Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DK - Århus

June 21                 Tuesday                               Denmark                             Århus                                   

I had to wake slightly early to make sure I showered & recombobulated myself after having settled in for a couple days.  My original plan upon arrival in Copenhagen had been to stick around another day and then catch a train back into Sweden and up to Göteborg, but I felt I’d seen enough of Copenhagen & decided it’d be a good chance to see a bit more of Denmark.  So I booked a train west and then north to Århus, Denmark’s second city.

Upon arrival I found myself in a bit of a dirty stretch by the train station, but a block later I was in the pedestrianized area and found it to be a rather pretty little city.  I actually enjoyed traveling around the streets, whereas in Copenhagen they felt just like a monotonous chore.   Århus ultimately felt sort of like DC: sure it’s technically a city, but it really preserves a small town feel within it.  It was far more walkable than Copenhagen, in part owing to its smaller size but also a greater balance toward pedestrians; whereas I’d previously noted that Copenhagen was definitely more bike-friendly at the cost of being ped-friendly.

Arriving at my hostel at 15:00, I knew I was strapped for time to see the city… so I immediately dropped off my bags in a storage room (checkout didn’t open for another hour) then went outside to see as much as I could.  With the two main churches first to close: those were my first target.  The Domkirke had some restored frescoes (whitewashed back in the day on account of seeming “too Catholic”) and a tower right on the central square.

The church’s staffmember was kind enough to chase down the key for me, letting me scale the tower in my lonesome with 30 minutes until closing.  It was fun having the whole tower to myself, arriving at the top & climbing about the bells’ structure to get at the windows; but fencing on the windows had too tight of a grid for me to get many good photos from.  It was a bit amusing as a live band in the plaza outside broke into Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade”, adding a marked contrast to my present location within a church tower.  Even the staffmember laughed the moment I mentioned it; she was thinking the exact same thing.

The nearby Vor Frue Kirke had a crypt was which was partially lit with some candles, so that was nice; but otherwise I was in and out in 5 minutes and still managed to feel like I saw everything there was to see.  A large portion of it was under maintenance work & closed and it was otherwise pretty unadorned… of interest more to those with a huge interested in churches; not so much to those more interested in the neat & fancy.

Next was the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, the city’s major art museum.  I’d initially thought I only had an hour to explore it before it closed at 17:00, but when the clock struck 5pm just as I was finishing up my last stop: I’d taken note that no one else seemed to be making their way for the exit.  Turns out the museum was staying open late on account of it being summer… the first place in all of Scandinavia with a significant change in hours!  YES!!!  So I returned to the exhibits and took a bit more time to appreciate (or at least examine) all of their exhibits.

There was a section on Denmark’s golden age of art, which I’d noted on a previous day that I’m rather fond of.  Danes really did a great job creating photo-quality works, capturing landscapes and body expressions absolutely perfectly.  However, the lion’s share of the museum deals with modern art…  which is a form that I just don’t get.  It’s such a contrast to see it go from these ornate and lovely paintings to a sculpture of two figures that have been injured and disfigured in dozens of different ways, leaving limbs and debris behind them.  Or a canvas that’s orange.  Just orange.  Or a photo some girl took of her behind, with pants pull down but panties still on & the wire of the camera’s remote running back to the camera.  Why?  Is this supposed to be a statement about pornography?  Is it supposed to be a statement about narcissism?  Am I just supposed to admire her ass, which was only OK?  If I took a photo of my own rear end: could I get it into a museum?  Yeah, I didn’t get that room… although I did like the photo of the little girl holding a chainsaw; that amused me.

The first floor has a large life-like sculpture of a boy… it was pretty neat, I suppose, but I didn’t really get how it was the major draw of the museum up until the completion of their most recent bit… which actually ended up being my first stop but I’ll get into that last.  Below the Boy, in the basement, was a series of exhibits themed around Dante’s Inferno.  Well, loosely themed… I was really hoping for a greater tie-in, as I’m a huge fan of the Divine Comedy.  Each room had some sort of visual twist:

·         A large living head trapped underwater, formed by a projection on a huge egg-shaped object in a water tank.  It felt like a character in Myst.
·         A room of mirrors creating infinity all around
·         A film projection onto a sheet draping over E.T.   That is, a sculpture of E.T., replete with Reeses Pieces at his feet, and draped over him was a white sheet… that was the canvas that some uninteresting film was being projected upon.
·         Another projection room was decorated as if someone’s living room.  A film projection portrayed a person’s 24-hr day in 8 minutes, with the lighting in the room changing accordingly from twilight to dawn to midday to sunset to night.  From the video, I can only assume the person – clearly a woman – must’ve had a rather bad day… her morning consisted of her crawling naked along her lawn.
·         There was a large rounded monolithic object in a room which was pulsing bursts of light, as if souls were trapped within.  I didn’t think too much of it until I read that it was tied in with the University of Tokyo’s astronomy folk… every time a star was recorded as going nova it triggered a pulse of light; its location (I think) upon the monolith being derived from the stars’ location within the universe.  So the exhibit itself was dull but I liked the tie in with the real physical universe.
·         A room had a glowing red wall with a green line… I didn’t get that one.
·         The first room you pass by had several projections, which I eventually realized were all slow-motion videos of someone jumping into the water, albeit played backward.  I liked how it was set up, though: a very large open dark room.  It was quite relaxing.
·         And two more rooms I can’t recall…

Another floor had an exhibit on colors of light.  This one was actually kind of entertaining... one room included a fine mist being sprayed in front of a spotlight, with the droplets refracting a rainbow if you stood at the correct angle.  It was also fun watching people flail about in the otherwise pitch black room, with the spotlight making it difficult for people’s eyes to adjust to the room’s layout.  It was just a flat open room, but it felt like there would be a drop-off or objects or something; some barrier to prohibit you from getting into the mist.  But the whole point was to let you roam free & see it from all angles, even within it if you so desired.

Another room, part of that same light exhibit, consisted of a very dense fog illuminated with color, forming a color wheel room.  Different segments had red, blue, yellow, and green lights & you could walk through the color combinations… with absolutely nothing in front of you to help gauge distance or place; letting you become fully enveloped by the color.  Only a  few support poles & silhouettes of other people let you focus on anything; unless you opted to look up at the light racks or down at your feet… both pretty much at the limits of visibility.

Running with that color theme was the latest permanent installation: Your Rainbow Panorama.  Complementing a roof deck with good views over the city, another level up was this large circular walkway with windows of a massive color wheel.  The entry was in deep blue & you could walk around through the colors and back to deep blue.  I didn’t get why people kept taking pictures through the glass… all did was color the city; you could get a clear & more interesting view from the roof deck.  The color didn’t do anything interesting to the city worth of a photo.  To me, the real interest was in looking along the corridor (a few tourists did grasp this), taking in the color gradient and appreciating how the reflections in the glass created these neat visual effects.  My camera was always pointed along the hallway; if I want a colored photo of the city I’ll just add a filter.  I also liked capturing photos from outside the walkway, snapping images of peoples’ silhouettes within the colored glass.

For chow I stopped by Karl’s Sandwich Bar, toward the north end of the downtown area.  For once Lonely Planet succeeded: not only did I find it easily, but holy cow did they offer a good burger (specifically what my guide recommended).  It was huge and quite tasty, served alongside a box full of fries.  Like Five Guys, they actually provided more fries than I could even eat.  All for 60 DKK, which at about $12 is actually a pretty good deal for a meal in Denmark.

I swung through the downtown again and past the Domkirke, beside which were some festivities for some sort of youth soccer something or other.  I didn’t quite get what exactly it was for, but when I heard swing I knew it was something I had to swing by… er… yeah, pun not initially intended.  Some more jazzy/swingy tunes were played, including Duke Ellington and Van Morrison.  But eventually I had to get moving to plan the next day, which would involve a bit of complexity as I traveled by rail and sea.

As I sat and listened to the music, however, I dwelt a bit more upon the people of these two countries: Sweden and Denmark.  Between the two: Stockholm definitely has more hot women.  But Denmark succeeds at pretty, beautiful, ad cute.  Stockholm has bottle blondes who look like they could never hold a conversation; the Danes look very real, as if you could really engage with their minds.  So I’d say Denmark might actually be ahead in that regard, despite not necessarily claiming the greater world renown which Sweden enjoys.  And as for the guys?  To put it simply: in Denmark they’re thuggish; in Sweden they’re a bunch of fratboys; and in both there’s a good-sized subculture of both skaters and punks… both of which I’m rather OK with; but the thugs and fratboys just annoyed me as much as they do back home.

One of my roommates was already in the room of the Århus City Sleep-In when I walked in: a London guy whom I’d peg as being in his 40’s; a freelance journalist there to cover whatever that youth soccer thing was.  I later met another dude originally from northeastern China but now working at a hotel in England.  There was another Asian guy but he didn’t talk at all; either he simply wasn’t talkative or he didn’t even understand what “Hi” meant.  I’m guessing a mix… not talkative but probably because of a language barrier; but I’d be hard-pressed to believe he didn’t recognize a greetings when he heard one.  Just before midnight we picked up another roommate, a guy who appeared to be of Middle-Eastern descent (slightly tanned skin but definitely Mediterranean features) and was of about 50-60 yrs or so… English definitely wasn’t his strong point, leading me to guess he’s likely from one of the former French colonies.  Algerian, perhaps?  All in all we ended up with 5 out of 6 beds occupied; the bed above me remaining open.

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