A Danish holiday

I love Danish Pastry and would devour it for breakfast at the slightest opportunity. That and my lovely Danish friend Emma were my only connections to Denmark. Having gone to Sweden many years back has changed my perspective about Scandinavia, I was excited about my travel to Denmark. I had mistakenly thought that Scandinavia being in the north closer to the Arctic, would be a cold depressing environment with unsmiling serious people. But the experience was just the opposite. When I got an opportunity recently to go to Denmark with a friend, I didn't hesitate. We flew to Copenhagen early in November. It was cold but quite bearable as long as we were wrapped up warmly in layers of clothing. From the airport, we took the shuttle to the city central station and walked to Dan Hostel where we stayed for the next four days. Our room had a great view of one of the inlets in the city with beautiful neoclassical buildings on its banks. It's a hostel with the feel of a hotel with spacious rooms and bathrooms. Everything was within walking distance. Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, sits on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager. It’s linked to Malmo in southern Sweden by the Oresund Bridge. Indre By, the city's historic center, contains Frederiksstaden, an 18th-century rococo district, home to the royal family’s Amalienborg Palace. Nearby is Christiansborg Palace where heavy construction work was going on. Rosenborg Castle, where Crown Jewels are displayed is surrounded by spectacular gardens. Most of the above sights came into view while we walked from one end of the city to the other. We saw the changing of the guards in front of Christianborg palace and entered its beautiful chapel where royal weddings and baptisms take place. The church and the palace were affected by big fires twice and were rebuilt afterward. Copenhagen is expansive and wide with well-spaced outbuildings dating back to the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Old architecture is renewed, strengthened, and retained. A lot of these old buildings are used for official purposes. Since Denmark did not have easy access to stone, brick and mortar were mostly used for castles and churches. The courteous and not overtly solicitous approach of the people, which I concluded to be common to all Scandinavian countries, was evident everywhere in the city. It is inbred in their culture to be polite and somewhat stoic. They are practical and helpful. Almost everyone speaks clear English. This aspect made our movement there easy and comfortable. We could ask for directions from anyone on the way and they stopped and assisted. Likewise in shops and restaurants, most people were solicitous.

The city is full of statues, churches, palaces, and big boulevards. Cycling is a big part of the commute for people. Families cycling together with young children in attachments or in separate bicycles is such a pleasurable sight. We made a trip to Malmo in Sweden on the train that ran on Oresund bridge which is an engineering marvel connecting the Danish capital to the quaint town in Sweden. The bridge runs nearly 8 km to an artificial island where it transitions into a tunnel that runs another 4 km. The award-winning double-track railway and motorway opened on July 1, 2000. Walking around in Malmo was a splendid experience. It is a quaint picturesque town. The next day we decided to see the royal summer palace of Fredensborg and the castle of Fredericksburg. Both were in the same direction on the train towards the island of Zealand. Our personal young guide, my friend's daughter, who joined us from Geneva, was our commander in chief. Google map in hand she marched ahead and all we had to do was to follow this lovely girl. A change of trains at a couple of places and we reached the town of Fredensborg. While we were trying to figure out which way to turn, I went ahead and did what we have been doing so far when in doubt. I approached a pleasant looking lady to ask about the palace. Guess what she did! She walked with us all the way till the junction from where we could just go straight to Fredensborg palace. She chatted all the way to us. She was an American married to a Dane. She was on her way to pick up her daughter from school. She had lived in that picturesque town for 7 years, where she led a contented life, with occasional visits to the US. She even told us that she suffered from epilepsy and had to be careful especially when she travelled. She pointed out the one and only Indian restaurant in the town and said they ate there once a week. We wished her well and said goodbye at the turning where she led us and walked towards the palace. When the mansion unravelled in front of us while we walked towards it through its spectacular garden, is something which will stay with me forever. The Present queen lived in the palace for extended periods of time. In 2004 the prince and his bride took permanent residence there. They also live alternately in the Amalienborg palace in Copenhagen. The Baroque-style palace is used for important events in the lives of the Royal Family, such as weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays, and the Queen also receives Heads of State from all over the world at Fredensborg. The Palace Gardens are among the largest historical gardens in the country. The part of the garden nearest the palace, the Reserved Garden, is the Royal Family's private area. We looked at it from afar and saw the guards in their blue uniforms standing in attention. However, in July, the Reserved Garden, the Vegetable Garden, the Orangery and the palace itself are open to the public. Now we headed to Frederiksborg castle. Back to the station and off to Hillerod where we got off to find a way to get to the castle. Again at the bus stop where we stood looking at our map, a stocky gentleman with a twinkle in his eye approached us and said, 'I am your man, would you like to come with me?' We were taken aback and just stood there not knowing what to say. He was clearly enjoying this. Then he said, 'I am your driver'. He took a moment to let that sink in, then he said, 'I saw you looking at your map and gathered you were going to the Fredericksburg Castle. I am driving the bus that goes there. So please come with me.' We were stunned and thrilled at the same time. Couldn't believe people like him existed. A young woman came to us and started to talk. She was mentally challenged. Very sweet and innocent. She introduced herself and said she liked to ride with this driver. She always went home on his bus. And he said she was his favorite passenger. It warmed our hearts to hear this. It definitely made my day! We went on his bus and said goodbye to our new friends when our stop came. I just couldn't help but shake hands with him. It was an honor to meet a man like him. A short walk and the beautiful Castle, straight out of a fairy tale with turrets and spires came into view. Apparently, Shakespeare set his story of Hamlet in this palace. With waves from the surrounding waters crashing on its banks, the red brick Frederiksborg Palace is situated on three islets in the castle lake in Hillerød, north of Copenhagen. The palace, which is enveloped by the beautiful royal Gardens was built in the Dutch Renaissance style at the beginning of the 1600s by King Christian IV. This magnificent structure is overwhelming to look at. We walked around it and went to the rocky banks close to the water. It was picturesque and stunning. We stood there a while to absorb it all. We went back to our hotel exhausted. After a shower and rest, we went out for dinner. This was our last day together after a wonderful holiday. One last gallivant in the lively streets of Copenhagen and we celebrated our grand finale in an Italian joint with pasta and wine. Early morning the next day our young friend left for Geneva and we left soon after. Our way back was from Copenhagen to Helsinki and then onward to Bangalore through Doha. At Helsinki, we spent the night in sleeping pods at the airport. That was a new experience for us. We had plenty of time at both the airports to browse and buy. A great trip indeed. A holiday that will stay with me forever. A good few days well spent.

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