Aarhus, Denmark. Where the heck is that? Turns out it’s less than 200 km northwest of Copenhagen, and Denmark’s second largest city with a population of 275,000. 50,000 of them are under the age of 18, and another 40,000 of them are students at Aarhus University (the biggest in Scandinavia), so it has a youthful vibe, despite the fact that it dates from the 8th century, when it was a Viking fort.
You don’t notice the Viking influence so much nowadays. Cafes line a canal on one of the main streets, some very modern architecture (you know, the Danes are very good at everything modern) and a large department store has a glass viewing deck with a great view of all the rooftops of the city. And free Wi-fi. Let me tell you, we cruise passengers are all over the free Wi-fi!
Aarhus was an EU “City of Culture” for 2017, and this has carried over. The Danes took this honour very seriously. Even now, downtown Aarhus was awash with volunteers wearing aprons with large pockets filled with pamphlets, and every time we needed one, a friendly guide armed with maps and information instantly materialized, ready to guide us.
One directed us to a street named the “Mollestien,” a small lane of original historic cottages, preserved from the 1870’s. They were built over houses that dated to the 1600’s, which were built over others, and all the way back, we are told, to those original Vikings.
To live on the Mollestien, you have to apply, and then go on a waiting list for about 45 years. Changes are not allowed without permission. But this charming street is in high demand, and as a bonus, you also get to meet visitors from all over the world, all armed with cameras and iPhones, looking for the right angles and peering in your windows.
From there we walked to the botanical gardens (by accident) and Den Gamle By (on purpose), an open air museum which brings together over 75 historic buildings from all over the country.
There are actual working businesses here – bakeries and souvenir shops, which you might expect, but also an insurance office and at least one commune of rental apartments. I haven’t figured out how they deal with the admission fees and closed hours. But wouldn’t it be fun to live in an historic village!
There are three main areas in Den Gamle By (the Old Town) – pre-1900, 1920’s and 1974. Even for those of us who think they remember 1974, this area looks very quaint and old-fashioned.
I love Denmark. I have been heard to say that if I wasn’t already Dutch, I would love to be Danish. And since I recently found out that my aunt’s DNA test came back 22% Scandinavian – maybe there’s a reason why I’m so attracted to the nordic nations!