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Den Gyldene Freden and the Pet Shop Boys Friday, 28 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Last night Ian and I celebrated the birthday with our friend Carl Magnus with dinner at Den Gyldene Freden (The Golden Peace). The restaurant was established in 1722 and is recognised as the oldest restaurant in the world to have the same surroundings, essentially looking the same as it did in the 18th century. It got a reputation in the 20th century as a place frequented by creative types, and today the Swedish Academy (which nominates the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature) convenes there every Thursday.

The restaurant extremely charming, and the food was delicious. We had a fun time, talking and laughing our way through the meal and a couple of bottles of wine. Carl Magnus also presented me with a very special birthday present.

We may not have noticed the Swedish Academy, but midway through the meal Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe – the Pet Shop Boys – walked in (with what I assume was their manager) and sat down for dinner at a table close to ours.

After we finished our dinner, and emboldened by the wine, Carl Magnus and I approached them. Carl Magnus told them he’d been a fan for many years, that he respected their work and just wanted to let them know. I then said that we were celebrating my 50th birthday, to which they replied wishing me a happy 50th birthday and joked that they were there as an arranged surprise for my birthday.

So there you have it. The Pet Shop Boys have confirmed that I am now 50.

(Sorry,  no photos. We didn’t even think to take any of ourselves, all dressed up and looking nice, let alone any of the Pet Shop Boys)

ABBA The Museum Thursday, 27 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Today we visited ABBA The Museum, which opened on Djurgården in May, just a week before we left home for Europe (so, we missed the opening). It has taken a long time for the museum to open in Stockholm – originally it was supposed to open in 2009 (which coincided with our last trip to Europe).

The museum of course tells the story of ABBA, through displays, artefacts, video interviews and interactive activities. After an introductory film, we meet the ABBA members in their various careers before ABBA, then go through the history of the four meeting, beginning their collaboration, making their first records together, and entering and winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’.

From there, the museum breaks into themed areas. First writing and recording the music, with recreations of Björn and Benny’s songwriting hut, the Polar Music office and Polar Music Studio, containing many instruments that were played on ABBA’s records. Next we move on to touring and performing on stage, with a look at the backstage environment, then the chance to perform on stage with ABBA in hologram form (yes, I did it!, video may be posted later)

Then we move into ABBA’s video presentation, and recollections from the four ABBA members. Next comes the highlight for many visitors, the room full of ABBA’s iconic stage costumes, dozens of gold records, and albums and singles from all over the world. Finally we reach the end of ABBA, and the ABBA legacy (i.e. Mamma Mia!).

The entire exhibition is accompanied by an audio guide, with the four ABBA members themselves telling their story. It’s fascinating to hear them recount the many stories that previously we had only read in books, and even some interaction between them. It made for a more personal experience.

We had a lot of fun, doing the interactive quizzes, dancing in an ABBA video, vitrually trying on ABBA costumes, and seeing all the items on display, many of which came from the ABBA members themselves or their collaborators.

Though ABBA The Museum has grown out of the ABBAWORLD touring exhibition (2010-2012), and it has a similar look and many of the same elements, it’s a very different exhibition. Rather than telling the ABBA story chronologically, as it did in London, Melbourne, Györ and Prague, it has taken on lessons learned from the Sydney version, which had been reorganised into themed areas. I think this makes for a more satisfying exhibition – I witnessed many visitors in Melbourne (and to a lesser extent Sydney) rushing past most of the displays, to get to the costumes and the interactive activities.

UPDATE: new photo gallery of our visit to ABBA The Museum.

An ABBA walking tour, with a surprise ending Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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This morning we met up with friend Carl Magnus for a bit of a walking tour of ABBA-related sites. Not the usual places that have been seen before , but some more off-the-beaten-track ones. Partly for the enjoyment of seeing the sites, partly for research, and just sight-seeing in some different Stockholm neighbourhoods.

First up we visited three sites that had been home to the offices of Sweden Music and Polar Music, ABBA’s record company, from 1963 up to 1975. All before the company moved to the famous address Baldersgatan 1 (which we also stopped at along the way).

We also visited the site of Alexandra Disco, where the ‘Dancing Queen’ video was filmed, and the photos for the Voulez-Vous album sleeve were taken (not to mention it was a popular nightspot in the late 1970s). Now it’s a French school. Then  the spot where the car was parked to take the cover photo for ABBA’s self-titled album in 1975, in front of what is now the Nigerian Embassy.

After stopping for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, we headed to the final destination of the walk, Atlantis Studios, formerly Metronome Studios. This is where ABBA recorded the bulk of their first five albums and most of their biggest hits from the beginning in 1972 through to 1978, when they opened their own purpose-built Polar Music Studios.

But no, we weren’t just there to see the building and the entrance from the street. Surprise!!! We were going in to the studio to have a look. Remarkably, it doesn’t look all that different to how it looked in the 70s, and many of the instruments and equipment used on those ABBA records are still there.

The studio is still in demand today. While we were there, mixing was being done in the control room. And here I am, recording my next hit, ‘C Major Chord’ on the very piano used on so many ABBA songs. Recent ABBA-related recordings include sessions for the Mamma Mia! movie soundtrack, and Agnetha’s new album A.

UPDATE: new photo gallery of our visit to Atlantis Studio.

A day at Skansen Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Yesterday on our first full day in Stockholm, we took advantage of the sunny day and visited Skansen. Skansen is a huge open-air museum, showcasing Swedish history with buildings, gardens, fields and lifestyle displays from all over Sweden over many centuries. Some displays even go right back to Viking times. It also has a zoo featuring animals native to Scandinavia.

Skansen is very beautiful, but best enjoyed in good weather. We visited on an earlier trip to Stockholm, at an earlier time of the year when many of the displays were closed, and were not opening until May and the Summer season (particularly the animals, which we were very disappointed about missing).

We spent several hours just walking around, looking into many of the buildings – houses from towns, farmhouses, village halls, even Sami and Finn village huts. After some negotiation we also visited Julius Kronberg’s studio, site of the photo shoot for the cover of ABBA’s last album, The Visitors in 1981 (see previous blog post).

I also dragged myself up onto the huge Dala horse for a photo op, and I think I may have caused some permanent injuries 😉 For those readers following the connections in some of these Stockholm posts, Benny and Björn were photographed on the Dala horse in Skansen somewhere around 1971/72.

Finished with Skansen, we stopped off for a beer at nearby Ulla Winbladh restaurant. The keen-eyed ABBA fans will recognise this as the site of two famous ABBA photo sessions, the first in 1975 (Greatest Hits cover), the second in 1976.

I have been waiting for these visitors Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Here I am in Julius Kronberg’s ateljé (studio) at Skansen in Stockholm. For those readers who don’t instantly recognise the significance, this is the place where the cover photo of ABBA’s final album, The Visitors, was taken in 1981.

It took some organising to get in to see the studio. It’s not regularly open. First the ladies in the Skansen Barn shop had to make about 9 phone calls to try to arrange it. Eventually they got through to the right people, and a meeting was arranged for later in the afternoon. It turned out the guy who let us in was happy to do it, he had nothing much else to do at the time. So thanks to the two lovely ladies in the shop, and the lovely gentleman who let us in.

UPDATE: new photo gallery of our visit to the studio

Stockholm at midnight Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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2nd best to none Monday, 24 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Here we are at last in Stockholm, Sweden, the final destination of our trip (excluding a one night stopover in Copenhagen before the long flight home).

We’re staying at Hotel Rival at Mariatorget. For those not in the know, it’s owned by Benny Andersson (aka the bearded one in ABBA). It’s really the best hotel we’ve ever stayed in, anywhere. We stayed here on our last European tour, four years ago. It even has its own song, 2nd Best to None, sung by the staff and written by Benny and Björn, of course.

Damn Amsterdam Saturday, 22 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Here we are in Amsterdam. It’s the Other Ian’s third trip here, and my sixth or seventh (or something like that), so it’s somewhere we’re familiar with. It’s an easy city to visit, where you don’t really have to do hard touristing.

On previous visits we’ve stayed around Dam Square, the site where Amsterdam was founded when a dam was built on the Amstel River. It’s centrally located, and the recommended place to stay as most sites to visit are easily accessible.

This time we’re staying near Leidseplein. It’s one of the many squares a little further away from Dam Square. We discovered it on a previous trip – it’s a nice square with many cafes. and not quite so crowded with weekend travellers on cheap airfares looking for coffeeshops (not for coffee) and the red light district.

We walked over to Dam Square on Thursday, to check it out and visit our favourite cafe there. It’s become like Times Square in New York, overcrowded with people just hanging around. Even the atmosphere at our previous favourite cafe has changed.

The Leidseplein area has turned out to be a much better location to stay. We are just a few minutes walk from Vondelpark (the largest park in central Amsterdam, a beautiful open space, we took a long walk through the park on Thursday morning), and Museumplein with its major attractions, the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum.

But the weather has been pretty shit. It’s been cool to cold and raining a lot of the time.

On Thursday morning after wandering through Vondelpark, we headed towards the Hilton Amsterdam. Some readers will recognise this address immediately as the location of John and Yoko’s first Bed In for Peace, in March 1969. The suite has been recreated as a replica of how it looked for that week, and you can stay there for just 1700€ per night. Needless to say, we’re not staying there. But how cool would that be? The very nice (cute, blonde) doorman pointed out the suite to us from the carpark. It’s third floor from the top in the photo – if you look closely, you might be able to read “Bed Peace” and “Hair Peace” on the window (back to front)

Yesterday we had our own Bed In at the Park Hotel. We’ve both picked up colds, thanks to blasting cold airconditioning, and both felt like shit yesterday. No media visiting, no recording a Wedding Album though. We did eventually drag ourselves out of bed for food.

Today we visited the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s most famous museum, dedicated primarily to Dutch art from the 17th to 19th centuries. The museum has been closed for the past ten years, undergoing a major refurbishment, which suffered years of delays. It finally reopened in April this year. The museum is centred around Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht (The Night Watch), which unfortunately is now the same tourist attraction as the Mona Lisa. There are also a couple of small new galleries featuring 20th century art, which were very good and somehow doesn’t clash with the rest of the museum.

After visiting here and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which also had a major refurbishment recently, we’ve learned that the current colour for art galleries is dark grey.

Tonight we are doing a canal dinner cruise. Tomorrow afternoon we’re meeting up with local friends Monique, Anita, maybe Sandra and Bonny too 🙂

UPDATE: a new photo gallery of pics from the Hilton.

Photos added Friday, 21 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Blog fans! Photos have finally been added to various blog posts from Brussels, Paris, Katakolon, the Acropolis, Santorini and Dubrovnik. Belle Paris has also been updated with more about what we did.

Now we’re in Amsterdam. It’s been raining all day, but it seems to have finally stopped now.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2013, Eurovision to 50, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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20130618-173759.jpgTravel fatigue has been settling in as we reached our fifth destination, plus the cruise with five ports of call (though we only visited four of them), Brussels in Belgium. It hasn’t been as rushed as the 1969 film mentioned in the title of this post, but travelling from place to place, unpacking (where you can) and repacking does get tiresome.

So, this is Brussels. We arrived from Paris on Saturday, and checked out the area around the hotel, very close to Grand Place/Grote Markt (depending on your language), the old central square. We also tracked down one of the highlights of Brussels, the Manneken Pis – a very small statue of a little boy pissing. Why is it an icon of Brussels? Don’t ask us, we don’t get it either. For special events, he’s dressed up incostumes – apparently there are 800 or so costumes.

On Sunday we did the obligatory hop on, hop off bus tour. This was a good way to see beyond the centre of the city. On the tour we stopped off at the Atomium, built as the icon of the Expo in 1958. Going to the top offers great views of the city and surrounding parks.

The second half of the tour took us to Europa, the part of the city where the European Parliament and associated departments are located. Many, many enormous glass and concrete buildings.

Afterwards we wandered the old city centre some more, stopping in at the Delirium Cafe, to sample “the best beer in the world”, Delirium Tremens (8.5%!!!). Let’s just say ugh…

Monday was a quieter day, but Monday night we visited friends Jos and Geoffroy at Jos’s house for dinner, drinks and bitching. It was a lot of fun!

Today, as opposed to the last day at most of our stops, it’s hot and humid. After a bit of a walk uphill behind our hotel to the museum district, which afforded some great views of the city, we visited the Magritte Museum, which as well as being lovely and cool had some fabulous Magritte art, but unfortunately not the most famous pieces, which are in other collections. Ian wrote earlier about his love of Saurat, I love Magritte’s famous works but was surprised to see just how diverse his range was.

I visited Brussels for a few days 14 years ago, and it just didn’t grab me. Grand Place is truly stunning, and the surrounding old streets are lovely. But there just doesn’t seem to be the life in the city that we’ve found in other places we’ve visited, like Paris or Venice, or even Copenhagen.