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

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dijon, France to Köln, Germany (July 1–2, 2013)

Note: this post is being uploaded along with its successor. Had to accumulate a couple of posts due to Wi‐Fi availability issues. Make sure you check out the next post: Köln to Halle (Westfalen), Germany (July 3, 2013).

Monday morning, July 1st: Woke up at around 8:00am in Dijon, with mixed feelings.

(No, it’s not that I had mixed feelings about waking up: I love waking up. As far as I’m concerned, it’s better to wake up eventually than… well… not waking up.)

On one hand, I didn’t really want to leave France (even though I’ll be back to France for a few days, as the tour arrives at Nîmes, St. Julien en Genevois and Carcassonne); on the other hand, the difficult travel and the difficulties in proper dining (due to the French’s standard dining hours) made me feel good about heading back to Germany.

So far, Germany proved to be the most convenient country to follow a tour in, logistics‐wise. An advanced, developed railway network; relatively organized mentality; and, of course, restaurants in Germany ARE USUALLY OPEN.

As Monday was a day off, it made sense to use it for the purpose of travel, in order to avoid travel as much as possible on a concert day. Packed whatever was unpacked and headed to Dijon’s town center for a short pre‐travel breakfast.

Now, you would think that, after travelling for so long, experiencing so many quirks and oddities in different countries, there would be less and less to learn as time goes by. Well, that’s what I had thought and hoped for. Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger; I have been bruised and battered by the oddities of so many places, nothing can surprise me now.

Headed to a random cafe in Dijon’s town center. No menu on display, so we decided to ask what they offer. The owner, in return, asked us what we would like to have.

Alright, no problem. “Well, you know… sandwiches, tea, coffee…”

Sure, that’s fine, folks. Sit down.

We did.

Beautiful morning. Sitting outside, observing the people of this small town going about their day. The owner (now functioning as a waiter) approaches, asking us what we would like to have.

– “Can we see the menu?”

– “We don’t have a menu. Just tell me what you’d like to have.”

Jeroen looked at me, I looked back at Jeroen, already knowing that nothing good was going to come out of this.

– “Two sandwiches, one tea and one cappuccino.”

Now, a reasonable diner would expect the waiter to enlist what types of sandwiches are offered, and then ask what sandwich the customer would like. Maybe it’s only me, but that was quite the automatic expectation. The word “sandwich” simply happens to cover too large of a spectrum of options.

– “OK, no problem.”

So, one possible course of action would be for me to chase the waiter back to where he came from and require some explanation as to what it is that he had in mind when he said “OK, no problem” as a response to the (arguably) generic wish for a “sandwich”.

Another possible course of action was to simply remain frozen and see how things unfold, which is exactly what we ended up doing.

Five minutes later, the waiter comes with a cappuccino, some tea, and two sandwiches, each of which consists of a dry baguette with a hefty portion of ham inside.

Terrible coffee, terrible breakfast I didn’t even ask for. Should I jot this down as a note to myself that a “sandwich”, unless begged for otherwise, means “a dry piece of dough filled with ham”? Is this normal in France? who knows. Moral of the story: “we don’t have a menu, just tell me what you’d like to have” is not the beginning of a love story between a man and his sandwich.

OK, whatever. Consumed the sandwich with a negligible amount of passion, paid and backtracked to a small pastry shop we had noticed earlier. Delicious few pastries did much to mend the culinary damage inflicted by the unwelcome breakfast.

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Time to leave. Headed to the station—some fifteen minutes walk away—and hopped on the train.

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The schedule: Take the TGV from Dijon, France to Basel, Switzerland; about 45 minutes wait, then hop on an ICE train to Mannheim, Germany; about 15 minutes wait, then hop on another ICE train to Köln. Altogether just over 6 hours of travel, spanning three trains.

Easy.

TGV train from Dijon left on time and arrived at Basel SBB on time. Left the train and looked for a way to kill 45 minutes as functionally as possible, that is—seek a proper place for a quick lunch before travel continues. Instead of buying something to eat later, it was decided to sit down in a small cafe named “Hallo”, located right inside the train station. Approximately 30 minutes left for the next train to depart, and the cafe was located right above the platform so we could even see the train arriving when the time comes.

No brainer, huh?

OK, so after decrypting the menu (which was written in Swiss German, which is effectively German, so Jeroen decrypted it for me), the request was simple: two sandwiches, plus water. Not hard.

How long could it take to prepare two sandwiches in a cafe that isn’t even close to being full? two minutes?

Three minutes?

… Four?

Alright. So about ten minutes later, I noticed that our sandwiches were already prepared, placed on a shelf and waiting for pickup by the waitress, who, by then, both of us already concluded that was entirely, completely and utterly clueless. The sandwiches just stood there on the shelf, ready for pick up. For how long? One minute?

Two minutes?

Alright. So about five minutes later, it was time for action. Jeroen sprang on his feet and headed to grab the sandwiches from the lonely shelf himself. The clueless waitress gave him a look that clearly demanded some sort of an explanation, and such explanation was duly provided: “WE ARE IN A HURRY”.

Disgusting sandwiches, by the way.

About 12 minutes or so left to the train’s departure. Looking down to the platform, I noticed our train coming.

Trains arriving early simply wait at the station for longer than planned; they don’t just go away. So we knew that the train wasn’t going to leave before schedule. But still, there’s something disconcerting in looking at your train standing on the tracks as if waiting for you.

I don’t want trains to wait for me, ever; I prefer waiting for them.

Time to pay.

This is the part I dislike the most about dining out. Not because I don’t want to pay, but because of the actual process: get the staff’s attention; ask for the bill; wait for the staff to come back with the bill; provide means of payment; have the payment processed (which usually takes longer when you pay with a card). It simply takes time, for no useful reason at all.

If you ever happen to be so misfortunate to be my waiter/waitress, how about you do the following: once food is provided to the table, ask me if there’s any chance that I’m going to be ordering something later. If I say “no”, just give me the bill. Wait a few seconds, I’ll provide the payment and you can go about processing it while I chew on what I paid for. I’ll be happy because my time was saved; you’ll be happy because you (1) made me happy, and (2) managed to reduce further interaction with me, which is good for your mental well being.

The best service I can ever be given is a service that saves me the one resource I can never have back in any way: my time.

The indented rant above doesn’t appear here just out of the blue. I think we caught the attention of two different waitresses, about three or four times each. “We need the bill because our train is leaving”. Now, you would assume that people, working in restaurants located inside a terribly busy railway station, would not be strangers to the idea of clients being in a hurry. After about six minutes with nobody even handing us the bill (all waitresses were under the impression that it’s much more important to seat new clients, and take orders from said new clients, before releasing two prisoners who happen to follow a Knopfler tour), I simply got up, grabbed my bags and was ready to go to one of the cashiers there (the cafe had a “to go” section as well) and give her a piece of my mind. Miraculously, the clueless waitress from before finally realized that some hell was going to be raised; payment was done and we stormed out of that hell hole, down to the platform and into the train.

Arrived at Mannheim on time, and went straight to the departures board, only to see that the connecting train to Köln is being delayed by about 20 minutes. One of us decided that the best way to use this gap is by devouring a cheesecake in a bakery right there in the station; the other one was me.

Sat down watching a Dutchman arranging a meeting between a cheesecake and its maker, resisting the temptation to steal half of it. Then off to the platform, hopped on the train… and about an hour and a half later, finally arrived to Köln’s central railway station.


Köln (in English: Cologne) is the fourth largest city in Germany. Its metro area is home for about ten million people, and it is situated on both banks of the Rhine.

The city has a rich history dating back to the 1st century, when it was founded by the Romans. During the Middle Ages, Köln was a major trade route connecting eastern and western Europe. During World War II, Köln was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany: 95% of its population abandoned it, and the city was almost completely destroyed. After the war, much effort and resources were put into trying to restore some of the city’s many cultural and architectural landmarks.

I have been to Köln before, during the 2010 Get Lucky tour. Other than that, I have been to the city’s central railway station a few times as it serves as a major railway hub in Germany’s west. I never, though, had the opportunity to actually explore this city. In that regards, a day off in Köln was definitely called for.

Out of the station and into the hotel, Best Western Grand City Hotel Köln, conveniently located right across the street from the central railway station. Originally, the plan was to stay in a different hotel, but once Germany was hit with a ruthless heat wave, the reservation was changed to a hotel that provides air conditioning, of course for an added price.

(We will get to that air conditioning part later.)

Up to the room and I was extraordinarily happy: spacious, comfortable… excellent for two nights’ stay. Nice view, too.

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Turned on the air conditioning and sat down to finish the previous post. That took a while, during which I noticed that the room isn’t really getting colder. Checked the air conditioner: fan is on, thermostat set correctly… nothing but plain unconditioned air comes out. Decided to open the window, which helped reducing the temperature but resulted in extreme noise coming in. As the room was facing the central railway station, I could clearly hear all train announcements (in both German and English); the despicable screeching sound of all trains, halting to a stop; and, of course, the loud noise emitted by drunken creatures who gathered in front of the station with alcohol supply equivalent in its volume to satisfy the needs of a small country.

Shoes on, and down to reception.

I don’t like arguing for the sake of argument. I’m OK with arguing in order to reach some sort of a common understanding, common grounds; to achieve something, most preferably something that is mutually beneficial.

What I’m not OK with is arguing with stupidity.

My problem of arguing with stupidity is that I have no common grounds with stupid people (or, as will be demonstrated below, nice people who are forced to argue in favour of stupid policies). My desire to reach common understandings and mutual gain is far superseded by my reluctance to bring my intelligence down to that of idiots.

Once reported the problem, a more senior staff came in. Nice lady, with nothing but goodness in her eyes. She said that cooling was turned off for the entire hotel because guests were complaining that it’s “too cold”.

That didn’t sit well with the fact that the air conditioning system in the rooms had an on/off switch as well as a thermostat, both of which in perfect working order.

– “So you’re telling me that the thermostat and the on/off switch really do nothing?”, I inquired.

She nodded for “yes”. She was either lying or just demonstrating complete ignorance.

– “So you’re turning off the air conditioning for the entire hotel, because guests claimed that it’s too cold?”, I inquired, just to confirm.

– “Yes.”

– “And I’m guessing that, if I told you that I was too warm, you wouldn’t turn the air conditioning on. Right?”, I said, trying to sound as sarcastic as I could.

– “No.”

– “And that is because I’m just one person.”

She looked at me and tilted her head to the side, as if she’s trying to show compassion towards a miniature three legged dog with an apparent bowel movement problem.

– “Yes.”

Well, at the least, I learned something new.

– “OK, so what are we going to do about that?”

– “We can try to move you to a different, quieter room tomorrow.”

Sure, whatever.

The fact that a hotel room has an on/off switch for its air conditioning system, as well as a thermostat, goes to imply that guests have independent control over their room’s temperature. The only conclusion out of that argument was that the hotel was disabling the cooling system in an attempt to save energy (which means, save money. For them, that is. Guests still pay the same).

Back in the room, it was decided to give things a chance for the night and see how things go.


So, as I mentioned above, I never really got the chance to see this city, despite being here a couple of times before. Evening time, wonderful weather outside… off for a walk.

Perhaps the most famous attraction in Köln is the Köln Cathedral. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting about 20,000 people a day.

The building of this cathedral started in the 13th century. In the 15th century, it was abandoned and left unfinished. Work restarted in the 19th century, and was completed in 1880.

You can’t stay apathetic to the sight of this astonishing building. It is about 155 meters tall (!), gorgeous and, well, massive.

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The Köln Cathedral is right in your face as you exit the central railway station to the south. Once there, the old city (Altstadt) is all around you. Due to the fact that the city was almost completely destroyed during World War II, you would often encounter mixtures of old and new buildings as you walk along.

First—dinner. A place called Oma’s Küche was suggested by TripAdvisor for good, traditional German food right in the heart of the old city.

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Steps from it, a building carrying two symbols of Corporate America, Food Division:

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Long walk south, then west towards River Rhine, and north along the river. The scenery—both involving the river and the nearby houses—is very pretty.

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Some of these colourful houses now serve as hotels. Numerous traditional German‐style pubs are scattered along the walkway, attracting tourists and locals alike.

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Refreshing walk, and back to the hotel, where I did some more writing. Time flew by, and before I knew it, it was dark. The Köln Cathedral is lit brilliantly at night, which provided for a superb view from the hotel room’s balcony.

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After a relaxing day off, another beautiful morning. The hotel was asking an insane amount of €19 per person (!) for breakfast (if you’re clueless about Germany, you’re likely to fall into such traps. Dining out in Germany is not cheap, but not expensive either. €19 is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a breakfast there), so we headed out.

On our way out, we decided to speak to the receptionist again about the air conditioning problem. Asking for explanation, we were told that “the hotel’s director decided to turn off the air cooling system”.

– “But why?”, we inquired.

– (with utmost seriousness) “Because he doesn’t think it’s warm enough.”

Well then. How could one possibly argue against such a profound, objective observation?

Before I was able to fully compile this last sentence in my head (admit it: you didn’t see it coming), another receptionist came by and informed us that it was decided to enable air cooling for the entire hotel.

Wonderful.

Headed out to the city center, looking for something to eat. Located in a side street off the city center’s main shopping walkway, there’s Cafe Eigel, offering brilliant breakfasts for the staggering price of about €7. For my money, breakfast doesn’t get much better than that.

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Due to the fact that we had cancelled a couple of sleeper train reservations, it became unclear how we should be getting a refund for those. Decided to get it over with now, during the day off. So, breakfast done and over with, we went back to the central railway station to sort things out.

Pushed button; got a number. Waited. The guy just before us ended up going to booth number 5, where he was met by a staff member who looked like, and sounded like, someone who is in the habit of barking things at people. Something about the tone of his voice, combined with his body language, made me predict that discussing heavenly matters with this fellow is going to yield an interesting experience.

After a short argument, involving hearing the word “No!” (exclamation mark included) way too many times, the guy realized that perhaps the issue needs to be escalated. Some senior staff was called in and the matter got (for now, until further notice) resolved. A part of the resolution required the Dutchman to provide his email address, which he spelled out… until the “@gmail.com” part arrived.

– “What?”, asked the representative.

– “@gmail.com”, responded the Dutchman.

The representative looked a bit confused; took out a piece of paper and a pen, and ask Jeroen to spell it, which he did. Receiving the paper, the representative mentioned that he had never encountered this domain name before.

THERE’S SOMEONE ON THIS PLANET WHO KNOWS WHAT AN E‐MAIL IS, BUT HAD NEVER ENCOUNTERED THE “gmail.com” DOMAIN BEFORE.

Excellent.

Spent the next few hours by myself—it’s good to do so, every once in a while—walking around this beautiful city.

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Late afternoon: time for a pre‐concert dinner. A bit north of the hotel—away from the rush of the touristic city center, there’s a place called Max Stark. Upon entering, a nice waiter welcomes us offering us a seat, and immediately asking if we would like a couple of pints of their “local beer”.

– “No, thank you.”

The waiter looked at us in amazement.

– “No?”

– “No, thank you.”

– “Really?”

– “Yes”, and I couldn’t avoid smiling. The waiter obviously looked shocked.

– “No beer?”

– “No…”

– “You know where you are, right?”

The expression on the waiter’s face once he realized that no beer is going to be ordered here was priceless. Food‐wise, this is a great place to dine in. Good food, very reasonably priced. Check it out if and when you happen to be in the city.

Back to the touristic area of the city center for some (non‐alcoholic) drink, an experience that provided yet another hilarious dialogue. The waiter, an Italian who speaks fluent German but very flakey English, didn’t quite understand what I meant when I asked for an ice‐based espresso drink. He just couldn’t perceive how espresso, steamed milk and ice cubes could fit into a drinkable beverage. To his credit, he really did try to understand. While doing so, he apologized for his English and told me his life story in a nutshell—having worked in the USA before etc. etc., and that he would have liked to be in his home country but (quote) “Italy—kaput”.

Nice to meet interesting people along the way.


Time was up—off to the train station to head to the venue. From the central railway station, there are trains headed to the venue every 2–3 minutes (!), and the venue is located about 2 minutes train ride away. In other words, there should be no worries getting to the venue on time, right?

Think again.

Turned out that the city’s S‐Bahn lines were suffering terrible delays due to shortage in personnel. Virtually all S‐Bahn trains headed towards the venue were suffering delays of 10 minutes or more, which is terrible news to get 35 minutes before show time. It was one of the most stressful experiences in getting to a venue, which is ridiculous considering the fact that the venue is located right on the other side of River Rhine.

Eventually, though, found a regular (non S‐Bahn) train heading that way. Arrived at the venue 20 minutes to show time, collected the tickets, had to circle around the venue to find the applicable entry…

Done. Made it on time.

As Jeroen was headed to the hall, I stayed behind to get us a couple of drinks. I didn’t even look at the sign showing the prices of everything. I had a vague idea of what to expect.

– “Two waters, please.”

– “OK.”

Man pours water into two cups, about 250mL each.

– “Ten Euros and sixty cents.”

I looked at him.

– “Excuse me?”

– “That would be ten Euros and sixty cents.”

– “Ten sixty?!”

– “Yes.”

– “For two cups of water?!”

– “Yes.”

I looked at him, astonished. I know he wasn’t to blame—he’s a poor guy just working there.

– “Are you sure? Ten sixty for two cups of water?”

Another staff member showed up.

– “You get one Euro back if you return the cup after you finish using it.”

I did some really, really quick math in my head.

– “So, nine Euros and sixty cents for two cups of water?”

– “Yes.”

I looked at them.

– “No thanks, that’s fine.”

The two looked at me as if awestruck as I simply walked away.

In a totally unrelated subject, the water from the tap in the men’s room were just fine.

Made it to the hall a few minutes before the concert. The concert went well, again with a very receptive audience. If you happen to have purchased the USB stick for this concert, pay attention to the Marbletown outro, as Mike & John took things to a completely different direction than usual—a minor‐scale, touching melody that turned the song into a different, unique experience.

These guys just keep coming up with ideas… and still people often ask me “why would you see the same show so many times?”.

On a side note, this was the first concert in which I bothered to look into something that looked a bit odd. Gator Blood is played on a white Fender Stratocaster, with a capo on the third fret, plus, of course, a guitar slide. For the guitar slide to work well on this song, a normal tuning simply wouldn’t be the right approach. Plus, the finger work for the song’s main rhythm theme didn’t make sense.

Then it dawned on me: the guitar is tuned for “Open G”.

Glad to have figured that one out.

After the concert, took the train back to the hotel. No train delays this time around.

These were good two days in this beautiful city. Looking forward to visiting again.


Signing off this post from my hotel room in Dresden. Took a while to complete this post, but the main problem was Wi‐Fi availability as well as tiredness. The next post is already 95% done, and will be uploaded later tonight.

Isaac

6 comments:

  1. Thanks Isaac ! Thank you and thank you again and again and ... (ad lib)
    You made me realize that the French people are not the only to blame for the poorest customer service on this planet. I primarly thought we were all alone in this no-service universe, but thanks to you Issac I now know there are other rude and clueless people out of France who should try to find a job out of food, bars, customer service, making people happy to spend their money. Making such major discoveries, don't you want to work for the Nasa or the SETI ?
    Stay calm and carry on.
    Benoit

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Benoit,
      Ignorance and negligence knows no geographical bounds. You can find incompetent, rude people everywhere. Also, it's all relative: for someone who was born and raised in Canada, most of western Europe would seem a bit "rude". I happened to have been born and raised in one of the rudest places on earth, so I have that perspective as well.

      Delete
  2. Leena from FinlandJuly 5, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    Thanks, Isaac, for pointing out the outro of Marbletown. I just watched it on Youtube. I know these video clips can't rival the real thing in sound quality or anything, but it was interesting to notice how attentively Mark watched John's, Glenn's and Mike's playing. He seemed to be enjoying it as much as the audience did. And he even looked as if he was a bit astonished by the new kind of outro. If only I could have attended more than my three shows of the Privateering tour! Funny, also my friends often ask why I want to see the "same" show again. Little do they know!
    Thanks again for this wonderful diary, and thanks to Jeroen for the lovely pictures!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Isaac,

    I think that Gator blood is played with open G (DGDGBD) tuning like Romeo and Telegraph.

    Cheers,

    Ville

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh. Of course. Stupid typo.
    Will be corrected shortly. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. There are two cities that compete for the top "quality of life" status. Top rated is Vancouver followed closely by Vienna. Did someone mention CSETI and NASA?

    ReplyDelete