Sunday 12th February, 2017 – Copenhagen, Day 2
Again it was a bitterly cold day with a fierce wind blowing from somewhere out over the Siberian Steppes, the temperature hovering around -5ºC but with clear blue skies all round. Even so it was not a day to be outdoors. We’d got a couple of items pencilled in for the day with a booking on the free guided tour of Parliament, at 13:00 and a booking for coffee and cake in the cafe in the tower at 15:00, an apparently surefire way to beat the queues and get the view off the top. We decided we’d nose around the rest of Christiansborg Slot either side of the timed items but that first we’d walk around Vor Frue Kirke and stop for a hot drink. Sunday morning may not be the best timing to try and get into a church and Copenhagen’s de facto Cathedral seemed to be busy with a service. It’s very austere as are the old university buildings (founded in 1479 so I felt vaguely entitled to mutter about Johnny-come-Latelies, though I didn’t really mean it – it’s not their fault they were late to the party compared to my alma mater). Outside it’s also very quiet, at least on Sunday mornings…
Afraid of Cafe Norden’s giant food portions, we managed to snag seats in the Cafe Europa on the opposite side of the square and warmed ourselves up with hot chocolate and a few minutes indoors before heading over the road to Christiansborg, where we enquired what there was to see. Some minutes later we had tickets for the Royal Apartments, the ruins under the palace, the Royal Stables and the Royal Kitchens. Aparrrently the Chapel wasd also open that day, free of charge so it became a question of what do we do first.
We decided the ruins would come first as the entrance was just by the ticket office and so we descended into the remains of an earlier building. It soon became apparent that there were shades of Finland about this as the Danes too seem to be good at building stuff only to have it all burn down, though this, the remains of a wall from Bishop Absalon’s castle from the 11th century, didn’t apparently meet that particular fate, they just became old-fashioned. The palace itself has fallen victim to this more than once it seems. Damned careless you might think, though at least in this instance it was less to do with wooden structures and more to do with pipes and culverts in the walls that simply channeled any conflgration through the building faster than the firefighters could cope with. An informative short video in fact tells the tale of the final (or at least most recent) destruction, which occurred in 1884, and led to the discovery of the ruins, and the building of the palace as it stands today.
We didn’t quite manage to complete the tour but we needed to move on to the Parliament tour and had been expressly told to allow an extra 15 minutes for security checks.
Bags and coats scanned and then squirreled away we set off on a fascinating 45 minute tour of the parliament, a must for fans of Borgen or for that matter anyone with an interest in Danish politics. Of particular interest was some of the fine decoration, especially the frieze that runs round the hallway. The artist by all accounts took a dim view of politicians, and there is some pointed use of symbolism (such as a slug to indicate how long it takes to get anything done by politicians), some of it humourous, some of it just very dark.
It was also interesting to see the portraits of Prime Ministers (they only get one go at having a portrait) and of the various Speakers. Our guide pointed out that although they have a woman Speaker now, her portrait is not yet in place amonth the other Speakers. This is because she is still in post. Apparently “we only hang their portraits here once we’re sure they won’t be bothering us again!”
I was particularly amused by the old press gallery, complete with a message tube that stories could be placed into, cannoned off to an office, and take by delivery boy to the newspaper offices around Copenhagen.
The chamber itself is most impressive, and we were allowed to sit in the vistors’ gallery (though not the Royal seats).
However, most impressive was the cabinet containing various iterations of the Constitution.
It was an illuminating and interesting visit, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Even more remarkable is that it’s completely free. We moved on briefly via the Royal Stables, but given my allergy to horses I knew the time I could spend in there was going to be limited if I wanted to breathe for the rest of the day. There are some very fine horses (as far as I can tell anyway) in there, some of them quite keen to make friends with their visitors.
There are also numerous royal coahes of various degrees of seriousness and spendidness. And all this now looked after by just 6 grooms!
With my airways starting to close up, we beat a hasty retreat back into the open air and round to the Royal Chapel, a more recent fire victim. In 1992 it fell victim to a stray firework, and the damage was considerable. You would not know it to see it now, the reconstruction having been completed with great sensitivity.
Considering the difficulties involved (there were no surviving architectural plans of the dome or roof construction, and the architectural archaeologists involved were faced with a forensic job to record all the charred bits before they could try and figure out how to reconstruct the building) it’s a miracle it only took 5 years to complete the job. It’s quite amazing that it still exists, frankly.
Next stop – this was all getting a bit whistle-stoppish – was the Tårnet, newly opened to the public in 2016 and offering excellent views over Copenhagen, and across to Sweden. Now it’s not especially tall at just 106 metres, but it is one of the taller structures in Copenhagen, and again it’s free to go up. Now this means there are queues, so as with – for example, the Reichstag in Berlin – the answer is simple. Book a table in the restaurant, in this instance the restaurant Bojesen. We booked in for afternoon coffee and cakes and so leapfrogged the queue to shoot straight to the restaurant level, where expensive coffees and tiny, exquisitely delicate cakes were on offer.
It’s an impressive space too, the ceilings high and airy, and while most of the tables don’t have a view of the outside world, it’s no less pleasant a place for a stop despite that. And afterwards we took ourselves to the top, via what had been a lumber room, now full of odd items including a whimsical art installation designed to “bring back the pigeons” to the tower.
Once on the top the howling gale was much in evidence, so we didn’t stay long. The views are worth it though, even across to Malmo via the Oresund Bridge (a must for fans of The Bridge of course).
Before we got blown off the top, we headed back down the lift and decided we had both enough time and enough energy to visit the Royal Reception rooms. Now this could have been just a collection of anodyne rooms, but it’s anything but, partly because of the stunning details, the light fittings and the art appealing to me in particular.
However, what really stopped us in our tracks were the tapestries in the main reception hall. These are modern works full of colour, designed by Bjørn Nørgaard. In effect they provide a history of Denmark over the last 1100 years, including much reference to events in the wider world. They were made by weavers from Manufactures Nationales des Gobelins et de Beauvais and took ten years to complete, and they are stunning. The colours are intense, and the detail unbelievable. Also, where else would you find Churchill, Groucho Marx and the Beatles,among others, all in the same picture?
Needless to say I had to buy the accompanying book, which would make getting my luggage home a lot more complicated than it might have been… Oh well!
And so back to the hotel for a rest before heading out for dinner. This time the choice was Uformel, about which I’d heard a lot of good things.
Because we’d done enough decision making during the day we decided the Uformel Experience would be the answer, four courses with a wine pairing and water included and the restaurant could do the work while we sat back and enjoyed the atmosphere. It’s quite closely packed with tables, but none the worse for that, and the diners were a very mixed bunch, with young families, older couples and young lovers all cheek by jowl in a very trendy room with lots of gold and reflective surfaces. However, you can’t eat decor. So what about the food? As usual it turned out to be rather more than just four plates!
While we enjoyed a glass of Champagne, we were brought some “snacks”, in the shape of a garlicky dip, some lovely ham, and some of the lightest, crispest “pork scratchings” imaginable. I don’t like pork scratchings, really I don’t. But I loved these!
Next they brought us bread and like all the bread I’ve eaten in Denmark so far, it was glorious stuff, with a crunch to its crust and a lovely, chewy interior. You could exist on Danish bread alone quite happily I reckon.
Except we didn’t have to. The first dish delivered by the kitchen was scallops with pickled green strawberries, and a splash of olive oil. A lovely, fresh dish, the scallops just right. It was going well so far.
The brill that came next was accompanied by crisp lettuce, chicken and crouton. The chicken skin was perfectly crisp and the fish cooked to perfection.
Someone in that kitchen knows what they’re about.
Next up was a brilliant beef tartar with beetroot, a popular combination in these parts, and clearly in Copenhagen kitchens too.
As if that were not enough meat, we now had Danish lamb with watercress, green tomatoes and grilled leeks, along with a lovely crunchy crumb. This was a tremendously meating dish, packing a punch of flavour, with the leeks so small as to look like spring onions, mild in flavour but off-setting the iron of the pink-cooked meat. Lovely!
All that remained was dessert, a sort of deconstructed apple crumble, with a frozen vanilla cream disk sitting on top of the fruit and crumb.
It was lighter than we’d feared and finished the job perfectly, meaning we could still walk away at the end of the meal, rather than feeling like we needed to be wheeled!