Wednesday, 5 August 2015


The trains are delectable. Set on wide tracks, they are smooth-running, quiet, fast, clean, and even when crowded they have enough space to keep you relaxed. The carriages are designated for (eg) bikes, dogs, quiet zones, etc. the doors are prefaced with steps which do actually make it easier to step in or out, unlike our scary/irritating trains at home which are awkward at best and frightening at worst – especially for anyone with sight or movement difficulties. Tickets are bought from 7-11 shops which operate at every station we have so far seen.
We breakfasted at our little gite in the garden in bright warm sunshine, sitting at a large circular concrete table to eat our muesli and orange-flavoured yoghurt. Andrew picked this up from the store thinking it was fruit juice. Oranges are called Appelsin, which is confusing. Our breakfast was attended by sparrows – they are numerous along the beach due to the numbers of pizzas eaten by the happy gangs of teenagers who cavort and splosh and play in the waters. They have had a cold summer so far – this warm spell has come late, and the young are making the most of it, as are the sparrows.
I made a little painting of the fig and vine growing in ‘our’ conservatory – v pleased w the work, and only later realising I’d worked on the back of a drawing of Derek Steele’s Jack Russell Hans. Bah!
Then we caught the train to Helsingør, the Elsinore of Hamlet, ferry-port to Sweden at this pinch-point of the two coastlines…. The ferries run every 15 minutes to Swedish Elsingborg, and the journey takes about 20 minutes – a big watery competitive efficient bus service. Our bit of ocean is the most easterly of three outflows (rivers?) leaving the Baltic towards the North Sea. They are sea-swarmed rivers in effect – maybe the water is slightly less salty than the seas further north. The tides are minimal here - a metre at most. When the Vikings first spilled out from this region they knew nothing of tides, which came as a great surprise and mystery. Those three waterways are represented in the ancient logo of Royal Copenhagen porcelain – three squiggly lines. The two further west are entirely inside Denmark; this easterly one has an international boundary along the middle.
Helsingør station is worth a few moments of anyone’s time to take a squint at: high coffered ceiling in the main central hall, multi-coloured marble stairway, panelled walls, all  reminiscent of royal apartments, and (although referring back to some splendid late-medieval era which perhaps never existed) it’s a full-on, plumptious late 19th century bit of swank. Shakespeare has proved to be a good friend of this bit of Denmark.  Gorgeous.
Outside, the light is shimmering, the old dock spaces cleared away, the rival ferry services side by side just across the road, the tourist office near to hand, the medieval town hunkered down behind you, the Mariekirk - with Buxtehude memorial and fine organ case two minutes away, all of red brick, and complete with cloister, dating from 1540 in its origins, Carmelite then and now solidly Danish, with a patch of history as a haven for the halt and lame about 200 years ago.
Round to the old dockyards, with the Kronborg (Hamlet’s castle now covered in twiddles and dormers, and set into a Vauban-style fortification of zigzag brickwork) just over there. Some old 1930s dock-buildings have been done up. Here is a cultural centre – which won the accolade of Best Library in Europe this year. And here are some cafes and a theatre settled behind a remarkable glass zigzag wall, disguising the workaday offices behind it. Here are some elegant snub-ended docks with historic vessels moored up. And here, set into a huge sunken, stone-and-concrete dry dock is a brand-new subterranean museum of seafaring, approached down a gentle steel ramp, and leading through a brilliantly designed history of sailors and the sea. Children, mariners, travellers, historians, artists, film-makers, boat-builders, costume-makers, writers, navigators, everyone would find things here to amuse and enlighten them. Among the dozens of beautifully displayed artefacts I liked very much those model ships whose namesakes were lost at sea during WWII – they are shown in a near-vertical position, perfect in every detail, lit as they spiral downwards to the bottom in eerie greenish light, heading for eternity in the deep. Very moving. The story comes along to the present day with the arrival of those huge container shops which trudge around the world full of modern necessities (junk, mostly, no?). The models of all the boats are mounted in glass cases, and the bottom sections of the displays show the typical cargoes – coal, suitcases for passenger ships, grain, tyres, trainers. The very last section is dedicated to modern-day sailors, both sexes, who are mostly young and cheerful, and explain that when they’re at sea, they long to be at home, and vice versa. They all know how dangerous the sea is, but they love it. ‘It’s addictive’, says one.
We lunched in a tiny courtyard garden of an Italian café (blessed salad), did a bit of shopping, then took the ferry ….
My first visit to Sweden was very pleasant, and lasted 2 hours. It’s remarkable how different it is – signage, sounds, what people look like, all the little cultural aspects.
The main reason for this prosperous ferry is the tax-differential on alcohol. Our journey to Sweden was crammed with Swedes towing huge trolling full of booze, like the Brits at Calais.
Our boat was called Hamlet. These are about one fifth the size of our Dover/Calais ferries but otherwise equipped just the same. The captain’s announcements are very funny – you can only buy alcohol in Danish waters. And you can only buy tobacco in Swedish waters – the border being halfway across on this minuscule voyage. His pronunciation of the words ‘only’ and ‘hope’ are marvellously antiquated and hilarious – something like ‘hape’ and ‘anely’. The crossings are neat and swift. We bought an ice-cream, called Glass.
We came home on that reassuring train, showered and rested, and I made another painting in this pretty Japanese garden. Bente’s sister Klar came to collect us, and we walked along the beach to their soon-to-be-sold house, for supper and laughs, and a huge storm came up from the south. We ran home as the first great blobs of water hit the still-warm pavements, and fell into bed as the rains hit the glass ceiling of our little quarters.

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