A Travellerspoint blog

June 2018

Around the World 2017: Odense and trip conclusion


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On a cursory inspection of the map of Denmark, the island of Funen (Fyn to Danes) might not appear to be an island at all. The Little Belt strait that separates Funen from the mainland is barely a kilometer wide for most of its length. On closer inspection, rounded Funen looks a little like a soccer ball being kicked between the mainland father and his son Zealand. We had chosen Odense as the last city for the trip mainly because it was close to the midpoint between Aarhus and Copenhagen, but it also had the advantage of having a famous zoo. We arrived in Odense in time to have a few hours at the zoo before it closed, so we made it our first stop. There was a diverse selection of animals that were in very natural enclosures yet were still easily visible. One of our favorites was the manatee, a testimony to the amazing power of natural selection to fill environmental niches. There was a pretty cool playground for the kids as well.
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We had planned on visiting Bazar Fyn, another Middle Eastern mall, for dinner after the zoo but unfortunately the opening hours didn't coincide with what I had researched. Instead we made our way to central Odense but found most restaurants closed on a Sunday evening. Eventually we settled on a gourmet burger restaurant and ate as well as we could, considering there was nothing on the menu whatsoever except burgers and sides. Our Airbnb proved to be a disappointment as well. It was on a second floor that could only be accessed by a ladder-like staircase, so I had to haul up our bags and then the kids one by one. Once inside, we locked and barricaded the door to prevent any chance of the kids wandering back out and falling down the ladder. We also discovered that almost none of the lights worked and the host had only provided us with one stained dish towel for the shower.

In the morning we headed to the pedestrianized center for brunch. We soaked up that familiar Scandinavian atmosphere of cobblestone squares walled by rows of dissimilar townhouses and countless sidewalk cafes. Unfortunately, a large area in the very center of the old town was undergoing some extensive reconstruction and was completely dug up and blocked off.
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Slightly away from the center we found a pretty residential street that led us to the Hans Christian Andersen House. Outside the small museum dedicated to Denmark's most famous author was an outdoor theater with a castle-like stage next to a shallow pond. People had started to gather on a grassy embankment in front of the stage. We were just in time to see a beautifully-performed play incorporating several of the famous fables. After the play, the characters came out and mingled with the audience. Naturally, Cleo's favorite was the princess from "The Princess and the Pea".
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It was time to say goodbye to our last new city of the trip, but fortunately Denmark had one last amazing castle for us to see before our return to Miami. Egeskov Slot is also on the island of Fyn, half an hour south of Odense. We had seen several beautiful castles in Denmark but this 16th century creation was the closest thing to a fairytale that we'd seen since Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. The surrounding moat was filled with lily pads and carpets of bright green algae. The castle itself was just part of a huge complex including the gardens, an extensive collection of vintage automobiles and airplanes, and an adventure playground for kids.
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The gardens provided quite a workout as we herded the kids along the paths through the rolling landscape. In one area the hedges were trimmed into the shape of squirrels, peacocks, and spirals that Cleo immediately identified as poop.
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We skipped the interior of the castle and spent our remaining time in the play area, where the older kids tried out the canopy walk and the zipline.
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We arrived back in Copenhagen in time for dinner on the patio of a Thai restaurant in the center of town. The meal was good enough to help us forget our misadventure with Thai food in Gothenburg.
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We'd selected an Airbnb in the southern district of Amager, close to the airport, to avoid any risk of traffic on the way to our flight home the next morning. I still had to drop off the rental car in Malmö as there wouldn't be any time to do it in the morning. We settled in to our last Airbnb and I took off at about nine fifteen to return the car. I was under a little time pressure because the rental agency had told me their garage would be closing at ten. I filled up the car in Amager and then headed for the Øresund Bridge for the last time. Just as I approached the bridge, my heart sank as I realized I had neglected to bring my passport. Even though Denmark and Sweden are both in the EU and theoretically passports shouldn't be necessary to cross the border, they had checked ours the first time we entered Malmö from the bridge. I believe the policy has something to do with attempts to stem the flow of Asian and African migrants. I only had a few seconds to decide what to do. Returning to the Airbnb to get my passport would lose me half an hour and eliminate any chance of getting to the auto rental agency in time. If I got turned back at the border, I'd lose an hour and also the fifty Euro toll. I'm not sure how my thought process went in the end, but I decided to go for it and took the bridge. I spent the entire time on the span trying to gauge my chances of making it through. I paid the toll and nervously approached the checkpoint. A female agent asked for my passport and I told her I'd forgotten it, and handed her my driver's license. She frowned and told me she'd have to check in the office, and I waited in my car for what seemed an interminable length of time. Finally she reappeared and told me they'd let me through, but next time to bring my passport. That was a huge relief. Returning to Copenhagen at that point would have been a terrible way to end the trip. I raced to the rental agency but the checkpoint episode had delayed my arrival until a few minutes after ten. They'd given me a passcode to use to get into the garage but it didn't work on the only keypad I could find. In the end I parked the car at the curb just outside their office. I still had to walk to the Malmö train station, take the train to the Copenhagen airport, and then a taxi back to the Airbnb. It was almost midnight when I was finally able to get to bed.

The following morning we had one final hurdle which was getting from the Airbnb to the airport. Uber had been banished from Denmark earlier that year. I had attempted to reserve a taxi on a local app I had downloaded the previous night but based on prior experience with European taxi apps I didn't have much confidence. I had also figured out the bus route, but it required a two block walk to the stop as well as a change of buses. Around seven in the morning we brought all our bags to the curb hoping to flag down a taxi on the street, but we hardly saw any cars at all at that early hour. Just as we were about to start schlepping all our belongings to the bus stop, a taxi suddenly pulled over. It turned out to be the one I'd reserved from the app. It was a tight fit since the app didn't have any option for requesting a larger vehicle, but we packed everything in and got to the airport in plenty of time for our flight.
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This had been our longest and most ambitious trip ever, but we made it through again without any significant adverse events. Looking back a year later, the most memorable parts were the night markets in Taipei and Shenyang, Copenhagen, and the Norwegian fjords. I can't think of anywhere we went that wasn't worthwhile, and the time allocation was perfect. Enjoying such a long trip gave me the confidence to plan our longest European road trip yet, a five week Odyssey through Iberia and Southwest France that begins two weeks from today.

Posted by zzlangerhans 05:04 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Aarhus


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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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".
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 05:57 Archived in Denmark Tagged aarhus aalborg Comments (0)

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