Finding family and history in Copenhagen

The last two weeks or so have been busy, with a side of gangbusters. It started off innocently enough, recovering from a cold and preparing to return to work, plus a bit of socialising and a party that included at least 10 violinists (more on that in another post). It culminated in a house warming party, the sort of party we’ve wanted to hold since we moved to Sweden.

Homemade chocolates

Homemade chocolates

There were wonderful friends, the kitchen was too warm because of all the bodies, candles, baking bread and talking, drinks flowed non-stop, snacks were snacked upon and for once I actually got to talk to most of the guests. Much later, after the last guests had left, we kept the music going and danced and chatted for a few hours longer, drawing out the party buzz and fuzz of wine.

Rather than tidy and then ease back into a normal week with leftovers and finishing off opened wine bottles, two days after the party I was off to Copenhagen to meet someone I hadn’t seen for many months. I took a train via Malmö, crossing the sea and wondering what lay under the grey waves, and how often ships must have careened back and forth many years ago, carrying warriors and loot. I eventually arrived at the central station and stumbled around, seat-sore and tired. I spotted my mum and hugs followed, and we headed out into the city, switching between Swedish, English and Norwegian and chatting non-stop. After dropping my bags off at the hotel, we hit the town.

A queen on a cloudy day

A queen on a cloudy day

I have visited Copenhagen before, a weekend trip and a taste more than anything else. This time we wandered randomly, up the main streets and past landmarks. We saw the Amalienborg palace, the Mermaid, gardens, Nyhavn, children dressed as knights and peasants, shops and streets filled with locals and tourists.

Children or mighty warriors?

Children or mighty warriors?

We ended up at a glass-walled market, filled with fish, meat, vegetable, chocolate and tea stalls, smells mingling around us (though fortunately not that of the surströmning). We settled on a shared pizza and wine, and toasted to a week on Copenhagen, before making our slow and chatty way back to the hotel.

The next day, the first full day, my mum went off for a tour of a castle that I wasn’t able to attend, and so I had the day and the city to myself. I started by sorting out some business, and then walking around at my own pace. I passed a memorial to the Charlie Hebdo staff at the French Consulate, palaces, theatres and Tivoli, and ended up at the National Museum.

Flowers for Charlie

Flowers for Charlie

Last time there had been some confusion about museums and I had missed seeing it, which was a shame as it is very good. Plus, it was free.

There were exhibits about the history of Denmark, from the neolithic to the modern era, cultures from around the world and a lot of school children. As I tried to stay one room ahead of the mob, I saw the skeleton of an auroch, and understood why they were considered to be so dangerous and featured so often on ancient paintings. They were so unearthly large and impressive, that it seemed almost a surprise that the last ones only disappeared in 1627.

An auroch

An auroch

Further on were rooms and rooms of artifacts from early hunters, then farmers and traders, giant horns, helmets, swords and coffins. There were even plaits of hair, left in bogs for 2000 years, almost all a uniform auburn. There was a text describing how the sacrifice of hair was at the same time easy and difficult, as it is so commonly found but takes so long to grow. It made me wonder about what happened that caused those people to cut their hair and throw it away into a muddy bog, thinking it would never be seen again.

Ancient sacrificed braids

Ancient sacrificed braids

There were cauldrons made by the Etruscans, Roman coins and glasses and a long ship. One of the most wonderful things was the Gundestrup cauldron.

A face on the cauldron

A face on the cauldron

Aside from it’s size and the brightness of the silver, the artistry on it was amazing, and there were many figures I recognised, especially one antlered fellow with crossed legs holding a snake and a torque.

A familiar antlered man

A familiar antlered man

There were also a few rooms with Roman, Greek and Etruscan artifacts, including the painted faces of Alexandrian mummies, a flying penis statue and interesting comparisons between Greek myths and Disney.

The Romans did like penis figurines

The Romans did like penis figurines

I then wandered through the renaissance exhibition, past ancient microscopes and carved ivory sculptures, ball rooms and a series of exhibits about cultures around the world. Eventually I found myself in the main hall again, and left for the next part of the day’s adventure; the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Renaissance room

Renaissance room

I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to the Glyptotek, which was probably just as well. After depositing my bag and jacket in a locker in the basement, which resembled a cheerful crypt, I followed a set of stairs into a room full of Impressionist sculptures of horses, people and unknown figures. Scattered among them were people sketching, drawing impressions from the art that I couldn’t see.

A goddess in the garden

A goddess in the garden

I then went into the main hall, in which a garden of palms, fountains, jungle flowers and statues sit under a huge glass dome. There was no other place like it in Copenhagen, or anywhere else I have seen. From there I found the ancient Roman galleries, full of unknown faces in marble, painted jars and countless other artifacts.

An unknown man

An unknown man

I also found a theatre that had been designed as a Greek temple, with columns statues of gods and ancient celebrities sheltering a colonnade. Yet again, I had never seen anything like it.

The theatre

The theatre

On other floors I found more modern styled art, paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh and Gaugin and enumerable others that I’d never heard of.

Sadly by this point I was approaching the artistic overload point, and so headed out into the snow and slush .

That evening I met up with my mum, who was full of stories about the castle tour, and after a wander and dinner, we slept. The next few days would be not quite as full of history, but instead ideas about the future, and we would need all of the  energy we could gather just to keep up.

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A glimpse of old lives

I should start by saying that I feel very lucky that my partner knows me as well as he does. I know this because his present to me was a private tour around Rome.

The day of the tour didn’t start well, with rain threatening, but it being our last full day in Rome we couldn’t change the date so decided to take the risk. Thus we ended up running through the streets, avoiding (most of the) puddles and umbrella salesmen (who were legion) and arriving at the Baths of Caracalla only 5 minutes late. Our guide, Marisa, met us there, and after the introductions we got started on our exploration of everyday ancient Rome.

One of the things that had appealed to us about the tour guide was the option of a special tour entitled ‘Daily Life in Ancient Rome’. As my previous post about Ostia may have hinted, I am most fascinated by the traces of everyday life left by people going about their lives, from local bath houses to apartment buildings and bars. Yes, the basilicas would have been grand and imposing, but what about the little stalls in the shadows of the columns? The lawyers shilling for work from all comers, and the teachers trying to drum grammar into the heads of distracted children over the bustle of the crowds? If you look closely at the steps of the Basilica Julia in the Forum, you can see circles carved into the marble, the remnants of game boards made thousands of years ago. Perhaps someone had been bored, while waiting for an appointment, or while watching a speech from the rostrum? We’ll never know I suppose, but that’s why we write stories.

Paintings, perhaps from someone's dining room

Paintings, perhaps from someone’s dining room

The Baths of Caracalla are massive, and were apparently not even the largest complex in ancient Rome. The whole site would have covered 25 hectares, and the closest approximation I can imagine would be a massive luxury gym that was open for all members of the public, the sort of building I can’t really imagine existing now. The fact that anyone could go there for a low fee, and sometimes for free, was one of the things I liked about it, but it’s dimensions and the beauty of the remaining art and the construction are also amazing. Much of the roof has now collapsed, leaving arches and towering walls where domes and mosaic laden ceilings were once suspended over glittering mosaics and bathing pools brimming with the multitudes of Rome. As we walked through the halls and corridors, Marisa explained what it would have been like to visit, and about the engineering and labour that went on behind the scenes to keep the caldariums hot and the frigidariums chilly.

Baths of Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

From the Baths we headed to the Caelian Hill, which I hadn’t even really noticed before. It overlooks the Circus Maximus, to the south of the Capitoline, and is dominated by churches. We went into one of the churches, under which lies part of an ancient neighbourhood. We entered a small domus, with paintings still intact, and proceeded to explore. Connecting rooms also featured paintings, figures and beasts, some of the figures censored by ancient monks. Then we were out on an ancient street, descending to another level, softly lit but for the dim corners and deep wells.

A garden feature

A garden feature

The houses and streets had been preserved as the foundations of the church, as with many other sites around the city. These particular ruins were of interest because of a theory about 2 skeletons that had been discovered there. They were found buried in what had been a garden, which was very strange for ancient Rome, where everyone was cremated or buried outside the city walls. It had been assumed by Christians that the bodies were those of two martyrs who were known to have been buried in a garden in Rome. Whether or not the skeletons really were John and Paul (though not that John and Paul), it was wonderful to be able to walk through ancient streets and ancient houses, only a few metres below the living city.

Part of an ancient street

Part of an ancient street

The final stop was the museum that accompanied the houses, and then we were out and walking together to the Colosseum, where we sadly farewelled Marisa and went off the have lunch.

I thoroughly recommend her tours, to anyone who is considering visiting Rome and it’s environs. She was able to answer all of our questions and give us endless reams of information and a sense of what it is like to live and breath Rome, both ancient and modern. If I ever visit again, and I reeeally hope I will, I’m definitely going to look her up again. Well, after following her recommendation of an early morning visit to the Pantheon.

Panorama of the Colisseum

Panorama of the Colisseum

After lunch we joined the queues for the Colosseum, eventually making our way in and then spending about an hour wandering around the huge ruins. It sometimes doesn’t feel like a ruin, with so much still intact and the scale still discernible, if diminished. Sadly the lower floors were closed due to flooding, and the upper floors were closed for an unspecified reason, but we were able to join the crowds for the full circumference, admiring the spectacle around us, and exhibits of the toothpicks, plum pits and knuckle bones that had been left behind by visitors thousands of years ago.

The new city through the old

The new city through the old

The last attraction was the Museum of the Imperial Forums, the highlight of which was yet more ancient streets, this time flanked by mostly intact rooms that once held shops, that tower over the street in multiple stories.
From the top stories we had a very good view over the Forum as dusk was approaching, and after a final stroll along the streets, imagining the area in the midst of ancient bustle, we went out onto the street.

A street from the Imperial Forums

A street from the Imperial Forums

Dinner that night was at the Tavern of the Imperial Forum, just around the corner from the museum, which not only featured an ancient Roman wall along one side of the room, but excellent food and wine. If there was only one thing I would take away from the tour with Marisa, it would be an ability to recognise ancient Roman brickwork. Perhaps a specialist skills, but I hope to put it to use.

Charioteer mosaic

Charioteer mosaic

The next day was the last one, spent packing and then whiling away the last of our time at the Palazzo Museum, which contained the most astounding mosaics and wall paintings that I have ever seen.

Mosaic of a girl

Mosaic of a girl

The triclineum of Livia was especially wonderful, featuring a riot of trees and shrubs, housing birds that seemed as though they would fly off at any moment. The room was lit in such a way that every hour it would cycle through the changes of light in a day, and I wish I could have experienced all of them.

A tree in Livia's triclinium

A tree in Livia’s triclinium

We also found remnants from the ships of Nemi, rudder clasps, railings and a face of Medusa in bronze, and some extremely fine sculptures. Next time I visit I hope to go to the museum again to give the items the time they deserve.

The beaten boxer

The beaten boxer

Then we went to the airport, said goodbye to the Italian sun and in a few hours stepped out into the wet chill of a Swedish afternoon, memories of warmth and sunlight on ancient stones still clear in our minds.

Goodbye to Rome

Goodbye to Rome