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.

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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.

World clocks and the future

It was a chilly and blustery morning when my mum and I set out from our hotel, notebooks and minds prepared to be filled with jottings and ideas. We arrived early and as other guests trickled in after us, we had a go at table-soccer. She won. A bit of tentative mingling and checking the tea supplies followed, and then the suddenly growing crowd filled the main hall, to stare expectantly at the stage. A man strode up and with a big smile welcomed us all to the 2015 Conference On Sustanability, and so began three days of presentations, workshops, networking, a constant barrage of new ideas and the drinking of a lot of tea.

For the first day I juggled presentations with lesson planning, writing last week’s blog-post and marking. It seemed that almost everyone else was grabbing time to sit and write or type, though as I gradually realised, much of it was last minute changes for their own presentations. It seemed I was one of the very few who was there without a presentation looming over their heads, or even a Dr. next to their name.
One memorable presentation from the first day concerned ‘novel ecosystems’, environments that many people nowadays imagine are wilderness, but are in fact heavily influenced by human activity. Our ability to measure the wildness of an ecosystem decreases as our childhood memories of nature, which take the place in our minds of the ‘ideal’ environment, become more and more degraded with each generation. It made me wonder about the bush I’d grown up in, which I had thought was rugged and wild, but which had long been encroached upon. It’s still wilderness in my mind though, with the addition of a few pockets of Tasmania and New Zealand. Will I ever see truly wild nature? Whether I do or not, at least I’ll be more aware of judging what wilderness really means.

After a day of listening and a quick change, my mum and I made our way to the Copenhagen Town Hall, which was even more impressive on the inside than the outside. There were grand halls, lots of flags and the busts of many men, and on the walls and ceiling of a stairway, raised reliefs of trees, flowers, gulls circling around chandeliers and clumps of clover. The reception hall, where we were treated to the traditional pancakes that are a specialty of the old building, was hung with town crests and on one wall the crests of Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe islands and Denmark were displayed along with two gilded walrus skulls. I suppose even if you have no overseas territory anymore, it doesn’t do to let anyone else forget what you once had.
Once we were back outside we found a bookstore cafe called Paludan’s, which was extremely cosy. Bookshelves lined the walls, and most of the miss-matched tables were filled with students, office workers, tourists, parents, older couples and hipsters. A shared dinner of nachos (‘I’m not hungry, I’ll just taste yours.’ ‘Tasting isn’t eat half mum.’), tea and a well made cup of coffee followed, a good end to a quite full day.

Gulls and trees

Gulls and trees

One each of the three days of the conference, there were guest speakers before the first run of presentations started. The speaker who made the strongest impression on me was Selina Juul, the founder of Stop Wasting Food. She spoke about the massive amount of food needlessly wasted in many parts of the world and the culture of over-supply. It seems that Denmark is way ahead of many other countries in terms of wastage, partially due to her efforts I think, and it was pretty clear from her presence, passion and past efforts why they decided to make her the Dane of the Year for 2014. She was also willing to put her words into actions, happily eating an unsellable banana as she sat down.

Selina Juul, mid-speech

Selina Juul, mid-speech

My mum’s presentation followed soon after, and went really well, including at the end enthusiastic thanks from members of the audience. I blogged and worked, listened and chatted, talked to a woman from Nigerian about the reality of life in the same country as Boko Haram and drank tea. That day we also decided to wag, just a little, and so crept out around mid-afternoon and enjoyed a walk around the city and another visit to the History Museum.

Endless gears

Endless gears

My mum was also very inistent that I see a clock that she had found in the Town Hall. It was the World Clock, which was started in 1955 and includes the movements of the planets, the days of the year, the seasons and seconds. Most remarkably, it has one gear that completes a revolution every 25,753 years. Which seems as good a symbol of sustainable thinking as anything else I’ve seen.

The World Clock

The World Clock

As night descended we found the Georg Jensen shop and spent a while wandering around gasping at the designs and a lego shop which had every possible kind of lego piece you could imagine. Thus summing of Denmark quite neatly.

All the lego

All the lego

That night we had booked tickets to the official conference dinner to be held at Cafe Petersborg, an old institution in Copenhagen. It sat near the Amalienborg palace, around the corner from the Little Mermaid, in the part of town reserved for flash offices and restaurants that were too fancy or too well-established to be replaced. It dates from the 1700s, and has the low wooden ceiling and a few twisted door frames to prove it. The food was tasty and traditional and the company even better. We shared a table with a Portuguese lady who lived in Brazil and told us almost unbelievable stories of what it’s like to live in São Paulo. We heard about the hopelessness of law enforcement to the regular danger of theft on public transport and in your car, and a girl who was shot at a train station because her coddling parents never taught her to duck when she heard gunshots.
Fortunately our own ride on public transport was much less fraught with danger, the worst risk being that I wouldn’t leave when we reached our stop. The seats were very nice, considering it was a train. I’m not sure if I’d say chaise-longue, but not that far off.

Commuting in Copehagen

Commuting in Copehagen

Before we knew it, we had reached the final day of the conference. It began with a final speaker, and then a day full of ideas and talking. I sat in on a presentation about love ethics in sustainability, agroforestry in Taiwan and then a series about educating for sustainability. It was during this last series that I heard a speech about virtue ethics with reference to ancient philosophy, and Plato in particular. I very much wished, as I sat and listened and then chatted to the presenter about it later, that she had been my philosophy teacher at Uni.
By the time the afternoon ticked around there were far fewer people, most likely because many had left after their presentations of were being tourists.
Finally the end of the day came, with the final speech and a call to continue to work towards a sustainable future.

So the conference was over. For our last night we ate out at a pizza restaurant and enjoyed a final stroll through the city, talking about what we’d learnt, who we’d met and the days to come. The next day we caught a train to my home town, bidding farewell to Copenhagen, so full of greenness, bookstore cafes, endless clocks, strange accents, wonderful folk and history.

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.