Copenhagen 2012: Castle Hopping

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Recently, I made a Facebook photo album with the title “Castles and Snoozin’, Snoozin’ and Castles.” Marcel the Shell references aside, this title pretty accurately sums up a lot of my European travels to date.
Because when you go to Europe, you’re probably going to want to go see some super sweet really awesome SICK castles, right man? Well, I did.  So this weekend I traveled to Kronborg, known as “Hamlet’s Castle,” on the coast of Denmark. It’s only my third castle of the trip, and I’ve been here two weeks.
I have some other qualifications for this assessment. During a trip to London this summer, I also visited Leeds Castle, Warwick Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Abbey at Bath, and some other tall things on day trips.
Additionally, I am an avid viewer of the show “Frat Castles.” Although historically inaccurate, I’m going to lump all of these things in together in order to make a point. The point is that when you “go to see a castle” during study abroad, it tends to boil down the same basic pattern.

Here’s the pattern:
  1. Board a bus. A bus crammed with hungover, 20-something students who are studying in Europe. At 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
  2. Ride through the gorgeous countryside, admiring the palatial homes you pass and playing the “I really live there” game while most of the bus complains about their headache.
  3. Arrive in the town outside your destination so you can “have free time” to “eat some lunch on your own.” This usually means “find the most Danish/British/Scottish/looking place you can before the other hundred kids on the bus get there too.” Order something you can’t pronounce. Take pictures of all your food.
  4. Walk through the town trying to find something “authentic.” Take vertical pictures of all the shop fronts because you can’t pronounce their names. Don’t buy a souvenir because it’s too expensive. Realize you were supposed to be back on the bus 10 minutes ago. Why does this always happen to you?
  5. Approach castle. Huzzah! Lots of pictures. Pictures of the castle. Pictures of you with the castle. Pictures of the tiny model of the castle with the actual castle in the background, because you’re artistic.
  6. Tour castle. It is drafty, but the furniture is nice. Tour guide mostly talks about wars. You realize there is no public restroom.
  7. Realize you could never see all there is to see and appreciate all there is to appreciate in that amazing place because you were there for 40 minutes and now it’s time to go home.
See, I like these tours. I also really love history. I can spend six hours in a museum. I am not a typical person. I think, sometimes, that people outside of Europe are obsessed with castles (and cathedrals, and queens, and things from before 1776, generally) because we don’t have them.  So we try to cram as many of these things as possible into a short time abroad. 
And these tours are a great opportunity. I know that mine this weekend, for instance, was fabulously planned. But there’s something lost in jumping from castle to castle.
My advice for my friends abroad? Get off the castle conveyor belt. Instead of seeing as much as possible, stop to see as much as possible in each place. These wonders are meant to be appreciated with both a clear head and a handle on why they matter.
Photo: at

Claire Wiseman

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