Author Archives: Bug Woman

The Capital Ring – Falconwood to Grove Park

Eltham Park

Dear Readers, this section of the Capital Ring is only about 4 miles long, but it’s packed with interest – there were points during today’s walk when I found it hard to believe that I was still in London. We started from Falconwood Station, and soon found ourselves in Eltham Park. There is a splendid avenue of horse chestnuts, but some of them have clearly succumbed to honey fungus.

But what is this? Someone has left an adorable painted stone. It made my day, and I left it there so it could make somebody else’s day too.

The horse chestnut avenue

There are some very fine sweet chestnuts here as well, some of them full of parakeets. South London seems to be the epicentre of the ring-necked parakeet population, and I noticed that they seemed to like the chestnut trees very much. I also noticed how some of the sweet chestnuts had clearly rotated as young trees, with spiral patterns in the bark.

And there were some fine lone poplars too.

I popped into the ladies, only to find that one of the toilets was inhabited by a very shy workman. He’d gone in to fix a cistern but once women popped in to use the other cubicles he was too embarrassed to show himself, and was shouting instructions to his young apprentice to get him to try to direct other ladies in the direction of the disabled toilets. Bless. I made a discreet exit, and hopefully he was finally able to emerge and get his work done.

On we go, in the general direction of Eltham Palace. This was a very important London house, and the first indication that we pass is called Conduit Head – it used to house the sluice gates that controlled the water for the estate. Eltham Palace housed a fine array of Tudors, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and was visited by Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. It was ransacked by Cromwell during the Civil War, but then had a new lease of life when it was bought by the Courtaulds and transformed into an Art Deco masterpiece. Indeed, it deserves a visit and a blog post all to itself, but for now let’s continue with the walk.

Eltham Palace Sluice Gates

We pass Holy Trinity Church, which has a chapel dedicated to the dead of Gallipoli. It seems very busy today.

Then I notice that this shrub is full of harlequin ladybird larvae – I see at least four on one branch. These beetles are certainly making themselves at home.

The edge of Eltham Palace is approached via Tilt Yard Lane – a tilt yard was a place for jousting competitions. I love the way that the Tudor bricks have become mini-habitats for all kinds of plants.

We reach the entrance to Eltham Palace itself, but that’s as far as we’re getting without paying. Another day, perhaps. After all, it has a very impressive Great Hall, which was left intact after its 1920s restoration.

I always fancied a house with a moat, having read Roger Deakin, the nature writer, who used to go for a swim in his moat every morning. I can’t see it happening in the County Roads sadly, but a woman can dream.

And how about this very splendid Tudor mansion just opposite Eltham Palace? This dates back to the early 16th Century and was where the Lord Chancellor actually lived, so it housed Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. It all makes me very nostalgic for Wolf Hall, and extremely sad to think that Hilary Mantel has died much too young. She was one of my favourite writers, and I mourn her passing very much.

The Lord Chancellor’s House

Next, we wander down a lane called King John’s Walk – it’s apparently named for King Jean II of France, who was held captive during the 14th Century and used to take his exercise along this lane. After a few hundred yards, I could be in the countryside. The Capital Ring is so full of contrasts and interest. Look at this little lot – I don’t recall ever seeing so many horses in London outside of the Royal International Horse Show that used to be held in Earl’s Court every year.

And yes, in the background is the Shard. There are fantastic views from the crest of the hill.

The Shard, the Post Office Tower and various other tall buildings….

Canary Wharf and a whole heap of new building…

The Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie etc

And just to make my day complete, here are some donkeys.

We cross a railway line, and I am most impressed by the Virginia Creeper on one end….

..and the mile-a-minute vine (Russian Vine) on the other side. This seems to be the ‘weed of choice’ for this part of south London – I’m always intrigued by how common weeds in one part of London turn into completely different plants once you move a few miles.

Then we progress past the vast playing fields of Eltham College. No tarmac playgrounds here! Just acres and acres of rolling green sward. There’s a riding school opposite the entrance too (so that explains all the horses).

The lane beside Eltham College Playing Fields

And look at this tree! It has grown through the fence, absorbing the metal as it does. I love how resilient these organisms are.

And finally, we pass the culverted River Quaggy (which sounds a bit like something from Father Ted, but is actually a tributary of the Ravensbourne River). At the moment it is a trickle of a few inches, but the height of the concrete suggests that it might get a lot more ‘interesting’ after heavy rainfall.

And then it’s off to Grove Park station for a well-earned cuppa and a train back to Charing Cross. The next leg is from Grove Park to Crystal Palace, quite a long haul, so I suspect we’ll break it into two. But for now it’s home before the rain starts.

The Capital Ring – Shooters Hill to Falconwood


Dear Readers, this week we’re planning on getting in a few more walks around the Capital Ring, so we started where we left off last month, at Shooters Hill. The area around here is blessed with lots of green space – we started off by the Old Police Station on the corner of Shooters Hill Road and Academy Road. These days, it’s residential, as so many industrial and civic buildings seem to be. I do sometimes wonder about the sum of human misery that hospitals and police stations, prisons and asylums have seen, and whether some of that is baked into the walls somehow. I hope not, for the sake of the people now living in these places.

Then we cross Eltham Common and enter the first of the woods that we’ll be walking in today, Castlewood. This is one of several forests that form Shooters Hill Woods – the area was bought by London County Council during the 1920s and 1930s, and they have been designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest. The trees are certainly very interesting, being a mixture of hazel, silver birch, pedunculate and sessile oak and wild service tree, plus a large number of sweet chestnuts.

In the middle of the castle there is something that actually looks like a castle.

Severndroog Castle

This was built in 1784 as a memorial to Commodore Sir William James by his wife, Lady Anne James. Severndroog is a misspelling of Suvarnadurg, an island fortress in India captured by Commodore James in 1755. Apparently you can see several counties from the top but alas the ‘castle’ is only open on occasional Sundays and, to add insult to injury, the café was also closed. Harrumph! Still, this is the highest point on the Capital Ring (at a staggering 419 feet above sea level) so we could claim a small sense of pride.

On we go, and so we pass some people who are working on a rose garden, in what is clearly the remains of an old estate. Turns out that this was once the garden of Castlewood House, which stood here from the 1870s to the 1920s. I was very impressed by this magnificent redwood.

Further along the path there are great views south.

Then we pass the walls of another turn-of-last-century estate, this time Jackwood House. I love the walls, and the variety of vines that are clambering over them, especially as the Virginia Creeper starts to redden.

And here’s another sunny view through the trees.

By now, the absence of caffeine is starting to make itself felt, and so we are delighted to happen upon the Oxleas Wood Café, with its wonderful view and full range of sandwiches. Just the thing.

Oxleas Wood Cafe (Photo by David Fisher)

And just look at the view!

A falcon (probably a kestrel) flew over the scene and disappeared into a large tree just as I was raising my well-earned cuppa to my lips. This seemed very apt as our last stop was Falconwood Station.

Replete, we head off again for the last part of the journey. The last wood is Shepherdleas Wood, and it has some wonderful trees, like this four-trunked specimen, which looks like something out of Tolkien.

What has been missing from the walk, however, is water – this is the only pond that we see, and it seems to be a hotspot for frogs and newts in the spring.

Very sensibly, it has a sign to warn people not to take frogspawn or tadpoles from the pond.

I think people often don’t realise how difficult it is to rear the spawn of amphibians successfully, and also that they risk transferring disease from one area to another if they release any survivors somewhere else. I hope that people pay attention, and let the frogs and newts get on with reproducing without harassment. It’s not much to ask.

And so, we come to the end of a relatively short walk. Tomorrow, if the weather holds, we’re planning on marching on a bit further, from Falconwood to Grove Park. ‘See’ you tomorrow!

Home Again!

Dear Readers, well here we are again, back in East Finchley, but before we leave Copenhagen completely, I wanted to share a couple of recommendations from our trip, in case any of you decide to make a visit at some point. And also I wanted to share this very fine dog. His owner popped into the coffee shop where we were having a last cappuccino before heading to the airport, and asked the dog to stay outside. Well, he kind of did. Clearly having your chin on the step counts as not actually entering the coffee shop.

Incidentally, people kept speaking to us in Danish – I’m not sure if it’s because we’re both tall, or if I have Viking ancestry somewhere, or because we were dressed in the typical Danish garb of waterproof jacket and sensible trousers. Whatever the reason, I was very flattered.

Righteo, here are a few things that we’ve learned.

  1. Not only is this a great town for cycling, it’s also got excellent transport. There are numerous ways to get from the airport to the centre of town, but the Metro is probably the easiest. It’s only a fifteen-minute trip, costs about 36 Kroner (which is about £4.20) and drops you right in the centre of town. There are even lifts to get you and your pram/bags/bicycle tad the o ground level. We made the mistake of getting a taxi to the hotel on the way in, which is the easiest way but cost nearly £60 for a fifteen minute journey. Ouch.
  2. We stayed in an apartment block which was right in the middle of town, but was surprisingly quiet. It meant that we didn’t have to pay out for breakfast every day, and the kitchen was very well-equipped so you could easily cook if you wanted to save some money. We were also close to Copenhagen University so there were lots of cheaper places to eat for students. The apartments come in different sizes, and if there was a group of you it needn’t be eye-wateringly expensive, especially out of season. Be aware, though, that the autumn and winter can be very damp. No wonder the Danish are so keen on this hygge (cozy) idea – there were days when the thought of curling up in front of an open fire with a good book was very appealing (no open fires at the apartment, but you get the idea). There’s a link to the website here. And no, I’m not getting a commission :-). NB though that there is no lift, though there are ground floor apartments (and a stairlift up the few stairs to those apartments) but I’d make any mobility requirements clear on booking.

A typical Aperon Apartment room

3. Now, as you’ve probably gathered, eating out can be expensive in Copenhagen, so we were delighted to find this place – Paludan Bogcafé. It was full of students working, locals reading the paper, tourists, friends meeting up. We went for our first meal when we arrived in Copenhagen, tired and hungry, and liked it so much that we ate there most nights. The menu has burgers (veggie and meat), stirfry, chilli con carne, pasta, sandwiches (which are enormous) and about six kinds of cheesecake, including one made from Maltesers. It serves wine, beer, coffee and all kinds of soft drinks. You queue up, order your food, pick up your drinks and make yourself at home, surrounded by shelves of books. Honestly, what’s not to like? It’s open every day from 9.00 (10.00 at the weekend) till 22/23.00.

Paludan Bogcafe

4. We did have a couple of ‘nice’ meals out as well. The trend in Copenhagen seems to be towards tasting menus with no/little choice – both the places we visited had both ‘the full works’ tasting menus, with up to ten courses, wine pairings, mortgage application form etc (ok so I made that up), or a shorter, more affordable three-course menu, which was what we went for. Both places also had a vegetarian three-course menu. The food is light, local and seasonal, and berries feature in both savoury and sweet dishes. They also do lots of wine by the glass (just as well), and also Aamanns 1921, the first restaurant that we tried, makes its own soft drinks.

Aamanns 1921 is most famed for its open sandwiches (smørrebrød), but the food at dinnertime was delicious. The website is in Danish, but you can get a flavour of it here on the Michelin site.

Vækst is built around a greenhouse, and is full of plants and greenery. Again the dinner menu was short, but the blackcurrant sorbet was probably the most delicious thing that I ate during my whole visit. And there is a very nice apple-based dessert wine, Feminan, which the waitress had to Google to find out about – there are staff shortages in Copenhagen as there are everywhere else, but I found everyone extremely helpful and willing to go the extra mile, even though tips are not expected to be more than 10%.

So I would say that if you want a low-stress break, Copenhagen is a perfect spot – it’s easy to get around, there are ways to cut back on the bills, and even if it’s raining, there’s plenty to do indoors. We could easily have found enough to do for another week, and it’s also very child-friendly – every museum and art gallery has areas for children and things for them to do, and the pedestrianised centre of town means that you’re not dodging traffic as you have to in most capital cities. As always, I felt as if I was just getting to grips with the place when it was time to leave, so it was with some sadness that I waved goodbye to Paludan Bogcafé, the Botanical Gardens and the Food Market, and headed back to Heathrow. Still, at least the cat was pleased to see us.




In Christianshavn

Dear Readers, for our last day in Copenhagen we decided to explore the region of Christiansholm, just across the Inner Harbour from the hustle and bustle of the main sights. I love to just walk and ‘hang out’ in an area, and as today was more or less dry it seemed like a good opportunity to see what the city looks like from the other side of the tracks.

Well, looking back gives you a fine view of BLOX, which is where the Danish Architecture Centre is (we were there on Monday).

Blox and the Danish Archtitecture Centre

Then there’s the Black Diamond, which houses the National Library of Denmark.

I rather like that you can see people stomping across the bridge in the middle section of the library.

Then there is the bridge that was designed by Olafur Eliasson – you might remember the artist from his installation at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall a few years back, with its great gold sun. This is a little more subtle, and is known as The Circle Bridge.

I am delighted to see some hooded crows (Corvus cornix), a bird that I associate with Northern climes of all kinds. They instantly remind me of my time in Dundee . I thought that they were simply a subspecies of the ordinary carrion crow (Corvus corone) but it seems that I am out of date and that the hoodie (as we used to call it) is now granted species status in its own right.

Here in Copenhagen they are generally seen alongside jackdaws, another of my favourite corvids. There are plenty of magpies about too, but not as many pigeons as you might expect.

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

There is lots of new building…

but lots of old buildings too. I think of terracotta and mustard as being *the* colours of Copenhagen (along with grey, at least this week).

And this is the spire of the Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Saviour). In a city of spires, this is surely the most daunting. Not only does it have that spiral staircase around the outside (even looking at it from the ground gives me vertigo) but it has the largest carillion of bells in Northern Europe, consisting of 48 bronze bells that cover a range of four octaves. We heard it ring at midday and it was certainly very impressive.

But then it was lunchtime, and we found a lovely café close to the second, quieter canal. I had a smoked salmon smørrebrød and very delicious it was too, so delicious in fact that I almost forgot to take a photo. So here it is with a single bite taken out of it.

On we go, suitably refreshed, past some lovely social housing on the canal side where the marigolds have self-seeded along the path.

And then there is a small garden full of pollinator-friendly plants, and some more flats with gardens overlooking the canal which I think were the equivalent of sheltered housing.

In the distance is the power plant, which uses waste that can’t be recycled as an energy source. Denmark doesn’t have enough of this kind of waste so it imports some from Sweden. The site itself has a ski-slope, recreational hiking trail and the world’s highest climbing wall, at 85 metres. Very inspiring!

Now, around the corner from all this is the Free Town of Christiania, an area of small wooden structures that are enhanced with recycled materials, a huge warehouse/exhibition space with a motorbike and sidecar hanging out of the wall, various cafés and bars, and an all-pervasive scent of cannabis – whilst it’s illegal in Denmark it seems to be tolerated within Christiania itself and in the streets roundabout, where I swear I almost got high just from breathing in.

Because of the drug use there’s an air of edginess to some parts of the town that made me reluctant to get the camera out. If someone is doing something a wee bit dodgy they’re unlikely to relish getting caught on camera. And so I’m grateful to my husband/sidekick/lovely assistant for getting this photo.

And then it’s back to the Metro, to work out how the system works. By the time you read this we will hopefully be back in East Finchley with a huge bag of dirty laundry and a lot of memories. Tomorrow I’ll put together a note on some recommendations re accommodation and food in this very expensive town. Suffice it to say that I feel as if I’ve only just scratched the surface.

At the Danish National Museum

An Auroch

Dear Readers, the Danish National Museum is packed full of interesting things. On the ground floor there’s the prehistory of the area. The first floor is Viking territory, and on the second floor there’s the Children’s Museum. Well, we started off the day with an ambition to do at least the prehistory and the Vikings, but by early afternoon we realised that our brains were already full, and we didn’t have the capacity to take any more in. And so, we concentrated on the prehistory of Denmark, and very interesting it was too.

The auroch (Bos primogenis) was believed to be the ancestor of our domestic cows, but it was a very large, fierce beast. The bulls found in Denmark were between 61 and 71 inches tall at the shoulder, and the last one in Northern Europe became extinct about 3000 years ago. They are the animals often seen in cave paintings.

Cave painting of aurochs from Lascaux in France

This particular individual showed scars on his ribs from previous encounters with humans, and arrowheads found around his body show that he was probably shot at and ran into the bog to escape, where he collapsed and died. His body was not butchered, which shows that the hunters didn’t get butcher him. Small populations of aurochs lived on in eastern Europe until much later, with the last one dying in Poland in 1627. The Nazis were obsessed with bringing the auroch back by interbreeding various types of domestic cattle. The results may look like aurochs, but they won’t have the genes of the original animal, and I imagine that their behaviour is very different.

As is usual in museums, I end up skipping from place to place, picking up various things that interest me like a human magpie. For example, Denmark and the Baltic countries in general are hotspots for amber, one of my favourite semi-precious stones. I rather liked that in the museum they have example of both real and fake amber ornaments. In the photo below, c) is an actual stone-age amber bear, while d) shows a couple of imitations.

It wasn’t unusual for stone-age people to be buried with their dogs, as in the grave below.

Stone axes could be made both for use and for ceremonial purposes, and the latter were most likely to be found in graves. I loved the variety of stones used in the axes in the case below, and the skill and smoothness with which they were made.

Later, in the Bronze Age, teeny tiny bronze swords were cast to go into funerary urns (as by this stage people were sometimes being cremated rather than buried) – ‘proper’ swords were too big.

I always feel rather discomfited at the sight of human remains in glass cases in museums – after being buried with such care it makes me sad that they’re now revealed to be gawped at. But there is no doubt that interesting things have been found in graves. The Egtved Girl, for example, was about 18 when she died, and she was buried with the cremated bones of a much younger child of about 5 or 6. There has been much speculation – was the child a sibling, the girl’s own child, or even a human sacrifice? Her costume was also interesting, with a short cord skirt and cropped top, not so dissimilar from something that a teenager of a decade ago might have worn. She died in the Nordic Bronze age, about 1370 BC. The cord skirt in particular is interesting – similar garments have been found in other places in Scandinavia, and they often had metal pins in the cords. I’m not sure if anything similar has been found in other parts of Europe. It certainly implies (to me at least) that either the climate was warmer then, or that this was a specific costume for burial.


Those of you who were lucky enough to get to the Ice Age Exhbition at the British Museum a few years ago might recognise the item below – it’s a Sun chariot. The horses were believed to carry the sun through the sky. When we were looking at this, there was a clap of ‘thunder’ and an animation started that showed the horses pulling the sun through the sky. At the end of the day, the sun appeared to fall into the sea, where it was rescued by a celestial duck who looked after it until the following morning. I cannot begin to express how much I love the idea of a celestial duck.

Sun Chariot

And how about these magnificent musical instruments? These are Bronze Age Lurs, a kind of horn that would, I’m sure, have produced a most impressive sound, and which are only known from Scandinavia, Denmark in particular.  There’s a statue of a pair of Lur players in Radhusplasen, the main square. I was told that they only sounded these days when an adult virgin went past. Hah! The butter manufacturer Lurpak has two intertwined lurs as part of their packaging, something that I’d never noticed before.

Some Lurs

Well after all these wonders we were starting to get a bit tired, but then we hadn’t yet gone into the Rune Hall, where a number of stele (standing stones) are inscribed with details about those who are commemorated on them.

This one was place in honour of Gunulf, a ‘clamourous man’, by his sister Ragnhild. She says that ‘Few will be born better than him’.

On the back, it says that whoever damages the stone, or drags it away, must be a warlock/demon. I note that, unlike the other stones, it has holes so maybe it was pulled into position using ropes.

I am becoming extremely fond of Denmark and its attitude towards its citizens. How about the way that they have rooms especially for nursing mothers, or anyone who just wants a sit down with their little one? There are always plenty of changing rooms/toilets and parking spaces for prams, and at the war museum earlier this week I noticed that prams and wheelchairs were positioned so that people could use them if they wanted/needed to. It’s true that Danes have 50% taxation, but then unlike some I could mention I don’t see tax, and redistribution, as a bad thing. In more equal societies everyone is happier, including those who are rich.

And finally, how about this extraordinary carriage? It again was found in a grave and I think it shows how rich Bronze Age society must have been to just bury something as precious as this. It is decorated in pure gold, and I fell in love with the little faces and the extraordinary detail. If only we could talk to our ancestors, and understand more about their lives and their beliefs. As it is, we can only try to piece things together from our perspective. I’m sure we miss so much.




At the National Gallery of Denmark

Dear Readers, we decided to start the day off with a visit to the Torvehallerne Food Market, just around the corner from where we’re staying. Grød is a porridge café, and why we don’t have such things in the UK I have no idea. We had a huge bowl of porridge with apples, almonds and caramel sauce, and it’s nearly 4 p.m. and I’m still not hungry. No wonder the Vikings were so successful, I bet they started off the day with porridge. You can get all day porridge with a variety of toppings, but as lunchtime approaches they start to do other grain-based bowls such as tomato risotto, along with dahl and chicken congee. Just my kind of food! I’m noticing that a lot of restaurants also do their own soft drinks – there was elderflower and strawberry on offer yesterday, along with lemon and thyme and gooseberry and rhubarb.

The food market is in two halls, one selling porridge and chocolates and salads and bread, and the other more meat and fish, with the fruit, veg and flowers in the middle. I was especially impressed with the range of wild mushrooms.

And then it was on to the SMK or Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the National Gallery of Denmark. After all the weapons of war yesterday it felt good to take in some art, and there’s plenty here to look at. We decided to stick with the Danish art, which we’re less familiar with, although there are 20 Matisses too. The Museum itself is a very fine, large, airy building with a modern wing tacked on at the back to house, appropriately enough, twentieth-century Danish art.



The bridge between the old and new buildings

There were a few artists that I definitely wanted to check out. One was Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864 – 1916). After several days of drizzle, I was immediately taken by his use of shades of grey, but there’s something very enigmatic about his paintings – his characters always seem lost in thought, and there’s a feeling, captured also in Hopper’s paintings, that something has just happened, or is about to happen. See what you think.

On the other hand, lest you think all the Danes paint are muted interiors, we have Carl Bloch (1834 – 1890). He clearly loved colour, and he painted 23 pictures for the chapel at Frederiksborg Palace between 1865 and 1879. The palace was originally home to King Christian IV in the seventeenth century and is the largest Renaissance palace in Scandinavia. The paintings have been used repeatedly by the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), both in reproduction and as inspiration for films and artworks. A couple of them are shown below.

Christ Healing the Sick (Carl Bloch)

The Sermon on the Mount (Carl Bloch)

But what caught my eye was this painting – ‘In a Roman Osteria’ from 1866. Just look at the way that all the diners are looking at us, and then there’s the cat (a bonus animal is always a good thing in my view). There were even flies and wasps on the table, to satisfy my entomological leanings. You could write a fine short story about this painting, I’m sure.

Carl Bloch (1866) – In A Roman Osteria

Upstairs in the new wing there were some more recent artists. Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was a German/Danish painter, one of the first Expressionists. Ironically, although his work was considered ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis (he was banned from painting after 1941), he was himself a Nazi sympathiser and anti-semite. Recent exhibitions have highlighted this fact, and the description of this painting ‘Last Supper’ includes reference to Nolde’s politics.

On a more pleasant note, how about this? This is by William Scharff (1886-1959), one of the leading proponents of cubism in Denmark, though what attracted me to this painting was the spring-like colours, and the little critter in the corner. The picture is called ‘Three Boys Looking at a Toad’. I especially like the toad.

So, all in all I had a great time at the SMK and learned a lot of things about Danish art that I hadn’t appreciated before. There is something about the light here, and the long, dark winters and brief, bright summers that seems to filter through into much of the art, though the work of someone like Nolde also exposes a darker side.

And to finish up, here’s a photo of the Hauser Plads, just round the corner from us, with its mix of medieval architecture and new buildings, quite a few bicycles and an enormous flower stall. And for once, it’s dry!


Copenhagen – Bombs and Books

Dear Readers, it’s been a miserable, wet old day here in Copenhagen, but if there’s one thing that cheers up my husband, it’s a War Museum, and the Danish capital has a very fine one. The building was built in around 1593 and used to be an arsenal. It has one of the finest collections of weapons in the world, so my husband was in his element. Me, not so much, but then he did spend several hours in the Botanic Gardens at the weekend, so it’s fair dos.

Denmark’s more recent history is largely as a neutral/pacifist nation, following the Battle of Dybbøl in 1848 against Prussia over Schleswig Holstein. The Danes were hopelessly outnumbered, and the casualties were shocking to those at home. However, the debate against intervention in foreign wars goes on – there was a very interesting exhibition about Denmark’s involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan, and I noticed a group of school children in very philosophical debate about the nature of war, and whether or when it was appropriate to take up arms.

The museum as a whole looks at the history of war in Denmark on land and at sea, from about 1500 onwards. It also has a display of artifacts from other countries. All in all, it was pretty overwhelming.

These fine cannons were stolen from Venice – they’re probably more decorative than useful.

This display shows a car that was carrying an Iraqi tribal leader when it was attacked by an ISIS drone. The driver and passenger were both injured, but survived.

You can get some idea of the sheer size of the arsenal from the photo below. It’s also on two floors.

Ground Floor

First Floor

And when I looked at this suit of armour, it occurred to me a) that they must have been made to measure b) what on earth happened if you put on or lost weight, and c) how claustrophobic and hot wearing one must have been (though I note that there are convenient gaps under the armpits to let the steam out.

Well, this is a truly amazing museum if you’re interested in all things martial, but I must admit that after a couple of hours I needed a sit down. Fortunately, the museum is full of chairs that you can actually sit in, and there were also some hammocks in the naval part of the museum, so if I’d been more confident in my ability to get into one, that may well have been a way to spend the afternoon. However, by now we were both hungry so we went back outside into the rain to find some sustenance. En route we passed a group of very small children and their teacher, who were climbing all over this Leopard I tank (used by the Danes and the Turks in combat, my husband tells me). I can’t see this being allowed in the Imperial War Museum, but then the Danes are much more relaxed about their children than we seem to be.

Onwards! We headed just across the road to the Black Diamond, aka the Danish National Library to have a spot of lunch. At 1 o’clock a most peculiar bonging noise went off. This happens every day, according to a lovely man who stopped us and talked at some length in Danish. Do we look Danish, I wonder? This keeps happening. Maybe it’s because we’re both tall. We’re definitely not blond.

The ‘Black Diamond’, otherwise known as the Danish National Library

There are so many spaces to sit and study here, not only in the new part of the building, but in the old library to which it’s attached. I half wished that I’d lumped my laptop with me so that I could sit in one of the old reading rooms and knock up a blogpost. I’m a Reader at the British Library, but it can be so hard to find a spot a work, plus people can be so noisy! Here, all was serene.

Some of the workspace, looking back towards the new building

The view into the old library

The view towards the waterfront

And then it was time to head home for a rest. It’s funny how much the grief and stress of the past few weeks/months/years has taken it out of me, but at least I’m listening to myself now. Time was, I would want to see everything that there was to see in a place, but I’ve finally realised that if I just pile one experience on top of another, I end up not savouring anything. it takes me a while to process and think about things, and I enjoy them much more if I allow myself the time to do that.

Oculus in the old library


At the Danish Architecture Centre

Dear Readers, over the years I have found that Danish people have a dry sense of humour that I find very engaging, and this morning was no exception. We were just about to sit down for coffee and croissants (£20 thank you very much) when we saw this advert in letters several feet tall. Netto is the budget supermarket in these parts, and there are two within a few minutes’ walk of where we are staying. We are right in the heart of the student area, and how they manage is anybody’s guess.

Anyway, we ended up at this coffee shop. It was packed to the gunnels with Danish goddesses and handsome young men stocking up on caffeine before retreating to their offices. And us. Though we ended up sitting outside.

The croissant was the best I’ve had in years. Just look at that lamination.

And how about this little beauty? This was a twist on the traditional Danish cardamom buns, with poppyseeds, a lemon glaze and that zesty tang of cardamom. How we shared it without rancour I shall never know.

Anyhow, lest you think that all we do in Denmark is drink coffee and eat baked goods, we were on our way to BLOX, a controversial building that houses the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), some workspace, a café, a restaurant and lots of things for children to do. If you go to the exhibition space upstairs, you can also get downstairs in a hurry by taking a twisty twirly slide in a tube.

The Danish Architecture Centre

Inside, there were two exhibitions. One was called ‘A Space Saga’ – a pod designed for people living on another planet was tested out in Greenland, where two ‘astronauts’ lived in the habitat for 60 days. It was a rather intriguing origami-like structure, which can increase its size by 750% when it unfolds. However, it still felt extremely claustrophobic to me. You’d have to get on very well with your co-workers I imagine. It feels to me as if the biggest challenges for long-term space travel will be the physical and psychological problems of the people who go. Still, it was very interesting. You can read a bit more about it here.

The second exhibition was about women in architecture, both those who worked in the past, and those who are coming up now. Only 25% of architecture practice partners are women in Denmark, and this in a country with decent childcare and equality measures. Even when I was here last, twenty-five years ago, I remember being impressed because the Finance Director of the company that I worked at, a man, was taking a few days off because his child was starting school, and parents could accompany their children to help them ease into the new environment. There was no expectation that his wife should do it instead, and this was in addition to his normal leave allowance (which was 40 days). Denmark has higher taxation than we do, but better social care in almost every aspect.

Anyhow. At the end there were interviews with some women architects. They seemed happy to work collaboratively and to share ideas, and they put thought into how to make spaces feel safe and welcoming for everybody. One woman pointed out how important lighting was, especially at night, and how, while bleak spaces might feel hypermasculine and edgy, they did nothing to encourage people to feel at home. I often feel this in new developments – impressed by their scale, but as if I don’t belong there, which is not surprising as they weren’t designed with me in mind. And if I feel nervous, how about all the other people who don’t find spaces easy to navigate? There was plenty of food for thought.

You can read all about it, and see a short film from the exhibition, here.

And then it was off for a walk home via the edge of the Christianborg palace complex, which is the home to the Danish parliament.

The view along the Christianborg canal

We passed the Royal Danish Library, otherwise known as The Black Diamond. It’s an extension to the existing building, and is one of the largest libraries in the world. Copenhagen is full of bookshops, used and new, and it’s clearly a favourite occupation during those long damp winter nights.

And, me being me, my eye was taken by the abundance of berries on this snowberry. It certainly puts the plants in my local cemetery to shame.

Then we wander around the back of the Stock Exchange, where we saw the spire with the four dragons yesterday. Today I was very taken by the reliefs on the back of the building. There were a variety of muscley bearded and moustachioed chaps, a few wan maidens, and one very fierce-looking matriarch.

Then we passed in front of parliament…

….admired the seagull sitting on the head of this copper-clad warrior (who turns out to be Bishop Absalon, founder of Copenhagen)….

and then admired the three storks on this fountain, topped by a cheeky pigeon. Since 1950, newly-graduated midwives dance around the fountain, a piece of news which cheered me up enormously. No obvious midwives when I was there, however.

And finally, I was intrigued by this building, with its decoration of a snake, a lizard (a water dragon by the look of it), a scorpion and a squid. How could I resist?  These days it’s a store selling Bang and Olufsen sound systems, and in a previous incarnation it sold Louis Vuitton handbags, but originally it was the home of the Svane Apoteck pharmacy, one of the first pharmacies in Copenhagen, dating back to 1849. The building, which dates back to 1934, is a listed monument, but why those particular animals were chosen I have no idea.

Well, I’m sure that the creatures have some symbolic value, but they are also beautifully designed and presented. As in most cities, there is much to see above one’s usual eyeline. It’s well worth looking up.

A Walk to Nyhavn and the Changes on the Waterfront

Statue of Viggo Horup in Rosenborg Castle Gardens by J F Willumsen

Dear Readers, after we left the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen yesterday, I was still eager for some green space and so we walked through the edge of the Rosenborg Palace gardens. I was much taken by this sculpture of Viggo Hørup (1841 – 1902), agitator, liberal and all-round good egg. He was anti-nationalist, and fought for social equality, including campaigning for the gardens to be open to everyone. The relief at the bottom of the statue apparently shows Denmark before and after slavery. I rather liked it.

And then it’s on down to Nyhavn, the old waterfront and these days the scene of hen and stag party bar-crawls. Goodness knows how many people end up in the water. It is very pretty, very crowded, and we passed by on the other side.

At the end of Nyhavn there’s a new bridge, so I popped up to have a look. Goodness!

On the left is the Royal Danish Playhouse, finished in 2008 and, as you can see, currently showing ‘West Side Story’. Most of it (about 40%) floats above the water.

On the other side of the canal, in the distance, is the new Opera House. This has been the subject of some controversy. The architect, Henning Larsen, called it “without comparison the most owner-infected [bygherreinficerede] ‘worst-case’ in my fifty years as an independent architect – squeezed between the Phantom of the Opera himself (of which more below), shipping magnates, and lawyers.” He was deeply unhappy about how he and his building had been treated, as you can see.

The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was the shipping magnate Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller. He does seem to have had a lot of input into the design of the building (which ended up costing about $370m). In the first place, the building was meant to have been glazed, but Maersk  apparently decided that it should be clad with a metal grid. Larsen also wanted a particular treatment for the rear wall of the foyer, that would have resembled old violins. Instead, it was treated using traditional staining techniques, and the jury is out on whether this is effective or not. Suffice it to say that the locals in Copenhagen call this part of the building ‘the pumpkin’.  Furthermore, Maersk financed the building, but it was tax deductible, and it seems that the Danish government was obliged to buy it back. The building was completed in 2000, so it’s something else that would have been a hole in the ground when I was last in Copenhagen.

The foyer of the opera house, showing ‘The Pumpkin’.

Some things remain the same though – there are some magnificent old warehouses, such as this one, that houses the Museum of the North Atlantic and which, for those prepared to take out a mortgage, also houses Noma, once regarded as The Best Restaurant in the World. Just so you know what you’re getting into, the Game and Forest Season (for which booking opened on 22nd August and closed the same day) has a menu for 3,500 DKK (approximately £420). You can add on wine for a further 1,800 DKK (£216) or, if you don’t want to drink alcohol, a juice pairing will cost you 1,200 DKK (£144).  Too rich for my taste by far.

Anyway, we wander along the waterfront and come across this rather intriguing building, which seems to have no obvious way in. It reminds me rather of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea, and no wonder – it was built in 1937 and used to be the old Customs House and ferry terminal. Alas, it’s actually the Copenhagen branch of Soho House (a private members’ club for ‘creatives’) so we won’t be dining here either. It would cost you about £1,000 a year to be a member here, and most of the truly creative people that I know are struggling to make ends meet with their art. Viggo Hørup, where are you when we need you?

But what is this? This extraordinary warehouse is now home to the State’s Workshops for Art – this is space for artists who are working on particularly large paintings, sculptures etc. The original building dates to 1882, though somehow an extra floor was added in 1920.

Gammel Dok

And finally we head for home, but not before passing one of my favourite spires in Copenhagen. This I do remember from my previous visits, and for good reason. Known as the Børsen, the building is the old Danish Stock Exchange, and it is made up of the tails of four dragons, intertwined, and reaching a height of almost 60 metres. The spire dates back to 1625. At the top are three crowns representing the old Kalmar Union between Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It was a very distinctive landmark, and still is.


At the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen

Dear Readers, congratulations to all of you who guessed that we were off to Copenhagen in Denmark for a few days! I visited the city some twenty-five years ago for work, and was most intrigued to see how much it has changed in the meantime. But first, some coffee. The Danes take their coffee very seriously, and if you find yourself in Norreport, close to the Rosenborg Castle and the Botanical Gardens, I can very much recommend this spot.

We sat outside next to two young women having a most animated discussion in Danish, interspersed with phrases in perfect American English, and the occasional universal swearword. How I admire people who can speak more than one language! That will surely be my next challenge.

You have probably heard that Copenhagen is a city of cyclists, and it absolutely is. MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) are relatively rare – you see people of all ages, some with their children in little carts, some with their dogs in baskets, one lady peddling a disabled relative who was sitting comfortably in a chair at the front of the bike. The cyclists are largely separated from pedestrians (so there’s little need to jump out of the way), and pretty much everybody obeys the stop signs at intersections, so it’s all extremely civilised.

Copenhagen also has a very good public transport network, which we will be investigating later in the week.

Anyhow, as you might expect from Bugwoman our first port of call was not one of the splendid art museums, or indeed the Little Mermaid, but the Botanical Gardens. It is a lovely time of year to visit, and although we’re expecting rain on and off for the whole of our stay, it was dry this morning.

The Colchicums are in bloom. I love these bulbs! They have a florid, blousy quality that I admire, as they put forth their enormous flowers and then collapse with exhaustion.

I rather liked this shrub, which has leaves that go pink from the tips. No doubt some clever person will tell me what it is. Could it possibly be an Actinidia? Feel free to put me right…

The lake is very lovely, and very full of koi carp, some of them very beefy indeed. One fish tentatively nibbled at the feet of a passing mallard and was roundly pecked on the head for its trouble. I fear for very new ducklings and coot/moorhen chicks though – these fish are easily big enough to gobble one up as an hors d’oeuvre. Let’s hope that the parents are wise to the ways of carp.

It was sad to see that the horse chestnuts are plagued with leaf miners just as the ones in the UK are, though the damage seems less substantial. I’m not sure if Denmark has also had drought conditions this year.

I was a bit surprised to see stands of Equisetum (mare’s tail) beside one of the smaller ponds – in my experience, once this plant gets a foothold it’s very invasive, though it does have a kind of primeval spikey charm. No doubt the gardeners know what they’re doing.