Alas, Poor Yorick

Helsingør and Humlebæk, Denmark
August 2015

Alas, poor Yorick, the Englishman isn’t happy. There’s a line for the tickets at Kronborg Castle. We’ve been standing here for five minutes. There’s only one window open.

“The organization is abysmal,” he complains to his wife. “If you want people’s money, you’ve got to make it quick.”

I thought the British were happy with queues.

After about a ten-minute wait, the man and his wife reach the window. And that’s when a woman opened the second window, and I got my ticket before they did.

Kronborg Castle in Helsingør was the model for Elsinore, the castle of Hamlet’s father in the Shakespeare play. It’s a tall, stone structure set on a hill overlooking the channel between Denmark and Sweden. Denmark’s kings often stayed here, although it was never the main palace. Whenever they visited, they brought all their furniture, people, and infrastructure — even the queen’s pet bird. It was a far cry from the drama.

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Olivier as Hamlet, at Kronborg Castle

As it happens, I’m visiting on the last day of the annual Shakespeare festival, where Hamlet and other plays are performed in the castle’s courtyard each evening. Richard Burton, John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer, Kenneth Branagh, and Laurence Olivier have played Hamlet here. But then, so has Jude Law, so you can’t have everything.

When you visit, make sure to see the casement under the castle, where Holgar the Dane sleeps, waiting to awaken to protect his country from the Swedes. Very dramatic.

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Holgar the Dane

It’s been a beautiful day for a road trip, or more accurately, a train trip into the countryside. It’s a warm, sunny afternoon. The sky is as blue as it gets. On the battlements outside the castle, I look out on ferries and fishing boats plying the waters off this northeastern tip of Denmark. Down by the shore, some people are fishing in shorts and rolled-up trousers. Families bask in the sun, and a few brave children shriek happily as they wade in the shallow water.

And look over there: I can see Sweden from Hamlet’s castle.

Helsingør’s sister city, Helsingborg, Sweden, is a short ferry ride away. Sweden is no longer a threat. Holgar can stand down in his crypt.

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Sweden

From Helsingør, I take the train down to Humlebæk, a quaint town of small, two-story cottages and village coffee and ice cream shops. Down a long country road, I walk toward the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. One doesn’t associate modern art with the country, with what seems like a traditional place by the seaside. But that’s Denmark for you.

Arriving at what appears to be a large estate, I’m soon in a world of Warhols and Picassos, situated along up-and-down corridors and broad rooms. Along the wooden wing, there is a special exhibition on Africa’s urban spaces, art, and media, with paintings, music, video, and spoken word installations by artists from throughout the continent. Another exhibit showcases urban buildings and attempts to create sustainable housing for the poor.

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Gardens, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Outside in the glorious gardens, there are odd sculptures in the woods and in the grass. Rounding a bend, I come upon the terrace, looking down on a vast grass field where hundreds of people are picnicking and getting some sun. Beyond the field is the sea. Sailboats swoosh along the waves, driven by a strong, warm wind. Some people on a dock are waiting for their turn to dive into the icy water. Maybe it just seems to me as if it would be icy.

It’s easy to give in to such simple pleasures, to find my place in the grass, and lie back in the sun.

Tomorrow …

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