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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Aarhus

Denmark - Remarkable Destination
Natalya Popova

Is Denmark on the top list of your forthcoming holiday destinations? Yes, this country is not always an obvious choice. One of the Northern European countries surrounded by the Baltic and North seas, it does not boast particular warmth in summer giving up the crowds of sunbathing lovers to Spain and Italy. Funs of winter sports also bypass Denmark because of the flat landscape (the highest natural point is only 171 metres above the sea) and mild winters – its maritime climate is similar to British.

Even popular European tours rarely include Denmark travel, may be a day or two in its capital city Copenhagen.
So why on Earth we chose to spend our time and money (considering current economic climate and unfavourable exchange rates) in Denmark leaving SUNNY Bournemouth behind? We were surprised ourselves - when looking to get far away from busy cities but not into a deep country, to get exposed to extreme culture & art while being close to nature – it was Denmark that ticked all the boxes.

Actually, Denmark’s second city it was– Aarhus (Århus, 300,000 citizens) – chosen not only because of its alphabetical advantages over other towns on Ryanair website. This is a lovely city famous as having "soul of a city and a heart of a village".
Aarhus is also known by many other slogans: "The World’s Smallest Big City" – the city centre is quite small, just a few streets around the main square St Clemens Torv, but the city is big on attractions.

One of the main highlights is Den Gamle By (Old Town Arhus), which is home to 75 buildings collected from 20 market towns across Denmark, making it Denmark’s largest outdoor museum. This museum of Urban Culture was first presented at the Danish National Exhibition in Aarhus in 1909 and has been Denmark’s most visited attraction ever since. The list of attractions continue with Japanese and Botanical Gardens, modern innovative Art Centre AROS (one of the biggest in Northern Europe), Museum of Nazi Occupation, Women’s Museum, Viking Museum, city cathedral; the summer residence of the Danish Royal family is just three kilometres from Aarhus (this is not an exhaustive list). The new Lighthouse project will be bringing the highest building of 142m to Aarhus harbour in the future.

"The Capital of Provinces" – on its out-shell Aarhus is a quiet, tranquil, villagy place. Its shops shut at 5pm and weekends, city centre is eco-friendly free of cars, bicyclists use especially designed for them lanes. Talking of cyclists – in contrast to giant army of Dutch cyclists that haunt pedestrians, Danish cyclists are very polite and often look like horse riders in their safety hats and jackets. Drivers are also polite, and if you cross in front of the car they do not honk but wait for you to clear their way (hopefully not texting police requesting your arrest). Rule-abiding is just religious on the roads (surely roads are not an exception of the rule) – especially at green-light pedestrian crossings. Even at small, empty of cars, roads, people patiently wait listening to ticking sound of the crossing: "Ho-o-o-ld, Ho-o-o-ld, Ho-o-o-ld"; then move just in front of an approaching car only because the light turns green prompting them: "Go, Go, Go, Go". Good lesson towards changing some of my bad habits too.

"The City of Cafes" – inner city life is bursting with events in many cafes and pubs that thrive along the canal and all over the city. We arrived in time for the Blue Days Festival featuring Gypsies, Teitur and other bands (wasn’t planned – seems that festivals are happening here for all the time) with three day music marathon on the main city square. For many years Aarhus is known as the "nesting box" of Danish musicians and bands, primarily in main stream pop and rock music. City nightlife is on par with Copenhagen, this is just as well as Aarhus is an incredibly modern university city with 20,000 students adding to the population. Not surprisingly the average age of its inhabitants is among the lowest in Europe.

"City of Smiles" – its citizens do smile because they live in the most progressive country enjoying the highest standard of living in the world. Who wouldn’t smile, being happy and relaxed? Happiness is also reflected in the relaxed Danish dress style. Tall shouldery Scandinavian blondies have managed to convince me better than any cat-walk-skinnies that a white old-granny-embroidered-nighty (so hated by me just before my trip to Denmark) with leggings is this summer’s fashion hit. I changed my clothes and loved being asked questions in Danish – suppose I should start learning it for our next trip – this time I only smiled (very Aarhus) and replied: "Sorry, only English."

I would also call Aarhus a "City of Street Art" – artistic graffiti’s cover many city buildings, "City of Roses" – rose is the most popular decorative bush in city gardens and we were lucky to witness the full bloom and fragrance, "City of Delicious Hot-Dogs" – come and try for yourself.

And also – "historic Viking town". Walking along idyllic narrow streets of Aarhus, visiting its gardens and squares, sitting by its water fountains, breathing its lovely atmosphere, enjoying relaxed and stylish interiors of places we’ve been to, I couldn’t stop thinking of remarkable curiosities of life. Some centuries ago this peaceful land belonged to the most notorious fearful Viking Empire. The Vikings Age will always be fascinating people. Not only warriors but traders and explorers Vikings travelled from "Ireland in the west to Russia in the east, from Greenland in the north to Andalusia in the south" during three centuries 8-11 AD.

They also reached North America and inhabited Iceland in 9th century. Aarhus hosts annual Viking festivals in July and is considered, arguably, to be the oldest Viking town, with a small museum in the city centre (entrance is free). Talking of history - Denmark is the second oldest monarchy in the world, after Japan, dating from reign of king Gorm the Old 900-940AD.

Aarhus is the biggest town in Jutland (Jylland) – a large peninsula north of Germany forming the mainland of Denmark. Not many know that Denmark is also spread on around 500 islands in the Baltic sea with only 100 of which are inhabited – there is a huge scope for discoveries. Greenland near North America and the Faroe Islands in Atlantic Ocean are also under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark, although both maintain home rule. Together with Jutland, the country consists of three regions including Sjaeland and Fyn. The most popular is Sjaeland with Copenhagen situated on the largest island in the country. Fyn is famous with Odense, the childhood place of Hans Christian Andersen and his fairy tails, lovely landscapes and beaches. Odense is now just 80 minutes away from Copenhagen by modern high-speed train due to the recent completion of the Great Belt bridge linking the islands of Fyn and Sjaeland.

Aarhus is positioned conveniently in reachable proximity to many interesting places in Denmark. Every little town has its own charm – it takes 20 mins by train to get to Skanderborg and 40 mins to Silkeborg, Danish Lake and Forest District Capital – one of the most beautiful and expensive places to live in Denmark. If you are prepared to travel further – its 3.5 hours by train to capital city Copenhagen (35 mins flight), 4 hours by train to Ribe, Scandinavia’s oldest and best preserved town. Ribe has old cobblestone streets, charming atmosphere and beautiful buildings, many of them connected to famous historical figures. There is also regular rail connection to Sweden, Germany and the rest of Europe.

If you ever decide to come, it is important to remember that big hearted Aarhus is a small city– its few hotels get promptly booked up prior to major events, which are happening here ever so often. The budget options are The City Sleep-In hostel (130 DKK per a bunkbed) situated just opposite the sea port and around the corner from the main square, and The Cab-Inn hotel (485 DKK for a single tiny but comfortable room with Wi Fi) – just at the square. There can be good offers for Radisson SAS and other hotels on the internet – just keep looking and do not exclude Denmark from your destination list.
Because of its fascinating history, traditions, contemporary ways of living, Denmark is worth a visit.

© Natalya Popova June 2009
ferganavalley at

Pisa. Pizza. Piazza
Natalya Popova
8am-ish on a Sunday morning (a brave, if not heroic) start, we stepped out on a route of exploration of Pisa, Italia.

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