Nestled between Aalborg and southern Denmark lies an enclave of culture known as Aarhus. A city of substantial size – 275,000 inhabitants – in a fairly small country, Aarhus packs a major artistic punch not to be missed.
Given my current zip code, booking transportation can be challenging (read: unacceptable foreign credit cards, Google Translate incompatibility), but chalk another one up for the Danes – they’ve got that on lock, too. DSB trains are efficient, timely, and extremely comfortable. As it was school vacation week, I opted to reserve a seat (always worth checking before booking!). Since my timing was flexible, I opted for the orange ticket – cheaper fares found at slightly less-traveled times. Very easy on the wallet in a country that leans towards the pricier side.
Pulling into Aarhus’ Central Station, I followed the signs to luggage storage. I easily deposited my overnight bag at the cost of 20 Danish krona for 24 hours (roughly 3USD). As I had opted to travel without a SIM card or an international phone plan – digital detachment being the vacation goal – I had prepped by downloading the city limits of Aarhus on Google Maps. Plugging in my first destination, the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, I set off into the chilly, grey morning on foot.
My destination was less than a kilometer from the station and I spotted its famed rooftop installation almost immediately. The Rainbow Pavilion had attracted my eye on an Instagram feed, leading me to plan this stop on my return trip to Copenhagen.
ARoS did not disappoint. Within the museum’s impressive contemporary art collection, I spotted works by artists I recognize and noted a few new names to investigate.
After wandering the galleries, I made my way to the museum’s roof. Perched on a hilltop, the building already has a height advantage over the surrounding low-lying city below. If you add a tunnel of the color continuum, you’re in business – views for days, and ever evolving ones thanks to the blustery autumn day.
I enjoyed my time in Aarhus so much that I’ve made a promise to return. With delicious restaurants, pedestrian walkways, and plenty of good shopping, there’s a lot to love. A few hours later, I arrived found myself back in Copenhagen for the evening. After spending time loading up on groceries not found in Moscow, I wandered the canal sidewalks, watching the lights of the row houses dance on the water. Denmark has a very special charm, buttoned up in stormy navy blue skies and shimmering golden light. Until next time…
Back in August, a good friend reminded me that the school year is a marathon, not a sprint. After a pretty jam-packed 8 weeks, I was in need of a true break. Blessed as I am to live this life of exploration, I have begun to take pleasure in lesser known travel destinations. Quieter, less touristy, and generally more subtle in their cultural distinctions, these countries offer a true departure from the daily grind and intriguing insights if you know where to look.
As I racked my brain for destinations of interest, I immediately landed on Denmark. My good friend Kristen has been living there off and on for nearly a decade, first studying abroad in Copenhagen, then completing her Fulbright, and finally a PhD in Aalborg, Denmark. Clearly this land had a pull on her and I struck out to find what has captured her attention for all these years.
A short two-hour flight from Moscow, I had been to Copenhagen once before on a layover. Finding the city charming, I took advantage and booked a night there on either end of my trip. Mindful of my need to unwind, I booked a 5 hour train ride to Aalborg for the next morning. Denmark, a land of islands and fields, proved the perfect antidote to a mind in need of quiet contemplation. For those with less time to spare, Aalborg is a quick 45-minute flight from Copenhagen.
As ease of travel goes, Denmark has it down to a science. An easy 13-minute ride into town from Kastrup Airport, Copenhagen boasts my favorite train station in all of Europe. Easy to navigate with signs in English and Danish, I circled the station collecting little creature comforts to outfit my train journey. Make fun if you will but Danish 7-11s have the selection in the world. These are not your average American convenience stores with slurpees and days-old hot dogs rotating on a spit. No, this is quality fare, the stuff of Marks & Spencer grocery store legend (see Edinburgh Airport, April 2018). Have a look for yourself.
As the train gathered speed, we left the spitting rain behind and a glorious sunrise burst forth from behind the clouds. The Danish countryside rolled past, with manicured lawns giving way to farm land and streams. Wind turbines dotted many ridge lines and horses and cows could be spotted every few kilometers.
As we headed north, I watched the seasons change, with greens turning to vibrant yellows, and green farmland quickly becoming brown. October is not Denmark’s high tourist season, which suited me just fine.
Aalborg is a town of industry and academics. Boasting gorgeous water views across the local fjord, this port town was officially established in 1342 but dates back as a settlement over 1300 years. Wind power technology and cement distribution as its major exports, Aalborg is also home to 20,000 university students and faculty, which includes my good friend Kristen, an assistant professor in the IT and Design Department focusing on marine governance.
Kristen and I go way back, all the way to Mrs. Carey’s 2nd Grade class, and she and I have remained good friends throughout our post-college years, overlapping in DC for a time and now as a handful of Medfield kids living abroad in Europe. It was so great to finally see the town where she’s lived for all these years.
The Danes are currently trending in contemporary mainstream culture for their art of hygge (pronounced hue-ga in Danish). As the days grow shorter and the darkness comes sooner, hygge is the practice of embracing the night with candles and conversation to stimulate the mind and senses.
Never short on conversation or laughs, Kristen and I hygge’d for hours each evening, taking in some of Aalborg night life as well. From food trucks to fjord bathing, Aalborg knows how to keep it entertaining.
One of my favorite chats with a local included an elderly fellow who shook my hand and welcomed me to Aalborg in perfect English. Like many, he wanted to know just what had drawn me to this little corner of Denmark. He went on to tell me that he had spent 7 years living in the United States, specifically in New Jersey – a state, he informed me, which has an undeserved reputation. I quite agreed 🙂
Before I knew it, it was time to head onto Aarhus for some art and culture. I truly enjoyed my stay in Aalborg, a little gem made infinitely cooler by having a local guide. Friendly people, quaint side streets, and plenty of bike paths made Aalborg a very chill Danish destination. I would highly recommend it.