The Adventures of Monica: The Secrets in Brussels… Journey to Europe – part 5

Most people didn’t question me as to why I wanted to go to Brussels. One or two asked me, probably because they’d sooner spend the entire week in Paris. I understood that. I always wanted to go to Brussels, and even on this trip it was my first thought after planning the concert. I wanted to go to Brussels.

Why? Well, because I wanted to visit a couple of museums while I was there, as well as wander around the city that paid loving tribute to my most favorite comic book of all time. The Adventures of Tintin.

Not Rin Tin Tin. Tintin.

Despite the release of the Stephen Spielberg/Peter Jackson film a few years ago, Americans still do not know, nor understand, the sheer magic and appeal of Tintin.

Tintin was described as a boy reporter who had an insatiable curiosity and a talent for detective work. He was much smarter and wiser than the adults around him.

Part of what made The Adventures of Tintin so appealing were the adventures he went on. When Spielberg was touring Europe with his first Indiana Jones film, comparisons were made to Tintin. He had no idea at the time who Tintin was, but he soon found out and that’s how The Secret of the Unicorn came to be.

The comparison was only half-right, however. Tintin definitely had the action/adventure connection, as well as the world travelling that Indiana had, plus the comedy, but that’s where the similarity ended.

Tintin had one more element that made the story complete, extremely strong, endearing human characters, and plenty of integrity. That always resonated with me, even at that young age.

I discovered Tintin in Hong Kong in 1975 when I was 8 years-old. As a child I looked up to my brother and always wanted to do what he did, including read his magazines. He loved getting MAD Magazine and I loved reading them, but he didn’t love how I’d almost destroy them. So after a while I got tired of him nagging me about it and I wanted my own magazine to read.

Across from where we lived was a supermarket called Park’n Shop. Their downstairs was a favorite venue for my brother, our friends and I, as the room was filled with toys, games, books and magazines. It was also where my brother got his MADs. So I went down there one day to look through the racks where the MADs were to find MY magazine. Mine mine mine.

I found The Crab with the Golden Claws. I picked it up and paged through it and knew I wanted it. One problem. MADs were selling for 60 cents. This book cost 6 Hong Kong dollars. I needed my mother to buy it for me, as I didn’t have an allowance and did not have that kind of money on hand. Plus, I didn’t want to buy it without her permission. Fortunately, she was upstairs shopping so I asked her to come downstairs so that I could show it to her. It took some begging, as she was reluctant, but she eventually agreed to buy it and I got to take home my first Adventures of Tintin book.

I fell in love with it. I read it over and over. Sometimes my brother would sit with me and we would read it aloud in character. I was Tintin and he was Captain Haddock. I loved it.

Soon I was able to get more books. I had about four books (out of twenty-two) by the time we left Hong Kong to return to the states. By the time we got to the US about a month later, I had two more that I picked up in India and Italy.

Sadly, I couldn’t find Tintin in the US. It took many years before I finally discovered one or two at a bookstore. Then in 1993, HBO aired a cartoon series of The Adventures of Tintin. I was thrilled. It was very good, although they didn’t use the entire story, because they were only 30 minute episodes.

It wasn’t until the mid-1990’s that I finally found the rest of the books and completed my collection. Soon Tintin boutiques popped up in New York and San Francisco. When I was visiting a friend in San Fran in 1997, I had gone to the store twice.

When I learned there was one in London, I would stop there whenever I was in the neighborhood.

During those early years, no one knew of Tintin. One of my friends thought I was talking about Rin Tin Tin and she thought she was doing me a favor buying me a box set of the show about a dog. She soon learned who he was and when she went to Belgium last year, she bought me a lovely Tintin keychain.

So now it was my turn to visit Belgium where they have special market days honoring Tintin, and a museum devoted to the author, Herge.

Trivia: Herge’s real name was George Remi. He took his initials, GR and reversed them to RG. In French RG is pronounced “air-jay”, change the spelling and a name was born.

So that is why I wanted to go to Belgium.

On Thursday, September 18th I had breakfast at the hotel, checked out of my room and headed to the Paris Nord train station to catch the Thalys to Brussels. Once again I had arrived early, unsure of what to expect. I stood for a while near the large departures sign and people watched until I saw an opening to sit down in the waiting area. One thing that caught my eye was a unique charging station for cellular phones and other devices. It was pedal powered. I thought that was very interesting. Not only is it energy efficient, but a great exercise to boot. Just don’t call your loved one or business colleague while you’re cycling or they’ll think you’re being chased.

Paris Charging Station

At first I was surprised to see no security checkpoints along the entrances to the platforms. Then I figured that it had something to do with both France and Belgium being a part of the European Union. So they no longer need to check passports between countries. It’s similar to the US when we travel from state to state. There are no checkpoints, no border security to worry about.

After a couple of hours I boarded the train. I sat backwards once again, but it wasn’t a problem.

I arrived in Brussels around 1pm and took the Metro to the NH Atlanta Brussels hotel. The map was a lot easier to understand and I was able to find the platform without a problem. I got to the hotel in about ten minutes. I knew my room wouldn’t be ready, but I checked in anyway and had them hold my bags. The man at the front desk told me my suite was not ready yet.

“Suite?” I thought to myself.

It turns out that when I booked the room on Hotels.com the only available room I could choose that accepted refunds was a suite.   The price was nice, so I didn’t pay attention to the type or room except to read that it had a double bed and a sofa. When I realized it was a suite, I wasn’t going to complain. I thought it would be nice to end the vacation in style.

After I handed over my luggage I headed to The Grand Place, a large square in the center of town. I was surprised to find how close it was to the hotel. As a matter of fact this city is very walkable. I never think about checking the scale on maps, so when I looked at Brussels on a map before my trip I thought things would be much farther than they actually were. I was wrong. In fact, when I had planned my trip I had booked a different hotel, the Crown Plaza, but then I thought it would be too far away. It turned out that hotel was only a couple of blocks up from the NH Atlanta Brussels, where I was staying. Still, there was road construction in front of the Crown Plaza, so in the end I was better off.

What I really liked about the city were the cobblestone streets that surrounded The Grand Place. They were closed to vehicles, and loaded with pedestrians, shops and restaurants. It had so much character. I loved it. I went there every day during my stay.

I wandered around those streets my first day there and happened upon a few other sites I had hoped to see. One was Manneken Pis, a small statue of a cherub, peeing. He was a lot smaller than I realized. I thought he’d be at least 2 feet tall. From the distance I stood he seemed to be less than a foot.

One thing I didn’t expect to find so easily was right behind me as I stood by the Manneken Pis. I had heard that one of the things Brussels did to honor their rich comic book history (the Smurfs came from there as well), was to paint murals all over town of scenes from these famous stories. So imagine my surprise when I turned around and there was a Tintin mural on the wall of a building just down the street from the Manneken Pis. Another item checked off the list.

Tintin Mural

I decided to track down the Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus. I went to the visitor’s center where they told me where to find its main stop. While I was there I picked up a couple of walking tour maps of the city, one with a Tintin theme and one with a comic book theme, then I headed up to the Central Bus Station.

It turns out they had two routes. I decided I was mainly interested in getting to the Automium, which was not within walking distance as the other sites were. I was slightly disappointed in the bus tour as there weren’t many sites to see along the way. I came to the conclusion the other route was possibly more interesting, given the listing of sites it covered, so I had to decide for the next day if I was going to get a ticket for the other route.

The Automium was built in the late 1950’s to coincide with the 1958 World’s Fair. It’s in the shape of an atom, and it’s made with aluminum, hence the name. The top sphere held the observation deck. From there I descended to the other spheres where they had exhibits and a history of the Automium. The tour took roughly an hour. Afterward I waited for the bus. And waited. And waited.

Most Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tours state that a bus would arrive every ten minutes. We waited ninety minutes for this bus to arrive. Ninety minutes I could have used to walk back to my hotel. I was very disappointed. I decided not to take the other bus the next day. I didn’t need to. As I said, the city was easily walkable.

When I finally got back to the city, I headed back to the hotel.   I had to wait a while to get up to my room, as the cleaning crew were in a meeting and had to do one more check of the room before they opened it up for the next guest. The wait was worth it.

I had expected a small living room with a smaller bedroom off of it. The place was huge. I was the size of my old apartment. The only thing missing was a kitchen. It was very nice.

I ordered room service and found the food to be excellent. They gave enormous portions. The salad alone could have been the meal. I was pleasantly surprised.

I charted my route for the next day and watched TV. No BBC Red Button at this hotel, but they did have an interesting array of French, German, Italian, Asian and Arabic channels, as well as a few English ones. I watched the Italian version of Deal or No Deal, mainly because I knew the host from an Italian TV show (Don Matteo) that I had watched a few times back in the US (with subtitles). It was funny seeing him clown around. It was very different than his character from the show. What was even funnier was that he left the program because he preferred to host game shows instead.

The next morning I went to the top floor breakfast room where they had a lovely patio overlooking the city. I had a quick breakfast and headed on my trek. My first stop was the Belgian Comic Strip Center. It was only a couple of blocks from the hotel. On the way I encountered a lovely square called Place des Martyrs.

When I entered the Comic Strip Center there was a large spaceship in the hallway from the Tintin book titled “Explorers to the Moon”. Upstairs by the registration desk there were lifesize statues of Tintin, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and Snowy. I knew I was going to enjoy this.

The museum has an extensive collection covering at roughly a century’s worth (maybe more) of comic art. Tintin emerged in the late 1920’s, so imagine what predated that.

I wandered all the rooms, and explored all the exhibits. I was pleased to find a whole section devoted to Tintin. Photographs were allowed, so I snapped pictures of the timelines and backgrounds of the characters, plus took some fun selfies next to life-size cutouts of the characters.

I wandered around a while longer, taking in everything in the museum and the gift shop, where I bought a couple of postcards, and headed out to my next destination. The Royal Palace. Along the way I passed St. Michael’s Church which had architecture reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris. I made my way to a beautiful park called Parc de Bruxelles Warandepark. I walked around there for a while and snapped some photographs. It’s a truly lovely place. Then I headed for the Palace which was at one end of the Park. They had a free exhibition inside. I contemplated going, but decided not to. I didn’t know how much time it would take me to get to the other places on my itinerary, so I passed. The building was very impressive from the outside, as were the others surrounding the other sides of the park.

I continued walking toward my next destination, La Grande Sablon, when I happened upon this beautiful square. In the center was a statue of Godefroid de Bouillon or Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the leaders of the first Crusade. The architecture surrounding the square was very nice to say the least. Just off of the main road was another palace. This one was called La Maison de Lorraine or Palace of Charles du Lorraine. It was impressive. I had no idea of these places. Granted, I didn’t do a thorough research of the city, but when I checked whatever guide I could find on top places to see, the only things mentioned were The Grand Place, The Belgian Comic Book Center, the murals and Manneken Pis. So I felt a little bit like the “intrepid explorer” as Tintin was often nicknamed, discovering these hidden treasures of Brussels.

I ventured back on my path stopped at a very nice park and then down to The Grand Sablon, which consists of some nice shops and restaurants. One in particular was the Comics Café. That was my next stop in my Tintin expedition. Just outside was a large statue of Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy (or Milou in French). I asked if I could sit outside near the statue.   I had a nice lunch there, consisting of a burger with eggplant and mozzarella cheese. It was very good. Afterward, I inquired about their gift shop, and was told it was closed.  However, the waiter, knowing my interest in Tintin, told me I could walk around the place, as they had many rooms filled with Tintin related items. So I did.

He wasn’t kidding. The place was like a museum, a veritable homage to Tintin. What’s more, Herge knew the owner, so there were some really special items hanging on the walls from pencil sketches to autographed original master pages from his books, which were ten times the size of the published novels. One room had them all over the walls. This was probably better than the exhibits I saw at the Comic Center or the next day at the Herge Museum, although I do look back fondly at both experiences as well.

I left the Comics Café, thanking the waiter for allowing me to take a tour inside, then headed toward The Grand Place and back to my hotel. It being Friday night, the streets were mobbed with people. One thing caught my eye as I wandered around. There was a pushcart selling food. Not unusual, right? Well how about some escargot? Yes, a pushcart selling snails cooked in garlic. I never thought of escargot as fast food, but there you are.

Escargots1

Lunch had filled me up considerably even hours later. However, I knew I’d get hungry at some point, and I wanted to make sure I had three things in Brussels while I was there. One was a Belgian Waffle. Another was their pommes frites, which I did have with my burger at the café. The third thing was mussels. I love mussels. I haven’t had them in years, so I thought it would be nice, but I wasn’t hungry enough for them. Dinner time arrived and I still wasn’t hungry enough for the mussels. So I settled for a waffle instead. I decided not to get one too overloaded, opting for a more conservative one that had chocolate oozed over it. It wasn’t bad. As I ate I planned for the next day’s meal, hoping I’d finally have some mussels soon enough.

The only plan I had for Saturday was to go to the Herge Museum. This was at 2pm. So I killed time by sleeping in and hanging around the hotel. While I sat in the lobby I spotted a little girl holding a very large stuffed animal of Tintin’s dog Snowy. I thought that was cute considering where I was going.

Since the museum was forty-five minutes outside the city, and since I chose not to rent a car, I saw that the museum had a deal with a local tour company to provide transportation to the museum. I had thought that included some sort of guided tour along the way, but it strictly was transportation. The driver was nice enough. The ride was expected to take 45 minutes, but since I was the only passenger and there weren’t many cars on the road, we practically flew there in half-an-hour. I had two hours for the tour inside the museum. I hoped it would be enough time.

The cost of the bus ride included the ticket for the museum (Brussels City Tours was the bus operator in case you’re interested). I took their audio guide and made my way starting from the top floor and working my way down, going through all the rooms. I tend to be a quick observer in museums in general, so I stopped using the audio guide after a while, as many of the exhibits were in English as well as French.

It was nice learning about Herge’s early life and what influenced his characters. I also learned more about his work and the creative team that he employed. It was fascinating.

Photographs were not allowed, but I knew that ahead of time, so it wasn’t a problem. I managed to complete the exhibit and tour the gift shop with fifteen minutes to spare. I walked out of the museum, not expecting to see my bus driver, and I didn’t, but he saw me, because within minutes he pulled up and we were off again, back to Brussels in record time.

My only disappointment with the Herge related items in the gift shops was that not all were in English. He had other comic books in his lifetime that I would love to read, but since they didn’t have the international appeal Tintin did, there is no English language version as far as I could tell. They did have all the English volumes of Tintin as well as the biographies that have been distributed in the US since the mid-1990’s, but there were other books that were exclusively in French, and that was a shame.

I almost bought Tintin bandages, but passed.

That night I wandered around the crowded streets debating whether I wanted mussels (mussels in Brussels). I passed several outdoor restaurants and peeked at people’s tables. The servings were enormous. I know that a dish of mussels can be quite big, but these were huge. I wasn’t sure if I would finish them. I didn’t want to waste food and I had no idea what restaurant to try, so I decided to play it safe and not attempt it. I wound up going back to the hotel and ordering room service. Then I packed for my trip back home.

All in all, I think I did very well on my trip, and would do something similar again. I enjoyed taking the trains and seeing the cities at my own pace. A guided tour of both cities combined would have been exhaustive and that’s just not for me. I really enjoyed this and would definitely do it again with other cities.

More photos from Brussels.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/10114819@N04/sets/72157647617324400/

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C’est Le Bon… Journey to Europe – part 4

I slept a little better on Sunday night, thanks to planning what I needed to do before I went to sleep. I spent a great deal of time on my mobile phone, working out how early I needed to get to the train station and making sure I had a basic idea of where to go and what to do.

I had wondered how early I needed to be to check in for the Eurostar, as I wasn’t sure if I had to go through customs. I read online that one should be there an hour before, but I decided to play it safe and and reserved a cab for 8am in case I hit traffic going through London. The next morning I checked out of the hotel, and the cab was waiting for me. In the end I got to St. Pancras station in record time with ninety minutes to spare before my train.  I saw a sign that stated that check-in would start at least 30 minutes prior to departure, so I went to find breakfast and wait.

I grabbed breakfast and found a place to sit for an hour. Afterwards, I walked over to check-in, scanned my pre-printed boarding pass and entered the security area, where I had to put my suitcase and other bags through the x-ray machine. Someone checked my passport and I was done. It was relatively quick.

Still, I had to wait at least twenty minutes for the platform information to be posted. So I stood and waited with my fellow passengers before the notice came on the screen, then once it did we all migrated to the escalators and ascended to the platform. Finding my seat was easy, although I had to walk quite a distance to get to the rail car. I was a bit concerned because my seat faced opposite of the train direction. While I don’t need Dramamine on trains, I’m often concerned about riding backwards. I soon realized that while I prefer facing forward, the other way wasn’t too bad.

On paper the trip seemed long, but it went very quickly, plus Paris is one hour ahead of London. It also helped that I napped a bit as well.  I arrived at Paris Nord station at around 2pm. Once off the train I ventured down to the Metro station and spent ten minutes trying to figure out which line to take to my hotel. Unfortunately, the map confused me. So I gave up and got a taxi.

My taxi driver and I got along well. He didn’t know much English and my 6 years of French was so long ago I wasn’t confident in using it too much. He asked me, “Parlez vous Francais?”

I used my fall-back line that I had planned to say whenever asked. “Un petit peut,” I replied, which means, “Very little.” Then I asked him, “Parlez vous Anglais?”

“Very little,” he said.

We both laughed.  Fortunately, while I did attempt to say the hotel name and address in French, I had it on a piece of paper that I just showed him and he was happy with that.

The Best Western Horset L’Opera hotel was another pleasant surprise. Breakfast wasn’t included in my stay, but they gave it to me as complimentary meal. That helped considerably, and saved me time in the mornings. The room was nice, large and quiet, the way I like it. The hotel is very close to the Opera house and within walking distance to the Louvre.

Once I checked into my room, I ventured out for food. To my amazement I found a Starbucks. I shouldn’t be surprised, considering they’re all over the place, but I did find it amusing.  I don’t drink coffee, so I’m one of the few who doesn’t hunt them down. Still, I know they sometimes have some good snacks and sandwiches, so I decided in the interest of time, and because I wasn’t in the mood to attempt speaking butchered French, I would go in and either grab something or point and hopefully that would be enough. It was, although I did say, “Bonjour,” “Excusez moi” and “Merci” when I could. In time I was amazed at how much French I did remember, but I decided to play it safe during my stay and not try too hard. It helped that many people in Paris spoke English, so I didn’t have to rely on French too often.

After a delicious lunch of a vegetable and goat cheese wrap, I walked down toward the Louvre and came upon the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tour office where I reserved my tickets for the following two days. I recommend hop-on-hop-off tours because they can give you a nice feel for the city and allow you to get your bearings, while giving you a tour.  Not only that, but it also provides door-to-door service to the main sites.  There’s usually a bus every ten minutes (with a few exceptions).  It is very convenient.  I normally like to take the full route, if I can, especially on short stays like this one.  Then, I’ll use the bus to get me from one location to another.

I normally don’t buy a two-day pass, but the price was hard to beat. It was only four Euros more for the additional day, and I figured it would be nice to have that as a fall-back in case I was too tired to walk. Most cities charge a bit more than that for the second day. I also was pleasantly surprised to find out that they only had one route, whereas most cities I’ve been to have two or more. This made things easier for me.

I continued my walk and arrived at the Louvre sometime around 3pm. I walked around the exterior and snapped photographs of the building, the pyramid and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel before I headed to the ticket booth. I had been warned that the lines to the museum would be quite long, and that I should try a side entrance, but I forgot to write it down.  I ventured around the whole building and could not find it, so I went back to the pyramid.  I soon discovered that at that time of day the lines were manageable. I was inside in a matter of minutes and headed to the section where the Italian paintings were. I figured no trip to the Louvre was complete without seeing the Mona Lisa, so I headed for that part of the building first. I did walk around the sculptures area, taking a good look at the pieces before heading up to the paintings. I knew the museum closed at 6pm, but I wasn’t rushing. I made sure to take in everything I saw, especially Da Vinci with whom I shared a birthday.

Unfortunately, other tourists had a different idea.

There was a long, beautiful room filled with paintings with smaller rooms branching off from it, including the one that housed the Mona Lisa. I ventured down the large room, admiring all the paintings along the way. I went into all the side rooms as well. I took in a lot with my eyes, and only snapped a photograph of those paintings that really captured my attention. Meanwhile, there was a group of tourists who barely stopped at any of the paintings, except for a split second to take a photograph of them. It was ridiculous. I had never seen anything like it. I was taught to really examine art and see the nuances, but these people hadn’t learned that. All they knew was through a camera lens. It was pathetic and funny at the same time.

When I got to the Mona Lisa there was a whole crowd in front of her. I took her in from a distance with the naked eye, then took a selfie for fun, since people would want proof I was there. The crowd of tourists snapping repeated photos of her was quite large so I had to play around a bit to get a good view and a good shot. Once I was done, I continued on through the remainder of the room and then back out into the larger one, as well as to the other smaller rooms. Not those tourists, however. They saw what they came to see and then disappeared. No more clicking cameras. No more distractions. I was relieved, although I felt a bit sorry for those classical artists who weren’t getting the attention that the others did prior to the Mona Lisa room.

When I was done with one section of the museum, I decided to explore another, but by then it was 5:30pm and the other wings were not allowing any new visitors.

Tip: I do not recommend the self guided audio tour. It was on a Nintendo Gameboy and worked with sensors in the building. However, many times they did not work for me. I also had trouble reading the screen. So I gave up on it after a while.

I walked outside the Louvre and headed to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. It’s just outside of the Louvre and at the end of Jardin des Tuileries that goes to the Place du Concorde. You can see the more famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile at the opposite end on the Champs Elysees. I circled the arch, admiring the design and taking photographs. Then I walked through the Jardin des Tuileries for a few minutes before I took a detour and headed back to the hotel.

Believe it or not one of my favorite meals in Paris was the sandwich I had every night in the hotel. It was a club sandwich with smoked salmon, a type of cream cheese that seemed different from the cream cheese I’ve had in the US, tomatoes and lettuce. It came with a generous side portion of salad and potato chips. On the second night they were out of chips, so they asked if additional salad would be all right. I was perfectly happy with that. It was a very light sandwich, not overloaded with cheese or salmon. It was just the right balance of each ingredient. It was a simple sandwich and I loved it.

Among the English language channels on my TV was the BBC Red Button, so I enjoyed repeated broadcasts of the ELO concert I had seen on Sunday night. I had to stop watching it after a while, as I was worried I’d get sick of it, but it was nice to see it. I danced around the hotel room through most of it. I sent an e-mail to Pat to let her know I was watching it. She wrote back immediately to tell me she was too, and she was dancing to it as well.

On Tuesday I took the bus tour and rode it to Notre Dame. The inside is truly beautiful with its stained glass windows and architecture.  There was a large, Polish tour group there.  The people were nice, but I laughed to myself being that I am a first generation Polish American, I wondered if I should say excuse me in French, English or Polish as I slipped past them, but then realized I didn’t know how to say it in Polish (I don’t know the language fluently, just a few words). I knew how to say please, but that wouldn’t have gotten me far.  So I smiled and said it in English.  They were very accommodating.

I decide to go to the towers, but to be honest, unless you have no plans to go to the Eiffel Tower or the top of The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, I would pass on the Notre Dame towers. I waited ninety minutes to get in, thinking that the reward would be a view of the towers themselves or some nice piece of architecture up there. But that was not the case. The view of city was the main attraction. It was very nice, but since I had planned to go up high in at least two other places that day, I was a bit disappointed. There were also many steps to climb. I had to take a breather once or twice. The staircase was circular so dizziness was an issue as well, but I managed to make it without getting too dizzy.

After Notre Dame, I got back on the bus, put the headphones on and listened to the audio tour while I rode it past a couple of stops to my next destination, The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. You can see the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel from there. They’re practically a matched set.   The audio guide on the bus said that there was a lift to the top. If there was one, I never found it. However, there weren’t as many stairs as in Notre Dame, although my calves were starting to scream at me with all the climbing. The view from the top was very nice. I stayed up there for a while, taking photographs, then descended back to the inside of the arch where they had an exhibit. After that I went back down to street level, circled the arch and took photographs, then headed to a nearby restaurant on the Champs Elysees called Pizza Vesuvio, where I had lunch.

The waiter was very nice. Every time I spoke French, he patted me on the shoulder. He understood English very well, so it wasn’t a problem. I played it safe and ordered a hamburger “sans onion”. It was very good. Yes, it was a hamburger, but I wasn’t in the mood to experiment at that point and wanted some protein. I did have some pommes frites, though.

I took in the Champs Elysees and then got back on the bus and listened to the audio tour while admiring the sites until we reached the Eiffel Tower. Once again it was 3pm and I was in luck. The lines were manageable. That was a great thing, as the entire excursion up and down took roughly 2 hours for me to complete. First you stand in line to get tickets. Then you stand in line to go through security. Then the next line is to get the ticket scanned. Then you wait for the elevator which takes you up to the second level, where you can walk around and enjoy the view for a while before getting into the next line for the elevator to the top floor. Once up there you can spend as much time as you want taking in the view, drinking champagne and snapping photographs. Then it’s back to the lines. First, there’s the wait for the elevator to go down to the second level. Then, once there, going to the elevator to get to the ground floor. It wasn’t bad at all.

The sight from the top is definitely worth the wait. It’s a gorgeous view of the city. The tower itself is a marvel of architecture and history. It’s impressive.

After the Eiffel Tower I walked around the Champ de Mars for a while, which is a park adjacent to the tower, and tried to take a selfie of me with the tower in the background. A couple of American women stopped and offered to take a photo. One of them said she’d have to tilt the camera sideways because I was too close to the tower. I hesitated, wondering how it would look rotated on my computer, but her friend assured me that she was a photographer by trade and knew what she was doing. It turned out very nice.

I hopped the bus and continued the tour back to the hotel. I do recommend the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tour as it does go by some nice buildings and gives some interesting history about them. I was a bit surprised that they did not stop at a few of the locations such as Place de la Concorde, but I guess they’re not allowed to stop there. So I made a point to spend the next day walking to those areas the bus drove past.

On Wednesday morning I went to the Opera House (Palais Gagner). I wasn’t sure if I should visit it, but I’m glad I did. It’s quite beautiful inside. The marble staircase is amazing, as is the grand foyer. In case you aren’t aware, The Phantom of the Opera was set in this location. The audio tour does lead you to his box, which of course really isn’t his box, but it was funny to see it was on the tour. Speaking of which, of all the audio tours I have taken in Paris, this one was the best. It was easy to use and very informative. I highly recommend it.

After the opera house, I took the bus again back down to Notre Dame and walked from there to Place to Concorde, and stopped on the way lunch at a very nice restaurant in the Jardin des Tuileries, where I had a delicious steak. The Place du Concorde is Paris’ largest square. In the middle is an enormous Egyptian obelisk, best known as Cleopatra’s Needle. I found it fascinating. In that same spot prior to the installation of the obelisk was a guillotine which was taken down in 1833.

Afterwards I walked along the Seine toward the Grand Palais and the King Alexander III Bridge. I took several photographs, then headed to the military museum where Napoleon’s tomb was located.

If you like looking at several hundred pieces of armor and weapons, then this place is for you. Sadly, the audio guide didn’t work well for me and kept reverting back to French, so I gave up on it and walked quickly through the rooms of military memorabilia. Then I walked to the dome in the back where Napoleon’ s tomb was. That was impressive to say the least.   It was worth a visit, not just for the tomb itself, but the entire dome and its contents.

After that I turned on my internal GPS and headed in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to take another walk through the Champ de Mars and then catch the bus back to the hotel. The walk through the city streets took roughly ten to fifteen minutes, but it was quite nice walking down the narrow streets and alleyways.  I made it to the park very easily and strolled slowly through it to the bus stop. Then I took the bus back to the main stop, went to the hotel, had one last salmon sandwich and packed for my trip to Brussels the next day.

In retrospect I think I did very well for two and a half days in Paris. I saw what I wanted to see and still was able to walk through the city and take in all the exterior sites. I’m sure there’s much more I could have seen, but I think I got a good feel for the city and what it has to offer in my short stay. It would have been nice to have gone to Versailles, but perhaps I will decide to return one day.

Here’s a link to the photographs I took in Paris.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/10114819@N04/sets/72157648025253452/

Last Train to London…. Journey to Europe – part 3

I flew into London around 9pm on September 12th and settled into the lovely Park Grand Hotel near Hyde Park. I had taken the Heathrow Express from the airport, which I had to run to as the ticket-taker had informed me that the train was leaving at any second, then had walked the few blocks from Paddington Station to the hotel. I must have looked a fright being that I had slept on the plane, then ran to the train, then was perspiring as I often do with the humidity in London. When I checked-in at the hotel, the man behind the reception desk told me I looked tired. Then one of his colleagues rushed in with a glass of orange juice. The service at the hotel was stellar. The room I had was very small, but clean and modern. It was perfect for me. I would stay there again.

Saturday, Pat and I took a ferry to Greenwhich, toured the Cutty Sark, walked around town and had lunch there. It was a lovely day. We even ventured to the opposite side of the Thames using an underground pedestrian tunnel. It was a long walk, but worth it. We rested in a park, took some photographs of the opposite bank and walked back to catch the ferry back to London (click on the link below to see photos).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/10114819@N04/tags/greenwich/

The ferry ride was an enjoyable excursion in itself thanks mainly to the guided tour they gave while taking us up and down the Thames. It was interesting, and funny. They were not official, paid tour guides. They were mainly in charge of the ferry and the passengers, but decided to make the trip more interesting by narrating the excursion, giving us a tour of the buildings along the Thames.

At one point we passed a condominium where Cher had lived for a time. The guide said she had sued the ferry company years back, because they were pointing out her home to people, which led to her being stalked. He added that she no longer lived at that location, but he would point out where she was living now. He was kidding, of course.

On the way back Pat mentioned that at the Tower of London over 800,000 ceramic poppies were being planted in honor of the casualties of WWI. We ended our ferry ride by Tower Bridge and walked over. What a sight. Words cannot describe it. Thousands of poppies had already been planted with many more to go. It was an incredible sight. We joined the reverent crowds as we walked around taking photos and marveling at the display. It was very moving (click on the link below for photos).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/10114819@N04/tags/toweroflondon/

I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night. I worried whether we’d get a good spot at the concert. I felt badly that Pat had to lug the blanket and the food on foot to her bus stop and from the bus stop to meet me. I wondered if we were going to get there early enough to beat the crowds. I worried about how long we’d have to stand, what kind of lines we’d have to the bathroom, would I get trampled, would I remember to take the platforms, did I make a mistake planning my trip to Paris the next day, all crazy late night things one worries about.

I wasn’t panicking, just anxious and excited.

According to the BBC 2 website, people were going to be allowed in at around 11:30am. I told Pat the night before that I would get there early at around 10am in case people started lining up by then. The next morning I showed up at the park, but I was at the wrong gate. The map for the concert confused me as it looked like the entrance was at Lancaster Gate, but it turned out to be further down. My concerns were unwarranted, however. She joined me around 11am and we walked to the entrance. As we approached, we could hear music. Soon I could tell it was ELO. They were rehearsing, doing a sound check. I could identify the songs. I should have been excited.

I had mixed feelings.

I had just finished telling Pat that I have a rule against listening to a band’s music before a concert. I learned early on in my concert-going experience that I prefer to hear the songs fresh during the show, rather than hear it for the umpteenth time after listening to them over and over prior to the event. I also had an issue back in 1984, when I went to see Duran Duran.

I was very much into Duran Duran’s music after my brother brought home their first album (my brother and I share a similar taste in music, but we don’t always agree). One night in 1984 they had performed a concert at Madison Square Garden. The show was simulcasted on the radio, and I had recorded it (I had become very proficient at recording from the radio). I had loved what I had heard and had asked my parents if I could go to the concert when they came to New Jersey, because it was on a school night. They had agreed. During the next week or so before the concert I had played the tape incessantly to the point where I had inadvertently memorized every grunt, every phrase and every pause. When I had finally saw them on stage I was disappointed. Everything they did from every word, sound and exclamation were verbatim to the tape. I was convinced the concert was recorded. In fact, their subsequent live album from that tour solidified that belief. I was disappointed.

A few years later I saw INXS. On the way to the concert the people I was going with were playing the songs repeatedly in the car. By the time the band had played them I wasn’t as enthusiastic about them. It sounds crazy, but I had decided it was best not to play any songs too close to the concert date. I wanted to enjoy the experience.

So here we were walking to the entrance, hearing practically the whole set from ELO. It was muffled due to our distance from the stage. I reassured myself that it wasn’t going to ruin the fun. It would be hours before they came back on stage for real. Hours listening to other bands I looked forward to seeing including, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). It would be okay.

I recorded part of the audio on my cellphone while they played Don’t Bring Me Down. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to record anything during the show, so I decided to capture the moment just in case. You can hear it from the link below.

https://flic.kr/p/p7t9vy

I told Pat about my secret weapon that would get me a better view. “A book?” she asked. I laughed. Not quite. Platform shoes. We had a good laugh over them.

Getting inside was not a problem. The venue opened a little after 11:30am and we got through the entrance in a few minutes. I was surprised at how easy it was to get a spot close enough to the stage to see the people on it. What’s more, everyone had blankets and bags of food. It was a far more laid back atmosphere than I had expected. I was pleasantly surprised.

View of the stage

We sat a few yards to the right of a large tower, where they had cameras capturing the event for live streaming and to air on BBC’s Red Button, which was a specialty channel that often showed behind the scenes of their TV shows, as well as special concert events such as this one.

The lineup was as follows:

Chrissie Hynde
Bellowhead
Kacey Musgraves
Gregory Porter
Paloma Faith
Billy Ocean
Blondie
ELO

They had announced on the radio a few days prior that Jeff’s set was scheduled to start at 7:45pm and run for seventy-five minutes. This astonished and pleased me. I had no idea he’d have well over an hour to perform. The other acts had about thirty minutes to an hour, depending.

We stood and sat through a variety of sets. Chrissie Hynde was great. I loved hearing the Pretenders songs, as well as her new solo work. The sound was fantastic. Not too loud. We stood.

Bellowhead was a bit too much sea shanty music for my taste. I like sea shanties, but they all sounded the same to me after a while. We sat through their set, though if you saw the crowd shots on the big screen it looked like we all were standing when we weren’t. I thought that was hilarious.

Kacey Musgraves did a great job with her set. I knew a couple of her songs. They were nice, light and entertaining. I’m not much of a country fan, but I stood for her set.

Gergory Poter’s sound is more like R&B meets Jazz improv. I like the former, dislike the latter. We sat.

The sound went wonky at one point between sets. There was a pop and suddenly the bass became loud enough to beat against our chests. Not very pleasant. Paloma Faith commented that all she could hear was her bass drum. The problem was fixed soon enough. Her performance was very good. We stood and danced and enjoyed it.

We stood for Billy Ocean too. He did a great job.

There were still some sound issues when Blondie came on stage, but by the second or third song things seemed to be sorted. I was pleased by her show mainly because the last time I saw her (opening for Tears for Fears in the early 90’s), it wasn’t as good. We stood and danced.

At one point between acts I had heard they had special edition ELO T-shirts. So I took a walk to the stall only to discover that they were sold out and would get more by 9pm, and that we should order them at the table.  I chose not to.  I did not want to wait around after the concert to get the shirt, since I needed to be on the train the next morning.

I decided to go use the ladies’ room. I expected a long, slow moving line, but that wasn’t the case. The lines moved quickly and effectively to the porta-johns. I was in and out in about 5 minutes or so.

Walking around gave me a view of the rest of the venue. Along the sides were vendors selling all sorts of food. Toward the entrance was a second stage, called an Introducing Stage on which new acts were performing. I felt sorry for them. I had thought the second stage would be adjacent to the main stage and that the new acts would perform during the breaks between the major ones. Instead they were out of the way. They had a crowd, but most of the attendees were focused on the main stage. I’m sure it was a thrill for them to be there, but I felt like they didn’t get the attention they deserved. I had previewed a few of the artists before my trip and some of them sounded good. It would have been nice to have heard them, but I went back to my spot near the main stage.

The artists on the Introducing Stage were:

Ward Thomas
Jo Dolman
The Buffalo Skinners
The Cadbury Sisters
Sam Brookes
Nico Cara

When the last act before ELO finished, I pulled out the platforms from my backpack. Pat watched me with amusement as I put on the shoes and attached my makeshift straps to the back of them to keep them in place. I didn’t need the shoelaces. The ribbon worked very well. I tied it off with as much of a flourish as I could to make them seem stylish, and then stood up.

I could walk. It was a miracle.

I felt so much taller. What’s more I had no problem walking on the uneven ground in them. I was worried I’d fall over. Sounds crazy considering most women I know wore platforms and high heels without problems, and I do wear high heels. However, I often lose my balance for one reason or another and I didn’t want that to happen that night.

We spotted the crowds moving closer to the stage. No more sitting down for us. It was standing-room-only from now on. We inched closer, moving up several feet from where we had originally camped. Pat was content at watching the concert from the big screen, but she kept her eyes out for openings in the crowd so I could see the stage. The shoes were a blessing. There was no way I could have seen anything without them.   Granted, I had to deal with a whole crowd of people who decided to record the concert on their mobile phones and cameras, which meant their arms were extended over their heads, leaving me no choice at times but to see between a sea of elbows.

We moved a few times during the concert, whenever Pat spotted an opening for me. I could see Jeff clearly. Richard Tandy was more difficult to spot, because he was on the left on the piano. I gazed up at the video screens during his solos and vocoder parts or on the rare occasion when there were just too many elbows in the way.

I made a pact with myself not to record any portion of a concert on my mobile phone from now on. Based on my past failed experiences doing it and what I had to endure at this concert, it just wasn’t worth the distraction.

(Read my blog post: “Top Reasons Why You Should Not Record a Concert on Your Mobile Phone” https://stybz.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/top-reasons-why-you-should-not-record-a-concert-on-your-mobile-phone/)

When Jeff introduced Richard Tandy, I was the only person cheering in my area. No one in my area had a clue who he was. Oh well. I had told Pat about him before the concert, then pointed him out to her on the big screen early on in the show prior to the introduction. She asked me, “Is he an original (band member)?” I replied, “Yes.”

I remembered one of the other reasons why I wanted to watch the performance with my naked eyes and not on the big screen. ELO concerts are a sight to behold, full of lights, colors and visuals. In the 1970’s they toured with a stage set up like a large spaceship that opened at the beginning of the show to reveal the band, and closed at the end. This concert didn’t have a ship, but the rows of semi-circular racks of lighting on either side of the stage were a fantastic replacement, as was the large video screen on the back that provided a wide array of wonderful backdrops to accompany the songs, including the famous ELO spaceship that flew by.

This was the kind of thing that could not be captured on the jumbotrons. There was no way to see the full essence of the show on those big screens. One had to look at the stage and see it full-on. And that’s what I was able to do. I had tears in my eyes.

The concert was amazing. The sound was fantastic. And the visuals were great. My dream had come true. I saw ELO live finally after 33 years. I was so happy.

Some of the people around me didn’t know the lyrics of the songs but sang along anyway. We sang parts of Sweet Talkin’ Woman, Don’t Bring Me Down and Telephone Line to name a few. We cheered when Jeff Lynne did the quick verse in Turn To Stone. I was ecstatic when he performed Steppin’ Out. I looked at the big screen when Richard did his solos, including the hilarious “Please turn me over” at the end of Mr. Blue Sky on the vocoder. I loved it.

The people around me got a bit carried away after a while. At one point during Mr. Blue Sky, the people around me sang the operatic part. I had to grin and bear it, but when the band started the intro to Beethoven’s 5th for Roll Over Beethoven, a small group started doing “Doo doo doo doo.” I had to stop them. I wanted to hear the BBC Orchestra play it.

I turned around and as nicely as I could I said, “I came to hear them, not you.” To my amazement they clammed up really fast.

To them I extend a heartfelt thank you, and an apology if I sounded rude. I actually didn’t expect them to quiet up so easily. In the US I’d have gotten heckled. I thank you for your understanding.

After the event had concluded, Pat watched as I quickly changed back to my sneakers and asked, “So what are you going to do with the shoes?”

“Oh, I’m keeping them!” I said emphatically. I was so comfortable in them and they worked out so well for me. I couldn’t part with them. I needed those shoes for future events. They were my saviors.

“Good,” she said with a smile. “I knew you would.”

I walked with her out of the park and to the tube station where we said our goodbyes and exchanged warm hugs.  I always enjoyed my time with Pat and wished I could have stayed longer. I thanked her for coming with me to the concert. She said she had a great time. I was on cloud nine. The whole day turned out better than I had imagined. I’m so glad I went.

And so it was back to the hotel to pack for Paris.

I was standing in the jungle, I was feeling all right…. Journey to Europe – part 2

The above quote is from the ELO song “Jungle”.  Yesterday’s quote was from “Mr. Blue Sky”.

I had missed out on three Electric Light Orchestra concerts, all within a 30 year span each ten years apart from each other. What if something went awry? Granted, I figured that since this wasn’t a year ending in ‘one’ I should be okay, but I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t going to take any chances.

I only told a small number of people. I’m superstitious that way. I also only told one person of my ELO track record. I was afraid that if I told too many people it would happen again. Three people knew about the concert, including my brother. It was his turn to be envious. He reminded me that his concert had no violins or cellos. They were all on keyboards. I was going to see the full concert the way he had expected and I had always hoped to see it: Jeff with a full string section. I had always thought it would have been fantastic for him to perform with a full orchestra. Imagine the sound. It would have been fantastic. Here Jeff wasn’t going to play with a full orchestra, but it was the BBC concert orchestra, and that was close enough for me.

The planning of the rest of my trip took some thinking. I didn’t want to do a quick fly in and fly out. I suffer from motion sickness and don’t like to stack my flights together. Dramamine always made travel easier for me, but I still preferred to stagger the flights. So I had to decide whether I wanted to stay in the UK and head to Wales as I always wanted to do, or go somewhere else.

I tried to get tickets to one of Kate Bush’s concerts in London, but those were much more difficult and more expensive to obtain. Her tickets sold out in 15 minutes, which as a record. If I had lucked out I could have gotten them for that Saturday, September 13, but it was impossible. Fortunately, she announced she was releasing a DVD of the performance. I was satisfied with that.

I had always wanted to go to the Herge Museum in Brussles, so I thought about taking the train from London and spending a few days there. Then I decided to make it more enticing by including a few days in Paris. Train rides are much easier and less expensive. So after much thought I decided to fly into London on Friday night, spend Saturday sightseeing with Pat and attend the concert on Sunday, then take a train to Paris on Monday. That would give me two-and-a-half days in Paris. Then on Thursday I would take a train to Brussels and spend another two-and-a-half days before flying out on Sunday. That sounded like plan. I booked the hotels. It felt good.

WHAT WAS I DOING???

Let me explain. I usually do not like to cram things into a vacation. I am all about taking my time while seeing as much as I can. I don’t like to rush. But here I was planning to get up the next morning after a concert the night before to hop on a train to Paris. Was I crazy?

I kept reassuring myself that it would work. After all the concert was going to end at 9pm, not midnight. And the train was at 10am. Then try to see as much as I could of Paris and Brussels in less than 3 days each. Could I do it?

I felt determined to try.

So I booked everything, and started to plan what I would need to take to the concert. My big dilemma was that I had never been to a concert quite like this before. I had gone to a couple of general admission shows, but nothing of this magnitude. I wasn’t sure if we were going to have to stand for eight hours or would we be able to sit down. The photographs from last year’s show made it seem like everyone was pretty crammed up against the barriers.

Would I be able to see anything?

That was the big, most important question. You see, I’m five-foot-two and am often at a disadvantage in crowds. Either I cannot see anything or I get jostled because no one sees me or both. It’s not a pleasant experience. Many times even trying to see a stage while sitting in a theatre can be challenging as well.

Yes there would be jumbotrons. Yes, I could watch the concert on the big screen. But I wasn’t flying out to London to see ELO on a TV screen. I wanted to see them in the flesh. Otherwise it would be no different than watching them on TV at home. Yes, I would still hear them live, but it wasn’t the same without the full experience.

I didn’t want to get too close to the stage. So I had to ponder what to do. How do I ensure I see the stage? A box? Film and TV productions often used ‘apple boxes’ to add height. They are not very heavy, but they are very sturdy. Sometimes actors stand on them in a shot to sometimes appear taller and other times for the director to create a certain mood or effect as needed.

I needed an apple box.

Sadly, they were very expensive. I needed a cheaper option. A book?

Maybe, but did I want to lug a thick, heavy hardback book onto the plane (or an apple box if I had gotten one)? It would have to be something I could toss after the concert, as I did not want it taking up space in my luggage when I went to Paris and Brussels and especially on the way home.

What else? Platform shoes?

Platform shoes.

High heels would have been impossible in the grass unless they were wedges, and I wasn’t sure if they would give me the right height. So I decided to go with platform shoes. I have never worn them. I prefer flats, which is interesting considering my height issue in general, but while I can wear heels and have, I prefer flat shoes. I was never one for 3-inch heels or platforms (or even wedges for that matter), but needs must.

So I went to the local shoe store and hunted down the ideal platform shoe. I found two pairs. One was more ideal than the other one as far as comfort was concerned. They were both sandals, but the ideal one had a strap in the back to prevent me from falling out of them. The other did not. It also would have been more comfortable at the toe, but the other shoe, the one with the open back and the thong at the toe had an advantage of the other. It had a thicker soul and a slightly higher heel.

They were also $10.

So I decided I would buy the less comfortable platform wedges, wear them once, suffer the pain while I enjoyed seeing the stage and then toss them when I was done.

Sold!

Platforms

I still had the concern about falling out of them. I never liked shoes without a back strap like slides or clogs, because when I walked I’d kick them off. I didn’t want that to happen at the concert. Then I remembered I had some ribbon. I tossed those and a pair of shoelaces as backup. I wasn’t going to style or appearance. I was looking for practicality, functionality and to see the stage. In any event I knew the brown ribbon would look nicer than shoelaces, so I hoped they would work.

I no longer had the concert T-shirt my brother got for me.  I wasn’t sure if I should wear an ELO shirt, but I had one made just in case.  I didn’t bring a photo of the ELO logo to the T-shirt place, which was a mistake as their internet was down, but we went with the scripted initials on the front and song lyrics on the back.  I figured I’d decide on the day if I wanted to wear it or not.  The lyrics i chose were from the song ‘Jungle’.  I thought they were appropriate:

“Wondrous is our great blue ship
That sails around the mighty sun
And joy to everyone that rides along.”

shirt back

So I was all packed, all set with my shoes and other items I would need for the trip. Pat was going to bring a blanket and food for the concert. All was set to go. I booked tickets to the Herge Museum and mapped out my itinerary. I couldn’t wait until September 12th.

Mr. Blue You Did it Right…. Journey to Europe – part 1

I got into music very late as a child. I liked music, but it wasn’t something I with which I connected emotionally at the time. Maybe it was because I wasn’t really exposed too much to the current music scene of the early to mid-1970’s outside of what I saw on TV on variety shows such as Sonny and Cher, Donnie and Marie and others. When I did listen to the radio it was usually in the car with my parents choosing the stations.

I was more of a TV kid, glued to the tube watching all the big shows of the day. So it wasn’t surprising when a commercial came on TV in December of 1976 on Channel 5 (WNEW-TV in New York) promoting their New Year’s Eve special event programming. It intrigued me more for the comedy than the music.  I asked my parents if I could stay up on New Year’s. They were happy about it, as they were hosting a party that night, so having me planted in front of the TV in their bedroom and out of their way was a blessing. So that night I was introduced to The Beatles. The program was the film A Hard Day’s Night.

That night at the age of nine my view of music changed forever. We didn’t have VCRs so I had to rely on my memory and whatever I could find on radio, TV and magazines for my Beatles fix. I immersed myself in everything Beatles and even got into The Monkees thanks to TV reruns at the time (4pm weekdays on WCBS, Channel 2 in New York at the time), just because they reminded me of The Beatles. Soon I liked their music too.

A year after my intro into The Beatles, channel 5 repeated the film on New Year’s Eve in 1977/78 and followed it up with Yellow Submarine that same morning. Bleary-eyed but entertained at 4am on January 1, 1978, I asked my brother and father, who had stayed up with me to watch the films, if I could get an album of the songs from Yellow Submarine.   My brother went to the store the next day and couldn’t find the album, so he brought home a tape of Sgt. Pepper. I played that tape repeatedly. He also got me the compilation album 1962-66 that had a few more songs from the film, plus ones from A Hard Day’s Night. I loved it and wanted more.

We borrowed albums from the library and copied them onto tapes. When I was 12, my parents gave me a stereo for my birthday that had a turntable and a tape deck. I immersed myself in Beatles music, got up early on Sunday mornings for the Beatles Breakfast show on the radio. I recorded songs off the radio and bought more Beatles related magazines and albums.

After a while my brother decided I needed to move into the 1970’s. One day he came home from the library with two albums in his hands and said to me, “If you love The Beatles, you’ll like ELO.” He then put a record on the turntable and placed the needle on the first cut. The song was “Turn to Stone” (Out of the Blue, side one). He was wrong. I didn’t like ELO….

I LOVED THEM.

I listened and recorded those albums (the second one was A New World Record). Sometime later my brother bought them.  I soon got immersed in the whole catalog and my record collection was beginning to grow.

The Electric Light Orchestra became my second most favorite band after The Beatles. Soon after that I got into Queen, Supertramp and it went on from there. I fell in love of multiple genres and styles.

The one day in 1981, when I was fourteen, my parents and I visited my brother at college. When we arrived at his dorm room, he handed me a T-shirt. On the front was an image of the cover of the Electric Light Orchestra album, Time. On the back a listing of concert dates under the title, “Time Tour ‘81”. Tour? What’s this?

Until that day I never thought the average person could go to a concert. Somehow I thought that was out of reach. That day I discovered I was wrong. My brother had gone to see ELO live at the Philadelphia Spectrum. He had sat in the ninth row. What’s more, keyboardist Richard Tandy, who aside from Jeff Lynne was my favorite member of the band, had taken part in the sound check. I was so jealous.

“You owe me!” I said, rather than thanking him for the T-shirt . He understood and the following year took me to a Queen concert. That was fantastic, a very memorable night. It fed my desire to see other bands, including ELO.

Years and two albums went by with no tours. Then in 1987, Jeff Lynne disbanded the group. I was disappointed. No ELO concerts anymore.

Then in 1991, ten years after my brother saw them, there was a full-page ad in the newspaper for The Electric Light Orchestra on tour. I bought tickets, got great seats. A few weeks later I discovered that Jeff Lynne wasn’t involved. This surprised me, as Jeff had released a solo album at that time (Armchair Theatre) and I thought it was coinciding with the tour, but I was wrong. Oh, well. I had tickets, so I was going anyway.

Then the tour got canceled. I soon found out that Jeff had ordered the band to not use the name as he had the legal rights to it. They subsequently changed it to ELO Part II, since the drummer, Bev Bevan still had partial rights to the name, being that he was one of the founding members. Then when he left a few years later and he sold his piece to Jeff, they become The Orchestra.

Meanwhile, Jeff became a successful producer working with nearly all four Beatles, plus other artists including Tom Petty and Roy Orbison who joined Jeff, George Harrison and Bob Dylan in forming the Traveling Wilburys.

Ten years after the 1991 tour fiasco, Jeff decided to release a new album using the ELO name. It was called Zoom. Pretty soon tour dates were announced. I bought my tickets for the Meadowlands Arena gig as soon as I could. Again, I got great seats. In the meantime Jeff and the band appeared on VH1 Storytellers. The show was fantastic. I couldn’t wait to see them live. I was thrilled to see Richard Tandy there too. What a bonus!

The concert was scheduled for September 28th, 2001. Sometime in August the venue changed to the PNC Bank Arts Center. I had to drive an hour each way to exchange the tickets at the box office. Once again I had great seats.

Then two weeks later the concert was canceled. This time it was due to poor ticket sales.

On September 11th, the World Trade Center in New York was attacked. I firmly believed that even if the concert hadn’t been canceled prior to this tragic event, it would have after that, since I lived in close proximity to New York and since it would have been in bad taste for Jeff to compete with the benefit/tribute concerts at the time. PBS did continue with its scheduled airing of the live performance Jeff had recorded for them. I watched that with tears in my eyes. Not just because I missed out once again, but also because it was such a great show.

I resigned myself to the possibility that I just wasn’t destined to see Jeff or ELO live. I knew I would be content if Jeff joined Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, but that didn’t happen. However, he did always manage to join the band on stage when they performed in Los Angeles, where Jeff was living. I kicked myself for not booking a ticket to LA just to see that much.

Early in 2002, a few months after George Harrison’s death, a tribute concert was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Jeff was actively involved, singing lead in two songs and playing with the band throughout. Jeff also performed with Tom Petty, Prince and George’s son Dhani when George was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

Despite the performances, I conceded that Jeff would never tour. I started to hope for Classic Albums Live to do a performance of Out of the Blue, I wanted The Orchestra to tour in my area, I wanted another tribute band to come to the US.

From 2002 through 2010 Jeff worked mainly as a producer, while releasing remasters the ELO catalog. Meanwhile, I went to see a local ELO laser light show and the Broadway production of Xanadu. I even stayed behind at the end of Xanadu to watch the stage band finish their closing number which they played as audience members departed the theater. I told my friend that this was the closest I was going to get to seeing ELO music performed live in any way, shape or form.

Sometime in 2010 Jeff Lynne announced plans to release another ELO album. I wondered if this meant another attempt at a tour in 2011, ten years after the last one. This was becoming a pattern for me. Every ten years I’d miss my chance.

2011 came and went. In 2012 Jeff released two CDs: Mr. Blue Sky and The Long Wave. The first was a beautiful reworking of classic ELO songs. The latter was a collection of covers of his favorite songs. Jeff also was featured in a documentary titled Mr. Blue Sky. He also did several interviews.

Then in late 2013, Jeff reunited with Richard Tandy and performed with members of the BBC orchestra at the Children in Need concert in the UK. They did two songs: Livin’ Thing and Mr. Blue Sky.   I watched online and was thrilled by the performance.

Early in 2014 Jeff was honored in his hometown with a star on the Birmingham (England) Walk of Fame. More interviews followed. He even performed on the Grammy Salute to The Beatles, singing Something and performing on two other songs including a duet with Dave Grohl.

Then came the Chris Evan’s radio show in March.

Chris Evans is a popular radio DJ in the UK (BBC Radio 2). He is a big ELO fan. During the interview he asked Jeff if fans were to text their desire to see him perform live, would Jeff do a concert? He agreed. Chris asked Jeff for a number. He said, “2,000.” The response was overwhelming. It far exceeded that. I had heard the interview online and texted my interest as well.

Then on one fateful day in June I found out that “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” was to be the headline act at the BBC Radio 2 Festival in Hyde Park on September 14. Unfortunately for me I found out five hours too late. Tickets were sold out.

I went on Stubhub. I checked daily. Most tickets were selling anywhere from £100-180 apiece. Keep in mind the face value was £38. I couldn’t bring myself to spend that money as that meant close to $400 US. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that much. Add to it the airfare which was over $1,000. I felt uncertain what to do.

So I told myself that if the price went down below £100, I’d consider it. Then one day in August I saw it. Someone was selling their tickets for £45 each. I couldn’t believe it. I had seen another seller offering a child’s admission for that price (face value £17). I worried it was a mistake, but I triple checked the entry before I purchased the tickets.

I contacted my friend Pat and told her what I had done. The tickets were to be sent via UPS, so I gave the seller her address in London. I was all set to go alone, since I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about it. I invited her. She said yes. She’d love to go. I was thrilled.

I bought my airline tickets and booked a hotel near Hyde Park. The concert tickets were not going to be mailed until days before the event, so I was nervous, worrying that they were a mistake and they were children’s tickets. As the date grew closer, I kept checking Stubhub, wondering if I should buy a backup set just in case. I almost did when I saw another cheap pair, but my gut instinct told me not to do it.

I’m glad I didn’t. Pat contacted me when she got the tickets and they were correct. We were going to Hyde Park! I was so excited. I was finally going to see ELO.