It's fun to visit somewhere that's not renowned as a tourist hotspot and just wander around for a day or two finding out what the place is all about. So when we had the opportunty to hop over the North Sea to Aahus in Denmark we grabbed it, we didn't know anything about what to expect but after a bit of research about this university city which is expanding and going-places in the 21st century, it looked as though there'd be plenty to keep us amused.
This was the view from our window yesterday morning – when we booked our hotel room we had the option of a 'harbour view' – well, we definitely got one! It's almost midsummer so Scaninavian nights are short, I woke briefly at 3am to see the horizon glowing orange and gold. I remember thinking 'if I stay awake I'll take a photo of sunrise', needless to say I fell sleep until past 6am and the sun was high in the blue sky!
Aahus is a wonderful mix of traditional Jutland architecture and traditions, and shiny confident modern design and architecture. This is Vadestedet, the Aarhus River has new terraced banks and is criss-crossed with pedestrian bridges leading to the numerous bars and cafés. I took this picture when all was peaceful and quiet on Monday afternoon; yesterday evening, when we had a delicious meal at Cafe Ziggy, throngs of people were sitting on the steps and at the café tables enjoying the sunshine.
There was one place we knew we mustn't miss seeing – Den Gamle By (The Old Town). This is the oldest and the original museum of urban life, it was started in 1909 and is the forerunner of all the historcal re-creation, real-life museums which have sprung up over the past century to preserve lifestyles that are disappearing each decade. Historic houses and the contents of workshops and shops from all over Denmark have been moved to a large site adjacent to the Botanic Gardens in Aarhus. The buildings occupy streets and the river bank and walking around is like being in a village 'in olden days'.
Some of the shops are open for business, like this wonderful hardware store – what's Danish for "fork'andles"?
Gardens have been re-created too, this is a medical herb garden behind the Apothecary's house.
Buildings are still being reconstructed and decorated using traditional methods, and the restorers have painstakingly uncovered layer upon layer of paintwork revealing how the decor changed over the centuries. In the Mintmaster's house the paintwork and wallcoverings are being carefully recreated, in this room wall paper was being printed by hand using wooden blocks.
Den Gamle By is also the home of the Poster Museum and one of the special exhibitions this summer is dedicated to the work of the Danish artist Bjorn Wiinblad who died in 2006. There are some examples of his exuberant art here as well as many more pictures of the buildings and interiors.
After exploring Den Gamle By for most of Monday afternoon we wandered back into the town centre, sheltering from the odd shower, and explored the Latin Quarter which is full of tempting quirky shops full of bright funky designs and fashionable retro and vintage clothes. Floral crimpeline frocks, like my aunties used to wear in the early 1970s, are edgy fashion in the boutiques of Aarhus this summer!
We had booked a table at a renowned restaurant which serves traditional Danish food, Raddhuus Kaféen is a popular place to eat near the Town Hall. Bravely we ordered the 'Deluxe Platter' of local dishes, this consisted of five separate courses:
• Pickled Herrings with capers, onions and curry sauce served with rye bread
• Fish in breadcrumbs with onion and mustard sauce
• Eel with scrambled egg and chives, prawns and grav lax with toasted white bread
I couldn't eat all of this as there were two more courses to go, but the eel was delicious.
At this point the waitress asked if we would like a rest before course four!
• A small beef steak with onions and tomato
• Two local cheeses served with crackers, grapes and starfruit
I know starfruit aren't Danish but it went nicely with the Danish Blue
All washed down with large glasses of the local lager!
This was more of a marathon than we'd bargained for, we waddled back to the hotel to collapse on the bed and watch the twinkling harbour lghts and the late evening ferries setting off across the bay.
Yesterday morning we explored Aarhus cathedral, its stern and dark exterior hides a splendid bright interior which is decorated with amazing wall art - these have been uncovered and restored. As well as the walls there is a beautiful carved and painted altarpiece. When this was restored recently the brown paint on the reverse side was removed revealing the most amazing medieval painted decorations. It's like William Morris wallpaper, birds and animals in swirls and red and green foliage. We had spotted a magpie in the wallpaintings and here was another on the back of the altar – two for joy! What did the magpie symbolise to the medieval Danish mind?
Just across the square from the cathedral is the Aarhus Theatre, a riot of decoration and pattern designed by Hack Kampermann in 1900. Just look at these doors!
In the afternoon we explored the newest buildings in Aarhus. We began by walking through the vast vaulted atrium of the Scandinavian Centre, then past the new Music Halls to Aros, the new art museum. The clean white spaces of the gallery floor are linked by a dramatic spiralling stairway. The Danish artists' works were new to me, my favourites were Janus la Cour (1837-1909); Julius Paulson (1860-1940); Valdemar Irminger (1850-1938); Laurits Andersen Ring (1954-1933) and Edvard Weie (1879-1943). There was far too much to take in during a short visit. The views from the roof terrace are spectacular, here is the Scandinavian Centre's glass wall reflecting the traditional red tiled roofs of the nearby houses, the ridged roof in front of it is one of the new concert halls and in the foreground is the roof terrace of the Music Hall with it's surrounding sedum planted roof.
A couple of streets away from these amazing new buildings we turned a corner into Mollestein, probably one of the most photographed streets in Aarhus. Right in the centre of up-to-the-minute Aarhus you can dawdle down a quiet village lane!
There are lots of sculptured fountains in the town including an amazing cascading river outside the cathedral; a larger than life sow and piglets under an avenue of linden trees near the Town Hall and in one of the pedestrianised shopping streets is this quant little woman with a hen (I'm not sure of the story behind this one, but I'm reminded of reading the chapter about sourcrop in a poultry ailments book).
Well there was masses of shopping opportunities and it would have been so easy to spend, spend, spend! I was fairly restrained and limited myself to things that could easily fit in my hand luggage. I couldn't resist something bright and modern from the Art Museum shop, and chose these plastic table mats printed with birch leaves to brighten up our kitchen table. Walking down to the delightful Frederiksbjerg district south of the railway station I spotted some funky socks displayed outside a knitting yarn shop, they had been knitted using some clever yarn that produces instant designer jacquard stripes in the latest colourways – can't wait to get the sock needles out and have a go – this winter my toes will be cosy in their Danish strompe!