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:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sofia, Bulgaria to Belgrade, Serbia (April 30, 2013)

Woke up at 6:00am, quick morning routine and headed straight to the bus terminal, this time taking a taxi cab. Nobody was quite in the position of walking 30 minutes carrying travel bags in 6:30am. Short ride and we were there.

There aren’t quite enough words in the English language to describe the negative emotions I get when I even hear the word “bus”. Yet, luck has it and this tour involves three bus rides:

  • Sofia, Bulgaria to Belgrade, Serbia;
  • Trieste, Italy to Ljubljana, Slovenia; and
  • Prague, Czech Republic to Lodz, Poland. This one is going to be the hardest travel day of the tour and, for now, I prefer to not even think about it.

The only other way to get from Sofia to Belgrade by public transport is to take a night train, 9 hours or so. Infrastructure in eastern Europe doesn’t allow for massive train schedules as western European countries do. In addition, there is a specific problem concerned with Bulgaria in that respect, as Bulgaria’s poor economy results in a shortage of diesel supply. Diesel is somewhat required for the proper functioning of trains.

As I dislike night trains just as much as I dislike buses, we preferred the shorter ride. Two buses daily from Sofia to Nis (a city in Serbia; from there, connect to Belgrade using the Serbian public transport system), and we had to take the earlier one in order to make it to the show.

Bus left on 7:30am sharp. An hour or so later, we were stopped for passport control in the Bulgaria‐Serbia border. Quite the impressive ride, actually: not far west from Sofia, the scenery takes a sharp turn into the green. Hills and small red‐roofed houses. Pretty.


I tired to catch up with some missing sleep during the bus ride, with limited success. Well, after a couple of years of visiting my home country 3–4 times a year, flying 18 hours each direction, I’m quite used to sit down stationary for a long period of time. My luck.

Three hours and a half after departure, we arrived at Niš, which is of the only sizable towns en route to Sofia. There, we had to unload our luggage and wait in line to exchange our Bulgarian bus ticket to a Serbian bus ticket.

Of course, we had no idea that we were supposed to exchange the ticket. Luck has it and, in front of us, a nice Serbian lady who answers to the name Nada happened to speak English and explained to us how things work. Ten minutes later, we were already in the Serbian bus heading to Belgrade.

Nice ride again, lots of green hills spotted with red‐roofed houses. The country side of Serbia appears to be as if it froze in time for a couple of generations. Through the bus windows, looking at the simple life in rural Serbia made me yearn for some peace and quiet myself. How would it be, I wondered, to live in such conditions? How would it be to leave the big city and live in a rural area for a while, take life slowly?

Then I remembered the eight years I spent living in Ontario’s Waterloo region. The yearning stopped almost instantly.

Had a nice chat with Nada—it’s fun to meet interesting people along the way—and the ride went by OK; not as terrible as I had expected.

Finally arrived at Belgrade’s central bus station at 1:30pm local time.

It was warm.

Belgrade? Wait. What? Why? Where again? Belgrade?

That was, in general, my line of thought when I noticed that Belgrade was added to the tour’s schedule.

My knowledge of Serbia was (and still is) rather limited, and revolves mostly around the various Yugoslav Wars that took place in former Yugoslavia during most of the 1990’s. I also have two friends—ex‐colleagues—who were born in Serbia and told me a few things about it.

Belgrade is the capital city of Serbia. During the 20th century, Belgrade’s name was largely associated with wars. World War I started by Austria‐Hungary declaring war on Serbia (after a Yugoslav nationalist assassinated the heir to Austria‐Hungary’s throne). The city was bombed in the summer of 1914, and in 1915 it was mostly destroyed before being taken back again by Serb troops.

During World War II, Yugoslavia signed an agreement with the Axis powers with the intention of keeping itself out of the War. That triggered protests in Belgrade, leading in the city being brutally attacked by the German air force on April 1941, resulting in 24,000 dead. Shortly after, Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis powers.

The German military governor of Serbia, Franz Böhme, decided on a rule whereby for every German killed, 100 Serbs or Jews would be shot. He kept his word: Guerrilla attacks on the Axis powers in 1941 resulted in thousands of citizens being killed according to this vicious “rule”, a true work of inhumane bullshit such that only Nazi Germany could come up with. The city was liberated from German occupation in 1944, and The Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was established in Belgrade shortly after.

From there on until the 1990’s, Belgrade functioned as the capital city of Yugoslavia.

But it wasn’t over. The Yugoslav Wars that took place during the 1990’s, with an arch‐killer by the name of Slobodan Milošević as the ruler of Serbia, resulted in mass killings of citizens through ethnic cleansing. Milošević was later indicted in the Hague and was accused in a long list of war crimes. He died in his prison cell during the trial.

Sometimes it seems that the worst thing that ever happened to mankind is mankind itself.

Avoiding the myriad of crooks pretending to be “taxi drivers”, we found a taxi nearby and off we went to the hotel. While the vast majority of attractions in Belgrade are in the old city, we opted at a hotel in the new city as the venue would be close by. Enough time will be left to explore the old city on May 1, before the flight to Milano in the evening.

The hotel, Hotel Adresa, is a new hotel located in the new city. It is located inside a complex that involves a few stores, restaurants and cafe. Very poor signing resulted in us looking for the hotel’s entrance for about 30 minutes: the immense heat did nothing to help, and by the time I located the hotel’s entrance, I was just about to completely dehydrate.

Very helpful staff, and an amazing room. Quite far (about 3km) from the old city, but if you’re looking for a place in Belgrade to stay the night, consider this place, if only for this huge walk‐in shower.


Having eaten just a small sandwich since morning, the first order of business was a meal in a nearby restaurant, then off to the room to chill out and regain some strength for the show.

The Kombank Arena is a general‐purpose indoor arena in New Belgrade, and is one of the biggest indoor arenas in the world with the capacity of up to 25,000—depending on the event being held. It does look massive from afar.


The first item of notice in this arena was the entry procedure, which was much unlike security screening in airports—except that, here, you wouldn’t need to present any boarding pass. Security is quite tight, I’d say.


(The three pictures above were taken after the concert. Not that it really matters.)

Arrived at the venue about half an hour before the show’s scheduled start at 8:00pm. Five minutes before the scheduled start time, the venue looked like this:


More than half empty. I don’t know whether this is typical to Belgrade, but it turns out that a concert’s “scheduled start time” doesn’t really mean much here. The concert started forty minutes (!) past schedule, and was well worth the wait.

The habit of being surprised with new set additions over the last few shows is a real treat and, fortunately, didn’t stop in Belgrade. After a familiar opening of three songs, an unrecognized stage layout took place. Still, the first two bars of the song left no doubt: 5:15am, from the album Shangri La of 2005, was played live for the first time this tour—and if my memory serves me right, ever.

A real treat. Of my few favourite songs in Shangri La, 5:15am is a beautiful ballad telling the story of someone returning home after a night shift and noticing a dead body in a Mark Ten Jaguar—a mob hit, with the casualty being someone who stole money from the mafia. It features a warm Stratocaster rhythm, and as good as it is in the studio album, it is even better played live.

(It should be noted that some solo parts in this song, at least performed live, were performed by Richard Bennett, with Mark playing the rhythm. At least, that was my impression.)

Also new in Belgrade’s show: for the first time in the last couple of thousands of years, Romeo and Juliet was not followed by Sultans of Swing. I am guessing that this omission was decided upon because there was this guy playing a ridiculously terrible rendition of Sultans of Swing outside the venue, featuring a mistuned acoustic guitar and a rather selective memory when it comes to the actual song.

Another addition to this tour’s set shortly after: Miss You Blues, played in Seattle last October in the joint Knopfler‐Dylan tour. That was played after an intro that is most often heard prior to Donegan’s Gone, however Richard holding a Telecaster kind of gave me the impression that a different song was going to be played.

During Marbletown, Mike McGoldrick was suddenly seen fleeing the stage, returning with a flute shortly after. It is unclear why, though; the flute he came back with wasn’t (to my knowledge) the flute being used for Marbletown. Still it was amusing to see him running back to the stage making it just in time for his pivotal part in the Marbletown jam—maybe three or four seconds prior.

Security before and during the show was quite strict. I didn’t see any sign of over‐aggressiveness, but security personnel did make a great effort to ensure that the stage area remains clear at all times—even before the show started. During the entire show, once could easily get the sense that they are being watched. As a result of this sort of intimidation, nobody from the front few rows stood up for a standing ovation at the end of the show: people were simply reluctant to express themselves. A standing ovation did take place eventually, after a minute or so of cheering.

After the show, back to the hotel and looking for a place to eat. The hotel is inside a shopping complex in a rather boring area of town: nothing to do here past 11:00pm, so that meant going to bed hungry.

Signing off this post at 9:30am, May 1. Today is a day off, flying to Milano in the evening for the night, then Torino the next morning for Thursday’s show. Will catch up with some work and try to make some time to visit Belgrade’s old city area.


1 comment:

  1. Hear live such rarity as 5:15am... OMG! Enviably. My unbeaten favourite song. You are happy man. Thanks for wonderful reports! All the best.
    Voice from Baltic