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Nothing rotten in Denmark

Even Hans Christian Andersen's village hasn't escaped major changes in the past couple of centuries. It's grown into Denmark's third-largest city, and just a few blocks from the cottage Andersen's family shared with three others are the Genghis Khan Mongolian Barbecue restaurant, the Bella Roma restaurant and the Cotton Club Jazz spot. Still, most visitors would find the charm of this Scandinavian nation in what is old _ the 5,000 years of Denmark's evolution, rather than its easy adaptation to European homogenization.

Odense, for instance, traces its history to a specific date more than 10 centuries ago: March 18, 988. Author Andersen didn't come along until 1805, and by then a lovely castle had been built in flat farmlands about 18 miles away. It is the Denmark of Egeskov Castle, the Andersen cottage and museum, the historical collections and even The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen that attract tourists.

Egeskov Castle is a proper one, its turrets and moat satisfying our expectations from fairy tales and chivalric novels. Though it is several stories tall, the castle is on a human scale _ not so imposing as to intimidate a visitor. The furnishings, likewise, are impressive but far less ostentatious than the decorations in so many other European palaces and castles.

That perhaps reflects the financial status of owners Claus and Louisa Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille. The eighth generation to live here in the past 200 years, this family now occupies a few rooms behind locked doors. Charging about $10 per adult for admission to the castle, its large hedge maze, and an impressive antique car and plane museum nearby helped finance a new roof and interior renovation.

In what must be one of the oddest twists on the xenophobia of the '80s, Egeskov's owners allowed some Japanese investors to make an exact copy of the castle for the island of Hokkaido _ to be used as an aquarium.

Although there are 66 rooms in the castle, only 11 are open to view. Two of those are notable for the hunting trophies, both domestic and African, that cover the walls. The sheer number of heads and pelts is a shock to nonhunters _ and perhaps to casual hunters who don't have a 1,910-acre estate as a private preserve.

Also on view is the large bedroom and anteroom in which the daughter of one of the early owners was imprisoned for five years, after she became pregnant out of wedlock. (The infant was taken from her and its father was banished to Norway _ she never saw either of them again.)

The castle even carries a curse: A large, wooden, cherub-like figure lies on its back under an eave of the attic. If it is ever moved, the legend goes, the castle will crumble into its moat on Christmas night. A wooden barricade protects the doll.

Local boy makes good

Odense, a city of about 170,000, is about a half-hour bus ride from the castle. The brief ride explains why this island, Funen, is sometimes called "the larder of Denmark." The flat countryside surrounding the nation's third-largest city is planted in turnips, sugar beets, cauliflower, barley, rye, corn.

The town's modern architecture is tempered by historic buildings _ St. Knud's Church dates to 1520 _ and the greenery of 17 parks, backyard gardens and small greenhouses.

It was here that Andersen, Denmark's most famous artist, was born. His family shared a warren of rooms in a corner cottage on a village street that was only recently gentrified into quaint residences, now in much demand.

The unusual museum that adjoins the Andersen cottage includes a domed rotunda whose walls are covered by frescoes depicting

major points in his life. (Although he moved to Copenhagen at 14 to seek his fortune, he re-

turned to Odense before spending his later years in the capital city.)

His works, including The Emperor's New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid (the most-recent full-length cartoon from the Disney studios), have reportedly been translated into more languages than the works of any author but Agatha Christie.

On display are a large number of tiny portraits and engravings of Andersen, who was greatly concerned about his appearance (his face was dominated by a large nose).

The furnishings of his living room in Copenhagen at the time of his death fill one gallery _ furniture, a hatbox, walking stick and a coil of rope Andersen always traveled with: He feared he might die in a fire and would tie this rope to furniture next to the window at hotels where he stayed.

This museum and the quaint street where it is located are clearly Odense's chief tourist attractions, but the city also has museums detailing the history of railroads, the graphic arts, Bronze Age artifacts discovered in Denmark, and a park of more than 20 period buildings assembled to show village life in another era. Odense embraces its past.

The big city

About three hours away by train and ferryboat is Copenhagen, which bustles with government and financial workers hurrying to handsome old buildings and too many new ones squeezed in without much concern for architectural conformity. Even the baroque, five- and six-story Victorian buildings fronting the City Hall Square are emblazoned with garish neon signs advertising brands of cameras and electronics.

Yet preserving the old is important here: Former sailors' haunts and waterfront buildings have been gentrified into condos selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Admiral Hotel is in a former harborside granary.

Copenhagen's skyline is noted for its copper roofs turned green by the surrounding salt air. To keep the skyline on a human scale, recent development laws prevent any building from being more than five stories tall and limit the amount of window glass, to conserve heat during the long, chill winters.

Strolling about the walkable downtown area that most tourists visit might bring you a glimpse of royalty. Copenhagen is the national capital and thus home to Queen Margrethe II.

Unlike much of the remaining European royalty, the beloved queen actually works at several artistic pursuits: She has illustrated children's books, designed for the famed Georg Jensen silversmiths, designed and sewn bishops' capes for the Lutheran clergy, even designed postage stamps and sets for the Royal Danish Ballet.

"She is our best public relations," one Dane said.

First you'll look . . .

The city has a large variety of historic sites and museums, most within a compact area defined on the east by the semicircular harbor and to the west by a sprinkling of lakes. The starting point for most walkabouts is the Radhuspladsen, or City Hall Square. From here, buses crisscross the city.

Visitors don't have to take a bus from the square to find several major sites. Just across the street and one block over is the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek (the New Carlsberg Picture Hall).

It has a large collection of Degas, Gaugin and impressionists. But I found the two most satisfying areas to be the one large gallery that resembles an ancient temple _ marble floors, Greek and Roman statuary between the perimeter columns _ and the adjacent Palm Court. A restful, indoor arboretum, the handsome palm court has trees soaring perhaps 40 feet.

Adjacent to the Glypotek is the Tivoli amusement park, probably more famous for the thousands of white lights twinkling in its trees than for its thrill rides, concerts or fireworks. Tivoli draws about 4-million people during the May-September season.

Just a few blocks away is one of the city's most dramatic structures, the lakeside Tycho Brahe Planetarium. It resembles a wide cylinder with the top lopped off at an angle.

The planetarium features traveling exhibits _ the Soviets had provided a lunar rover and other equipment during my visit _ an Omnimax theater displaying both night-sky patterns and Omnimax films (some in English), and a room full of simple experiments and photographic displays about space that call to mind TV's Mr. Wizard.

And while you're waiting for the Omnimax theater shows, you can have a cappucino or a beer amid the parlor-trick displays.

For devotees of modern art, or for folks who just want to get a look at the countryside on the way to a lovely seaside stroll, hop a train north to Humlebaek.

From the train station it's a 10-minute walk to the handsome Lousiana museum, plopped down pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Except this part of nowhere has beautifully landscaped grounds adorned with massive sculptures by Henry Moore. Wooden boardwalks and brick pathways wind through the hardwoods, ferns and ivy and down a hillside to The Sound, across which the hills of Sweden are visible even on a misty day. Indoors, it is the work of artists, not landscapers, that impresses. The museum collection includes such modernist giants as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Piet Mondrian.

Now you'll shop

So often it is not the state museum or royal palace that offers insight into cultural traits but rather some vest-pocket spot, an unassuming but significant place. I found the Georg Jensen Museum to be such a place.

The crowded but elegant storefront displays dozens of silver pieces by the great designer and his assistants, beginning with Jensen's works from 1906. Twenty years later, his fame established, he explained to an interviewer why he chose to work in silver rather than gold:

"Gold is precious for its worth, not for its effect. And silver has that lovely glow of moonlight . . . something of the light of a Danish summer night; silver is like dusk, dewy and misty."

His artistry is clear in the multiple cases showing serving pieces, flatware and jewelry. The museum buys used Jensen workshop items, repairs or refinishes them and puts them on display _ and up for sale _ again.

And just a couple of blocks from this shop is one of old Copenhagen's prettiest scenes, Nyhavn (NOO-hown), which means new harbor. It is a picturesque canal leading from the commercial harbor to the prominent Kongens Nytorv, a square dominated by a statue of King Christian V.

Only wooden ships are allowed to anchor in the canal, adding charm to an area where centuries-old townhouses line both sides of the waterway. Small hotels and good restaurants occupy many of these buildings, where sailors used to drink and celebrate their leave.

The Kongens Nytorv is at one end of the noted Stroget (stroy-YET), a collection of five pedestrian shopping streets. Paved with large, flat blocks and smaller cobblestones, the Stroget and its feeder lanes bustle with people.

While many pedestrians hurry past the mile-long row of stores, the rest stroll a modern village square, older women walking arm in arm, young folks busy at their own pace in romancing and meeting friends.

The stores, restaurants and taverns run from souvenir shops to show rooms for Denmark's noted Bing & Grondahl, Royal Copenhagen and Bang & Olufsen concerns.

One Stroget street, Pistolstraede, is largely restored 18th-century buildings featuring boutiques and galleries.

Two stylish and pricey department stores are Magasin and Illum's (at the latter, a Van Heusen dress shirt was selling for $47, a letterman's jacket with NFL insignia was $200, a bunch of broccoli was about $2.50.)

If money is on the minds of this prosperous nation, it isn't obvious. Danes pay income taxes of 50-68 percent and a 22 percent value added (sales) tax. But they enjoy free medical care and free schooling through college. The taxicabs are Mercedes. Even the latter-day hippies who occupy an abandoned, 25-acre Army base on the edge of Copenhagen manufacture candles and bicycles for export.

The button-down residents of the national capital can accept that. Their ancestors of 10 centuries back imported a diversity of cultures from the European mainland. They were the Vikings.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: There are no non-top flights to Copenhagen from Tampa, Orlando or Atlanta. Icelandair flies from Orlando to Copenhagen, with a brief stopover to change planes in Reykjavik. Various domestic and foreign carriers, including TWA and Scandinavian Airlines/SAS, fly direct from Newark and other northern U.S. cities. Connections to Copenhagen can be made from many European gateways, including London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Copenhagen Airport is about 20 minutes from the city; SAS offers an inexpensive shuttle to the central railroad station, in the heart of the downtown.

By train, it's about 11 hours from Amsterdam or Frankfurt. There are a number of oceangoing car ferries that operate between Copenhagen and the United Kingdom, Poland, West Germany and Sweden.

Staying there: Top hotels in Copenhagen include the highly recommended Hotel d'Angleterre, plus the Admiral, King Frederick and the Plaza. There are also several places along Nyhavn.

Eating there: Some dining traditions here:

Seafood, especially salmon and herring, is basic to Danish menus. You're likely to have herring served in a sweet fruit sauce, for instance. Seafood is taken seriously here: Copenhagen will be the site next month for the first European Fish Chef bakeoff.

The traditional Danish lunch is the smorrebrod (smurr-e-BRUD) _ an open-faced sandwich. This meal can be as light or as heavy as you choose. Any number of sliced meats, fish or cheese are the toppings, and Danes eat it with a knife in one hand, fork in the other. A smorrebrod feast is two or three sandwiches, the first being herring on dark bread, followed by another fish or even shrimp on white bread, then a beef/pate/onions/

horseradish mix on the third. Then you have cheese for dessert.

Big breakfasts. Many hotels include breakfast in the room rate, and this is likely to be a large buffet offering yogurt, canned fruits, rolls, sweet breads and pastries, eggs, sausage, ham and bacon, hot and cold cereals and dry toppings, and juices.

Pastry-and-coffee shops, called conditori. Danes are fond of pastries and fond of naming them after personalities. One such confection: the chocolate cream and marzipan Margrethe cake, with an icing daisy on top, signifying the queen's nickname. The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain store has a conditori on its third floor, the Restaurant Amagertorv. There are about 50 of these confection shops in Copenhagen.

The best meal I had in Denmark was served just across the village street from the Hans Christian Andersen museum, in Odense. At the Restaurant Under Lindetraeet, owner/chef Rut Hansen is a member of Chaine des Rotisseurs and graduate of the Cordon Bleu, and he presides over meals precisely served in rooms decorated with pieces authentic to the 19th century.

In Copenhagen, I opted for salmon at the Nyhavns Fargekro (on the New Harbor canal); tablemates said the steak was among the best they had eaten.

On Radhus Pladsen proper is a delightful restaurant with the pedestrian name of Copenhagen Corner. Springerii fern and ivy drip from hanging baskets below the skylight roof, while potted ficus, corn plants and slender palms divide the open, airy room and separate the streetside banquettes and tables from the more formal dining room.

Business lunch was pickled herring and then a sampler that included roast beef with potato salad, hard-cooked egg with shrimps, meat pie with poultry liver, ham, fried fillet of plaice with remoulade, and brie. It cost $21, but the people-watching on the busy Radhus Pladsen was free.

Getting around: Before setting out, buy a Copenhagen Card, available at most hotels, train stations or tourist offices. Resembling a plastic credit card, this pass allows visitors to ride the buses and suburban trains for free, gain free admission to 48 museums and sightseeing attractions, get discounts on other admissions and on ferry crossings to nearby Sweden and even 50 percent discounts on theater tickets.

The Copenhagen Card comes with a thorough, helpful booklet explaining and locating the attractions. The card costs about $16 for one day up to about $32 for three days.

In addition to the sights mentioned in the article, other Copenhagen attractions include: the Nationalmuseet (Museum of Danish history), Tojhusmuseet (royal arsenal), Christiansborg Slot (it houses the royal palace, Parliament and Supreme Court; ruins of the first castle built here, in 1167, are visible in the basement).

You can also visit a zoo and museums devoted to everything from toys and tobacco to satirical cartoons and Viking ships. Factory tours include the Carlsberg and Tuborg breweries and the Royal Copenhagen porcelain works.

For more information: The Danish Tourist Board can supply maps, lists of hotels, inns and hostels, general information, suggested tours, events calendars and regional brochures. Contact the board at 655 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017, (212) 949-2333.

An excellent guidebook is The Real Guide/Scandinavia, Prentice Hall Travel, about $15. Published this year, the book is another in a series aimed at adventuresome travelers who don't travel on package tours or stay at the priciest hotels. But it is not just for backpackers, and its descriptions and information are to the point.

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