To be or not to be… In Helsingor

Why go to Helsingor? Well, for one, everyone’s doing it and we all know how I am about peer pressure! But really, the more important reason, is that even the castle in Helsingor, which is actually called Kronborg, is real, but it’s much more well know for a fictional tale set there, that of Hamlet, by one W. Shakespeare.

Now here’s the fun part… getting there. It’s one of the closest places between Denmark and Sweden, only like four kilometers, and the town on the Swedish side is called Helsingborg, so don’t think that wasn’t confusing! But anyway, there’s a ferry which goes across between the two villages every twenty minutes or so and you can get a pass called “Around the Sound,” which basically lets you go from Copenhagen to Helsingor – Helsingborg to Malmo, all around for two days from the first time you use it. It’s like the Stockholm card in that respect. But you’re only supposed to travel in one direction around, so theoretically you get one ferry ride and one over the bridge transport. No problem.

Kronborg from the water

As you can probably guess, I got one of these passes. Of course, I paid no attention to the fine print and headed by train up to Helsingborg to take the ferry across. It was a short ride, nothing like the ferry to Putgarten, but then, really, what is? The nice thing was that the guy didn’t mark my ticket in anyway so I was pretty sure I could ride the ferry back, which is what I was intending to do.

Pulling into the harbor, the castle overwhelms the city. It’s huge and imposing. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find, so I asked directions. I felt slightly silly when the guy at the train station (which was adjacent to the ferry station) said you go out the door, turn right and walk. It was hard to miss.

So I did. Pretty much as long as you could see it, you knew where you were going. I walked along the waterfront (where,

Don't drive over the wall...
Don’t drive over the wall

evidently, they don’t like cars going into the drink) until finally I got to the castle. The sky was threatening but so far, it hadn’t unleashed its fury. So I quickly went in and bought my complete ticket package, which included the royal apartments, the casements, the chapel, and the tower/marine museum. I also wanted to do a bit of wandering outside, which was free. So I paid for my tickets (which was actually just one ticket with perforations on all four corners, each to come off as you saw the corresponding sight) and went out into the courtyard (which was set up for that evening’s open air performance of Romeo and Juliet) to decide on my course of action. I figured to do the casements first. The underground areas, storerooms and guard quarters seemed like the best place to begin a castle tour.

Inside, as the self-guided tour started, there was a vending machine. I went to see what it was selling, wondering what kind of a product would make sense in an otherwise empty room. It was just one thing – flashlights. Small ones, batteries included. Naw, I thought. My eyes are fine. I can watch my step and see what there is to see. So I headed into the caves.

"Holger Danske sleeps here"Four minutes later I was back, digging through my pockets for the 20 Kroner to get my very own pocket LED battery powered light. Inside the caves, there were few areas of illuminations and none of the exhibits had any type of lighting, so if you wanted to know what the pictures on the walls were of, you needed your own. Okay, there was one exhibit which had light, and that was the statue of Holger Danske, a kind of King Arthur figure (in fact, Arthur probably stems from him, as do a number of legends around the world) of the sleeping King who will arise when his country needs him – so far Denmark’s been pretty

Really nice Shadow self-portrait
Really nice Shadow self-portrait in the casements

lucky and he’s still asleep down here. Further on into the casements were areas of utter darkness where they had stuck random wax figures. This was scarier than any haunted house! It was absolutely creepy and, to be perfectly honest, my little 3xAAA powered push button light wasn’t doing much in the department of keeping the monsters away. I made it through, sanity intact, although I did wonder about the guards who had had to live down there before the age of electricity. I know they had torches and such but still… creepy! As I made my way back up the ramp towards ground level, I pondered which of my three remaining visits I would use next.

My choice was made for me when, as I stepped outside, the sky opened up and buckets of rain decided to fall. Exploring the grounds was going to have to wait, as was the tower (which, really, was just the roof of the highest point of the castle). So the Royal Apartments it was. The apartments were interesting in that they were a mix of historical furnishings, Shakespearean history and contemporary art – a special exhibit was going on with modern artists using the historical as their launch point for new works. It was all quite interesting , especially the

Original Tapestry...
Original Tapestry…

historical perspective of where Hamlet came from. Unfortunately, I don’t remember all the details, but the basic plot derived from a Danish writer and that was the only reason for setting the play in Elsinor. There

Modern interpretation!
Modern interpretation!

really was no other reason. In fact, there’s no reason to believe Shakespeare himself ever set foot in the castle. Most of what he knew about it, the historical details he put into the play, could easily have come from sailors who used to use the port as a trading area. So basically, the shipyards were the medieval Wikipedia.

After the apartments, it was still raining so I went to the chapel. Not the most impressive, I will say. It was one room and the only thing it really had going for it were ornate pew headers. Certainly not worth a separate admission. Honestly, it would have been a nice

In the chapel
In the chapel

gimme to visitors to let them see the chapel for free, you know, give something back (and you can tell them I said so).

The weather still hadn’t let up but I didn’t have anywhere else to go so up into the maritime museum I went. As a museum, it was okay. Some interesting tidbits but mostly it was model ships or Danish origin. The tower entrance was about halfway into the museum and, luckily, by the time I got to the top (again with the circular, narrow staircase) the rain had stopped so I was treated

From the tower...
From the tower…

to some spectacular views of the bay and the castle grounds. And since the rain HAD stopped, I figured when I went down, I could finally do some exploring of said grounds, which I did.

You have to admit, if you were a medieval king, you could do worse than living here. You had the ocean on one side, a nice town on the other and people paying to come through in either direction. Not a bad way to survive.

I decided it was getting late so I decided to hit the gift shop then head for home. I’m glad I went to the gift shop in the castle,

The Castle walls...
The Castle walls…

though, rather than waiting until I got into Helsingor since all the shops there specialized in alcohol and there wasn’t a Hamlet souvenir ashtray to found anywhere.

When I got back to Malmö, Malin and I went out for dinner to do a bit of translating for my project and then we riffed on magic and just chatted well into the evening (not the best idea since she had an early morning gig).

2 thoughts on “To be or not to be… In Helsingor

  1. That’s why I always carry a flashlight bright enough to spotlight the moon, cuz…you know, just in case I go to a dark castle in Denmark.

  2. funny, i should have told u to check out the town around Helsingor; i had a lovely conversation with the waiter at a Chinese restaurant who said he wanted to move to the U.S. because he felt too short living in Denmark! It’s an ethnically interesting city, more Middle Eastern immigrants…

    re castle: i made it without the flashlight! tho very scary! 🙂

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