Day 2 |
Jun 09, 2011

Helsingor, Denmark

By Sue Flood, Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 56°02’N – 012°38’W
Weather: Overcast with light rain, brightening in the afternoon.
Air temperature: +17°C

I awoke at 0700, after an excellent first night on board our very comfortable home for the next two weeks. After breakfast and safety training, I headed ashore with the other expedition staff to await our first guests.

We began the Zodiac operations ashore just before midday, once a safe disembarkation platform had been set up. Light rain made for a slightly damp journey ashore, but we were soon seated in our comfortable coaches for the day.

The majority of us went on a fascinating four and a half hour “Castles of Denmark and Sweden” tour. I was surprised to hear the voice of Avril, the excellent guide on the first bus, having been expecting a Dane! Avril hailed from St Andrews in The Kingdom of Fife, in Scotland, but she and her husband have lived in Denmark for 35 years.

Our first stop was the magnificent Kronborg Castle, built between 1574 - 85 on the site of a still older castle, with its location chosen to protect the seaward entrance to the Baltic Sea. Kronborg (or Castle of the Crown) is recognised as one of the most significant Renaissance castles in Northern Europe and has been included in UNESCO’S list of World Heritage Sites since 2000.

Kronborg Castle was the inspiration for Elsinore, Hamlet’s Castle in Shakespeare’s famous play. The play includes many correct details about the castle - perhaps Shakespeare learned of it from travelling players who performed in all the courts of Europe. We entered through the Dark Gate into the Castle Courtyard, from where we could admire interior views of the castle in all its splendour. We started in the 1582 chapel, with its beautifully carved and colourful interior. The chapel was the only area to survive the fire of 1629; the rest of the castle was rebuilt in the same style. From here we moved through a variety of Royal Apartments, enjoying our guide’s anecdotes of royal life and some beautifully worked tapestries and furniture.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the King’s room from where he would watch ships passing through the narrowest point of the Oresund. They had to lower their topsails as a mark of respect to the King. Apparently, a visitor to the King’s household recorded one occasion when a ship failed to lower its sail and received four lots of warning shots as a consequence, which had the desired effect! Finally, we descended the wide, stone spiral stairs again to the courtyard before reboarding the bus and taking the ferry to Sweden.

The ferry crossing took only 15 minutes and no sooner had we reached the cafeteria or observation deck to get views of Sweden approaching, than we were making our way back to the bus. We drove through Helsingborg town centre along the coast to Sofiero Castle. Our first, welcome stop here was in the café for coffee and some delicious cake, enjoying the views over the stunning gardens and with Kronborg Castle visible on the horizon through the trees.

The garden here at Sofiero is justly famous for its rhododendrons. Behind the small castle there were shaded trails descending into a cool river valley, with wonderful blooms everywhere. However, for me (as a professional photographer), the highlight of Sofiero was the charming photographs and home movies of the royal family’s children at play in the grounds of the castle. I could certainly see why the late King Gustav Adolf loved this place so much. We reluctantly returned to the bus and crossed back into Denmark.

While most guests were out enjoying the Castles of Denmark and Sweden, eight guests spent a more active afternoon on a quite different excursion, exploring Helsingor by bike, with Klaus, one of our onboard naturalists, and a local guide. Happily all returned intact, and well exercised!

After a Recap & Briefing for tomorrow’s arrival in Norway, we gathered in the Panorama Lounge for Captain Peter Stahlberg’s Welcome Cocktail Party, and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine as the weather had improved dramatically. We then enjoyed a magnificent Welcome Dinner prepared by our Executive Chef Norbert Ruhdorfer.

We will wake tomorrow at sea sailing towards Kristiansand, Norway.