Mamma Mia…Here I Go Again

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THE hour hand is nudging midnight when I eventually arrive at my Stockholm hotel and for the first time in weeks since I touched down in Europe, I find myself in a less than sparkling mood. In terms of travel days, it hasn’t been the easiest, but you’re bound to strike one of these when you’ve been on the road for several weeks, tackling different countries, airports, time zones and languages.
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It all starts while I’m still in London, where I mistake the British two pound coin for a fifty pence piece, and hence tip the driver the equivalent of $AUD8. He deposits me near Victoria Bus Station where I order a red wine and pizza before my trip to the airport. The colourful Italian feast arrives at the very moment a small child walking past suddenly violently vomits all over the footpath right alongside the outdoor café at which I am dining. Not only can my churning stomach not face the pizza, I fear I may never eat again. I watch in horror as other travellers drag their suitcases through the pavement Picasso.
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At the airport, the budget carrier on which I am travelling is supremely strict about the two kilograms extra weight my luggage is carrying (if only they knew how much lighter I was before my schnitzel and beer tour of Germany), and I am forced to creatively repack in front of an angry queue, who it seems is bemused by my cache of colourful comfy undies. Finally at the other end, the instructions I’ve been given for the bus from Stockholm airport to my hotel are incorrect – as I’ve arrived at a different airport – and after I’ve paid the insanely high taxi fare and refuse to tip the driver I alight from his cab, both of us cranky. As the driver flings my luggage onto the pavement, comfy undies threatening to spill everywhere, a strange Swede appears in the dark from absolutely nowhere, offering to buy me a glass of wine. For a brief moment I think it’s Gerhard, the gregarious German who popped up out of the blue in a Bremen lift a few weeks earlier, and who I will write about in next week’s blog about European men. And if only I’d known at this late hour there would be no food or wine in the entire hotel when I do check in, I might have said yes to the sleazy Swede’s offer. Heck, at this point if he’d possessed a stale bread roll, I would have married him.
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My pilgrimage to see the museum which pays homage to the best band to EVER strut the planet – ABBA – has not launched with quite the bang a boomerang I was expecting. I am feeling less Super Trouper and more Chiquitita. But after a dinner, which consists of the four chocolate marzipan love hearts my German friends have secretly hidden in my suitcase and a glass of tap water from the bathroom, I tell myself things will look better in the morning. And they do.
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Stockholm has turned on a dazzling day, 20 degrees, warm and sunny and I elect to sit atop a hop-on, hop-off bus to familiarise myself with this city in which I have just 24 hours. And I know one of the stops is at ABBA The Museum. I impatiently sit through 13 other destinations which outline the historical buildings for which this city is famous, my mind on Stop 14 and the real reason I find myself taking a side-step to Sweden. There was nothing to do growing up in 1970s country Queensland except listen to ABBA and my three sisters and me were virtual Dancing Queens. Such ABBA tragics are we, that one of my sisters still has the collector bubble gum ABBA cards, including a list of the ones she is missing, in the unlikely event she should meet a like-minded person who happens to possess the others, and this strange quirk should come up randomly in conversation. I was more of an end-of-the-skipping-rope singer, fighting with my best friend over who got to be the “blonde one”. My darker-haired bestie looked more like Frida, so it all worked out in the end, at least as far as I was concerned.
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And on this sunny Stockholm day I wish my best friend or sisters were here, as I discover ABBA The Museum is much more fun in a group, if the funky Frankfurters dressed as Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida are any indication. But I delight in watching them prancing and dancing and their European enthusiasm is infectious. I may only be a one-man band, but one of us is not lonely, and pretty soon I’m partaking in all of the interactive displays, including standing on stage and becoming the fifth member of the band. It’s not every day I fly to a country solely for the purpose of visiting a museum. The immigration officer at Stockholm Airport was incredulous when I told him my reason for visiting his country and demanded to see evidence of my return flight out of the Swedish capital. At one point I thought I might need to start singing Take A Chance On Me in order to enter the country, but he eventually understood my insanity. And the trip was worth every Kroner. I fly out to Berlin the next morning, the lyrics to The Winner Takes It All swirling around in my head, my Super Trouper ready to tackle the long flight back to Australia.
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The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Stockholm and stayed at the comfortable Ibis Styles Stockholm Jarva – which does indeed have lovely food and wine if you arrive at a decent hour – on a media rate – http://www.ibis.com. She visited ABBA The Museum courtesy of the museum – http://www.abbathemuseum.com
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Life is Suite in London

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LONDON is in a jolly good mood and so am I. The sun is shining both literally and figuratively upon the English capital, which, judging by the number of cranes in the skyline and the smiling populous, is finally shrugging off the Global Financial Crisis and the last remnants of winter. And the sun is shining on me too, having just checked into Lancaster London, opposite Hyde Park.
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There’s even more cherries on the cake today, as I’m catching up with an old Singapore mate, an ex-Londoner and now Geneva-based Murray, who I haven’t seen in two years. We’ve got just 24 hours and Murray arrives in his trademark flurry of excitement into which I am instantly swept. I’ve been upgraded to the luxurious Lancaster Suite – used by the hotel’s Thai owner when he’s in town – and which peers down over Hyde Park. You can see London’s most famous green space from the cavernous lounge room, the spa bath and even the toilet, and the London Eye from my bed. So lovely is this room, it seems almost criminal to leave.
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And in a city probably better known for its pollution than being lean and green, this hotel is ardently eco-friendly, boasting a range of impressive environmental initiatives which include:
• A honey farm on the hotel’s roof, home to 500,000 bees which produces on average 80kg of Hyde Park honey every year
• E-brochures available to all guests in place of print collateral
• All bottled water on site is in reusable bottles, saving 12 tonnes of glass each year
• None of the hotel’s waste goes to landfill
• Salmon is smoked on site on an old plate warmer remodelled by the engineering department
• Old uniforms, bedding and soap are donated to The Passage, a local charity for the homeless
(And, on the week I arrive, a celebration of British tomatoes, in recognition that 4 in 5 tomatoes in the UK are imported – making it imperative that I try a Bloody Mary, in the name of research, of course).
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Like English aristocrats (well maybe one and a convict mate), Murray and me sip tea while we catch up on the past, plot fantasy-filled futures and plan our day ahead in the city in which I first arrived 20 years ago as a backpacker. But it was not the likes of Lancaster London for me back then, but the Oxford Street Youth Hotel, and I still get a buzz wandering along one of London’s best shopping streets all these years later, catching ghost-like glimpses of my younger self in the reflections of familiar buildings.
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Our Monopoly-board adventure continues down to Piccadilly Circus for lunch, Murray’s marathon legs 10 paces in front of me as I plead with him to slow down. It reminds me of our Singapore Sundays, where we’d meet and spend the day exploring the sticky city, jumping on random boats, searching for beaches, and like many expats I suspect, daring to dream of what we’d do next when we left south-east Asia. But it’s not Singapore but through Soho we trek this day, and on to Covent Garden, grabbing a bar and a beer just in time to escape a typical London downpour. Then we step off the board, and across the River Thames to amble along South Bank, check out the theatre listings, snatch another brew, fly through the Tate Modern, before heading back across the river towards St Paul’s Cathedral.
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The whole day we’re chatting, scheming, laughing and in my case, limping along, by now my dress boots proving unsuitable for the pace and length of London we are traversing. But on we march towards East London and Brick Lane for its famed Indian restaurants. We could do anything this Saturday night in one of the world’s most exciting capital cities, but after eight hours of walking, blistered feet and some weeks of travel for both of us, we concede defeat and head back to my suite.
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Like a comfortable old couple we lay on the couches, drink wine and watch the Chelsea Flower Show on TV before Murray falls asleep on his assigned couch and I retreat to the bedroom. A swift goodbye early the next morning and Murray is off to Geneva, the only evidence of his stay the scent of his cologne in the bathroom which lingers like a bittersweet moment. It’s both the curse and the blessing of the insatiable traveller, who gets to meet so many people around the globe, only to say goodbye to them again, not knowing when or where in the world we might meet in the future. Several hours later I, too, reluctantly leave my sweet suite and head to the airport, this time bound for Stockholm buoyed by old faces, old places and magnificent new memories. Till we meet again.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of Lancaster London. Lancaster London is a member of Summit Hotels & Resorts, a brand of Preferred Hotel Group. To write your own London adventure go to http://www.lancasterlondon.com