Across the sea and fields to Aarhus

With all the planning and considering of holidays far away, it’s sometimes easy to forget that an entire other country lies just off the coast. From living in Perth where a long stare out to see only brought distant imaginings of Africa, this is quite something. You can of course take a train south and then west for the capital, but there are other options. For example, from the harbour in Gothenburg you can take a ferry across the Kattegat to the north coast of Denmark, and be there in just under 3 hours. When my fella’s parents visited us a couple of weeks ago, we decided it was a good opportunity to try the cruise and explore beyond Sweden’s borders, and see something new for all of us.

So two weeks ago we lined up for and then boarded a cruise ship that dwarfed the harbour, a ship that I have long since claimed as my own anyway. The Stena (insert name that is one letter from my own) was built for transporting hundreds of people, plus cars and trucks, and so is a sturdy old thing. Apart from the cinema there were no frills on this cruise, and it was a rush to find a place to sit and wait out the voyage. We were unseasoned travellers (no trolley to heft cartons of beer and wine, the shame of it) and missed a table in the sun or comfortable cabins, but found a nice spot on the deck. There we settled, watching the harbour passing by and reveling in the breezy, sunny morning light that still seems rare to me. We saw seals, a medieval fortress and ongoing industry as we passed, and as we got comfortable I noticed that our shipmates were making themselves comfortable in a different way.

A fortress in the harbour

A fortress in the harbour

While our little group was happy with coffee and water, the Swedes and Danes who sat around us got started on the beer and gamaldansk, getting the the cruise well underway. As with the previous cruise I have posted about, a lot of thought is spent on getting as much out of the duty-free shop as possible, some people I think even waiting at the other end just to board again for the return trip, stack of beers and boxes of wine well in hand. For those who don’t know, by the way, alcohol is pretty expensive in Sweden, and I have even heard of people driving down to Germany to stock up for a party.
For those on the ship who were less interested in raiding the duty-free shop, there was a kid’s play room, a cafe and a bar, plus the cinema and a whole lot of pokies shoved into every available space. People who hadn’t found a table of chairs perched on stools or on the floor between the machines, dinging along on the machines or reading books. There were lounges, for overnight travel I’d guess, and special areas for truckies which the rest of us were barred from, so who knows what sort of entertainments they got. In time, after we’d all had a go at exploring the ship, the coast of Denmark came into view and we gathered with everyone else near the doors to been unloaded onto Fredrikshamn.

Canola in the wheatbelt

Canola in the wheatbelt

The view from the trains as we sped through Denmark was of fields lit by sunlight and bright yellow canola. I’d seen canola fields during a long drive through the wheatbelt of WA years ago, and been struck by the almost fluorescent glow of the flowers, as well as the strong smell. The train windows protected us from that second effect, but the colour was still surprising. These and other crops gave the impression of the north of Denmark as a breadbasket, wide flat fields keeping the rest of the country fed so it could concentrate on more esoteric things, like attaining the highest standard of living in the world.
Amid the fields were little towns, the church spires tall among the steep-roofed houses, and occasionally larger towns with the typical grey boxes of apartment buildings so familiar to Europe.

Our first impression of Aarhus was of the latter sort of town, but as we headed up through the town to find our apartment, signs of a different city appeared. At the end of a street of grocers, pizza shops and balconied apartment buildings was a house with wooden Tudor triangles, or a bohemian avenue of artsy clothes shops and cafes. We passed the edge of the Latin Quarter, which I’m guessing takes it’s name from the identically named quarter in Paris, so named because of the Latin speaking students that have studied, tottered and argued there for centuries. I looked forward to exploring it so more soon, but for the time being I most wanted to drop off my luggage and freshen up before we got our exploring shoes on.
The apartment we had rented was on the top floor, with views to the harbour and beyond, a cathedral tower again poking above the roofs clustered around it. My fella and I had chosen the attic room, with tall windows that opened directly above the bed, so we could sit under the blanket and stare out over the roof tops to the sea, and leave the windows open an inch for a cool breeze during the night. Our closest neighbours were the pigeons and seagulls that stared at us as we opened the windows to peer out, as if we were intruding on their personal space. Their voices were the only sounds to reach us, one jazzy pigeon in particular entertaining us with a unique tune in the evenings and mornings.

A view over Aarhus

A view over Aarhus

That first night we headed out to the centre of town to find something to eat, ending up on the riverside promenade where both tourists and local were gathering. The river seemed to me more of a canal, with steep sides and slowly flowing water, like those I’ve seen in every European town. Now that I think about it, the only river I know of whose banks are mostly unmolested by concrete is the Swan River, that flows through my home town in Australia. I suppose we haven’t had hundreds of years to contain it yet, and I hope it can stay that way.
Though we passed the simply named ‘The Australian Pub’, we ended up at a Danish/Carnivale themed restaurant and settled down to toast and enjoy our first dinner in Aarhus.

When we had eaten enough and were satisfied with the town, we headed slowly back up the hill to our apartment to rest in preparation for a day of exploring student-centred, artsy, historical and quirky Aarhus.

Advertisements

Escape to the Baltic

When we were invited to join an overnight cruise I was skeptical. It was billed as a party ship, and we would be joining a group of Swedes as yet unknown to me who planned to get smashed. None of this particularly appealed to me. Nevertheless in the spirit of adventure we decided to go along; if nothing else, I thought, it would make an interesting blog post.
In many ways it was as I had expected. As the weekend crept closer I pictured drunk Swedes vomiting in swaying ship corridors, a tiny cabin a metre wide and windowless, people pinging between the ship’s only two bars and a rain drenched deck. One of these at least was partly true.

Swedish people, if I may generalise, like to be organised and prepared. Which is why those waiting to board the ship availed themselves of every opportunity to get sloshed. The corridors and halls leading to the as yet closed doors to the ship were lined with 2 bars and a restaurant, all doing a roaring trade. Beer, precarious glasses of wine and cruisers bobbed about and were knocked back or knocked over as the queue eventually began to move forward. Some people pulled empty trolleys along with their luggage, ready for the slabs of beer from duty free. If only they had known that you can buy pre-packed trolleys in the shop. A hen’s night group in matching t-shirts bustled about bottles in hand, already warmed up. We followed the crowd, in the wake of the Swedish friend of a friend who had invited us along.

‘Have you been on the cruise before?’

‘Yes, a few years ago. The other guys go every year, pretty much everyone in my home town know each other and so they all go together.’

‘What can you do on the boat? Other than drink I mean?’

‘Well,’ she thought, ‘there’s a shop and spas. And lots of different bars.’

Somewhat comforted that there were more than 2 places to spend our time, I continued to edge slowly forward, through security and finally onto the ship. My first impression was Titanic, only smaller, and my second was a sigh as I read that our rooms wouldn’t be open for at least an hour. We were all confined to the lower deck for the time being, and as we made our way around, one bar making way for another, and then a dance floor and a corridor of pokies, an inkling of the cunning plan concocted by the ship’s owners began to form in my mind.

A tipple on the topdeck

A tipple on the topdeck

By the time the rooms were open and we’d located ours, Stockholm was passing us by, and from the round window of our room I could see the roller-coasters and rides of Gröna Lund chugging along merrily. Our roommates seemed nice, and once they’d gone on their way and we’d gotten changed for the evening (con sneakers to black heels, pony-tail brushed out) we hit the decks. Along with our fellow Australian friend, we wandered about and eventually settled at the bar on the top deck, where we had a lovely view of the Stockholm archipelago slowly sliding past us. After a few more glasses we followed our whims, having dinner at one of the two restaurants after night had fallen outside (it never fell inside) and missing the opening hours for the duty free shop.

The archipelago at dusk

The archipelago at dusk

As time went on it seemed as though we were slipping behind everyone else on the ship drinks-wise, as a visit to the sundeck including a surprisingly good duet of Bohemian Rhapsody and stumblingly cheerful Swedes demonstrated. Back at the rooms we found where the real parties were taking place. The plan on these ships is to raid the duty free shops, get tanked in your rooms (where alcohol is technically not allowed) and then head out for the clubs. One of the most memorable moments on the ship was walking past an open door and glancing in to see about 10 young Swedish men perched on bunks and the floor, peering back at me like hens nesting in a coop.
We ended up on bunks between someone who overdid ‘Hellooooo!’ just a little, a Brian Viglione lookalike and a Canadian expat. Once our British roommate joined us we switched to English and made progress on a slab of sweet vodkaish things. Then it was time for karaoke, but by the time we had rounded everyone up from the party that was rolling from room to room, the sun deck was a night club and dancing was underway.

Onboard nightclub

Onboard nightclub

We passed the hours, watching, dancing, arguing about whether the flappy things above the ship were bats or birds, getting out of the way of medics helping a guy who had lost the fight with gravity and drink. Sometime later it was 5 in the morning and we were back in the cabin, almost-Brian passed out and Helloooo-man making no sense and falling asleep just before we got the message about an impatient girl who was waiting for him. Then, before the sun could start to peak too far over the horizon, we padded as quietly as possible into our own cabin and went to bed, not knowing that we were nearly in Finland.

The Baltic in the morning

The Baltic in the morning

The next morning, 3 hours later, I was awakened by a foghorn and despite struggles and the comfy bed I didn’t manage to get back to sleep. By the time I was up and dressed, the chance to visit Åland had passed. An island that is owned by Finland, where the official language is Swedish and they use the Euro, Åland would be an interesting place to visit, but not this time.
We missed breakfast and instead visited the shop, getting some cheap bottles and snacks, and then having a quick breakfast of chips and pastry on the top deck bar. The sun was out and the Stockholm archipelago was moving past us again under a blue sky. For the rest of the cruise we had lunch, sat outside in the windy sunlight, explored the decks and played air hockey (2-1).

Back in the archipelago

Back in the archipelago

By the time the boat was pulling back into harbour we were packed and watching gulls and terns dive for fish from the lower deck. The view of Gamla Stan and Djurgården over the water was lovely, and made me almost want to be part of the bustling big-brother city to my home town.
We disembarked, said goodbye to our shipmates, and then headed through town for the train home.

Gamla Stan across the sea

Gamla Stan across the sea

As I think about it, many things about the cruise seem to be a contradiction. The cabins are very cheap, but there is no opportunity to save money on the ship. You’re basically trapped with hundreds of other people who want to escape for the weekend, and the only escape is the seemingly endless supply of alcohol. All ages boarded the ship and no doubt all sorts of mischief was gotten up to, but by the next morning we all stepped off looking relatively chipper and friendly, merging back into our everyday selves. What happens on the cruise stays on the cruise, between the vague shore and international waters, and new friends you’ll never meet again.