Hamlet's hamlet

The great danes

Hamlet's hamlet
It is Act 5, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “I am more an antique Roman than a Dane,” says Horatio to his friend Hamlet, as the Prince of Denmark lies on the ground poisoned after a duel. Horatio wants to die along with him, but Hamlet denies him death, asking him instead to narrate his story to the world.

So, here I am in a large hall, listening intently to Horatio’s narration as he finally transports us to the last scene of the tragedy that takes place in the Kronborg castle in Elsinore, Denmark. Hamlet has avenged his father’s death by killing his uncle but he lies there, lifeless, poisoned by his opponent, Laertes’s sword. Laertes is killed as well. The room in the castle suddenly transforms in front of me into an arena where duels were fought and as the theatre of the mind plays out, the mood is melancholic. Horatio ends his narration poignantly, “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince.”

Drama in the air

It is this moment that defines my trip to Denmark. For years, I have dreamt of visiting Hamlet’s castle, also known as Kronborg, at Helsingor or Elsinore where Shakespeare had set his play. Located at the Danish coast across Sweden, the Renaissance castle surrounded by canons was built by King Frederick II in 16th century. Destroyed by fire, it was eventually rebuilt by King Christian IV.

An aura of drama surrounds it as the overcast clouds suddenly vanish and the blue sky spreads itself over the massive castle. Standing below this UNESCO World Heritage Site and looking at it in awe, I meet my guide in the guise of Horatio who tells me that the original Hamlet was created even before Shakespeare by Saxo Grammaticus in his History of Danes. We do not know if Shakespeare visited the castle, but he probably imagined this towering fortress with its dark casements to be the ideal setting for the play. Horatio takes us around the castle, narrating scenes from the play, as we move from the dark and dingy casements where the ghost was sighted to the royal chambers, the large ball room, the banquet hall and the chapel.

It is not just the ghost of Hamlet’s father who frequented the vaults. We hear of the legendary Danish hero, Holger Danske, who chose to sleep here undisturbed until he was called upon to fight the enemy. A sculpture shows him sleeping here with his arms crossed and his hand resting on his sword.

The weather changes and it begins to rain as we head to another Renaissance Castle built 500 years ago. Denmark is dotted with fortresses and I am on the road, on a day trip from Copenhagen, lost in an era of kings and knights.

Standing in front of me in Hillerod is the largest Renaissance castle in all of Scandinavia — Frederiksborg Castle. By now, I have learnt that almost every opulent monument here is attributed to the kings, Frederik II or Christian IV. And so it is with this grand edifice that stands like a large ship on three islets on Palace Lake. Each and every room is an ode to grandeur. Larger than life portraits adorn the wall and colourful paintings the ceiling. We look through the window towards the lush garden which is drenched in rain. The castle is now a museum of National History and it has been rebuilt after it was destroyed in a fire. But one part of the castle survived and it is the breathtaking Palace Church which takes you to the era of Christian IV.

We are on the road again, but on the way, we stop by for high tea at the Kokkedal Castle, a 300-year-old edifice in white surrounded by lush grasslands. It was once the home of the nobility, but now the charming hotel is a wedding destination with a luxuriant golf course and a spa. I am, however, intrigued by the seductive paintings on the walls of the castle cellar restaurant, which I am told are sound-proof.

The hot spots

Back in Copenhagen, we are charmed by this ancient city steeped in a medieval stupor. Christian IV was charmed by the canals of Amsterdam and he let them flow around his capital. My aimless stroll comes to an end at the most picturesque part of the city — rainbow coloured townhouses stacked next to each other stand on the banks of the canal with wooden boats lined against them. I stand on the bridge and gaze at the Nyhavn, where sailors used to meet many centuries ago. A picture post card cannot do justice to it. Bars and cafés liven up the atmosphere here. I sip a cup of cappuccino and watch life pass me by.

The best way to explore the city is on a cruise and we take the Grand Canal Tour and sail past some of the narrowest and oldest bridges in the city. We gaze in awe at the Christiansborg Palace housing the Parliament, the dragon spired old stock market , the newly-designed Opera House, the Michelin-starred Noma Restaurant — all located within the two main parts of the city — Christianshavn of Christian IV and Frederiksstaden of Frederik V. There are palaces in every corner — besides the Christiansborg Palace you can see the Amalienborg Palace, the royal residence. The Marble Church stands framed against the sky. Surrounding me are guides offering tours on bikes or on comfortable rickshaws.

Many moods

I continue walking for a while and I stumble upon an ancient fortress which is called the Citadel or the Kastellet. The bright buildings are painted in bold strokes of yellow and red. The murmurings of a lake greet me as a church lies on its banks. But it is the pretty windmill standing alone and afar on a little grassy mound that beckons me. I potter around aimlessly and reach the Gefion Fountain with a wishing well. As I close my eyes to wish, the scent of fresh waffles fill the air.

I continue strolling until I meet her. Besieged by tourists who are clamouring to take a picture of her, the Little Mermaid turns away, pining for her love, looking forlornly into the sea. Created by Hans Christian Anderson, the man who lived in a world of fairies and witches, the symbol of Denmark finally finds her man, who is not the prince she longs for, but is Han who sits in Elsinore or Helsingor and looks towards the castle of Kronborg.

It is time for dinner, but the sun is in no mood to call it a day, having been eclipsed by the dark rainy clouds earlier. We walk towards the Christiansborg Palace which houses the Danish Parliament, to have our meal. Nestled at a height of 106 metres above sea level, we are at The Tower or The Taarnet, a restaurant owned by chef and chocolatier, Rasmus Bo Bojosen. As we tuck in the delicious meal, with towering sculptures giving us company, the lights slowly come up in the city below us. I stand there by the door, looking down at Copenhagen below my feet, bathed in the glow of the night sky, as the stars glisten above. I cannot think of anything else surreal beyond this.

Fact file

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, was once a fishing village, but is now one of the most modern cities in the world known for its innovative design and architecture.

The city centre, however, is filled with an old world charm with palaces and castles dotting it. Spring and summer are the best times to visit, while winter has its own appeal with Christmas celebrations going on.

Accommodation varies from bed and breakfast to luxury hotels.

Besides Nordic cuisine, you get international food, including Indian. Cocktail bars, breweries, gourmet restaurants — night life is quite an appetizing experience in this city.

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