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The capital of the Czech Republic has always appealed to me, because I have been stuffed with stories about the glory of the city whenever people have been talking about it. I visualized myself walking in the historic old centre of Prague, an UNESCO heritage site, and my enjoying the crowds on the famous Charles Bridge which leads the tourists across the Vltava river. The Wenceslas Square seemed to be a beautiful site to explore and I had also heard that food and drink would be very affordable.
Nice view of Moldau, the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle.
According to all positive opinions on Prague, the right thing to do was waiting for some good event well worth attending to be arranged in the city, so that I could perform the traditional trick of combining an event with a visit to an interesting city. When it was clear that Prague would host the Ice Hockey World Championship in 2015 plans were being formed for a visit there. A couple of buddies of mine had taken over a travel agency and they came up with the brilliant idea of arranging a group tour to the World Championship and I signed up at once. We were 30 travellers to experience an interesting and memorable weekend in the Czech Republic. We had time to watch two ice hockey games and likewise doing some sightseeing in the centre of Prague.
To combine events with sightseeing in interesting cities works perfectly.
Already at Arlanda Airport it was clear that the weekend would be successful when I saw the glorious individuals who had signed up for the tour. In Prague a coach was waiting for us at the airport to take us to our hotel in the Malá Strana neighbourhood. None of us had received his room key before the hotel bar had served the whole company with beer (Absinthe Beer for me …)
I shared the same room with my buddies Emil and Johan. Johan had visited the city several times before and was looking forward to a new visit to explore new gems in the city. One thing that he hadn’t experienced before in this city was the sound of a firecracker attached to the shoes exploding …… We’ll never grow up …. however we worried a bit if the fire alarm would go off because of the gunpowder smoke …. The travellers were hungry after the journey and the party entered the Zlatý Klas restaurant located just outside the hotel. The friends in charge of the tour were celebrating the fact that they had run the travel agency for a year so there were complimentary speeches and toasts.
Later that evening we were to watch the first ice hockey game, so even as early as the visit to the restaurant many people in the party wore their Swedish match jerseys and a number of cheer chants started rolling out in between the tables. Later I heard that a firecracker had apparently been attached to one of the tour organizers …. They say he was somewhat stunned as he as leaving the restaurant …
Outside the O2 arena thousands of fans gathered in the Fan Zone with beer tents, big screen TV and sponsors’ tents. Sweden was to meet the home nation Czech Republic and we yellow-dressed Swedes were outnumbered in the Fan Zone when the singing of cheer chants started. I had arranged a meeting with Radio Sweden and the reporter found me among my friends in the beer tent. Holding a Mojito people from Radio Sweden’s coverage of sports made an interview with me which was broadcast back home in Sweden later that evening. Getting some media time is fine ;)
The O2 Arena was built in 2004 and has a capacity of up to 18,000 spectators. In spite of the fact that the arena is a bit elderly we all found it very attractive. We had our seats on the second floor and from there we had good view of the ice.
Czech Republic – Sweden. More than 17 000 viewers at the O2 Arena.
Sweden started best and after 07:30 in the first period Sweden was leading 2-0, what a beginning of the weekend :)
The Czech team reduced the score after 13 minutes and the roof of the arena was nearly brought down, it felt like an earthquake when the Czech fans cheered the goal. An even and extremely interesting game followed. We blue and yellow supporters actually imagined victory was at hand when Sweden was leading 4-2 in the last period with less than nine minutes to play. Six minutes later Czech Republic was leading 5-4 and the whole arena was swaying as their fans were jumping to the beat. We Swedes could not understand how it had happened, what a turn for the worse! We were totally run over and I took out my video camera to record the joy of victory among the Czechs when Sweden suddenly managed to equalize 5-5 with 53 seconds remaining of the game. My God, how we cheered and shouted!!
The game went on to overtime and came to an end with a penalty shootout. Sweden succeeded in winning and happily we made our way to the Fan Zone where the win was celebrated in the company of Czech fans who congratulated us with fine sportsmanship. The floor of the beer tent swayed hazardously up and down as hefty fans from Latvia were jumping to the beat of the music and as they went on by climbing benches and tables this was wonderful entertainment to watch. As I said, I love events :)
What a nice group of people we were at the O2 Stadium…
Our plans for Saturday included sightseeing in Prague and the whole party came in practically full force as we left the hotel in the morning. We walked along the Vltava River passing the “Dancing House”, we saw tourists renting pedalos in the Slovansky Ostrov Island and took mandatory selfies on the Most Legii Bridge with the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle as a background. By then we had been going on for 30 minutes and grumbling could already be heard indicating that the old men were thirsty so we sat down in the Café Lávka near the Charles Bridge having a break in the sun. Spirits were high in spite of the early hour. All Friday’s impressions were talked over while our thirst was quenched with mojitos and beer. When bottles of wine were being ordered I felt it was time to move on if there would any possibility of exploring sights …..
Café Lávka at the Charles Bridge.
The warm spring sun made us very thirsty…
Some of us visited the Torture Museum located just east of the Charles Bridge. On three floors various torture instruments were exhibited and you could feel spirits lowering after the enjoyable break at the café terrace. But we soon recovered our high spirits walking out on the Charles Bridge in the crowds of all tourists and artists. We were lucky with the weather and the spring sun blazed down forcefully as we enjoyed the view of the river. We met some people from our party who intended to walk up to the Prague Castle but we were hungry and made up our minds to go in another direction to find a restaurant in the Old Town (Staré Město) to have lunch. About that time sightseeing ended as for us ….
The Charles Bridge.
After making our way along small cosy alleys we reached the Old Town Square where we had planned to watch the famous Astronomical Clock on the south wall of the City Hall. This clock was constructed in the 15th century and for one thing it is famous for its animated figures, moving when when the clock strikes the hour. We didn’t quite get to it ….. but we heard the clock strike the hours six times ….
Mingle in the Old Town.
Just adjacent to the City Hall we spotted the U Prince Hotel. I had checked up on some rooftop bars before my trip, and this hotel was said to have a fine terrace so we entered the reception and took the elevator to the fourth floor. There we were met by a woman waiter who asked if we had made a reservation, but of course we hadn’t. But we we were welcome out on the terrace to have a drink so we sat down at a table with a marvellous view of the city and ordered a cocktail each. It was now two o’clock and the City Hall Clock struck for the first time, we were still not far from watching the clock-face …
Well, we were only allowed to order a drink but we took a chance and ordered food, which worked as easyly as anything and there we remained …. The Astronomical Clock struck time after time without us being able to watch the show, but who cared? We sat in the sun and had a wonderful afternoon with beer, wine, sparkling wine, cocktails and food. Our faces were getting the same red tint as the tiles on the roofs around us, we were not used to strong sunlight so early in spring. When the clock struck for the sixth time we had been laughing so much for five hours that we were totally exhausted. The 16½-inch bill was settled with pleasure for after all it was quite cheap :)
The rooftop terrace at Hotel U Prince.
The evening was continued with visiting the Staromáček restaurant and after that dancing in the basement of the James Dean Prague Club. A day coming off very well with sights and partying.
Sunday and time for another game, Sweden vs Austria. I was extremely tired after the enjoyable night and it was no optimal situation sitting in a taxi cab for more than an hour to get to the arena. The Prague Marathon was run just that day and large parts of the city centre were closed to traffic so the taxi had to make a long detour to get to the O2 Arena. Having reached our destination we could just enjoy the atmosphere again. More than 15,000 spectators were on site although the game was played in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Austria had plenty of fans present and they created a glorious background setting as their team started the game best. We had fine seats and were zoomed in by TV several times. I was criticized from home for wearing sunglasses indoors, but ….. it was very bright light in the arena, you know, and hot ….
The game turned out well for Sweden. Filip Forsberg scored three goals and the final result was Sweden winning 6-1. The victory celebration continued for a couple of hours in the Fan Zone and then a taxi ride towards the hotel.
As the taxi was passing the Old Town I jumped off, I just had to watch that clock strike ONCE … Hundreds of tourists were present when finally I could watch the show … But I was a bit disappointed, I had imagined much more to happen with the figures standing round the clock-face when the clock strikes, but there was not much “action” in the show …
There was a lot of tourists on spot at the Astronomical Clock.
BUT, I had watched a “must” in Prague and now I could peacefully mingle in the alleys of the Old Town.
In the evening dinner was partaken of at the Hard Rock Café and then the weekend was brought to an end with drinks on the rooftop terrace of the U Prince Hotel. The evening view of the Old Town Square was magnificent and made a happy ending of the trip.
View over the old town from U Prince rooftop terrace.
Two ice hockey game wins, fine weather, entertaining travel company and a beautiful city. A successful weekend that made me want more of Prague. I didn’t have time to see everything that I had written down on my “To Do List” before the trip, so definitely there will be more journeys to the Czech Republic and Prague, it’s just a question of awaiting some fun event ;)
Popular hotels to book in Prague:
Housed in a 19-century building and situated directly in the centre of Prague, only a short walk from famous Wenceslas Square and all major sights.
Located in a historical building from the 19th century, directly in the heart Prague and near the main railway station.
Three Crowns Hotel
Hotel Three Crowns is situated in a residential neighborhood and is a hotel since 1918.
Hotel situated in the quiet cobbled streets of Vitkov in Prague, close to the central station, Charles Bridge, Republic Square, Prague Castle and Wenceslas Square.
Located in Mala Strana area
Floating hotel on the Vlatava River in Prague, about 900 m from Old Town Square.
Dublin, the largest city of Ireland, is a welcoming city with nice and and helpful inhabitants. It has a popular shopping district including Grafton Street and Henry Street. It also offers many cultural options with sights, theatres, musicals and museums in the city centre, BUT naturally, what has enticed me into visiting the city is sports and music.
In 2009 some of my friends were going to Dublin to watch U2 perform at Croke Park. After a while I realized that this was something I couldn’t miss, so the only right thing for me to do was booking flight and accommodation and trying to get hold of a ticket for the concert. I found an ad in Sweden where a guy wanted to sell two tickets and I thought this might be a favourable deal, the second ticket was most likely to be sold dear in Dublin and in that manner I could gain some pocket money.
At the Croke Park before the U2 concert.
I arrived in Dublin earlier than my friends so I had time to stroll around in the city and visit a number of souvenir shops on my own. Obviously I am the type of tourist who buys a fridge magnet in every big city that I visit, in Dublin it was a trefoil one. Moreover I am a classic tourist photographer so there were some fine pictures taken of the river Liffey running through the city. When you have been watching sights for several hours you need to quench your thirst and the best place to do that is the Temple Bar area. Along Fleet Street and Essex Street the bars are located next door to each other and inside the beautiful façades there is room for music, friendship and warm atmosphere. I was tired after a long day and I had only intended to have a Gin and Tonic at Temple Bar but I lingered there for more than six hours … U2 fans from all over the world had found their way to the bar and the singers were highly successful in performing U2 songs with the bar customers at the same time time joining in a mighty community singing. I met Yogi and Wendy who had come from Boston to Dublin to attend the concert. We made friends and had a marvellous night in the bar. I prefer travelling in company but at nights like this when you find new good friends I don’t mind gadding about on my own :)
Why not buy a souvenir magnet for the fridge from one of the stands on the bridge over Liffey?
The famous Temple Bar.
The following day I met my friends from Sweden and we visited the iconic Guinness Storehouse. On several floors one can follow the creation of this famous beer and on the top floor there is a bar with panoramic views of entire Dublin. A pint of Guinness is included in the price of admission and we sat down for a long time in the bar just enjoying the sun and the views.
View from the seventh floor of the Guinness Storehouse.
Today was concert day so after sightseeing at the brewery we warmed up for a while at Temple Bar before it was time to head for the Croke Park Arena. We had purchased some goodies and sat down beside a small canal running alongside the arena. At the same time as the first bottle of wine was opened U2 began their soundcheck. I hovered about the arena several times trying to sell my extra ticket, U2 at home ground, I had intended to make money … It didn’t work out at all, there were far too many people with the same intention, there was not a chance of getting rid of the ticket so in a surprised and disappointed mood I passed the entrance with two tickets … But my disappointment was quickly turned into sheer happiness as we entered the inner field of Croke Park and just at the moment when U2 entered the stage the rain clouds dissolved and the sun appeared, 80,000 fans were cheering, the time had come!
After a hard month with rumours of conflicts in the group, tax problems in Ireland and bad reviews in Amsterdam a psyched up U2 set off at home ground. And as early as the first song, “Breathe”, the victory was won, the cheers of the audience were deafening!! When everybody joined in singing “Desire” I got goose pimples. The singing must have been heard all over Ireland! Bono said: “Fans have come here from all over the world tonight, just because they know that if you want to watch U2 this is the best place in the world!!!” And everybody cheered of course :) My personal favourites “Where the Streets have no Name” and “With or Without You” were magical. The only thing to criticize at all was the fact that the concert was far too short with just two hours. But I am a bit spoiled by Springsteen playing for more than three hours …..
U2 on their impressive stage.
After the concert we took a breather in the arena field, happy and exhausted. A dream had come true, watching U2 at their home ground. Unfortunately I was going home the next morning so a group hug had to be it, and while my friends set out for a Dublin night what remained for me was walking home to the hotel bed … But Dublin made me want more and a couple of years later we returned there!
In 2013 the Swedish National Football Team played qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the away game against Ireland was played in Dublin. For a long time we were uncertain whether to go or not but when flight fares went down in price we were five mates who seized the opportunity and made reservations. Sweden’s away games always keep up the high spirits with thousands of fans travelling along and supporting the team. The gathering of supporters before the matches generally takes place in a public square, and there bars are open and entertainment provided. That’s something we like and normally several trips are made during every championship qualification period.
Invasion of Swedish vikings on the streets of Dublin.
I checked in at the Bridge House in the centre of Dublin and got a room on the top floor including a balcony with views of Parliament Street and Essex Street, in other words: views right into the Temple Bar area :)
This was a day in the company of many blue and yellow friends in Dublin city centre. In the Temple Bar Square there was a “Swedish Corner”, the site for all Swedish fans to come together and prepare for the important game. When kick-off was close at hand it was time for the mandatory march to the arena. A long yellow procession passed through Dublin to the Aviva Stadium and along the route happy Irish people were standing cheerfully waving their hands. We were approximately 6,000 Swedish fans on site stirring up a mighty atmosphere before the match. It’s always the same happy feeling being on site when the Swedish National Anthem is being played. We were nervous for the important game and got no better after the start of it …
Swedish fans on the march in the city of Dublin.
Sweden opened miserably and Ireland repeatedly attacked towards the short side where we we standing. To the wild delight of the home fans Robbie Keane scored 1-0 for Ireland and it didn’t feel like we would be able to turn the game the other way round. Like a miracle Sweden managed to equalize before half-time and hope of World Cup in Brazil was alive once more. The second half was much better from the Swedes and in front of the Swedish cheering section Anders Svensson scored 1-2, which was the final result. Naturally we jumped an cheered, now we had a fair chance of qualifying for the World Cup and a good reason for celebrating in the streets of Dublin. The only cultural feature of this trip took place after the match as we went by horse drawn carriage in a rainy Dublin. This was a short visit in the city, but still we were immensely content when we left Ireland the next day, three points in the qualifier game plus much laughter and entertaining experiences in the company of good friends.
Sebastian, me and Kimmo celebrated the Swedish victory at the Aviva Arena.
In the same year Bruce Springsteen concluded his long Europe Tour with two gigs in Kilkenny, a small town 120 kilometres south-west of Dublin. I had watched 25 Springsteen concerts and actually I didn’t need another few … but nevertheless it was tempting to watch the very last ones of the tour, they might be special .. I made inquiries among my friends but nobody wanted to accompany me so finally I booked flight and concert tickets on my own. Kilkenny is a city of 20,000 inhabitants, famous for its medieval buildings. Facing the fact that 30,000 Springsteen fans needed accommodation wasn’t easy for me but at last I found a hotel for the first night. The remaining two nights I had to spend in an indoor camping ….
I succeeded in timing my visit well with fine weather so I really had a good time strolling around in the little town which certainly invited us to a Bruce Party. All bars and shops were decorated with US flags and Springsteen pictures. Standing on the bridge across the river Nore running through the city one could watch the handsome Kilkenny Castle on one side and on the other a bar beautifully decorated with an enormous Springsteen guitar on the roof. It felt like coming to heaven together with thousands of other fans :)
The trip started with a 1½-hour journey by train from Dublin to Kilkenny across beautiful natural surroundings. Before the concerts with Bruce the fans regularly arrange a queueing system for those who want to enter the pit in front of the stage. Certainly I wanted to be in the front line so I walked directly from the railway station to the arena where many fans had gathered even though this was the day before the first show. I had number 276 written on my hand and my name was also put on a list. I was informed that the next roll call was in two hours. Those who were not present at the roll calls had their names struck off the list and had to stand at the end of the queue once more … I checked in at my hotel and two hours later I was present outside Nowlan Park for the roll call. There were plenty of fans camping outside the arena and the atmosphere and expectations were perfect. Kilkenny definitely appeared at its best. Clear blue sky, cosy bars everywhere, restaurants along the riverside, shop windows decorated with Springsteen items and Kilkenny Castle like a movie setting. I just strolled around enjoying the scenery until hunger set in and it was time for dinner in St. Kieran’s Street. At 10 PM the next roll call was due and at sunset outside Nowlan Park several hundreds of fans were present. We were ticked off and afterwards we were informed about Saturday’s schedule. The next roll call was due at 9:30 AM. The rest of the evening was spent inside a couple of the cosy bars of the city with live music and nice conversation with the local population.
The magic town of Kilkenny.
The following morning time had come to check in at an indoor camping with 200 tents in a sports centre … with a gap of 2 metres …. 90€/night.
This was an awful place. Small tents, noisy of course, stinking toilets and small showers in a trailer outside in the car park. But anything for the sake of experiencing adventure …. I had ordered a taxi to get to the arena and the roll call but the taxi never showed up. Time passed and I was all the more pressed for time since I didn’t want to lose my place now that I had such a good queue number. Finally I found Maurice, an elderly gentleman who could certainly take the matter in hand and drive me to the arena. Happily I jumped into his car only to find out that I had sat down in the right-hand seat … behind the steering wheel .. Maurice and myself changed seats and a few moments later I arrived at Nowlan Park. At lunchtime we were let into the arena and I managed to get in the very front row.
This weekend featured a festival called the Wrecking Ball Weekender and in the Saturday afternoon Josh Ritter, Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard performed. The latter was quite good and later that evening he made a guest appearance with Springsteen.
At 7:00 PM it was finally time for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band :) After the opening “This Little Light of Mine” the real party began! In consecutive order came “Badlands”, “Out in the Street” and the request songs “Shake” / “Sweet Soul Music”. To the cheers of the audience Bruce chose to play the whole “Born in the USA” album from beginning to end. As first encore he made a magical version of “Drive” together with Glen Hansard and then many tears were shed at Nowlan Park. I was so happy standing in the front row and when the whole band had left the stage after the last song Bruce remained and performed an acoustic version of “Thunder Road”, easily one of my favourite songs, What an ending of the concert!
Nice rock ambience at the front of Springsteen’s stage.
After the show celebration went on in the bars, and the singers performing Springsteen songs won acclaim of course. When at last I arrived “home” at the camping the police were there to evict a gang who could not respect the rules of keeping quiet at night. I certainly slept poorly that night, such lousy sleep …
Tired and worn out I headed for Nowlan Park again at lunchtime, Sunday. Although I was late I succeeded in getting a wristband for the pit, but I hadn’t planned standing in the front row so I could take my time and mingle around the arena. I met Mari from Norway whom I got to know earlier that year when Springsteen performed at Wembley Stadium. We found our way to the very back of the pit where we met Andy and Gayle from England, among others. Those are people I count among my friends for life. When the concert started I was standing beside another old acquaintance, the legendary NBA coach Pat Riley. We had been standing side by side during Springsteen’s concert at Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 2009 ..
Friends for life thanks to Springsteen’s concerts.
Just like the night before, the concert opened with “This Little Light of Mine” which was followed by one of my favourites “My Love Will Not Let You Down”. “Badlands” and “We Take Care of Our Own” concluded a cool opening that brought all of Nowlan Park to a boil. In honour of the evening the band played the entire “Born to Run” album live. There are many moments that night that I will never forget, and one of the most intense was when after the show me and my new friends joined in a big group hug. The tour had come to an end and we had all experienced many memorable moments all over Europe. The evening was finished off downtown in a great gathering where we summed up all our experiences.
Springsteen’s closing concert on his Europe tour.
After yet another night in the tent with bad sleep it was time for going back home to Sweden. I travelled alone but returned home with many new friends!
I would gladly come back to this fabulous city of Kilkenny!! And Bruce, you’re welcome to return for another couple of shows there, OK!?
Popular hotels to book in Dublin:
Maldron Hotel Cardiff Lane
Located off the south banks of the River Liffey, a stone’s throw from the city centre.
Temple Bar Hotel
Located in Temple Bar in the heart of Dublin.
Arlington Hotel Temple Bar
The hotel is situated on Lord Edward street in the Temple Bar area, 300 m to Grafton Street.
4 stars hotel in the centre of Dublin.
Hotel located in the heart of the Theater District, in Dublin center, faces the Dublin Spire.
Popular hotels to book in Kilkenny:
Situated on the bank of the River Nore, 500m from both Kilkenny Castle.
Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel
Situated 250m from the Rothe House, 300m from both Kilkenny Castle and a shopping mall, 600m from St. Mary’s Cathedral, 800m from the Black Abbey, 1.5km from St. Canice’s Cathedral and 3km from a golf course.
Aspect Hotel Kilkenny
In Smithsland South Springhill, 4km from centrum.
“Thank you! Thank you!” The Chinese woman was standing there with tears in her eyes thanking us for launching cheers during the Olympic table tennis final, and actually that’s more or less our approach: it’s fun making somebody happy :)
During the years when I was growing up I was fascinated by the myth saying that one can see the Great Wall of China from the moon (obviously not true). Other ideas about China that I’ve had are cheap clothes, amazing buildings and cute pandas. As you might know, I like the combination of visiting various cities and attending some event, so when it was clear that Beijing was to arrange the Summer Olympics in 2008 a dream of going there naturally arose. Myself, Emma, Rickard and Johan started realizing our plans and after a long time spent in front of the computer our journey and our tickets were booked.
The Great Wall of China, a must vistit.
It was a memorable journey with many amusing experiences. There were also many tough days with moist heat, upset stomach and Chinese people who didn’t understand English. We soon learnt that it was necessary to ask the hotel staff for slips of paper with Chinese writing to give to the taxi drivers in order to arrive at the right address. Nevertheless the taxi rides very often happened to stop at the wrong destination …. We didn’t mind a lot since going by taxi was very cheap. When discussing the distance to various events we fans didn’t talk about kilometres but about how many Yuan a ride would cost. The metro system worked well but taxi rides were often faster and well, it’s more fun seeing a city from a taxi than down in a tunnel ….
When Emma and me arrived in Beijing we were met by a damp wall of heat. I can recall the sweat streaming as we were heading for an underground station with our bags to meet Rickard who had arrived a couple of days before us. At the station Rickard, accompanied by a Chinese person, was standing to greet us with “Welcome to Beijing!” From there it was a 10-minute walk to the hotel and the hazy damp weather made us dripping with perspiration, a state we we would have to get used to during the fortnight to come. After checking in at the hotel Emma naturally wanted to scamper off to test the shopping right away. We went to the Yashow Market, a department store with several floors crammed with clothes, jewellery, electronics and more cheap articles. There bargaining and discussing prices went on for hours and the result was shopping bags filled with winter jackets and sweaters. A paradise for western shopaholics.
We visited this shopping mall several times during our stay, and once I got a bit of a shock, as in one of the passages displaying cheap jewellery and clothes I met the Swedish Royal Couple. I stammered a “Hello” to the King who looked surprised to meet a Swedish supporter there in the passage. While the King and Queen were looking at jewellery I had a chat with Prince Carl Philip discussing the Swedish team’s chances of getting medals in the Olympic Games. As I took out my camera to get a picture of the Royal Couple their bodyguard came up to me and with a disapproving expression asked me if the picture was good … It was rather embarrassing when a woman from whom I had bought a piece of jewellery came up to me and started to accuse me of having paid with a forged banknote. Of course I hadn’t but the only thing to do was to give her a new 100-Yuan note and getting back a totally different note from the one I had given her. You have to keep a good lookout in Beijing for there are plenty of forged banknotes circulating, and when she turned up arguing with me in front of the Royal Couple and the guards of the department store there was no reason of starting a quarrel ..
Thanks to the time change we were alert the first evening and went to the “W-Bar”, partly owned by the Swedish tennis table legend Jan Owe Waldner. He is one of the world’s all time best ping-pong players having for instance an Olympic gold medal in his list of qualifications. In China he is immensely popular and has been given the pet name Chang Qing Shu – “Evergreen Tree”. During the first week of the Olympics “J-O” was on-site in Beijing and we had many happy opportunities of meeting him. At the first night in “W-Bar” we sat together talking about his great matches and experiences and finally I challenged him to a match at the ping-pong table. What a memory for life, playing table tennis against J-O Walder in Beijing! Actually I scored four points, how many he scored I won’t tell you …. Anyway he finished by saying “Why, you were good!” At three AM all of us went to “The Den” Bar where the cheerful partying continued, what a start of the Olympic Games!
Playing table tennis with the famous J O Waldner.
During another classic evening in the company of J-O we intended to visit the “Susie Wong” club. I was wearing shorts and of course we came to a dead stop with the bouncer. J-O tried to bribe the doorman to let me in, but it all ended up with a visit in the club owner’s office where we had to buy a pair of baggy trousers that I could wear on top of the shorts. I really looked crazy and it would have been more appropriate to have my shorts visible Hahaha :) But the night was long and fun!
During our two weeks in Beijing we had time to visit several fine sights in between the games. Walking into the Tiananmen Square was a grand experience, one of the largest public squares in the world. At the Tiananmen Gate there is the well-known portrait of Mao Zedong gazing across the square. Inside the gate there is the Forbidden City with its patios, gardens and chambers.
The Tiananmen Gate.
As usual perspiration was pouring in the humid air and when we had got tired of all imperial treasures we went on to the Beijing Zoo. The zoo was founded in 1908 and at the time of our visit it was rather shabby. I felt compassion for the big beautiful lion male lying down with sad eyes in a small narrow cage. The happier I was watching the giant pandas, these great animals you just want to get close to and cuddle. One of the pandas was playing with a swing and suddenly he had managed to get into the swing and set it going in the air to the cheers of the spectators.
A wonderful area in Beijing is formed by the Hutongs around the Houhai Lake. There we went by rickshaw round the lake and strolled along the alleys, shops and restaurants. Chinese people were enjoying life out in the parks practising physical training in outdoor gyms or playing ping-pong.
The Houhai Lake.
By the Hutongs there are a lot of cosy alleys.
The visit to the Great Wall of China was the highlight of this journey. A life-long dream came true as we took a cable car ride up to the wall at Mutianyu. The damp and hazy air made the mountains around the wall into a magical scenery. Perspiration was pouring and my heart was pounding as we were walking up the steep stairs on the wall. I felt my asthma in the humid August weather, but who cared when I could experience this day together with my friends! The stairs were very slippery with moss and an Englishman performed a hazardous somersault which I managed to capture on film. I concluded the visit to the wall by attaching a little Swedish flag in the mortar, a small reminiscence of the Olympic Games.
From the top of the wall we took a toboggan ride down into the valley and then the guided tour carried us to the valley of the Ming Tombs. This site is located 50 kilometres north-west of Beijing and there 13 out of 16 Ming Emperors are buried. A “Sacred Way” of 6.5 kilometres in length leads into the valley and it is lined with stone statues depicting various animals. I’ll never forget my buddy Johan getting a bit tired in the heat among all stone statues and bursting out “There mustn’t be too much of culture!” Johan can produce memorable sayings from time to time like when we were riding a taxi in Beijing and he lost his temper as several Chinese people were riding bikes in front of the car: “Damned yokels, riding four abreast and navigating by the sun!”
The holy road to the Ming tombs.
As I said, there mustn’t be too much of culture, there were also Olympic Games going on. We had time to watch many events and various sports. One of the hottest days we lined up to enter the Bird’s Nest, as the largest arena was called, to watch the final of the men’s football tournament. The queues to the security check were so long that we missed the first half and many fans were totally outrageous. At last we came in and watched Argentina beat Nigeria 1-0. At the Workers’ Stadium we watched the Swedish Women’s team beat Canada in football, but what we will best remember from that game is the fact that every Chinese wanted to take pictures of us outside the arena. As usual we came dressed up in wigs and Swedish team jerseys and the Chinese were altogether excited. That’s what it was like during the whole Olympic Games, we could walk 10 metres and then halt to have our pictures taken together with grown-ups and children.
The Bird’s Nest.
We watched several handball matches with the Swedish Women’s National team. We were cheering to the best of our ability in the grandstand and a journalist from the Washington Post made an interview with us, World Celebrities! During one of the handball games a reporter from Sweden’s TV4 came up to us wondering if he could make a report about us as supporters. Well, that sounded interesting so we accepted the proposal and the next day the TV team followed us already from breakfast where we tried to appear relaxed with food in our mouths in front of a camera zooming in our chunky cheeks …. We went on filming inside the Yashow mall and then we headed for the Beitucheng metro station where the TV team recorded us trying to get tickets for the Women’s handball quarter-final. Outside the station people gathered trying to buy or sell tickets on the black market. Selling second-hand tickets was not allowed and we saw several Chinese being caught and dragged away by the police. Eventually we got hold of tickets and the TV segment with us was broadcast at prime time back home in Sweden.
Tv-filming during the Olympics.
The “Bird’s Nest” track & field stadium was awfully impressive. There we watched a number of marvellous performances and what impressed me the most was Jamaica winning the Men’s 4 × 100 metre relay with the team setting a new world record. I had goose bumps all over my body as they crossed the finishing line while the arena was vibrating with the cheers of the crowd. I was hoping for a Swedish gold medal in the Men’s high jump where Stefan Holm hopefully would defend his gold from Athens four years earlier. My ticket was for the wrong short side during Stefan’s appearance in the final, but I succeeded in charming the Chinese hostesses and getting down to row six, just a few metres from the high jump court. Sad to say Stefan failed in the final and I could not pull out my golden flag that I had in my bag.
Jamaica´s relay team with Bolt leading.
Table tennis is one of the favourite sports among the Chinese and we watched several of the Swedish player Jörgen Persson’s matches. The further he advanced in the tournament, the harder it was to get hold of tickets since the Chinese too, wanted to watch ping-pong. When Jörgen was to play the semi-final we managed to get three tickets from a friend in the Swedish Olympic Committee, SOC. He handed out the tickets to us through the fence round the arena and envious Chinese people glared surly at us as we ran into the arena. Jörgen lost in the semi-final but was still to play another match, for the bronze medal, which was to be played the same afternoon as the final. We hunted for tickets but this was one of the most sought-after events in the whole Olympic Games so we supposed it was all over, when I had a call from my friend in the SOC. He had got hold of a ticket and he wanted to give it to us although he had been offered 1000 Euros for it. After some consideration we agreed that I would get the ticket and happily I ran towards the entrance. Then I had another call from my SOC contact telling me that he had got hold of one more ticket, so it turned out that Rickard and me all in a sweat could sit down in the second row in front of the ping-pong tables during the final in Beijing. Totally unbelievable that we two Swedes were sitting in the best seats during the last day of the Table Tennis. Rickard and myself did all we could for Jörgen to get his Bronze Medal, but unfortunately his back was aching too much and he couldn’t play at top level so a Chinese player was awarded the Bronze Medal. The crowd loved us as we launched cheers at the top of our voices and there was an applause after every chant. Later the final was played between Ma Lin and Wang Hao. Ma Lin won to a storm of cheering from the crowd and all spectators had tears running down their cheeks as the Chinese National Anthem was played. In the evening Rickard and me were sitting in a bar watching the repeat of the final on TV, and every time we came into the picture we cheered and showed all Chinese people in the bar that we had been there on site :)
Table tennis finals.
One more racket sport that we followed was Tennis. After a couple of tough matches our Swedish doubles pair reached the final in the Men’s tournament. Once again we succeeded in obtaining the best lower seats where we handed out wigs to some Chinese, and the Swedish cheering section was established! The atmosphere in the Tennis Center was good and we were hoping to witness a Swedish gold medal, but yet another time we failed cheering properly enough. Switzerland won the Gold Medal and we had to be content with taking pictures of the Swedish silver medallists when they came up to us after the Prize Ceremony.
The tennis silver medallists.
The happiest memory of that day is most likely our having lunch before the final outside a small shop in the street. We bought noodles in small bowls and Johan went mad when he failed eating in this manner. Food was spread all over the street and Rickard laughed to such an extent that he had noodles in his nose, an Olympic moment.
Noodles for lunch.
On the rainiest day of the games the Women’s beach volleyball final was settled. In Athens the US Walsh/May team won and now they had reached the final once more. Their opponents were China’s team and it was a tough game in the pouring rain. This was the only time during my trip that I was cold … I had already watched the final in Athens and I was hoping that Walsh/May would win their second Gold Medal in a row. At the same moment as my raincoat gave up the ghost the US girls won the game and I cheered as well as I could. It was a fantastic sight with the happiness in the girls’ eyes as they stood holding hands during the National Anthem, those are moments that I love. Later that evening I ran into one of the girls, Kerri Walsh. Then I showed her a picture I had taken from the final in Athens with Kerri standing with the Gold Medal smiling into the camera. She was very much pleased and gave me her autograph on the picture. Four years later I watched her winning gold again, but that’s another story.
Kerri Walsh and Misty May took gold in beach volley.
It’s fun following athletes during several Olympic Games and also getting to know them. At a celebration night in the Holland Heineken House we met a girl from Australia walking about with a medal round her neck. She was Alicia McCormack, the goalkeeper of the Australian water polo team. We were allowed to try the medal on and later we became Facebook friends. A couple of years later I watched her playing in the World Championship in Rome and another four years later in the London Olympic Games. All those little experiences give memories for life :)
I also remember how cocksure me and Emma were during the Holland Heineken House night. We had tickets for Field Hockey at 9 AM the next morning and naturally we would manage to get there, no matter how tired we would be … At 9 o’clock I woke up, sent an SMS to Rickard saying the atmosphere was breathtaking and that I had goose-flesh all over my body, then I fell asleep again in bed …
Emma and me were lucky to get tickets for the grand Closing Ceremony and there certainly a show I won’t easily forget was unfolded. Thousands of artistes and musicians performed and according to tradition all athletes entered the arena. The entire show was accompanied by magnificent fireworks that made the whole arena vibrate.
The Closing Ceremony.
Those were hard, sweaty and challenging weeks with amazing experiences, frustration, fits of rage but above all happy memories. We went about among the arenas chasing tickets/medals, partied at night and had likewise time to visit many sights. Tasty food, nice people and good shopping, obviously I want to revisit Beijing!!
Fancy design in Beijing.
You’ll hear from me,
Popular hotels to book in Beijing:
Located near Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, Beihai Park and other attractions.
Located in a centre, very close to Forbidden City.
Within walking distance from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Novotel Peace Beijing
Well-known hotel in a great location in the popular city area of Wangfujing, that has great shopping and nightlife and within walking distance from the Forbidden City.
Holiday Inn Express Temple of Heaven
Situated a few hundred meters from The Temple Of Heaven Park.
Tourist class hotel in a central situation in Beijing