to select from. As well as some Concha y Toro Chilean wine, like we’d tried ourselves in Chile, we bought a local beer to try. The beer was called Crocodile and tasted not too bad and pretty similar to the Pripps we’d had yesterday. We also managed to find a posh bakery called Pistachio and here we bought some lovely berry mousse cakes to be the birthday cake for after dinner!
Back at the apartment we just hung out and soon Claus and Goy were back from work. Claus said that Goy had remembered his birthday this year and so we told them we’d got some wine and some cakes to accompany dinner. Goy once again cooked for us and it was really good again. We had a variety of roasted vegetables and some really tasty Swedish-style sausages. It was good to get something with a Swedish flavor to it as we hadn’t done too well in either Amsterdam or Copenhagen eating local food. It was really nice just to sit and chat with them both and have a nice relaxed evening before we all retired to bed. Even though we hadn’t done very much we were both quite tired and were soon asleep on the new air-bed – the old one Claus and Goy had didn’t stand up to much last night and we spent much of the night rolling around on the floor!
August 17, 2010
We woke up this morning at a reasonable hour and were greeted by a grey, cloudy day. It didn’t take long before the clouds produced heavy rain and we decided that we’d wait a while to decide whether to go out. Claus had offered us use of their bikes but we wouldn’t be cycling anywhere in this weather. The rain slowed around lunchtime so we decided to grab a cheese sandwich and then head out after lunch. Goy had a huge block of Swedish cheese and we had that with some home-made bread. Talk about being spoilt! Apparently Sweden is really known for cheese and this one was certainly very nice. Neither of us realised how much Swedes liked cheese but it is a staple of the Swedish diet it seems!
Almost as soon as we had finished lunch the rain had returned and it carried on persistently until about 3pm. By this time, the sun had actually popped out for a bit but our enthusiasm to get dressed and get out had waned considerably. Our enthusiasm, or lack of, was justified not long afterwards when the rain returned.
Claus and Goy returned from work and once again refused our offers to help with dinner and tonight Claus cooked a Swedish-style stroganoff using sausages rather than beef. It was so good and I stuffed myself as much as I could. The trouble was that Claus was due home late and so only an hour earlier Goy had made us all some sandwiches and I was pretty full before dinner was even served! Claus encouraged me to help him finish though, saying that a clean pan might help keep away the rain tomorrow! Given we have to walk to the station with our bags I was keen to try anything we could! Before bed we said goodbye to Claus and Goy as they are up and out before we normally wake up and so we wouldn’t see them in the morning. It was so good to see them again and we promised we’d try and make sure we got back to Phuket to see them before the high season finished next May – I reckon we can do that!