Sunday, March 14, 2010

So, what’s Aarhus really like?

Since we had a car (and no CPR number=we were forced to behave like tourists), we took some time to discover the nice things to do in and around town. We ate out in a relatively unexpensive but nice place, enjoyed James Cameron’s Avatar (in English and Na’vi with Danish subtitles), visited a bunch of Danish design furniture stores (fascinating stuff!) and walked around the parks, the sea front, etc.

Aarhus is a cute town (about Boulder or Annapolis-size) with a lot of brick houses and several churches, right by the sea, and is actually a main harbor for Denmark-think large docks and gigantic cranes. A role it has been serving since around the 7th or 8th century when the Vikings settled down here. Aarhus was their main port of call for their trips to Iceland, Greenland, and beyond (Disneyland?)... The main harbor is now next to the downtown area, with a more marina and fisherman’s wharf type of place to the North (a place where we’ve been told we can see dolphins). The South has a long beach, which makes for a nice area for jogging and sea kayaking, right in front of the Queen’s summer residence, and before a nice and enchanted forest (that is, when it’s not icy everywhere!). On the first time we were there the sea was frozen so there were little icebergs and all. We went back yesterday and that was all melted. An inspiring spot indeed, it’s like trading Boulder’s mountains for Aarhus’ sea front, and we’re not losing much in the process! Just complementary realities...

The big tourist attraction of Aarhus is its reconstitued ‘old town’, called ‘Den Gamle By’ in Danish. It’s like an open-air museum with plenty of houses from all around Denmark dating back to as early as the beginning of the 16th century, that got saved from destruction by being dismantled in their original location and then by being rebuilt in a corner of the botanical gardens in Aarhus. There are even a couple of water and wind mills! Houses were reorganized into what now looks like a real typical small town, with unpaved or cobbler stone paved streets, complete with reconstitued homes and shops inside the buildings. So it’s really like a history book come to life. Q even talked with a guy who was building wooden barrels inside one of these places. Q was there on an awesome sunny day, which made the reds and yellows of the outside of the houses look fantastic. And in the cold of winter, no tourists! A few school kids, but mostly a few geese wandering around, just like old times in the Old World...

Our first home in Aarhus

Soon after our arrival we quickly realized that without our ‘CPR number’ we were pretty much left to live like tourists: impossible to buy a phone, to open a bank account, to get an apartment, etc. This CPR number is technically a social security number that’s really an identification number. And naturally, it’s not just that simple to get that number! You need proof of a work contract (that’s what C has), or of enough funds to live (that would be C’s salary for the two of us for now), even for a European citizen like
Q. So we both waited for that
number for a while, as it comes in the mail in a week or two...

In the meantime we were fortunate that a professor two doors down the hall from Chrysa’s supervisor had a place he could rent us for a few weeks. He actually bought a house but hasn’t been able to sell his old one yet. So we are staying in the new one, which is a turn-of-the-20th-century house with large square-footage (about 1100 sq.ft.), hardwood floors (pretty standard here), a fine picturesque decor (see the column and the old fireplace), sunny all day long, a gigantic kitchen, and only 2 minutes from the lab. The house has a name on its outside: ‘BLAAKAER’, which we were told by our friend the owner means ‘blue pond’. Probably the family name of whoever built it.

We just still can’t believe the good fortune that brought us to this cozy place, only two days after leaving Strasbourg on a short notice, and only about four days after having landed from the tropics... To live here we did not need a CPR number, we did not need to give a deposit, and we have even had a delay to pay our rent! It’s good to have friends and friends who have friends! And we just keep loving Danish people more and more for their kindness and their diligence in helping us out.

Next, we are looking forward to receiving our 30 boxes that we shipped from Lafayette, Colorado. After all this time, it’s gonna be like Christmas all over again!

Back to yet another reality

February 18th was our last day in Polynesia... It was the end of this part of the trip, until the exploration of the Northern European countries. Time to get back to work! Time to have a home again! Yes! Books on shelves! A real kitchen! OK we were leaving paradise, but we were looking forward to settle down again. It just wears you out to spend your days in a swimsuit reading books under the sun ;-)

Well, what a shock!!

After Bora Bora where everything-the sky, the lagoon, the ocean, etc.-was blue, here in Aarhus the only thing that was blue upon our arrival was Q’s parents’car!! Everything else was pure WHITE or its sister GREY!!! Yay!! (notice the rime!) So here we are eating dinner with pants and sweaters, but hey... we’re still tan!!

It’s not 95F any longer either, but more like 25 with regular sea winds; in no place is Denmark further than 30 miles from a sea. So in less than a week, that’s quite an adjustment we underwent there... Q likes to think that at least, some of the water molecules in the dark sea out there (and the snow!) were probably around Bora Bora at some point... Makes him feel better ;-) C prefers to remind herself that spring is not too far away any longer, maybe... 8 weeks :-P !!! We saw the first flowers piercing through the snow today so it’s coming!

Hence you guys are welcome to visit at any time in the “warm and dry” season... around June 1st-June 3rd...!!?? Hurry up, we are taking reservations now :-)

Ah! Bora Bora...

Still no Internet at home here in Aarhus, Denmark, so it’s time for a Sunday evening trip to the lab to catch some wireless signal and update the blog!

So back to Bora Bora... (we wish!)

After the cyclone we had two weeks left on Bora Bora, so for us it was time to enjoy the lagoon again, as well as get educated on the history and the culture of Polynesia through exploring its archeological sites in the mountain. Q went out pretty much every day to explore the lagoon using one of the free kayaks that the hotel had to offer. That gave him the opportunity to snorkel away from crowds and discover where sharks like to go-and hence, where he also liked to go... You’ll have to know that those are cute sharks with black tips on their fins, which don’t grow any longer than 4 feet and which are fed by tourists every day during “shark-feeding tours”. So it seemed safe. But hey, there’re still sharks, so when you see them coming, it’s quite an experience! But that’s what Q wanted and he got it... He even went back for more!

We both went on an adventurous day trip on a Polynesian kayak (a slim one with an outrigger) that ended up being quite a journey since we realized on our way to our first stop (a remote beach on one of the motus) that probably the outrigger was messed up. The boat was running in circles and only when C started guiding while Q was rowing were we able to get anywhere, except that it was not fast. Eventually we got there, and saw so many corals like we had never seen. Just the variety of shapes and colors was outstanding. Please be patient as we get the film of our under-water camera developed... We know it’s hard! Let’s just hope that it’s not messed up. We can’t really be sure with these old-fashioned camera rolls!

The only tours we ended up doing while on Bora Bora were an unofficial combo between a discovery of the mountain side and an exploration of the lagoon with a tour of the island by boat. These two tours were respectively led by Azedine and Damien, who are passionate French guys that are determined to offer more educational tours. Azedine is actually the only guy who can take you to hike on the island and can explain its history, thanks to archeological discoveries he made in the recent years. He took us to the site of the first temple established in Polynesia, about 200 BC, by people who were coming from Malaysia. He explained the artifacts he found there, including the statue of that guardian who sits in a variant of the lotus posture. Azedine also stops at a true Polynesian farm, and at the workshop of an artist that paints on pareos (a traditional colorful cloth that women wrap themselves in to cover up their bikini).

His buddy Damien is not just another taxi boat with snorkeling stops. He actually jumps in the water with you to name the fish you see and tells about the formation of Bora Bora and the role of the corals for the ecosystem. Damien likes to see Bora Bora as the perfect balance, as the slow dropping of the volcanic island under the sea level is compensated by the rise of the corals.

For the last five days of our stay on Bora Bora we enjoyed an over-water bungalow experience, as we stayed on these tiki houses right above the corals! Gigantic bedroom with king size bed and glass floor under the coffee table to see the fish from inside the bungalow, private platform to hop into the sea at any time, and well... the pictures speak for themselves!