36. BYO Bus

In episode one of my Copenhagen extravaganza, my Australian accomplice and I decided it was only fitting that we make our bus ride there a BYO one. We were, after all, leaving at 7pm to arrive at 10pm, just as everyone else would be heading out to town. We also managed to lure in a poor, unsuspecting Canadian which magnified the fun!

The Danes appear to be a darn sight less PC about drinking in public places, and no-one batted an eyelid when we whipped out our booze stash. Perhaps it was because we were dressed for town and drinking a delicious Moscato…

In fact, we seemed to be the only people surprised on our journey to the capital city. Five minutes after the bus took off, it stopped again and everyone was getting out. As it turns out, the bus route is faster and cheaper as the majority of it is actually a ferry ride. A delightful (and obvious, on reflection) surprise as we got to a) steal drinking vessels from the cafe, and b) enjoy a ride with far less spills than a bus. Given the ferry terminal is just around the corner from the bus station, it seems strange that we wouldn’t just meet there, but I suspect it is a convenient way for the bus company to clip the ticket. Yes, pun intended.

I also discovered Somersby Cider – a Carlsberg innovation, despite going for the English Cider vibe. I can definitely recommend the blackberry cider, and will have to try the Elderflower one at some point!

For anyone planning the journey from Aarhus to Copenhagen, I definitely recommend catching the Line 888. Breaking the journey up with a ferry ride makes it go a lot faster, and it was much nicer to sit round a table and chat. There are higher rates for Friday nights and weekends though, so if you can go during the day on a Friday it will save you some krone.

23. Go to a Superbowl party

This post should have been called ‘watch the Superbowl’ but unfortunately that didn’t quite pan out.

One of the American exchange students had organised a party at his dorm. His place is a bit more like a classic hall of residence – small rooms, big shared kitchens and lounges, lots of rules. There was a huge lounge with a projector screen – ideal location!

Unfortunately it was on the opposite side of town, and getting there on a snowy Sunday night proved quite a mission. After changing over buses in what felt like the middle of nowhere, we finally made it to the correct stop. Unfortunately I had left my phone at home, complete with address loaded up on google maps. The only logical option was to pick a direction and hope it was the right one, as no-one knew where we were meant to go.

After a big loop in what, naturally, was the wrong direction, spurred on by a ‘helpful’ woman sending us even further away from where we were meant to be, we stopped in at a little burger joint. The guy behind the counter laughed – he had just given someone else directions to the same address. He drew us a map and sent us on our merry way. It always seems so much more hopeless when you are lost in the dark, even if it is only 7:30pm. An hour and a half after leaving home we found the location and cracked open a much needed Budweiser (just to be festive).

On arrival we discovered the game wasn’t actually going to start until midnight, which was when the last bus went. So instead we mixed and mingled, watched the pregame and embraced the tradition of Superbowl snacks. Translation: binge eating. It seems to be that the only qualifying factor of a Superbowl snack is that it is incredibly unhealthy! From chocolate dipped brownies to pizza to super spicy beef and cheese mini sandwiches. My favourite new snack was ‘Poutine’ – a Canadian snack that involves French fries, a special gravy-like sauce and loads of cheese. Just ask Rachel Ray – you can’t go wrong with loads of Cheese!

The pregame chat was also an interesting watch (it didn’t last long before we put the music back on). Imagine the least creative mainstream radio DJs you can. Now take away the music and any chat about the music. Now just give them one topic to talk about for 15 hours. It was no wonder they spent at least five minutes naming players and shouting ‘He’s a beeeeeeeeeaaast!’ I am fairly sure only Hamish and Andy can spend that much time generating good content out of nothing.

It was actually far more interesting watching the ads. Probably because I am a marketing student and advertising geek. It was fascinating and at times surprising to see which companies could afford a slot, and to analyse how much they must have spent.

Sadly, I had an 8am lecture and it would have cost a small fortune to taxi home had I missed the last bus, so Cinderalla was home by midnight.

Watching an actual superbowl game will have to wait another year.

19. Get myself a bike

I have never bought myself a bike. My parents bought me a bike when I was a kid (and later upgraded it as I grew) and last year my lovely sister who is far more fit/healthy/environmental than I bought me one to cycle to Uni, but never have I gone and got myself one! I felt it was a good idea to get one as I live too far away to walk and it is pretty costly (both time and dollars) busing every day, not to mention the time spent freezing at bus stops.

How many bikes can you see in this picture?

The first hurdle, of course, was finding an appropriate bike. There are a number of ways to get one – brand new at a cycle shop (for at least a few hundred dollars), second hand from someone selling it online – there is a website called dba.dk, owned by Ebay. Best to look it up on Google Chrome though as it isn’t in English.

There is also a facebook group for everything.  My residence college, exchange students, exchange students that started this semester, my study group, my housemates, the School of Business, the University as a whole, as well as groups set up specifically to sell things. I can’t even keep track of the amount of facebook groups I have been added to! And all of them seem to have someone selling a bike. The downside though is tracking down people that are selling them to go pick it up – something you don’t really want to do when you don’t have a car you don’t know the city and after a mission to get there the bike could be in really bad condition.

My first attempt at acquiring a bicycle was to stroll up to the counter of a shop and ask what the cheapest bike they had was. This produced a fantastic display of Danish unhelpfulness. I’m fairly sure it isn’t intentional but I have had so many experiences where getting the information you are quite clearly asking for is like getting blood out of a stone. Maybe I have yet to ask for things in the correct way, but I thought when I said ‘I am only here for a semester so I would like to know what the cheapest bike you have is’ I wasn’t being particularly cryptic. So my new friend Jasper told me the cheapest one they had was 3000 DKK ($600). I thanked him and said that I could rent one for 650 DKK ($130) so it wasn’t really what I was looking for. Then he gave me this are-you-stupid look and said ‘Don’t you know I have second hand bikes?’ Holding back a sarcastic response along the lines of ‘obviously I don’t, otherwise I wouldn’t be asking you,’ I told him that that was more what I was looking for, so long as it was less than 650DKK. So he leads me and my friend through all kinds of mazes and workshops and areas with tonnes of bikes lying around in pieces and shows me one for 1000 DKK. Again, holding back from bringing out Ruthless Harriet I thanked him and said I could still rent one for less than that. Once more, Jasper gives me that you-silly-girl look and tells me that if I return it at the end of the semester he will buy it back for 500. No we’re talking. Eventually I haggled him down to an 800/400 bike and he said he will get it all fixed up and email me. He estimated it would take about a week to fix it. I wondered if that was something to do with the fact that he only had one hand (I had been trying really hard not to stare).

A week and a half later I hadn’t heard from one-handed-Jasper so I went back to the shop to hear that the bike was ready but he was on holiday. Convenient of him to mention that. The other guy at the shop couldn’t give me the bike as it seemed it was Jasper’s little side project. I had enquired about second-hand bikes at another shop, but the cashier said that most shops didn’t sell them because they have to give product guarantees. Given Jasper had forgotten he was going on holiday three days before departure, I was starting to doubt he would remember to return my 400 DKK. I was also sick of wondering how long I could go without feeling my toes at bus stops and didn’t want to wait another week for a bike so I thought it would be a much safer choice to stick to plan A and rent one from the Students’ Association. I had read my friend Marc’s Blog a few days earlier and they sounded like a pretty good deal. The law student in me also approved of a rental contract.

Haven’t managed to get a picture of me riding my own bike, but here’s one of me ruining some artwork in town

So off I trotted to rent my bike. They are all relatively new, made/sponsored by a company called Vestas that makes windmills and likes to recruit graduates from Aarhus University. There are a bunch of different sizes available and all come with a stand, three gears and a bell (I learned that bells are quite important in my first few days when I didn’t realise I was walking on the cycle path). Apparently boy bikes have more gears so I think there’s a bit of an equality issue there… nonetheless a pretty good deal all in all!

Aarhus is incredibly cycle friendly. There are cute little cycle lanes with cute little cycle traffic lights all through town, and further out the footpath is marked with two lanes  – one for pedestrians and one for cyclists. There are people cycling around everywhere and let me tell you – they make it look easy!

Cycle traffic lights

Once I had my bike I had no choice but to cycle all 5kms home. I didn’t think this would be too hard, given I regularly include a 5km cycle in my gym routine and I even put it on hill mode, but boy was I wrong! About 3.5 of those kilometres are uphill and it was bloody hard! I’m pretty sure I also went a much longer route than was necessary because I wanted to stick to main roads that I knew. Thankfully the last 1.5Kms were flat/downhill so it wasn’t so bad.

I also had a nice we rest part way down the road as I stopped in at Denmark’s version of The Warehouse –  ‘Kvickly’ (yes, like you are saying ‘quickly’ in a terrible European accent and yes it does make me laugh in an immature way) to buy a lock and a helmet. Not many people wear helmets here but I knew that my father would haul ass from NZ all the way to Scandinavia and kill me long before any road accident happened if I didn’t get one. I was also paranoid about it getting stolen (I tried to be really quick because I had left it outside unlocked and was worried Murphey would strike and it would be stolen on day 1) so I raced around to find a lock.

Bike locks are another interesting phenomenon here. Most bike locks are just a clamp on your wheel so it can’t be ridden away, but people don’t actually attach their bikes to things with a chain. Kvickly only sold the clamp type, but I got one that was big and sturdy enough that I could still put it through by bike tyre and attach it to the bike stands outside class and dotted around town. Maybe I am overreacting just a little, but one of my flatmates had told me his bike had been stolen whilst the wheel was locked.

I was a tad nervous about riding through major intersections with all the road rules the opposite of what I’m used to, but it turned out to be fine as cyclists get their own mini green light; cars give way to you (or at least I assume they do and have been gunning it past side streets anyway); and there are plenty of other experienced Danish cyclists around to follow.

After a nice leg workout and an even better glide downhill in the final stretch I made it home. Highlights of the trip were breaks to check google maps, recognising landmarks and realising I wasn’t that far from home at all and forgetting I wasn’t riding a mountain bike whilst off-roading in the snow! I could definitely get used to this cycling business – watch out Mum and Dad, I may be joining you on the Tour de France!

18. Ride the bus backwards

Now that I finally feel like I have the hang of catching the bus here in Aarhus I am ready to post about it! You may have guessed already that it wasn’t nearly as easy London.

There are a number of reasons why busing about in Aarhus is backwards:

1. They drive on the wrong side of the road

I didn’t have to be in the driver’s seat to instantly feel uncomfortable in a vehicle on the opposite side of the street. I couldn’t even work out what was meant to happen at the first left turn I experienced! It really blew my mind. Lucky for all of Aarhus I haven’t been behind the wheel (and I don’t know who would let me), but the first few bus rides on the wrong side were crazy.

Most of the other exchange students are from wrong-side-of-the-road countries so they kept looking at me funny when I was facing the other way whilst waiting for the bus. It was just natural to expect it to come from the other direction! One and a half weeks later I am finally breaking that habit and looking in the right direction when  waiting for the bus and crossing the road (yes, I am a safety liability, although previously I stopped, looked and listened many times over just to be safe). There is actually a strong hint with the funny round shaped bus shelters: they are slightly angled in the direction of the bus!

Crazy round bus stop (this one has been ghetto-ified)

2. You enter the bus from either the middle or the back door

Supposedly this is just an Aarhus thing, not so much a Denmark-wide thing. Older/smaller buses only have a door at the back, and the newer/bigger bendy buses have a back door and a middle door that you enter through. When you exit the bus, you go through the front door. One way traffic only, and people will glare at you if you try to swim upstream and go in the front door.

How does this work with paying the driver, you ask?

3. Many people don’t actually pay

The first method of payment is via a machine in the middle or back of the bus. It is similar to the machines you find on a Melbourne tram – a touch screen where you select your route and fare. It only takes coins or a specific type of EFTPOS card that you can only get at one bank.

The second method is with a 10 trip ticket that you put in to a machine that punches out one of ten holes and stamps the time. Either of the first two tickets are valid for two hours.

The third method is to get a monthly unlimited pass, which is an ID card with a photo.

If you have paid for your trip in one of the first two ways and then changed buses you wouldn’t have any reason to get your ticket out of your pocket. The same goes with the unlimited pass. However, there is a little man who sneaks on to  buses, looking as though he is just a passenger and then BAM! Ticket controller! Apparently they try to disguise themselves (sitting reading the newspaper and suchlike), but must wear pants with metallic stripes around the bottom so you can generally spot them anyway. I haven’t seen one, but I imagine they wear a hats and long trench coats, just like Sherlock Holmes. Only once has one of these ticket-demanding-fine-issuing men been spotted, but it was by two rather intoxicated exchange students on the after midnight bus, so I am beginning to think maybe they are a myth… nonetheless I don’t want a DKK 750/NZ$150 fine, so I’ll keep clipping my ticket diligently!

On my first bus ride, however, I took far too long to understand the touch screen contraption (there was no obvious ‘change language’ button, it isn’t an ATM). When I finally worked it out, I realised I only had notes. The bus driver doesn’t take money (he doesn’t care, he’s not on commission) so what was I to do? I had to get to town to, er, buy my bus ticket somehow… Another passenger noticed me looking helpless in front of the screen and explained that most people don’t pay and I would be just fine. Still though, Murphey’s law is bound to strike and I live in the Ghetto which I think will increase the chances of my buses getting ‘randomly’ picked.

4. Places are pronounced completely opposite to what you would expect

The other difficulty with riding the bus in Denmark is the place name pronunciation. The driver (actually I think it is an automated voice, otherwise they all sound the same, even the females) calls out the name of each stop. If you have ever had any experience with Danish you will know that how you say it is never what you would guess from reading it. Kind of like my last name. For example, my stop, Skjoldehøj Kollegiet, is said (very quickly) ‘Skol-d-hoy-coll-ee-gee-it’ (different people seem to pronounce the -et on the end in different ways. sometimes it sounds like a ‘T’, other times an ‘L’ and still others an ‘M.’). So if you are going somewhere you haven’t been before, it can be really hard to work out where to get off. Or even if you aren’t going somewhere new, many of the buildings look identical so it is tricky. The lesson when asking someone what stop to get off at, is to always get them to write it down AND say it (the name shows up on a screen). For some examples of pronunciation with audio, there are some useful phrases here.

Now that I have finally mastered the buses, I think it is time to get really euro and get a bike… (hint: that’s tomorrow’s post!)

17. The Bus Stop Warm Up Dance

Also known as uploading my first ever youtube video!

For the last 5 days it has been incredibly cold in Aarhus. It snowed on Friday for the first time this year, and picked up a little more on Saturday. Since then it hasn’t snowed much more at all, but it is cold enough that all of the snow is still on the ground.

The other morning I woke up to see a whole bunch of toddlers (from the local pre-school I think) all rugged up in their bright coloured snow-suit onesies sliding down the snow-y hill on rubbish bags. They were like little brightly coloured marshmallows all over the hill outside my window! A most hilarious sight.

Obviously the Danes have been aware of their weather patterns for some time now, so most places you go are heated to an appropriate temperature and the only time the cold has ever been an issue is when standing still at the bus stop. And so came about the Bus Stop Warm Up Dance. Everyone had been laughing at a girl from Finland and I for doing ‘The Penguin’ to keep warm (I learned it at Outdoor Persuits so it must be legit) where you keep your arms straight by your side, hands out like a penguin and shrug your shoulders up and down. Fastest way to warm up your fingers! After a few wines to spur on our creativity, we decided to take it one step further and make up a little dance. Worked a treat! Though to be fair it didn’t make us look any less silly.

9. Move to Denmark

At last I arrived in Aarhus. My very first impression as I got off the plane was that the airport really didn’t seem like an airport, but more like a Ski resort. The building looked like the buildings up Cardrona, and the scenery fitted the bill. As I walked across the tarmac it even started to snow!

Customs was relatively uneventful – a man who looked suspiciously like Santa stared at my passport for a few seconds and then said “OK” in a heavy Scandanavian accent. I was expecting to at least show my residence permit…

I had already done my research and found there is only one bus that goes after each flight and only one flight coming in that day so I had to get on pretty quickly once I had my bag. I got on just in time. Unfortunately that meant I didn’t have time to get cash out (not that I spotted an ATM at the tiny, tiny airport), grab a map or get a sim card. How foolish of me, thinking the airport may be big enough to have a stall from a phone company. I knew it was a stretch but I thought there surely could be something.

Icy Aarhus

The bus ride was fascinating coming in. Most of all as I took in the scenery and noted all of the differences. My ski resort impression was only reinforced as I started to see more houses. They very much follow a similar colour scheme to those in Wanaka, with the odd few bright yellow ones dotted in between. It took me a while to realise what I finally found so odd about them, – they look like State Housing in New Zealand.

Almost none of the houses have any kind of individual character (from what I have seen). They are predominantly red brick buildings, with no balconies,

Typical Aar-house (see what I did there?)

verandas, or other such embellishments, just straight up and down. Most areas are made up of blocks of identical houses, or they will be incredibly similar with the odd one made of concrete and painted – usually grey, white or bright yellow. They don’t have much land either, but then again who wants to play back yard cricket in -2 degrees? It was often strange seeing shops, as all of the buildings looked the same apart from the (sometimes quite subtle) signage. It was also slightly sickening how many logos I recognised, as the signs were all in Danish!

The majority of inner city buildings

The other strange thing is that a huge amount of the housing is massive big unit blocks which very much remind me of the slums you see on TV in the UK or the outskirts of Paris – rows and rows of concrete units.

Incredibly cute terraces in town

As I got closer to town, I spotted some bigger houses that looked a bit more elegant, but still very similar to each other. In the very centre the buildings are all tall, thin, terraces attached to each other. The older ones look really cool, but again are still aren’t particularly individual. The end result is that it makes it very hard to find a reference point in town, and therefore makes it very easy to get lost.

Speaking of which, I was slightly worried on the way in that I didn’t have a chance to check a map, but I assumed that there would be maps around campus and people I could bump in to. Again, assumptions failed me. Instead, there was almost no signage anywhere and all I had was an address I couldn’t pronounce. I had bus numbers, but no idea where to get them from. I decided the best option was to catch a taxi to the International Office, where I needed to pick up my keys. That in itself proved to be quite the challenge. Particularly as I had no cash or phone.

I spotted a 7/11 and figured there would be an atm there, or at the very least I could buy something. Unfortunately, Danish EFTPOS systems dodn’t really like foreign cards and there was no cash machine. So 7/11 man sent me on a wild goose chase, dragging my suitcase in the cold to find a cash machine. After stopping a number of people I finally found one. Next hurdle: a taxi. With no phone to call a taxi I wandered along towards the town centre to see if I could spot a taxi stand or even one driving past, but alas, Aarhus apparently all but closes down on a Sunday. Finally I decided to go in to shop to ask if there is a payphone around, and happen to find probably the one retailer in Aarhus that doesn’t speak English. Luckily the ‘phone’ hand signal and the word ‘taxi’ are pretty Universal and kind old greek man rings one for me, then marches me out to the part of the street he told the taxi to go to. I almost wanted to buy some of the antipasto ingredients he was selling just to say thank you, but I really didn’t think a container of sundried tomatoes would be handy to carry around at that particular time.

The next hurdle was finding the International office. Once the Taxi driver got me to the address I then had to find ‘Block B.’ None of the blocks have labels, apart from a random ‘K’ that I eventually spotted. By this point I had dragged my suitcase around in the cold for about an hour and a half (apart from the taxi ride) and was half tempted to throw it down on the ground and have a cry. Fortunately I quickly remembered that I’m not five years old and it wasn’t going to get me any closer to where I need to be, no matter how frustrated I was. I finally spotted some girls walking along who pointed me in the right direction. At last there is a subtle A4 sheet of paper on the door saying ‘exchange students this way.’ Real helpful. Couldn’t have put a sign on the street maybe? Or even some balloons on the letterbox?

Once I had arrived a couple of ‘tutors’ – turns out they aren’t academic tutors, more like student mentors who are there to help you out throughout the week – drove me to my accommodation. They were absolutely lovely and gave me a lot of really helpful advice (how to get to the supermarket, where to get off the bus etc). However, I was still grumpy and exhausted after my ordeal so it was really hard to be excited when I had finally reached my destination.

The flat was empty too, which didn’t help.  I was totally unmotivated to unpack or even stand up to have a shower. Drinks the night before and only sleeping on planes probably didn’t help. I knew I should feel excited but I just couldn’t drum up any kind of enthusiasm. Despite being so excited when I left, 50 hours later (25 in the air) all I wanted was a nap. Unfortunately, the room didn’t come with any blankets. After a hot shower, I decided to jump on facebook and see if I could chat to anyone familiar to make myself feel better, but New Zealand was still asleep. My next idea was to go to the supermarket and get some food. The icing on the cake was when I went to dry my hair so I could go outside and my European power adapter instantly crapped out after one blast of the hairdryer. I was about to charge my laptop which had just ran out of battery so my last connection with anyone back home was gone too. By that stage all that was going through my head was “Why the hell am I on the other side of the world all by myself? I had it so good at home.” I knew I was meant to feel happy and excited to arrive but instead I was wishing I had Dorothy’s red shoes. I wondered if this is what people with post-natal depression felt like…

Fortunately after a 15 hour sleep, when I went to my first introductory ‘class’ the next day it was all up from there, as I met an amazing bunch of people and found out I wasn’t the only one who had a ridiculously difficult time getting to the sign-less International centre.