Central Station, Sydney

Back in Sydney

“It’s such a long way to Australia”, people kept telling me as I travelled around Europe over the last two months. “It’s only twenty-four hours in the plane, and I made it”, I kept telling them. Having now arrived back in Sydney after what seems like days of travelling, I’m beginning to see their point.

After the excitement of the ABBA Museum Opening on Monday night, the morning after headlines were very much about the non-appearance of Agnetha Fältskog. On the red/pink carpet, Frida took a swipe at Agnetha’s record company, Universal Music. As reported in Expressen, Frida says she thinks they (Universal) missed a real opportunity in organising Agnetha’s schedule. She could have been in Sweden with the others, but instead she’s in London promoting her new album, appearing on radio, television, and in newspapers. There was even a nightclub appearance (though she didn’t sing) at legendary nightclub, G-A-Y.

ABBA Museum Headline
ABBA Museum Headline

– Jag tycker Universal har gjort en miss som inte såg till att hennes schema blev så att hon kunde vara här. Men det är ju som det är, det är inte så mycket att göra.
Universal är Agnetha Fältskogs skivbolag och hon släpper om en dryg vecka sitt nya album “A” genom dem och är i London för att marknadsföra albumet. Anni-Frid Lyngstad önskar dock sin före detta bandkollega lycka till innan hon avslutar intervjun. Jag bara önskar att allt går bra för henne i England och att hon har en stor succé.

Despite her sadness Agnetha wasn’t there, Frida wishes her all the best in England, and hope that it will be a big success. A spokesperson for Universal Music says the promotional tour was organised before details of the museum opening were confirmed.

Det är synd att hon inte är här så klart. Vi skulle vilja att hon var här, men Agnethas promotion var bestämt långt innan det här datumet var bestämt, säger Mia Segolsson, marknadschef på Polar music till Expressen.se.

I actually don’t buy that argument at all. The May 7 opening was confirmed in November last year. It’s about three hours between London and Stockholm. It could have been twenty-four hours of travelling at most, with a few extra hours of travel either side. If I was one of the media people who’d organised an interview with her, I would have gladly agreed to a trip to Stockholm instead. The bottom line is, that aside from their appearance together at the Swedish opening of the “Mamma Mia” movie, there seems to be an agreement all four of them will never appear in public again. It’s only ever two or three at a time.

I spent my final hours in Stockholm hanging out with Gustav. I joked with him about my idea all four members of ABBA have a Grindr-like app on their phones which tell them whenever an ABBA fan is close-by. Profiles of well-known fans appear on the screen and it tells them exactly where they are, so they can be avoided. Gustav laughed and added, the same app also probably prevents them from being in the same spot at the same time.

Hanging with Gustav in Stockholm
Hanging with Gustav in Stockholm

Hanging out with Gustav was a really lovely way to spend my last few hours. We enjoyed a bite to eat at Cafe Sirap, which is just across the road from where I first stayed when I moved to Stockholm. It’s a really terrific cafe, with good food, and lovely company. After a lengthy walk and a chat, we had a drink together in Gamla Stan. After picking up my luggage, we bid each other farewell.

The final day’s weather in Stockholm was absolutely gorgeous. Even though I’d started the day wearing a hoodie, I’d pretty much ditched it by lunchtime. As I made my way to airport, I was both happy to be returning home (my own house, my own bed) but also a little sad.

It’s been a really wonderful trip. I loved travelling with my friend Sue. Although we’ve known each other for over thirty years, she lives in Melbourne and I live in Sydney. I felt this trip brought us closer together again in many ways. I also felt I made a really genuine friendship with Sandra and Robert on this trip. Even though we’ve met before, and have maintained an internet friendship, I’ve had a period of time where I’ve got to hang out with them, and to get to know them better also. And guess what? I really like them. Sandra sent me a farewell text, as I waited in line at Arlanda Airport.

These sleeping chairs at Beijing Airport are awesome.
These sleeping chairs at Beijing Airport are awesome.

The next thirty-six hours were a combination of flying and travel time. Nine hours from Stockholm to Beijing. Six hours in Beijing. Eleven hours back from Beijng to Sydney. As always, I slept pretty much all the way. When I arrived back in Sydney this morning, I felt pretty good. The house was left in a beautiful condition by Sarah (thankyou sincerely), and I even popped down to the supermarket tonight to get some food.

I couldn’t wait, though, to ditch the clothes I’ve been wearing far too regularly over the last few months. Nonetheless I’ve had a couple of hours of napping throughout the day, and so I’m feeling quite normal in terms of my body’s timezone and travel adjustment.

I don’t have to go back to work until May 20, and so I’m looking forward to hanging out around Sydney over the next week or so.

I’ve had a wonderful time travelling. The big challenge I’ve set myself, which I wrote down on the note-taker on my phone is this: “Can I take the enthusiasm and excitement I feel about my life when I travel, and bring it back to the way I live my life when I’m in Sydney?”. Here’s hoping.

Have Arrived in Stockholm

Aside from a slight hiccough over the seats, the flight from Sydney to Stockholm via Beijing went off without a hitch. The hiccough with the seats had nothing to do with Air China. It involved a family of four who had booked separate seats (one set of two, and two individuals) for the flight from Beijing to Stockholm, but who then decided they wanted to sit together. As the family involved two very young children, of course, the two young Swedish women wanted to help, and so they moved. But they didn’t bother to think about the late 40’s gent from Australia who arrived on the flight a few minutes later.

Of the two young women, one had the “oh shit” look on her face when I turned up, while the other feigned ignorance and then attempted to “find” and “check” her boarding pass. After a couple of minutes, when it was clear I wasn’t going to magically disappear they all came clean and explained what had happened, and told me I should go and sit over in another seat two rows up. It was dead centre in a four-person row, the position I hate most when flying. The reason why I always book aisle seats on international flights is so I don’t both other people when I need to go to the bathroom. “I’ll sit anywhere, so long as it’s an aisle seat”, I told the flight attendant who was called upon to deal with the situation. Within minutes, she had found me a double seat by myself. Everyone got what they wanted in the end. Go Air China!

The only other thing that went slightly wrong was the final “light meal” which was an egg and rice dish which you added “pickled tuber” too. At first, when it was just egg and rice, it was just bland; but then when you added the “pickled tuber” it became fairly inedible to my tastes. I was mostly pretty happy with the other meals which consisted of a choice between “chicken and rice” or “beef and rice”.

I was also really happy with the sleep over I had at the hourly motel at Beijing Airport. $59 for three hours of good sleep in a proper bed, along with a good shower made the investment well and truly worth it.

An hour or so later, when I was on the flight from Beijing to Stockholm, I had a sudden realisation it’s exactly three years since the last time I visited Stockholm in winter. Well, spring really. I came here in 2010 for Melodifestivalen (the Swedish finals leading to Eurovision) and I’m back again, though this time the visit is much longer. I’m travelling for two months, using Stockholm as my main base, with side trips to some other European countries. My friend Sue is also travelling with me for part of the trip.

When I arrived last night there was a bit of a delay at the airport, due to some people in the “foreigners” queue being extensively questioned. In the end, the people in our queue were directed to the head of the “citizens” queue, and it wasn’t so bad then.

The first thing you notice at Stockholm Airport at the moment is ABBA. As the airport is the “official airport” (whatever that means) of the new ABBA Museum in Stockholm, there are banners and audio visual displays all over the place. There’s also some physical displays of ABBA’s on-stage costumes in large perspex containers. If you didn’t know ABBA were from Sweden before you arrived at Stockholm Airport, you certainly would minutes after arriving.

I caught the bus into town (99SEK, currently 15AUD), topped up my travel card, caught the T-bana to Kungsträdgården, and then walked the last few minutes to Hotel Skeppsholmen, the “luxury” hotel I chose for my first night in town. Although the rest of my trip will involve staying in AirBnB accommodation, I thought for my first night I could enjoy a little luxury with a good shower, a good bed (with thick sheets), and with what I thought was a view of the harbour.

And yes, indeed, I do have a view of the harbour. But I also have a view of Mono Music, the company owned by ABBA’s Benny Andersson. Like, seriously, ten to fifteen metres away. If I was one of the crazy ABBA fans, the ones who “stalk” ABBA members, this would be just the place for a stake-out. But I’m not. I assure you, I’m definitely not.

I never ended up having dinner last night. I just came to my room. Had a shower. Watched a bit of television. Checked out a few local papers (I see there’s a Swedish production of Priscilla later in the year). And then I then pretty much passed out and slept until about three o’clock this morning.

So here I am staying in a nice hotel in Stockholm. It’s dark outside. Sunrise will be at about 6.30am, with sunset at about 5.30pm. The forecast for the next few days is partly cloudy, with a temperature range from just above zero to a cold night on Saturday of minus-12. Saturday is Melodifestivalen, so Patrick, if you’re reading this, pack some extra woolies.