Intro


Hello. My name is Isaac, 35 years old from Vancouver, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s 2013 “Privateering” tour, from April 25 (Bucharest, Romania) to July 31 (Calella de Palafrugell, Spain).

Due to Despite the tour’s obnoxious schedule (thanks, Mark), I cannot be entirely sure that I will attend all concerts. That being said, I will try. You are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read, and comment. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see the “Subscribe for Updates” box at the right hand side of the page. For standard RSS readers, select the “Atom” option).

Have fun,
Isaac

Note: The contents of this blog are also available in hardcover and paperback formats. For more information, click here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/isaac_s

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Copenhagen, Denmark to Hamburg and Frankfurt, Germany (June 17–18, 2013)

The last post, uploaded in the wee wee hours between Sunday and Monday, concluded with a short demonstration of how resentful I was of sleeper trains. My hatred towards this means of transportation isn’t just made up: it is based on experience. During the 2010 Get Lucky tour, I had the utter displeasure of riding sleeper trains a few times, and I remember not being able to sleep at all through one ride, and being awakened multiple times during the night through the other rides. The common for all my previous sleeper train rides was extreme tiredness that took days to remedy.

The hotel I stayed in while in Copenhagen, Hotel Saga, proved to be a total flop. Woke up many times thanks to doors being slammed, drunken idiots being too vocal… basically, the entire package of displeasure inherent from picking a budget hotel that also happens to be located near a central railway station. Stay away from it. Pay more and sleep better elsewhere.

They also had the following sign posted in the breakfast room:

IMG_20130617_083001

And I say… a hotel that posts such a sign is, most likely, not in the habit of catering to the same sort of clientele that I wish to be a part of. Call me a snob, but if you are a hotel owner and you find it appropriate to presume that your clientele is stealing food for use as lunch, then perhaps you should class up your hotel a little. Posting a sign like this shows a great deal of disrespect.

When I opened my eyes in 6:30am—about four hours and a half after uploading the last post—I knew that there was no way in hell that I was going to be surviving the next twelve hours awake (the night train from Copenhagen to Frankfurt was scheduled to leave at 6:40pm); moreover, I just knew that was not going to be sleeping at all during that entire twelve hours ride. In summary, I was looking at spending the next 24 hours awake, after having slept for about 4 hours the night before (including being rudely awakened multiple times).

I didn’t even bother getting out of bed: grabbed my phone and started looking for alternatives. Ten minutes later, I had an alternative itinerary: take the train from Copenhagen to Hamburg (just over four hours), spend the night there, and continue to Frankfurt the next morning.

Had I realized that it’s possible to cut the Copenhagen → Frankfurt trip into two, right in the beautiful city of Hamburg, I would most likely not even bother booking the sleeper train in the first place. Unfortunately, when planning such a journey, there is only so much that your brain is capable of processing.

I also knew that Jeroen was very content with going on that sleeper train: the Dutchman is a heavy sleeper, nothing wakes him up. He’s the type of person who would sleep through an entire World War and then wake up asking where the hell everybody went. The change in plans was going to incur additional costs, so I was assuming that I was going to be on my own with this new itinerary. Quickly packed everything, got dressed and was ready to hit the hotel’s dining room for breakfast when the Dutchman woke up.

Fortunately, no convincing was needed whatsoever. Minutes later we were downstairs at the dining room discussing the details.

Another item of major concern was brought up. Apparently, the next week in Germany is going to be insanely hot as temperatures are expected to be in the 30℃ area. Therefore, it made a lot of sense to ensure that the hotels we’re staying in actually have air conditioning. This is something we were making sure of (or, at least, I thought we were making sure of) while booking all hotels for the tour, but it was worth double checking.

Good thing I checked. The hotel booked for Frankfurt—only 24 hours ahead—didn’t have air conditioning. Great.

Right after breakfast, two travel ninjas were presented with a series of tasks:

  • Research and book a hotel in Hamburg for the night.
  • Research and book an alternative hotel in Frankfurt for the next night.
  • Cancel existing hotel reservation in Frankfurt.
  • Plan railway route from Copenhagen to Hamburg.
  • Plan railway route from Hamburg to Frankfurt.
  • Find out about the cancellation policy of the sleeper train.
  • Make reservations for trains that carry a compulsory reservation policy.
  • Look into cancelling the next sleeper train scheduled for next week, from Salzburg to Paris.
  • Book a different hotel in Salzburg, as that one didn’t show to have air conditioning either.

It’s amazing, though, how easy these things become the more you do them. A few minutes later, the Frankfurt hotel switch was already done, and we headed out to the central railway station, where we reserved seats for the train from Copenhagen to Hamburg.

Having more than two hours to kill, we went to Andersen Bakery—a desserts shop we had seen the day before but couldn’t check it out as it was closed. This bakery is ranked #19 out of more than 900 restaurants in Copenhagen and for a good reason—baked goods are delicious and even the coffee was great. Go there.

Only while writing this blog, I did some research and found out that Andersen Bakery has four locations in the entire world: Hiroshima, Tokyo, San Francisco and… Copenhagen. Interesting.

Using the Wi‐Fi connection in the bakery, we completed the rest of the tasks: hotel in Hamburg—booked; train reservation for the Hamburg → Frankfurt journey—done. Looked into the Salzburg → Paris ride, and decided to break it in half by spending the night in either Strasbourg or Stuttgart, about half way. (Cancellable) Hotel reservation in Strasbourg—booked; alternative hotel reservation in Salzburg—booked; cancellable hotel reservation in Stuttgart—deferred for later, when we finally decide where to break the Salzburg → Paris ride.

And there was ample time afterwards to sip coffee and catch up with the world.

Travel ninjas, indeed.


The Intercity Express (ICE) train ride from Copenhagen to Hamburg takes a different route than the sleeper train. I neither knew nor cared for it until I woke up from a short nap while in the train and informed Jeroen that I’ll be going to the toilet for a second, to which he replied that it may not be such a great idea, as we’re about to hop on a ferry.

A ferry?

Yes, a ferry.

The ICE train crosses the Fehmarn Belt—a stretch of water in the Baltic Sea—between Rødby, Denmark to Puttgarden, Germany. It does it by being loaded in its entirety onto a ferry! Shortly after boarding the ferry, all living things are required to leave the train and get to the ferry’s deck: as a security precaution, nobody’s allowed to remain in the train while it’s on a ferry, and it remains locked until five minutes before the ferry arrives at its destination.

IMG_0938

Up to the ferry’s deck to hunt for some food. The ferry has a restaurant on board selling miniature dishes for exaggerated prices—skipped. It also has a self‐serve shop where you can buy traditional junk food (sausages, hamburgers, fries etc.) as well as some cold sandwiches and yogurts. That was a good opportunity to both eat and get rid of the Danish currency I had left. Short meal and up to the ferry’s upper deck to get some sun.

IMG_0940

At the ferry’s upper deck, a seagull was gliding by right above us, keeping perfect pace with the ferry’s speed so it looked as if the seagull was completely stationary.

PANO_20130617_141023IMG_0946IMG_0943

I then noticed the seagull gliding above the water, by the ferry. A group of people was throwing bits of food towards the seagull. I was completely and totally shocked to witness that seagull catch each and every bit of food thrown at it—a tremendous feat considering how many parameters are involved: the direction and speed of the ferry, the seagull and the wind; the wind’s speed and direction; the mass of that food bit and its shape (the shape would affect its aerodynamic behaviour). In a few instances, food bits were actually on their way to sink into the sea, and that brilliant seagull dived more than a few meters and caught them!

IMG_20130617_141409IMG_0947

Unbelievable. If you throw food bits at me, while I’m stationary and there’s no wind at all, I’m more than likely to miss it. This seagull does it all while flying. It’s an unfair world.

I should say that feeding seagulls by throwing food at them is not something that I would do. Animals living in the wild (and the sea should be considered as “the wild” in this context) should live off the wild and feeding them often produces more damage than benefits. There, I ruined another party.

Back to the train, which took about 10 minutes to depart the ferry. Goodbye Scandinavia, hello again Europe’s mainland.

IMG_0954IMG_0955


There was something soothing in touching ground in Europe’s mainland again. For once, there is much less water “in the way”, which means that it’s possible to get pretty much anywhere with trains (comparing to Scandinavia, where the abundance of water makes it at times very difficult, if not impossible, to travel by train); for twice, my Israeli SIM card, which doesn’t work in Scandinavia, works perfectly in Europe’s mainland which meant that I’m back into 3G connectivity mode, thank you very much.

Train arrived in Hamburg and first thing’s first: off to Deutsche Bahn’s reservation center to check a few items off the list.

The sleeper train for the night—which we obviously were not going to take—cancelled. Should get a partial refund.

The next task was to attempt to book the only remaining train journey for the tour: the train from Madrid to Gijon (July 28). Tickets for this train only went on sale a few days earlier, but unfortunately, Deutsche Bahn couldn’t help us as they couldn’t even find that train in their systems.

I had heard before that Spain’s train travel system isn’t very well integrated with the rest of Europe. Therefore, I decided to email my friend Julio, asking for his help—which was kindly and promptly given. Hopefully everything will be booked by the week’s end.

Out of the train station… welcome to Hamburg.


I have very fond memories of Hamburg. I was there three years ago during the 2010 Get Lucky tour: I remember the weather being sunny, warm and clear—as well as a few pleasant walks by the Außenalster. Arriving to Hamburg, then, was accompanied by a relief: I’m in familiar territory.

From Hamburg’s central railway station to the hotel, Suite Novotel Hamburg City, it’s less than a kilometer walk on Steindamm, a major street in Hamburg. Walking in Steindamm, I wasn’t sure, at first, that I was indeed in Germany: so many Middle Eastern restaurants, and a few fruit and vegetable stores offering their goods right on the sidewalk—of those sights you’d encounter so frequently in Istanbul, Jaffa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There’s something charming and invigorating in walking down an avenue filled with the scent of fresh fruit and vegetables all along. I recommend it.

I was dead tired upon arriving at the hotel, but still, it’s Hamburg so why not make the most out of it. Off to a walk by the Außenalster, crossing the Kennedy Bridge and on towards the old city area.

IMG_0957IMG_0958IMG_0963IMG_0964PANO_20130617_182243PANO_20130617_182300PANO_20130617_195240

The old city area is tourist‐centric, which means many restaurants with a ridiculous ration of price vs. quality. TripAdvisor suggested a restaurant by the name of Friesenkeller, and on the way there, I saw this:

PANO_20130617_195523

I know of so many people who would wish to switch places with me just so they could jump into one of these tents and enjoy the traditional German habit of consuming insane amounts of beer along with cheap mediocre food. I just can’t quite “connect” to it: can’t think of myself having a lot of fun sitting along long tables surrounded by people I don’t know, let alone while drinking beer which I generally dislike with passion. I’m not sure whether this is due to my resentment towards beer, or my built‐in defects when it comes to socializing—either way, you’re unlikely to find me dead in such places (although I have nothing much against those who are into it, of course).

Dinner was pleasant, good poached fish consumed on a terrace floating on the water.

IMG_0966

Off for a short stroll in the old city area (which didn’t reveal much; or perhaps I was looking in the wrong place)…

PANO_20130617_200428

… another sit‐down for tea and desserts when it was already getting late.

IMG_0969

Knackered. S‐Bahn back to the hotel…

IMG_0971

… and a glorious night sleep.

Screw you, sleeper trains. You and I need to see other people. It’s not me, it’s you.


Tuesday morning, the usual morning routines and off to Hamburg’s central railway station. Breakfast wasn’t included in the hotel’s rate so the plan was to grab a short sandwich for the morning and buy some food for later on, as the train ride to Frankfurt takes about four hours. All went according to plan, save for a 10 minutes train delay. Hopped on the 1st class coach and spent almost the entire train ride writing, as well as deciding upon whether to break the Salzburg → Paris ride in Strasbourg or Stuttgart. As much as I’d prefer Strasbourg (we’re going to be spending a couple of days in Stuttgart later during the tour anyway), getting there by train from Salzburg is rather tiring: through Stuttgart, it’s a whole different story—much easier—so Stuttgart won. Congratulations Stuttgart; see you June 25.

Weather forecast called for temperatures around 32℃ in Frankfurt. It has been quite a while since I had experienced such temperatures: inhumane, ridiculous and borderline illegal. Anything over 24℃ is redundant as far as I’m concerned; 27℃ is already something I’m not willing to cooperate with. 32℃? you must be kidding.

Where I was born and raised, temperatures such as 32℃ or even more (I faintly recall temperatures in the low 40℃’s) weren’t so unheard of. You just had to learn to live with it. In central Israel, you get about 330 days of sun every year, and weather starts being irritatingly hot some time in April and gets back to tolerable realm some time in October. In between, air conditioners are used pretty much everywhere so you only feel the heat (and humidity) when you’re transitioning between air‐conditioned locations.

Therefore, I do have the knowledge of what such heat feels like, as well as the knowledge that I do not welcome it at all.

What I do remember vividly is the feeling you get once you exit an air‐conditioned place into a hot, humid environment: you feel as if the sun, the wind and all other elements have joined together into one big palm and just smacked you silly right in your face. Of course, the same happened in Frankfurt: leaving the train towards the platform, I felt as if I’m entering a huge sauna.

Passed by Le Crobag for a good sandwich:

IMG_0972

(Le Crobag is a German fast‐food chain specializing in sandwiches [some of which are actually healthy] and baked goods. They’re everywhere in the German railway system.)

Quick walk to the hotel—Star Inn, located about 200m from the central station—and finally, a proper hotel (for its price) in the central railway station area.

When you exit Frankfurt’s central railway station through the main exit—facing east—you are presented with a crescent‐shaped avenue containing many, many hotels. I used to stay in these hotels before until I realized that, for their price, they offer ridiculous quality. The reason these hotels are so expensive (comparing to what they offer) is simple: they are very easy to find. They are literally in your face when you exit the station.

Luckily, now I know better.

When looking for a hotel in Frankfurt, don’t settle for those junk hotels facing the station. Total waste of money.

Great rooms, air‐conditioned of course. No free Wi‐Fi, but wired (LAN) internet is free—however you need to punch in a code. Phoned reception.

– “You’ll need to come to reception to get the code.”

– “What? Why?”

– “Because you need to sign something.”

Sigh.

When you access the internet through a hotel or many other sorts of public places, you usually get presented with a digital form asking you to read the term of service, check a box and click to “agree”. That “I agree” box is probably the most prevalent lie in the history of lies: do you know of anybody who ever read those terms, to the fullest?

Me neither.

In a nutshell, people who go about surfing the net have the potential to cause a lot of damage, to themselves as well as to others. Often, one doesn’t require to have malicious intent in order to cause damage (for example, consider all those cases of internet “worms” that keep popping up every once in a while).

The reason you are required to “agree” on a bunch of legalese text is in order to release the hotel (or whatever public place you’re in) from any sort of liability concerning your use of the internet. For example, if your computer gets infected with a virus while surfing the internet from the comfort of your hotel room, forget about suing the hotel.

Also, such public places want you to commit to not commit illegal acts through the internet while connected through their facilities. Such acts might put the public place at legal risk, so the purpose of the “agreement” is to roll such liability onto you.

Seems reasonable. However, while all public places I’ve been to so far were prompting me with that “agreement” form online, it was very strange to be required to actually sign a paper.

At around 4:00pm, it was decided to go about doing the laundry. Laundry is yet another element that has to be carefully considered while following a concert tour with a busy schedule. As Frankfurt is notorious (at least in my eyes) to be exceptionally boring, it would make sense to do the laundry here than, say, in Vienna.

No self‐serve Laundromat in the area. Instead, we found a location nearby the hotel that agreed to give us a deal—€30 for everything. “Come back at 6:00pm”. OK.

IMG_0974

Back to the hotel, did some writing until wonderful Ingrid came along. Ingrid made her way to Frankfurt from The Netherlands despite having some back problems. Ingrid is such a strong individual—one of the strongest‐willed individuals I know—that she’d probably have to be bound to a stretcher in order to be convinced to alter her plans. Was good seeing Ingrid again—as it always is.

5:00pm: time for lunch. TripAdvisor suggested Pizza 7 Bello as a great place for… well… pizza. Steaming hot everywhere, and a good pizza was consumed in the open air patio outside. This simple‐looking restaurant offers good food for very reasonable prices. Go there.

Back to the Laundromat to pick up the clothes, where I lost a bit more of the very little faith I had in humanity to begin with. Of course laundry wasn’t ready at 6:00pm. Fifteen minutes later, the lady came out asking whether we need the clothes right away, as they’re “a little damp”. We said “that’s OK”, and she started loading the clothes (surprisingly, they were already folded—which means that they were folded before she even asked whether it’s OK for them to be damp. Weird) onto paper bags. The bags seemed to be heavy. Arriving at the hotel, it turned out that the clothes weren’t “a little damp”. They were “very damp”, or—the way people usually call that level of humidity—“wet”.

Brilliant. Clothes were now spread out all over the hotel room, with hopes that they will dry out by the morning.

Off to the venue.


The venue, Festhalle Frankfurt, is located in Frankfurt’s city center, about 10 minutes walk west of the central railway station. I have been there before, during the 2010 Get Lucky tour.

IMG_0975IMG_0977IMG_0978IMG_0979

The first thing I noticed when entering the venue had nothing to do about how beautiful the ceilings were: instead, the first thing I noticed was the heat. Ventilation was next to non‐existent. Remember what I wrote about the concert in Zwolle? The Festhalle was even worse.

It was certain that a normal human being wouldn’t survive this concert without water. €3.30 for half a litre of water, poured into a cup. Thank you very much.

Have you ever wondered what allows concert venues to forbid you from bringing your own water—thereby forcing you to pay ridiculous prices for the transparent liquid—and get away with it?

I’m not even talking about getting water for free; I’m talking about bringing my own decent bottle of cold water. Why can’t we do this?

As I see it, concert venues may provide two excuses:

  • The desire to prevent people from bringing in certain types of liquids. For example, someone might abuse this “privilege” and bring in a bottle filled with flammable material of some sort.
  • You want free water? go ahead and drink from the toilet sink.

The first point, then, is basically a form of collective punishment. Why should most people be forced to pay ridiculous prices for water just because some idiots might break the law?

Then again, in our day and age, innocent people often have to pay the price for the criminal / immoral acts of a few.

Drunken screw‐heads throwing bottles of water onto the stage? “let’s disallow the entire population of concertgoers from entering the venue with bottles”.

Such collective punishments are commonplace, and the only reason they’re commonplace is that we, as a society, are too weak (or too politically correct, at times) to fight back such nonsense back.

The second point is harder to dispute. It should be, then, within the venue’s responsibility to ensure and to prove that water coming out of toilets’ sinks are safe and drinkable. So far, I can’t recall any sort of “these water are safe for drinking” notice in any venue I had been to.

P.S. Interestingly enough, there actually is a country out there who is in the process of passing a law whereby you could bring your own drinks and food into a concert venue (or a movie theatre and other similar establishments) under one condition: you could only bring in items that are up for sale in the venue. For example, you’ll be able to bring in water bottles, but won’t be able to bring in the chicken cordon bleu that you just prepared at home.

Israel, of course. Turns out that, sometimes, that country does make sense.

I wish I could tell you much about the concert, but I can’t. Unfortunately, while the concert itself was as good as many others, the concert experience was, hands down, the worst so far in the tour and one of the worst ever for me. First, due to where I was seated, virtually all audio was played into my left ear which is sensitive to high treble audio, so I had to block my left ear for most of the time. Second, the immense heat eventually made me get up from my seat and watch the concert from the back of the venue. At times, I even went outside for a breather. It was that hot.

IMG_0980IMG_0981IMG_0982IMG_0984

I watched a great deal of the concert from the side of the stage, standing up. There were less people there so temperature was at least manageable. I then saw a few stretchers leaving towards the seated areas—wouldn’t be surprised if a few people simply gave in to the ridiculous heat and passed out.

What a terrible experience.

IMG_0994IMG_0995

After the show, some post‐concert snack (well, a salad) and drinks with Ingrid in an Italian restaurant by the venue, then back to the hotel for a glorious shower followed by an even more glorious sleep.


Signing off this post from the lobby of my hotel in Regensburg, Germany. Most of the afternoon was spent in a nearby hospital. Got to upload this and head out for dinner, then to the concert.

Isaac

5 comments:

  1. Wolfgang from Northern GermanyJune 19, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Mark skipped Hamburg, but you, Isaac, didn't, so thank you very much for delivering these nice impressions from the city of my heart so unexpectedly. You managed to bring me some nostalgia, if not home sickness by your writing about Steindamm alone. Thank you very much and have good and safe travels further on, both you travel ninjas!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers Wolfgang. Northern Germany is indeed beautiful...

      Delete
  2. Thanks Isaac for making me aware that the other hotel didn't have airco. Was the best idea ever to cancel that one and book a new one. I really needed some lower temperatures after the long warm day.
    Incredible that the 4 star hotel didn't have airco and the newly booked 3 star hotel did have airco.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I know...
      From now on - only air conditioned rooms.
      No exceptions.

      Delete
    2. I see you've been converted to Canadian temperatures :)

      Delete