White isn’t right

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A few weeks ago BBC 4 were running a short series on “A history of art in three colours”. The colours in question being gold, blue and white. The series was a bit of a Curate’s egg – “good in parts”. But one thing that particularly struck me was in the third programme on white, when the presenter discussed how the Classical Greek and Roman era statues that we are so familiar with which are so brilliantly white, didn’t look at all like that when they were created. They used to be painted in bright colours. Over time, the pigments have faded, weathered and disappeared, but, in the past, the museums have also deliberately removed remaining traces of colour due to their misguided belief that Classical sculpture should be “pure” and, therefore, white.

Just a few weeks after watching the programme, I visited the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen where they have an exceptional large collection of statues and other artefacts from the Classical period. On some of the statues exhibits in the museum traces of colour were clearly visible.

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Researchers based at the museum have been undertaking research on the use of colour on Classical statues and there were a number of exhibits about the project.

The objects are initially examined visually using techniques such as macroscopy, technical photography and microscopy. Analysis of traces of pigments detected may be carried out in-situ using non-invasive methods such as X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometry (XRF). In some cases small samples may be removed for chemical analysis using a variety of techniques. The researchers then attempt to determine what pigments had been used and work out how the objects would have looked when they were created.

A number of examples of how some of the objects that have been researched may have looked were being shown in the museum.

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Further information on the project is available on the museum website here and also on the project’s own website. I also found this article about the subject of investigating the colour of classical sculptures that had originally appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine.

To our modern eyes, the colours are surprisingly garish. We expect the statues to look white because that’s how they’ve always been presented to us.

But the practice didn’t end with the demise of the Classical civilisations. The great medieval stone works were also painted. The statues and decorative carvings in the great medieval cathedrals, the intricately carved capitals, the columns and even the exterior facades were adorned with bright colours. Wells Cathedral was a notable example and as it says on their website

in the Middle Ages the stone was painted inside and outside and the West Front would have appeared like a gigantic picture book.

You can even paint it yourself here.

Sculpture at Louisiana

The Louisiana Modern Art Museum at Humlebæk has an excellent sculpture collection. Many of them are displayed in their sculpture garden. The works are meant to

interact with the architecture and the surrounding nature

and have been carefully positioned to achieve this.

These are some of the works I particularly liked.

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“Ocean” Exhibition at the Rundetårn

I mentioned in my last post that the former University Library in the Trinitatis Church  to which  the  Rundetårn is attached has been converted into a space for concerts and exhibitions. During our visit to the tower there was an exhibition, “The Ocean” taking place of works by members of the Arts & Crafts Association Bornholm (ACARB) inspired by the sea. Most of the works were glass and ceramics and I was very impressed by many of the contemporary pieces on display. I took a few photographs of some I particularly liked

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I wish I’d taken more photos and made some notes on the artists. There wasn’t an exhibition brochure to take away and I was hoping to find some information and pictures on the  Rundetårn website, but there wasn’t really any at all. There’s a link to the ACARB website which has plenty of information about the artists who belong to the group with plenty of pictures of their work, but nothing specific about the Ocean exhibition.

The Rundetårn

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As I’ve mentioned i previous posts, Copenhagen is a relatively low rise city. The high points are the towers and spires associated with some of the buildings, particularly churches. The Rundetårn – Round Tower – which is one of the best viewpoints in Copenhagen, is a curious 40 metre high tower attached to the Trinitatis Church in the Latin Quarter of the city, near the old University buildings.

The Trinitatis Church was the University Chapel, but also contained the University Library and the attached tower was built as an astronomical observatory. It was completed in 1642 and is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe as it still has a working telescope. Today it is mainly an attraction for tourists who climb to the top for the view over the city. The climb is easier than might be expected as for most of the way (except for the last few metres) the ascent is via a wide spiral ramp, built to allow equipment to be taken up to the top.

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The views from the top were certainly extensive. We could see most of the major landmarks in the city centre

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and even as far as “The Bridge” that connects Denmark to Sweden over the Baltic Sea.

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The library used to occupy an upper floor over the chapel. Today it is used an an exhibition and concert space. During our visit there was an exhibition, “The Ocean” taking place of works by members of the Arts & Crafts Association Bornholm inspired, as the name of the exhibition suggests, by the sea. There were some interesting works on display.

You were also able to pop into one of the old latrine (not in use!)

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And the bell loft.

For some further information on the tower click here.

French Masterpieces at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek are currently holding an exhibition of their collection of French paintings from 1850 to the beginning of the 20th century in the Henning Larsen Wing of the Gallery. It’s a great, modern exhibition space with plain, light coloured walls which allow the visitor to focus on the paintings. The exhibition occupies all three floors.

There’s a considerable number of paintings, together with some sculptures and carvings, with all the well known names, and a few less well known, represented. Although the majority of the works on display are by the Impressionists and Post Impressionists, there’s also some by artists who came before the Impressionists, but who laid the way and influenced them, such as Courbet, Boudin and Delacroix. The works aren’t grouped by artist, date or style, which is an interesting approach by the curator and made a refreshing change. As it says on the Gallery’s website –

The new arrangement invites one to take a pleasurable stroll through one of the most radical and visionary periods in the history of painting

My one criticism is that there was limited information on the paintings, just the artist, title and date painted. There were guidebooks on sale in the shop – one on the Impressionist works and a second on the Post Impressionists. But the English version of the Impressionist book had sold out. I was hoping I’d be able to find out more from the Gallery’s website after our visit, but the information there is very limited, which is a pity. Fortunately photography was allowed, and I’d taken snaps of those works I particularly liked.

The collection is very comprehensive, but not overwhelming. We were able to walk around at our own pace without having to fight through crowds of people. And we weren’t exhausted at the end. The paintings are, perhaps, less well known than those in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London and MOMA in New York. But they are well worth seeing.

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The exhibition is being shown until 30 April 2013. Details here.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

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I know what you’re thinking. What’s a “Glyptotek”? That’s what I wondered.  Well a glyptotek is a collection of sculpture, from the Greek glyphein, to carve and theke, a storing-place (source; Wikipedia) and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is

a museum of the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean as well as Danish and French art from the 19th century.

in Copenhagen, opposite the Tivoli Gardens. It was founded to house the collection of Carl Jacobsen , the owner of the Carlsberg brewery which he donated his collection to the Danish State and the City of Copenhagen in 1888 on condition that they provided a suitable building for its exhibition.

As the name implies, there is a major focus on sculpture with a comprehensive collection of antique sculpture from the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean as well as works by Rodin, Degas and other French 19th Century artists. But they also have a collection of French Impressionist and Post Impressionist painters and works by Danish artists.

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Rodin’s Burghers of Calais

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Degas’ Little Dancer. Rodin’s The Kiss in the background.

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Like most museums and galleries in Copenhagen, it only opens at 11 a.m. We didn’t realise this and arrived about half an hour early and had to wait, with plenty of other people who probably made the same mistake until they let us in.  It was worth the wait. Their collection was excellent. We stayed about 4 hours before we were “arted out” and there was plenty more to see. Like many galleries, one visit isn’t enough.

There are two buildings linked by a Winter Garden where the cafe and bookshop are located.

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You enter via he Dahlerup Wing, the oldest part of the museum,  which houses the French and Danish collections. The other building, the Kampmann Wing, contains the ancient sculpture and artefacts.

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It also contains an auditorium which is used for lectures.

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The Henning Larsen Wing, a modern building with an accessible roof space, constructed inside the courtyard of the Kampmann Wing. It was a very modern, light and airy exhibition space on three floors.

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View from the roof.

During our visit it was displaying the Impressionist and Post Impressionist works from the gallery’s collection in a special exhibition of French Masterpieces.

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This post has gone on long enough. Hopefully it gives a flavour of this excellent gallery. I’ll return to discuss the exhibits.

Modern architecture in Copenhagen

As with any long established city, many of the buildings in the parts of central Copenhagen that we explored have been around a long time. The majority of the buildings were pre-21st Century, many from the 19th and early 20th Century with some dating from the 1600’s. But as with any vibrant metropolis there have been new developments and we saw some excellent modern buildings around the city centre.

The Royal Danish Playhouse

Our hotel was at the end of Sankt Annæ Plads, facing the old harbour. At the end of the street the Royal Danish Playhouse, a striking modern building sits on the harbour side near to Nyhaven, the old harbour t hat’s popular with tourists.

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Designed by the Danish architectural practice Lundgaard & Tranberg, construction started in October 2004 and it was inaugurated in February 2008 with a performance of Hamlet.

The dominant features are the glass “attic” which runs around the building and house staff facilities such as administration offices, costumes, artist dressing rooms, a library and a staff canteen, the large glass fronted lobby and outdoor oak decking which sits over the water and the huge copper clad cube that sits on top of the structure – which is the visible part of the auditoria.

The lobby is open to the public and we ate in the excellent restaurant one evening. Outside on the decking there’s an outdoor bar and seating area which was a pleasant place to take a drink as the sun was setting in the evening

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The Opera House

The modern opera house sits on the island of Holmen, on the opposite side of the water from the Amalienborg palace and across from the Playhouse. It was designed by Henning Larsen Architects and constructed during 2004

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It sits on the historical axis running from Marmorkirken (the Marble Church) and Amalienborg. It’s a massive building with 14 storeys, five of which are below ground and contains more than 1,000 rooms. The dominant features are the enormous roof, which is  158 metres long and 90 metres wide and the glass front. The facade is clad with the limestone from South Germany.

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It’s quite a long trek to get to it overland, so the best way to reach it is by the waterbus which stops in front of it. As well as he scheduled services there’s a shuttle boat that runs between the Playhouse and the Opera House.

There are guided tours in English during the afternoon in the summer months. We went over to try to join one but, unfortunately, hadn’t read the advert properly as when we got there we discovered that they had been suspended during the week of our visit as there was an International double bass convention taking place (yes, there is such a thing). However we did manage to get a peek inside and could see the massive maple clad auditorium, which looked like a giant hazel nut.  The floor is clad in marble and theatre some very effective luminaires hanging from the ceiling. Although we didn’t see this for ourselves, the ceiling of the main auditorium is covered with 24-carat gold leaf.

I didn’t manage to take any photos inside, but these are from the Danish Architecture Guide website.

The Black Diamond

This is an extension to the Royal Library, the Danish equivalent of the British Library, which was completed in 1999. Designed by Schmidt, Hammer and Lassen, Architects and built in steel, glass and black granite, it’s a very modern addition to an older, traditional style building. I’m sure our Prince Charles wouldn’t approve – but I don’t think much of his views on architecture.

The name “Black Diamond” comes from the highly polished black marble that covers the facade of the building.

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The building has a relatively simple shape; a tilted cuboid that leans out over the Sound reflecting the water and passing boats. It’s split into two parts joined by a glass fronted atrium which houses most of the public functions and which provides a view over the water front.

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Inside the atrium (Source: Schmidt, Hammer and Lassen, Architects)

The best view is gained from the water (I took these photos during our boat trip) or the opposite side of the Sound.

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Look closely, and you can see our tour boat reflected in the glass.

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As well as the library, the building houses The National Museum of Photography, exhibition space, a bookshop, a café, a restaurant and the Dronningesalen concert hall.

Danish National Bank

This relatively simple building, completed in 1971, was designed by Arne Jacobson, who was a renowned Danish designer. I think that it’s much more attractive than many buildings constructed around that time.

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The lower storey and the two gable ends are covered with Greenland marble, the other two sides with dark tinted glass. The sides are divided into a number of narrow rectangular sections, which break up what could otherwise be monotonous curtain walls.

There are some photographs of the interior and the garden on the Bank’s website, here.

Jacobson also designed the Modernist Radisson Blu Royal Hotel (formerly the SAS Royal Hotel), near the main railway station, which was completed in 1960. It’s quite controversial both for the design and also because it’s the only real high rise buildings in the city centre.

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(picture source: Wikipedia)

Personally, I think it’s rather non-descript, as it’s like so many other buildings  – office and residential tower blocks – that can be seen in cities throughout Europe.

Copenhagen Sand Sculpture Festival

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A section of disused land on the old harbour near to the Copenhagen Playhouse, not far from Nyhavn and the Amalienborg Palace, has been turned into “Ophelia beach”. During our stay in the city, there wasn’t much sand in evidence, but the area was set up for outdoor concerts with two stages and a coffee bar. But at one end of the “beach” there was plenty of sand, used to create sand sculptures for the Copenhagen International Sand Sculpture Festival.

The sculptures have been created by a number of International artists, from sand mixed with some clay to provide stability. They’re incredibly detailed. Here is one that shows the main landmark buildings in Copenhagen.

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There were two main themes evident. First of all the history of mankind starting with evolution and ending with the Industrial Revolution.

Having recently spent a week on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset It was interesting to see the sculpture of an ammonite by Daniel Doyle from Ireland, which was part of a collaborative work on evolution by three artists.

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It culminated in a caveman hunting a mammoth.

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Here’s a Viking (it is Denmark, after all) sculpted by Charlotte Koster from Germany

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And the Ancient Greeks, by Delayne Corbett of Canada.

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All culminating in the Industrial Revolution, created by Andy Briggs and David Billings from Canada.

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The other theme was based around fantasy and legends.

A nod to the “Little Mermaid” – “Save the Ocean” by Sudarsan Pattnaik, of India, which won the Festival Jury prize

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This is “Diversity, the Soul of Wealth” by Bob Atisso from Togo, who is quoted on the Festival’s Facebook site saying “My sculpture is a representation of three different kingdoms based on different cultures”.

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Patrick Steptoe from Denmark has sculpted a strange “Bunny Man” whose sour expression is due to his dissatisfaction with the architecture of the Opera House that can be seen across the water.

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The sculpture, by Irina Taflevskay from Bulgaria. is called “Night Shamaness“. “Shamaness protects our dreams at night. She has spun a web to catch the bad dreams at night, trying to prevent our dreams becoming reality.”

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Its a family attraction and there were a number of children around during our visit (a sand pit for children to play in and create their own efforts is provided). Danish parents must be quite broad minded – ‘Fertility and Diversity’ by Pavel Mylnikov, of Russia:

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This one was created by an Irish artist, Fergus Mulvany. “The Key of She“. It has a very Celtic look to it

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We really enjoyed looking around the exhibition (it cost 50 Kroner, about £5-50 to get in, but it was well worth the price). They also had a coffee bar where we had the best café au lait we drunk during our stay.

The Festival has a Facebook page here

Art Nouveau in Copenhagen

Unlike Helsinki, where Jugendstil buildings are found throughout the city centre, Copenhagen isn’t particularly noted for “Art Nouveau” style architecture. I’m not sure why this is. One theory I read on the Internet was that the style, which was popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s before the First World War, was seen as too German at a time when an anti-German sentiment was dominant in Denmark. However I did spot a small number of “Art Nouveau”/ Judentstil buildings while wandering around Copenhagen city centre.

The Danish version of Art Nouveau is known as Skønvirke (“aesthetic work”), named after the Skønvirke magazine. According to the Danish Wikipedia

The style is a mixture of Jugendstil (German) , Art Nouveau (French) and Arts and Crafts (English) on the one hand and Nordic National Romanticism on the other.

The Palace Hotel, which is opposite the City Hall (Rådhus) on Rådhuspladsen, is probably the best example of the style I saw during my visit

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Constructed from red brick and with its tall, slender tower, the design reflects that of the Rådhus itself, but is more  “graceful”. It was designed by the Danish architect Anton Rosen and built in 1910.

I liked the rounded bays over the three entrances and the rounded curves of the doorways themselves. The carvings and friezes around the doorways

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and the heart shaped windows above the left and right hand entrances

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and the balconies  with their gilded panels and decorative ironwork outside the bedrooms on the second and third floors

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The Rådhus, very familiar to anyone who followed the first series of “The Killing” on BBC4, has a more neo-Gothic appearance. It was designed by the Martin Nyrop who took his inspiration from the Siena City Hall, opening in 1905, a few years before the Palace.

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It was hard to get a decent picture of the building due to construction works on Rådhuspladsen and as the square in front of the main entrance was fenced off due to setting up of a Gay Pride festival due to take place later in the week.

In the square between the two buildings (currently in the middle of a construction site) stands a column with a Art Nouveau style sculpture of two figures playing “lures”, distinctive Scandinavian instruments from the bronze age. The sculpture is designed to remind the Danes of their ancient Nordic civilisation. It was created by Siegfried Wagner and the column was designed by the Palace’s architect, Anton Rosen.

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This building on Amagertorv, a popular square half way down the pedestrianised Strøget, the main Copenhagen shopping street, houses the Cafe Norden.

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It’s directly opposite the Storkespringvandet, or “Stork Fountain”, a popular meeting place. With it’s distinctive domes, it has an almost oriental appearance, with an almost Baroque roof line.

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Other than the Palace and Cafe Norden, we saw very little Art Nouveau influence on the architecture in Copenhagen. Anton Rosen was one of the few architects who worked in the Skønvirke style. There’s another of his buildings the Rosenhuset,at Hellerup, a northern suburb of Copenhagen, built in 1913 as the administrative building for the Tuborg brewery.

Impressions of Copenhagen

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We’ve just got back from a very enjoyable 4 day break in Copenhagen. A city we’ve never been to before. After some fairly miserable weather for most of the summer so far in Britain (and I believe it’s been much the same in Denmark) we were very lucky to have more or less wall to wall sunshine during our stay which made the city look particularly attractive. These are my impressions of the city from our relatively brief visit.

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The city

  • A small, compact city centre. Fairly flat and very walkable.
  • An attractive, maritime city. Not too touristy either with a distinct lack of shops and stalls selling tacky gifts and souvenirs.
  • Plenty going on, including free concerts and performances.
  • Really relaxed atmosphere.
  • A lot on construction works going on for the metro and some new bridges. This had an impact on some of the sights with some of the major squares fenced off.

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  • Accommodation expensive – but probably still cheaper than London.
  • It’s worth taking a boat tour – a good way to orientate yourself and get a different view of the main sites. Only just over £4 for a one hour guided tour from Nyhaven or about £7 for a 24 hour “hop on hop off”.
  • I was amazed at the lack of oppressive security at Government buildings and the Royal palaces. Anyone can just walk right through the Danish equivalent of Buckingham palace and there were people walking their dogs and cars and taxis driving through the courtyard.
  • In many ways, the city reminded me of Liverpool.

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Transportation

  • Everybody seemed to ride a bike! They were everywhere with special bike lanes on almost every road. They were proper bike lanes too. Apparently almost 40% of Copenhagen residents cycle into work.

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  • We took the metro into the city from the airport. it was fast and efficient and not expensive. The network is very limited so not particularly useful for getting around, but it’s being expanded and this was responsible for some of the construction works.
  • Buses were plentiful and regular
  • We went out on the train to Hubelbaek, about 30 miles north of Copenhagen, to visit the Louisiana art gallery. The service ran from Malmo (in Sweden) to Helsingør with trains 3 times an hour until about 11:30 p.m with one an hour during the night. The trains were clean and spacious. Mush better than our poor quality and expensive railway system in the UK

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The people

  • Everyone spoke very fluent English.
  • Everyone seemed friendly enough.

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Eating out

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  • VERY expensive. At least £25 to £30 per person for a modest meal. £50 to £60 per head for something a bit fancier . A coffee in a café cost about £4 to £5.
  • All the restaurants we ate in charged for using a credit card.
  • Danes seemed to eat quite early compared to other European countries.
  • Bottled water in the shops was very expensive – at least £2 for half a litre. It was actually cheaper to purchase iced water from street vendors  at just over £1.

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Architecture

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  • A relatively low rise city with very few high rise buildings – a little like Paris in that respect.

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  • The buildings were generally round about the same height, but in a mix of styles. there were no long rows of uniform buildings
  • A real mixture of styles – some neoclassical, a few neo-gothic and a few at nouveau. The majority were what I’d describe as Danish vernacular.
  • A lot of the old warehouses on the harbour side have been renovated and converted to new uses. They were quite distinctive with their massive roofs.

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  • Some very attractive modern public buildings

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Museums and Galleries

  • Plenty of museums and galleries dotted around the city and also nearby.
  • Most charge an entry fee but it was generally quite reasonable.
  • The galleries tended to open late in the morning, around 11 a.m.
  • Photographs were allowed in the galleries we visited.
  • The staff in the Museums were friendly and helpful and not overbearing – quite the opposite of Budapest which we visited last year.

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