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:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Delft, The Netherlands to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg (May 15, 2013)

The morning after a stellar Moody/Knopfler experience, it was time to get back to touring mode: after getting rid of a few things I don’t need, packing is now much easier. Batteries recharged, ready to go.

In the last post, I wrote that I am a big fan of the peaceful, lovely city of Delft. It was a pain to bid it farewell, and once again embark on train travel into the unknown—the good news being that I’ll be back in Delft in about two weeks and a half, for a week long break after the London concerts.

Morning train from Delft to Rotterdam. I have awkward memories of Rotterdam’s central station: whenever I happened to be there before, it happened to be under construction, making getting around the train station quite confusing and stressful. Turned out that it was a 5–6 years construction effort that is just about over: the station looks much better now, spacious and easy to get around in.

No place to sit down for a morning coffee. Knowing that the ride to Luxembourg is going to take about six hours, each of us bought a sandwich from La Place with the intention to keep it for lunch time—an intention that remained theoretical, as I am not the type of person who’s going to let a warm sandwich get cold inside a backpack just because “it’s too early”. Superb sandwich, by the way. If you happen to come across a La Place shop in The Netherlands, use it.

The train ride from Rotterdam to Luxembourg passes through Brussels. For whatever reason, I had good memories of Brussels Midi/Zuid—I have been to this station a few times in the past.

Perhaps my memory is starting to betray me. Eagerly looking for my morning coffee, I found myself outside the station. Across the road, a sign with the promising name SAS Cafe appeared. Looks nice from the outside. Stepped in. About 20–30 tables, only one of which is occupied, by a lady sitting down reading the newspaper.

Caught the attendant’s attention, which is where things started to go downhill. I asked an extremely involved, complex question.

– “Can I please have a cappuccino?”

– “Ah, yes. But we only make cappuccino with cream.”

– “You mean, whipped cream?”

– “Ah… Pardon?”

– “You mean, whipped cream?”

– “It is not like an Italian cappuccino, with milk. We make it with cream.”

I started suspecting that the difficulty revolves around the word “whipped”.

– “Is it a sweet cream?”

– “Yes.”

– “OK… can you make anything with steamed milk?”

– “Pardon?”

Obviously, the tricky word was now “steamed”.

– “Can you make anything with hot milk?”

– “Yes. I can make a latte with hot milk.”


– “OK, thank you. I’ll have one.”

– “To sit down, or take out?”

– “To sit down, please.”

– (Turning to Jeroen) “And for you?”

– (Jeroen) “Nothing, I’m OK, thank you.”

– “Sorry, you can’t sit inside then. If you want to sit inside, both of you have to order something.”

– “What? Why?”, I asked. Admittedly, my initial choice of words was different.

– “Because it’s lunch time now, and we are very busy in lunch time.”

We looked around. Nobody was there.


Not much in the mood to argue, I took the coffee in a paper cup and left. Now, I am not sure whether this is an acceptable business practice in Brussels, or in Belgium, or whatnot. Something like this happening in Vancouver would be very bad news for your business. I understand business owners’ wish to make money, but to go as far as kicking a group of people out just because one member of the group doesn’t want to order anything—excuse me, that’s fucked up in many levels.

Took a sip. That resulted in my brain being overloaded with trying to find words to describe how disgusting the coffee was. €3 down the drain.

Back to the station, walked to the station’s other end and found a familiar place, called Sam’s Cafe. Another €3, another coffee that sucked.

Nothing worked for me there.

Went to the restrooms. Costs €0.50, I had three coins of €0.20. You can only put €0.50 coins there. How? AH. Good question. They have a machine there that you put coins in it and it changes them all to €0.50 coins plus whatever’s left. Clever. Too bad that the machine had no written instructions on it other than a rather unclear diagram.

Finally, the train left Brussels. The travel plan said that the train was heading to Luxembourg, while the departures board showed that the train was heading to a town named Arlon, where there’s another connection to Luxembourg. Fantastic, another challenge—as if the day wasn’t challenging enough already. Of course, once arriving to Arlon, there were no instructions whatsoever as to which train exactly goes to Luxembourg. Connection time is 5 minutes. Go figure. Luckily, a nice lady who was going that direction herself saved the day.

It was around 15:40 when I was finally in Luxembourg’s central railway station.

It was raining.

I have been to Luxembourg once before, during the 2010 tour. It was a short visit—getting into Luxembourg and getting out the next morning. That Luxembourg experience three years ago was far from leaving a positive mark in my memory, so I wasn’t quite looking forward to visit it again. I seem to recall Luxembourg City being somewhat grey and depressing, with people wearing disturbed expressions on their faces.

As I arrived to Luxembourg this time around, it seemed like nothing changed. I don’t know how to explain it: I just felt as if I am surrounded by people who aren’t exactly happy. Therefore, I was determined to find out why: fired up Wikipedia and started reading.

I was shocked.

Luxembourg is a European country bordering with France, Belgium and Germany. It is small, in both area and population: about 2,600km2 are home to about 530,000 people. According to the World Bank, Luxembourg has the highest GDP per capita in the world: income is high, inflation is low, and so is unemployment. According to The Economist’s Quality of Life Index, Luxembourg ranks 4th in the world. 4th!

Due to its banking secrecy laws, Luxembourg has been (and still is) a tax haven for rich individuals and wealthy corporations worldwide. One famous case concerning Luxembourg being a tax haven was revealed in April 2012, when it turned out that the UK’s arm of Amazon was able to avoid paying high taxes in the UK by channelling its revenues through Luxembourg. Also, Kim Jong Il—the dictator who, for decades, was in the habit of messing up the lives of millions of North Koreans—has been reported, in March 2010, to have about $4 billion in Luxembourg’s banks.

On paper, yes, this is a rich country. Not only on paper: the hotel room for this one night in Luxembourg, in an average hotel with nothing special in it, cost about €140. Taxi to the airport from the city center—a distance of about 9km—costs around €40–50.

In other words, Luxembourg isn’t quite the travel destination for those who aspire to travel on a shoestring.

I was intrigued. Clearly there’s something to Luxembourg that I am not yet aware of. Perhaps it’s just the area surrounding the central station being grey and depressing? The train ride itself shows a beautiful country, with beautiful houses spotted on green hills. Maybe the answer is there?

At any rate, as intrigued as I was, sadly, I could not afford the time to explore anything. This year, the tour’s busy schedule restricted the stay in Luxembourg to one night only.

Upon checking in to the hotel, Hotel Carlton located a few minutes walk from the central railway station, we set out to get some food. A quick look in TripAdvisor showed a few worthy dining options around: sadly, none were open. Turns out that restaurants in Luxembourg (or, at least, at the city center area) follow similar habits to those in France and Spain: restaurants are only open for certain periods during the day. At other times, you’d have to suffice with bar‐ or pub‐type establishments selling questionable food.

Eventually, we found one that was open: Alfa Brasserie, located right across the street from the railway station. This place caters to give you the best of a few dining options—Italian, French, Luxemburgish and so on. Prices were steep—starting at €16 for a main course and quickly climbing to the mid‐€30’s.

We both had a mushroom & parmesan risotto. I had it once, Jeroen had it twice. This will be explained below. Read on.

Then, off to the station to figure out exactly how to get to the venue. Back to the hotel to chill out and catch up with some things, and then took the 6:50pm train to the Rockhal.

The Rockhal is one of Luxembourg’s main concert venues. It is surrounded by natural beauty, as depicted in the picture below:


Bah. Well. Essentially, the Rockhal is one big concrete‐made shoebox, making it a perfect choice for events in which sound is not an issue, such as Megadeth concerts. Let’s just put it this way: Beethoven isn’t going to be played here any time soon.


Nearby the venue, there’s a nice shopping mall. Looking for drinks, we stumped upon a nice restaurant that had a proper espresso machine.

Sat down.

Waitress came by, asking what we would like. We said we would like some drinks.

She pointed outside the restaurant, and then spoke in fluent French saying that this place is for eating: if it’s not solid food that you’d like your body to consume, then you should go to the nearby drinks place.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the second time in six hours that we were thrown out of a food‐serving establishment because we were not seeking just the right thing. Rude, arrogant, screwed up… many words to describe this.

Having said that, well, I suppose that’s what this trip is mostly about: getting out of your comfort bubble; experience new things; absorb them; learn from them. Fine. But the problem is that my comfort bubble, after having lived in Vancouver for the last two years, is just so fucking comfortable that getting adjusted to these quirks becomes a real hassle.

(During the last tour, I was a little more tolerant of such things. I used to live in the east coast back then.)

Mediocre coffee in the mall and back to the venue, very close to show time. The Rockhal is not the venue you’re likely to desire to be in for more than absolutely needed.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about what I saw in the concert because I didn’t see much. For once, knowing in advance that we’d be after a long travel day when arriving at Luxembourg, we opted at the tribune in the back instead of standing up in the front. How back? a long way back.


Also, because the venue is not much more than a pile of bricks glued together, it’s difficult to get good, balanced sound. I believe that the crew did their best with what they were given, and in the Rockhal, not much can be done. The concert didn’t quite sound the same.


Nothing special happened during the show until Haul Away started playing, Jeroen turned to me and mumbled something.

– “What?”

– “Move, I need to go.”

Jeroen and I attended many concerts together in the past—dozens of them. One thing he never did was to get up from his seat during the concert to go anywhere.

– “Where?”, I asked, as if it mattered.

– “I’m not feeling well.”

That’s when the second tasting of that risotto came into play. He left the hall with a bad case of food poisoning, and didn’t return until the encore. It was rather disconcerting. Not only a good friend of yours is going through hell, but you also happened to eat exactly the same things at exactly the same time over the last 12+ hours. That took away most of my enjoyment of the concert, as I had to leave the hall a few times to text the poor mate (no cellular reception inside the hall) to ensure he’s still alive.

Quite expectedly, throwing up made a world of difference for the suffering Dutchman, and he returned, good as new, for the encore which we watched from the very back of the hall.

So Far Away concluded the show and we rushed back to the train station nearby to catch the train back to the city center.

Another stressful day, another stressful Luxembourg experience. Still, I’m hoping to get more time to explore this country in the future. I need to make amends.

Concluding this post from the hotel room in the wonderful city of Glasgow.



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  2. Isaac, it must be the café in Belgium... The girl in Antwerp told me exactly the same, that they could only make a cappuccino with Whipped cream 'room' or 'slagroom' in Dutch.

    And your experiences with attempts to order a drink in a restaurant... omg, it kind of illustrates our life-standard going down the drain in Western Europe.

    A friend of mine who works in Toronto for a couple of months has decided to try to get a job for life there. And that was only on his second day there.


    1. Marijn: well, as my day-to-day life isn't taking place in western Europe, I can't really say whether I agree or disagree with your statement about life standard (in general) going down the drain. I hope that it's a temporary thing and not a trend. However, one thing I can definitely state is related to your statement about your friend: the life standard in Canada is indeed very high, and you learn to appreciate it after experiencing other life standards (such as eastern & western Europe).

      Regarding Toronto: yes, the life standard there is very high, which makes visitors fall in love with it. However, life standard in the west coast is even higher than that. I have heard of way more people moving from the east coast to the west coast, than of people moving the other way around.

    2. Haha Isaac...all the people with the good ideas left Europe around the year 1900 and took off to NAm. The ones left spent the next hundred years slaughtering each other in wars. Of course the ones who died were the strongest. Academics keep away from this subject. That was really annoying info about the leader in N Korea. The population there starves to death literally. And knowing they have over 45 submarines (of good design) placed around the planet does not promote a good nights sleep.