CategoriesTravel

World’s Coolest Music Venues – My Top 3

If I write about the world’s coolest music venues, I know some people will expect buildings like the Sydney Opera House. So let’s get this out of the way: It’s not on the list. This list is for outdoor venues, and also places where you’re just as likely to hear the crushing, cranked-up roar of an Engl Powerball as you are a Stradivarius violin.

So let’s check out what made my list … and be sure to pitch in with your favorite venues and – just as importantly – who you want to see there!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Morrison, Colo., U.S.)

coolest concert venues
The amphitheater at Red Rocks in Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got the idea for this post after a spontaneous stop at Red Rocks near Denver. We were driving around and just happened to see the Red Rocks signs. And the venue blew me away. It looks like the planet Vulcan. Of course, music is probably illogical to Vulcans, so I can’t imagine they’d build it.

Unfortunately, it was a daytime visit and there wasn’t a show in progress.

Who I’d Like to Hear at Red Rocks: Rush. Red Rocks seems like it was built for Rush.

Pedreira Paulo Leminski (Curitiba, Brazil)

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The world’s coolest concert venues often do more than host concerts. Pedreira Paulo Leminski was the site of Curitiba’s 2014 FanFest: About 30,000 people would turn out to watch televised World Cup matches on an enormous screen. Then, local musicians would hit the stage. Everybody had a great time in the throes of World Cup Fever. And I had never even heard of it before I went to Curitiba.

Music fans here are surrounded by a pond, sheer quarry walls and an awesome slice of encroaching rain forest. And this gives this world’s coolest music venue  entry some serious mojo.

Who I’d like to hear at Pedreira Paulo Leminski: The Gathering. Their slower tempos would be less likely to ping off the quarry walls. And hearing them outdoors in the rainforest? Yeah, that works (even with a singer other than their original).

Dalhalla (Sweden)

coolest concert venues
An overview of Dalhalla. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sweden’s entry to my world’s coolest concert venue post features a moat and a pirate ship. That’s right -- a moat and a pirate ship. And yes, like Parque das Pedreiras, Dalhalla is a quarry. What a perfect re-use of a resource!

Some might argue that the moat prevents moshing. But I don’t go to metal concerts to have meatheads slam into me. Just let the sound wash over me, thanks very much. Seems like Dalhalla wouldn’t get much use in the winter considering the climate, though.

Who I’d Like to Hear at Dalhalla: Hammerfall, who the hell else? They’re even Swedish, so nobody could do the job better!

CategoriesAccommodationsAdventuresTravel

Plan a Better Vacation – 4 Easy Tips

This hike was one of the high points of my Nordic adventure.
This hike was one of the high points of my Nordic adventure.

An awesome trip is rarely an accident. It’s a combination of preparation, planning and flexibility. You start with a game plan and leave holes for spontaneity. Let me show you how it’s done, using my recent trip to the Nordic countries as an example.

Pick Your Destination(s)
I’ve wanted to visit the Nordic countries for quite awhile. The music (the heavier side of it), the food, the culture and the scenery all appealed to me. I also haven’t been to any part of Europe since I was a wee tyke. But I wanted to avoid the well-trod destinations most American travelers choose. Based on our activities (see below), we decided to arrive and leave via Stockholm, Sweden.

Another country, another 10k finishers medal.
Another country, another 10k finishers medal.

Read Up
You probably have reasons for your choice of destination. Fair enough – but pick up guide books and read some quality travel blogs to get a handle on other activities and ideas you haven’t considered. I like a guidebook for multiple ideas on accommodations and food.

Recently, though, I’ve downgraded the credence I previously placed in guidebooks for activities. Especially with hiking. I question whether guidebook writers do even a quarter of what they write about. Hit the blogs for the first-hand perspectives and photographic evidence of any activities you find in the blog. You’ll be far better prepared.

Figure out 2-3 Key Activities
I’d always wanted to go to a European music festival. I figured out what was scheduled around Finland and Sweden since they’re the bases of some of my favorite bands. Another part of the mix: Sarah and I have a fairly new tradition of running a race (10K or half marathon) when we travel. We scoured the Web for dates of running races and music festivals.

Getting there is your biggest expense - shop well!
Getting there is your biggest expense – shop well!

We scored huge by finding the Midnight Sun Run in Tromso, Norway. And I came up with the Ruisrock festival in Turku, Finland, and the Bessegen hike at Jotunheimen National Park, Norway. Everything else on the trip revolved around those three high points. We had several days between each to go for side trips.

Watch for Airfare Deals
Chances are, airfare will be your biggest single expense. So do everything that’s reasonable to shrink it. One of my favorite techniques is to sign up for the newsletters of airlines that serve the region you want to visit. For instance, if you want to hit Finland, sign up for any newsletters from Finnair, SAS or Norwegian Air Shuttle. That’s how you’ll get tipped off first to fare sales.

And give a thorough check of the websites. That’s how you’ll find out about great packages that let you assemble a package deal of flights. The Qantas Aussie Pass is a perfect example – it lets you arrange several flights around the continent for a far better price than booking individually.

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CategoriesAccommodations

Jumbo Stay at Stockholm Arlanda Airport

The Jumbo Stay blends into the background at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. If you spot it as your plane rolls along a taxiway, you might notice an aging widebody jet parked by its lonesome self in a secluded part of the airport.

But the Jumbo Stay is no regular Boeing 747. A closer look reveals that its four engines are gone. A tire swing hangs from the bottom of the rear fuselage. There’s a metal structure permanently attached to its left side. It’s not going anywhere. Though it says “747” on the outside, inside it’s all hotel. As far as I’ve discovered, it’s one of just four airplanes throughout the world converted to hotels. Here’s what you need to know about the Jumbo Hostel.

jumbo stay
Evening in the former first-class section of the 747 that is now Jumbo Stay.

Cool Factor + Convenience
Jumbo Stay is a quick bus ride from the terminals – it’s possible to walk, but I wouldn’t do it with luggage. We arrived late in the afternoon and had a flight to catch early the nex morning. We got pretty lost while trying to walk to the terminals. Some better signage pointing the way would be nice (and yes, you will lose sight of the old Boeing jumbo as you walk). Speaking of convenience, the rates include breakfast. It’s typical Scandinavian fare – cold cuts, bread, cheese, jam, some herring – which I love. The cafe is in the first-class section of the retired Boeing jet, and you can also buy other food and beverages during the non-breakfast hours.

More Comfort Than Coach Class
The Jumbo Stay owner did a great job in keeping the air travel vibe alive. There’s still a distinct sense of Boeing jumbo jet, despite being nearly unrecognizable  as you walk down the hallway. The rooms are small but efficient; ours had bunkbeds and a small TV. The mattresses were comfortable. Despite the airport location, we didn’t hear much airplane noise – and what we did hear didn’t affect our sleep.

jumbo stay
Welcome aboard Jumbo Stay.

Connect to Other Fun
You can book through the Jumbo Stay website to combine nights there with stays at other cool places – the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi and the Tree Hotel.

More About the Rooms
You’ll find all sorts of rooms at the Jumbo Stay. If you’re really well-heeled, book the cockpit room – you’ll get an incredible view from the distinctive hump of the old Boeing. You’ll also find dorm rooms with four beds, private rooms and nicer private rooms with their own bathrooms. Our room had room for three, but we used the shared showers/toilets (the same room we had goes for about $112 right now).

jumbo stay
Our room in the Jumbo Stay.
jumbo stay
Looking down the Jumbo Stay’s hallway.
CategoriesUncategorized

Norway – First Few Travel Days

Norway from the air.

Traveling to Scandinavia starts with a 9 a.m. flight from Phoenix to Chicago a few Thursdays ago. There, we catch a 4 o’clock-ish flight to Stockholm on SAS. The flight lands at 8 a.m. on Friday.

What do we do with eight free hours in Stockholm? Grab the Arlanda Express train for the 20-minute ride to the city. There, we wander the city. Take photos. Have a few snacks. And notice that Stockholm is not a city of early risers.

Still, Stockholm comes alive. We go to the City Hall building and the palace. We fall asleep in a library, rouse ourselves and head to the airport for an evening flight to Tromsø, Norway. That gets in around 7 p.m. after stopping in Oslo. We grab a bus, which includes a long stretch underground in the tunnels under the city. Cool!

Hanging out in Stockholm
Hanging out in Stockholm

A little more bumbling, walking and cab-riding and we’re at our campsite. We pitch the tent … and for some reason can’t fall asleep until around 3 a.m. It’s that midnight sun messing with us: We’re far above the Arctic Circle.

The upshot? We wake up the next morning. Or afternoon, rather. It’s 3 p.m. I’ve never slept like that. Ever. Good thing we still have time to eat and get ready for the race. I have a 10K, and Sarah a half marathon. I start at 8 p.m., and she’s off at 10. Should be good times!

 

Our ride to Stockholm.

 

The library in Tromso – cool architecture!
CategoriesGearTastes

Scandinavia – My Travel Packing List

Epic trips require epic backpacks. Store that away for a rainy day, eh?

Scandinavia is less than a month away. Well, same for Finland, which is really a Nordic country. No matter what you call this trip, it’s time to mentally pack my bags for a trip through Sweden, Finland, Norway and possibly a bit of Estonia.

We like camping and hiking when we travel, which adds challenges people who go on laid-back beach vacations won’t ever encounter. So, what’s on the packing list for Scandinavia? Pretty much the same stuff I brought to Iceland with a few new additions …

  • Cook stove (MSR Whisperlite International) – I’ll never go on a camping vacation without it after seeing a French family whip up a gourmet meal with one -- while I choked down a cold military MRE pack. It sounds like bottles and fuel are readily available in Scandinavia. There’s no reason to eat bad when you travel!
  • t-shirts and underwear (tasc Performance) – I wind up wearing the same stuff for many days. The bamboo blend of the tasc Performance gear resists funky stench. And it’s super-comfortable. tasc sent me some of its latest bamboo/merino wool blends to test out above the Arctic circle. It’s not on the tasc website yet, but you can check here for other tasc goodies. Watch for a full review later. I expect they’ll be great for hiking and camping.
  • Shirts (Kuhl Breakaway Cafe) – These follow the "no stink allowed" theme. They’re made from something called Coffeenna, which incorporates recycled coffee grounds to beat the stink. Also comfortable to the max. I flogged them without mercy in the humidity of Asia and stayed fresh the whole while. A perfect travel shirt.

I’ll also bring a few packets of freeze-dried foods to get us started. But we may switch to canned stuff once we’re on the ground … I imagine all sorts of canned fish products in Scandinavia. Lutefisk, anyone?

And my travel pillow stays home this time. I’ll bring an inflatable pillow instead, and use a stuff sack as either a pillowcase or a second pillow. I might also skip my infamous hat and just roll with a decent stocking cap instead. But that should do it for the big Scandinavia trip.

CategoriesAccommodationsAdventures

The world’s coolest hotel … and one of the coldest!

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coolest hotel
Superman’s bedroom? Nope, it\’s the ICEHOTEL!

About a year ago, I talked to a teenager who stayed in the world’s coolest hotel. He made an awesome visit to Sweden to stay at the ICEHOTEL, up in the very far north part of the country.

He was a very clever guy who works part time as an architectural draftsman, so he was really fascinated about the idea of a hotel carved each year from ice and snow.  A documentary about the ICEHOTEL on The Discovery Channel put it on his wish list.

Also, it was also his first time traveling out of the country. So I have to give him a lot of credit for being bold enough to spend the better part of 24 straight hours in the air. And even better … from the airport, it was something like 30 miles by dogsled to get to the ICEHOTEL!

About the Coolest Hotel in the World

It has some permanent, heated rooms. But the really awesome rooms are cold rooms, which workers build each year using blocks of ice from the nearby River Torne. The rooms stay at temperatures from 28 to 40 degrees F.

Each room, according to my source, had a “serene blue glow” from LEDs in the icy walls; the hotel’s silence added to the serenity. He slept on a bed made from ice covered in reindeer fur. The staff wakes guests up each day with a steaming cup of lingonberry juice, which is supposed to do wonders for keeping you warm.

Beyond the Ice

There are some expeditions you can arrange from the coolest hotel in the world. Jukkasjärvi is pretty cold, though, so you really have to bundle up. I heard about some pretty awesome back-country dogsled trips. The food sounds tasty, too … I really want to try reindeer brisket!

And the cold rooms don’t have their own bathrooms. You have to get bundled up, tromp outside and go into the heated area. Can you imagine having to get up in the middle of the night for that? (Shivers)

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