07/14/2017 - 07/16/2017
Now that we were back in Denmark, I could feel the circle of our road trip beginning to close. However, I knew that there was still a lot for us to see and do over the last three days of the trip and I wanted to end things on a high note. We'd already seen Denmark's most famous and international city, but our route back would take us through the next three largest cities in the country. I was curious to see if these lesser lights had their own distinct identity or if they were just miniature versions of Copenhagen.
I had already cleared a late arrival in Aarhus with our Airbnb host, so we decided to stop for dinner in Aalborg. We arrived just as dusk was settling in and didn't really have time to drive around the city. We headed for the center of town hoping to find a historic old neighborhood but instead found a gloomy and mostly deserted area that seemed more like a red light district. What little activity there was seemed to be centered around the numerous Irish pubs in the area. TripAdvisor guided me to an Italian restaurant nearby that seemed like a good prospect. I parked the car and went in by myself to scope the restaurant out. We've learned from experience that we can't always tell from a TripAdvisor listing if a restaurant is right for us. Sometimes the place turns out to be more high end than we expected, sometimes it's overcrowded, sometimes they have tall tables and barstools. It's no fun getting all the kids out of their car seats, walking a block or more to a restaurant, and then figuring out we aren;t going to be eating there.
In this case the restaurant seemed to be fine. It was pleasant but not stuffy, half-empty, with a decent selection of Italian food. I confirmed with the owner that they had room for five and retrieved everyone from the car. Things started to go sour pretty much as soon as we sat down. The kids had their iPads and a waiter immediately came over to grumble that we were disturbing the other diners, well before anyone could possibly have complained. Now I'm as considerate as anyone of the restaurant experience, and we're very careful with the kids to make sure we don't spoil anyone else's peace of mind while they eat. Part of that process is letting them have their iPads so they won't play with the cutlery, fight with each other, blow out the candles, or do any of the million other annoying things that small children normally do when they get taken to a restaurant. We're very conscientious about the volume too, and make sure the kids adjust it to the lowest level that they're able to hear. That's usually well below the ambient noise level in the restaurant, so the only people being disturbed at that point are the ones who just hate to see kids. Well, tough luck.
We had a table well away from anyone else, and the noise level in the restaurant was pretty high. I looked around and none of the other tables were paying us the slightest bit of attention. It was clear that the only displeasure was coming from the owner and the staff. I guess they felt that iPads didn't belong in the best Italian restaurant in Aalborg's red light district. The waiter was fairly nasty about it as well. I think he told us "This isn't a McDonald's". Now, if we weren't already on track to arrive at our Airbnb well after ten PM or if there was anywhere else to eat nearby other than Irish pubs, we would have cheerfully walked out at that point. As it was, I much preferred to get dinner over with and get back on the road. I smiled and asked the waiter if he'd prefer us to put all the iPads away. He had the sense to recognize what the alternative was, shook his head and took our order. The kids couldn't have behaved better. They were as quiet as mice until the food came, then we put their iPads away and they ate very peacefully. I think the staff was actually a little abashed by the end of the meal. We turned down dessert and Ronald McDonald held the door open for us on the way out. "You're the rudest person I've ever met," Mei Ling snarled at him as we exited. She takes these kinds of things personally.
So that was Aalborg. Not the greatest stop, but at least we were full and we could just fall into bed once we got to Aarhus. A little over an hour later, I was rummaging in the dark in a planter outside our Airbnb for the house key. There was a bad moment when I thought it wasn't there and then my iPhone flashlight caught a glint. Opening an apartment door never felt so good.
I was excited to get going the next morning, as I had a list of markets to visit. The first was the Saturday farmers market on Ingerslevs Boulevard, just a short walk from our apartment. There was a good mix of prepared food, produce, and crafts that took care of breakfast and kept us occupied for an hour.
When we retrieved the car I encountered a bank of large bins I initially thought were for recycling. On closer inspection I saw they were for donating clothes which are then sold, with the revenues earmarked for aid programs in Africa. Sounds nifty, but when I had time to research it a little I found the program is actually somewhat controversial. Is Scandinavia an altruistic paradise, or is it a haven for exploiters of human goodwill? It's funny how things are often not at all how they seem on the surface.
On the western outskirts of Aarhus is Bazar Vest, a large shopping center mainly devoted to Middle Eastern and South Asian goods. It was good to get our mulitcultural fix, but overall the atmosphere was a little gloomy and sterile compared to real Asian markets. When I took a picture of Mei Ling in the food court area, I noticed there was a guy next to her bent forward in his chair showing his butt crack. Gross. He sat up but as soon as he saw me taking another picture he bent over again. Either he really didn't want his face to be seen, or he really wanted his butt crack to be seen.
We got a quick bite to eat and stocked up on fruit at a Middle Eastern supermarket. On the way out we passed a barber shop, which was great because I love getting my hair cut when we're traveling. It's one of those experiences that always seems to bring me closer to the experience of actually living in the country I'm visiting. This time was no exception. My barber was from Kuwait and his coworker was from Ethiopia. We had a interesting discussion about their native countries and what it's like for them living in Denmark. I got a great haircut and Ian got to be an airplane.
We decided to continue onward out of town to Rosenholm Slot. The 16th century Renaissance castle is majestic and beautifully preserved. We were the only visitors when we arrived so we didn't have the heart to turn down the tour, although we weren't particularly interested in the interior.
Back in Aarhus we parked near the train station and walked into the downtown pedestrian zone. Our first stop was Aarhus Central Food Market, which seemed rather low energy compared to others we'd visited in Scandinavia. Or perhaps we just weren't hungry. Across the street was a pretty little Catholic Church.
We continued north along Søndergade pedestrian street until we crossed the bridge over the Aarhus River. On the other side were the Aarhus Cathedral and the Aarhus Theatre. Just south of the cathedral in Bishop's Square there was a jazz festival and people were relaxing outside and listening to the music.
The narrow river was lined with crowded cafes, and we followed the river bank under the bridge to the sounds of a party. Just after we found the band playing outside a cafe, the singer launched into a killer version of "What a Wonderful World".
Our last stop of the day was Aarhus Street Food, another food hall a short walk from the pedestrian zone. The place was similar to the Copenhagen version if just a bit smaller, and it also had a play area for the kids. At this point we were used to the food court style of eating and we collected an assortment of dishes quite efficiently. The informal setting was quite a relief after our stressful experience the previous night.
The next morning we had another delicious Scandinavian breakfast and then took a walk around a quaint older neighborhood we had seen from the car. We found a park with a great view of the rainbow panorama walkway atop the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum.
On the way out of Aarhus we encountered a strange sight from the coastal road. A crane appeared to be hoisting a waterlogged small car out of the North Sea. Even though the car was in my sight for just a few seconds, some thing didn't sit right about what I was seeing. The car was suspended motionless in the air, yet water continuously gushed from its undercarriage. How much water could fit in one small car? At the first opportunity, I made a U-turn and doubled back to the crane on the side of the road closer to the shore. Soon it became clear that we had not stumbled on the scene of a bizarre accident. A quick Google search revealed that we were actually looking at an abstract sculpture, part of a program of art installations along that stretch of coastal road.
Not much further, the road disappeared into a forested area and eventually brought us to Moesgård Strand, a scenic beach within the forest. A group of Danish kids in waders were milling around a rock jetty with nets. They didn't seem to be catching anything, but further up on the beach I saw a woman stirring a large pot. It turned out to be crab soup, but it wasn't ready to be tasted yet. They offered to rent us some waders and nets but the sky was overcast and the water looked quite cold, so we opted to drive on to Odense instead.