If you have ever read any of the myriad of stories of Hans Christian Andersen, then you must have heard of this mermaid, who suns herself in the cozy harbor of Copenhagen. When we saw her for the first time, both Nancy and I were struck by how small she is! The sculpture is barely life size, not very large or imposing, dwarfed by the water and the stones around it.
The harbor itself is totally charming and ultra photogenic. One of the most photographed places in all of Denmark is this one below, Nyhavn Harbor, a former warren of brothels and bars.
And of course, nobody goes to Denmark without visiting Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens and Amusement Park. The park is decidedly not trying, in the least, to mimic Disney World- which is younger than Tivoli by more than a hundred years.
But what comes first to our minds when we think of our trips to Denmark is Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, and his famous castle, Elsinore.
We drove out to see and tour the castle. They have set up a small outdoor theater in the courtyard, where performances of the play are held. When you watch the Tony or Academy Awards shows, think of the category "Set Design". Well this place is no movie prop- it's the Real Deal, and being at the Castle for a performance gives an added zest to this classic masterpiece..
Coming back into Copenhagen from Elsinore, we were driving along a road that hugs the attractive coastline. You can see Sweden just across the water. It was an especially pretty day, clear skies and everyone was outside enjoying the mild weather and the beauty of their country.
Perhaps 15 or 20 minutes into the trip, we stopped at a small park, nothing special, no big signs or anything that would let you know there was something of particular interest here. But there was, and you would have no trouble figuring it out if you read this opening of Hans Christian Andersen’s fabled story, "The Tinder Box".
"...THERE CAME A SOLDIER marching along the high road—one, two! one, two! He had his knapsack on his back and a saber by his side, for he had been in the wars, and now he wanted to go home. And on the way he met with an old Witch: she was very hideous, and her under lip hung down upon her breast. She said, “Good evening, Soldier. What a fine sword you have, and what a big knapsack! You’re a proper soldier! Now you shall have as much money as you like to have.”
“I thank you, you old Witch!” said the Soldier.
“Do you see that great tree?” quoth the Witch; and she pointed to a tree which stood beside them. “It’s quite hollow inside. You must climb to the top and then you’ll see a hole, through which you can let yourself down and get deep into the tree. I’ll tie a rope round your body, so that I can pull you up again when you call me.”
“What am I to do down in the tree?” asked the Soldier.
“Get money,” replied the Witch. “Listen to me. When you come down to the earth under the tree, you will find yourself in a great hall: it is quite light, for above you three hundred lamps are burning there. Then you will see three doors...”
(Hans Christian Andersen, The Tinder Box, published 1835)
Now you have guessed it! Ahead of us was that exact centuries-old tree, gnarled hole in its trunk and all, the very tree that inspired Anderson’s fairy tale, written nearly two hundred years ago.
Our children loved to hear us read that story to them when they were young. It is still one of my favorites, now more special than ever.
By the way, Andersen lived for a time in one of the houses in the picture of Nyhavn. They say he wrote his finest stories in that house.
Greenland is not a separate country, but belongs to Denmark. There are stories about its name, that it is purposely misleading, because the place is anything other than green and inviting. It has much beauty, but very little else.
We visited during a cruise of the North Atlantic that included the Shetland Islands, the Faeroe Islands, and Canadian Maritimes. We docked at Qaqortoq, ambled up to the village, and were treated to a luncheon, consisting of delicacies, local foods prepared by local villagers. Nancy expresses her feelings about the luncheon menu: GAG!
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