2015: Travels and moving forward

So 2015 is now in the past, and while like any year it creeps along at walking pace while living it, looking back it seems now to have been very full and sometimes reaching a sprint. It has been a year of travelling (7 different countries!), big steps forward (my own business) and important decisions.

It started, as all years do in Sweden, with fireworks and then a trip to Stockholm. Later in the month I met my mum in Copenhagen and traveled around with her, as we showed each other our lives in the North, both past and present.

As the darkness and cold continued to set in, there was a trip to sunny Malaga, a brief inoculation against the winter that has also left me in love with Spain.
Time passed, fear came to my home town, and then Easter and the turning of the seasons. I continued to work, relief teaching at schools and gathering private students, learning as I went. That fear seemed to grow throughout the year, rising from under the surface and at least right now it doesn’t look as though it’s going to recede any time soon.

More trips around the Nordic regions followed, including a cruise across the Baltic and a short stay in Aarhus, Denmark. Summer arrived, and with the holidays I left a beloved school, experienced my second Midsummer picnic and attempted indoor gardening. Other hobbies included joining a flamenco choir, trying to make it to a language café in between teaching and tasting the brews made by my partner.

As summer passed we flew to Malta, experiencing long sunny days, chaos, sea and incredible history. Back at home work continued to increase, with more and more private students and work through a consultancy. I found less time for writing and reflection, and for the first time since I started this blog, the gaps between posts became 2 weeks or more rather than 1. As my focus shifted, I set about making the most of the change, and formally set up my business, including a website and a business plan.

With the end of the year almost upon us, we visited London, a place I’ve long considered as a home that I’d not yet got around to visiting. It met, surpassed and left my expectations far behind, giving me yet another place that lurks invitingly in the back of my mind whenever I’m feeling restless.

Finally we returned to Australia for family, christmas and a holiday of sorts. It was intense, as any trip home to family, friends and real life is bound to be. As well as the various pressures and commitments, the days of the festive season were for the most part relaxing and enjoyable, filled with food and love. I also got a bit of a tan, though you wouldn’t think so if you asked the repairman who came to fix our dryer. I’m fairly sure I let him down a bit.

Then the year came full circle, with fireworks in the cold, cheering and friends, and a return to the long, dark wait until Spring. 2016 is still new and fresh and full of potential, and no amount of guesswork can tell what might happen. A few things are certain, and will be shared in their time, but mostly the year is unwritten, and we shall we what we shall see.

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Old streets, new streets and art in Aarhus

The day dawned bright and directly into my face as we woke up for our day of exploring Aarhus. Out the window I could hear gulls cawing and pigeons cooing, the jazzy pigeon having returned, and miraculously the sky was mostly clear of clouds.

In the kitchen we made cheese toast and sipped tea and coffee while I planned the agenda for the day. A quick search revealed that, inexplicably, the two museums I was most interested in were closed on Saturdays. On Saturdays (There was another museum that I’ll have to return for, the Museum on Women’s History, which boasts this charming billboard).

A good thing about museums

A good thing about museums

In addition, the managers of the tourism office, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that the best time for the tourist office to be closed was weekends. The only logical conclusion I can draw from all of this is that the people of Aarhus are just not that interested in other people visiting their town.

Despite these setbacks, we hit the streets soon after for some history, and soon found it just down the street. Having found it, we followed the arrows located at random in the neighbouring Botanical Gardens until we found the entrance, which was exactly half-way around the enclosure.
You thought I was kidding about the anti-tourism thing, didn’t you?
Once we were inside, however, I felt willing to forgive Aarhus. Den Gamle By (The Old Town) is an open air museum, a familiar sight in Scandinavia. Someone in the past decided to gather houses from as early as the 1400s and as late as the 1970s, plonk them into the centre of Aarhus and fill them with antiques, re-enactors and exhibits. You wander the streets, nibbling traditional cakes, bumping into the pastor’s wife as she bustles around her small house, barely fitting through the doorways in her hooped skirt.

Old fashioned bakery

Old fashioned bakery

There were stilts that we tried out and raced on, horse drawn carriages that we took for a ride around the Botanical Gardens and geese that bullied anyone who crossed their paths. We explored for a few hours, looking into shops, watching people cooking in old fashioned kitchens, remarking on how many shards must have gathered on the apprentice glass-maker’s bed under the work bench.

Friendly carriage horses

Friendly carriage horses

We even found people making and selling beer in a cellar, getting around the liquor licensing laws by selling only the glasses that they promised would be filled up again the next time we visited. There was even a beer that I liked.
Soon after, before the glow of my astonishment and teensy bit of tipsiness had faded, we headed back out into the 21st century and to lunch.

After lunch (very tasty burgers) we went to the second most highly rated attraction in Aarhus; ARoS. From the outside it was a brick block with a circular glass rainbow on the roof, and smoke billowing out of a pipe on it’s side. Inside white staircases twisted up on either side of a large open space, designed to mirror Dante’s Inferno.

Inside ARoS

Inside ARoS

I’m not usually interested in modern art, because I don’t often understand it, but I was completely swept away by the contents of ARoS. I swung in a clear ball of a chair, deciphered writing on lighbulbs, walked under a corridor of spinning fans, through a room of swinging mirrors and glass that threw odd silhouettes on the thin cloth walls and a room showing four perspectives of a person diving into a pool, the water shooting up slowly in reverse on one and bubbles settling underwater on another.

Room of spinning mirrors

Room of spinning mirrors

Then we found the source of the smoke. Through glass doors was a room filled with white, smoke-machine smoke and lit in shifting pastels. We went in holding hands, even then were only able to see the shadows of each other through the dense clouds. Following the walls and voices we made our way back out and very nearly went back in again. It was disorienting and exciting, and summed up in a sense all of the experiences of art that I had at ARoS.

Having climbed up the staircases, we went onto the roof and circled the glass rainbow. As we walked, the panels gradually changed shades, though you could only tell the difference once you looked back. Aarhus went from blue to orangey-pink via green and yellow, it’s moods seeming to change along the way.

Aarhus from the rainbow

Aarhus from the rainbow

After a full circuit we descended to the basement where a corridor lead past rooms with projections of faceless men with groping hands, absurdist lounge-rooms, endless mirrored balconies and giant eggs with crying faces. I think I could have stood in the mirror room for longer than I did, staring at an eternity of myself, my face and the back of my head, but there was one more exhibit we had to see.

Up one floor from the basement sat the Boy, staring out at the room from over his arm. He is 4.5 metres tall and extremely realistic, from his wrinkled fiberglass toes to his thick mop of brown hair. Despite being so huge, the scuffed boyish elbows and defensive posture make him seem vulnerable, and I wonder what sort of impression we might have gotten had he been displayed in a smaller room, with his head nearly touching the ceiling.

Boy

Boy

There was another figure that seems to fool you with it’s realism in the museum, that of a living statue. Fooled by her soft looking skin, apparent skill and sensible sneakers under her dress, I put a couple of Danish crowns into her hat, only seeing as we were leaving the small plaque with the name of the statue and artist.

Not-so-living statue

Not-so-living statue

Having soaked our fill of art and history, we went to the Latin Quarter, where a festival was underway. Our host had told us that a street festival for multi-culturalism was going to be held on Saturday night, so we went to have a look and were soon lost in a crowd of boozy, partying Danes and other foreigners, following or swimming against the tide of party-goers. As Australia doesn’t have laws allowing drinking on the streets, this kind of thing was completely strange to me, but the relaxed, happy atmosphere went some way to convincing me that maybe drinking on the streets could work, if you can adopt the laidback Scandinavian attitude.
With the parentals in tow, and not really wanting to get stuck with giant plastic glasses of beer in the rain, we escaped down a side street and found a tiny wine bar. One of the two barmen gave us tastings and recommendations, and we settled in, sipping our glasses and warming up as the rain and wind continued outside. Then, once again hitting the streets, we went in search of food and had a very nice meal at a steakhouse. The red wine sauce was absolutely wonderful and not a trace of it remained on my fella’s plate by the end of the meal.

Glimpse of sun in Aarhus

Glimpse of sun in Aarhus

Fed, watered and footsore, we then walked back up the hill to the apartment, to sleep and prepare for the return to Sweden. The next day we breakfasted and packed, bussed to the station, boarded the train, changed trains, passed the fields of canola, arrived in Fredrikshavn, boarded my ship and bade goodbye to Denmark, for now.

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.