No one should be allowed to leave San Sebastián after less than 24 hours; and no tour should be planned so people who follow it are required to stay in San Sebastián less than 24 hours.
Woke up at around 8:30am to the sound of the Dutchman’s iPhone‐based alarm clock, playing a song that must not be allowed as a wake‐up alarm anywhere: not even in jail, not even in San Quentin. If there’s one good thing about July 31 being the last day of the tour, is that I will never (hopefully) have to wake up to the sound of that iPhone alarm, ever again in my entire life.
(Well, except for Friday, as the Dutchman’s flight home leaves early in the morning.)
Went down to the hotel’s ground floor for breakfast, which cost about €11 and was worth incredibly less. Poor selection of… well… nothing interesting. Piled a few pseudo‐edible substances onto a plate and sat down eating while reading the news on my phone. OK, let’s see… the Israeli Parliament just passed a law to give elected governments more power and make it harder to topple them; hello, Mussolini, good to have you back. What else… yeah, another terrorist organization states that they want to kill me because my foreskin was removed when I was eight days old. Gee, thanks mates; wake me up when it’s my turn.
Great bunch of news in the morning, isn’t it. I should really stop doing that. I mean, stop reading the news altogether, not only in the mornings.
Finished breakfast in just about 15 minutes, up to the room, post‐breakfast morning routine and by 9:20am I was already in the driver’s seat.
The sun was shining, everything around was either green or of a colour that fits very well with green. 35 years I’m on this planet, and only now I’m learning about this part of Spain. Better late than never, and hear me when I say, you locals of northern Spain: I will be back.
Engine started, GPS started. Itinerary: 661km drive from Urnieta (a suburb of San Sebastián, where last night’s hotel is located) to Llafranc, located in Costa Brava, not far from Calella de Palafrugell.
661km with a manual shift. I’m used to travel long distances—may I remind you of the 2008 Kill to Get Crimson tour and the 2010 Get Lucky tour? plus, hey, I live in Canada, and a few times before I drove 600km just for a restaurant—but not in a country where I don’t speak the language, and not with a manual shift. I know how to drive those, but really, I find it too tiring.
The southbound ride from San Sebastián is scenic, sifting through green‐covered mountains and valleys, although with much less natural bodies of water as you’re getting further and further from the sea. The drive being scenic, plus the superbly comfortable weather, made that part of the drive a rather easy and enjoyable one. Once you hit Pamplona, though, the scenery changes dramatically—almost instantly—to a much less pleasant one.
I often use the expression Running of the Bulls to describe fans’ reckless run towards the stage before the encore. The real Running of the Bulls is a Pamplona tradition. The concept is simple: release six hot‐tempered bulls to run through the streets, and have people run at the same direction that the bulls run—of course, said people would be running in front of the herd; otherwise it wouldn’t be interesting—and see what happens. Injuries are very common (now that’s a shocker), and sometimes (although much less frequently than I’d expect) there are deaths as well (fifteen people died in Pamplona bulls’ runs since 1910).
The drive from Pamplona onwards, almost all the way to Costa Brava, was very difficult. Not only the scenery changed so it resembled more of a desert than anything else, but climate also changed to be rather vicious: intense dry heat, so intense that the car’s air conditioner could no longer keep up. For a large part of the ride, it felt less warm to open the windows and turn off the air conditioning, than having the car sealed with the air conditioning turned on full power.
Other than stopping for gas once along the way, another 15 minutes break was taken for a quick sandwich in some service station along the way, located, more or less, right in the very center of the middle of absolutely nowhere.
Also, this ride was possibly the most expensive car ride I have ever taken in my entire life, toll‐wise: overall, taking toll roads along the way saved about an hour of driving. The cost, altogether (there were five or six toll roads along the way) was—sit tight; that’s going to hurt—more than €50 (that’s about $68 CDN and $66 US). Absolute insanity: I have seen flights that cost less than that, covering greater distances.
Having said that, one good word must be said about the actual roads: all roads driven, both toll and toll‐free (but mostly the toll ones), were in fantastic condition. Great infrastructure, good signing and numerous service centers along the way.
After many hours of driving, traffic started becoming a bit more crowded approaching Barcelona. Fortunately, there was no need to enter the city itself; instead, took a road north, heading towards Costa Brava. In mid‐day during the working week, traffic there seems to be a breeze.
As you approach Costa Brava, the scenery becomes, once again, more and more interesting. The last half hour of driving was slower, and once sifting through the little towns along the coast, driving was even slower than that.
Finally, after a really long day of driving, arrived at the destination: Casamar Hotel in Llafranc.
Llafranc is a small town, one of three towns belonging to the municipality of Palafrugell (pronounced pa‐la‐fru‐hey). One of the other two towns in this municipality is Calella de Palafrugell (Calella is pronounced ka‐le‐ya. Now try pronouncing the full name of Calella de Palafrugell correctly. Do it three times in a row. It’s fun). The latter hosts the annual Cap Roig Festival, featuring Knopfler on its roster for this year.
I have never heard of Calella de Palafrugell before in my entire life. I did, however, hear a lot about Costa Brava. The latter is a world‐class tourism destination, attracting herds over herds of tourists with its beautiful beaches and wild, rugged coastline (Costa Brava in Spanish means Rough Coast).
The first time I became aware of Calella de Palafrugell was when details about the show were made available. I woke up one morning, and as I usually do even before getting up, I reached to my phone and caught up with things. A message was waiting for me from the Dutchman, saying that a new show was added to the tour and tickets went for sale immediately upon announcement. Unfortunately, I was asleep at that time and the Dutchman was on a train; we therefore bought the tickets about one hour after the sale started.
Still, even though tickets were purchased late, we ended up getting the best seats that were available (third row, center. The first few rows, I suppose, were reserved for VIPs and the sorts). I wouldn’t be surprised if that had something to do with the price: €180 per ticket (about $250 CDN), making this the most expensive concert ticket in the entire tour and one of the most expensive concert tickets I have ever purchased.
To put this price in perspective: the 2010 Get Lucky tour made a stop in Monte‐Carlo, Monaco. Two concerts, each going for the price of €140, and prices were inclusive of a full three course French dinner inside the venue.
What’s also interesting (at least for me) is that €140 in 2010 was worth almost exactly the same amount in Canadian dollars as €180 are worth nowadays.
Arrived at the hotel and found out that it’s located right on the water. The hotel also features a one Michelin star restaurant and a patio, offering views such as the following one:
After checking in, it turned out to be too late for lunch in proper restaurants. A few restaurants were still open for business in the exceptionally touristic beach below…
… however, their kitchens were either closed or proposing non‐interesting menus for annoyingly high prices. Fortunately, there was also a small bakery nearby selling sandwiches and other small snacks: a sandwich had to do.
Went back to the hotel and continued writing the previous post. That took a great while: about two or three hours spent pecking ruthlessly at the keyboard, while seated at the hotel’s terrace overlooking the clear blue water and enjoying perfect weather. There are far worse surroundings for writing, believe you me.
It is disturbingly funny to realize that, while the Spanish leg of the 2010 Get Lucky tour has been a nightmare, this time I’m having a ball here. I’m happy that I was given the chance to make peace with Spain after that horrendous experience three years ago. This last week in Spain has been great and I will certainly be back.
As the previous post was being uploaded over the hotel’s slow internet connection, I took the time to get ready for the concert. Same routine that has been an integral part of my life for the last three months… and it felt very strange going through it for the last time in this tour. Felt very special, like some sort of a celebration. I even put on a new shirt: my favourite one.
The concert was scheduled to start at 10:00pm, and the main problem was that we just couldn’t tell for sure where the venue was going to be. Calella de Palafrugell is a small town; but where, in that small town, was the festival taking place?
I found this to be a common problem with concerts that are a part of a festival: when concert details are published, the (reasonable) expectation is that the target audience—the locals—are already somewhat aware of where the venue actually is. When the concert in Calella de Palafrugell was announced as being a part of the Cap Roig Festival, I’m led to believe that most people who were the target audience for this concert already knew what the Cap Roig Festival is all about and its whereabouts.
The hotel’s receptionist handed out a map and pointed at a particular intersection. Turned out that the festival was taking place at the Cap Roig Botanical Gardens, located about 2km away from the hotel. While it was possible to drive, walking seemed to be a much better option: from the hotel to Calella de Palafrugell, there is a winding footpath going right along the coastline, offering stunning views of the surroundings.
With views like that, no wonder that a 25 minutes walk took longer to end. Once the path by the coastline ends and merges with the streets of Calella de Palafrugell, the terrain becomes steep. Guided by a paper map and the Google Maps app on my phone, we only became confident that we’re in the right place once we arrived at the venue’s parking lot.
That was when the sensation of “I made it” crept in for the first time.
Ticket collection didn’t take place in the venue’s box office; instead, it took place in a a small black tent right next to the venue’s main entrance.
That was when the second sensation of “I made it” took place.
The third one took place once I actually entered the venue.
The venue was, as people were warning me beforehand, pretty; yet, I was so excited and dumbfounded by the fact that I actually made it here after three months of travel, that I didn’t even bother taking pictures of this place before the concert started (you can find some online).
Upon entrance, I noticed piles of people were standing by small tables. The entrance leads you right into the venue’s dining area, consisting of multiple tents located along the perimeter and a few high standing tables in the middle. Very crowded. Still, somehow, I heard the call “Isaac!”. That was Mikel Camps, whom I already met a few times during this tour and who also helped a great deal in the last concert of the Get Lucky tour in Gredos. Always good to see this guy, who seems to be very familiar with the ins and outs of the Spanish entertainment industry.
Went to take a look at the seats…
… and stayed there for a few minutes, still trying to catch my breath after the climb up to the venue. Looking around, I noticed that this venue is quite small: I’m pretty sure this was the smallest venue for this tour.
Three quarters of an hour before the show, hunger struck; back to the dining area. As expected, prices there were quite steep. An assortment of tiny mini sandwiches went for €6 and had to do. It took less time to eat those six tiny sandwiches than it took to actually get them. That done with, went back to the seating area and waited for the concert to begin.
I looked at the stage, the stage looked at me. How familiar this stage is to me now, after seeing it approximately 220 times over the last eight years, about 180 of which during the last three years. I believe I know it by heart already. What a strange feeling it was, seeing this stage for the last time.
The seating area quickly filled with people. A couple of minutes past the scheduled start time, Junior Parker’s Feelin’ Good started playing; 10 seconds later, lights went out, Paul got the stage, introduced the band and the last concert of the Privateering tour went on its way.
The concert took on a great start, with the band appearing to be upbeat and fresh—possibly the result of an adrenaline rush due to this being the last concert for this tour and all.
Audience‐wise… well, I don’t know. Here’s the deal: during the markknopfler.com presales, only rows 3 and up were offered for sale. At the venue, a new row was added in front of row 1 (let’s call it “row 0”), making row 3 the fourth row overall. I am not entirely sure who or what entity sold tickets for the first three rows (0–2); at any rate, I have a feeling that those three rows were sold through some sort of VIP or private channels. The audience in the first three rows seemed less cheering and ecstatic than how you’d imagine them to be: most cheering appeared to have originated at the back and at the sides.
The cheering and immense support from the back and the sides, though, were of typical Spanish nature: very loud, very passionate. Richard Bennett, in one of his recent posts, wrote: “There is nothing like the Spanish audiences”, and, now that the tour is coming to an end, I believe that I can concur. Yes, there are other loud audiences out there (France, Italy) but, overall, the Spanish seem to be consistently ecstatic (well, except for the north, when they’re a little—though not much—quieter).
Just before Song for Sonny Liston, something went wrong. For the first time ever in my life, I heard Kerry’s voice over the microphone, telling Glenn Worf to remove his in‐ear monitor. Apparently, there was a buzz going on in the system, that made it to the speakers as well as to the band members’ in‐ear monitors. The buzzing prompted Mark and Kerry to exchange a few words in a technical language that I’m completely oblivious to.
At some point, the buzz was so loud that Mark cried “Ouch!” and removed the in‐ear monitor from his ear. Kerry then sprang into action to locate the source of the noise, which turned out to be somewhere around Ian’s drum kit. The chat with Kerry proceeded, with Mark saying that he was going to test something. Upon hearing the word “test”, some smartass in the audience (naturally, from somewhere in the first three rows) called (loudly) “one… one” (as if testing a microphone). That seemed to annoy Mark, who turned towards the smartass and called “Oh, shut up!”, eliciting a wave of laughter from the audience.
The issue was sorted out a few seconds later. Mark, then, turned again towards the joker: “OK, you. What were you saying? what’s your name?”, to which the joker responded with a particular word that I’m not entirely sure of, followed by the expression “like anybody else”. Not entirely sure what it was, but nobody laughed at this. Performance then went on as usual.
Once again during Postcards from Paraguay, the band urged Ian to continue drumming “one more verse” (in reference to his premature ending of the song during the concert in Gijón): I am happy to report that the song was, once again, played to completion.
Marbletown… Telegraph Road… a short break, Our Shangri La, So Far Away and it was all over. Band left the stage, lights kept shut for a few minutes, and once the lights went back on, it really sunk in.
Bid Mikel Camps goodbye, took a few photographs of the venue at night…
… and proceeded with the 25 minutes walk towards the hotel.
Grabbed some ice cream along the way, which didn’t help much to cope with the heat. It was incredibly hot and humid; I was sweating from body parts that I never knew I was in possession of. It was close to 1:00am when I finally arrived at the hotel; took a shower, verified with the Dutchman that it was indeed all over and went to bed.
Well, it’s been quite a ride. More than three months on the road, with my world compressed into a travel bag (what a brilliant travel bag it is! thanks, Osprey), following what I still consider the best band around.
It was far from being easy. It was hard. Very hard. I recall the Dutchman saying something along the lines of “I knew it would be hard, I just didn’t know how hard it could possibly be”. Undoubtedly, this tour was much, much harder to follow than the 2010 Get Lucky tour—and that one, mind you, wasn’t easy to follow in the slightest.
I could go on and on about the challenges that were encountered during the tour, and there were many. I will be the first to admit that I am more than a tad spoiled (later on in this post, you’ll understand why): living in my own bubble in western Canada, I got so used to certain conveniences that I started taking them for granted. Thus, while I could write piles and piles of rants over why things don’t quite “work” in many parts in Europe, this is all a matter of perspective: it’s not that Europe “sucks”; it’s just that my own bubble, headquartered very close to the Pacific Ocean in the stupidly awesome city of Vancouver, is… well… as good as it gets. FOR ME.
One comment, written in French, accused me of being way too harsh and disrespectful towards certain Latin cultures (interestingly enough, it was the one and only negative comment I received, throughout the entire tour), and called upon me to “go home already”; I recall similar comments being made during the last tour. That comment failed to take into consideration one major factor: everything that has been written in this blog was written from the point of view of an individual who doesn’t live here and has an exceptionally complex and convoluted schedule to follow. I never intended to perform full research of entire cultures and pass judgments on them; what I did was to just highlight certain aspects of these cultures that affect reckless travellers, such as myself. Chill out, then; your country (or city, town, or whatever) doesn’t suck. You’re OK, too. Relax. Take a deep breath. No offence was intended.
It’s been a tough ride and I must say that I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to do what I had done.
Now, I suppose, would be a good time for thanks.
The first “thank you” goes to the one who deserves it the most: my travel partner, usually referred to as “The Dutchman” although some people prefer, for a reason I just can’t comprehend, to call him “Jeroen Gerrits”.
For months, we were planning the tour’s itinerary together, and I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it was just to plan for this tour (let alone to actually follow it). The efforts put into planning paid off, though: together, we came up with a travel plan as meticulous and extensive as only two minds with strong scientific orientation could come up with.
We ended up spending the vast majority of the time during this tour together, and whoever knows me a little beyond this funny blog screen could easily tell you that my personality would render me a disastrous travel partner at times. I am forever indebted to Jeroen for his companionship and friendship along the way, as well as for helping me out by lifting my travel bag onto trains’ overhead compartments ever since I fell down and broke my wrist in June. How he withstood those long nights when I was pecking at the keyboard writing this drivel while he was trying to fall asleep—is beyond me.
Special thanks also go to the almighty Ingrid—possibly the closest thing to “superwoman” that I had ever seen in my entire life. Many of this tour’s best days were spent with Ingrid around, and I am indebted to her as well for her friendship, as well as for her help along the way.
Many thanks to all the readers of this blog, for your readership as well as for your comments. My goal in this blog was far from being about the actual concerts; instead, it was all about the travel experience. If I was able to convey at least some of the highs and lows of this tour to you, then I consider my job done.
Many thanks to all people I met during this tour, new and familiar faces alike: your support was, and still is, much appreciated.
And, of course, many thanks to (in clockwise order) Jim Cox, John McCusker, Glenn Worf, Ian Thomas, Mike McGoldrick, Richard Bennett, Guy Fletcher and Mark Knopfler, as well as the tour’s management, for helping provide a perfect soundtrack for yet another amazing experience. No matter what happened during the days, watching this band perform on an almost nightly basis helped reverting things back to equilibrium.
There is no better band around. There can’t be.
August 1, 2010. The Get Lucky tour had just ended, and I headed to Barcelona to spend a few days on the beach before heading home (back then, I used to live in Waterloo, Ontario). I knew I’d need a few days to unwind, so I had my flight home scheduled to depart a few days past the tour’s conclusion.
I remember spending a few days on Barcelona’s beautiful beaches. It was beautiful, peaceful, and beautiful again. I remember gazing at the beach and at the water, trying to comprehend the fact that the tour was over and what it meant; and more than anything else, I remember the feeling. It was a feeling of intense and profound emptiness: what used to be a daily routine—waking up, travelling, watching concerts, sleeping—had just ended: what now?
The few days spent in Barcelona after that tour were not enough to recover. In a sense, I don’t think I ever recovered fully: I dislike clichés, but I’m willing to take a leap forward and admit that following the 2010 Get Lucky tour had an immense impact on my life, mostly positive but also negative.
I flew from Barcelona back to Toronto, took the one hour taxi ride to Waterloo, entered my house and…
It was that moment, that sensation of emotional vacuum that convinced me that my time had come: time to leave the boring, comfortable life in rural Ontario behind, sell my house, pack whatever still meant anything to me and move to where I had always wanted to: the wonderful city of Vancouver, located five hours flight west of Ontario, right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
I still had a few commitments to attend to. Those ended in December, and one month later I was already in Canada’s west coast. I took with me five guitars, a piano, an espresso machine, an espresso beans grinder, a few clothes, and everything related to my computer; I gave away most of what was left.
Fast forward three years later. The move to Vancouver was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Life became exciting. From the deafening quietness and paralyzing boredom of rural Ontario, I moved to live in the very heart of a big city—a city which I still consider the best place (again, FOR ME) to live in on the face of this miserable blue planet.
After spending a year in a small apartment in an older building, I moved to a brand new apartment, in a brand new building, looking over the city from really high up.
And here’s some very early morning view:
My passion to travel changed as well. Before, I was happy whenever I got the chance to travel far, very far—as far as an airplane could get me out out of southwestern Ontario; living in Vancouver, I still like to travel a lot—but I really don’t need to put too much effort into it. Everything I’m looking for in a travel experience is located within a few hours drive from my apartment, and some of it can even be found in Vancouver’s downtown area.
For example, it’s less than an hour drive to the Stawamus Chief, for a lovely day hike that features, say, these:
Whytecliff Park is even closer:
Horseshoe Bay is just around the corner from there:
Or, say, this (I’m not even sure where I took it, I think somewhere around Squamish):
How about a hiking trail in, say, Cypress Mountain, conveniently located in West Vancouver, a bridge away from downtown (note: there are bears there, too)?
Highway 99 (“Sea to Sky Highway”), considered to be one of the most beautiful highways in the world, connects Vancouver with Whistler.
How about Whistler in the winter?
(Too bad I don’t ski.)
Sitting here in Porteau Cove isn’t half bad either, about 30 minutes drive away from home:
Feeling like going to the beach? why drive? English Bay is located at west side of the downtown peninsula:
Feeling like taking a day trip? here’s the Okanagan Valley in the east, about four hours drive.
Further east, you get to the Canadian Rockies:
And the list goes on and on. The point of all of this was to illustrate that I no longer have to travel much in order to get up close and intimate with Mother Nature; it’s all right here within reach.
That should explain why I was thinking really, really hard before finally deciding to follow this tour. I kept raising valid questions against doing it, and kept coming up with a “yes, but…”. Something tipped the scale in favour of this tour, and given my immense love towards British Columbia (well, the Canadian Rockies are on the border between British Columbia and Alberta, and most famous sites are technically in Alberta’s side; but work with me here), you could see why I had trouble rationalizing it. At the end, I gave up all rationalization and decided to just go with it.
When I say “at the end”, I am referring, really, to the end. All tickets were purchased and virtually all travel was already arranged and paid for, before I took the final decision to attend the tour in its entirety. I can’t recall exactly when it was that I took that final decision; I believe it was around March, about a month or so before the tour started.
And so, on April 8, I bid Vancouver goodbye, headed to the airport, and flew to Israel to visit my family and friends. Two weeks later, and two days earlier than planned due to aviation strikes in both my departure point (Israel) and destination (Germany), I arrived to Frankfurt to meet the Dutchman; a day later, flew to Bucharest and the rest is all (well, mostly) documented in this blog.
I am happy that I took myself through this immense challenge, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment for successfully going through it all.
Signing off this post from the terrace of the hotel in Llafranc. A good lunch was had earlier in the hotel’s Michelin Star restaurant.
Will upload this post, take another walk around this beautiful place, and then head back to Barcelona, staying in a hotel by the airport.
Tomorrow morning, the Dutchman will take an early flight to Amsterdam. My flight to Toronto departs a few hours later, at around 12:00pm; a couple of hours break and then a connecting flight (in executive class; finally managed to upgrade) to Vancouver. Should arrive home at around 7:00pm local time, and head directly to the emergency room.
Wish me luck.
Until the next time,