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Beijing Olympics, Culture and Shopping

“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.

Beijing zoo.

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:

BoTai Hotel
Located near Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, Beihai Park and other attractions.

Redwall Hotel
Located in a centre, very close to Forbidden City.

Sunworld Hotel
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.

Harmony Hotel
Tourist class hotel in a central situation in Beijing

Music Events in London

The woman turned to me and burst out: Ooh Magnus! I’m so happy for you!
My tears mixed with the raindrops pouring down my cheeks. Had I lost my passport? Been deprived of my luggage or my wallet? No, I was just experiencing a couple of breathtaking minutes as Bruce Springsteen was opening his show in Hyde Park by performing an acoustic version of “Thunder Road” together with Roy Bittan on piano ….

Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park.

Attending concerts and travelling form a great part of my life, and combining a concert with a visit to a city abroad is obviously the ultimate event. There have been many concert journeys around the world and more new adventures are booked for 2015, so now I just have to start planning the journeys.

Some of the concerts abroad I’ve been to have taken place in London, and I’m going to tell you a little about those adventures.

In 2011 me and my friends Tompa and Annelie went to London to watch Bon Jovi perform at the ‘Hard Rock Calling’ Festival.

Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park.

In addition to attending a concert in London for the first time I also paid visits to a number of shoe stores in the city, I honestly believe we visited most of them in the city centre …. The day before the concert a shop tour was in progress and I just came along as an observer :) The tour included a first time visit at Harrods and a nice lunch at the Harvey Nichols roof terrace. New experiences for me and I felt more at home when at last we had a drink at The Back Room bar at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Tompa discovering London.

Hard Rock Cafe The Back Room Bar.

The day of the concert offered brilliant weather and the festival area in Hyde Park was crammed full of 65,000 happy visitors. The sunshine was blazing hot and on the lawn blankets were laid out where the fans picnicked enjoying the afternoon music performances while waiting for the main feature of the evening, Bon Jovi. Finally the band entered the stage and had a flying start with “Raise Your Hands”, “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Born to be My Baby”. It was immediately clear that the band was in an excellent mood and Tompa and myself had goose bumps all over our arms. The clear blue sky above the stage was transforming into a magic orange coloured light as the sun was setting. This added to the atmosphere and so did the community singing that was really the tops. When the band started the song “Dry County” the girl behind us shouted: – I love this song more than life!!! Watching a person so happy, that’s touching, and I remember her being on the verge of tears while joining in the lyrics of the whole song.
The concert lasted for nearly three hours and the band re-entered on the stage three times to perform encores. Happily we strolled through the summer night of London and of course we gave the concert highest marks.

Bon Jovi at Hard Rock Calling.

In 2012 it was again time for ‘Hard Rock Calling’.
When Bruce Springsteen was announced as the main feature of the year, staying at home was obviously no option. We were nine friends travelling to England to usher in the weekend at the Swan Pub. That’s where I spent many evenings during the Olympics a month later, but that’s another story. The pre-party in the hotel room had barely started as the bed collapsed, rock’n'roll!!
The night before the concert there was a Springsteen Party at the Pride of Paddington Pub. Fans from all over the world met there and a live band played Bruce’s songs. It turned into a hearty celebration and when the community singing had ceased my bed as well as the pub ceiling had collapsed … rock’n'roll!!

Our group of friends at Hard Rock Calling 2012.

London had had bad weather the days before the concert, so inside the festival area in Hyde Park the ground was covered with bark chippings. We jumped our way between the puddles and those of us who had provided themselves with rubber boots at Primark were satisfied with their shopping. My friends are not as enthusiastic about Springsteen as me, so the they went to a smaller stage to listen to Amy McDonald while I headed for the big stage to get a good position in front of Bruce. I didn’t have to wait very long for Bruce since he appeared as a guest star in John Fogerty’s show, and together they sang “Rocking all over the World”.
About an hour later my 21st Springsteen Concert commenced by Bruce entering the stage and starting to sing “Thunder Road” accompanied only by Roy Bittan on piano. I love that version and this was the first time I could hear it live, so there some tears were shed in the summer rain.
The rain didn’t bother Springsteen, as usual he kept running far out on the stage edges and way out into the crowd, he was in his very best mood and was met with an enormous response by the audience in Hyde Park. A frequent feature in his concerts is his picking up signs with request of songs from the fans. In London he performed “Take ‘em As They Come” for a fan who had been travelling around Europe to many concerts without hearing that song.

In Gothenburg I was standing a bit away from his hotel as he left by car to get to Ullevi Stadium. I was standing near a pedestrian crossing and just as his car approached three ladies went out in the street and his car halted. I went up to the car and Bruce wound down the car window. I asked him to sign the “Born to Run” album and begged him to sing the song “Be True” in the oncoming evening show. – You wanna hear that one? We’ll see, we’ll see, he answered and returned the signed album. Obviously I was content already at this stage, but guess if I had goose flesh as he came up to me during the concert and took the sign reading “Be True” that I was holding and said into the mike: – This is for my friend outside the hotel! Then he performed my request song at Ullevi Arena.

I could understand how happy the guy in Hyde Park was when he could hear his request song being performed by Bruce. Tom Morello and John Fogery were Bruce’s guests on stage, but the biggest cheers of the evening burst forth when Sir Paul McCartney entered and performed “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout” together with Springsteen. What an event we experienced in that park that night!

In 2013 it was time for another visit to London, once again to watch Bruce Springsteen. We were six friends starting the weekend with lunch on the balcony of The Swan. Now me and the owner and the staff of the pub had made friends, so there was a fond reunion. On this balcony there were also many ticket deals made during the Olympics, so many happy memories were brought back in mind. Just like in 2012 there was a Springsteen Party at the Pride of Paddington Pub and loud community singing accompanied the live band. Suddenly Springsteen’s saxophonist appeared and there was almost an outbreak of chaos since everyone wanted to meet and have a picture taken together with Jake Clemmons. A successful weekend start!

Me, Mats and Jocke met Bruce Springsteen in 2013.

Me and Tompa together with Stuart, the owner of The Swans.

Our group of friends partying with Jake Clemmons.

On the day of the concert we went to Wembley to arrive in advance, but the weather was lousy that we sat down in a pub nearby. The rain was pouring down and we felt a bit sorry for the thousands of fans who were already queuing outside the arena. I recalled the Champions League Final in 2011 when I was standing outside Wembley trying to get hold of a ticket. The ticket price was £1000 so I was forced to give up, but instead I experienced how Usain Bolt, Paul McCartney and Roberto Carlos nearly ran over me at the VIP entrance. I also recalled how I was cheated to buy a forged ticket for the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 2012 and my feelings at the entrance when the green light didn’t flash as the ticket was inserted …


Now we had genuine tickets and in a sold out Wembley Stadium we experienced Bruce commencing the evening with “Land of Hope and Dreams”. Bruce and his band were in an excellent mood and he thoroughly shifted about in the printed list of songs. Six fan request songs were played and then all songs of the “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album were performed in consecutive order. Bruce has an remarkable ability to make every gig unique and his energy on stage always gives you an enormous kick of joy! This night came to an end with an acoustic version of “Thunder Road” and many eyes in the audience were filled with tears. Bruce was affected by the crowd’s love throughout the evening and I was more than satisfied with my 25th Springsteen concert.

The evening was rounded off in a pub outside Wembley, the Blue Check. Fans in hundreds had come together there and from the loudspeakers Springsteen was played on top volume. People were standing on tables and chairs singing for all they were worth. There we spent a couple of wonderful hours of togetherness and joy! During these journeys I have got acquainted with fabulous people and I have come back to London for enjoyable Springsteen Parties where we have discussed tour memories and life at large.
I’m sure we’ll soon meet again.

Bruce Springsteen at Wembley.

The musical scene in London is unbelievably wide-ranging, just think of all the musicals staged there, for instance. I have been only to one of them and that is “Mamma Mia” at the Prince of Wales Theatre. There, too, I sat with smiling lips being carried away by the positive energy on the stage ….. until I started to feel a food poisoning …. Panic struck me as I began to calculate how many people I would have to pass in the row of seats in case of an emergency run for the toilet …

Mamma Mia, a highly recommended musical.

To wind up this blog post I asked my friend Michael Gallagher who lives in London to give you a few tips about clubs with fine live music, and here are his favourites:

“My faves at the moment and in no particular order are 1) Dingwall’s in Camden, good small venue so you can get close to the bands, 2) Islington Assembly Hall, beautiful room, great sound, great toilets! 3) The Garage, great rock venue and small enough to get in the mosh pit, 4) The Borderline, probably my favourite, mostly Americana bands, 5) The Town & Country, brilliant place to see a band, been going for years, 6) Bush Hall, stunning room, 7) Islington Academy, good social location, and two minutes away The Islington pub, a very small room with good bands, 8) Hoxton Bar & Grill, lots of hipsters but a great place to see a band, 9) Brixton Academy, big venue big bands pure rock and roll, 10) The Boogaloo pub, famous north London pub for celebs and rock stars, nice vibe.
That’s it for now, there are too many to mention, but these are the places where I’d usually hang out to see bands.”

Have the best day ever, you’ll hear from me,

Popular hotels to book in London:

Travelodge London Central Waterloo Hotel
Just 900 m from the Big Ben and next to the Waterloo Station and the vibrant South Bank. Hotel renovated summer 2013.

Royal National
Big hotel situated next to Russell Square.

Travelodge Kings Cross Royal Scot
The Travelodge Kings Cross Hotel is centrally located close to Kings Cross station with easy access to both central London and the City of London. Hotel renovated spring 2014.

Corus Hyde Park
A Georgian building with modern rooms, located opposite Hyde Park. Easy reach to Oxford Street and London’s West End.

Travelodge London Central City Road
Located 2 km away from the St Paul’s Cathedral, 4 km from the Tower of London and 5 km from London Zoo.

Grand Plaza Serviced Apartments
Grand Plaza offers private apartments that are well-placed for Hyde Park, Notting Hill and Kensington Palace.

Colourful Cuba

-Hablas español ?
-No hablas…una cerveza!
-HAHAHA no hablas HAHAHA!!
The woman in the passport control laughed out loud and I had made my stunning appearance in Cuba.

I have always had the Caribbean very much at heart, and in the autumn of 2012 me and my workmate Kenta made up our minds to celebrate the New Year in Cuba. To keep the costs of the trip low we booked flights and accommodation on our own instead of consulting one of the big air charter service companies. We decided on staying in the resort of Varadero and then make some excursions from there to explore the country.



Varadero is a peninsula with lots of luxury hotels. Most hotels offer All Inclusive so there is a limited choice of other restaurants in the area. Pure white beaches and turquoise waters mix with colourful sails belonging to kite-surfers and windsurfers. Along the beaches sun loungers mingle with cosy beach bars, swaying palm trees, beach volleyball nets, pelicans and vendors mixing fabulous drinks in scooped out pineapple fruits. If your aim is to indulge in all these colours, sun and sea then you are just in the right place. From the loudspeakers of the beach bars habanera and salsa music is streaming which makes it hard to sit still at the beach while enjoying a tasty Mojito or Cuba Libre.

Kenta with his favourite drink.

Hungry pelicans.

A couple of days before New Year’s Eve we left a chilly Sweden and 11½ hours later we came down in Varadero. We checked in at the Villa Tortuga Hotel and got a room right down at the beach. The palm trees were swaying and I felt enormously happy as I plunged into the sea with water of 25 degrees, nothing could be better. The hotel had a large swimming pool, a computer with slow internet, traditional games in the daytime and traditional shows at night. To begin with it was hard for us to watch the evening entertainment as the jet lag made our eyelids heavy early in the evenings. Most probably our weariness was also related to the amount of food we consumed at the dinner buffet … There we were always offered some ten different main dishes and divine pastries for dessert, obviously the gym of the hotel ought to have been visited at least ONCE during our vacation ….

During our stay we were served very good breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Villa Tortuga, but a couple of evenings we tested the choice of restaurants outside the hotel. Our favourite was the Kiki’s Pizzeria which we found at Avenida kawama Calle 5. We also liked the El Melaito restaurant in Calle 38.

On New Year’s Eve the hotel arranged a giant buffet supper and I believe I have never seen such “beautiful” dishes. Shellfish had been arranged like large works of art and it was quite comical to see the guests starting to “devastate” the art. Naturally champagne was served and even early in the evening toasts were made at European midnight time. Me and my buddy Kenta still had jet lag problems so we fought hard to stay awake till midnight, and luckily we did for just then a great party commenced in the hotel. Big boxes were opened, containing party outfit like hats, wigs, party horns, streamers etc. On the stage a band was playing party music and all guests were dancing and drinking to one another, a highly successful New Year’s Eve!

To get acquainted with the neighbourhood we joined a tour by the Varadero Beach Bus. It operates along the beaches and hotels so you just have to hop on and hop off wherever you like, the ticket is valid for one day. We got off at the Convention Center Plaza America to check the shopping outlet but there was not much of interest. Paintings, handicraft, leather, flip-flops and T-shirts. We confined ourselves to cigars and rum.

Of course we had time for a visit to Havana, a marvellous city that I would gladly return to. Charming streets with beautiful old façades and then the contrast of all colourful old American cars from the 50′s. Car makes like Ford, Buick, Cadillac, Plymouth and Chevrolet operate in the city’s street in the company of classic vehicles like horse and carriage. The city is rich in history and for instance you can have a look inside the Museum of the Revolution where naturally the stories of Castro and Che Guevara are told. My favourite spot was the Parque Central, a nice plaza with many palm trees in downtown Havana. As a matter of course we also visited Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar, El Floridita, one of the best bars in the world. There we had a good lunch, but the best thing of all was the cocktail, a magic Frozen Daiquiri!

View over Havana.

View over Havana.

Everywhere you could see beautiful cars.

Parcue central in Havana.

El Floridita.

Along the pedestrian street Calle Obispo almost anything was available for purchase. Animals, paintings, jewellery, clothes and food. From the bars you could hear live music and the atmosphere really made us take a fancy to the city. After all being in Havana we just had to have a ride in an American car so we jumped into the back seat of a Cadillac Convertible 1957 and the driver took us on a tour on the Malecón, the esplanade running along the the coast. What a feeling to cruise in the back seat through this beautiful city, until there was a sudden bang, the car swayed sidewards and a scratching sound screeched until the car stopped. What had happened? The suspension of one of the front wheels had broken so the wheel stood right out HaHaHa, what an accident! After having carefully taken pictures of the accident we hopped into a new car and continued our city exploration. We were highly content with the visit and I hope being able to return to Havana.

Convertible cruising along Malecón…

…until the suspension of the front wheel broke down.

One day we made an excursion which started in the city of Cardenas. Everywhere you could see people travelling by horse and carriage, and it was like being transported 200 years back in time. In Cardenas the Cuban flag was hoisted for the first time. The next excursion stop was the Australia Sugar Mill where we entered an old train drawn by a classic steam locomotive. We felt like first class tourists, but who cared, we had fun :)
The train halted at a museum where we were shown what it looked like in the sugar mill with Castro commanding his troops from there when Cuba was invaded in 1961. The best part of the Australia Sugar Mill visit was our stop at a tavern where we ordered Mojitos. The bottle of rum was put on the table so that you could fill up with more rum if you disliked the taste, but there was no need for that, it was the best Mojito I have ever tasted.

Visit to the Australia Sugar Mill.

The excursion then continued to a large Crocodile Farm down in the Zapata peninsula and from there we went on by boat across the Laguna del Tesoro to the Indian Village Guama. There we were shown around and were told how the Taino People used to live in the old days. Moreover we could taste the most delicious dish of our journey, crocodile meat ….

In the Indian Village Guama.

One of the last nights in Varadero we were picked up by a Buick Convertible 1955 and were driven to a venue where we watched a performance by the Grammy Awards winners Buena Vista Social Club. The big band treated us to a swinging show that honestly wasn’t quite to our taste, but the Cuban guests stood up, cheering! Kenta and myself better appreciated the Cover Band playing at the Beatles Bar in Calle 59. There we had a fine ending of our journey before late at night riding back through the town in a Convertible again.

Buena Vista Social Club.

Well tanned we returned home, the coconut oil had had its effect and once again I had got a successful journey to remember.

Have a good time, you’ll hear from me!

Popular hotels to book in Cuba:

Mercure Sevilla
Next to Havana´s Paseo del Prado, the Mercure Sevilla opened in 1908 and is located just a few steps from the Museo de Bellas Artes.

Nacional de Cuba
This hotel has existed since 1930. It is situated on a hill a few hundred meters from the sea.

Gran Caribe Villa Tortuga
The Hotel Villa Tortuga is at just 100 meters of the beach, at two kilometers of Varadero down town.

BelleVue Palma Real
An ideal “All Inclusive” family complex in Varadero.

Occidental Allegro Club Cayo Guillermo
The Occidental Allegro Club Cayo Guillermo is a beachfront hotel situated 4 km to the center.

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