ROBINSON'S GRAND TOUR: NUMBER FOUR
(that is to say...GT4)
SKAGGERAK AND KATTEGAT
Now then....before you go any further, PLEASE NOTE...
Whatever date you think it is today, you're wrong. It's Thursday 16 April. I am only three days into my fourth Grand Tour and I'm sitting at the table in a smashing bed-and-breakfast in Ribe, in south-west Denmark. And I'm bemoaning the fact that something's gone horribly wrong.
For the first time ever, I'm drafting this blogposting on my brand new, all-singing, all-dancing iPad. In fact, it sings and dances so well I've called it Mata Hari.
Unfortunately - and perhaps inevitably - it shares that sad lady's propensity for perfidy, too. I can't find a way to upload photographs onto the blog. She simply won't let me do it. In fact, she won't even let me post any kind of blog at all, photos or not.
I know perfectly well the breathless anticipation you feel ahead of each blogposting. I also know that ogling the photos I take on my Grand Tours is what makes most truckshunters' lives worth living. Right now, though - on Thursday 16 April, in deepest rural Denmark - all I can do is take the photos and write the words. I'll have to wait till I get home to regale you with tales of my adventures...
So, if you will, think yourself back to that Thursday evening in Ribe...
***Speaking of Ribe...
It's only a small town - and a fairly remote one, at that. So it's unlikely that there are many people here who play the saxophone. In fact, I'm prepared to wager that there's only one. Namely, Torben Iversen.
Torben is a fine-looking middle-aged fellow who plays his instrument with gusto and verve, whenever he is asked to. And he was asked to this evening, as part of the 25th anniversary concert of the Ribe Town Choir - my attendance at which is about as esoteric and as local as you can get on a 'Grand Tour'.
I'd arrived here mid-afternoon and had spent a seriously blissful few hours exploring this amazing little town. Its beauty is not of the 'chocolate box' variety but instead transcends conventional assessment and forges a new scale of its own. Ribe's beauty verges on the truly serene.
My B&B is the low yellow building halfway down the street; it's where this blog was drafted
And that's how I ended up in the capacity audience tonight.
It was a great concert - their rendition of Lloyd-Webber's Pie Jesu was the only one I've ever actually liked.
But I'm sorry to say that the saxophone was a mistake. Saxophony, however heart-felt, just don't sound right trying to be serious and sacred...
By the way, Ribe is pronounced ree-buh, just in case you were wondering.
I'm typing this on my fourth evening in Denmark and my first away from Copenhagen. And whatever else I have to say about my first visit to Denmark, my Danish hosts would never forgive me if I didn't start my narrative by saying that today - April 16 - is the 75th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II.
When I walked through Copenhagen city centre from my hotel to the station this morning, the streets were bedecked with Danish flags, banners and pendants, the tv and radio crews were taking up their positions for the royal parade and everyone was smiling. So much for Danish reserve.
Part of an enormous video-wall dedicated to the Queen
Like the Dutch, Danish people have an obviously deep-seated and sincere love and affection for their royal family. To be honest, it's not difficult to see why - they're a talented, approachable and highly-educated bunch.
They sculpt, paint pictures, play musical instruments with skill and passion and even conduct whole orchestras. According to my old friend Brian, the Queen herself designs sets for the Royal Danish Ballet. They are keen on - and knowledgeable about - both art and science, give interviews freely and without prejudice, travel around the country a lot, are highly visible, enjoy a good laugh and suffer fools graciously.
What's not to like?
En meget tillykke med fødselsdagen til Hendes Majestæt!
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I've always wanted to visit Copenhagen and now that I've been, I can see how right I was to finally make the effort to get there. Even when it's cold and damp - like now - it's a charmer of a place; more self-consciously monumental than Amsterdam but a lot less smug and wrapped up in itself than, say, Paris or Berlin. Copenhagen seems to be happy knowing that it's important - but not that important.
Sometimes, in fact, you get the impression that it doesn't really know how to welcome the many visitors and sightseers it gets. For a start, you need a Tourist Information Office to find the Tourist Information Office, which (I remain convinced) does not actually exist.
And natural Danish reserve can easily be mistaken for po-faced disinterest. At first, it seems that all they want you to do is go and see the Little Mermaid (a temptation I resisted with surprising ease), buy a Danish pastry - then go away.
Copenhagen is the only place I've visited where explanatory map-panels in the street or in parks and gardens don't include a 'you are here' sticker, thus rendering them a lot less informative for confused visitors than they ought to be. (I have since discovered that this unhelpful phenomenon exists all over Denmark.)
But Copenhagen has a lot more to offer the ageing traveller even than its own citizens might suppose. On Tuesday, for example, I was able to have a first-in-a-lifetime experience that wasn't even on my bucket list. I travelled in a paternoster lift. My Secret Copenhagen book told me about it and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
Stepping into, and off of, an open, moving lift is unnerving enough. Holding on, fingers crossed, when it gets to the top (or the bottom) and changes sides is even more unsettling.
I enjoyed it so much that I went round four times.
Everyone in Denmark seems to speak grammatically correct, word-perfect English with a cut-glass Home Counties accent. Which is just as well, as everyday Danish is as impenetrable and as booby-trapped as I discovered French to be. A bog-handel is a bookshop, a tog is a train and mad is food (with its final d pronounced like the th in the).
I never found out what 'skindleggings' are but at £144, they must be pretty special
There was a language school just across the street from my hotel, opposite the large, friendly graffito you see at the top of this blog. On the lobby window, another linguistic mystery emerged. Amongst the list of tongues taught there - engelsk, fransk, russisk - was tysk. I had to ask a student what language tysk was. For some utterly unfathomable reason, tysk is what the Danes call German.
There are only two things you can't escape in Copenhagen - the Danish weather and Hans Christian Andersen.
Every country has its unassailable heroes, of course; historical figures of one kind or another against whom nothing even remotely critical can be uttered. Think Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Joan of Arc, Kemal Atatürk, Garibaldi...
Well Denmark has Hans Christian Andersen.
The 'Hans Christian Andersen effect' is all-pervasive. It's as if every step he took is marked with a blue plaque. Boulevards, parks and shopping precincts are named after him. No doubt the airport will be next, a la John Lennon. He is everywhere.
Which is where another of my new experiences comes in.
Totally by accident, I walked out of the housewares department on the third floor of one of Copenhagen's blue-chip stores and straight into a preserved attic room once occupied by the Man Himself. It was as if I had done something mysterious and magical from one of his own fairy tales and I'm sure I wouldn't be able to do it again, even if I tried.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote his first poem - 'The Dying Child' - in this meagre room in 1828
Er...perhaps it's just as well that, the day after tomorrow, I'll be leaving Denmark and crossing the Skaggerak to Norway...
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