An Impromptu Mini-Break … In Denmark

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to have an impromptu mini-break. My husband had to visit Denmark for work and the stars aligned in terms of child- and dog-care to allow me to go with him for a long weekend away, something we’ve not done together since before the gorgeous girl was born.

And our destination? Aarhus, Denmark.

Aarhus, on the Jutland Peninsula, is Denmark’s second-largest city, and also one of its oldest. Historical records and archaeological evidence show that there were people living in the area since the 8th century, and there are some wonderful old buildings, including the medieval cathedral, that bear witness to the age of the place.

I’d never been to Denmark before, so was excited to go. The flight was surprisingly easy, only an hour and twenty minutes, and we landed at the tiny Aarhus airport in early evening. The city is about a half-hour drive from the airport, our taxi speeding us through darkness past pine forests and rolling fields, darker shapes against the night sky.

Our accommodation was lovely – in the heart of the city, it was a French-style boutique hotel housed in an old building, our room overlooking a cobbled courtyard lit with fairy lights. Inside, it was all painted wood and cosy feather quilts, but I was keen to go out and explore, so we set off into the city centre to find dinner and see what was happening.

As it turned out, we’d picked a good night to arrive. It was a traditional holiday, celebrating the release of a specially brewed beer for the festive season. The beer wasn’t available to buy until 9pm, but the celebration meant the bars and restaurants were full, the shops open late and the streets full of people and light.

The town centre is a mix of old and modern buildings, cobbled streets lined with tiny shops and large open pedestrian areas, while the canal that runs through the city is lined with restaurants, all with outdoor seating areas (which were packed, despite the cold temperatures). The cathedral, the largest in Denmark, stands out above the old buildings – built in the 1200s, it has been a city landmark for centuries.

There’s also a large harbour area, with a fantastic futuristic library building, and ferries taking passengers to Copenhagen and beyond. I was also particularly enchanted with the crossing lights – instead of the green and red man we’re used to, they had little Vikings, complete with helmet and shield.

The weather wasn’t great, to be honest, but what can you expect when visiting Scandinavia during winter? It didn’t stop us from heading out and looking around, spending Saturday exploring the city centre, including a visit to the excellent art gallery.

From wonderful landscape paintings by Scandinavian artists to the surreal sculptures of Ron Mueck, the gallery was the perfect place to spend a rainy morning.

At the very top of the building is a circle of rainbow coloured glass – this is the rainbow walk, a rather splendid way to view the city and surrounds. Even on a grey misty day, the coloured glass shone.

Mid-afternoon we returned to the hotel, snacks in hand, to read and watch tv and lounge around on feathery pillows, having to remind ourselves that we didn’t have to look after the child or the dog or anything else (now that’s a holiday!)

On Sunday we decided to visit Der Gamle By, one of Denmark’s top tourist attractions. Ancient buildings from across the country were brought to the site, on the edge of the city centre, over the past century, to preserve them from demolition or decay. It was extraordinary, like stepping back in time, and really deserves a blog post of its own (which it will get). Suffice it to say, I highly recommend it as a destination if you’re ever in the area.

Then we wandered along the canal back into the city centre, heading back to the warmth of the hotel before heading out for a last-night dinner. The next morning was a busy one, my husband heading to his meeting, leaving me to check out and arrange transport to collect him later on the way to the airport. However, this was all arranged by the wonderful staff at the hotel, and I spent my last hour or so in Aarhus sitting on the comfortable sofa in the foyer lounge, reading my book.

Later that afternoon we headed back to London and home. I loved visiting Denmark, and am sure I’ll be heading back there again one day – although I might try and choose a time when the weather is a bit better!


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Thursday Doors – Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

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You might think, looking at these pictures, that the doors are from some castle in Europe, home of an ancient king. In fact, both can be found in Hearst Castle, California, high above the winding Pacific coast road. That’s not to say the doors couldn’t have started life in a European castle somewhere – Hearst was a lifelong collector of antiquities and, when Hearst Castle was being built in the early part of the twentieth century, he would visit Europe and buy up bits of castles and monasteries and churches that were being demolished, sending them back to his long-suffering architect, Julia Morgan, with instructions to ‘fit them in’ somewhere.

IMG_0591I think the door at the top, with its overwrought carvings of cherubs and masks and dolphins, looks rococo in style, possibly Italian in origin. The other door looks more ecclesiastical, as though it came from a British or French church, built long before the United States even came into existence. You can see how Morgan fitted it into the fabric of the building, matching the colour of the stone and building a space to fit it into.

The photos are not the best, but they’re the best I could do, trying not to include either our tour group or the unattractive carpet laid underfoot to protect the old floors. If you are in that part of California, I’d definitely recommend a visit to the Castle – it’s a place layered with history in a visually stunning location, with a magic that shuffling crowds and roped off areas cannot touch.

This is my entry to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s page and click the link.

Of Ironing Boards and Boats

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It’s probably reasonably well documented that I’m not a fan of housework, feeling it takes up time I could spend doing other things such as writing. However, there is one household task I quite enjoy. One that I find meditative and soothing. It’s ironing.

I know, right? I can hear the screams from here. But there is something about taking a basket of crinkled fabric and converting it to smooth hanging clothing that I find very satisfying.

Many years ago, just out of high school, I worked for a clothing factory as a presser. I had a really cool (well, I thought it was) ironing board that had a suction pedal, so you would lay the fabric flat, press the pedal and it would be sucked tight to the board. It then only took a few moments to move the heavy steam iron across and smooth out the wrinkles. The iron was set to one temperature only – hot – and that was what we used, whether it was silk, polyester or cotton we were ironing.

The ‘we’ I refer to is myself and two Vietnamese ladies, the three of us standing in a row on our section of the factory floor, racks of newly sewn clothing next to us waiting to be smoothed and slid into plastic wrappers, ready for delivery. We would often chat as we worked, the rhythmic motion of the iron, the hiss of the suction pedal becoming second nature, freeing our minds up to discuss whatever we felt like.

I asked the ladies about their homeland, and what they missed about it. I was an immigrant myself so I could understand the yearning for home, or so I thought. It turned out these ladies were boat people, refugees who had left their native land in search of safety after the devastating war. I don’t know about you, but I think it takes a special kind of desperation to leave your home forever, entrusting yourself and your children to a rickety boat in an unforgiving sea.

Migration is part of human history since the earliest times – it’s how we colonised this planet, after all, taking our first steps out of the Rift Valley to find more. More land, more resources, more ideas. Wars have displaced people for almost as long – after the Second World War my husband’s grandparents, scarred after all they had experienced in their native Belarus, applied to leave. When they were asked where they wanted to go my husband’s grandmother chose Australia, as it was the furthest she could go from where she was. They never went back.

And now my husband is back in the Europe his ancestors left over half a century before. And that’s the other thing about migration – just as people arrive, so too do they leave. In search of more. More work, more sunshine, more money, more culture, more lifestyle. I’ve lived in a few places myself, fortunate in that my movements across the globe were as a result of work and love, rather than war and disaster. And even though I loved so much about the places I lived, eventually I came to realise that I yearned for home. The place where I was born, the flavours and scents and sounds, the way the light fell across the sky. And that’s what the Vietnamese ladies told me they missed too. Their home.

Funny what you think about when you’re ironing.