Monday, May 30, 2016

Aarhus: Denmark's second largest city

Aarhus is often described as the happiest city in the happiest country in the world. In 2017 it will be celebrating its role as the European city of art and culture.
A great deal of activity is underway throughout the city in preparation.

One suspects these were not the original columns, but then again...
I heard about this bathroom before seeing it, as Sally exclaimed "Oh my God. Come and see this!"
We stayed in the centre of town at the Hotel Royal a historic hotel in the centre of the city. The hotel was truly a mix of old and new with contemporary art murals on the walls, and some very quirky features.
The view from our window
There was parking in front which seemed very convenient. The only problem was that after arriving and a good evening at Den Lille Kro, where I met the owner, chef, and award winning burgermeister who served me his special dish, the following morning I discovered I had accidentally left my shoulder bag on the backseat of our car, and a thief took it after shattering the rear window.
Not a pretty sight. Ironically, I had rented this type of car since I was very worried about theft of luggage, but inadvertently left my bag on the back seat after trying to improve my parking!
However, the staff at Europcar were extremely accommodating and in no time I had another car. This time, an automatic version of the Passat that we had originally reserved. Thanks Europcar for making the process so relatively painless.

Ironically, my bag contained very little....just a spare battery for my phone, my Tesla hat, a cable for my camera, and the portable GPS I had brought from Canada since it's expensive to rent a GPS in Europe. (If anyone sees a rough looking guy in a grey Tesla hat, please ask him to send me back by bag!)

Fortunately the new car also had built in navigation so I managed without it. I must say, if you don't normally bother with GPS in Europe, it's becoming an essential feature when travelling. Not only does it tell you where to go, it lets you know the speed limit...which can be very important, and where there is traffic congestion to avoid.
The weather forecast on our first morning did not look good. But compared to the floods in Paris, we were not complaining
A sign inside this elevator says it's the oldest in Norther Europe. Note the hand-painted murals by a Hungarian artist
I liked Aarhus very much. It is a very attractive, clean and sophisticated city with extensive green spaces, flowing canals, and a mix of predominantly lowrise old and new buildings. A pedestrian shopping street leads through the city centre from just outside of our hotel. Aarhus is also home to a number of museums and galleries, (one of which I will describe in a subsequent post), which no doubt was a factor in it being selected as the 2017 European City of Art and Culture.

Along the waterfront a new community is taking shape with some dramatic new architecture. (See the next post for more information.) However, as so often seems the case with Danish planning, the ground plane feels very sterile and not at all welcoming. There are limited private outdoor spaces, but maybe Danes prefer it that way. I just don't understand.

We stayed two nights and if at all possible I would like to return next year to see how the city has changed. Till then, here are some more photos.
One of the new highrises juxtaposed with an older streetscape.
The music school!
A sign I came across on the main pedestrian street
Aarhus is a mix of old and new. A delightful street of individually owned rowhouses.....the sort of thing we should be building in Vancouver.
The city hall, designed by Arne Jacobsen was undergoing renovation in advance of next year's festivities
I was surprised by the streetscapes of colourful buildings in Aarhus and throughout the country. It often seemed that one person had coordinated the colours, but they hadn't. Danes just have good design and colour sense!
There are some taller buildings in the city, but not a lot. Most highrises are commercial buildings, not residential.
I was intrigued by this structure above the parking lot of the conference centre, and the parking space striping (below)
I was intrigued by this advertising so I looked it up. " is the largest retailer of home appliances, and our goal is to make it easy and simple to buy cheap goods on the web." Danes seem to take delight using English 4-letter words!

Skagen: near the northern tip of Denmark

On Sunday afternoon I set off for the airport to pick up a rental car. I tried to reserve it for a pick-up in town but had difficulty doing so online. As a rule, I don't pick up cars at the airport since in North America you  pay a premium. It was time-consuming going to the airport, and to add insult to injury, I had to pay a significant premium to pick it up there! Hopefully this will serve as useful advice to others reserving a car in Europe. I might add that the rental rates for a larger car were very high (typically $125+ per day, so I arranged the car through Auto Europe, a US broker, who offered a better rate. However, this complicated my ability to make changes to the pick-up location.)

Rather than pay a premium for GPS, I brought our own GPS from Canada. However, as it happened this large Ford had an excellent GPS. The car was manual transmission (most rental cars are unless you want to pay a an even higher premium), but easy to drive.

Sally likes Skagen (pronounced Skane) watches, and we saw some lovely images of little yellow houses in our travel guide, so on the advice of someone at the car rental counter, we decided to head north, rather than south, to begin our tour by visiting this town near the northern tip of Denmark.
Upon arrival we found some wonderful waterfront restaurants, a good lunch, and LNG tankers on the horizon.
We also had a debate about the appearance of some new waterfront residences in long rows, of almost identical units in the same colour. Should this unrelenting development have had more variety in shape and colour, or was the design more effective as presented? This led to a good conversation on Facebook!
Before leaving, we set off for the most northerly tip of Denmark, so that we could say we visited the country from south to north. It is a pity we did not spend more time there. It's a delightful seaside place and popular with Danes from all over the country.

Aalborg: Denmark's fourth largest city

Aalborg was founded by the Vikings in the 10th C and has been a centre for trade and transport ever since. It prospered in the 17th C and many of its colourful buildings date back to this time. Today the local industry includes the manufacture of Akvavit, or Danish schnapps.

As industry declines, a number of new waterfront developments are underway. Most new buildings feature clean lines and forms.

While not on the waterfront, I have included this image since it is typical of many new buildings in Denmark that use coloured balcony panels to create interest....and yes, delight.
A skirt made of old ties! Sally is going to try this.
We visited the local museum where the very tall (6 foot +) skeleton of a medieval lady could be found in a corner. I also enjoyed an imaginative display of 'recycling' over the decades.
The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, designed by Alvar Aalto was exceptional. I particularly liked the extensive use of natural light, something that we tend not to avoid in many new contemporary art museums. It also included some fascinating works by Danish artists.

Another highlight was a museum celebrating the work of Danish architect Jorn Utzon who designed the Sydney Opera House and many other imaginative developments throughout Denmark. Have any Canadian architects appeared on postage stamps?
We stayed at the First Hotel Europa. The room was simple but very well designed with lots of room for luggage and an outward swinging bathroom door. (Now why don't we do this more often?) However, I struggled to figure out how to use this simple cheese slicer, until a young lady demonstrated it for me. (you keep turning counter clockwise and it automatically slices the cheese.)

Aalborg Karneval

Sitting in Carol and Richard's living room, it was difficult to know where to start our Danish tour, and furthermore, what to expect. However, after having difficulty renting a car in Kolding, the most southerly town in the country, which we wanted to drop off in Copenhagen, we decided to start in the north and work our way south. I noticed that there would be a carnival in Aalborg the weekend we arrived, and so we decided this would be a good start. Had we known what to expect, we might have started in Skagen, the most northerly town! From Wikipedia:

The carnival takes place the last week in May (week 21) and is the largest carnival in Scandinavia (advertised as "the biggest carnival in northern Europe"). The Aalborg Carnival stands for a week has 3 main carnival events: The Grand Parade, Battle of Carnival Bands and Children’s Carnival. The carnival week is for everyone – both professional carnival groups, children and everybody who wants to act on his or her instincts and create their own costume and join the celebration of life.

The Grand Parade is a carnival event that attracts about 100,000 people to the streets of Aalborg each year. About 15 professional carnival groups from all over the world open the parade and following them are thousands of people dressed out, dancing and celebrating life. The parade begins 4 different places in Aalborg. The different parts meet up downtown Aalborg and form one parade continuing to the city park Kildeparken. Here the Carnival Party continues for the rest of the day and the people can listen to live music, dance, see carnival shows and much more.
At first I thought this was a family friendly event as people brought babies in carriages. However, we soon discovered these carriages did not hold babies....just alcohol. In fact, this carnival seems to be an opportunity for youth from all over Scandinavia to get as drunk as possible in public. However, there were some very colourful and clever costumes, and while I enjoyed it, we won't be back for next year's carnival. Here are some more pictures.
In the beginning, it all seemed quite calm and peaceful....and colourful
There were a lot of Indians....
These ladies told me that if I stood back far enough they would appear naked!
By 2pm there were a lot of very tired and drunk kids around the city and park
As soon as the parade was over the maintenance people got started...but it was quite a mess. (Little did we realize that for the rest of our trip through Denmark we would rarely see an untidy property!)
By Sunday morning the town started to get back to normal