Sunday, 30 June 2013

20th June: the edge of Denmark

Alarm goes off at 6.30 after I’ve had about 4 hours sleep. I’m so not in the mood for a 2 hour train trip and long walk, especially when I see thick white cloud again. Also, I’ve not been feeling well since last night, so don’t want to risk eating anything, which makes me even more miserable. I get back in bed and put the telly on. Neighbours. Again. They’re talking about Facebook and Twitter. Sod this, i’m going to Skagen.

It takes just over an hour to get to Frederikshavn where I get off and switch to a much smaller blue Nordjyske Jernbaner train to Skagen. It has huge, full length windows, which is most welcome on a trip like this, as about 10 minutes outside of Skagen, the landscape turns utterly beautiful, even if the clouds are still hanging about. There are deer running around, birds of prey swooping up and down, it’s bleak and beautiful, in a typical Scandinavian way.

Like Aalborg airport, Skagen station is absolutely silent.  Granted, it’s only 9.15, but still. Apart from a solitary taxi outside, and a few cyclists, there’s nobody about. I need to get to Grenen, which may or may not be the northernmost point of Denmark, depending on what you read. But either way, it’s where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet, and that’s what I’ve come to North Jutland to see. I’d fussed a lot before I came here about how I was going to make my way there from the station, as I have a rubbish sense of direction, but just outside the station, there’s a sign pointing left saying “Grenen 3km”. So I decide to walk. The air is so sticky and stormy, but I’ve got my umbrella so sure I’ll be fine.

The houses in Skagen are mostly yellow with terracotta rooves and many have red and pink roses growing up them or in their perfect front gardens. It’s a lovely place, which I imagine is gorgeous in summer, yet also really cosy (or should that be “hygge”?) in winter. I keep walking and eventually see what I recognise as the Vippefyr in the distance. This is off the path to Grenen, but I cross the park to have a look. The Vippefyr is a special type of lighthouse which was apparently popular in Denmark several centuries ago. This one at Skagen is a reconstruction (from 1958) of the original which dates back to 1627. Apparently they weren’t very effective. Not surprising really given the tiny little basket. Anyway, I walk around the otherside of the hill (Fyrbakken- a nice romantic, Viking sounding word I think), and am greeted with this view...

There’s yet more silence, apart from the gentle waves. I admit my first thought is “it looks just like the Skagen watch adverts.” But this is quickly followed by “I’ve never seen anywhere as beautiful as this.” I later find out that this is South Beach, and was a favourite spot for the Skagen painters. I’d heard many times before that the light in this part of Denmark is very special, and it is. It’s difficult to describe, and I don’t think photos do it justice (mine certainly don’t) but somehow the painters captured it perfectly. It’s easy to see how this place can inspire people- to be honest I could sit on the dunes and write for the rest of the morning, but I can’t because I need to find Grenen. So I go back to the road. Two women are walking their dogs in the field around Fyrbakken, and I’m suddenly struck with immense envy. I really want this life! 

I come out of the Skagen town limits and walk down Route 40, with only the occasional cyclist, caravan and lorry whizzing past me. It’s a straight line until you get to another lighthouse, and at times it seems neverending. You can’t see the coast until you’re right on top of it (literally, as you have to go up a hill at the end). If you need time to clear your head, you’re definitely in the right place, luckily for me.
There’s a little car park in Grenen, and a kiosk, both of which are swarming with people. Where did they all come from?! Sweden seems to be the answer. Although there are Norwegian, Finnish and German cars in the car park too. I go up the hill and look out at this...

For an all too brief moment, I’m the only person there. And after taking in the view as much as I can, I’ve got a little ritual I need to do. Out comes the iPod and on goes Stormy Weather by Teitur. It seems fitting given the current climate, but that song has always reminded me of what it’s like to go through an anxiety attack as well. I’ve had a rough time the last couple of months, arguably a lot of it self-inflicted, but now, right at the end of my favourite country in such amazing surroundings, now’s the time to let it go. I sit there listening to Teitur for a good half an hour at least, in which time I’ve been joined by a hoarde of Swedes. They don’t stay long though, just pass comment and move on. I find this a bit odd. I know I’m very sentimental, but I can’t understand how you can fail to be moved by this place. 

I’ve still got to get right to the tip of Grenen though, because I know for a fact that it’ll be even more amazing than this. The Sandworm bus is just down the hill in the car park, but it doesn’t look too far to walk from here, so that’s what I do. There’s an Oriental man in a suit walking the other way, which makes me think my jeans and leather jacket weren’t the most mental idea after all. In fact, the sand is the same colour as my shoes, so they won’t even get stained like I was worried they would. Win!

I finally reach the end of Grenen, and the end of Denmark. It’s very unassuming. Rather like everything in Denmark, it’s beautiful but doesn’t make a big deal of it. On first sight, it’s like any other sand spit. But it isn’t. Because this is where the North Sea (Skagerrak) and the Baltic Sea (Kattegat) meet. It’s a calm day, so the effect isn’t huge today, but I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. (I’ve had to borrow someone else’s video, as I was interrupted by more Swedes before I could do my own) 

5 years ago, en route to Esbjerg I got off a train in Padborg, which is about as far south in Jutland as you can get. And now I'm right at the top. I am such a Jylland girl now. Copenhagen really has nothing on the mainland :) 

The light here is even better than it was at the top of the hill, and the clouds have started to break up so you can see some blue and some sun. It seems even more fitting to be letting go of past problems! I write a quick note regarding the stuff that’s happened this year, tear it in half, throw half in the North Sea and half in the Baltic, and make my way back to Skagen. I put my iPod away, and am yet again blown away by the silence. There are loads of people on the spit and along the shore, yet once you’re a little bit inland, you can’t hear a thing, not even the waves. This is such a special place, and such a magical day, I’ll never forget it.

The final thing I see on the beach is an apparently washed up Paris metro ticket. I'm going to Paris at the end of July for the last day of the Tour de France, a dream I've had for ages. Talk about looking to the future!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

19th June- Aalborg

Wake up to clouds. Oh well. By the way, I’m staying at Cabinn Hotel, which is like 50 metres from the Limfjord. It couldn’t be in a better location. There are 8 Cabinn hotels in Denmark, and I’m quite excited to say that I’ve now stayed in half of them. Only Odense and 3 of the Copenhagen ones left to try. They’re cheap and cheerful and have free wifi. The beds are a bit small, and you can usually hear everything going on in the rooms next to you, above and below you, but not in Aalborg thankfully.
I’ve not planned on doing much today, just shopping and a bit of general looking around. The hotel is right nextdoor to Friis shopping centre, and indeed my room is right opposite the staffroom. At some point, someone will see me dancing around in my pants to In and Out of Love, I’m sure. Friis doesn’t open til 10 (like many shops in Jutland, I’ve noticed), but thankfully Føtex supermarket just across the road is already open. They’re selling the Eurovision 2013 album, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I don’t get anything to eat at the hotel, so I buy this- the breakfast of kings...

Mmmm. I can never afford to eat properly in Denmark, but when their sandwiches are this good, who cares? I sit and watch the telly til 10 o clock (Søren, my Danish friend told me before I left that there’s nothing on telly these days, as all the stations are already in holiday mode- he was right), and then I pay Friis a visit, then cross Nytorv in search of other shops. Someone up above is obviously looking down on me, as there are great sales on *everywhere*. First purchase of the day though is an umbrella from H&M, as it’s pissing down with rain and I’ve only got my little leather jacket with me. I also nip into Stereo Studio and buy Emmelie de Forest’s album (the lyrics are all very good, I’ve not actually listened to the music yet though) and Christian Hjelm’s album (more about him later).  This is an extraordinary show of restraint for me in a European music shop. 

On the way back home, this cute guy in a suit outside a shop is literally jumping up and down trying to get my attention. I’m sort of purposefully ignoring him as I still feel ashamed that I can’t speak Danish. I give in though and he starts going on about “see, I knew you saw me...” and when I tell him I don’t speak Danish, he says “oh, but you live in Denmark, right?” (I think he’s selling phone contracts by the way). I tell him no, but I wish I did.

“Why?” is his puzzled response.
“Because it’s lovely here.”
“Oh...I wish I lived in England. I love football you see.”

That’s as good enough a reason as any I suppose.
I’m going to Skagen early tomorrow, but first I need to find the train station so I don’t wander around lost in the morning. Turns out it’s not too far away. Well I don’t fancy going home yet, so decide a walk along the fjord is in order. It’s not the prettiest of fjords, quite industrial. But water always has a calming effect on me, and when my iPod shuffles and plays Olsen Olsen by Sigur Ros, the whole scene is just perfect.

I walk along a bit more and stop outside the Utzon Centre, an arts centre designed by local man Jørn Utzon, the architect responsible for the Sydney Opera House. I write a few things down and watch the sun start to set. Like everywhere else I’ve seen in Aalborg so far, it’s really peaceful here, but I know that’ll change in a few days when the Regatta comes to town.

(That picture of the Utzon Centre is from Wikipedia by the way. I'm not that good at photos...)

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

18th June: LGW-AAL

Usually when I go away, I’m on the plane by 7am at the very latest. Not today though, the flight’s not til 17.45, but as no one’s around to take me to the airport and I’m not paying 40 quid for parking, I get the train up from Ashford. Ashford-Tonbridge-Redhill-Gatwick. It’s pretty painless and only costs £15. The joys of not having to go through London.

I’ve only flown Norwegian once before (to CPH a couple of years ago), but they’ve quickly become my new favourite airline. I won’t hear a word said against the world’s leading orange low-cost outfit, but Norwegian have a much more relaxed atmosphere about them, you can take more hand luggage with you (great for me, as a strictly no suitcase person), and I swear there’s more leg room than on EasyJet. Anyway, we’re about half an hour late taking off, but within around 75 minutes, at just before 9pm local time, we’re in Aalborg, greeted with brilliant sunshine, blue skies and the most silent airport I’ve ever experienced (even Vágar was louder than this). I forgot my map, and only knew that my hotel was about a kilometre from the bus terminal in town, so I opt for a taxi. And am I glad I did! 

It might cost £19 for the 5 minute trip (good old Scandinavia), but the driver is the coolest guy I’ve met in a long time! “Welcome to Aalborg,” he says as I put my bags in the boot, before adding “you look nervous...don’t be nervous.” From then on, we chat like I’ve known him for ages. I tell him about my Danish (Jutlander) friend who’s moving to Copenhagen, “poor bastard,” he commiserates. I know enough about this country to understand the relationship between the capital and the “mainland.” Before I went to Aarhus and my only experiences of Jutland were a dull weekendin Esbjerg (my first Teitur gig excepted) and an even duller morning in Tønder, I would definitely have called myself a Copenhagen girl. But now, (and as this week goes on), I really think that Jutland could be my place on earth.

We move on to talking about cars. I’ll never understand the concept of importing cars to Denmark, other than that it’s ridiculously expensive and is a very lengthy process. He has a Chrysler New Yorker (of course he does, he’s cool), and I tell him about my Honda Jazz. Diplomatically (of course, he’s Danish) he says they’re good and that with the right engine they can really go some. I say I’d been very angry the night before so I’d driven home somewhat faster than I should have, and yes, they can go some. This inevitably leads to discussion of my man problems. I feel so comfortable around this guy that I probably tell him more than I should do. But as he says “it takes a lot more than that to shock us Danes, I’m afraid.” He gives me some good advice. The same advice my friends have been giving me all year, but sometimes you need to hear it from a stranger. Then he drops me off right outside the hotel, assuring me that “there are plenty of great guys in Aalborg.” “I bet there are,” I say. After nearly falling over the welcome mat (I do like to make an entrance) I check in and go up to my room feeling genuinely happy and chilled out. It’s going to be a good week, I know it.

Miscellaneous post #16

Something quite major occurred just after Christmas last year, which meant I didn’t have the most enjoyable holiday period ever. Then, just after New Year, another major thing happened, which (all too temporarily) made me very happy indeed. It’s all been very up and down since then. And combined with pressures and stress at work as well as a ridiculous ongoing saga with transport, meaning I’ve been the owner of 3 cars since January, it’s been a funny old year so far. Mostly good, but funny.

So my sixth trip to my beloved Denmark (the frozen north this time) couldn’t have come at a better time. I went to Aarhus in February and spent a thoroughly lovely afternoon with my Danish former housemate who I’d not seen for 6 years. It turns out we can still talk for hours about anything and everything, and we have more in common than I ever realised. Anyway, we went to ARoS, the art museum, mostly because I really wanted to experience YourRainbow Panorama. There are also a few paintings by the Skagen painters, which I’ve always found both beautiful and relaxing to look at. Seeing them in real life, and thinking “Skagen looks rather magical,” I decided I had to go there. Thankfully, good old Norwegian have direct flights from Gatwick to Aalborg, so I made Denmark’s fourth biggest city my base for 4 days last week, caught 2 trains and walked right to the end of the country...