The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, October 7, 2001

Of fairytale images and fuss-free royalty
Shona Adhikari

Open sandwiches, a Danish culinary delight
Open sandwiches, a Danish culinary delight

BROUGHT up like other children of our time on the fascinating fairytales written by master story-teller Hans Christian Andersen, I had always yearned to visit his country, Denmark. A film on his life that I saw in my childhood only helped to fire my imagination even further. It was, however, many many years later that I was able to visit Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and see the famous statue of The Little Mermaid, the heroine of one of my favourite fairytales.

The flight from London to Copenhagen took only 2 hours, and my stay in the city lasted only 24 hours, but this all-too-short visit, has remained clearly etched in my mind ever since.

On reaching Copenhagen around 9 a.m, I checked into a hotel, where I was welcomed, would you believe it, by a Danish-born Indian receptionist! Guided by her, I managed to pack in an amazing amount of sight-seeing in one day, including a visit to the Royal Danish Opera, to experience a once-in-a-lifetime experience — a performance of La Traviata, where I even managed to do a namaste to the Danish Queen!

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A country with remarkable natural beauty, Denmark offers 7,500 kilometres of coastline, and sandy beaches lapped by clean sparkling seas. One of the most beautiful cities in the world, royal Copenhagen with its wonderful mixture of old and new, has solved the problem of air pollution by simply forbidding auto traffic through many of its streets. Much of the city centre is thus open only to pedestrian traffic.

A child climbs on to a statue of Hans Christian Andersen in a park
A child climbs on to a statue of Hans Christian Andersen in a park

This attention to environment can be glimpsed throughout the country, and though many visitors may be on business, there are as many visitors who are attracted by its beauty. A country that is spread over barely 16,630 square miles, it has a population of 5.2 million, making it one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. Copenhagen, the capital accounts for over 1.5 million people, but the amazing part is that Denmark is visited by over 5 million tourists every year, almost as many as this tiny country’s population.

Naturally, the first thing I did was to look for the city’s most famous landmark, The Little Mermaid, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s poignant fairytale. But following instructions, I first took a taxi to the Amalienborg Palace, the stately home of the Danish Queen. Reaching there by 11.30 a.m., I was just in time to catch the changing of the royal guards. The earlier royal residence, Christiansborg Castle, was destroyed in a fire and the Danish royalty has lived at Amalienborg Palace since the 1790s.

From here, it was a short walk to the harbour, and as I walked on I suddenly came across Denmark’s most famous landmark. The beautiful bronze figure of the Little Mermaid seated on a rock was smaller than I had imagined it, but exquisite nevertheless, as she sat gazing out at the sea. It was created by sculptor Edward Ericsen and donated to the city in 1813 by famous brewer Carl Jacobsen of the Calsberg dynasty.

My next stop was the Royal Theatre located on Kongens Nytorv, one of the city’s most important squares. While it was the Royal Danish Ballet that I had hoped to see, I was happy to settle for opera, when I discovered that La Traviata was being performed that evening. I had been warned that these tickets were usually sold many months earlier, but I was determined to try, hoping that perhaps seeing me in my Indian salwar-kameez, someone may decide to give me a ticket. I was lucky to find there were these five empty seats on the second row, right in the middle, behind what appeared to be a sofa. Little did I know that this was the royal box, and that was the reason why no one had bought the seats located just behind it. In addition, the ticket that I bought appeared amazingly cheap. However, as far as I was concerned, I was delighted to be able to get a ticket to the opera!

A woman making replicas of The Little Mermaid
A woman making replicas of The Little Mermaid

Mission accomplished, my next stop was the Calsberg Glyptotek, a magnificent museum dating back to 1882. Yes, the name gives it away, this is another of the sights donated to the city by Carl Jacobsen and his wife Ottilia. This wonderful museum houses a large collection of 19th and 20th century art and sculpture. There are separate sections for eastern, Greek, Italian and Egyptian art. A huge place, I was unable to see all of it.

It was past lunch time and I decided to head towards the famous Tivoli Gardens. A 20-acre garden where thousands of flowers bloom year round, it is undoubtedly a most beautiful place to spend a few hours. In the crisp cool air, the sun was welcome, and I found a table with a chequered table cloth at one of the innumerable snack bars and restaurants that dot the gardens. A sandwich, a slice of delicious chocolate cake and coffee was what I settled for. (It cost me more than I had bargained for).

By this time, I was quite tired, and remembering that there was an opera that I had to attend later, decided to go back to the hotel. After a nap, and a dinner of one of Denmark’s culinary delights — Danish open sandwiches — I took a bus to the Royal Theatre. I had been warned that the opera would go on till at least 11.30 p.m. or even later, and that if I missed the right bus, I might have to make a 10-minute walk back to the hotel. When I showed some nervousness about returning alone so late, I was informed that I would be completely safe, even if I was the only person on the street at the time.

I reached the theatre well in time and settled in my seat, absolutely thrilled to finally have the opportunity of attending a real-life opera. Just before the curtains rose, a group of four came in and took the seats in front of me. I only managed to get a glimpse of a lady in a red gown with a tiara on her head. But before I could take it all in, the lights were dimmed, and I gave myself up to enjoying the opera.

During the interval, the group in front, got up to walk out and the lady in red smiled and nodded at me and I decided to stand up and do a namaste. She looked vaguely familiar, but I had absolutely no idea that I had just greeted Queen Margarethe of Denmark. It was when I went out to the foyer for a cup of coffee that I discovered who she was. I was most impressed at the lack of fuss and the ease with which the Danish royalty conducts itself. When the Queen came back after the interval, she once again smiled at me before she settled down in her seat — no doubt somewhat intrigued at seeing an Indian at the opera. As far as I was concerned, meeting the Queen of Denmark, was the crowning glory of a most memorable trip!