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

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Barcelona to Madrid to Málaga, Spain (July 26–27, 2013)

During the 2010 Get Lucky tour, the tough travel in Spain—then, also, the last leg of the tour—was a major contributor to my exhaustion and my inability to enjoy anything in this interesting, wild country. This tour, however, travel in Spain is (at least planned to be) relatively easy. The rest of Europe—the convenience of travel in Germany; the total and utter awesomeness of Switzerland; the drama of Italy; the passionate nonchalance of France—is behind me: time to face Spain again and try to make amends.

The first all‐Spain travel was an easy one: depart Barcelona 11:00am, arrive Madrid 1:45pm. Less than two hours of train travel, one single train ride, although in 2nd class (for some reason, 1st class seats weren’t available for reservation for this particular train).

Nothing to rush for whatsoever in the morning of July 26. Woke up late, headed for a good breakfast at the hotel—the standard for hotel‐provided breakfasts in Spain is very good; almost as good as Italy’s and far, far better than France’s—and then off to the nearby metro. A few stations and there’s Barcelona Sants again: all travel arrangements done already, it was good to know that I don’t have to deal with inefficiencies here. Baggage up on the conveyor belt for security check and boarded the train.

I am not sure whether this applies to high‐speed trains or all trains in Spain, but at least for the high‐speed ones, boarding these trains isn’t as simple as it is in other countries. Just to enter the platforms’ area, you need to have your ticket checked and scanned, and then put your luggage through an X‐ray machine, much like in an airport. Once done, you enter the departures area; and before boarding the train, you have your ticket checked and scanned once again.

Once on the train, though, there is no ticket inspections.

The train ride between Barcelona and Madrid is scenic, however not scenic in the “Switzerland way”: you won’t see great snow‐covered mountains and turquoise lakes. Instead, you’ll see endless ranges of hills with patches of green, occasionally dotted by very small communities.

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Arrived in Madrid’s Puerta de Atocha station on time. This train station is the largest one in Madrid—took 15 minutes walk just to get to the exit. Sorry, erase that: not “the” exit. “An” exit. Somehow found myself walking in the station’s top floor, and from there, I discovered (by complete accident) a flight of stairs leading all the way down to the street level. That was fine: the hotel for the night, AC Hotel Atocha, was located two minutes walk from that side exit. The area itself didn’t seem to be very exciting, featuring many old buildings and shops, but the hotel looked like some sort of a modern blob in that landscape.

So, this hotel is a part of the Marriott chain, and its ridiculously low price (comparing to other Marriott hotels and considering its quality) leads me to believe that something is not quite right in Spain’s tourism industry. One of the best hotel rooms in the tour: modern design, spotless, has everything you need in it, all looking brand new.

The best thing about this room was, though, the shower: it was a “rain shower” installed directly on the ceiling and pouring massive amounts of water on whoever is the lucky individual standing beneath it.

The worst thing about this room was the shower’s door, which was almost entirely transparent.

I ran into more than a few oddities with hotel rooms during this tour, as well as past ones. You can easily tell a “designer hotel” when you step into one. Hotels compete with each other on many parameters, including rooms’ design, which leads a few designers to take some interesting decisions.

A transparent shower door may be a good fit for a couple, but makes things tricky when two unrelated individuals share a room.

As odd as the transparent shower door was, nothing beats what we came up with while planning this tour. It was a CitizenM hotel but I can’t remember in which city; it featured a shower located right in the middle of the room, of course with completely transparent doors. CitizenM dubs itself a “boutique hotel chain”, but I’d say that a shower located right in the middle of the room is a bit too “boutique” for me.

Madrid is an interesting city. I was here before during the 2010 Get Lucky tour, and back then, didn’t even have time to see much of what this city has to offer, but from what I did get to see, I got the impression that it was but the tip of the iceberg. A reader of this blog, a nice fellow by the name Alberto, was kind enough to suggest a guided trip through Madrid’s best sights; unfortunately, I was way too tired and too irritable and decided it’d be best (mostly for others) if I just disconnect for a while and chill out in the hotel room for as long as humanly possible.

As this is Spain, and my memories of Spain consist mostly of being starving to death, lunch seemed like a great idea. A quick search in TripAdvisor, cross‐referenced with a recommendation by the hotel’s receptionist, led to a place called Bodegas Rosell, conveniently located right by the train station and less than one minute walk from the hotel. It is a family‐run business that dates way back, and is frequented by locals and foreigners alike.

I am almost ashamed to admit that, until this visit to Madrid, I have never before had tapas in Spain—including the two weeks I spent in Spain during the 2010 Get Lucky tour. Sounds ridiculous, I know.

Not a first for me. In 2003, I went for a short trip to Nova Scotia, exploring the stunning Cape Breton Island. I stopped by one of the restaurants there, best known for serving fantastic lobsters pulled out of the ocean right behind that restaurant. I still remember the waitress’ stunned look when I asked for a chicken sandwich.

Well, as I said: this time, I’m making amends with Spain. Just opened the menu, and without much consideration, the Dutchman and I just started shooting names of tapas at the waiter. The end result: a wonderful tapas meal. I almost cried: I’m in Spain and I’m eating properly. I thought this moment will never come.

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Great food consumed, and back to the hotel. This hotel happens to only offer free Wi‐Fi in the lobby, and charge ridiculous amounts for in‐room connectivity. Being the hotel’s lobby such a peaceful, beautiful and comfortable place to sit in, I didn’t mind taking the entire pile of electronics downstairs, park my rear end in one of the couches, write and catch up.

Hours went by; at around 8:30pm, dropped all electronics at the hotel room and the journey to the venue started. To get to the venue from the central railway station, two metro lines were needed—approximately 20 minutes of travel.

Needed to buy a couple of metro tickets. Once again, confusing user interface of these damn machines, but it was worth it just to see that “insert more need” label—showing just how seriously people here take translation to English in the biggest railway station in Spain’s capital city.

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I love these things… the laughter helped the metro ride pass quicker. About 20 minutes later, arrived at the Ventas station, named (I suppose) after one of the most beautiful buildings I had seen in Spain: the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas—one of the most famous bullrings in Spain, which happened to be the concert’s venue.

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The exterior of this building, which dates back to 1929, is staggeringly beautiful. You can’t possibly look at it and remain apathetic to its immense beauty.

As if out of nowhere, my dear friend Ingrid just showed up at the square just facing the bullring. Ingrid drove back home to The Netherlands the morning after the concert in Saint‐Julien‐en‐Genevois—a distance of just under 900km, mind you—and flew to Madrid to catch a couple of concerts in Spain. Where she summons this energy from—I have no clue.

Hugs, kisses… and then Alberto (who had offered the guided tour in Madrid earlier) came by and introduced himself. Good to meet nice people along the way, always. Tickets collected and we all went inside.

The interior of this bullring is as tantalizingly beautiful as its exterior. As the evening falls, the strong lights positioned along the bullring’s perimeter shine with the light of two million suns, and looking around, you feel that you’re a part of something powerful.

Well, as “powerful” as bullfighting can be. Senseless “sport”. I wish all other Spanish provinces follow Catalonia and ban this savage practice altogether.

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I was seated at the floor, although I think I would have preferred watching the performance from somewhere high up on the terraces. However, as I arrived at the venue late, there was virtually no chance to catch a good spot on the terrace.

The concert started, as usual, accompanied by deafening cheers. This band is very popular in Spain, and Knopfler’s Spanish audience has traditionally been exceptionally loud. People here were jumping in the air, screaming, dancing in their seats… an entire party. This is Spain, and that’s how I remembered it from the last tour: things get very loud here, and when it happens in such a large, immense venue such as Las Ventas, you can’t distance yourself from the excitement: you’re a part of it, because it’s all the way around you.

For Gator Blood, Mark uses a white Fender Stratocaster tuned for Open G. Incidentally, right before playing Gator Blood, the audience decided that it’s time for the traditional “o‐e‐o‐e‐o‐e‐o‐o” chant. Usually, Mark joins the chant by playing it on guitar; however, I’m led to believe that, this time in Madrid, was the first time he was “required” to do so using an Open G‐tuned guitar. Not sure whether he expected it or not, but it did take a few moments until he figured out what’s the best way to go about doing so. The slide used for Gator Blood was incorporated to the performance as well.

Half way into Telegraph Road, the Running of the Bulls commenced: people seated at the floor charged at the stage in full power. That run, practiced in most western European countries when Knopfler is in town, can get messy in France and Italy, but in Spain… it takes on a different level altogether. I waited until the entire run was over and only then dared getting up from my seat… only to find myself a few meters away from the stage. Things got really crowded around, and Telegraph Road’s outro solo didn’t do much to calm things down. People were screaming, yelling and shouting recklessly—at each other, at the band, at the venue… at everything that can absorb noise. I think the audience in Madrid was of the louder so far this tour, if not the loudest.

Concert ended after a good encore, featuring two billion people raising cameras, phones and iPads up in the air recording the show and distracting everyone else’s view. One particularly obnoxious individual recorded the entire performance of So Far Away with his phone, while obstructing others… and was cheeky enough to ask someone standing in front of him to lower his own camera. Brilliant.

Didn’t take the venue much time to become devoid of people once the concert was over. Alberto was kind enough to give the three of us a ride back to our hotel, saving us an awful lot of time and effort. Thanks Alberto.

Up to the room and got a good night sleep.


July 27. Woke up in the morning, breakfast at the hotel and the three of us—Ingrid, the Dutchman and myself—went on our way. A short walk from the hotel to the central railway station. Itinerary: leave Madrid 9:35am, arrive Málaga 12:17pm. Piece of cake.

Arrived Málaga right on time, and for the first time this tour, didn’t even have to leave the railway station to get to the hotel. The hotel for the night, Barcelo Málaga, is ranked by TripAdvisor as one of the best hotels in the city and is attached to the railway station: from the station, you enter the hotel through a couple of glass doors.

Long line‐up to check in. Finally, my turn. I approached His Highness, Lord of the Keys, and handed my driver’s license over.

Most hotels I have been to in Europe suffice with any government‐issued ID for identification purposes, even when issued by foreign governments. Some hotels, however, require a passport if you’re a foreigner.

The receptionist turned to me.

– “Thank you. Can I please see some ID, like a passport or any other document…?”

I looked at the counter. My driver’s license was still there. I repeated the receptionist’s question in my head, trying to see where it was exactly that we lost each other.

– “Here is my ID, right there”, I said, pointing at my ID.

– “No… a driver’s license is not good… no driver’s license, no other card… only passport.”

Inconsistencies bother me almost as much as inefficiencies do.

– “Oh, I understand. So you’re saying that I can show some ID, like a passport or any other document, but not a driver’s license, not anything else other than a passport”, I blurted out in what was probably the most condescending tone I ever had the displeasure to emit out of my mouth.

He didn’t seem to be too impressed with my tone. Admittedly, I agree with him: my tone was so condescending and sarcastic, that for a moment afterwards, I wanted to punch myself in the face.

While checking in, I noticed the following digital sign:

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I think I mentioned before that, once a heat wave hit Europe about a month ago, we did some adjustments to our itinerary to ensure that all hotels we stay in provide air conditioning. So far this tour, I heard many strange excuses and restrictions regarding air conditioning: a hotel in Malta claimed that it charges €5 per six hours of air conditioning; some hotels indeed offered air conditioning—for certain periods in the year.

These, of course, aren’t things that you can predict: when a hotel reservation mentions that air conditioning is provided in the room, you sort of take it for granted that you’ll be able to… well… condition the room’s air.

This hotel, though, came up with a scheme that I could have never predicted: air conditioning would work only at times when the outside temperature is over 26℃; heating (in the winter) would work only at times when the outside temperature is less than 21℃.

I find it disconcerting that even air conditioning in hotels is now subject to fine prints of all sorts.


I have never been to Málaga before, however I surely did hear about it: in Europe and beyond, Málaga is known for its beautiful beaches and “resort town” atmosphere. An ultra‐popular sun destination, Málaga attracts visitors from all over—especially from western Europe—as its climate provides for a relatively warm winter (average daytime temperature between December and February is around 17–18℃). The sun shines here for around 300 days every year.

Stuff left at the room and the trio headed out for lunch. The central railway station in Málaga isn’t quite located in the most interesting area of the city; with the aid of TripAdvisor, a place by the name Asador Iñaki came up, located a couple of minutes walk from the hotel.

Started walking, and the area didn’t quite bode well with me. Upon arrival to the place, I took a look around and determined that, has it not been for TripAdvisor, I’d probably shy away from a place like this: it doesn’t look too attractive or too inviting. Shady, dodgy surroundings tend to give me the creeps, and admittedly, living in British Columbia did turn me to be snobbier than I already was.

Gave this place a chance anyway, and it paid off. What a wonderful meal. This place is in the business of grilling: beef, chicken, pork, seafood, snails… you name it—it’s there. They’ll grill a shoe for you if you ask them nicely. Huge portions, delicious food, fantastic service. When we arrived, the place was empty; 20 minutes later, it was almost entirely full.

Back to the hotel and took a long, long nap. Nothing like 2–3 hours of a good afternoon sleep to recharge batteries. Up like a tiger, and decided to head where “normal” people head to while in this city, namely—the beach.

It’s about 25 minutes walk from the hotel to the beach area. On your way to the beach (walking west to east), you walk by the harbour—also a popular area for drinks and snacks, especially for tourists or those who are tired of the beach scene located right behind the harbour.

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About an hour killed just sitting down for a drink overlooking the harbour, and it was decided to head to the venue to grab the tickets and return to the beach later. The concert in Málaga was a general admission concert offering an early entry privilege for markknopfler.com ticket holders, but none of us was going to take advantage of it: the beach seemed like a more appropriate place to pass the time, than waiting hours inside a bullring for the concert to start. Still, we decided to get through with ticket pickup as soon as possible, to avoid stress later on.

The venue, Plaza de Toros de La Malagueta, is Málaga’s bullring. It is located very close to the beach, a short distance from the city’s main touristic areas.

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Ticket collection took a while, about half an hour; that done, returned immediately to the beach, looking for a place to sit down, unwind, grab a pre‐concert dinner, and then unwind again.

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As it was evening—past 8:00pm already—the beach was almost entirely devoid of noisy tourists. Weather was perfect. Heck, everything was perfect. About two hours spent there in total and complete relaxation.

At around 10:00pm, another friend joined and we all headed back to the venue.

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Upon arrival, it turned out that we had to split: two of us had to go to the floor, and the Dutchman and myself had to look for a place to sit somewhere on the terrace (unmarked seats; the entire venue was general admission). That was somewhat disappointing as we wanted to stay as a group; attempts to persuade the venue’s staff to allow us to join our friends at the floor went unsuccessful, even though there was plenty of space at the left hand side of the stage.

Had no choice but to look for a place to sit. As it was close to show time already, all reasonable seating locations were already occupied. Standing was forbidden, so we were asked to walk all the way to the side, as that was the only place where seats were actually available. We were kicked out from one entrance to the next, until luck struck and we came across a couple of cool staff members who seemed to be OK with us just standing there. Not bad: high up in the bullring, a bit left of the center.

Concert started at 10:30pm, as scheduled: the latest start time for a concert in this tour. Again, exceptionally loud audience. The concert experience itself was great—seated high up (at some point, I just got tired of standing so I sat down on the floor), perfect weather, cool breeze. What else do you need, really?

Concert ended close to 12:30am and I thanked the universe for my decision to get an afternoon sleep. Out of the venue, and got a taxi back to the hotel.

As this was the last concert this tour for Ingrid to attend, drinks were in order. A good mojito from the hotel’s bar, enjoyed at the patio—not before Ingrid decided to take advantage of the slide that the hotel so cleverly positioned between the first floor and the ground floor, heading directly to the bar.

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Bidding Ingrid goodbye was a royal pain in the butt. Some of the best moments in this tour so far were spent with Ingrid nearby—you can’t go wrong with this wonderful woman around. The more time spent in her vicinity, the more I learned to admire her—a remarkable persona with a charming personality and a golden heart. Hats off to Ingrid for wonderful times spent together, as well as for her much appreciated help along the way.

1:30am… time to bed. Last goodbye to Ingrid, elevator up, quick shower and off to bed after a fantastic day.


Signing off this post from my hotel room in Gijón. Wasn’t the easiest day today: it was the last train day for the tour—12 hours over two trains from Spain’s southern tip to its northern one. Truly knackered, folks. 2:30am now, time for bed.

Isaac

9 comments:

  1. Great reporting Issac, you ought to consider a career in journalism! Thanks for writing, so we can live vicariously through your blog.

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  2. Dear Isaac,
    My tour has ended, and saying goodbye to both you and Jeroen wasn't the most pleasant part of it. Almost every (long) weekend in May, June and July we met, saying goodbye in between wasn't that hard. I knew it was only for a couple of days, going back to work for 2 or 3 days and 2 times having other trips than tourrelated. Only once we said goodbye for the maximum of 12 days.

    During our last drink, a cocktail at the hotelbar in Malaga, we reviewed the tour a little. One of the things the three of us experienced is friendship. You know you are with good friends when driving the whole day in Switzerland on scenic roads, saying not much during the drive, but enjoying the drive, having the best views you can imagine. All of us enjoying the scenery, the relaxed drive and eachothers company. One of the best days I think (ending in one of the worst hotels ;-)).

    After St. Julien a long drive home, 2 days work, drive to the airport very late in the evening and an early flight to Madrid next day. I excepted the kind offer from Alberto to show me around Madrid, and ended with saying, wow, I will definately be back, but in a season that suits me more. Thanks Alberto, it was a great day. After that a great concert in the bullring, exceptional beautiful venue! Back to the hotel for a good sleep and next day to Malaga by train. Thank you Isaac and Jeroen for doing the trainreservation earlier that week, now I enjoyed the trip seated in first class clubcoach, with drinks and breakfast, instead of a busy 2nd class coach. Smooth and scenic drive. Nice hotel at the trainstation (I love the slide to the cocktailbar). I must have been tired, slept 2 hours in the afternoon, exceptional for me.

    Some drinks at the harbour, pick up tickets. Decided not to queue and join you to the beach for a light meal and some drinks. Best decision ever, I needed that lovely swim, the whole sea was mine at that time.

    Another great show and back to the hotel for the last drink and goodbye.

    Thanks again for your company, also to all the lovely people I met at the shows, in a lot of cities. With some of you I had a short chat, with others I had some dinners, lunches, shared hotels. Shorter and longer weekends. Having some drinks and a lot of fun. People I never met before showed me around in cities, organized extra tickets for shows I didn't pre-order, offered me their hospitally next time I'm in town. You all made this tour special. It's the end of a perfect .... tour! I feel a little sad now, but as Guy said replying my post in his forum: "It has ended....for now!"



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    1. But the question is Isaac..did you find your soul mate? Then again if you are as rude to people who are around you from whom you seek something I can understand why you remain on the shagging market. I have been hanging around these MK sites for what must be three years now. Sue enough I am 25 years older than you and it is inevitable that we followed different life events and from different parts of the world. Some things I recognise and can identify with and some things scare me.

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  3. By the way: another nice story from the slide (forgot to tell you):
    After you went to bed, I had another drink on the patio. On the first floor there was a wedding going on. After a while a lot of noice, all people from the wedding came down the slide, all dressed up in suits and nice dresses, including the bride in the white dress ;-)

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  4. Oeoeoe used to be sung, at least in Spain, after R&J, as a prelude for Sultans. Anyway, surprised you went to eat in Málaga to an Asador, typical of the north of Spain. That is the magic of Traveladvisor and the internet. Safe travel, boys. I´m very sad because the lack of skills in negotiaions of Las ventas venue administrators, as they asked for an extraterrestrial fee to record the show in Madrid, so we won´t have it to listen. I think te company coud be sued for seeling in advence something they don´t have the rights to., don´t you think so, Ingrid?

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    1. I hope you did not pay any money Alberto, if you did, then you need to get that money returned. Large corporations like Warner and Universal often have more net income than whole countries like the Netherlands or Portugal. They often challenge the laws within these countries just as a big man would threaten a smaller man. This might sound crude in the year 2013 but in essence that is how the world works. You and me live in the EUR sector and we have help at hand if we feel our rights and wellbeing are threatened by an organisation who is resident in the EUR. If the seller or provider is resident in the USA there is another law enforcer. You must have a local politician...someone who has been elected by the people..go find them and tell them your story. Ask them to contact the EUR HQ for trade practice in Brussels. There are many good people who want to preserve the 1000 years it took to make our law system and the 165 million people who were killed in war this last century. Go and find you local politician and just tell them what happened.

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  5. I don't know about international law. In the Netherlands you can buy something online and if it's not delivered in 30 days, the buy didn't take place and you have the right to get back the full 100% you paid.
    I don't know if it's illegal to sell something that has not been produced yet. I think it can be legal, when the terms and conditions are clear about it. I didn't read the terms and conditions from Bleecker Street, so don't know what they wrote about it. Sometimes terms and conditions make clear that if there are not enough sales in presale they are allowed to cancel the buy. Something like that could be the case here as well.

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    1. Hallo Ingrid. The whole idea of the EUR was to enable free trade and labour movement. This would make us like the USA. In reality this has not come to pass. In both the USA and the EUR has seller has the right not to sell goods to people he does not want to sell to, but, if the seller has agreed to sell you something at a future date at a certain price then that's a contract. The key thing is that contracts can be deemed invalid if the conditions are outside the Federal Law in both USA and EUR.

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  6. Wolfgang from Northern GermanyJuly 31, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    Interesting that such "incidents" took place in 2010, too - never knew that apart from an obvioulsy broken guitar during Border Reiver at the Lisboa show... see, even MK-nuts can learn some new stuff here! It is good to see that both of you made it and survived this great task in a good and healthy manner. Now I am looking forward to your last entry very much. Thanks for all the entertaining and interesting blog posts during the last three months - there was definitely a big portion of good humour and a lot of deep thoughts in it, maybe more than you might think! W.

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