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,

Note: The contents of this blog are also available in hardcover and paperback formats. For more information, click here:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bucharest, Romania to Istanbul, Turkey (April 26–27, 2013)

Disclaimer: This post is likely to end up being a long one.

Of all the cities going to be visited by this tour, Istanbul is the one—and only one—city, that I considered skipping.

The reason had nothing to do with not wanting to go, though.

To understand why, some background is needed.

I happen to have been born in a country named Israel. Israel, as most of you probably know, isn’t exactly a problem‐free country. I am definitely not going to delve into politics here—heck, that would take forever—but let’s agree that, at the outset, Israel’s problems (as reflected in worldwide media) revolve around international politics and security.

Turkey’s population consists mostly of Muslims. That being said, it is—and has been, for a long time—generally secular. That allowed Turkey and Israel to maintain rather special relationship (Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognize the State of Israel after its establishment in May 1948). In a world when the words “Israel” and “Islam” can barely be expressed in the same sentence without igniting fire, the Israel‐Turkey relationships were truly one of a kind, involving extensive trade and military cooperation.

Since the late 1980’s until the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Turkey was an extremely popular destination for Israeli tourists. Around 500,000 Israelis toured Turkey every year, flocking its wonderful beaches, its all‐inclusive resorts and its renowned markets. Many of my family members visited Turkey way more than once or twice; I never have.

Everything was just fine between the two countries until December 2008, when the Israeli military launched Operation Cast Lead against Palestinian militants. Turkey’s stance during the conflict wasn’t favourable to Israel; as a result, Israel’s tourism minister at that time has decided to demonstrate his immense stupidity by advising Israelis to boycott Turkey as a tourism destination. That resulted in a significant drop in the number of Israeli tourists in Turkey—from 560,000 in 2008 to 110,000 in 2010.

Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, there was the 2010 Gaza Flotilla Raid incident. In May 2010, a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip refused to listen to Israeli navy orders, ordering the flotilla to be inspected in Israel prior to the goods being shipped to the Gaza Strip (the Gaza Strip was under a blockade at that time; it still is).

The raid started with Israeli commando fighters being landed on the flotilla. Video footage shown that the commando fighters did not initially use power—to the contrary: they were brutally attacked by dozens of people carrying sticks, knives and whatnot—and ended with nine Turkish activists dead, and many others wounded, including Israeli soldiers.

What happened in between? that highly depends on who you ask. Turkey, Israel as well as the United Nations have all conducted their own investigations. The last investigation, also called The Palmer Report, was headed by New Zealand’s Prime Minister and decided that, when all is said and done, neither side displayed perfect reasoning to its actions.

Israel refused to apologize to Turkey for the incident. As a result, The Israel‐Turkey relationship deteriorated even further, to the point that it became unsafe for Israeli citizens to even visit Turkey due to the Turkish public’s anger over the flotilla raid.

When the Istanbul show was announced, the Israel‐Turkey relationship were still sour. That prompted me to heavily consider whether I should travel there at all, with the scale tipped towards “yes” primarily due to the fact that I also am a Canadian citizen. Needless to say, I was still pretty tight about the issue.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago—close to three years after the flotilla raid—that Israel’s Prime Minister finally agreed to apologize to Turkey, much due to efforts by President Barack Obama. Since then, the Israel‐Turkey relationship has been warming up again; still, there is a way to go.

Why can’t we all just get along, it’s what I say.

Early morning ride from Bucharest’s old city to the airport, as the flight to Istanbul was scheduled to depart shortly before 9:00am. The worst thing about it was that I had to skip the hotel’s breakfast, which was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had in any hotel, anywhere. Instead, we had to settle for a mediocre meal near the departure gate, with the seemingly usual Romanian approach towards service—one waiter per 8,000 diners. Close to an hour was spent there, out of which about 15 minutes were spent eating breakfast.

Back at the gate, I somehow was able to let go of the worries regarding visiting Turkey. I would expect to be very nervous, but oddly enough, I didn’t really care anymore. I come in peace, and that’s what really matters.

Short haul flight—less than one hour—and we arrived at Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Bags quickly collected, hotel’s taxi driver quickly located, and off we left the terminal building en route to the city.

Welcome to Istanbul.

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and is its economic, trade and financial center. Population is a little short of 14 million. It is split between two continents, Europe and Asia, divided by the Bosphorus—which also happens to be one of the busiest waterways in the world.

I am trying to gather my thoughts about this city and, frankly, I don’t know where to start. This city is so different from anything I had ever experienced before: westerners who are accustomed to western lifestyle are extremely likely to experience a massive culture shock (not necessarily a negative one!) once being faced with this beautiful city, its rich heritage dating back to around 660 BC, its genuine people and—of course—the food (we will get to that later).

This is a city with some rich history. Istanbul has been, at times, the capital city of not one but four different empires: the Roman, the Byzantine, the Latin and the Ottoman. Talk about heritage!

In 2010, Istanbul was the tenth most popular tourist destination in the world with 7 million tourists. Seven million. One city! Can’t get my head around this.

Before coming here, I was told the following about Istanbul, from people who had visited here numerous times:

  • Don’t even think about driving a car in Istanbul. Never assume anything about traffic control: red lights and “no entry” signs don’t do much more than serve as a guideline.
  • Turkish drivers are the craziest drivers in the world.
  • The Turkish cuisine is one of the best cuisines on the planet.
  • The best way to explore this city is by foot.

The first two points took exactly 5 minutes to verify as we were making our way to the hotel. I have been to many countries before; I was certain that, of the countries that I had been to, Israelis are the worst drivers. I didn’t really know what to expect.

So let me tell you: at least in Istanbul, there is not much difference between the road and a jungle. “Survival of the fittest”? Istanbul’s road scene is a great case in point. The concept of “Right of way” doesn’t exist here. Road courtesy? YEAH RIGHT. Speed limit? our driver drove 130km/h on a 70km/h road, just to catch up with the traffic in front of him.

Once the highway ride was over, there was no longer a reason to be afraid of the vast speed. The fear of crashing into a post in 130km/h has been substituted with the fear of crashing into other cars and—more than anything—pedestrians. As the taxi made its way towards the district of Taksim, the streets became narrower and narrower, literally flooded with people. Cars driving with the flow of traffic and against it; pedestrians everywhere. There are close to 14 million people in this city, which is, coincidentally, the same number of almost‐accidents I was witnessing.

Finally, after about 40 minutes, arrived at the hotel: Plussuite Hotel, located a few minutes walk from the popular Taksim Square. About an hour later, got ready for some walking and left the hotel towards the old city area.

(The owners and operators of this hotel are of the nicest, most helpful hotel staff I have ever came across. It is strongly recommended.)


Long, long walking day. Walked all the way from the hotel down to the old city area, passing through the tourist‐famous Istiklal Avenue. The latter is the very center of all tourist traps known to mankind, and aggressively caters itself to westerners. Worldwide corporate chains such as Gap, McDonald’s, and other fashion and food chains (Starbucks included, of course) are common.


Crossed Galata Bridge to the old city…


Which things started to get really interesting. Istanbul’s Old City area has so much to see and do that it would take a week or so to cover just the highlights.

In case you wondered as for the origin of the famous magic lamp, it’s right here in Istanbul:


The Turkish cuisine is considered by many to be one of the best cuisines in the world. It is said that the best Shawarma (called “Doner” in Turkey) is made right here, and the desserts—well, that’s an entire world right there. Walking through the streets of Istanbul, you’d encounter dozens over dozens of places selling “Turkish Delights”, which is an expression covering a large variety of desserts.

Here you will find any type of Baklava one can think of.


The streets of the Old City are narrow, winding, very old and swamped with tourists. Definitely a pleasant walk in such perfect weather of 24–25℃.

Sat down for lunch. Can’t remember the name of the place but here is how the meal started:


And then, off to the Grand Bazaar.


The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is enormous. It is covered, and spans more than 60 streets spotted with about 3,000 shops. What’s for sale in here? better ask what isn’t. Everywhere you look, all you can see is a sea of people walking through yet another street within the market. This is certainly not the place for those with personal space issue: it is crowded. If you happen to travel in groups, better keep a good eye on the whereabouts of each other or you will get lost. I, myself, have never experienced anything quite like walking in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. An experience to remember.

A long walk back to Taksim district—almost entirely uphill, mind you—and a brilliant, fabulous meal consisting solely of sweets.

What a great city.

The next day started late, as there was quite some sleep to catch after the very long preceding day. This time, a walk along the Bosphorus seemed to be the right approach.


A nice cafe by the water:


This is how tea is served in Turkey:


I got myself some Turkish coffee instead. Turkish coffee is different from North American coffee primarily in the way that it is prepared: cooked on the stove top, rather than being filtered. It is also served in insanely small cups:


Walked back to the hotel, chilled out for a while, and off to some dinner. Initially, I was very tempted to consume some Kokoretsi—a brief taste a day before proved to be extremely delicious—however, after reading about it, I decided not to. Turns out that, among one of the issues that Turkey will have to face if and when it joins the European Union, is that Kokoretsi will have to be banned for sale, as its cooking method is deemed unsafe by the European Union’s standard. There’s still a long way to go with this tour, and I am not in the mood for risking any food poisoning, so I decided to settle for Doner Kebob—that is, Doner cooked by coal (rather than regular, gas‐based flame). A few deserts afterwards, of course. Paradise.

Back to the hotel and off to the venue.

Istanbul is split between two continents. The European side is generally where all the “action” is: the vast majority of tourist attractions are located there. That’s the Istanbul you’d see in the movies. The Asian side, on the other hand, is more relaxed, laid back and thus boring (at least, that’s what I was able to gather). Naturally, then, I preferred to stay in a hotel in the European part.

The venue, Ülker Sports Arena, is located in the Asian side. The distance between the hotel to the venue was about 18km, and involved crossing a bridge over the Bosphorus.


A traffic jam turned a 30 minutes ride into one hour. Surprise surprise: they drive insane even when there’s a traffic jam. Again, the survival of the fittest: if you’re not strong enough to push your own way through, you’ll be left behind to rot, die and—in extreme cases—miss a concert.


The front of the stage was designated for general admission, which was happily passed on in favour of a seat in the tribunes. When purchasing the tickets, we knew that we would be very tired by the time the show starts, as we’d be spending a lot of time walking in Istanbul; therefore, the seated section seemed like a better approach.


The show started twenty minutes past the scheduled time, the venue not being too far from being completely sold out.

In the last post, I mentioned that it usually takes a few concerts into the tour for the band to start firing with all cylinders. Turned out that “a few concerts” in this tour’s case equals the number “1”, because the show in Istanbul was nothing short of brilliant. A truly great performance, led by a suspiciously upbeat Knopfler—he must have taken his Turkish coffee extra strong prior to the show.

Istanbul features a few popular soccer teams, such as Beşiktaş (named after a municipality within Istanbul, by the same name), Fenerbahçe (named after a neighbourhood) and Galatasaray (named after an Istanbul district). I don’t know much about soccer; however, where I grew up, European soccer has always been very popular and the main thing I remember about Turkish sports teams is that their fans are borderline insane when it comes to their affection to their teams. Therefore, I wasn’t extremely surprised to find the audience yesterday cheering in levels of intensity that make your ears bleed, giving the performance the feel of one real big party.

The band, as previously mentioned, cooperated fully. It was evident that they were having quite a bit of fun. The Sultans of Swing solo sounded like something I can hardly recall listening to, not to mention Telegraph Road.


The pinnacle of the evening, for me, was the introduction of a new song to the set—a song that I have never witnessed played live before. Postcards from Paraguay—one of my all‐time favourites—beautifully played, with the show completely owned by John and Mike playing flute. Flute work in Postcards from Paraguay? I couldn’t have seen it happening, but hey, it just fits. Brilliant arrangement.

A set of sixteen songs, very loud cheers from the audience and show was over.

As the taxi made its way back to Taksim district, it was evident that Istanbul is a very active city. It was around midnight when we arrived back to Taksim Square, only to find that Istiklal Avenue is as full of people as it was in 3:00pm. Amazing. So many people, so many stores and restaurants open—does this city ever sleep?

Unfortunately, no time could be spared exploring Istanbul at night. Only had four hours and a half to sleep before heading to the airport at 5:00am, to catch a flight to Sofia, Bulgaria.

I will visit Istanbul again.

Signing off this post at 6:00pm in my hotel in Sofia. Day off today, show in Sofia tomorrow, and then Belgrade.



  1. I'd so love to hear Postcards from Paraguay in Zagreb as well...truly all-time favorite!

  2. Great blog, thanks for sharing

  3. Lovely, Isaac.
    Postcards is an enchanting song even for non-MK fans.
    Keep it coming, looking forward to your impressions from Belgrade and Zagreb. I know good old Richard will have something to say.