The Journey West – Charmouth to Exmouth

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We headed to the Charmouth Heritage Centre and had a polite look round at the locally found fossils on display.  The centre was set up in 1985 to encourage safe and sustainable collecting of Jurassic fossils from the local beaches.  They run guided fossil hunting walks on every day except Tuesday.  It was Tuesday.

They had an impressive display of fossils, both in terms of size and quantity.  So numerous were the 195 million-year-old belemnites that they were just piled in an apparently haphazard manner in a recreation of the sandy shoreline.

The Jurassic Coast stretches from Exmouth in Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, a distance of about 96 miles.  It spans 185 million years of geological history covering the Triassic and Cretaceous periods as well as the Jurassic. At different times, this area has been desert, shallow tropical sea and marsh.  

The many sedimentary layers on this coastline are rich with fossils which can be found in abundance as sections of the cliff crumble and landslides occur. Fossil groups found here include crustaceans, insects, molluscs, echinoderms, fish, amphibians, reptiles and even a few mammals. 

How hard could it be to find fossils, even without a guide?  Just pop down to the beach and pick up a few handfuls. A walk in the park.  Well, a walk on the beach I guess.

A stiff breeze blew from the sea and waves were crashing on the beach.  Small groups of people were spread out along the shoreline looking down at the ground. Some down by the water following the receding tide and some up by the crumbling cliffs.

I had forgotten to bring the hammer from my toolbox and was too cheap to buy a proper geologists hammer for £20, so we walked along the beach, occasionally smashing two rocks together looking for fossils.  I walked a long way down by the water in the hope of finding a washed up belemnite or two.  I randomly kicked at pebbles and scraped my shoes through the wet sand.  All I got was a wet foot.

I tried searching up closer to the cliff but discovered that the cliffs are mostly made up of layer upon layer of soft mud, silt and clay.  Wet this with a drop of seawater and it makes an astonishingly sticky mud that adheres to shoes in an enthusiastic and expansive manner.

After much walking up and down the beach, we realised we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, so we returned to the car and I spent the next ten minutes scraping the mud from my shoes.  

After a brief visit to the facilities, I decided one last time to go fossil hunting while Madam waited in the car.  I popped into the gift shop and bought a (very small) 120 million-year-old ammonite for 50p, which I presented to Madam with a flourish.  

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Lyme Regis is smaller than I expected.  Unless I missed something it consists of one steep hill with the usual chain stores plus a few gift shops and a single fossil shop. 

It is more famous than its size indicates.  The harbour wall (The Cobb) features in Jane Austen’s novel ‘Persuasion’, and in John Fowles’ novel ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’. The 1981 film of the latter was partly shot in Lyme Regis.

The town is situated at the heart of the Jurassic Coast. It was in the cliffs nearby that an  Ichthyosaur was discovered by self-taught palaeontologist Mary Anning in 1918.  She later found a complete Plesiosaur and the fossilised remains of many other creatures.  Anning became known around the world for the important finds she made in the fossil beds in the cliffs along the coast. Her discoveries contributed to important changes in knowledge of prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

As a woman, she was not eligible to join the Geological Society and she never received full credit for her scientific contributions. The gentlemen geologists who published the scientific descriptions of the specimens she found often neglected to mention her name. 

To be fair on the Geological Society, when Anning was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1846, the society raised money from its members to help with her expenses.  Did anybody say too little too late?

I popped into the fossil shop at the bottom of the hill to fondle a few more fossils while Madam looked in an outdoor shop at Nordic poles.  I keep telling her I will never agree to go skiing or hiking over glaciers but will she listen?

We strolled down to the seafront.  Along the front was a combination of small cottages, mostly holiday lets, amusement arcades and tourist restaurants.  A stone harbour arm at the end of the bay provided a sheltered anchorage.  The tide was out and bilge-keeled sailboats were resting on the mud.  Two paddle boarders were trying to get through the shallow surf into deeper water.  A narrow street ran behind the harbour with gift shops and fish restaurants.  The promenade was crowded with visitors walking in the sunshine.

I saw two older men independently wearing Led Zeppelin t-shirts of impressive vintage.  Early 1970s tour shirts if I’m not mistaken.  Like the mythical elephant’s graveyard where you will find a treasure-trove of ivory, I think I have discovered where old rockers go to die.  Somewhere in Lyme Regis there is an enormous pile of valuable Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster guitars just waiting to be found. 

Since we were far too young to hang out with old rockers, even if they were Led Zeppelin fans, we climbed up the steep hill to the car and set the SatNav for Exmouth.

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Exmouth had more than its fair share of charity shops, bargain everything a pound or less, tanning salons and betting shops. The Conservative Club, squashed between ‘Bargains Galore’ and a gift shop selling buckets and spades and children’s fishing nets, was looking tatty with weeds growing from the roof.  

To be fair on poor Exmouth, it also had some pleasant pedestrian areas and leafy squares with more upmarket restaurants.  It had a compact well-managed park with thriving flower beds and hanging baskets. We walked around the park admiring the flowers and eventually found a wooden bench.  We sat and watched a balding man in his 40s feeding squirrels from a Fortnum and Mason bag.  

I looked at Madam and she looked at me.  “I think he still lives with his parents,” said Madam.

“I was thinking exactly the same thing,” I said.

While we watched the squirrels a young odd looking couple walked by.  Possibly the product of multiple generations of distinctly unbiblical sex.  They proudly showed us a large bag of nuts they used for feeding squirrels. They told us in great detail where we could purchase our own bag, how much they cost, and what fun it was.  

Some towns have cinemas.  Some have bowling alleys.  Most have pubs and clubs.  Exmouth has nuts.

A tea room nearby was selling Devon cream teas. Not just cream teas, but Devon cream teas.  

A cream tea, for those of you disadvantaged by geography, consists of a pot of tea together with scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam. Traditionally a speciality of Devon and Cornwall, cream teas are now offered in most parts of England.  If you like to live on the wild side you can have a scone baked with currants or sultanas.  

There is a rivalry between Cornwall and Devon as to their cream teas.  The Devonshire method is to split the scone in two, cover each half with clotted cream, and then add strawberry jam on top. With the Cornish method, the scone is first split in two, then spread with strawberry jam, and finally topped with a spoonful of clotted cream.  

“We need to try a cream tea in both counties,” said Madam, “we can see how they differ.”

Being partial to a scone or two I quite liked the idea and licked my lips in anticipation.

A little later that day she told me she didn’t really like cream teas so I wasn’t going to get one.  

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The Journey West – Weymouth

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We headed from Durdle Door towards Weymouth through the village of Lulworth which has more pretty thatched cottages on one street than you would have thought possible.  I wanted to stop and take pictures but the roads were narrow and covered with no parking signs and double yellow lines.

Weymouth was on an attractive sweeping bay ringed by elegant townhouses, most of them now converted into hotels and guest houses. It is a pleasant old-fashioned seaside resort.  The sort of place my grandparents would have visited on holiday.  Down on the train for a week in a B&B.  Fish and chips for lunch.  Sit on the beach and eat ice cream.  Rent a deckchair as an extravagance.   My grandad would roll up his trouser legs and put a knotted handkerchief on his head to keep off the sun.  They would have gone home happy and talked about it for months.

Nowadays, people go to Majorca or Magaluf and feel hard done by if they can’t stream Netflix on the beach and aren’t blind drunk by tea time.  I had better stop there as I can feel a moan coming on and Madam will tell me off. 

Weymouth has one claim to fame that you’ll not find in many tourist brochures.  In 1348 the Black Death entered England in the port of Weymouth, then known as Melcombe Regis.  The plague had been spreading from the far east and crept across Europe, reaching France in 1347.  

According to a contemporary account: 

‘…two ships, one of them from Bristol, came alongside. One of the sailors had brought with him from Gascony the seeds of a terrible pestilence and, through him, the men of that town of Melcombe were the first to be infected.’ 

The victims would only develop symptoms six days after infection so would often travel some distance unwittingly carrying their infection to new areas.

In case you need to know the symptoms for a future outbreak they include black necrotic pustules on your skin, fever, delirium and an unbearable headache.  If that isn’t bad enough your lymph nodes will swell to the size of an orange.  That would make putting on a sweater a real bitch. You have only a 70% chance of dying so it’s not all bad. 

The Black Death would go on to kill somewhere between 30% and 40% of Britain’s population.  The worst of the effects were over by 1351 but occasional resurgences would appear right up to the end of the 17th century, notably in 1665.

I would change my name as well if I was responsible for a plague entering the country.

We checked into our hotel, Somerset House, which was above a pub and in a bit of a rough area.  It was opposite the railway station, just across from “My Amazing Fantasy – Licensed Adult Shop” and just down the road from an off-licence whose main selling point seemed to be the alcoholic content of their beer.

Despite some misgivings about the area, the room was lovely.  The best we had stayed in for some time.  The bathroom was the largest and most elegant I’ve seen in any hotel.  It had a massive two-person shower, a bathtub with a TV built into the wall and many strangely coloured unguents lining the shelves.  Bathrobes and slippers were hanging on the back of the door.  Madam declared she wanted to move in and stay there, or at least take the bathroom home.

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We walked down to the seafront, around the sweep of the bay, and along to a building at the end of the promenade optimistically described as the pier bandstand.  There was an attractive Art Deco building but no sign of either a pier or bandstand.  

There had been a bandstand on the site, built in 1939 and extending 200 feet out to sea, but it was demolished in 1986 to save a £300,000 repair bill.  A competition was held to determine who would press the button to start the destruction.  They gave two schoolgirls from Birmingham that dubious honour.  The demolition left only the land building which was eventually refurbished and taken over by a Chinese restaurant in 2002.

The 1980s have a lot to answer for.

We sat on a bench, overlooking the sandy beach and watching the sea and the seafront strollers.  The vibrantly coloured and decorated clock tower was to our right. A man walked past with an owl on his arm.  Two heavily tattooed shaven-headed men with a staffie walked past and glared at anybody who looked their way.  Older couples walked slowly past, leaning on sticks, watching the sea.

A cruise ship sailed gracefully out of the harbour from around the corner in Portland.  We found out later that this was a Disney ship catering mostly to Americans that started in Barcelona and sailed around Spain and Portugal to Dover.  They stopped in Portland for a day-trip to Stonehenge. An inside cabin a snip at only £4,592.

Just off the seafront was a large double-fronted fossil shop.  I was entranced. I picked up a heavy  68 million-year-old dinosaur bone.  Fondled ammonites by the score.  Examined echinoderms.  Thought about buying a dapedium or maybe a pholidophorus.  I’ve seen a lot of fossils over the years but they were all behind glass cases in museums.  Here, I get to hold them and all for free.  I would have been happy to stay for hours touching every item in the shop but Madam was bored after a minute and we needed to check the gift shops for tea towels. 

 We meandered slowly down the main shopping street.  It was pleasant enough and pedestrian friendly but with lots of cash converter style, betting and pound shops.  A sign outside one shop offered a Mr Whippy soft ice cream with a flake for £1.  Madam was asked a couple of times if she was from the cruise ship.  It would be a sad state of affairs if the cruise passengers had shelled out all that money and Weymouth was all they saw of England. 

Like a lot of seaside towns, Weymouth has suffered a reversal of fortunes as people holiday abroad.  There were still pockets of the town doing well with businesses obviously thriving but also areas of deprivation that gave it a seedy air.  Still, where else can you park your car and get an ice cream with a flake for a pound anywhere else along the south coast.

Madam looked online and picked the top two restaurants from Trip Advisor and we walked down to look at their menus.  She looked through the windows at the tablecloths and elaborately laid tables and said “They are a bit posh.  I don’t think we are dressed properly for these places.”

I rolled down my trouser legs, took the handkerchief off my head and presented myself for inspection.  Madam just rolled her eyes and said “You don’t have a jacket.”  

Instead, we went to a cafe bar around the corner and had a nice tapas selection for under a tenner a head.  Not having a jacket with me saved me £50.  Something to remember for future trips.

I woke up to loud chanting outside the hotel room at 3:30 am.

This wasn’t the calming chant of monks at morning matins or Buddhists preparing for meditation but the tuneless incoherent noise that comes from the strange physiological reaction you get when you mix a small brain with strong lager. 

“I don’t think I would want to live in Weymouth,” I thought as I lay awake listening and watching stray beams from the street lamp dancing on the ceiling.

In the morning we got to shower together in the hotel’s fabulous bathroom and I checked Madam carefully for any signs of necrotic pustules or enlarged lymph nodes.  There were none so, after only a brief delay, and a lovely breakfast at the hotel we were on our way to Charmouth to look for fossils.

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The Journey West – Bournemouth to Durdle Door

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Due to Madam’s impressive driving skills we arrived in Bournemouth two hours before we could check into the hotel so we found a multi-story car park close to the pier where I parted with £4.50 for two hours parking.  We left the car park via the enclosed and gloomy stairs which seemed to serve as the local latrine.  The pungent smell made my eyes water.  This happens when you charge people 50p to use the toilet, never mind £2.25 an hour to park.  They use whatever doorway or stairwell is available.  I was tempted to have a discrete wee in a corner myself to get my money‘s worth but Madam was in a hurry to get lunch.

We had lunch on the upstairs balcony at the Hot Rocks restaurant overlooking the pier and beach.  A Dotto land train ran along the seafront below us.  A Ferris wheel opposite the pier turned slowly. The beach, packed with families was soft sand from the promenade down to the sea.  Couples strolled along the promenade.  

Madam said “The people are younger here.  Younger than in Bexhill.”

There is a belief that people move to Bexhill and wait to die.  It isn’t true.  They move to Eastbourne.  Bexhill is where their parents live.

We checked into the hotel, high on the East Cliff and walked down to the beach.  The tide was partly out.  Madam took off her shoes and walked along the waterline. As soon as her feet touched the wet sand she jumped up and down with joy and said “I’m on holiday!”  

It’s true.  We were.

She walked alongside the water towards the pier and picked up a weird looking seashell which we later identified as a slipper snail.  It looked like a claw or hand with six fingers.  I’ve lived by the sea for many years and seen nothing like it.  She put it in her bag to add to her souvenir collection.  She walked on past the pier and I suspect she would have carried on until the next town had I not promised her a ride on the Dotto land train that ran along the seafront towards Boscombe.  I’d wanted to visit Boscombe because it had a pier.  I have a weakness for piers that Madam will never understand.  

“What’s the point?” She said.  “You are just walking out over the water.”

“That’s exactly the point.” I replied.

“Boring.”  

We got to the Dotto stop only to find that the last departure was at 15:10.  On a Sunday.  During the summer.  A major tourist attraction stops running at ten past three on a Sunday.  Sometimes you wonder who organises these things. 

We went into the tourist information office to see about a trip on the open-top bus but found that stopped at 5pm. 

Bournemouth is divided neatly into two by a succession of fine parks running from north to south. They were created in the mid 1800’s and remarkably have survived to this day.  They were originally known as the Lower Pleasure Gardens, The Central Pleasure Gardens, and Upper Pleasure Gardens.   The former name proved too much for the genteel folk of Bournemouth.  The combination of both ‘pleasure’ and ‘lower’ in close vicinity to each other was just too much for ladies of a delicate disposition and they are now known simply as the Lower, Central and Upper Gardens.

We walked up through the Lower Pleasure Gardens.  Sorry, forget I said that.  We walked up through the Lower Gardens.  Whoever is in charge of the gardening does a wonderful job.  The flower beds were a blaze of colour even at the tail end of summer when you expect things to have died down ready for autumn. Large groups of foreign students and young couples had spread themselves over the grass enjoying the late afternoon sun.  We sat for a while admiring the flowers and watching people strolling through the gardens.  The Lower and Central Gardens are separated by an attractive pedestrian square with a restaurant and outdoor seating. We wandered through the square and up into the Central Gardens where they had the largest war memorial I had ever seen.  

The memorial was built in 1921 to remember the dead of World War I. It features two lions, one asleep and one awake, based on Canova’s tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St Peter’s. This enormous stone and marble memorial is now Grade II listed and was later extended to commemorate the dead of both world wars.

The upper gardens seem to be mostly sports fields so we stopped our journey and, it being a respectable time to start drinking, returned down to the square to find a suitable hostelry.  With a combination of random searching and Madam peering into her phone looking at TripAdvisor we found The Moon on the Square which turned out to be a Wetherspoons. 

There’s a tradition in all Wetherspoons that there has to be a large group of men drinking lager hovering near the bar and having a (mostly) good natured shouting match.  It is invariably regarding which footballer has the most knobbly knees.  I think that’s right.  Something to do with football anyway.  It requires them to wave their arms exuberantly and spill copious amount of beer on the carpet.  This pub was no exception.

Still, where else can you get somewhere to sit down, books to read, free WiFi and two drinks for less than a fiver?  

In 1946 George Orwell wrote an essay for the Evening Standard newspaper describing his perfect pub.  He called his pub The Moon Under Water.  It should have he said, amongst other things, that it be quiet enough to talk; the barmaid should know your name; that it sells cigarettes, aspirin and stamps; it never serves beer in a handleless glass; and you can get a good lunch for three shillings.

Several Wetherspoons pubs have ‘Moon’ in their name since they feel that is a good link to Orwell’s  fictional pub.  I’ve never been in a Wetherspoons where the barmaid knew my name, nor have they have ever served me a beer in a glass with a handle.  I’m not sure how I feel about them linking to one of my favourite authors for commercial purposes.  Maybe I will order lunch one day and proffer three shillings (15p) in payment then ask for an aspirin.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

We got back to the hotel and were relaxing and reading when Madam noticed a gentle slurping noise. She looked at me and I looked at her.  “It wasn’t me” I told her.  

She looked to the dresser on the far side of the room and shrieked “It’s alive!  It moved!”

It turned out that her seashell was still very much in use and the resident mollusc was wondering why the sea was so far away and how come the tide hadn’t risen.

“We have to take it back to the beach.” She said.

“It’s late.  We’ll take it tomorrow.” I told her.

She put it in the bottom of the bath lest it develop impressive locomotive powers in the night and crawl into bed with her.

“He needs a name. Think of a name,” she demanded.

“I don’t know” I said, “Shell?  Shelly?”

“Shelly is a girl’s name,” she said.

I went into the bathroom and reached into the bottom of the bath.  I carefully turned Shelly upside down.

“Yup, it’s female,” I told her.

I had a look at the Google to see if there was anything else worth doing in Bournemouth and, amongst the dozens of pages of advertisements offering me hotels and tours, was a brief piece from the official tourism website that told me, amongst other things, that it was a prosperous town with a population of almost 200,000 and that tourism remains an important industry.  

And boy, does it milk its tourists.  Parking for two hours was £4.50.  A stroll along the three hundred metre pier is £1.20.  An ice cream?  That will be £3.70 please.  Need a bottle of Coca Cola with that?  A mere £2.50.  A one mile taxi ride back to the hotel £6.00.

We were packed and on the road by 9am and heading towards Durdle Door.  Shelly was safely wrapped in the back seat.   As we drove along the B3070, there was a large sign ‘WARNING Sudden Gunfire!’ 

“Just like in Texas,” said Madam.  

I was glad she got to feel at home. 

We parked above the footpath down to Durdle Door.  £4 for two hours.  A sign informed me they had over one million visitors a year.  It wasn’t hard to do the maths.  Four million pounds for a scree car park and footpath is a nice little earner for somebody as Arthur Daley would have said.

We started down the steep and slippery footpath towards the beach.

“Did you remember Shelly?” I asked Madam.

“Oh no!  I’m a terrible mother!” She shouted as she ran back towards the car.

She laid Shelly carefully at the water’s edge and starting talking quietly.  I’m sure it was something profound but the wind took most of her words away.  All I caught was “I’ll miss you so much” and “send me a shelfie.”

We wandered down the beach along the chalk cliffs and water’s edge, stopping to take pictures of the Door as we went.  Madam was under strict instructions not to touch any shells, dead or alive.

As we started up the long and steep path back to the car Madam said “Shelly was very lucky really.  She can cross Durdle Door off her bucket list.  It would have taken her years to crawl here.”

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Germany

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We managed to pick one of the hottest weeks in a summer heatwave that had gripped Europe for our time in Germany.  Glaciers were melting in Sweden.  Britain faced a shortage of brussel sprouts.  Worse still, mon Dieu, France was suffering a  shortage of snails due to heat and lack of rain.

Parts of Spain and Portugal experienced temperatures of 48C as blisteringly hot air swept in from Africa.  It was marginally cooler in Germany, reaching only a high of 37C, still bad enough without air-conditioning. 

The heatwave and unseasonably dry weather has also affected America. It was the third hottest summer on record in Texas.  The tinderbox conditions led to several fires across the south-west. Sixteen of the largest wildfires burning in California have burnt over 320,000 acres and led to many deaths.  

Researchers have found that the ‘signal of climate change is unambiguous,’ and heat waves will become more common.  You will be hard pressed to find any climate scientists who do not believe climate change is real and man-made.   

Meanwhile,  a Republican state senator stood within sight of the fires in California and claimed climate change has nothing to do with man and blamed the fire on environmentalists.  The gist of his argument was that if you cut down all the trees, they wouldn’t be there to catch fire.  I suppose that argument has a certain logic.  

But enough of me bitching about stupid people.  This is supposed to be about Germany.

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We caught the train in to Stuttgart from Vaihengen.  Like a lot of European local rail networks the city is divided into zones and the ticket you need depends of the number of zones crossed. There was little information on the station on which ticket to buy or where to zone boundaries started and ended. I struggled with the machine for a while trying to make sense of the different options and just ended up buying a group day ticket for four zones, which I suspect was more than we needed.  

After an interesting diversion through the suburbs to the wrong part of town, we eventually found our way to the central station and wandered up Königstrße, the main shopping street, towards Schlossplatz, or Palace Square.  Since Germany has not had a monarch since 1918, I am not sure why it has a Palace square, but it is a lovely open area with grass, fountains and a central statue of Concordia, the goddess of harmony, on a high column.  

There is a small area of Stuttgart, around the market square, that retains a few older buildings. They have a busy open market with greengrocers and other food stalls outside and a covered indoor market. Being of advanced years I can never remember the exact details of places we visit (I make up most of the stuff in this blog), so I looked at the German tourist website for a description of the indoor market. I present a few extracts for your delectation:   

“Behind the heavy entrance doors of this grand art nouveau building a paradise of lucullan pleasures is hidden.” 

 “. ..in abundance, diverse and colorful, the market hall presents the impressive offers artistically and appetizingly arranged, native products harmoniously lie next to international and ecological-biological products.”

“But how nice it is to simply stroll through the hall without a goal, to smell, to look and to taste!” 

I have to agree with the last sentiment.  It was lovely to stroll through and look at the amazing range of appetising foods on offer.  Had we timed things a little better it would have been a great place to eat.  Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Stuttgart.

We had a wander round Stiftskirche, a church dating from the thirteenth century.  This was extensively damaged during bombing raids WWII and rebuilt in the 1950s. There is a slightly odd mix of some of the historic features and some more new designs with modern stained glass windows and roof.  

Close to the Stiftskirch was the  Landesmuseum  with exhibits from Württemberg ranging from Neolithic to the early 20th century.  I was primarily attracted to the admission price (free) and Madam to the fact it had air-conditioning.  Even though it was free, we had to queue to get a ticket which was scrupulously checked on every floor.  They could have saved themselves a lot of work by eliminated this pointless procedure.

It was all well laid out although the guide insisted that we started vaguely in the middle ages, then to later periods, before we saw the Neolithic exhibits. I’ve always had an interest in anything stone-age.  It is surprising to see that stone tools throughout the world are made in the same shapes using the same techniques.  We forget that the Neolithic period lasted for several thousand years – long enough for travellers and traders to spread knowledge.  I did try to create an axe head from a flint a couple of years ago, firstly using another stone then, when that did not work, with a hammer.  All I ended up with was a bruised thumb and an undamaged flint.  I read somewhere that a Neolithic hunter would have created an arrow head in 20 minutes using only an animal bone and a lump of flint.  I’d like to see that.  

Both Madam and I both felt that we were being followed by the museum guides.  Every time we looked round a guide would be just behind us.  Maybe they thought we might be up to something.  About to tuck a small statue under my arm or scratch “Romani ite dominum” on a Roman column.  I hope that they were just bored and thought we might have questions. There were only a few other people in the museum which was a shame as it was well worth the visit.  I suspect all the tourists were busy in the BMW car museum posing for a selfie in front of an exhibit of indicators through the ages sponsored by local BMW dealers.  Car dealers always have a lot of optional extras left over.  

There are several motor manufacturers based near Stuttgart. The area is considered to be the birthplace of the petrol engine motor car.  Pioneering engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz were both born near Stuttgart.  Benz developed the first 3-wheeled car in 1886 and Daimler the first 4-wheeled (a modified horse-carriage) in the same year.  

Due to its importance as an industrial area, the city suffered extensive damage during air-raids during World War II.  A total of 53 air raids between 1940 and 1945 destroyed 40,000 buildings.

Post-war planning and rebuilding during the 1950s has preserved the few remaining historic buildings and large parks.  Now the city has an open feel with wide streets, squares and green parks.

Before this trip, I had a look on the internet for the top attractions in Stuttgart.  Most of them seemed to involve cars. The second top attraction was the Stuttgart public library.  I don’t believe I have ever seen a library ranked number two in any city.  It turned out that this was due to the impressive and unusual architecture including a roof observation area from which you can see the entire city of Stuttgart.  Clearly, this deserved a visit.

We tried to get to the library on the local metro.  There were five train lines from the central station passing the Stadtbibliothek station.  How hard could that be? We got on the right train but it went along a different line.  It stopped at Budapester Platz, right next to the massive Milaneo shopping mall.  A bit like getting on the central line at Oxford Circus and the next stop is the Elephant and Castle. We went back to the central station and tried again.  We studied the map closely. Double checked the train. Triple checked the train.  We definitely got on the right train this time. It stopped at Budapester Platz.  We gave up on the library and went to the mall.  Malls are the same the world over, so we just headed up to the food court on the top floor for a late lunch. I asked Madam where she would like to eat. She chose Mcdonalds.

It may seem an odd choice to eat at an American fast-food restaurant while travelling.  I guess it is just easier sometimes.  The menu is broadly the same the world over.  It comes with pictures that bear a passing resemblance to the finished product. We looked at a few German restaurants but it was hard to decipher the German menu.  I have a translate app on my phone but it often gives bizarre translations.  You never quite knew if you were ordering a haloumi sandwich or a pig trotter and ox-brain sausage.  The Germans are big on sausages.  You go into most any restaurant and they will hand you a menu of twenty dishes. The first nineteen will be sausages.  They will have names like Schweinfoot und Grissel or Kalbsbrain mit Grosserbits.

The last item on the menu will be something disturbing like a veal cutlet with an aubergine and turnip sauce, served with raspberry ice cream if my translation app is to be believed.

After a brief wander around the mall which was indeed identical to every mall everywhere else in the world, even down to the same chain stores, we went back to main square.  We sad for a while admiring the fountains and gardens. We watched Japanese tourists pose for selfies in front of the fountain.  A group of five arranged themselves in every conceivable combination and variety of poses.  It took them twenty minutes to get every pose covered.

It started raining, and we briefly considered a car museum but realised it was 6pm somewhere in the world, possibly central Russia, so we went into a brauhaus to drink beer. 

Out of curiosity I looked at the food menu and had another go with my translate app.  The first item, according to the app, on the dessert menu was:

‘Homemade Oven Slipper A Swabian specialty with apples and raisins refined, vanilla sauce.’

Madam, being much smarter, asked the waiter for an English menu.  The first choice on the dessert menu was 

‘Homemade Oven Slipper. A Swabian specialty with apples and raisins refined, vanilla sauce.’

The rain had stopped, so we sat in Palace Square for a while. It was early evening by now and people were laying out blankets on the grass and settling in for the evening.  I was not sure if there was some event planned for a Tuesday night, or if that was what passed for entertainment in Stuttgart.  

Stuttgart was clean and prosperous, obviously thriving with many high-end stores in the shopping centre.  You have to admire the Germans.  Through sheer hard work and a large amount of cleverness they have turned a country of rubble and destitution into a thriving industrial powerhouse.  They are the fourth largest economy in the world with full employment.  The highest trade surplus in the world worth $310 billion. The biggest capital exporter globally.  The third largest exporter in the world.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

Meanwhile politicians (and the voting public) in Britain seem determined to turn the country into the nation state equivalent of a pound shop.

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We drove to Schloss Ludwigsburg, which I believe translates as Louis’s Castle.

The gardens were beautiful with  a central fountain, topiary and flower beds.  Elaborate Sand sculptures surrounded the garden.  No words can do them justice, so you will just have to look at the pictures on Instagram.

The palace started out as a simple hunting lodge but, in a spate of serious German willy-waving was extended to 450 rooms which needed 800 servants.

We splashed out €7 each on a 45 minute guided tour in English which took us around part of the palace.  The details are a bit hazy – it was mostly about, not surprisingly, kings and queens and their various marriages to cousins across Europe.  There seems to have been some serious inbreeding across several generations which may explain a lot.  Talking of willy-waving, one of the kings reputedly had somewhere between 300 and 400 illegitimate children.  I forget which king.  It may have been William the first, or maybe a Frederick or an Eberhard.  You have to say the last name out loud to appreciate it.

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The Birkenkopf is a 511 metre high hill in Stuttgart, the highest point in the city.

During the war, 53 Allied bombing missions destroyed over 45% of Stuttgart, and nearly the entire city centre. Between 1953 and 1957, 1.5 million cubic metres of rubble were cleared and moved to the hill which resulted in an increase in height of around 40 metres. 

We walked up the long winding path to the top.  At the summit there were many recognisable facades from ruined buildings.  The ruins were towered over by a giant iron cross.  

It’s hard not to think of World War II when the results of destruction are sitting there starting you in the face.  It is a place for contemplation.  For reflection. A warning not to follow crazed demagogues of the right.  

In a sombre mood I took a few pictures and wandered the ruins and rubble.  There were lots of Germans, some walking dogs, some admiring the view, some sitting silently looking out over the city.  Flowers were growing amongst the ruins.  Children were playing and climbing the stones.  A sign of hope perhaps. 

 A plaque at the top reads:

“This mountain piled up after World War II from the rubble of the city stands as a memorial to the victims and a warning to the living.”

It would be nice if we learned from history rather than repeat past mistakes, wouldn’t it? 

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen

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It’s not often that you cross a country border underground.  Not legally at least. We were travelling from Stuttgart to Garmisch-Partenkirchen near the Austrian border where we planned to spend a few days.  Due to the intransigence of mountain passes in ignoring man-made political boundaries, we crossed from Germany into Austria through a long tunnel under a mountain then, a few miles later, back into Germany.  Both countries are in the Schengen zone so the border post building at the end of the tunnel was closed and abandoned. 

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a German ski resort in Bavaria. It lies near Zugspitze, the country’s highest peak at 2962 metres.  Anybody hoping for a spot of skiing during the current August heatwave would be disappointed although there were patches of snow high on the mountain tops and in shaded ravines.   

Garmisch (in the west) and Partenkirchen (in the east) were separate towns for many centuries and still maintain quite separate identities. Hitler forced them to unite in 1935 to prepare for the 1936 winter olympics.  The International Olympic Committee was concerned that there were not enough hotel rooms in Garmisch so they were made, unwillingly,  to combine and create a larger single town with more rooms.  That they are still combined may say something about the Bavarian psyche. 

We came out of the tunnel into bright sunshine. Rolling verdant green hills surrounded the high rocky snow-tipped mountains. Sparkling fast-moving streams ran alongside the road.  It was all astonishingly beautiful. I half expected Julie Andrews to come over the hill singing ‘The Hills are Alive’, followed by a cow with a bell around its neck. 

Imagine the joy in opening your curtains every morning and seeing that view. Unless it is raining.  Or snowing. Or blocked by inconsiderate tourists taking photographs.

I will post the pictures later.

Madam gazed excitedly out of the car window and said “We must go to Austria on holiday” 

I reminded her we were in Austria and on holiday.

We had an ear-popping climb along a long winding mountain road, followed by an even steeper descent into Garmisch.

I had a quick look at the Google just before we headed this way and Wikipedia tells me that ‘It has a relatively wet and snowy climate with high precipitation year round.’  True to form, it started raining soon after we checked into the hotel so I wandered round the lobby and obligatory gift shop seeking a diversion from the weather.

A poster announced that this weekend sees the start of the 63rd annual week-long Partenkirchen Festival.  This is a popular event attracting large crowds. There is a certain tendency for those outside of Bavaria to consider the inhabitants somewhat dour and conservative. Perhaps a little insular and inward looking.  I don’t want to be the one to blanket judge an entire culture, so I will leave you with the program of events for the festival and have you form your own conclusion:

Sunday: Bavarian Folk Night

Monday: Bavarian Dancers

Tuesday: Live Bavarian Band

Wednesday: Bavarian Folk Night

Thursday: Lumberjack Competition and Bavarian Band

Friday: Bavarian Band

Saturday: Live Bavarian Band

Sunday: Bavarian Folk Night

Monday: Bavarian Night.

I asked at reception about the Thursday attraction but the receptionist had never seen the lumberjacks at any of the previous years festivals.  She told me that they are on their way to Switzerland and are just stopping to sharpen their axes.

Somehow, the thought of being surrounded by hundreds of ruddy-faced Lederhosen clad Bavarians waving beer tankards in the air and singing a rousing chorus of Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit didn’t appeal. I am reliably informed that the British army demanded the surrender of all accordions along with heavy weapons at the end of the war, but were overruled by the Russians and Americans.

There is a viewing gallery on a raised floor above the lobby in the hotel.  There are a couple of comfy sofas and a few rustic wooden rocking chairs.  It is up a tucked-away staircase and was empty.  A perfect hiding place.  I checked under all the sofa cushions for loose change (without success) then sat on one of the rocking chairs looking out towards the mountains and watching the rain.  

Thin tendrils of mist slowly rolled through the evergreen trees perched precariously on the side of the hills.  Higher up, solid cloud and mist completely obscured the mountains.  Brightly coloured blue and red trains passed slowly in front of the hill.  Damp flags were fluttering in the stiff breeze. 

I’m never sure quite what to do on a holiday rainy day.  Do you brave the elements, don a raincoat, and go out and explore anyway?  Hide away in a quiet corner of the hotel with a book?  Find a museum or art gallery?  Get drunk in the bar?

I opened my iPad and checked the Google for German culture, lest I make some inadvertent social faux pas.  One website, on the front page of search results, informed me that Germans wore Lederhosen, drank a lot of beer and spoke German.  Useful information had I been of limited intelligence and visiting in 1756. 

Am I getting old or did Google once give you useful and interesting results?  Nowadays it seems, apart from the excellent Wikipedia, to be the same sites full of useless information interspersed with prominent annoying advertisements or affiliate links. One of our local newspaper websites has flashing vibrantly coloured ads between every short paragraph of an article.  I have to scroll past half a dozen ads to read the entire thing.  Half of the time there is so little information that I give up half way through. The internet now seems to be entirely focussed on making money rather than conveying much of anything useful.

I looked for things to do on a rainy day in Garmisch.  The number one top attraction on Tripadvisor was Wank Mountain.  The reviews were gushing:

‘I love Wank.  Wank is the best.’

‘If, like me you like walk but are not used to a more vigorous hike then the wank is a great choice.’

‘It was a great way to spend a beautiful sunny day.  Unfortunately, none of us wore sunscreen so we all have sunburn.’

Had we been here a couple of weeks later we could have caught the 2018 Annual Wank Festival starting later that month.

Purely for research purposes I did take a look at the Wank Festival website.  All 1,000 priority tickets have been sold, so clearly this is a popular activity in Bavaria.

Who said Bavarians don’t know how to have fun?

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It stopped raining a little after 2pm and we went into Partenkirchen.  The houses and cobbled streets retain a traditional Bavarian feel.  The central street, supposedly pedestrianised, had a steady stream of cars and bicycles.  Souvenir shops, art galleries and restaurants lined the street. Elaborate murals decorated many of the shops and buildings.  We looked into the souvenir shops but decided we had enough t-shirts, miniature Bavarian beer steins and tea-towels.

The chocolate shop, Chocolaterie Amelie, looked more promising.  They manufacture their own chocolate and there was a large glass screen where I watched a young woman doing something mysterious with some molten chocolate on a steel table.  It all looked lovely and reminded me of the chocolate shops in York.  Who can resist a bar of chocolate on a damp afternoon?  I looked around at the impressive displays.  The cheapest bar of chocolate was €5.90.  I decided I could resist a bar of chocolate.

Nobody in the town was wearing lederhosen although I could have bought a fetching set in my size for only €199 in one of the souvenir shops.  I did see a couple of chaps wearing lederhosen at breakfast in the hotel.  They were drinking beer so I suspect they were tourists that had read the same website as me and wanted to blend in.  I think they were Americans.  

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Twenty-five miles an hour isn’t fast.  A plane going that slow would fall from the sky.  A car might be holding up traffic.  A bicycle would be a little scarier. But still not excessive.

Now imagine, if you will, going at that speed in a plastic go-cart, close to the ground,  down the side of a steep mountain for over 8,500 feet.  Seventy-three bends and nine jumps.  Thin wire-netting along the sides by the steepest drops which may, or may not, catch you if you fall out. How can that be scary?

We drove for a long time up  a narrow winding mountain road.  I’m not sure how I was persuaded – possibly the promise of a high-altitude cappuccino  at the top – but we got onto a chair lift suspended from a suspiciously thin cable.  We rose higher and higher for 15 minutes. The air grew colder.  I was almost starting to enjoy it when it ground to a halt.  The cable creaked. The seat started swinging gently. I looked down.  It was long way off the ground.  

In 2010 a 22 year old snowboarder, Dominik Podolsky, was stuck on a ski-lift in the Austrian Alps for six hours.  He thought about jumping down but he was ten metres above the ground and would probably have broken both legs and frozen to death.  He tried burning a paper tissue to attract attention.  When this didn’t work, he moved on to receipts and business cards.  Eventually, he was forced to burn banknotes from his wallet.  Finally, on his last €20 note, he managed to attract attention and was rescued.

Of course, none of this went through my mind at the time.  I just looked down at the ground and wondered if a double extension ladder would be enough or would they need to fetch a triple. 

After a mercifully brief stop, we started moving again and eventually reached the top.  It wasn’t a particularly high hill, around 1200 metres but the views were spectacular.  Across the valley to distant mountain peaks.  Nestled far below in the valley was the town of Oberammergau.  

It is primarily a ski resort but the hill in August was packed with hikers, some of whom had walked to the top.  Some, wearing sturdy boots and carrying impressively full backpacks were preparing to climb even further. The cafe was doing a thriving trade.  There was a rope walk through the treetops that needed bright yellow helmets and sturdy safety harnesses. A short zip line and playground for children.  And of course the go-karts.  

I checked my seat belt.  I checked it again.  The operator checked it and said ‘Off you go.  Just press that lever.’

I pressed the lever and off I went for 8,500 feet downhill. 

I changed my trousers at the bottom.  

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Oberammergau is best known for its performance of the Passion Play every ten years.  It was first performed in 1634 after a promise made by the villagers.  They vowed that if God spared them from the effects of the bubonic plague they would perform the play every ten years.  The play involves over 2000 actors, singers, musicians and technicians.  The villagers claim they have been free of the plague since its first performance.  I’d prefer a large bottle of antibiotics personally, but whatever.

The village has a population of 5,415 and 5,414 are involved with running either souvenir shops or restaurants.  The other resident is selling tickets for the 2020 Passion Play.  Had Madam needed a cuckoo clock, some Lederhosen or a creepy Bavarian doll she would have been set. Fortunately for my wallet and bulging suitcase, all our souvenir needs had been previously fulfilled.    

Like Partenkirchen, elaborate murals  decorated many of the shops and buildings.  Many were beautifully painted and must have taken skilled artists many hours of labour.  See Instagram @gap_year_oap for the pictures.

We sat at one of the outside tables of a restaurant on the main square.  Rather than rely on the translation app on my phone and end up with a pig testicle and rhubarb sausage, we asked for an English menu.  Unfortunately, some of the translations were a little odd.  Once we had eliminated the twenty-three different types of sausage there were only a couple of options left.

Madam ordered a  ‘Cold Meats and a Bowl of Lard’ and I had the much safer Vegetable Rosti. Her’s turned out to be a correct translation and did include a large bowl of lard.  Yummy.  I was pleased I had the Rosti.  

We had a look at the outside of the Passion Play theatre and a half-hearted browse around the souvenir shops.   Since we only had a couple of hours in the town, we headed to the tourist office to see if we had missed anything. It was a Saturday and the tourist information office closed at 1pm.  

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There is a cable car up to Am Osterfelderkopf at 2033 metres (6670 feet) high.  It costs an eye-watering €27 each for a seven minute ride. You can walk up the zig-zag paths but it would take a lot more stamina than I possess, and time that I had.

There was a cafe right by the cable car exit which was packed.  We had lunch there, as far away from the accordion player as possible.  The cafe had a captive market but I was pleased to see they had not taken advantage and their prices were not dissimilar to the restaurants in the town two kilometres below. 

 I walked a little further up the mountain, amongst the hardy walkers with serious-looking boots, nordic walking poles and backpacks.  To go any further would have needed ropes and crampons and an annual subscription to Senior Climbing Magazine, so I was happy to sit for a while and admire the view.

Once I got to the furthest rocky outcrop away from the chattering tourists there was complete silence.  I was above the treeline.  No birdsong.  No wind whistling through the treetops.  If I strained my ears, I could hear the occasional distant sound of hiking boots scraping on rock.  Once they rounded the corner there was nothing. Only silence.  

Try this for me, if you will.  Stop reading and listen.  Concentrate on every sound, near and far.  What can you hear?  Cars on the road outside?  Birds in the trees?  A distant TV? A dog barking? 

Unless we stop and listen, we tune out the background noises.  They are always there in modern life.  It isn’t until we are somewhere completely quiet – in a desert or on top of a mountain- that we realise how noisy our world has become.  Maybe we humans need some noise. If, by chance, there is silence most people will turn on the TV or play music, or maybe quietly talk to a bird eyeing them suspiciously from a nearby rock.

There is only one bird that ventures into this alpine region, the Alpine Chough.  An information board by the cafe informed me that these were social creatures that like to nest in large groups.  This one was all alone which was why he was happy with my company.  I told him all about the cable car ride and how I would almost certainly climb to the very peak of the mountain if I had only remembered some rope and my knees weren’t making a disturbing creaking noise.  I mentioned that there might be some leftover food on the cafe tables.  At the mention of food, he gave a little squawk and flew off.  “Just follow the sound of the bloody accordion” I called after him. 

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Copenhagen

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Many people born in the USA consider themselves something other than just American. They may be Italian-American, German-American or Irish-American, even though their ancestors emigrated to the USA in 1878. They are still uniquely proud of their heritage. Try telling an Italian-American, who has never been within a thousand miles of Sicily, he isn’t Italian and you may wake up next to a horse’s head.

Madam had an ancestor born in Denmark. I forget the exact relationship but it was something like her great great great great grandmother’s cousin twice-removed was from Copenhagen. With all that Viking blood coursing through her veins, she is clearly Danish-American. Unfortunately, this sounds like a breakfast pastry.

“I’ll take a grande half-fat latte macchiato with an extra shot please. Oh, and throw in one of your tasty Danish-Americans. Make that to go.”

I hope there are no real Danish or Italian-Americans reading this, or I may be in trouble. I loved the Cannoli I had in Little Italy. Honestly. It was the best squirty pastry I’ve ever had.

Hoping that Madam will recognise a long-lost relative from amongst the crowds, off to Copenhagen we shall go. I have to admit it wasn’t high on my bucket list of places to visit but whatever keeps Madam happy. I suppose there is the off chance that I might find a Viking hat with horns.

The World Happiness Report has, for the last several years, had Scandinavians, including the Danish, rank as the happiest people in the world. Both the UK and the USA are much lower. The survey uses both objective data such as levels of crime, income, access to education and health care, along with subjective questions like “how do you rate your life?”

Scandinavia has, to put it bluntly, crap weather for much of the year. Snow carpets the ground throughout the winter with temperatures struggling to get much above freezing. It gets dark by 4pm. It will be windy and cloudy. Summer is better but seems over in the blink of an eye. Taxes in Denmark are amongst the highest in the world. Personal income tax rates can reach 60%. VAT (sales tax) is 25%.

So what is there to be happy about?

If we believe the media hype, it’s all about the Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah). This is a difficult word to translate but means something like ‘comfort’ or ‘cosiness’. It’s a glass of wine with friends or a cup of cocoa in front of the fire. It’s being in, and appreciating, the moment. Treating ordinary moments as special.

Hygge has spawned an entire new industry. Retailers, never slow to jump on the fad gravy train, are offering Hygge Tealight Holders (£49), Hygge Stonewashed Blankets (£115) and Hygge Cushions (£40). Publishers join in the fun with more than a hundred books on the hygge lifestyle. Many of the books have only a few dozen pages. I sympathise with the authors. After all, how many different ways can you say “We have friends coming round, open a bottle of wine”?

If a packet of cocoa and a pile of firewood was the secret of happiness, we would all be in a state of eternal bliss. I think there is more to the Danes happiness than a cosy evening in front of the fire.

Every Dane, from the moment of birth, gets free high quality healthcare and education. They are paid to go to university. Public transport is widespread, efficient and affordable. They get ten months of maternity or paternity benefits. They retire with absolute security and a generous pension. Vacation time is around seven weeks. Denmark has one of the lowest gaps between rich and poor in the world with the minimum wage of around $20 an hour. In effect, they are all middle class. They do not celebrate ambition and the constant striving for promotion or more money. Danes believe it is more important to pursue a career you love rather than one with a larger paycheck. Time spent with family and friends is more important than the size of your car.

Some claim the Danish model is socialism but successive governments have committed themselves to free markets, private ownership and free trade. It has a low level of bureaucracy and encourages business start-ups. Perhaps it is socialism with a small ‘s’ and capitalism with a small ‘c’. Either way, it seems to work.

But enough of the politics. Copenhagen calls.

Our flight landed in Copenhagen airport just before 5pm. When we booked the flight and hotel as a package, they offered us a private car transfer from the airport to the hotel and back for £148 per person. Having looked at a map before booking I could see that the airport was only a few miles from the centre of Copenhagen so I declined their kind offer. The local train ran direct from the airport terminal into the city. From there we walked only a few minutes to the hotel and had completed check-in within 40 minutes. Cost for a single journey £4 each. Even a taxi from the rank would have only cost £35. A transfer for £148 leaves a tidy profit for somebody. I splashed out on a 48 hour city pass (£17 each) which gave us unlimited travel throughout the city, including from the airport.

Our room on the first floor overlooked the harbour. A pedestrian and bicycle path was below our window. A little further out into the harbour a section was partitioned off and swimming lanes and a diving board added. Several hardy souls were swimming. The water temperature was a toasty 19C (66F). I asked Madam if she fancied a dip but she declined. I’ve no idea why.

I sat and watched the bicycles passing below the window for an hour while Madam went through her extensive unpacking and checking routine. So many bicycles. So little Lycra. It is the chosen transport in Copenhagen for young and old. Businessmen with briefcases balanced on the handlebars. Mothers with children in a seat on the back. One man had an old wooden Carlsberg beer crate fastened on the front with his dog sitting in there watching the world go by.

By the time Madam had finished checking under the bed for dust and reorganising the pillows and towels to her satisfaction, it was too late to do much else but pop into the mall conveniently located next door to the hotel. As soon as we walked in the front door, Madam saw a Tex-Mex restaurant, so our dinner choice was set.

Whenever we spoke to people who had visited Copenhagen, they would tell us how expensive it was. We were mentally prepared for a week’s bread and water diet with just the occasional ice cream. You have to have ice cream. Prices were certainly higher in the tourist areas. A lot higher. Once you moved into the areas the locals used it wasn’t quite so bad. The first meal we had in the local mall, with two entrees and three drinks (Madam insisted on two margaritas) came to 327Kr (£39). You would struggle to pay less in London.

Other things were pricier. A cup of coffee in a chain coffee shop was 45Kr (£5.35). A non-chain cafe 35Kr. A beer in a bar or restaurant was 55Kr (£6.55). On the other hand a bottle of Danish pilsner beer from the local supermarket was 3.5 Kr (42p).

Would you like to know the cost of sending a postcard from Denmark to the UK?

I bet you would. I’ll need a small drum roll please. If you don’t have any drums handy just use a couple of pens on a desk.

Ready?

Good.

Sending a single postcard to the UK costs 27Kr (£3.21, or $4.35). Don’t expect any postcards from Madam.

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Day 2.

I stood watching out from the open window while Madam went through that long and mysterious process that women have to do before declaring they can leave the room. After many years of marriage I am still clueless what is involved. I shower, dry and dress. I’m ready. What she does? I’ve no idea. All I know is it takes a long time and involves many electric appliances and odd-smelling substances in small pots and tubes.

I watch the pedestrians and bicycles pass below. A young man stopped and looked at the ground and shook his head. He picked up a discarded coke bottle and deposited it in the bin. A woman by the swimming lanes dipped her hand in the water and recoiled as though touching a hot stove. Two young blonde women jogged by, ponytails bouncing. Dozens of cyclists wearing office clothes. A group of Japanese tourists jumped into an unmanned boat moored to the harbour wall for a selfie. It was 8am.

We headed into the centre on the local train. It was only a twenty-minute walk but the station was opposite the hotel, and included in our pass and I don’t think we ever had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a train. The central station has four entrances and, being new and clueless, we managed to pick the one that led into the former red-light district. At least my guidebook said it was former. It wasn’t. We walked some distance into the district, becoming increasingly lost. We finally found a bus stop and the bus, fortuitously, dropped us back at the station entrance we should have taken in the first place.

There is a local ordinance that all tourists must visit The Little Mermaid. They won’t let you back on the plane until you have shown them a selfie with the statue in the background. It is the iconic attraction that everybody associates with Copenhagen.

The crowd spread along the railing overlooking The Little Mermaid was ten deep. Many more were scrambling over the slippery rocks to get their picture taken in front of the statue. Japanese selfie stick were being waved menacingly in the air. A steady stream of tour buses disgorged more visitors. Souvenir shops and stalls were doing a roaring trade, selling miniature replicas of the mermaid. Madam bought a £7 ornament.

The Little Mermaid has had a rough life since she was unveiled in 1913. In 1964, her head was sawn off and stolen by artists from the Situationist Movement. If you, like me, have never heard of this movement, I offer you this explanation from Wikipedia:

‘The intellectual foundations of the Situationist International were derived primarily from anti-authoritarian Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism. Overall, situationist theory represented an attempt to synthesize this diverse field of theoretical disciplines into a modern and comprehensive critique of mid-20th century advanced capitalism.’

I wonder why that never caught on.

Her head was never recovered, and a duplicate was made and installed.

In 1984 on a warm evening in July, two bored young men sawed off her arm, returning it two days later. In 1998, she was decapitated once again but this time the head was recovered and reattached later that year. In 2003, explosives were used to blow her off her base. She has variously been covered in red paint, a dildo attached to her hand and dressed in a burqa. I could go on, but you get the idea. Strictly between you and me, it has always been just a copy – the original is kept hidden away, quite wisely, by the descendants of the sculptor Eriksen. Please don’t tell the throngs of tourists.

Everybody says the statue is smaller than they expected. I heard this so many times, I somehow imagined it would be a foot tall at best. In fact it is only slightly smaller than life size, larger than I expected, which I think is just the perfect size. The stains running down from the top of her head suggest that it is a favourite perch for pigeons when the tourists leave them in peace. Some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue as they say.

We followed the harbour south along the waterfront through an obviously affluent area, eventually reaching the Amalienborg Royal Palace. The Danish royal family are big on palaces and official residences. Summer palaces, winter palaces, second summer palaces and palaces just for eating their dinner.

Amalienborg is the official winter residence of the family. It is not just one, but four different palaces flanking an open square. The four were built by four different aristocratic families in the middle of the 18th century as private residences. Following a fire at the then current royal place at Christiansborg in 1794, the royal family took over the buildings. Accounts differ whether the king paid for the buildings or merely gave tax exemptions and promotions. Madam explained who lived in what building but it was all a little lost on me. I think the queen lives in one, the crown prince in another and their dog in a third. I may have got the bit about the dog wrong. Flags fly at various buildings depending on who is home, who has popped out to the corner shop for bacon, or who is walking the dog. You may need to ask Madam for the exact details.

There is a changing of the guard at noon every day and propitiously we arrived at a few minutes to twelve. Crowds already lined the square, cameras at the ready. A sole policeman stood guard in the centre of the square. Excitement mounted as noon approached. The buzz of conversation got louder and tourists jockeyed for prime position at the front. Twelve soldiers, wearing black bearskin hats, marched smartly into the square and did a right turn directly in front of Madam. It was all over in two minutes.

Nyhavn is Copenhagen tourist central. It’s the one with all the brightly coloured houses either side of the canal. Historic wooden boats line the quay. Most of the buildings are now restaurants with rows of outside tables almost reaching the water. It was lunchtime and every table was packed.

King Christian V opened the canal in 1670 to allow ships access to central Copenhagen. The oldest house dates from 1681. After a bit of a tiff with the British in 1807 and a spot of, probably well-deserved, naval bombardment, the wealthy merchants moved out. The area then became well known for sailors, pubs, prostitutes and general debauchery. 

Coincidently, or perhaps deliberately, Hans Christian Andersen moved into the street at this time, living in three different houses over the next twenty-odd years. We didn’t bother to scramble over dozens of diners and tables to see the memorial plaque at number 67. We did stroll the length of the street amongst the tourists and frantic waiters dodging between tables. It would have been nice to linger and look at the boats but there was barely standing room on the quay, let alone anywhere for a sit down.

Our guide book told us that Copenhagen was walkable and we wouldn’t need public transport. Amble across the centre in an afternoon it said. Even with our city pass, taking buses and trains where possible, we had walked over five miles by 1pm. The guide book also had no mention of The Little Mermaid. You have to wonder who writes these guides and whether they even visit. To moan a bit more, just a random glance at their recommended restaurant list included Noma as one of their top choices. I’m sure this two Michelin star restaurant serves amazing food but you have to book weeks or months in advance and pay them £275 per person to even get a reservation. Hardly a sensible suggestion for somebody spending a weekend in Copenhagen, is it? Other sections, I found later were completely wrong. Anybody need a guide to Copenhagen, going cheap?

EDIT: I eventually found a brief reference on page 103 and I quote: ‘The Little Mermaid … must rank as one of the most overexposed and overrated pieces of sculpture in the world.’  There was no mention in the index nor the contents of the guide.

Being hot and knackered, we headed back to the hotel for a rest. Just as we left the train, a pigeon flew close overhead and left me a little present. Today I was the statue. Some people believe a bird pooping on you will bring good luck and riches. I suggest that those people have never had to clean pigeon shit from their ears. I decided I don’t like pigeons.

After a brief rest, we headed back into the city and I had a £15 sandwich in the Tivoli food hall. The menu was in Danish, so I had no clue what each cost before I ordered. It was all looking and pointing. It was a nice sandwich – one of those open face ones. They call them Smørrebrød so they can charge more than a regular sandwich.

I’m being a little unfair in calling it a sandwich. The filling is piled high enough to make half a dozen British Rail sandwiches. The Danes have a reputation for design and they have turned the humble sandwich into an art form.  They are often a delight to the eye as well as the palate.

Smørrebrød includes countless open-face sandwich combinations, from basic to lavish. The word derives from smør og brød, or “butter and bread.” The basic bread is rugbrød or rye bread. This is buttered and toppings added. Traditional ingredients include pickled herrings, thinly sliced cheeses and meats, cucumber, tomatoes and smoked fish.

I think it worked out at about £1.50 a bite.

One of the waitresses yesterday recommended a visit to Strøget. This is one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets stretching to almost a mile. After a struggle to find the start, we spent an hour or so walking its length. Pleasant enough but very crowded and with more gift and souvenir shops than is either healthy or desirable. Madam bought two postcards 7 Kr each (84p).

We stopped off at the local mall on the way back to the hotel for some sushi. Due to an ordering cock up by our waiter, there was a long delay before our meal arrived. Hunger gripped me by then and I gulped down a roll. I like wasabi. It clears the sinuses. The roll was 90% wasabi. Strong wasabi. My eyes bulged and watered. My glasses misted. My nose ran, dripping into the soy sauce. My throat constricted. I gasped for breath. I drank a pint of water. I mopped sweat from my brow. My sinuses shrivelled up into a small ball and retreated, whimpering into a dark cranial recess. I may never hear from them again. I do not recommend the wasabi tuna roll.

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Day 3.

This morning started with a visit to the Botanic Gardens. There were just a few people strolling or walking their dogs – a pleasant change from the crowds of yesterday. It was nice enough but just lots of different trees and shrubs, rather than flowers. A walk amongst 50 shades of green. There was a butterfly house and a palm house I wanted to visit but it was hot and the sun was beating down. Spending an hour in a glasshouse didn’t appeal.

We picked one of the hottest weeks during a heatwave that had spread across the northern hemisphere. It wasn’t as bad as California which recorded a high of 49C, or Algeria at 51.3C but it was still uncomfortably hot. Walking in blazing sunshine in high temperatures was more tiring than we expected. When you visit a traditionally hot climate, you can often pop into a shop or cafe to cool down but the Danes have never embraced air-conditioning. Their focus is on keeping warm in subzero temperatures. If was often far too hot to spend a lot of time in museums or restaurants.

In search of a cooling breeze, we headed to Amager Strand beach on the far eastern coast of Copenhagen. You can see the bridge to Malmo in Sweden a little further along the coast, fading into the distance but I couldn’t make out the Swedish coast. The sandy beach was a popular area with the locals and was already packed by noon and a steady stream of new visitors were arriving from the train station or on bicycles. We sat on a bench for a while but there wasn’t much to do apart from sunbathe or swim.

A proper seaside town would have slot-machine amusements and a pier. Tacky gift shops selling buckets and spades. Pubs selling two-for-one cocktails and a promenade with interestingly shaped slicks of slippery vomit. Sticks of pink rock with an alarming quantity of E numbers. Kiss Me Quick hats and donkey rides for the children. Spilt beer and broken bottles. Cheap tattoo parlours where you can get ‘Carpa Diam’ tattooed on the back of your neck along with unusual intimate piercings. Feral ten-year olds on bikes boasting about their lastest ASBO.  A brawl every evening at 11pm sharp.

These Danes just don’t know how to have fun.

A short metro ride back towards the city found us in Christianshavn. Our guidebook promised us cobbled streets and charming houses and courtyards. After much searching, we found one street with a couple of old houses but that was about it. We caught a bus back to the hotel so Madam could take a nap.

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Day 4.

Our first visit of the day was to the Danish National museum in the centre of Copenhagen. I was mostly interested in the Viking exhibits which were wonderful and absorbing. Vikings in these parts had a habit of making offerings to the gods by dumping them in the local bog. These included jewellery, weapons, boats, animals and the occasional human sacrifice. The lack of oxygen in the bog preserved many of these and they are on display in the museum.

Having been to Jorvic museum a couple of weeks ago, I found this ten times better. I know it was Denmark, so it probably should have more stuff but the way it was displayed was far more thoughtful. More about education than entertainment. Sadly, the Jorvik museum with its long queues probably makes ten times as much money as the National Museum and that, after all, is what counts nowadays. I could have happily spent all day in there, but they didn’t have air-conditioning and they didn’t believe in opening any windows. We were both sweating liberally by the time we had finished the Viking exhibits.

It was a lovely museum spoiled only by the two young women on the ticket office booking us onto the 2pm tour of a seperate Victorian house that Madam had specifically wanted to see. We waited several minutes after 2pm, only to be told that the last tour for a week had been at 1pm. Madam was a little grumpy to hear this and remonstrated with any of the staff that would listen. Their response was to shrug their shoulders as if to say “We are blonde, what do you expect?” This made her very grumpy indeed.

The afternoon visit was to Rosenborg Castle. The Visit Copenhagen website tells me:

‘A royal hermitage set in the King’s Garden in the heart of Copenhagen, Rosenborg Castle features 400 years of splendor, royal art treasures and the Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia.’

It was all gold and gilt and twiddly bits of decoration, along with a bunch of tapestries and picture of deceased royals. After the first couple of rooms, they seemed to blur together. How many pictures of 18th century monarchs or how many elaborate carvings can you take?

I don’t remember much more of the castle apart from the King’s toy soldiers in the basement. There were 250 in all, in gilt silver. I couldn’t help wondering how many of the starving poor outside the palace gates all that gold and silver would have fed. I’m sure the ruling class would argue that the poor would just breed faster if you fed them. More poor at the gates and the king wouldn’t have had any toy soldiers to play with. That would never do.

The vault in part of the basement held the Danish crown jewels. Madam loves that sort of thing and I had to hold her back from asking if she could try on the crown. There was a young guide giving a private tour to four American tourists in the jewel room. We caught the last couple of minutes of his talk. At the end, one of the Americans asked “If the queen rules Denmark, is the Prime Minister just for show?” I tried to suppress a laugh. I really did.

Day 5.

“Mmmmm…” said Madam “These bananas taste just like the ones in England.”

She pondered this profound thought for a minute and continued “I like Copenhagen but I wouldn’t want to live here.”

“Why not?” I asked.

She gazed out over the harbour enjoying her Danish-just-like-English banana and thought for another minute and said “I don’t speak Danish.”

I did wonder about our complete lack of knowledge of the language when we booked the trip. Normally we attempt to learn a few words like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘do you speak English’ and ‘If I speak loudly and slowly in English will you understand me?’ Due to two other trips in the weeks before, we didn’t even get round to that. We need not have worried. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a single Dane that didn’t speak English. Some of them were so fluent you would have sworn that they were a native of an English speaking country. I later flipped through the TV channels in the hotel and many were in English.

Spoken Danish still sounds something like “fladen laden dahden dodle due nic den naden noodle” but after a week there we started to understand some of the written signs and menu items. It helps that some of the words sound similar even if the spelled words have weird and joined up letters like æ and ø. For example In and Out are Ind and Ud. Cold is Kold. Forty Six is Seksogfyrre (think six and forty). Parking is Parkering. Free is Fri. Give me a month there and I think I could manage to order a pizza in Danish if the server was very patient. It helps that the Danish word for pizza is pizza.

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Today we planned a trip to Roskilde to see the Cathedral and the Viking Ship Museum.

Roskilde is about 22 miles from the centre of Copenhagen. Travelling in England such a vast distance by train needs serious planning. You’ll need to check if there is a strike this week. Engineering works and a bus replacement? Cancelled trains due to management ineptitude? A signal failure somewhere in Scotland? Is it a full moon timetable? Has it snowed in the last two weeks? Leaves on the line? Bizarre restrictions on times you can travel on a specific ticket? Can I catch the 9.24 do I have to wait for the 10:00? Is there a remote chance of there being a seat, or will I have to stand for 40 minutes? Can my credit card handle the fare? Which of sixteen discount cards do I need to use? Then you give up and drive because you want to get there before teatime.

In Copenhagen you get on a train. The seats are wide and comfortable. There are no time restrictions. Travel when you like. It is all one fare. Trains run 24 hours a day every 10 or 15 minutes. There are lots of empty seats. There is fast, free and unrestricted WiFi. You can use the same ticket on a train, bus, metro or boat. Nobody is shouting into a mobile phone or screaming at their children. You get there in 23 minutes.

Is there anybody at Southern Rail listening?

We had a bit of a late start and it was almost 11 am by the time we reached Roskilde Cathedral. The cathedral, on a small hilltop overlooking Roskilde Fjord, was the first gothic cathedral to be built from brick. It was started in the 1170’s but took a hundred years to build mostly due to the lack of cheap flights to bring in bricklayers from Poland.

The cathedral gets 125,000 visitors a year from around the world. There was a large entrance sign and arrow on one side of the building pointing around the corner. We walked all round the building looking for a ticket office and front door. Having done the complete circuit and reached the sign again we stood and checked the Google to see if it was open. It was, the Google assured us. We started round the building again, together with another couple who had done the same. Tucked into a shady corner was a plain grey closed door which, it transpired, was the entrance. They used to have 250,000 visitors a year until the ‘Enter Here’ sign on the door fell off.

Like any church in continuous use since first built, Roskilde Cathedral has undergone many changes. Chapels within the cathedral were demolished and rebuilt. The occasional fire has led to restoration and reconstruction, often with major stylistic changes. Around it, the structure of the medieval town is still visible, with some medieval buildings and a few fine 17th and 18th century houses remaining.

The cathedral had a bit of a fall in fortunes during the Reformation of the 1530’s. The king decided he, not the church, owned the building and contents, slapped around the odd bishop, and helped himself to anything he fancied, which was most of the contents. Still, it did give him plenty of space to create tombs for him and his descendants. And did they take it seriously. The next several hundred years was witness to the most extreme bout of willy-waving known to man. Every succeeding king tried to make his tomb larger and more ornate than the last. And some of them are very large and ornate indeed. The later royals have calmed down a little and the recent tombs are simpler and stylish. Almost forty kings and queens of Denmark are buried in the cathedral.

We spent a couple of happy hours here with Madam checking off her list of every king and queen. I knew that she had an encyclopedic knowledge of every minor member of the British royal family. I did not know that this knowledge also extended to the Danish royals. She rattled off a long list of Federick this or Christian that and their various brothers, sisters and illegitimate children but the details blur a little in my memory. All I remember is that the current queen Margrethe’s husband had a bit of a hissy fit and decided he didn’t want his remains in Roskilde since he was only given the title of Prince and not King. When he died earlier this year, he had his wish granted and half his ashes were scattered in Danish waters and the other half at Fredensborg Castle north of Copenhagen. He was French, a bit chubby and had a penchant for goose liver pate, so nobody was much bothered.

A walk through the park behind the cathedral led us to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde harbour. This museum has the remains of five original Viking ships from the 11th-century. The five vessels originate from a blockade about twelve miles north of Roskilde. They were sunk into harbour inlets to prevent invaders reaching the city by sea. The boatyard specializes in reconstructions of Viking boats using the tools and materials available at that time.

I was really only there in the hope of finding a Viking hat with horns in my size but alas only the usual pens, guide books and tacky souvenirs were available in the gift shop. I did ask the woman serving but she was a bit sniffy and said that was just a myth. There is no such thing, she said. I don’t believe her. I have seen the pictures.

We had hoped to take a tour of the harbour in one of the reconstructed Viking ships but they were fully booked by the time we got round to it. Instead, we took a brief tour of the shipyard where the guide explained at length how they were at the forefront of experimental archeology, creating nails from bog iron ore and planks from felled oak trees. Due to the immense amount of labour used smelting iron and splitting oak logs, each boat cost many hundreds of thousands of Euros to build. The on-site blacksmith created an iron nail while we watched and the carpenter hacked half-heartedly at an oak plank to demonstrate the techniques used.

We wandered around the remains of the ships, located in a specially built hall. It was directly on the water so you could see the sea behind the ships. It was well presented but there is only so long you can look at lumps of 11th century wood without needing a cup of tea. On the way out I noticed a workshop with an open door. I poked my head in and saw a very large and impressive table saw, an electric bandsaw and a lot of modern tools and perfect machined planks of wood.

Tivoli Gardens is listed as the number two attraction in Copenhagen by TripAdvisor. The park opened in 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world, after Dyrehavsbakken in nearby Klampenborg, also in Denmark. It has one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters built in 1914 along with more modern rides that promise 4G forces and one which will turn you upside down at 100 km/h.

It’s probably great if you have deep pockets and young children with strong stomachs. Admission is over £14 then each ride costs between £3.60 and £10.70. Games of chance, with decidedly poor odds, were available if you needed a giant bar of chocolate or a stuffed giraffe. Not a real giraffe obviously.

There is a central lake and gardens and many restaurants and bars. In the evening it is lit by thousands of bulbs and we were promised a light show if we stayed until 10:45. We got there at 8pm and were bored by 9pm. It was nice enough, the gardens were pleasant and there were plenty of deckchairs if you could get over the smell of raw sewage wafting from the central drains. They seemed to be having a problem and there was a tanker with an impressively large hose down a drain in the center of the seating area.

Since neither of us had any desire to hang upside down seventy feet above the ground after dinner, or hang about by the drains, we strolled round the gardens a couple of times then sat in a bar waiting for the light show. I had a Danish beer served in a German beer-hall glass in an Irish Pub.

The light show? Oh dear. Somebody needs to go to Vegas to get some tips.

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Day 6.

We splashed out on two Copenhagen cards which gave us entrance to the city’s major attractions as well as travel on all public transport for one price. One of those included was the land train which is a 45 minute tour around some of the more interesting areas of the medieval city. The first train we tried to board was full so we had an hour to kill.

What else do you do for a spare hour but go to a Ripley’s Believe it or Not, also included in the card. Their website breathlessly tells us that it is only place in Copenhagen where you’ll find the Taj Mahal built from 300,000 matches and a picture of Queen Margrethe produced from pocket lint, and metal junk art. I’ve seen these “Odditoriums” in various cities around the world and often wondered about them. They did indeed have a matchstick Taj Mahal and a picture of the queen, along with deformed stuffed animals, distorting mirrors and optical illusions. As we were leaving, I asked Madam what she thought of it. “Cheesy” was her succinct and accurate reply.

There was plenty of room on the second train. It was better than I feared and took us around some areas we hadn’t seen. Even nicer when we got to sit down instead of walking. It was only marred by five loud and annoying tourists. I’m not sure if they were Japanese or Korean. They demanded the ticket seller took their photograph sitting on the train, then spent the entire trip peering into their phones and shouting loudly to each other. I don’t believe they looked at anything on the tour. They could have saved money by giving the driver a few Krone tip for a picture then left the rest of us in peace. Madam got very excited about halfway around the tour when she saw an American Pie Shop. I stopped her from jumping from the moving train by promising to go back later that afternoon.

Our next stop was the Glyptoteket Art Gallery. They had a large advertisement on the outside of the building which promised Manet, Van Gogh, Monet, and Gauguin. I think I saw a couple from Monet and two from Van Gogh, one suspiciously unsigned. The rest were from, shall we say, lesser known artists. There were a large number of paintings from Gauguin, probably more than I’ve ever seen in one place. Madam examined them and immediately suggested we planned a trip to Tahiti.

The pictures were oddly arranged over three floors. A couple of rooms of paintings then you had to go up to the next floor to see more. Then again up another floor to see the rest. I have a bit of a weakness for French impressionists, so had only intended to see those but we wandered around some of the statues and the Golden Age of Danish painters (1800-1860) exhibition which was almost empty of visitors.

We watched a young French couple go from room to room, stopping only long enough to take each other’s photo in front of the largest picture in the room. They didn’t pause to look at a single picture. All they needed was a photo to prove they had been there. Everywhere we go we seem to be seeing selfie tourism. Whether it is Stonehenge or The Little Mermaid. People who rush from attraction to attraction pausing only long enough to take a selfie or a photo of their friends before rushing to the next. I just can’t seem to see the point. Are they just trying to impress their friends, real or online? Get Instagram likes? Make the world think they are seasoned travellers?

I think it was Kurt Vonnegut that said ‘we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be’. This was decades before social media and the Instagram selfie age. Our image we present to the world via our Facebook or Instagram accounts is not us. It is just a collection of data on some remote server. To try and present ourselves as art lovers because we have a selfie in front of a Monet or two does us, or our friends, no favours.

Our Copenhagen card included a canal boat tour. At this point we were willing to do most anything that involved sitting down and not walking.

I’m always a bit suspicious about canal tours – so many of them just cruise past a few apartment blocks telling you how much they cost, then start hinting they would like a tip at the end. This one restored my faith. The young woman guide started asking if anybody would like the tour in Danish. A few raised their hands. Then she asked in English. Most of the rest responded. Then she asked in Spanish. One family said “yes please.” Obviously they said “sí por favor.” but you probably already worked that out. The tour included views from the canals of the Opera House, the Royal Palace, Christiansborg Palace and, of course, the Little Mermaid. The guide was the most entertaining we had in the city. Fun and knowledgeable and perfectly fluent in all three languages. And just a little bit cute.

My feet were still a bit sore, even after a 45 minute sit down. Madam astonished me by almost running down the road. Her feet were a blur. She was darting in and out of groups of meandering tourists. Ducking under selfie sticks. I struggled to keep up. I called after her. All I heard was “pie… pie… pie… pie”. I had completely forgotten about the American Pie Shop. We made it there just a few minutes before they closed and she selected a large slice of “S’Mores Pie” to take back to the hotel.

For those of you unfamiliar with this peak of American culinary expertise, this is a sickly sweet confection consisting of cracker crumbs, heavy cream, sugar, chocolate, eggs and marshmallows. 

We made our way back to the hotel for the evening and Madam started on her pie. I asked how it tasted and she just said “Mmmmmm.. Mmmmm …. Mmmm… mmmm.”

I wasn’t sure if that meant it was good, or that her teeth had stuck together.

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Day 7.

We were up early and took the 8:30 train to Hillerod some 24 miles from Copenhagen.

Madam wanted to see yet another royal palace, Frederiksborg Slot. Literally translated this is Frederiksborg Castle. This summons up images of battlements, a moat and portcullis. In practice it was another palace with endless rooms of royal portraits and over-ornate furniture. Eighty-three rooms of it. I summoned interest for the first twenty or so rooms but my enthusiasm and my body flagged by thirty and I was frantically searching for a cafe by room forty. There wasn’t a cafe and their coffee machine was broken. I would have had much more fun with a bow and arrow shooting invading armies from the battlements of a proper castle, or prowling through castle dungeons.

An exhibition in the basement did make the entire visit worthwhile. There were dozens of portraits by the Australian-born visual artist Ralph Heimans. Several of the Danish royal family were featured as well as English royals and actors. And boy, can the man paint. You could get close and see the brush strokes. Stand back and you would think you were standing in front of the subject. Give me a thousand years and a mountain of paint and canvas and I could never come close to being half as good as Heimans.

After a short ferry ride round the lake, we headed back into the city and walked down Strøget looking for somewhere to eat. We had managed to book our week during the annual jazz festival as well as the hottest week of the year. It would have been lovely to sit in the square and listen to the outdoor concerts but every place with outside tables was packed. Sitting inside in the heat wasn’t an option.

We headed back to the hotel and the buffet in the neighbouring mall. Buffet food is often disappointing but this was probably one of the nicer meals we had in Copenhagen and half the price of eating in the square.

Our Final day.

Our flight home wasn’t until 5.25pm so we arranged a late check out and planned to do one last excursion. Another royal palace if Madam had her way, or maybe a canal cruise if I had mine. In the end we just looked at each other and realised we were just about Copenhagen’d out. It is a wonderful city packed with amazing sights and lovely people and I could have happily spent another week there, but we had walked 55 miles during the week, often in almost unbearable heat, and it was starting to show. Instead, we just lounged around in the hotel room for a few hours, packed and took the train to the airport.

We were reluctant to eat at the airport but we ended up there at lunch time and the first place we saw served Smørrebrød sandwiches. There wasn’t much else that we fancied so we settled on this. My experience of airport food is that it is usually overpriced and often dire. What I hadn’t counted on was the Danish ability to deliver quality. The Smørrebrød were so good that Madam was picking them apart and studying the menu description, trying to work out how to recreate them at home. Have you ever had a meal that good at Gatwick or Heathrow? You don’t need to answer that – it was a rhetorical question.

I had a few Krone left after lunch and a couple of hours to kill. Rather than sit at a bar or read, I had a wander around the mostly expensive shops. There was a gift shop with the usual fridge magnets, keyrings and ornaments. The sort of stuff you buy then look at it when you get home and say “What on earth did I buy that crap for?”

My eyes wandered to an upper shelf and I saw it.

Oh yes I did.

Oh yes.

A VIKING HAT WITH HORNS!

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