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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.
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.
-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.
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.
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:
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.
One of the most memorable moments of the year for me is when the scent of Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds) is being mixed with the hum of Christmas music at a cosy Christmas Market somewhere in Germany. Every year we are 12 friends who go southward from Stockholm to visit Christmas Markets in various cities. We call ourselves the Culture Club and have been active for more than 10 years. We travel in big cars which on the way back home are filled with our finds from the markets, but obviously with different kinds of intoxicating liquor, too….. Our travels must needs include some cultural elements, so we have visited submarines, breweries as well as handball and football arenas. All of us in the gang spend the autumn longing for these trips and I hope we will continue for many years to come. All the happy people you meet, the odours, the lights and the atmosphere altogether make a fine start of Advent and Christmas every year!
Crowded and cosy during Advent.
The first year that I joined the group the destination town was Sassnitz in the island of Rügen. It might not have been the most hilarious town to visit in November, but anyway we experienced a successful cultural event on board the submarine HMS Otus. The annual Formal Dress Dinner was partaken of in the König Gustav restaurant, and later we visited the town’s Christmas Market that was so small that there was hardly room for our Culture Club in the tiny square …..
The following day we went by train to Rostock instead, hoping to find a bigger Christmas Market, and there we were so content that we went back there again with the Club a few years later.
Rostock has long Market alleys where you can mingle around for hours holding a hot Glühwein while at the same time making finds among the stands. Christmas stars of various warm colours, gloves, slippers, ceramics, jewellery, there is a wide range of Christmas gifts. If you get hungry you can revel in sausages, cheeses, ham, kale, mushrooms, almonds and candy. In the daytime we seldom have our meals in a restaurant, instead we enjoy the wide selection of the Christmas Markets.
In Rostock you can also find a Medieval Market. In Klosterhof you can practise Axe Throwing in the company of Vikings, taste ham with Sauerkraut or purchase something from the artisans selling wrought iron objects. If you want more exciting entertainment you can visit the amusement park in the Fischerbastion. The Formal Dress Dinner was partaken of in the Ratskeller 12, a restaurant that I can warmly recommend.
There is a lot of different food to chose between at the Christmas markets.
Germany is famous for it´s sausages.
Chocolate tools, beautiful handicrafts.
Heart shaped gingerbread make a nice gift.
Colourful Christmas gifts.
In 2009 the Culture Club visited Berlin, a city that offered many cultural sights and fine Christmas Markets. Our accommodation was near the Alexanderplatz square and just in front of the hotel there was a big Christmas Market which included an ice rink where we skated around, what a sight …
An excellent way of getting to know a city is taking a sightseeing bus, and in Berlin we joined a tour where you could hop on and hop off at various sights. For instance we hopped off at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, a church that was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943. There we found a Christmas Market which helped us soothe the craving for Glühwein; touring in a sightseeing bus too long is quite tough, you know. Over the weekend we also had time to visit the Christmas Market at the Charlottenburg Palace. A large and fine market in beautiful palatial environment, well worth a visit.
I also recollect a funny quotation from this trip when at midnight I tried to visit the hotel casino. The security guard then told me kindly but firmly:
-You need a tie, and you need a jacket, and we close in ten minutes, and your friends are not here! – OK, I’ve got it.
The Culture Club at the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche in Berlin.
Before I joined the Culture Club I had heard of the numerous bus tours destined for the Christmas Market in Lübeck every year, and I had a vision of that market being gigantic. When we visited the city in 2011 I was a bit disappointed, for the Christmas Market was not as big as I had expected but still worth visiting. There was nothing wrong with the Holiday Atmosphere as we were strolling around among the stands in front of the City Hall. We paid a “Cultural Visit” to the Holstentor Museum and the iconic Café Niederegger. The best food during this trip was served at the Formal Dress Dinner in the Schiffer Gesellschaft restaurant, at 2 Breite Straße.
My friend Jenny and me wish Merry Christmas under the Mistletoe.
Kiel has also been visited by the club. As I love sports events I took the opportunity of dropping in at the Sparkassen Arena where the city’s handball team played a match in the Champions League against Zagreb. The home team won the game in front of 7,000 loud-voiced fans and of course I was delighted! After the game one just had to get out of the arena doors to catch sight of the Christmas Market. Tasting Glühwein with shots of various liqueurs or rum in the cold weather was yummy. The markets in Germany always keep up the high spirits. People party and have a good time without any guards or policemen being around. In the Old Town market square there was a DJ playing German hits, what Zip! The dancing crowd toasted one another with their colourful mugs. Every Christmas Market has its own mug model which is changed every year so I believe I have well 20 mugs in my kitchen at home.
The Cultural Event in Kiel was a visit to the Kieler Brauerei brewery. A nice place brewing its own cloudy Kellerbier which is served exclusively in the brewery restaurant.
Glühwein in the cold weather is yummy.
Hamburg has become my favourite city in the case of Christmas Markets. In addition it has many fine sights so I guess our Club will soon visit the city again. In the Reeperbahn there is a big Market where live music is being played from a stage, highly appreciated by the dancing crowd! In the vicinity of the Reeperbahn there is gigantic funfair, the Hamburger Dom.
My personal favourite market is the one in front of the city hall, Hamburg Rathaus. There you can watch Santa Claus flying in his sleigh across the market square in the evening with the Disney-like facade of the city hall as a background setting. The area among the market stands is crowded, but who cares when you attend the best Christmas Market in Germany? All the way from the Rathausmarkt square the market extends down to the Binnenalster lake. In case you can’t find your Christmas gifts in the market, all you have to do is to turn into the Neuer Wall shopping street.
Market at the Rathausmarkt square in Hamburg.
At the Hamburger Dom.
Santa is flying across the market square.
If you want to find me in Hamburg one evening, just look into my favourite pub of Molly Malone :)
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year you’ll hear from me in 2015!
Popular hotels to book in Germany:
Park Inn Radisson Berlin Alexanderplatz
On the well known Alexanderplatz in the center of Berlin.
Zleep Hamburg City Hotel
Situated 100 m. from the lively Reeperbahn Street and 5 minutes from the harbour with its world famous fish market.
Located next to Rostock Central railway station.
Park Inn By Radisson Lübeck
Located 300m from the Holsten Gate, 600m from Lubeck Central railway station, 700m from St. Mary’s Church and 1.5 km from St. Annen Museum.
Situated 600m from Bergen bei Rugen center.