Saturday, October 26, 2013

Back from Copenhagen

Whenever I travel to a foreign city I often think that it might be the last time I visit it.  Not a problem if it's somewhere ghastly where you never want to go again (Seoul, Manila, Tallahassee) but more poignant if it is a nice city.  I haven't been to Copenhagen since 2007 and didn't really expect to go there again.  However, HMG decided I was just the man for some meetings this week so I found myself taking a taxi to the airport at 4.45am.  I had to go for a preparatory meeting there a week or so ago but that was only at an airport hotel so didn't count; although it did mean I missed SELWG.

Taut thighs.  Lots of them

I love all the Baltic capitals: Helsinki, Tallinn, Stockholm and Oslo but have a particular soft spot for Copenhagen.  It's a very easy city to walk about in as it is very compact (compared with Stockholm for example).  Of course the best way to get about is by bike.  Denmark has the highest proportion of cycle transport in Europe (even more so than the Netherlands).  You have to be careful crossing a road because the cycle paths are often easily mistaken for footpaths.  If you are using a crossing on a large road, like the four lane Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard, then you need to jog to get across in time before the traffic lights unleash a furious posse of cyclists.  The Danes don't dawdle on their bikes but hammer along on their big 28 inch wheels (very few mountain bikes but a few hybrids) at a tremendous pace.

Bikes are just transport and not a fashion statement as they are in Britain but there was an article in the paper in Copenhagen this week complaining about the 26,000 bike thefts a year in the country (compared with the UK's half a million).  The reason for even this comparatively small number, however, is that hardly anyone in Copenhagen locks their bike.  I didn't see a single lock on any of the bikes parked on the street.

Many of these cyclists appear to be attractive young women (or maybe they are the only ones I noticed) with long, slim (and presumably very toned) legs.  Again, hardly anyone wears traditional cycling clothes; just their ordinary day wear.   Of course it is all much more entertaining in the summer!  I had most of Tuesday to wander around and the weather was sunny and reasonably warm (you didn't need a coat after mid morning).

One of the few bad things about Copenhagen is the prices.  Taxis are really expensive and I had to get out more money as my taxi fund had been virtually used up on the trip from the airport.  There must have been something going on in the City (there was a lot of UN activity around Parliament) as finding a hotel had been a nightmare.  So I decided to take the opportunity to stay in the newly renovated (and fabulously expensive) Hotel Angleterre on the main square opposite the Opera.  Established in 1755 the hotel was the venue for the first performance by Danish composer HC Lumbye (the Danish Johann Strauss and composer of the brilliantly eccentric The Copenhagen Steam Railway Gallop; one of my favourites). Although I checked in at 9.30am the room was ready, thank goodness, so I could drop off my bag and walk to the National Gallery.

Snowscape by LA Ring

I really like nineteenth century Baltic landscape painting and the gallery has a fine collection of paintings by Eckersberg, Lundbye and, my favourite, LA Ring.  Usually I eat in the gallery's trendy cafe but as I was only there for one night and was having dinner out I decided to go back to the hotel for lunch as it was, conveniently, half way to where I planned to visit in the afternoon.

Lunch was very nouvelle cuisine but was absolutely delicious.  Lobster bisque, followed by turbot and then fillet steak with sweetbreads.  All washed down with three glasses of Sancerre at a rather eyewatering £16 a glass.  Don't worry though, taxpayers, I was paying for lunch and the hotel not HM government!  I could have stayed somewhere cheaper at government rate but I just fancied a little splurge.

After doing a few e-mails I set off for the Arsenal Museum which, unlike the National Gallery, I hadn't been to before.  The rather unpretentious entrance (Copenhagen is an unpretentious sort of city) belied the very large museum behind the door.

The current museum is located in the long left hand building on the model above.  Originally built in 1611 the complex had access for naval ships so they could pick up stores directly from the harbour inside.  By the end of the seventeenth century the ships were getting too large so all the naval supplies and arms were moved to the island of Nyholm, the harbour was filled in and only the army's weapons were stored there.

Canon de 75 modèle 1897

The ground floor contains dozens of artillery pieces from the fifteenth century to the present day.  This is the famous French 75 of World War 1 fame: the first artillery piece with a hydro-pneumatic (the French love their hydro-pneumatics) recoil mechanism which meant it didn't have to be re-aimed between each shot.  It's also the only artillery piece I know that has a cocktail named after it.  In the background is a Carden-Lloyd tankette a name very familiar to anyone who has read about the history of tanks.  Never seen one before though!

Also downstairs was a temporary exhibition about the Danish army in Afghanistan (no, I didn't know they were there either) with a number of very well done "environments" such as this mined Land Rover.

Upstairs was a huge gallery with a selection of exhibits from Danish military history from 1500 to the present day.  It was very selective with just a few items from each period rather than taking the Brussels Military Museum approach of throwing everything they'd got in.  All the signs were in Danish and English, helpfully. Visiting things in Copenhagen is made considerably easier by the fact that everyone speaks perfect English.

Not everything was Danish.  There was a collection of Russian army uniforms, a collection of nineteenth century military headgear and two fine sets of samurai armour.  One of these reminded me that some Japanees lacquered armour was brown which will add some variety to my Ronin figures.

The Thirty Years War was represented, primarily, by this nice set of cuirassier armour and pair of long pistols.  Fortunately, you are allowed to take pictures in the museum and there doesn't appear to be any restriction on using flash although the building is very well lit by large windows anyway.  Most museums around the world seem to permit photography; it's only in Britain that you tend to run into problems and that, I suspect, is more about protecting postcard revenue than the exhibits themselves.

Here is a Danish army cap from the First Schleswig War which got me thinking about what happened to Matt's range of figures from that conflict.  I wonder whether you can still buy them?

One very interesting exhibit was a complete set of uniforms of a US infantryman and cavalryman acquired by the museum just before the American Civil War, in 1858.  Jacket, trousers, shako, shoes, leather equipment, greatcoat, blanket and even socks.  Apparently it is the only surviving complete set of a US infantryman's and cavalryman's uniform and equipment from the period in existence.

I went back to the hotel to do some emails and drink some Carlsberg (inevitably) before having dinner at the ambassador's residence (no pictures allowed).  I did have time for a quick Vodka Martini or two in the Hotel Angleterre bar with a nice young lady I had met at dinner.  Too many olives, as usual but really, really cold so they get points back.  8/10.

Next day it was goodbye to my cosy (or hygge, as the Danes say) room and just time for a quick breakfast of interesting sausages and €6 eggs (not included in the set breakfast cost) before a day of talking to government people.  These talks went so well that I might have to go back to Copenhagen again, which will not be a trial.

Edinburgh next week and a chance to see the Antonine Wall (I know it's just a ditch!)


  1. Copenhagen is indeed a very nice city. Maybe someday I'll get a chance to go there again. Looks like it was an enjoyable trip.

  2. Very nice post, I have not been to Copenhagen but this makes me want to!!

  3. If you like 19th century Baltic landscape painting you could give Lars Lerin's contemporary painting a chance.

    His work might feel a tad darker, however, than the generally light feeling of the earlier Baltic landscape paintings.

    As always, a highly enjoyable post!


  4. 16 euro for a glass of wine!! whew. Enjoyed the trip report, thanks.