Helsingør

Helsingør (Elsinore), Denmark


Now that we have visited the Kronborg Castle, where Hamlet lived, spoke to ghosts, and died, I think it is only natural to pay the surrounding town a visit, Helsingør (Elsinore, as Shakespeare called it). Helsingør is situated on the northeastern tip of the island of Zealand, Denmark, at the narrowest point (4 kilometers) of the sound, (Øresund) between Denmark and Sweden.

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The area has been inhabited for a long time, and around 1200 the first church, Saint Olaf’s Church, was built. Helsingør as it is known today was founded in the 1420s by king Eric of Pomerania. In 1429 he established the Sound Dues, meaning all foreign ships passing through the strait had to pay a toll, which constituted up to two-thirds of Denmark’s state income. At the time, the Swedish side of the sound was Danish, therefore Denmark could control all activity in the sound. With this income, Eric of Pomerania built the castle Krogen that was later expanded and renamed Kronborg. (This is the castle we visited yesterday – Hamlet’s Elsinore.) All ships had to stop in Helsingør to get their cargo taxed and pay a toll to the Danish Crown, and of course this meant increased trade for the town, as the ships had to anchor here anyways. In 1672 Helsingør had grown into the third biggest town in Denmark. The Sound Dues were abolished in 1857.

A lil’ bit of trivia: The car ferry line crossing the sound, between Helsingør and Helsingborg, Sweden is the busiest in the world with more than 70 departures in each direction every day.

The Greatest Ferry Line in the World

Ambience

Crossing

Exposure

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Hamlet’s Elsinore


Yes, this place actually exists! Except the castle’s name is not Elsinore, it is Kronborg Slot (added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list in 2000). You can come and see for yourself, it is in the town of Helsingør, Denmark, on the northeastern tip of the island of Zealand at the narrowest point of the sound, (Øresund) between Denmark and Sweden. The sound is here only 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) wide, so a fortification here has always had an immense strategic and economic importance, and it has been repurposed several times throughout the years.

The castle dates back to a stronghold, Krogen, built in the 1420s by King Eric VIII (Eric of Pomerania*). King Frederick II** transformed the stronghold into a Renaissance Castle from 1574 to 1585. Much of the castle was destroyed in a fire in 1629, but King Christian IV subsequently had it rebuilt.

*Related reading: Roskilde Cathedral, King Pantsless, where Erik of Pomerania becomes King through adoption by King Pantsless (Margrete I)

**Related reading: Roskilde Cathedral – The Renaissance Ruler, about Frederick II and his young Queen.

Per a legend linked to Arthurian myth, a Danish king known as Holger the Dane, was taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay. He returned to rescue France from danger, then traveled to Kronborg castle, where he sleeps until he is needed to save his homeland. He mst be knackered and overworked to sleep this long! His beard has grown to extend along the ground. A statue of the sleeping Holger has been placed in the castle.

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Holger the Dane

The Ballroom was, when it was completed in 1582, the largest hall in Northern Europe. It measures a whopping 62 x 12 meters. The present floor and fireplaces are from the rebuilding 1924-38.

The chapel was inaugurated in 1582, but in 1785, as the castle was being fitted for use as army barracks, the chapel was fitted out as gymnasium and fencing hall, and the furniture was stored away. In 1838, the chapel was refurnished with the original furniture, and reinaugurated in 1843.

The Swedish army besieged and conquered the castle during the Dano-Swedish War of 1658-60, and the castle was deprived of many of its most precious art works. The Swedish conquest demonstrated that the castle was far from impregnable, so after the castle was back on Danish hands, the castle defenses were strengthened scientifically. After their completion, Kronborg was considered the strongest fortress in Europe.

From 1739 until the 1900s, Kronborg was used as a prison, and the inmates worked on the castles fortifications. From January 17, 1772 to April 30, 1772, Kronborg was the place of imprisonment of Queen Caroline Mathilde***, following the scandal of her affair with Johann Friedrich Struensee.

***Related reading: Royal Shenanigans, where I tell the story of the Royal infidelity that landed the young Queen in prison.

***Related reading: Roskilde Cathedral – Power struggles and insanity, the story of the mentally ill King, the imprisoned Queen’s hubby.

We do have to talk about Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, which is set here at Kronborg. In the play, it is called Elsinore, though that is actually the anglicized name of the surrounding town Helsingør. The play has been performed several times in the courtyard and at various locations on the fortifications. For those of you that are dire Hamlet-fans, here are some famous Hamlets:

The castle was opened to the public in 1938, and they host a fantastic Christmas Marked two weekends in December every year. I absolutely recommend visiting Helsingør and Kronborg Castle. And should you happen to be in the area in December, make sure you visit the Christmas Marked!

Aesthetic
Ambience
The Greatest Castle in the World
Graceful

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I haven’t killed anyone!


calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsI’m not one for the whole New Year’s Resolution-thing.  The start of the year has no other meaning than Julius Caesar decided the date worked for him for religious and political reasons. Since then both the religion and the Roman Empire has ceased to exist.  (Click here, for a rather interesting read about why the year starts on Jan 1st as opposed to any other date of the year)

I am also not a fan of the whole resolutions thing since they always get broken. You’re good for a week, then it goes downhill from there and you can add yet another failure to your list of accomplishments. I realize that the only thing that has changed since last year, is (drumroll please) THE YEAR!

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The new routine I am trying to implement into my life is in no way, shape or form related to the new year. No, Sir! It is rather, a direct result of a decision I made 10 weeks ago, when I decided to quit smoking.  As many ex-smokers before me have learned, there is an obvious inversely proportional correlation between how much poison you no longer inhale into your lungs and the circumference of your waist. For those of you that have never quit smoking, this is what happens: For every cigarette you do not fire up and inhale, your waist grows! I KNOW! IT’S SICK!

fb_img_1451149176464Then add all the fat and sugary foods us Northerners stuff our faces with during Christmas. Of course, by tradition there must be 7 different kinds of festive bakes. There are several traditional dinners we must go through, and I can assure you – not one of them is particularly healthy! Not even the cod, as it is served with a delicious sauce, consisting of cream and butter. There is chocolate, marzipan, desserts and puddings, there is beer and aquavit, there is soda and there is wine – and it is all flowing in liberal quantities. Of course, quitting smoking under such circumstances may seem foolish if gaining weight is a concern. Yes, I’ll give you that. But then there is never a good time to quit smoking in that respect, there will always be a celebration or an event where one may be tempted to stuff sugar cookies in one’s mouth.

michelingThe thing is – there is a significant difference between quitting smoking and quitting life. I want to keep my social life even though I choose not to smoke. I do want to go about my life in the exact same way as before – just without the smokes! I do want to celebrate X-mas, without the smokes. I want Easter-vacation as well (I do not celebrate Easter religiously, but it is bank holidays and time off), and I do want my marzipan eggs and the sweets and the seasonal foods. I am unwilling to change all of that just because I quit smoking! The result is that 10 kilos places themselves around my waist, and I am down to two pairs of jeans that I am able to zip up, and then the top half of my stomach spills over the waistband making me look as if I got stuck halfway through a motorcycle tire. If I keep this up, I will look just like the Michelin man! And that is the reason I took up jogging!

6fihrI must say that quitting smoking this time is going way better than before. I haven’t really exploded on anyone, and the urge to kill people for being annoying has not been very prominent. Now, that fact alone should qualify for a shiny #weeklysmile!

(If you want to hear all about my first week of jogging, stay tuned for a very, very, very whiney post.)


I am joining the #WeeklySmile bunch, as I wholeheartedly agree with the host, Trent, that we need some positive posts in between all the serious stuff in the news and on the web. Give someone a smile today, and see what happens!

Care to join us at the #WeeklySmile ? Then go to Trent’s World  and join the LINK UP!

Older entries in the #WeeklySmile:

Turkey smiles

Halloween-smiles

Spanish Smiles

Bliss

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Do you want to build a snowman?


(Norsk tekst finner du her: Har du lyst å lage snømann?)fb_img_1449352590569

I started a tradition with the Karate Kid when he was young in making gingerbread men, houses and what have you. We have a vast collection of those things you stick the figures out of the dough with. We now have so many shapes, that we need to double an all ready large recipe to get through them all. It takes a whole fragging day to roll, cut and bake the gingerbread men, and the whole next day to decorate them.

The Kid is now 15 and can’t be bothered to make gingerbread men with his old mom anymore. Thank goodness! So, this year I thought up something quicker, but equally creative. Yup, I made melted snowman cookies! And what do you know – both the Kid and Sir Nerdalot came lurking and wanted to help. I just love the result, some are looking sad and moody, others angry or deformed. So funny!

Now, these are sooooooo easy! Just use your favorite recipe for sugar cookies, mix up a batch of royal icing, open a few bags of sweets like licorice strings, marshmallows and mini smarties for eyes, head and buttons and let your creativity come to life.

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Pointy hats and Devil Cats


Today we celebrate surviving the year’s most dangerous night with a St. Lucy procession and homemade saffron-buns (Devil Cats). Have you ever tried one of these saffron-flavored Lucia buns? No? Here is your chance, the recipe will follow at the bottom of this post. First, we need to find out why do we put saffron in buns, and who was Saint Lucy?

15380306_10154463986941622_5885234601998451094_nThe Feast of Saint Lucy is a Christian feast day commemorating Saint Lucy, and is observed by Lutherans and Catholics. Of course, us Northerners add our own twist to it. All that is really known for certain about Lucy is that she was a martyr in Syracuse (a historic city in Sicily, Italy) during the Diocletian Persecution of 304 AD. Her veneration spread to Rome, and by the 6th century to the whole Church.

Per the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents around the year 283. Her father died when she was five years old, leaving Lucy and her mother without a protective guardian. As she grew older, Lucy consecrated her virginity to God, and hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. Her mother was suffering from a bleeding disorder and feared for Lucy’s future, and not aware of Lucy’s promise, she arranged for her daughter’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family.

In hopes of a cure, the sick mother made a pilgrimage to Saint Agatha, whom had been martyred 52 years earlier during the Decian persecution. Her shrine at Catania, less than fifty miles from Syracuse, attracted several pilgrims and many miracles were reported to have happened through her intercession. While her mom was on this pilgrimage, St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith, her mother would be cured, and that Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse. Upon the return of the mother, all cured and healthy, Lucy took the opportunity to persuade her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor.

15492079_10154463987321622_1535681339358521543_nLucy’s betrothed was all kinds off pissed off when he heard what was happening to the dowry and the riches of his future wife, so he denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse. Paschasius ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image, which she of course refused, and thus she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel. The Christian tradition states that when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, but the fire did not touch her. Finally, she met her death by the sword.

In the 15th century a new twist to the story first appears; before Lucy died she foretold the punishment of Paschasius and the speedy end of the persecution, adding that Diocletian would reign no more, and Maximilan would meet his end. This so angered Paschasius that he ordered the guards to remove her eyes. Another version has Lucy taking her own eyes out to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them. Miraculously, when her body was prepared for burial in the family mausoleum, it was discovered that her eyes had been restored. The eye gauging-story might have come into play because Lucy’s Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for light, lux. Therefore, she was named as the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble. In paintings and artwork St. Lucy is frequently shown holding her eyes on a golden plate, and also the palm branch – a symbol of victory over evil.

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Now, why do we celebrate this day in the Nordic countries? When the Nordic countries were Christened, the “missionaries” carried with them the commemoration of St. Lucy, and this story of a young girl bringing light in the darkest period of the year might fit in nicely with the Scandinavian folklore which is centered on the annual struggle between light and darkness. Of course, in this region, the extreme change in daylight hours between the seasons might be what owes the tradition its popularity.

Our pre-Christian holiday of Yule (jól), was the most important holiday in Scandinavia, and was originally the observance of the winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun. Some of the practices of Yule remain in the Advent and Christmas celebrations today. We even kept the pagan name of the holiday!  The Yule season was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving and gatherings, and the season of awareness and fear of the forces of the dark.

Worth mentioning is that St Lucy’s feast on Dec 13th, used to coincide with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, this is because the Julian Calendar was used at that time. When the Gregorian Calendar was employed, they kept the old date for St. Lucy’s feast and it no longer fell on the longest day.

In Nordic folklore, the night we just woke up from is called Lussi Langnatt (The long night of Lussi). On this night and onwards to Yule, all kinds of goblins, orks, trolls and evil beings were thought to be active outside. It was believed to be particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. Per tradition, children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away, and certain tasks of work in the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. You were also not supposed to do any work on this night, or else you would get punished. Lussi is a female demon like goblin/ork/which who ride through the air with her followers, called “Lussiferda” (this itself might well be an echo of the myth of the Wild Hunt, or “Oskoreia”). There is also a theory that Lussi might have come from a mix up between the holy Lucy (“Light”) and the devil name Lucifer (“light-bearer”)

Lussi represents the unseen beings, the trolls, the goblins, the Huldufolk, the demons. There are several tales of her being Adam’s first wife and matriarch for the night creatures, just like Lilith in Jewish folklore. I will not get further into this, even though I do find it fascinating. (This might be food for a future blogpost, but if you are interested and simply can’t way, then check it out for yourself by comparing the two different reports on the creation of the woman in the bible, you find them in Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:22)

Legend also has it that farm animals talked to each other on Lussinatten, and that they were given additional feed on this longest night of the year, and there are similes to the modern tradition on Christmas Eve, where farmers put bowls of porridge out in the barn for the goblins and make sure the animals have an extra treat.

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The Karate Kid in the Lucia-procession in daycare.

As you will see, the way we celebrate St Lucy today is a mix of folklore and religion from all over the place. In preschools and schools a child is dressed up as Santa Lucia in a white gown and with a crown of candles on her head. She walks at the head of a procession of white clad children, holding candles that symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucy’s life when she was sentenced to be burned. They also sing a traditional Neapolitan song, Santa Lucia, where the Scandinavian lyrics are fashioned for the occasion, describing the light with which Lucy overcomes the darkness.  Boys taking part of the procession are also dressed in white, but often have a cone shaped hat decorated with golden stars, also an old Nordic tradition that has been brought into the St Lucy veneration.

That we mix and match traditions is not just a Nordic phenomenon as this example from some regions of North-Eastern Italy where St. Lucy is also popular among children: Here St. Lucy is said to bring gifts to good children and coal to bad ones the night between December 12 and 13. Per tradition, she arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave some coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey and a glass of wine for Castaldo. They must not watch Santa Lucia delivering these gifts, or she will throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. Does this sound like someone else we know?

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The Karate Kid is two and a half years old here.

Back to the Nordic way of doing it: The procession of singing, white clad children holding candles, often hand out a special baked bun, the Lussekatt, made with saffron. An older Swedish name for these baked goodies is Devil Cat. This tradition is said to come from Germany in the 1600s. The devil, in the form of a cat, would give the bad children a beating, while Christ, in the form of a child, would hand out buns to all the good children. To keep the shady Devil away, the buns are colored with saffron to make them yellow and representing the light the devil doesn’t like.

There you have it – this is the reason I greet you today with Lussekatter, these bespoke festive buns. You are welcome! (The way shorter and simpler reason is that I like Lussekatter and just wanted to make them.)

I promised you a recipe, mind you that this recipe also give the best buns and cinnamon rolls, but change the saffron for a teaspoon of cardamom if you are making something other than the Lussekatter.

Recipe Lussekatter

  • 1 liter milk
  • 300 grams butter
  • 250 grams icing sugar
  • 1 gram saffron
  • 100 grams yeast
  • 1500 grams flour
  • 1 egg
  • raisins

Add milk, butter and icing sugar in a pot and brink to a boil. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the saffron (if you are using the saffron strings, then place in a mortar and pestle with a teaspoon of sugar and grind to a powder). Let the mix cool to body temperature (37°C).

Stir the yeast in the mix, and add the flour. Knead the dough well. It is not necessary to proof the dough before making the buns in the shape of Lussekatter, but you can if you want. (see below for shaping-tips)

Place the shaped buns on greaseproof paper on a baking sheet and leave to proof for an hour. Decorate with raisins and dab lightly whisked egg on top of them to make them shiny.

Bake on 230°C for 7-10 mins on the middle rack. Keep an eye on them, you are using high temperature and you do not want the buns to burn on top.

Here you can see five different ways of rolling the buns. This vid is in Swedish, but you do not need to understand the narrative at all to see how to roll them.

Now, this is a rather large dough, and after rolling and shaping about half the dough, I got fed up by it all and decided to make something I call Christmas rolls with the rest. Simply roll out the rest of the dough with a rolling pin. Take a big chunk of marzipan out of the fridge and grate it over the rolled-out dough. Then roll it up like you would cinnamon rolls, cut discs with a knife and place them on a baking tin. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle chopped almonds and sugar. Supergood! The marzipan works great with the saffron.

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Pickled Herring with Mustard and Apple


15317786_10154456595761622_5135254287891355178_n(Norsk oppskrift finner du her: Sennepssild med eple)

Oh, glorious Christmas with good eats, decorated trees, family fun and more good eats. must admit, in my family it is all about the food, and most of it holds long traditions in Scandinavia. Like Pickled Herring.

Pickled herrings have been a staple in Northern Europe since Medieval times, being a way to store and transport fish, especially necessary in meatless periods like Lent. The herrings would be prepared, then packed in barrels for storage or transportation.

15492193_10154456596876622_6936669129180691598_nNowadays it is a treasured food for the X-mas breakfasts, lunches, buffets, and tapas’. You simply cannot celebrate a real Christmas without herring at this neighborhood. And it is delicious!

There are lots and lots of readymade pickled herrings to be bought, but the very best is the one you make yourself. Now, I do not do it completely from scratch, meaning I buy the cured herring, and take it from there.

This recipe is with mustard and fresh apples. I am not used to apples with my herring, but I must say they added a very nice crunch and freshness. There will be apples with my mustard-herrings from now on!

In the recipe below you’ll see that I put a lot of onions and apples in my herring, simply because I like it that way. Feel free to use less if that is what you prefer.

15439715_10154456596031622_6101263783700620759_nPickled Herring with Mustard and Apple (yields two large glasses)

  • 300 grams cured herring, sliced
  • 2 green apples, peeled and sliced
  • 2 onions, peeled and sliced
  • A bunch of fresh dill, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons coarse mustard
  • 1.5 tablespoon sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 0.75 dl sunflower oil
  • 6 tablespoons crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Stir together the mustard, sugar, vinegar, oil, crème fraiche dill. Fold in apples, onions, and herring. Season. Put it into airtight container and refrigerate overnight.

The Danes use rye bread, but if you’re not keen on that then any type of bread will do. Or perhaps cooked potatoes, or flatbread? Also, very common to enjoy Aquavit with the herring. Skål!

(The herring will keep in the fridge for about a week.)

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Festive sides: Lingonberry-Apple Chutney


(Norsk oppskrift, følg linken: Tyttebær-Eple Chutney)

Since we already put some efforts in preparation in festive foods for X-mas and New Year’s, maybe it’s also worthwhile to put a lil extra effort in the accessories as well – especially in those things that can be made well in advance. This aromatic, little jam will elevate your meal for sure!

It is excellent with turkey, X-mas ham, and any dish you would normally serve with cranberries. And yes, you can certainly switch the lingonberries with cranberries in this recipe. The spices are perfect for the Holidays, but it can be used year-round of course.

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You just must try it with deep fried Camembert, or how about on Melba toast with cream cheese?

This recipe yields a rather large portion, so why not put some of it in a pretty jar and give away as a present?

Well, let’s get on with it, shall we? Here is the recipe:

15232066_10154425390996622_5977085041121755224_n-001Lingonberries-Apple Chutney

  • 500 g fresh or frozen lingonberries
  • 3 Granny Smith apples
  • 1 onion
  • 300 ml sugar
  • 100 ml water
  • 200 ml sultanas
  • 100 ml soft brown sugar
  • 50 ml cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 100 ml walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

Rinse the lingonberries and peel and slice the apples and onions into small cubes.

Place sugar and water in a heavy-liter saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 3 minutes. Add the lingonberries, apples, onions, raisins, brown sugar, vinegar, and spices and give it a quick boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until the chutney is very thick. Stir occasionally.

Cool and stir in toasted walnuts. Put in a clean glass with a tight lid and it will keep in fridge for a couple of weeks.

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Festive