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Last stop: Stockholm Friday, 26 August 2016

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2016, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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Here we are at the last stop for this trip, Stockholm. Staying at Hotell Rival, the hotel owned by Benny from ABBA, for the third time, in the same room we stayed in in 2013.

On arrival on Monday, we met with our friend Carl Magnus at the hotel bar and restaurant for a few beers then dinner. 

Tuesday our first destination was ABBA The Museum. There have been a few changes since our last visit in 2013, just a month after the museum opened, including life-size figures of ABBA. 

After a few hundred kroner in the gift shop, it was time for lunch at Pop House, the hotel on top of the museum, which is owned by Björn from ABBA. Yes, both of them own hotels in the same city. 

Tuesday night we enjoyed some lovely home-cooked Swedish cuisine with Carl Magnus. 

Wednesday we visited the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a 17th century warship that sank in Stockholm Harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628. The ship was raised in 1961 almost intact and after conservation and restoration it has been housed in a carefully-controlled climate to preserve the ship. It’s a fascinating piece of history. 

After that we took a bit of a walk around Djurgården and a quick stop back at ABBA The Museum for some additional souvenirs. And passed by this famous park bench location:


Wednesday night we took a three-hour dinner cruise into the Stockholm archipelago with Carl Magnus.  Unfortunately it’s too late in the year for cruises to the outer archipelago, but we did travel as far as Vaxholm, about 1/3rd of the way out. It was very scenic and the food was great. 

Thursday was a quieter day. We took a walk around Gamla Stan, the old town. It’s the historic centre of Stockholm and also the site of Kungliga slottet (the royal palace). Later we met up with Carl Magnus for lunch and a beer. 

Thursday night we went to Mamma Mia! The Party, a dinner theatre concept extended out from the stage musical and movie. It was a lot of fun, with lots of interaction between cast, servers, and audience. With lots of ABBA songs. And food. And wine. 

Yes, that’s me singing back-up vocals for If It Wasn’t For The Nights with the band. 

Friday is our last full day in Stockholm, before flying for home on Saturday afternoon. Today we took a boat trip on Lake Mällaren to Drottningholms slott, a 16th century palace just outside Stockholm, which is now the official residence of the Swedish royal family. We took a walk around the public areas of the palace, many 17th and 18th century rooms. 

The palace is surrounded by huge formal gardens and several other buildings on the grounds, including the lovely Chinese Palace that we also visited. One of the fountains (photo above) is another recognisable site from an ABBA photo session. 

Tonight we will be sharing our last dinner with Carl Magnus at Erik’s Gondolen, one of Stockholm’s finest restaurants.  

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A couple of days in Malmö Monday, 22 August 2016

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2016, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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After Berlin, the next stop for The Ians On Tour – Europe 2016 is Malmö for Saturday and Sunday, to visit with our friends Stefan and Raffe. 

We flew in to Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen from Berlin, then caught the train across Øresundsbron, the bridge/tunnel across the strait that separates Denmark and Sweden. Which was interminably delayed. 

After finally arriving at our hotel, the Savoy, just a short walk across the canal from Malmö Central Station, Stefan and Raffe came to meet us, to walk us to their new apartment for a night of food, beer, and wine. Lots of wine. 

Many famous people have stayed at the Savoy, as listed on a plaque in the foyer. 


On Sunday morning, feeling slightly dusty from the night before, we walked a bit around Malmö, before taking a boat tour of Malmö’s harbour and canals. Malmö is Sweden’s third largest city, with charming old squares in the centre and a lot of new development in the harbour area. 

Sunday afternoon it was back to Stefan and Raffe’s place for more beer and wine and a barbecue dinner on their terrace, overlooking Øresundsbron. On a clear day, you can see Denmark from their terrace. 

Thanks guys for the hospitality!

Today we’re on the Snälltåget train (in our own private compartment, thank you very much) to our final destination for this tour, Stockholm. 

The rest of our time in Berlin Sunday, 21 August 2016

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Following on from the previous post, on Thursday, armed with our Museum Pass, it was time for more culture. 

First we visited Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Museum for Contemporary Art), housed in the former Hamburg Station. Unfortunately it was slightly disappointing. The exhibition of Pop Art – Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, etc – that was promised in our guide books was over, replaced by another exhibit, Capital – Debt, Territory, Utopia. It was still interesting, with a wide range of art fitting the themes from Ancient Egyptian sculpture, Renaissance paintings, some pop art, to modern video pieces, but it wasn’t what we’d expected. Still, it did include Warhol’s Mao and a copy of Uncle $crooge #1 (yes, the comic book). And this:


After a stop for a beer and snack we headed off on the U-Bahn to Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology), a huge museum do using on all sorts of technology, from communications to transport and art. We went to see the collection of trains, from the earliest days of trains in Germany right through to the 1980s. Even Kaiser Wilhelm’s private train car, and a transport carraige from World War II. 

Thursday night we made the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Cafe, for a short break from German food. Unfortunately their shop was low on a lot of stock, do my t-shirt collection has a hole in it. 

Friday was a very different day. As it was gloriously sunny and warm, we took a long walk through Tiergarten, the huge park in the centre of Berlin. Some of it is quite formal, the rest a mix of open space and densely forested. 


Just out of shot here were several nude sunbathers. 

Having pretty much wandered the length of the park twice, it was time to stop at the Biergarten by the Neuer See (new lake) between Tiergarten and Berlin Zoo. We found this spot on our 2013 visit, but the weather was lousy on they trip, so we wanted to visit again on a sunny afternoon. It was delightful, as was the beer and brezel. 


For our last night in Berlin we dined at Alt-Berliner Biersalon, a 100 year old beer hall and restaurant just around the corner from the hotel. Good German food and beer, plus entertainment from a street mime who would follow people in the street and pull gags on them. 

Saturday it was time to leave our enormous glam-or-ous suite in the Walldorf Astoria, to fly on to Malmö in southern Sweden, to visit our friends Stefan and Raffe. 

Second visit to Berlin Wednesday, 17 August 2016

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Here we are on the third stop of The Ians On Tour – Europ 2016 is Berlin, Germany. This is our second visit to the city; we first visited on our epic European trip in 2013.

We arrived from Prague on Sunday. We’ve gone a bit upmarket this time, staying at the Walldorf Astoria. Very glam-or-ous, well located.  

Sunday we did the usual settling in, checked out the area, then went for dinner to a nearby restaurant we’d really enjoyed on our last visit. Unfortunately it wasn’t the same. Sometimes you can’t go back. 

So on Monday we got out and about. We caught the very handy 100 bus, which crosses the city and passes near many popular sites, all the way to Alexanderplatz, the heart of old East Berlin. 

The centrepiece of Alexanderplatz is Fernsehturm (TV tower), built by East Germany in the 1960s. 


From there, we wandered down Unter den Linden, the main boulevard running from near Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburg Gate. 

Along the way we stopped in at the Ampelmann Shop for souvenirs. As we wrote on the 2013 trip, Ampelmann is the very cute walk/don’t walk lights used in East Berlin and now across all of central Berlin. 

After stopping for a beer and snack at one of the several cafes in the middle of Unter den Linden, we finally arrived at the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate).  Though the area was crowded, it seemed less tourist trap than on our last visit. 


Next a short S-Bahn ride to Gedenkskätte Berliner Mauer, one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, and the only one showing the full extent of the various “defensive” levels of the barrier, including the no man’s land between the inner (eastern) and outer (western) walls, and a guard tower. 

It’s located at Bernauer Straße, famous for many escapes from East Berlin due to the fact that the front walls of the houses were actually the border, until the houses were first sealed off then demolished for construction of the wall. It’s also the site of the famous church that was in the no man’s land for many years, until it was demolished. 

In the rest of the city, the wall is marked by lines and plagues on the footpaths and roads. 

Monday afternoon we found Schleusenkrug, a lovely beer garden not far from the hotel, for a few 0,5l Berliner Kindls, one of several beers we’ve been enjoying here. 
Tuesday it was time for some culture. Armed with our Museum Pass we first visited the Neues Museum (New Museum, new as in 1855, compared to the old museum nearby), with mostly Egyptian antiquities, including the famous bust of Nefertiti. 


The museum itself was fascinating, having been destroyed in World War II. It was not rebuilt and reopened until 2009. You can clearly see new construction alongside pieces of the original building restored. 

Next we visited Alte Nationalgalarie (Old National Gallery), filled with mostly German art of the 19th century, with some French impressionists. 

Then it was time to stop for some lunch and a couple of beers at the Ampelmann Reastaurant. Yes, the merchandise continues with a restaurant and even branded beer!

Tuesday night the culture continued when we went to see Cabaret – Das Musical, the Broadway musical in German. Didn’t understand a word of the dialogue, but a few of the songs were in English, and we’re familiar enough with the story. Das Leben ist ein Kabarett, alt chum!


Today we visited Märkisches Museum | Stadtmuseum Berlin (city museum), a very interesting though slightly disorganised history of Berlin in a gothic-style building. 

After that, we headed further into the eastern side of the city, walking up Karl-Marx-Allee, a long, wide boulevard built as Stalinallee in the 1950s, still to this day lined with imposing Soviet-era buildings, though many have been renovated and modernised. 

The afternoon ended back at Schleusenkrug, followed by German cuisine at Die Berliner Republik near Friedrichstraße station. It’s a lovely area; in 2013, we dined at the restaurant next door. 

But then, due to night track work (as far as we could figure)  we had to take the S-Bahn in the wrong direction to Alrxsnderplatz, the the U-Bahn across the city back to the hotel. 

Five days in Prague Saturday, 13 August 2016

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Here we are on the second stop of The Ians On Tour – Europe 2016, Prague (Praha locally) in the Czech Republic.

We arrived by train from Budapest on Tuesday, thankfully with our luggage. Staying at the Hotel Hastel Prague Old Town, a charming old hotel centrally located, but away from the tourist mill.

Our friends Raffe and Stefan from Malmö in Sweden decided to join us in Prague, which coincided with Raffe’s birthday

On Wednesday, our first full day, we wandered into Staroměstské náméstí, the old square in the centre of Staré Město (Old Town), and then on to Karlův most, the Charles Bridge spanning the Vltava river to Malá Strana (Little Village). Two of the city’s main attractions quickly ticked off the list.


Meeting up with Raffe and Stefan later, they took us to one of their favourite restaurants, Jídelní Listek, known to them as Olga’s, named after the hostess. After a lovely lunch, we walked to Petřínská rozhledna (Petrin Tower), an observation tower inspired by the Eiffel Tower, for spectacular views. 300 steps up, 300 back down.


Unfortunately, rain hit us just then, and we had to rush to the funicular back down the hill  and then to shelter. A short tram ride found us at Králoství želenic, an enormous model train museum, based on sites in the Czech Republic. Though maybe not as good as the Miniversum in Budapest.

Thursday it was time for our obligatory bus tour around the city. A long circuit took us to the major sites, with a long stop at Pražsky hrad (Prague Castle) which happened to coincide with the changing of the guard. Followed by the obligatory trip to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch, t-shirt and bear.

Thursday night was Raffe’s birthday, so we joined them for dinner at Restaurace U Pinkasů for Czech cuisine, followed by wine back at the hotel.

Friday was another day of walking around. First we went with Raffe and Stefan to Tančicí dům, the so-called Dancing House, as it looks like a couple dancing. It’s often called Fred and Ginger, which is now the name of the restaurant inside. In the gallery inside was a very funky Retro exhibition of life in Czechoslovakia during the 70s and 80s.


We left Raffe and Stefan, and headed off to visit the Museum of Communism. It was very interesting, and had one clear message: communism is bad.

Another wander over Charles Bridge took us to the Lennon Wall, a graffiti wall that started as a spontaneous tribute in December 1980 and remains to this day. Just down the street was the John Lennon Pub, where we stopped for lunch with a Beatles soundtrack.


Friday night we joined Raffe and Stefan and some of their local friends at the James Joyce Pub, just around he corner from the hotel. No readings of Ulysses, but much beer and Czech spirit was drunk.

Today was Prague Pride, the annual gay celebration which started out in Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square), where coincidentally (or not) we had decided to meet up with Raffe and Stefan for lunch at Vytopna train restaurant, where your drinks are sent to the table on model trains. Very cute and fun. Our table afforded us a great view of the Pride parade.


After lunch we went to Vinični Atlan winery and vineyard for a few afternoon wines.

Back to the hotel. Then one last Czech dinner before we leave for Berlin tomorrow. Prague is a lovely city, easy to walk though it’s not hard to get lost in the maze of streets. It looks like we have another city we’d like to visit again.

Five days in Budapest Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Posted by Ian Cole in Europe 2016, Ian C, The Ians on Tour.
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The Ians are on tour again, visiting Eastern Europe for the first time, along with return visits to a couple of favourite Western European cities.

First stop is Budapest, Hungary. We arrived on Thursday afternoon, sans luggage. After checking in to our hotel, the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest, we took a stroll around the neighbourhood, and found that we were not very far from the Danube River (Duna in Hungarian).

After a bit more walking, we stopped at one of the several restaurants/bars on boats permanently moored on the river, where we discovered what would be our beer of choice for Budapest, Soproni.

Friday was a bit of a bust. Jet lag and stress of not having our luggage caught up with us. We did wander out at one stage to find some clothes, with no luck. Just boutiques for young slim people or tourist tat.

So Saturday became our de facto first day in Budapest. We took a walk down to the Duna, then across the Széchneyi Lánchid (Chain Bridge), built in the 1840s to unite the formerly separate cities of Pest and Buda.

Across the bridge we took the funicular up to Buda Castle, a huge area with not only Buda Castle but churches and other buildings, including the residence of the Hungarian President. There are also spectacular views over the river to Pest and behind the hill over Buda.


After that, it was time for our usual first day in a new city activity, the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. Always a good way to get your bearings and see the major sites. The bus company we selected had a number of tour routes for one inclusive ticket. 

We did two bus routes, which took us past all the major sites and attractions, including up to the Citidel, a 19th century fortification atop the highest hill in Budapest with a long and interesting history, and then on to a boat tour on the Duna, under several bridges, past the magnificent Parlaiment building to Margitszigit (Margaret Island) and back.

After the tours we took another expedition to get some new clothes. We tracked out to a mall not too far from the hotel (we’d passed by three times on our bus tours earlier) and finally got a few t-shirts, socks and underwear to tide us over.

Saturday night we went in search of some Hungarian cuisine. We found a restaurant just off the main tourist strip, Százéves that billed itself as Pest’s oldest restaurant. Whether or not it was, the food and drinks were delicious.

Sunday was a day of walking. We walked up Andrássy út, a street which is billed as Budapest’s Champs Élysées. A short way into the walk we stopped at Miniversum, an amazing interactive model train display through Hungary and Austria. It was a lot of fun.

Continuing the walk we finally got to the end of the street, at Hősök tere (Heroes Square) on the edge of Városligeti (City Park). The park was lovely. We stopped at a cafe, Rezveg, for a couple of beers and some lunch, before exploring more of the park.


Sunday night it was time for the obligatory dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, with the obligatory purchase of a t-shirt and bear. Lots of 60s memorabilia on the walls.

Monday was anther day of walking. First to the Nagy Vásárcsarnok (Grand Markets), in a stunning and huge late 19th century market hall. Then on to take a look at Bálna, a former customs building stunningly converted to some shops, cafes and exhibition space.

After a quick beer stop it was on to Szabadság tér (Liberty Square), probably the most beautiful square in Budapest. Complete with a statue of Ronald Reagan, as you do.

Next, it was on to Szimpla Kert, one of the famous Ruin Pubs, so named because They set up inside derelict buildings in the Jewish Quarter, which were never really recovered after World War II. Walking in was daunting, it as dark and foreboding looking, but opened into a huge garden filled with tables and eccentric kitsch – one table is built into an old East German Trabant car. It turned out to be great fun.


Monday night being our last night in town, we wanted somewhere nice with local food for dinner. The hotel’s concierge booked us into Réskaka, which did a modern take on Hungarian cuisine.

Returning to the hotel and last drinks at be hotel bar our late luggage finally arrived! Hoo-fucking-ra!

Budapest is a lovely city. Maybe some day we will return. 


Today we leave Budapest, travelling by train through Slovakia, skirting Austria, to Prague, in the Czech Republic. 

To be continued…