On arrival in Barcelona, after a massive and much needed sleep (airport benches are not that comfortable, it turns out) we went for a wander to find some food and drink. We were actually staying at an airport hotel just out of Barcelona which was a very good balance of cheap + comfortable, compared to an inner city hostel, and it had free shuttles into the city. I’m officially converted to the ways of airport hotels! The downside was being in the middle of an industrial area. About a 30min walk away was a wee town? suburb? I’m not quite sure, called Viladecans, where we found a great selection of tapas bars. Being in the middle of nowehere it wasn’t at all watered down and touristy, and as well as being super cheap (€1.60 for a beer + tapas!) we were later delighted by the locals who bought their guitars along to provide their own entertainment. So with a much needed drink in hand, I sampled my first Spanish beer to the tune of some local music and had some delicious pre dinner snacks (which was lucky, because nowhere served food until after 9pm).
It might seem a strange thing to be so high on my bucket list, but I really wanted to try Orangina! All it is is orange juice with a bit of fizz, but in French classes at school we sung this song so many times over and over that I can still to this day remember every word. The song was to help us remember verbs like thirsty, hungry, and nouns like coffee, juice etc. And Orangina appeared many times!
So I got to try this mystical, magical drink at long last, and all the while had “Moi, j’ai soif, je voudrais un Orangine, moi j’ai soif je voudrais un cafe…” in my head.
We had been tasked with visiting two “must see” clubs in Berlin. One was called Watergate, and wasn’t open while we were there, and one was apparently found sandwiched between corporate offices, on the 20th floor of a building. We didn’t have any other information, not even a name, so by the time we made it back to Berlin we had forgotten about it.
Thanks to the great deals that often pop up on booking.com, we were in hotels in Charlottenberg, instead of the usual hostels. Cheap ones, but still, it’s nice to have your own room every once in a while, especially when it is the same price as a grotty backpackers! Sadly that is usually the only perk of a cheap hotel. The Holiday Inn Charlottenberg, however, seemed to really pride itself on its “concierge” service, with signage everywhere going on about it. So naturally we took advantage, and asked them for advice on places to go out. The poor wee guy looked a little stressed, told us he didn’t get out much and went to find the guy in the back room for clubbing advice. Guy number two also didn’t seem to have many ideas, but suggested maybe we head to one nearby called Puro and gave us some incredibly vague direction.
As we wandered through the leafy green streets of Charlottenburg, we really got the feeling we were on a wild goose chase and decided to let go of that plan. Every 100m there was a brightly lit sign for some Irish pub, so we thought we’d just give up and head there. Strangely enough, it seemed to be on a basement floor of a shopping mall – we went past a bunch of closed up shops, down escalators and found a pretty packed Irish bar. How bizarre. After a snakebite or two (I know, we could only have been more stereotypical if we were drinking Guinness), we eventually thought we’d call it a night and head home. As we tried to find our way out of this confusing mall situation, we spotted another set of escalators and a big banner that said “Puro” – we had finally found this mysterious bar, in a shopping mall of all places!
As we went up the escalator to check it out, all there was was a desk where ID’s were being checked. It was kind of like a registration table at a conference. As in, trestle table covered in cloth in the middle of a huge open space type thing. Once we were given the all clear, we were walked over to an elevator, where another person inside escorted us up to the 20th floor. None of these antics were at all expected! Upon exiting the elevator, there we were in a packed club, with floor to ceiling glass windows around the entire building providing amazing views of Berlin.
When we tried to get to one of these windows, which were lined with lounge chairs in a booth-type arrangement, we were instantly met with hostility! Apparently all of the seating areas lining the glass windows can be booked out by groups, which then seemed to have the ability to block access to the view. When we pointed out that don’t worry, we don’t want to steal your seats, hit on your girlfriends or drink all your bottles of champagne, we just want to check out the view, it seemed all was well and we were met with “OK well you guys are cool, but no-one else is allowed up here.” Ummm OK, sure thing buddy…
All in all it was a fun and unique spot, if very crowded and full of people asserting some pretty strange rules to dominate what little space they could find. (I seriously wouldn’t have been surprised if the guy informed us he had peed around his seating area to mark his territory, he was that adamant).
On arrival in what proved to be the best hostel ever (Grand Hostel Berlin, if you are interested), I was unfortunately a little early for check-in. Reception gave me directions to the Berlin Jazz Festival in the mean time, which happened to be very close. It turned out to be such a great stroke of luck! I’m not sure where the name comes from, though, as I ended up spending quite some hours there and not once did I actually hear jazz among all the music.
It was a really great festival though, and when the rest of the team arrived at the hostel a few hours later I took them down there too. There were all these amazingly intricate food stalls and bars, with gourmet food from all over the world displayed beautifully in front of you, and impressive cocktails being whipped up. The food and drink were really cheap too, and it was really nice to be able to wander up and down the streets and alleys with a delicious and cheap cocktial in hand! There were also a tonne of good stalls selling everything from second hand goods to jewellery to crafts. But of course, being Berlin, it was all really cool, trendy stuff, not junk on a table. As well as all of the stalls, the surrounding shops were also open, many of them really great vintage/second hand stalls.
One most laughable moment was when I discovered that yet again my market [stall] theory had not been disproved, even on the opposite side of the world: it simply isn’t a true market without someone hawking ponchos and pan-flutes. This one did have the spanner in the works of them being in different stalls, but I still found them. I’m really not sure how there is such a big market for ponchos and pan-flutes the world over, but hey – to each his own.
After the parents practically threw me out of the car while it was still going so they could get back to their holiday, I had most of the day left in Milan before my flight to Berlin to meet my friends. It was something like 38 degrees, raging humidity and I had all my bags. All I wanted to do was find some air conditioning and a seat, perhaps even some wifi and any drink with ice in it, but I really felt like I should do some culture, so I made a second (successful) attempt at getting in to the Duomo (a more strict dress code than most night clubs) and checked out the Castello Sforzesco. Not only is it a grand old castle, but it hosts regular events and is chock full of museums. Having spent hours of my life learning the piano and cello, I would normally have been quite excited when one of the museums was full of old musical instruments. The beautiful gardens outside would usually also be quite the drawcard – I do love me a good walk. But with the oppressive heat I was too busy dreaming of an ice cold water to enjoy it, so it was a rather brief trip. At least the museums were free!
The other lesson of the day to share was that although the airport train goes from Cardona, only Centrale Stazione has luggage storage.
Northside Festival was a great chance to discover some Danish bands I hadn’t really heard of before. One of my favourite acts of the entire festival was The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, who are gathering a bit of fame after one of their songs was on an iPod commercial. Their music is great – really fun and upbeat, and they put on a great show, too. The main singer is a tiny little girl with gigantic blonde hair and a voice to match, and I definitely recommend checking them out!
Oh Land is another really popular Danish singer. Her father was a famous composer, and her song White Nights is on every other commercial on TV (Gotye/Kimbra’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ features on the rest). She had a particularly fabulous brightly coloured spandex jumpsuit on. Anyone that can pull that look off definitely deserves a high 5 in my books!
Lukas Graham was another favourite, with some very catchy tunes. Although I can’t stand Bruno Mars, he definitely reminded me of him. Freja Loeb and Emelie Sande were pretty good Scandinavian singers with great voices, though I didn’t get to pay much attention as I was working through their sets.
Finally, worth a mention even though I really was not a fan, was Maijke De Koln a pair of Danish rappers. Not only is rap really not my thing, but I find it quite absurd that they would be singing like they were in the ghetto in one of the most wealthy countries in the world with the strongest social welfare system. It’s just ridiculous, and totally unoriginal. They should maybe go find some real problems in the world and sing about them if they want to gain some respect.
The Hives just deserve their own post! Their set at Northside was great. From the backdrop, to their Top Hats and Tuxedoes, to the stage hands in ninja outfits. Add to that I was in the front row for most of it, and they played all their classics brilliantly! They put on a marvelous performance with all kinds of theatrics. Even the lead guitarist sitting on the edge of the stage and pulling Antony Dixon eyes.
Danish culture tends to be very focussed on being “cosy.” Well to be fair, the Danish word for it doesn’t quite translate. “Hygge” (pronounced hu-geh) is a term that originated in Norway, though the Danes “embraced it like a fat baby.” Which kind of sums the term up. Hygge is used in many ways, as an adjective, whose best approximation is “cosy”, as a verb, to say something was really nice/friendly/cosy for example saying you had a nice time, as a noun – “tak for hygge” is often said to say “thanks for the nice time” and also as an adverb (hyggeli).
If you could combine a music festival with that term, Northside would be it. A relatively small festival near the centre of Aarhus, everything was laid out in a large circle – bars and restaurants around the edges, two main stages that alternated performances, and the part that really made it particularly hyggeli was all the seating areas, activities (like ping pong tables, art installations, creations made of recycled wood) and interactive tents of activities – from lego to photo booths. It was a relatively intimate seeming number of people with barely any queues for food and minimal ones for drinks.
There were two main stages, though only one band on at a time, meaning you never waited more than 5 odd minutes to hear more music and there was no need to prioritise who you did and didn’t want to see. The other aspect I particularly enjoyed was how environmentally friendly the festival was. From the giant Hollywood-esque ‘Northside’ sign that was powered with the same amount of electricity a toaster would require, to the fact that all drinking vessels (except for shots) were recycled, it was definitely a step in the right direction, and probably almost as good as you can get at a festival.
Another particularly cosy and considerate moment was when the screens flashed with a message asking everyone to please stop pushing and move backwards, so no-one would get injured. Supposedly it was as a result of a horrible incident at Roskilde, definitely Denmark’s and possibly Europe’s biggest festival (an 8 day fiasco) where some people where badly injured in a crowd a few years back. It seemed about half the bands were british, the other half Danish, though there were a few from other countries (like Justice).
The Kooks, The Hives, and Kasabian were definite highlights that I was really looking forward to seeing. The Hives were particularly good as I was front row! And pleased to see they still perform in top hats and tuxedos. Though by the end of their set most of them removed their jackets and waistcoats at the very least! I had never actually seen Kasabian live, or even really watched the videos even though I love most of their songs, so I found it particularly entertaining that they completely conformed to the brit-rock sterotype: looking like the unkempt version of the beatles. Except for the guitarist who was exactly the kind of person Russell Brand takes the piss out of. Justice really exceeded expectations, as I had assumed it would be just another DJ set, but they had a pretty fantastic light show. It started out with two giant walls of speakers on either side of the stage, and later on i was revealed that the fronts of the speakers were all LCD screens. There was also what I think was meant to look like a giant mixing deck or audio equipment, but kind of looked like the CPU of a public school in the nineties. Still looked very cool!
Noel Gallagher and the High Flying birds weren’t bad, but should really just call themselves Oasis Lite. Snow Patrol was actually a lot better than expected too. I’m not really into their music, but they put on a pretty good show! Bat for Lashes, Noah and The Whale, James Blake and The Stone Roses were also great. I was really looking forward to seeing The XX, but they were actually a bit of a disappointment. They were on pretty late on Friday Night, and for some reason (possibly having heard some of their remixes) I thought they might put on a bit more of an upbeat show, but alas they were really mellow. On the upside they sounded really good – as though you were listening to their album. I think they would have been much better placed earlier in the afternoon instead of right before Justice. The final surprise was the Eagles of Death Metal. WIth a name like that I had written them off as not my thing at all, but it was a very misleading name and they were actually really good!
In return for my free ticket to Northside Festival I volunteered for a few hours on one of the bars. A few less than normal, as I had helped design/set up one of them. I had worked at the bar at Studenterhus Aarhus (the student bar) a number of times and didn’t think anything of it. What I didn’t realise was that at Studenterhus it is a lot easier as the clientele knows most of the bartenders are exchange students. No-one expects the bartenders to be speaking English at a festival though! It was a real test of my Danish knowledge, particularly when people started asking specific questions like how many litres the jugs of beer are, but by the end of the weekend I felt my Danish had improved significantly! There were only a few hiccups, like right at the beginning when someone asked for what I heard as ‘a can of beer’. As it turned out ‘can’ is how to pronounce ‘kane’ which is actually a jug. Only minor confusion!
The bar was right in front of the main stage too, so I still saw all the acts that were on whilst I was working. Finally, the highlight was surprisingly enough late on Sunday night when the weekend was nearly over and I really wanted to go to bed. There were a whole bunch of opened boxes of shots (they come pre-packaged in test tubes) that needed to be sold, so eventually we were selling 15 for 100Kr (around $20). No host responsibility rules on how many can be sold in one go in Denmark it seems. Some lovely young gentlemen who were in a relatively sober state when they approached the bar found this deal so exciting that by the time they left (after multiple rounds of 15 shots) they thought I was the best bartender in the world for giving them so many and were serenading me with “Call Me Maybe.” Great entertainment.