Relaxing Riviera (Danish style).
We visited Hamlet’s castle, rowed a Viking ship out into the fjord, and enjoyed a nightly sauna in another fabulous Airbnb find.
The main point of coming to Denmark, at least for me, was to explore the country’s legendary opportunities for historical engagement. In Lejre and Ribe we visited villages built based on archaeological and historical evidence, and we were impressed, especially, by the way that knowledge circulated in them. Most of the learning there was hands-on, as I’ve discussed in my previous posts, but in both places the historical interpreters were brimming with information that they were happy to share if asked. This meant that the villages could be enjoyed on different levels, from pure physical experience to total intellectual conversation, in a way very different from a guided tour that gives everyone the same information regardless of individual interests.
To our list of impressive Danish sites we’ve added Kronborg Castle, also known as Elsinore, the castle inhabited by Hamlet and haunted by his father’s ghost. Patrick and I had been to Kronborg before, with Sam along for the ride as a tiny bump under my sweater, so we knew what to expect. This time, though, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, a small acting troupe had taken up residence at Kronborg to perform an abridged, episodic, and mostly paraphrased version of Hamlet, called Hamlet Live. There were some wonderful and some weird aspects to this.
Sam was completely charmed by the Hamlet Live actors and by the chance to follow them around the castle, both watching and being a part of the action. He was probably the perfect spectator for this kind of performance, because he was completely absorbed in the story and entirely adept about interacting with it. Other spectators were not so savvy at navigating the somewhat unusual rules of engagement. At one point a large tour group walked right through the middle of a scene, talking loudly, apparently oblivious to the performance. I felt sorry for the actors a lot of the time, as they shouted to be heard in the cavernous spaces and to capture the attention of people who had come to see a castle, after all, not to hear a play that shed no light whatsoever on the real-life history of Kronborg or its inhabitants. “Would you like to perform Hamlet at Elsinore” sounds like an invitation no Shakespearean actor would refuse, but “how about performing for a multilingual audience, many of whom do not know, or care about, the play, you, or your performance” is a more accurate description of the conditions. There were a lot of people taking selfies with the actors and providing loud simultaneous translation for their fellow travellers.
The best part of Hamlet Live was definitely when all of the spectators were invited to sit on benches for a puppet show, which turned out to be the Mousetrap from Hamlet. Sam sat up at the front near King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, letting the puppeteers know when Claudius had stormed out in a rage. For the only time in Hamlet Live the spectators knew how to behave and the actors didn’t need to fight for attention. The rest of the performance ranged from completely absorbing to a little irritating, depending largely on the audience’s behaviour. On the whole Hamlet Live struck me as possibly inspired by Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, that crazy version of Macbeth I saw a few times in New York and wrote about in one of my articles, but this was sanitized and simplified for all ages and cultures. I’ll be writing more about it in one of my book chapters, but that’s probably sufficient for a blog entry, don’t you think?
Roskilde Viking Ship Museum was a real pleasure, with plenty of activities to keep Sam happy and (contradicting what I said earlier about guided tours) an excellent guided tour of the Viking ships dredged up from the fjord. The ships had been sunk in Viking times to protect Roskilde from invaders, and have been painstakingly reconstructed using experimental restoration techniques. We also had the opportunity to sail in a replica of one of these ships, which turned out to be a lot more hands-on than our Icelandic Viking ship adventure. This time we learned how to follow the skipper’s instructions for rowing ourselves out of the harbour, and Patrick was given the task of steering us safely out and back again. Sam made a German friend and chatted away with her about his life plans, which would have been the highlight of the day for him had he not later been surrounded by a gaggle of adoring Danish tweens while playing Pokemon Go. Sam has always shown a distinct preference for pretty, slightly older girls with long blonde hair, and Denmark has offered them up in abundance. I expect that in this regard his life will soon be taking a turn for the worse, at least until we arrive in Australia.
The other highlights of our Danish Riviera stay were beautifully domestic. Camilla, our Airbnb host, told us about a farmer who sells his produce from a shed on his property, with an honesty box for payment. We stocked up on gorgeous rhubarb, flavourful green beans and carrots, the most amazing potatoes, a tender lettuce bigger than a beach ball, and plenty besides. We ate well, grilling over the firepit in the back garden of Camilla’s country house. We had plenty of tomatoes to pick fresh from her vines, our own little basil plant that we’d been dragging from one Danish home to another, and all sorts of delicious local delights picked up fresh during our daily excursions.
Our house was amazing, and so far I have only the nicest things to say about Airbnb. This was our third Airbnb rental in Denmark, and we’ve been completely thrilled with all of them. In addition to all the usual amenities, this one had a wood-burning sauna that we enjoyed every evening after dinner. We liked it so much that we’re considering installing one when we come back to Canada. Aside from all the physiological and psychological benefits that saunas are supposed to offer, spending some time chatting in the sauna instead of watching tv or peering into our separate electronic devices helped us to end the day feeling close and connected. Camilla says that a nightly sauna is the recipe for a long and happy marriage, and I’m prepared to believe her. We celebrated our sixteenth anniversary while we were staying in her house, so we are off to a pretty good start, even without the sauna habit.
We were sad to leave our country house, but it was time to move on to other adventures. I’m writing this from the balcony of our suite on a ship bound for Oslo, Norway. We’re finding the overnight cruise very pleasant so far, but I’ll write more about it, as well as our further Scandinavian adventures, in my next post.Destinations