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Eurotrip 2019

Revisiting my Youth

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In the winter of 2019 I took a fantastic three week long trip over to Europe with a friend of mine. Here are the details for anyone that would like to check it out.

Some Backstory:

My father was in the Air Force and I grew up on Rhein Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany as well as Greenland and Okinawa in addition to the States and along with visiting nearly every country in Europe while living in Frankfurt I’ve done more than my fair share of traveling. I left Germany in 1986 and finally returned in 2019. The original plan was to go in the summer of 2018 with a band I worked with but that didn't work out so instead I decided to go for my birthday in February of 2019.

The Setup:

There is a friend of mine – Junior - that I’ve known since the early 90s when I worked with his band. From about 2000 on (when we reconnected again) we had spoken on the phone pretty much every weekend just talking about projects we were working on, music, old times, just stupid whatever. So, during one of our talks I told him of my plan to go back to Germany for my birthday and we just went on to the next subject. A few weeks later he asked, "Are you still planning on going back to Germany?" and I said yes. He then asked if he could go along and I told him my wife would probably appreciate that since she wasn't thrilled about my traveling alone. Now the thing is, Junior had never really been anywhere outside of a few hours from his native Cincinnati, except for Mexico a few years prior - which doesn't really count in the grand scheme of things - but for some reason he had a valid passport. So, since my flight had already been booked, I got him set up. Unfortunately, I couldn't book him on the same exact run throughout Europe that I put myself on so we did it in increments and everything worked out fine and we were able to travel together the entire trip.

The plan initially was to fly from New York to Frankfurt then around Europe and back to New York. I found a pretty good price for that ($600 each) but since we were going to Stockholm, Sweden I decided to see what a flight from JFK to Stockholm was. It was $250 round trip - because who the hell wants to fly to the Arctic Circle in the dead of winter, right? Worked out perfectly. And honestly, was nowhere near as cold as I had prepped for.

I live in Las Vegas and he's in Cincinnati so I had to get us both to New York to meet at JFK. I had a $70 red eye flight on a budget airline arriving at 6:30 in the morning on 16 February and I had booked him from Dayton to Detroit to JFK to arrive around 4:30pm (about $200 if I remember correctly - and he wanted to know why he had to go west to go north! I can't answer that one, dude). I arrived in New York and I got a day room that I had booked until 3:00pm. I lay down, take a nap and turn my phone off. I woke up to about 10 missed phone calls and numerous text messages from both Junior and my wife. Of course his plane from Dayton to Detroit got cancelled and he wound up going to Minneapolis. Even worse he was no longer flying into JFK but into LaGuardia instead. So, I called him and he was in the air on his way so I didn't reach him of course. I called my wife and she fills me in. He is now arriving at 6:30. Our plane is scheduled to leave at 9:30. Nothing like getting things off to a "great start," right? (He somehow talked a cab driver into a free ride from LaGuardia to JFK ...)

[b]THE FIRST LEG - JFK AND SWEDEN[/b]

I arrive at JFK, find our gate and wait for him to arrive, which he does a few hours later. He gets there about 8:00 and I finally meet an old friend for the first time ever - and now we're spending every second of the next three weeks of our lives together - kind of hysterical actually. After a couple of slices of pizza and a few beers we board our flight for the layover in Helsinki. After landing in Helsinki we have a couple of hours to kill before our flight to Arlanda and we killed them nicely at The Oak Barrel, sampling a few of the beers on tap. It is now my birthday - 17 February - and I'm spending it in both Helsinki and Stockholm. Not a bad way to celebrate.

I had booked Airbnb's throughout the entire trip rather than hotels to save money and to meet people. Well, every one of these Airbnb's was either on the top floor or next to top floor in the apartment buildings. Lots of exercise. We get to our first Airbnb just on the outskirts of Stockholm and we worked our way up to the apartment where our host greeted us with a couple of beers. Happy birthday to me. Now, the lore of jet lag has never really affected me and it certainly didn't after a 7-hour flight. We were both raring to go find something to do and pumped full of energy. We discovered that a mall, the Kista (pronounced Cheesta) Galleria was about a 10-minute walk from our building so we went there to grab some lunch. Now, once again, I travel quite a bit and grew up in the Air Force, have lived in several different countries and had experienced different cultures / types of people. Junior however - as I mentioned - has never really been outside of Cincinnati, OH much. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but you don't really have much of a real concept of the world outside of the Midwest USA. When we were standing in line waiting to get lunch I watched his face as it turned from "'murica!" to "Oh my God look at all of this different culture right in front of me." On the first day. That was absolutely priceless.

There was a small grocery store in the Galleria and we picked up a couple six packs of beer, which we took back to the Airbnb. We had a couple each that night and promptly wound up leaving the rest for our host.

Being a huge ABBA fan as a kid, I had bought tickets to the ABBA Museum, which our Airbnb host didn't even know existed (what?!). The next day (18 February) we took an Uber to the ABBA Museum and also had planned to go to the Vasa Museum, which we were told is right near the ABBA Museum. However, we couldn't find the Vasa Museum and decided to go the following day. Before we actually got to The ABBA Museum, though, our Uber driver stopped in front of an old dilapidated army barracks and said we'd arrived. I said there is NO WAY this could possibly be the correct place. Of course it wasn't so we asked around and discovered we were ... on the wrong island. WRONG ISLAND?!?! Someone we asked assured us it wasn't as bad as it sounded and we could be there in about a 10 minute Uber ride. Just our luck. We finally get there and The ABBA Museum was fantastic. From the displays of original costumes to the gold, platinum and silver awards from across the globe and the "be a member of ABBA for a moment" photo shoot and mock performances, it was a blast. Now, we had to get back home and weren't about to spend money on another Uber, so, we found a tram and eventually found our way back with the help of a local lady who went far out of her way to make sure we made it as far as the Central Station in one piece. We then decided to grab some dinner and wandered around the Central Station area until we found something that struck both of our interests and ate at a great place called Kasper and I had a shrimp and egg sandwich. Our waitress asked if we had been to the Icebar and directed us to it when we said we hadn't. All of a 5 minute walk from the restaurant, we put on parkas and gloves and went inside for about half an hour or so. A short visit, two drinks each and we were out. Very cool place (pun fully intended).

The next morning (19 February) we met a friend of mine at O'Learys at Kista Galleria for an early lunch where we all had regular ol American cheeseburgers and soft drinks. Junior and I then ventured back out to the Vasa which did happen to be a very short distance from the ABBA Museum and which we passed several times looking for it. Yes, we're kind of stupid but we're fun. We also stopped by the Nordiska Museet on our way back out but it was closed for some reason. Not particularly being a fan of museums in general nor tragic ships, I thought the Vasa would be a bit on the boring side and that we'd be in and out in a short time. Wrong again. The place was fascinating with the displays and memorabilia on hand as well as the ship, of course. We wound up staying there about 2 hours. A few hours later I had a meeting set up with a Swedish record company that I work for so I finally got to meet those partners, as well. After that we explored the city more, travelling on subways and trams throughout the afternoon hitting up random shops and ended the Stockholm portion of our trip with dinner with some friends at a bar called Retro in the Kungsholmen district of town. Maybe not "dinner" so much as chicken wings, nachos and drinks. The bar was very cool and the staff was great.

[b]SECOND LEG - GERMANY[/b]

20 February - Next on "Eurotour 2019" was Hanover, Germany, where I had spent many a weekend in my teens. Unfortunately, the couple of days we spent in town are kind of a blur as we really didn't do much to actually remember. We flew into town and our Airbnb was a little farther out than planned and most of the people I wanted to see were unavailable which kinda sucked but we did get to visit my friends at another record company in town. The label is located in the Peppermint Pavilion, at the Hanover Messe, which hosted the World Cup in 2006 (I think). We went to the Lebenstraum Cafe the first evening for dinner where I turned Junior onto the idea of pommes frites (thick french fries, of course) with mayo, which, of course he didn't want to try but eventually did and claimed to have no feeling either way about. The two most memorable things about Hanover were our arrival in town and our departure. Both extremely aggravating at the time but kind of funny looking back, I guess. Arriving to our Airbnb area on a train, we couldn't find our actual Airbnb to save our lives and wound up inside of a mall where we eventually found someone who knew what we were looking for and walked us there about 15 minutes away or so. It was kind of on the side street of another side street. Leaving town, we get back on the same train ... as we walked past the Zone Legend map I glanced at it and thought I saw that we had gotten the wrong tickets. What a horrible time to finally be right about something. We had indeed gotten the wrong tickets and the ticket checkers popped us for 50 Euros each. The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) was one stop further than our tickets allowed. Whatcha gonna do ...

22 February - And now on to Frankfurt ... my "hometown."

As our train pulls into the Frankfurt Hbf I remembered a little cafe that we used to stop in all the time as teenagers. It was still there. And set up the same way it was back then. So, of course we had to stop in there and get a couple of currywursts and beers. I can't remember the name of this cafe right now, unfortunately but it was directly to the right of the McDonald's near Track 20 or so, for anyone that might be familiar with the area.

I still remembered the layout of downtown Frankfurt pretty well so I knew where I wanted to stay and I pretty much nailed it exactly. We were between the Hauptbahnhof and the Hauptwache, which meant we could easily get to all the places I wanted to go to. Before we left on the trip I told Junior that I had a few places we absolutely had to go to. His response was "I'm going to be in Europe for three weeks. I don't care WHAT we do." So, that was settled easily enough. Some of the things I had to do were: visit my old high school (Frankfurt American High), find the area that used to be the Air Force Base, go to several of my "old hangouts" and visit friends. We managed to do most of these things but frustratingly I could never find the air base as hard as I tried.

After we get to our Airbnb we figure out that we have our own apartment which was great. However, we are on the 6th floor with no elevator. Not great. After we checked in we realize we're right down the street from a grocery store so we went and stocked up on beer, meats and cheeses, butter and broetchen. Of course, we only had two of the beers and we left the rest when we left the Airbnb (this will prove to be a recurring theme on this trip). The first order of business was to show Junior Frankfurt's world famous and lowly regarded Bahnhofsviertel aka the Red Light District, since I had told him stories of "running around" that area of town in my teens and early 20s. The area has never exactly been known to be high class of course but, wow, has it fallen. Drug addicts openly shooting up in front of pedestrians, needles all over the street. Just don't stop moving and you'll be fine. The "attractions" I was taking him to see on Taunusstr. had closed and had been replaced by mini casinos. At one point we were in desperate need of a drink of any kind, alcohol, soft drinks, water, just anything. I also had to use a restroom, rather than just go on the street corner like everyone else seemingly did. We decided to go into a bar that I won't name - unless you really want me to - across the street from where we were currently standing. You know the kind - buy the girl a drink, etc. I tell Junior to "NOT DO ANYTHING" until I return from the facilities. I hurriedly ran back out to the bar and Junior has a beer and two girls have drinks and I'm sure we have trouble because the girls' drinks probably cost 100 Euros, I'm thinking (they actually used to at a nearby bar but luckily they were only 10 Euro a piece here). I relax and order a beer and we even ordered one more before escaping unscathed. As we move as fast as possible down Moselstr and turn left on Kaiserstr we see a pub called Kakadus. Junior yells, "That's a legit bar!" (Junior was correct much more often about things than I was on this trip). We headed inside and the night takes a major upswing. As soon as we sit at the bar we met a guy from Cambodia and a guy from Senegal. Neither of them tried to rip us off so we’re off to a great start. We met two girls from Ireland, people from Spain, Turkey ... and sitting next to me was Ron from Texas, who proceeded to buy us shots of Absinthe, beers and a drink called a Swimming Pool before he took off, his spot taken immediately by a couple from Vienna. We had a blast in Kakadus, leaving at 12:30am or so. By the time we left we were both cross eyed and feeling no pain but somehow managed to get back to our Airbnb with no problem whatsoever. It was the best night of the entire trip. Not just the drinks but meeting so many different people in a three or four hour period. Junior even went "live" on Facebook to introduce our new, momentary friends to whomever joined him online. Again, best night of the entire trip.

23 February - we set off to find my old high school and after about half an hour traveling on the U-bahns and S-bahns we managed to get there. It's now a German gymnasium (high school) called the Philip Holzman Schule but they have left the foundation of Frankfurt American High intact, including the signage, which I thought was great. We wandered around the school grounds and I tried to get inside the building but they unfortunately wouldn't let me go further than the gym. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out on The Zeil and around the Hauptwache, hitting as many of the sandwich and pastry kiosks as we could stand.
That evening we met up with my best friend growing up - Rene - outside the Kaufhof at the Hauptwache and we walked across the Eisener Steg over the Main River to go to Alt Sachsenhausen, taking a detour through Romerplatz so that Rene could give Junior a history lesson about the Romer area, which was pretty cool. We arrive in Alt Sachsenhausen (the area with all the pubs for anyone familiar with the area) around 9:00pm and I was surprised at how much it had changed. Growing up, you could barely walk through there as early as 8:00pm because there were so many people already out for the evening. It was barely even a ghost town at this point so we figured we'd wait out the evening to see if things picked up. We decided to go to a Lebanese cafe directly across the street that a friend of Rene's owned. Fantastic food. We asked why the area was so desolate still (it was now about 10:30pm) and he explained that once the American forces left Frankfurt in the early 2000s the area had largely become abandoned. We stuck it out until midnight and finally decided to head home. It was a little bit of a downer, honestly, as I was looking forward to the fast paced, hectic vibe of the Sachsenhausen of the past. What can you do ... time marches on.

24 February - The late morning and early afternoon was spent doing laundry down the street at SB Waschcenter then grabbing lunch at Maximilian's Bistro (didn't we still have beers and food back at the apartment????). Afterwards it was time to visit the location of the old Rhein Main Air Base, which we tried for about 4 frustrating hours to do. We got close, that much I know, but never quite got there. We headed back to our AirBnb completely dejected and annoyed and got ready to meet another friend of mine, Andreas, at a great Austrian restaurant on the outskirts of town called Zum Zehnthof. I had Schnitzel pan Zenthof which is turkey schnitzel baked with cream cheese, bacon and onions with fried potatoes and salad. We found out that another friend of both mine and Andreas' - another American named Tony - happened to be nearby and we got him to stop by, as well. After dinner, Junior and I piled into Tony's ridiculously small car and headed off once again to the Banhofsviertel area, this time to the Irish bar O'Reilly's where we killed a few hours. On the way to O'Reilly's Tony and I talked about how as teenagers a bunch of us would pile into one of our friend's cars and just take off for the weekend to Paris, which blew Junior's mind. All in all a fantastic ending to the last night in my "hometown."

Even though a great time was had in Frankfurt I was largely disappointed because the city had changed so much. It had been 33 years, what was I expecting?? In early 2020 I returned and was much more satisfied with the city.

Leaving Frankfurt wasn't quite as easy as we figured it'd be. First off, we kept trying to check in to our flight on a particular Irish airline that a lot of people complain about often but we kept getting timed out in the process. We managed to get to the airport 5 minutes outside of the two hour check in period so we got bumped to the next flight. It wasn't a pretty scene. To top it off, we both now had bags over the weight limit but we managed to sort that with a few adjustments. Several hours later we were back in the air.

[b]LEG 3 - OVER TO BRITAIN! [/b]

On to London now (25 February) after a layover in Brussels. We flew into Stansted, where it took forever and a day to get through Border Control. Somehow Junior and I got separated in line and I had the Airbnb address so after I went through I had to stand there and wait for him to get through, making the guard pretty nervous it seemed. International incident anyone?

After he got through Border Control we boarded a bus to our Airbnb in London. Actually, perfectly located. A three minute walk from Dollis Hill Station on the Jubilee Line. Perfect. The Airbnb itself, however was another story.
We had to wait over an hour for the host to show up when we initially arrived and we were once again on the very top floor of what we assumed was once a hotel with some extremely shaky steps. And a baby that literally cried all night, both nights. Once we were settled in we ran across the street to an off license store to pick up snacks and ... you guessed it ... beer. Most of which we once again left behind. I did say we were stupid, right?

26 February - Junior wanted to see Buckingham Palace so the next morning we hit the ground running going from Dollis Hill station to I believe Green Park Station and then walking towards the Buckingham Palace area. After doing all we could there without getting into trouble we went around the corner to a local cafe for a real full English breakfast before heading over to Big Ben and the Thames River area, hitting Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament along the way. Right off of The Thames was a snack truck where we grabbed a couple of Nutella waffles topped with whipped cream.

It was now time to meet a couple of friends at The Ship on Wardour Street, legendary hangout from the 80s and 90s. After a walk back over to Green Park Station we caught the Piccadilly line to Soho where we worked our way over to the watering hole for a couple of hours of drinks and tall tales.

So, there were a number of reasons I chose to meet these friends at The Ship. One was to relive old times, another was to show Junior the location of the old Marquee nightclub, which used to be next door. The third reason was ... well, Junior is a big fan of wings (not the 70s band, the finger food) and he had never been to a Wingstop before. I managed to find the only one in Europe (at the time) about a 10 - 15 minute walk from The Ship. So, off we go to Wingstop. Now, to show Junior the old Marquee location, after walking out of The Ship all we literally had to do was turn to the right. Did we do this? Nope (I'm not that bright, remember ...). Arriving at Wingstop, we placed our orders ... I was a bit disappointed that I could only choose one type of sauce but I got over it pretty quickly. One thing that I found peculiar was that they had a very large security guard whom I took a picture of. He promptly asked me - politely, mind you - to delete it, which I did. We then spent the rest of the night roaming around Soho before jumping back on the tube to go back to Dollis Hill.

The 26th was supposed to be spent visiting the locations of long gone places such as Shades Records, Gossips, Hammersmith Odeon (now the Apollo), The Astoria, The Blitz and more as well as heading back to Soho and starting off in Picadilly Circus. But, well, as soon as we hit the tourist trap known as Leicester Square / Chinatown we were pretty much settled in for the entire day. We hit the M&M Store because, chocolate, walked across to the Lego Store where we had this conversation:

"Wanna go in there?"
"Eh, I'm not much of a Lego guy"
"Yeah, me neither"
"So, we're going in I guess?"
"Of course!"

After about 90 minutes of spending time in a place we both swore we didn't care for it was back out to the chaos of the Smoke City afternoon. Between all the attractions, stores and pubs you can certainly kill an entire day and night right there if you don't plan differently. We're not much good at planning to leave places where we're actually having a good time. We made it back to our Airbnb and crying baby around 1:00am.

The next morning (27 February) we were on the train to Birmingham for a few days, staying at an Airbnb in Solihull, just outside the city. Only a short stairway up to our room, which honestly was a bit tight on space so kind of awkward but hey, you work around things when you have to. There was no run on beer this time (maybe we finally learned) but The Crane was just a 10 minute walk down the street. Like Frankfurt, I have a lot of history with B'Ham and I had a lot of things I wanted to do. 98% of them didn't get done but it didn't matter because it was an amazing few days. So, we hit The Crane up for dinner and a few drinks. We were joined by my friend Sharon, who made the hour and a bit trek from Crewe just to hang out for a few hours. It was the only free time she had, unfortunately, and it was great to see her.

The 28th we headed out to the Bullring, the huge shopping center right in the middle of town. We went here so I could show Junior the place and then we had intended to move across the city. For some reason that didn't happen and we spent almost all of our time in central Birmingham, weaving our way in and out the businesses in the New Street area and winding up at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, which was a cool visit with historical displays as well as more modern attractions - and even a display dedicated to the musical legacy of the city. The evening was spent hoisting a few more pints down at The Crane.

The following day - 1 March - was a pretty busy one. Back to the Bullring to meet my friend Jacque who had come in on the train from Cardiff to hang out for the day and night. After finding her we had lunch at Selfidges (an American themed restaurant that I think was named Ed's) then we went off to find The Shakespeare, where we were to meet up with another friend of mine, Roy.

After drinking more than our share and spending a few hours catching up with Roy, Junior, Jacque and I had to go to Resorts World to meet two of Junior's friends, Amy and Hope. Yes, he actually had friends in Birmingham - and they both worked at the club Roy owned. We had no idea until afterwards. After spending a few hours in the casino bar (I'm beginning to sense a pattern here ...), Junior and I headed next door to the arena to catch Bill Burr, who happens to be Junior's favourite comedian. I had never heard of him before but he was hilarious. If anyone has seen Bill's Paper Tiger show on Netfix, this was the warm up show. Show ends, back to the girls at the bar. Jacque had gone to her hotel, unfortunately so, Amy, Hope, Junior and I headed off to the all-night heavy metal pub The Hammer and the Anvil, which we stayed at until about 4:00am then back to our AirBnb.

2 March It was back down to London on the train and I can't remember why but we were running pretty late for our AirBnb check-in. The Airbnb girl mentioned that she had double booked her place anyway (how does that even happen?!?!) so we found a hotel near Stansted (The Hampton Inn) and just hung out there all night (in the bar, of course ...)
After 16 crazy days it's time to head back to The States. The craziness isn't completely over with yet as we've not yet met our next Stockholm host ... Erik..

[b]LEG 4 - ERIK![/b]

As we wait in line for our trip back home, the insanity of what we've put ourselves through is starting to sink in for both of us.
Junior: "This was the best thing ever"
Me (reaching into my jacket inner pocket): "Know what's even better?"
Junior: "Chocolate??"
Me: "Chocolate!" as I pull out a candy bar of some sort. Junior has become familiar with my serious chocolate addiction over the course of the past couple of weeks.

We board the plane from Stansted to Vasteras and arrive a couple of hours later to a snowy Stockholm. Literally the ONLY day it has rained or snowed this entire trip. After landing, we find a bus to take us about 90 minutes into town and then another bus to take us to our final Airbnb, hosted by Eirikur ("just call me Erik"). I had been communicating with Erik on and off throughout the day about getting to his place and had already figured out he was a bit ... different. Not bad, just a guy that follows his own crooked path. We get to his apartment (top floor again!) and he's been drinking a bit and he thinks he's a funny drunk and, in some respect, I guess he was. As we're getting familiar with each other, he's basically putting on a comedy show but at the same time complaining about everything from politics to sports. We ask about a place to grab a drink and he mentions two places. The first place he says not to go to "because they don't like me there." Then he names a second pub and says we should go there "because they don't like me there either but they're not as bad." We opt for the first one since it's allegedly closer. It was about a 10 minute or so walk down a hill, which I slid all the way down, not purposely nor gracefully, mind you.
The pub seemed to be family owned and was a small, nice, quiet place. We sat at the bar and downed a couple of beers each before heading over to a convenience store in the same strip mall as the pub was located. We grabbed a few snacks for the morning (but no beer!) and headed back up the hill to Erik's, whose teen son had stopped by and he was arguing with. We settled into our room and went to sleep. I did anyway - Erik and his son apparently played darts all night. The dartboard was located just on the other side of Junior's bed and they played darts until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. Never a dull moment in Erik's world, apparently.

3 March - Off to Vasteras to our connecting flight back to Helsinki and onward to NYC. As we wait to board, Junior asks, "When are we doing this again and where are we going next???" Success.

Success on every level, in fact. I got to visit old haunts and see old friends and even introduce a friend to the way the world outside of the States works.

“Where are we going next time …” is a great question.

Posted by manicego 23:29 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm beer london germany museum sweden europe frankfurt nightlife united kingdom scandinavia birmingham leicester_square soho hanover abba_museum vasa_ old_sachsenhausen bull_ring

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