Denmark, Day Seven: Fun Storming The Castle

Friday, June 10th

Friday was an important day. Friday was the day of the first big excursion we took as a group. Friday was Castle Day.

There were two castles on the agenda: Frederiksborg and Kronborg. Frederiksborg, despite its name, was actually most prominently associated with Christian IV, who rebuilt his dad’s castle in Dutch Renaissance fashion during the 1600s. It was an important site for coronations and other such events for some two hundred years, and then it burned down, so they rebuilt it, filled it with paintings, and made it a history museum. There’s some detailed Danish history for you.

Kronborg, meanwhile, was built on the very very tip of Zealand, where the Øresund (the Sound, the largest and most strategically significant of the passages into the Baltic Sea) is at its narrowest. Since, at the time Kronborg was built, Denmark controlled territory on the other side of the Øresund, along the edge of what is now entirely Sweden, building a big fort there meant they could make everyone coming in or out of the Baltic pay a fee, or else get shot up with these big cannons we have here, and then you get to pay the fee and the cost of the ammunition you just got shot with. The fee would be based on the value of your cargo and also on how much Denmark liked you and/or your country at the moment, and someone had the clever idea of putting in a rule that the king could, at any time, choose to buy the entire cargo of the ship for the value the captain gave for it, preventing captains from intentionally giving low values for their cargo to pay a lesser fee. This control of the Øresund and the ability to favor or disfavor specific countries passing through translated into some pretty significant political power for Denmark, while the money from the fees themselves was a crucial source of income for the Danish government. Eventually Sweden grabbed the provinces on the other side of the Øresund from Kronborg (along with a lot more of Denmark, although they gave some of it back later), so neither country had total control over the passage anymore, but Denmark kept collecting the fees until 1857, when an American vessel refused to do it and everyone else promptly followed suit. Damn Americans.

(I wrote a paper on Kronborg, can you tell?)

Nowadays, Kronborg’s main claim to fame (or at least, the one they seem to be valuing the most, from what I saw) is being the setting of Hamlet, not that Shakespeare called it by its proper name; in the play it’s referred to as Elsinore, which is itself an Anglicization of Helsingør, the town where Kronborg is located. But then, this is the same play that has a cast predominantly comprised of apparently Danish people who somehow have extremely Latin names, so perhaps this is not surprising.

Both Frederiksborg and Kronborg are some ways out of Copenhagen, so we had to take a train. This prospect excited me more than was strictly warranted (though it was a comfortable train). We first went to Frederiksborg, located in Hillerød, some twenty miles or so north of Copenhagen. It was a bit of a trek from the station to the castle (or at least I thought so at the time; compared to some of what we did later it was pretty minor), though close to the castle it became a very nice path around the lake-filled with ducks, of course.

And this guy.

And this guy.

The castle courtyard featured a huge and elaborate fountain, which caused me to get a bit behind the rest of the group when I stopped to take about twenty pictures of it. I like me a good fountain.

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Earlier that morning most of us had been handed our Copenhagen Cards. For a price that we, fortunately, did not as students have to personally negotiate, the Copenhagen Card would give us free access to a lot of museums/attractions, as well as free passage on trains, buses and the metro, for five days (well, 120 hours, technically; presumably to avoid semantic arguments over what constituted a ‘day’). Some of the group had already gotten theirs so they could go to the aquarium the day before, but in the interests of maximum efficiency the rest of us didn’t get them until Castle Day, since Kronborg and Frederiksborg were both on the free list. For the cards to be usable, you had to write down your starting date on it-you could start using the card at any given point after you got it, but once you did start your time was immediately ticking down with no pause button available. I promptly smeared the ink on mine and thus ensured an unnecessary amount of dread over the next few days whenever someone peered closely at it and I became convinced they were going to say, “No, this doesn’t work.”

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Once we got inside Fredericksborg we caused a bit of a traffic jam at the entrance desk as eleven people tried to hand over their cards at once, but the employee on duty handled it with aplomb. After that, we were free to wander the castle as we saw fit. The only stipulations were that we had to be back at the plaza in front of the duck path at a certain time, and if you were in the history class you had an assignment sheet of various paintings you had to locate and describe. I was quite pleased by this freedom, since I prefer taking my own time in museums, and frankly don’t get to do it that often.

I had with me, in addition to my usual shoulder bag, an umbrella and raincoat, since it had been pouring rain right before we left and then stopped immediately after we walked out of the hostel. There were lockers for such things in the entry hall, but I could not, for the life of me, get them to open. So I had to carry everything around with me. This would lead to problems down the line.

Off we went into the museum. I found Fredericksborg to be pretty over-stimulating, to be honest. It was just so incredibly full of stuff. The walls, floors and ceilings were themselves usually pretty heavily decorated, and then on top of that were portraits, furniture, things in glass cases, suits of armor, you name it, all very rich and delicate and valuable. The castle was also pretty crowded and could get quite narrow in some places, so that didn’t help either. Nor did the fact that I got stopped by guards three times.

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Also I think I found Danish Cary Elwes?

Also I think I found Danish Cary Elwes?

The first guard told me that I needed to be wearing my shoulder bag in front rather than at my side, presumably so I didn’t accidentally knock things over with it. With the previous day’s alarm incidents still fresh in my head and a cringing fear of getting in trouble anyway, I of course promptly moved the strap so it was across my chest instead of just on one shoulder, and she seemed satisfied. The second guard told me that I couldn’t have my umbrella in the museum and also that I needed to be wearing my shoulder bag in front rather than at my side. It had slipped down since the first guard had stopped me and I quickly readjusted it, but regarding the umbrella I was rather confused as to how, if that was verboten, I had gotten to the middle of the second floor without anyone bringing this up. He was polite about it, though, and told me he’d place it back at the entrance for me to pick up later. Unfortunately, since what he specifically said was “I’ll put it back where you came in,” I thought he was referring to the room I had just walked out of and spent some confused time wandering around making an idiot of myself before I realized he meant all the way back at the entrance to the museum.

The third guard just wanted to know if I was lost.

Actually, I’m pretty sure she was the same person as the first guard (I’m bad with faces, and was also in a bit of a panic at that point) and she had a decent enough reason to suspect that, since I was going in the opposite direction that people were generally supposed to go in. In fact, I was looking for the last item on my historical scavenger hunt-a portrait of Christian VII-had overshot, and it was rapidly approaching the time when I needed to leave and I just wanted to find the dang thing and get out. The guard and I had a confusing conversation (hampered, I should point out, by my social anxiety rather than any language problems per se), and she kindly advised me that I could actually take a shortcut in a certain area by going under a rope, of the sort that roped things off. I wound up not taking her up on that advice because I was sure I would have turned out to have misunderstood her or something and would just wind up setting off an alarm and probably getting arrested for real this time.

I did eventually find Christian VII, though. As I stood there, taking pictures for later reference-I didn’t feel up to answering the questions on the page right then and there-a child started bawling somewhere nearby.

I don’t know if I clinically qualify for being agoraphobia, but I do know that I clinically qualify for sensory processing disorder (inasmuch as anyone does; it’s a pretty vague disorder right now), and that I hate crowds, hate large amounts of noise, hate cramped places, hate them even more when they’re filled with people and movement, and hate hate hate being in a cramped place full of movement and noise and people when there’s not an easy egress. I hate Wal-Marts; I hate the cafeteria at my school; I hate going to the mandatory convocations said school insists on holding a small and uncomfortable chapel; I hated going to graduations for family members though I went anyway because I love them; I wasn’t even real fond of that Bilka. And there I was, standing in front of Christian VII, in a cramped room in a cramped and overstimulating building full of people moving around me, pushing and shoving and making noise, and the exit was somewhere far away on the lower floor of this labyrinth, and now a child was crying, and let me tell you something about that: when you’re already oversensitive to noise, and you hear a sound that’s been cultivated by evolution specifically to not be ignored by humans, well, the imagery of an icepick being shoved through one’s brain comes to mind.

To top it all off, I thought someone had stolen my camera. (No one had. It had gotten wedged at the bottom of my bag. But I didn’t know that at the time.)

I very nearly started having a panic attack, or at least something that felt like a panic attack. I was panicking, let’s put it that way. I got out of there as fast as I could and didn’t stop until I made it to a short outdoor walkway connecting two floors. It was, at least for the moment, quiet and empty, and I was able to get a few lungfuls of fresh air and calm down the faintest bit. Also I found my camera, which certainly helped. Still, on the way back down, I was careful not to run into any more guards. I was sure they would only try to be helpful, but at that point I wasn’t going to be able to articulate the problem well enough for anyone to actually help me with it.

Fortunately I made it out without being stopped, located my umbrella, and scurried off. We were supposed to meet at the plaza before getting on the train to Helsingør, so we needed to have eaten lunch and generally be ready to go by that time. It was now getting pretty close to that time and I had eaten not a thing. Oh, and this was not a madpakke day; we had to get lunch on our own in Hillerød.

There’s a certain vicious cycle that I frequently get myself into. I’m the sort of person that can’t eat very much at one time, but has to eat frequently, or else my blood sugar crashes and I get all cranky and shaky and upset; that’s just the way my annoying metabolism works. Thing is, that low blood sugar tends to make my anxiety worse, which in turn makes it harder for me to make decisions, like what to eat…which would not normally be a big deal, unless the process of getting something to eat involves following out a complex plan like picking a restaurant, going to it, and ordering something. So, once I get to that point, I tend to just hysterically give up and decide not to eat anything, which of course only makes things that much worse. Standing there in an unfamiliar town where all the places that might sell food had menus in another language and prices in an unfamiliar currency, along with a rapidly eroding time limit and shaking legs, I was in a situation that was getting more desperate at precisely the same rate that I was losing the ability to resolve it.

I need a valet or something.

Oh, and there was also the money thing. The previous night I’d had an idea, which I really wished I’d thought of earlier. Along with my regular debit card I’d taken my PayPal card with me; normally I used that to buy small things at the local Wal-Mart or coffee shop, since most of the time at school I didn’t really have a need to spend large amounts of money even if I ever had such amounts in the first place. The PayPal wasn’t really the thing to use for the amount I’d need to have in Denmark, though, so I’d only brought it as a sort of emergency back-up…and then it occurred to me that I did know the PIN to that one, and it was easy enough to get a bit of money transferred onto it. One problem (of course): the PayPal card didn’t have a chip in it, which most Danish card readers required. I could get money off of it at an ATM, but I hadn’t had a chance to go by an ATM that day. So I had a card that in theory could be used but in practical terms had no guarantee of working. I had some kroner left, but not really enough to get a meal. I might have said that I shouldn’t have spent my money on tea the day before except I wouldn’t because TEA IS IMPORTANT. And the notion of going to a restaurant, cafe, whathaveyou, and having them prepare an order for me only for me to not be able to pay for it was just too much to even think about. So, I wandered down a street nearby the plaza that had lots of restaurants on it, wandered back up, felt despondent, sat down on the base of the statue we were meeting at, and decided that, screw it, I just wasn’t going to eat lunch.

Was this a sensible course of action? No, of course not. But it was the only one that presented itself at the time.

The statue I was sitting under was of Frederick VII, which seemed a bit odd, frankly, since as near as my (admittedly extremely limited) research could figure out, the most significant connection he had to Fredericksborg was accidentally burning it down. But hey, he had a cool fez.

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I sat for a while looking over the lake and getting rather cold before I eventually decided I wasn’t that grumpy and moved around out of the wind.

Before too long everyone had showed up, evidently having had more success at lunch than I did, and we were off on another train to Helsingør. It was another long walk from the station to the castle, which didn’t improve my mood any, but then one thing I was rapidly learning was that it was always going to be a long walk whenever we went somewhere. Still, the especially uneven paving for a large part of the walk made it particularly painful as well. Those blisters were in full form by this point.

On our way to the castle we stopped to look at a large plastic fish. I bring this up because it later led to this exchange on my Facebook page:

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big plastic fish

Kronborg might have great strategic importance for a long period of Danish history, but the Shakespearean cut-outs that started appearing near the path well before we even got to the castle made it pretty clear what its caretakers were primarily relying upon for publicity these days. It wasn’t the only thing they had going, though; I could also hear soldiers marching and cannons being fired as we went up the path, which confused me greatly until I realized the sound was being piped in somewhere nearby.

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Man if I’d known about this I wouldn’t have bothered with that acting class.

Once we’d gotten admission all sorted out, once again courtesy of our Copenhagen Cards, we were free to roam around the castle as we wished just as we had at Fredericksborg. Actually, we were even more free than that; Dr. Dupont was going off to visit a seaside town for the rest of the evening after Kronborg. She invited anyone who wanted to to come along with her, but everyone who wasn’t-which was, in fact, the entire group-was free to go back whenever they wanted, though she did express a preference that we travel back in decent sized groups. We all conferred and decided on a time to meet near the outer walls/ticket desk, and then traipsed off to see something rotten in the state of Denmark.

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Near the inner entryway I ran into this fellow interacting with the incomers.

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He referred to himself as ‘Gypsy’ and generally capered around acting the part of lovable and somewhat mischievous buffoon. Now, I might have based most of my English Renaissance Drama term paper on The Tempest, and the only Shakespeare play performed on our stage since I’ve been in college was Othello, but I’m still a theatre major and I know a hawk from a handsaw, or, in this case, a Hamlet character from a non-Hamlet character, and this was no Hamlet character. But it seemed like it would be rude to point that out, so I just lingered in the back and refrained from comment. Besides, I was curious what he would get up to.

My curiosity was rewarded pretty quickly when Gypsy started talking about going to see a scaaaaaaaary ghost in the scaaaaaaaary dungeons. He quickly started rounding up a group of people who were interested in seeing this alleged ghost, and though we seemed to be going dangerously off-script here, I was intrigued enough to follow along. I mean, someone offers you a chance to see a ghost, you gotta check that out.

Gypsy led us to a nearby door that opened into an inclined corridor which did, actually, look pretty dungeon-esque. He amped up the spooooooookiness of the ghost the whole time. We followed him down the corridor and then someone shut the door behind us, which naturally resulted in utter darkness. It reminded me somewhat of going to caves back in grade school (you know how it is, you live in Kentucky, you’re forty minutes from the largest cave system in the world, you don’t have a lot of other field trip options anyway) and the times when, once we were deep enough in, the guides would have us shut off our flashlights so we could spend a few moments contemplating what it was like being in such complete and total darkness, and, in the case of at least one guide, what it would be like to be lost in a cave in such complete and total darkness. My conclusion was that I would probably go insane pretty quickly, but fortunately I have never had to test this hypothesis.

Our guide in this case didn’t ask us to contemplate being lost in complete and total darkness, though, he just asked us-somewhat clumsily, but with at least an effort to stay in character that I’ll commend him for-not to take out our phones and ruin the effect. Then the projected form of Hamlet Sr. appeared at the back wall and started a spiel about murdering Claudius and being murdered by Claudius, complete with interjections from Hamlet Jr., which frankly seemed to be the more ghostly of the interactions to me since Hamlet Jr. was nowhere to be seen. The projection faded and Gypsy proudly declared that this proved the existence of a ghost in the castle and could anyone doubt it? I wanted to point out that we had no evidence that it wasn’t a devil in the shape of Hamlet’s father, sent from Hell to tempt him into evil, but I couldn’t decide if that would be clever or just annoying, so I didn’t. Someone opened the door and we were free to wander out and contemplate our mortality unsupervised.

Kronborg was a lot plainer but also a lot less overstimulating than Fredericksborg. There were still plenty of things to look at, but it wasn’t dripping in decoration and artifacts. Kronborg was, for a time, apparently quite the elaborate Renaissance castle in its own right, but it burned down and the interior never got fully reconstructed, and then it got ransacked by Swedes, and then it wound up being run by the military and used as a prison for a while, so that probably all had a lot to do with it.

I wandered around for a while looking at things, and met a number of other costumed characters in the process. I didn’t talk to any of them personally, but they did all seem to be considerably more canon than Gypsy. There was Polonius…

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…and Claudius, who seemed remarkably friendly and took a break from fratricide and general villainy to play chess with one of Dr. Brown’s daughters…

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…and this woman, who I’m assuming was Ophelia but I can’t say for sure since I only saw her briefly walking between rooms…

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…and Hamlet himself, seen from afar.

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Unlike Fredericksborg, Kronborg didn’t have any kind of predetermined path you were supposed to take, or at least none that I could see; there were just different sections of castle you could wander in and out of from the courtyard. The relative plainness actually served to make it all rather unexpectedly pleasant for Hamlet’s castle. The polished wooden floors, plain white walls, frequent large windows and spacious courtyard didn’t really make for an atmosphere all that conducive to angst. You’d really have to put some effort into it if you wanted to carry off a good brood about revenge- murdering your Uncle Stepdad in that place. Then again, it was a sunny afternoon in June; maybe some rain would have helped.

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OUT, DAMNED SP…wait, no. Wrong one.

Kronborg had one other particularly notable feature that I didn’t get to see but wish I had: the statue of Holger Danske in the dungeons. Holger Danske, also known as Ogier le Danois/Ogier the Dane, is a mythological figure who, it is said, rests in the dungeons of Kronborg and will rise to save the day when Denmark is in great need. Rather like King Arthur although, hopefully for Denmark, more competent. (I took a class on Arthurian literature a couple semesters back and I haven’t trusted him since.) This did seem a bit odd to me since Holger Danske is actually French in origin, but hey, so’s the Statue of Liberty so who am I to argue. I was also a bit confused as to whether it’s the statue itself that’s supposed to become animated, or if there’s supposed to be someone buried there who will rise again (which’d be a bit of a trick since the guy is entirely fictional-though no more of a trick than an animated statue I guess), or if Holger Danske will just materialize on the spot. On the other hand, there was a prominent resistance group in Denmark during WWII named Holger Danske, which I’d say you could interpret as the fulfillment of that prophecy with about as much accuracy as the average Jedi claim.

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Anyway, as I said I never got to see Holger Danske because I never made it down to the dungeons. If I had found the entrance to the dungeons I definitely would have gone down there-because, c’mon, dungeons-but I never did; I just kind of wandered around looking at things until I realized it was almost time to go meet up with the rest of the group. Instead of going down, then, I went up, to the top of one of the towers. A sign outside informed me that it was 144 steps to the top, and I decided that to accept that challenge. I had to stop to catch my breath a couple times (I’m a wimp, we’ve been over this) but I made it in the end and was rewarded with a pretty great view.

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I didn’t stay up there too long, though, because it was extremely windy and I started feeling like I was about to get blown right off the edge. Besides, like I said, it was getting late. I did stop at the gift shop on the way out, though, just to see what kind of ridiculous Hamlet-related merchandise they might have in there. There were a lot of skulls. And these.

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boooooo

And these, which seemed…pointless.

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Hamlet mood ring is just black, all the time.

And these.

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WE FEW, WE HAPPY FEW, WE BAND OF PLASTIC BROTHERS

Sadly I was not able to afford a skull, or the Shakespeare Insults Fridge Magnets, but my one remaining 20 kroner coin was just enough to buy me a small Kronborg Castle pin which I proudly affixed to my hat. I later found out that there were giant ‘Hamlet Live’ pins that were being given out for free, but somehow I didn’t get one. Someone gave me a spare of theirs, but I was still a little put out by this.

On my way out, I passed a guy in a jester outfit saying farewells to the exiting guests. There being no jesters in Hamlet that I know of (unless you count Yorick, but this guy was conspicuously not dead), this struck me as odd, and I attempted to make a remark to him when I was passing but got distracted trying to think of the name of the jester in Twelfth Night (that would be Feste) and only managed to say something along the lines of “have fun in Twelfth Night”. He laughed, but only because I was being bizarre, I’m sure. On the whole I’m not sure I represented theatre majors very well on that visit.

We wound up waiting by the gates for a while, since some of our party weren’t showing up (we later found out that they had gotten lost in the dungeons). Eventually we decided to split into two groups, one going ahead and one staying behind to wait, since some of us were more eager to get home than others. I put myself in the former category. I was getting pretty hungry by that point.

On the way out, though, I got distracted by this.

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I have no idea what the story is here, but it sure gave me a start when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I peered over the edge to see if there was a body attached, but no; it was just arms. Maybe it was supposed to be Ophelia.

The train ride back to Copenhagen went without a fuss (aside from the disembodied arms). I rode the metro one stop down from the hostel to go to the mall. There was an ATM in the mall, and also food. That was about the extent of my thought process by that point.

Hardly daring to hope, I stuck the PayPal card in the machine and entered my PIN. It gave me money. I almost cried.

It took me a little longer to find food since the mall’s food court was a little intimidating in scope. (There was a KFC in it, but I’d be damned if I’d eat at KFC while I was in Denmark. I have principles.) Eventually I got a sandwich and a Coke from a stand, then wandered around trying to find a quiet place to eat, which I didn’t, because of course I didn’t, it was a mall. I wound up sitting down at some tables that probably belonged to another restaurant, which I guess was rude but I didn’t much care at that point. Having navigated that minefield of decision-making, I got a pastry and went home.

Yes, it was a Starbucks pastry. Look, you try getting the best, most culturally appropriate pastry when it's been an extremely long day and you're stuck in a crowded mall.

Yes, it was a Starbucks pastry. Look, you try getting the best, most culturally appropriate pastry when it’s been an extremely long day and you’re stuck in a crowded mall.

Once I was back at the hostel and had semi-stable wifi, I was able to pick up a message from my mom. My PIN had arrived in the mail that very day.

 

Of course it had.

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