Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dragons and Elephants

Thursday started off with a stroll around the botanical gardens, just across the road from our hotel. On the way there, we saw how the Danes deal with unemployment, putting their loafers to good work.

That's all the paper's good for, apparently

I'm not sure why it is the Horse Doctor and I like to wander around Botanical Gardens. Perhaps it's because we're really not city people, and they tend to be oases of calm in the hustle and bustle. Or maybe it's because in former lives we lived in large country houses, with hundreds of gardeners to tend to our exotic collections. It could just be that we like to dream of being able grow more interesting things a thousand feet up the side of a mountain in the wet part of Wales.* Copenhagen Botanical Gardens were unlike any I've been to in one crucial respect.

Murderer's toolkit

Now, I know that the Scandinavians have a more progressive approach to euthanasia than us stuck-up British, but handing out maps to the poisonous plants? Labelling them clearly with big yellow signs? I bet the police just love it.

'What have you got for me this time, Hans? A nice stabbing? A throttling? Tell me she was drowned.'

'Ah, no sir. It would appear she was poisoned.'

'Curses. Not another one. Why can't we have any original murderers in this city anymore?'

By the time we'd filled our pockets with an assortment of seeds and leaves, the day had become bright and hot. Being tourists, we decided to go on a boat trip around the city. The Horse Doctor had packed her sunglasses, but I, alas, had not. Squinting in the glare and wilting in the heat, I started to nod off as we motored along canals and across the deep water towards the new opera house, affectionately known as the Toaster. Our guide spoke first in Danish, then in English and finally in German, which was good except that in my dozy state of mind, the three commentaries melded into one stream of gibberish, so I missed most of the important stuff.

When I did wake up, towards the end of the tour, we were circling around the national library and the old Stock Exchange. This splendid old building is crowned with a spire sculpted into the shape of four dragons, their tails entwined in a most uncomfortable manner, apparently to scare people.

Here be dragons! Well, more sort of four-legged eel things. I mean, where are their wings?

I would have taken a better picture, but the rest of the people on the boat were so terrified they started running around flapping their hands.

In the afternoon, we took the train out to Valby (pronounced velbuh), and went to the Carlsberg brewery. Well, you had to, really. It was quite interesting as these things go. I was amused at the way they glossed over the mass redundancies brought about by mechanisation of the brewing process in the seventies: 'Staff levels were adjusted in accordance with the new technology introduced.' I can just see the picket lines.

The Horse Doctor came to Copenhagen ten years ago on a grand tour of the equine establishments of Scandinavia, and of course visited the brewery stables to look at their draft horses. We dropped in again, to see if any of them remembered us, but they were all too young. The last time she was there, apparently, the group she was travelling with were given a private tour, and had their complimentary quaffing from a small bar in the stables - the height of civilisation and something I intend to build into my equestrian complex just as soon as I have somewhere to put one.

Sadly this time we had to mix it with the proles, but Carlsberg were decent enough to give us a couple of beers by way of a reward for walking around their premises. They've started a small scale boutique brewery in the old buildings, producing a quite fine range of quaffable ales, lagers and porters, quite different from the horrible fizzy guff that seems to suit the average English palate. Mind you, even the standard lager is infinitely nicer than the stuff we make in Northampton and try to pretend is Danish. I've never understood why we make such bad lager, and chill it to the point where it might as well be water for all the taste it has. Other countries, Denmark for instance, and Belgium, Germany, France, all take pride in their brewing, even of mass-produced beers. In the UK we have no sense of taste anymore. Flavour frightens us, and we drink only to get drunk. It's sad.

But enough ranting, where was I? Oh yes, the Carlsberg brewery in Valby.
Just around the block from the visitor centre is the famous Elephant Gate. Or at least it would be famous if many people knew about it.

It's not squint, you've just had too much Jacobsen's Pale Ale

Much of the old buildings were built with a sense of civic pride, unlike the concrete bunker architecture of recent times.

It's not a horse

After the splendours of beer and elephants, we could do nothing but head back to the city, pursued by wasps. Knackered by our early start to the day, and probably suffering from some kind of poisoning too, we had an early supper, choosing a Danish restaurant that had outside seating in a nice, quiet square. Or it would have been quiet if one of the other parties had kept their small child under control rather than let it run around screaming.

I'm glad I don't have kids.

Sinister goats (are there any other kind?)


* which is to say Wales

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