We rented a car in Orlando. They are pretty cheap there and it allowed us to drive to our hotel (Comfort Suites, good choice for near the airport and not totally expensive like the Hyatt inside the airport). When we woke up, we drove downtown and took some photos of the Pulse site, now being renovated as a memorial, for Dave’s friend Kahlil who knew four people who had died there. The signs put up at the site say that Love will Win. Isn’t it pretty to think so.
As you may know if you’ve ever flown to America from Ireland, you enter the United States in Dublin, and then land at a domestic terminal in the U.S. All the luggage inspection and passport checks happen before you board the plane.
So, we got to Dublin, and did that. It was pretty fast this time, not two hours as it was the previous time we’d flown Aer Lingus.
After we had been waiting at the gate for an hour or more, I heard my name called on the loudspeaker. I went to the gate desk and a brusque man said I was selected for secondary inspection. So I went and got my luggage and went through security with a maximum of fluttering. This time they wanted my shoes off; also swiped everything with the nitrate detector or whatever that little rag is. They weren’t interested in Dave. Dave also told me later that he hadn’t been asked to identify the duffel bag on the video monitor. Maybe they inspected it themselves.
The man who led me through the secondary inspection process told me two distinct stories about why it had happened: one, that it was random, and two, that it was because their computer hadn’t been able to locate the ticket that I had said I came in from Brussels on. They’d asked if this was our first flight of the day, and we’d said no.
No idea why Dave wasn’t questioned as well. Anyway, after the performance was over, the man asked how long my beard had been growing. It seems a standard way of making up.
It was Tuesday, so it was time to return the car to Belgium, a seven-hour drive to Brussels. We were only very slightly rear-ended 800 meters from the Sixt office, and the guy didn’t notice when we returned it. Whew!
We had a wonderful dinner the first night at L’Idiot du Village, a place mentioned on chowhound.com (which is somewhat of a foodie forum; it’s a lot more reliable than Yelp or TripAdvisor, but doesn’t have nearly as much data). It was a slow night, and we had a lot of attention from our host Leo. Foie gras, fish soup, osso bucco, sole muniere, two half-bottles of wine, and some dessert. All delicious.
Our airbnb was very centrally located, a three-minute walk from the central train station. We didn’t get any metro passes or anything, we only did sightseeing by walking. We saw Mannekin Pis walking from the Sixt office, and then the next day saw Jeanneke Pis (a girl pissing) and a statue of a dog pissing (this one wasn’t a fountain). We saw the incredible Grand Place, a square surrounded on all sides by buildings with gold plating, and by the imposing Town Hall with detailed statuary on the sides and an immense tower. We had a very nice waffle (made with leeks, served with salmon on top), and some good cookies and hot chocolate. At Halles Saint-Géry, there was an exhibit of photos and artifacts concerning Belgium’s occupation of the Congo, and the failure of the contemporary media to report what was going on. You can look it up: along with the Atomium, the World’s Fair in 1958 featured a human zoo, where you could see caged Congolese natives simulating the lives that had been stolen from them. We spent a couple hours at the Magritte Museum, which was fascinating, though the exit sequence at closing time was convoluted. They don’t even let you spend an extra half-hour at the shop.
But the reason we’d ended up in Brussels was to see another concert featuring oud, piano, bass, and drums. Doug and Hind also went to this concert, but they went two days earlier in Lisbon. It was sold out there by the time we got around to getting tickets, so we chose Brussels. Leo had suggested places to eat before the show, including the BOZAR restaurant at the venue itself. It has one Michelin star, but has a €44 pre-theater “2-course” menu. For us it was white asparagus with a sabayon based on vin jaune, a wine from Jura which tastes like sherry; and perfectly cooked flank steak with vegetables. It was all delightful.
The concert featured Anouar Brahem on oud, with Dave Holland, Jack de Johnette, and Django Bates on piano. It was fine, but nothing like what we had seen in Paris. The first clue it would be different was that Anouar Brouhem was seated. Most of the show was very soothing. (Like the earlier show, I did all of my post-wine sleeping during the first half hour.) Dhafer Youssef had been walking around the whole time, and his young bandmates contributed to a high-energy show. This concert was pretty much “elder statesmen”, and while it was all exceptionally beautiful, it didn’t lend itself to much foot-tapping.
At the train station the next morning, we tried to buy tickets in the machine, but our efforts were foiled. Fortunately a window was open, and we could buy them from a person. It was a quick, direct ride. We checked in. Once again, Aer Lingus was not able to find our Expedia-bought tickets without a great deal of fuss, but ultimately our bag got tagged through to Orlando.
The Lübeck people make marzipan but they always put chocolate in it, which wins.
The old town of Lübeck is a World Heritage Site. They made a canal along the Trave river, forming an island containing the town. The wall is gone, though two gates remain. It is pervasively architecturally cute. It was one of the first places bombed by the Allies in 1942, but it has been pretty much reconstructed. Virtually every house has a facade in front of its steep rooflines which is stairstepped. Even modern ones generally make reference to the idea. Almost everything is brick. The goal is to “see the seven towers”, which are on five churches (two of them have two towers each). Two of them were closed, but we spent awhile in St. Mary’s, and the Lutheran cathedral. St. Mary’s had an interesting astronomical calendar, listing eclipses (solar and lunar) visible from there starting at 2000 and illustrating the extent of their totality. Another small church we stopped in had an interesting exhibit on the Lübeck Martyrs, three Catholics and a Protestant who rebelled against the Nazis and were executed. We went up the tower of St. Peter’s for a view, and you could tell the orientation signs in the four directions had been there awhile: the tape covering up where the eastern one said “DDR” was coming off. Lübeck had been in West Germany, right on the border: the other side of the river was the Russian sector.
We checked in, then drove downtown, and spent a long time searching for a parking spot whose rules matched ours. As we walked downtown, we saw a young man dressed in only shorts, ziptied to a road sign, surrounded by people who were presumably his friends. It seemed they had thrown eggs at him, using them as glue to keep on the cinnamon they then covered him with. It is apparently a custom in Denmark, or at least Jutland, to do this on one’s 25th birthday if one is not married. On one’s 30th, they are said to throw pepper. Wikipedia says this practice originated with spice traders, who traveled too much to find wives. Danes are traditionally very serious about reproducing.
The church was closed by the time we got there, and it wouldn’t be open to the public on Sunday. All of the nice restaurants seemed to be $200 tasting menus. We went to Aarhus Street Food, inspected the little booths, and settled on one dish from Traditional Danish Food (some meatballs and rice and curry sauce), and one from Uganda (a wrap with calvados-marinated chicken), and a bottle of water (why should they give it away?)
In the morning, we found a bakery with some pastries with the most intensely caramelized sugar I can remember having. We got there maybe at 9:45, and at 10:00 they changed everything for some reason; both the pastries we’d gotten had been taken away and replaced by other I suppose lunch-friendly offerings.
Then we gave up on Aarhus and drove first to Horsens to find a statue Ray’d seen on the internet, which was stupid in person, and then to Jelling to see a World Heritage Site: a pair of Viking mounds with some stones covered with drawings and runes. There was a museum with the latest in technological displays. My favorite was a large table video display showing an aerial conception of the site. At the corner was a knob that let you choose from six points in time, including the time of Harald Bluetooth’s reign at the site, when there was a wooden wall surrounding it. There were other instants earlier and later, including the modern day. Birds would fly overhead then, planes would fly overhead now. There were also signs explaining how the symbol for the Bluetooth standard is formed from the runes HB. We walked to the tops of the mounds, saw the rune-covered stones, and visited the church between, whose geometric pattern in black on the orange floor had one short section in silver indicating where a Viking named Corm is buried.
Then we left to go to Lübeck, not far from Hamburg in Germany.
And then, another driving day. Up to the Danish border, where a policeman waved us in; up north through Jutland, the Danish mainland, then a turn east. First, across a short free bridge onto the island of Funen, home of little white churches scattered around near the freeway that look like a cross between California Missions and Wild West Movie Sets; then across a long $40 bridge to Zealand, home of Copenhagen. Our timing was such that we could pick up Doug and Hind at the airport. Hind had just flown there from Paris, and Doug had gone to greet her. We headed across the long $60 Øresund bridge to Malmö, Sweden, and after my answers to the Swedish passport agent seemed too complicated, we pulled over and handed them to another friendly agent to sort out in the office. A few minutes later we were on our way. We dropped Hind and Doug off at their hotel, then headed to our own.
We stayed at MJ’s hotel, on Masterjohansgaten. It is by far the most fabulous hotel I have ever stayed in (we never stayed in the Madonna Inn, only used their bathrooms.) The fabulosity started with, and peaked at, the chair with dozens of stuffed flamingo necks sticking out in every direction; it coordinated well with the flamingo carpeting. There were sexy pictures everywhere, in the rooms and hallways. (To save on costs, all the same pictures were on every floor. I suppose they thought no one would notice. They could have at least varied the ones on the stairway.) Parking cost extra, but their drivers saved you the worry about hitting a pillar.
As we arrived at the hotel, I noticed that, of all things in this tiny old town area, there was an Avid office one block away! I stopped in and met the customer service staff there, and decided that I would spend the next day working.
We had a few hours before the concert, and caught a snack. Swedish tapas, basically. And aquavit. Justin and Meagan joined us but were pretty severely jetlagged, having just arrived from California. The concert, Doldisar Frontar, was in a nice venue two blocks from our hotel; it featured Christoffer Lundquist and Helena Josefsson and their friends. He was a bassist in the 90’s pop band Brainpool, and since then a producer at his own recording studio, where he produced albums for both Justin and Doug. There were probably 25 performers who played over the course of the evening. Christoffer and Helena performed on almost every song, as did a San Francisco origin rhythm section, a string quartet, a keyboard player, and a guitarist. Others were featured for a song or two, including a country music singer. Much of the commentary was in Swedish, but quite a bit was in English. Almost all of the songs were in English. We were there to see Doug play “Agents of Change”, from his album. The sound was great, and though most of the songs were somewhat poppy, they were all very listenable. The other remaining members of Brainpool played in the second half, and they closed with two of their songs which seemed to excite the audience more than anything else. The show was very long, two 90-minute sets with a 30-minute break.
After the show, we stopped at MAX, a popular Swedish fast-food hamburger chain, on the way back to the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel was delicious, including merguez breakfast sausage, herring, lots of different breads and mueslis. I went to work, and Ray walked around town. Around 3pm I went back to the hotel to get ready to see the show again in Kristianstad, an even tinier city an hour’s drive away. The restaurant pickings there were a bit slim: we found a pan-Asian place where we had Thai soup, Vietnamese soup, and Japanese tempura chicken with teriyaki vegetables. We got better seats this time: we were able to see the entire stage, without tall people sitting in front of us. The show was largely identical, though perhaps a bit shorter and almost no English commentary. We drove back, and just before 2am Doug and Justin and Meagan joined us for a goodbye drink at our hotel. Mine was an aquavit which tasted like Cynar or something similar. We didn’t try the dill-infused one.
Our friend David from Copenhagen had joined us for the first show, and on Saturday we stopped in Copenhagen and saw him. He had just upgraded from an apartment to a free-standing house, just next to a reasonably quiet electric subway line. Hind had recommended a pastry place in Malmö, and the pastries we brought were a hit with David’s kids and their friends. With any home purchase comes home improvement projects: his included removing the oil-based paint applied just before the house was sold, cleaning up insect messes left during the time of the former resident, building a garden, exchanging the insulation, and picking up fireworks shells on the lawn left from a recent celebration.
We said goodbye and headed to Aarhus.