Half a century after its debut, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead returns to The Old Vic. Things may have changed around these parts in the last fifty years – off the top of my head, there’s a branch of Byron down the road, and the price of theatre tickets has increased dramatically – but this play, just like its venue, remains sharp.
It famously lifts two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who we know end up dead, hence the non-spoiler-alert title, and tries to fathom how they met their fate. Was it just a case of really bad luck? Were they a bit dim? Was everyone out to get them from the start? Stoppard may not have all the answers, but he scrutinises their unfair side-lining by the Danish court, and gives them a chance to voice their side of the story. That is, if they even know what the story is. Or where they are. Or which one is which. In these ever more uncertain times, where we’re bombarded with cries of ‘fake news’, conspiracy theories and 24-hour coverage of distressing events, The Old Vic treats us to lines like ‘We are tied down to a language which makes up in obscurity what it lacks in style’. This could have easily described Donald Trump’s tweets, and not a key character’s philosophy on the language of acting.
Hygge (pronounced HOO-GAH) is the lifestyle trend that just won’t die. It’s a not-quite-translatable word that represents a feeling of cosiness and contentment, often found through enjoying nature, snuggling up in a warm nook, catching up with a few friends or enjoying some proper comfort food and maybe a mug of hot chocolate.
Though the word originated in Norway as a rough description of wellbeing, it really took hold in Denmark from the 18th century, and it’s now one of the most fundamental pillars of Danish life. The inclusions are broad, from a fun-loving bloke you meet (that’s a hyggelig fur) to a welcoming house bursting with food (just really hyggelig). In contrast, somewhere cold, dark and unfriendly would be uhyggeligt, but so too would someone addicted to technology. Told you it was hard to explain.
Tell someone you’re off to the land of Borgen and The Killing and they’re bound to ask, “Is Copenhagen expensive?”. Technically the answer is ‘yes’, but only in the same way that Paris or London can be pricey for the uninitiated. You really can do Copenhagen on a budget without skimping on culture, and I’ll show you how.
Free Things to Do in Copenhagen
Catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony every day at noon, at Amalienborg Palace. Yes, it’s a tourist cliché, but it’s fun too. Also, make time to wander around Nyhavn, which you’ll recognise from postcards and any films set here. For something a little offbeat, read my review of the free tour at the Danish Parliament, the Folketinget, or consider visiting the Danish Music Museum (Rosenørns Allé 22).
How do you save people from concentration camps when there’s a war raging across Europe and beyond? It’s a big question, but the answer sounds scarily simple: in the case of Scandinavia, you get permission from Himmler himself, then commandeer some buses, ambulances and trucks, collectively called the White Buses. You use a volunteer network to drive them from Theresienstadt, Dachau and Ravensbrück through war-torn Europe to the safety of Malmö’s medieval castle.
Last year I went to Malmö and saw the extraordinary place where those liberated spent their first weeks of freedom. Unsurprisingly, it gave me the research bug.
‘Happy 100th anniversary of the Constitutional Act granting votes for women in Denmark!’ is a bit of a mouthful, but it might come in handy today, as the Danes are celebrating 100 years of equal voting rights. Cue three days of celebrations (and a day off today, the lucky things). The big anniversary, with its female-friendly leanings, encouraged Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to call a general election on 18th June, so things are pretty hectic in Copenhagen right now.
To get in the political mood and find out what all the fuss was about, I took a guided tour of the Folketinget (Parliament) in English, and got to see weird and wonderful paintings, all the Constitutional Acts and the all-important Chamber itself, where the politicians debate. Set in Slotsholmen, a small island in the city centre, the Folketinget is part of a wing in Copenhagen’s Christiansborg Palace. It’s a great place to learn about Danish culture and how their laws developed, as you’ll see from my tour notes.
My next travel destination is known for being effortlessly cool: Copenhagen has two famous Michelin -starred restaurants, internationally known fashion designers like Baum und Pferdgarten, and a hippy-founded ‘freetown’ called Christiania… but I’ve been tempted for other reasons. If you need convincing as to why Copenhagen should figure in your holiday plans, look no further.
History on Every Corner
You can’t ignore centuries of heritage: Denmark has been ruled from Slotsholmen, a small island, since 1167. Today it’s home to Parliament and the Supreme Court, and the Royal Family can be found in the nearby Amalienborg Palace. Christiansborg Slot, the castle, has been through more reinventions than Madonna, thanks to fires, renovations and an entire demolition. Underneath today’s structure are the ruined foundations of the original castle.
You want the truth? Not everyone goes on holiday to relax (though mainstream travel adverts might try to persuade you otherwise). Sure, it’s nice enough to do nothing for a few days, but soon the novelty wears off.
Instead of waiting for boredom to set in, take things up a gear and do more of what you love, surrounded by people with the same mad passion for music, media or history as you. I’ve lined up a shortlist of specialist holidays to keep you on your toes.
Capture New Orleans with National Geographic Expeditions
This photo workshop puts you in the midst of effortlessly cool New Orleans, led by Tyrone Turner, a National Geographic photographer. From your base in the French Quarter you’ll visit Jackson Square, Café du Monde, and one of the city’s famous cemeteries, in between attending workshops and getting to know the nightlife scene. In 2015 there are four different departure dates for the trip, and prices start at $1,595pp ( £1059pp at the current exchange rate) without a hotel, or $2,175 (£1444pp) with a hotel, based on two people sharing.
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.