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:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Liverpool to Bournemouth to Cardiff to Birmingham, UK (May 20–24, 2013)

Good to be back after a few days of silence. The last few days were very busy and I had to catch up with many important things—including sleep. Hopefully there won’t be any blogging interruptions from now on. I know how vital this blog is for your well being.

I like Bournemouth.

The first time I heard anything about the city of Bournemouth was some time in 2009, when the 2010 Get Lucky tour was announced. Bournemouth? where is that? I remember I took a glance at the map and the only thing I could think of was “fortunately, there’s a beach”.

My idea of how the British coasts look like stemmed from my familiarity with Cape Breton Island’s coastline, which is said to resemble much of England’s: green‐covered rugged cliffs over the beautiful sea. Standing upon them and looking at the water, you get the feeling that you have just reached the end of the world.

Ever since I first came here in 2010, I have been fond of Bournemouth. Hotels here are generally mediocre (except for the Marriott by the beach, which goes for around £160 a night. Never stayed there, but I know what the rooms are like), but other than that, it’s a fine spot for relaxation by England’s coastline.

Arrived to Bournemouth on Monday afternoon after a long train ride from Liverpool. A glance at Google Maps shown an easy one and so miles walk to the hotel, and the weather being cool, cloudy without rain, it seemed like an easy nice walk. However, what wasn’t taken into account is Bournemouth’s terrain: walking in this city is never boring, terrain‐wise. Inclines and declines up the yin and yang, and by the time I reached the hotel, my shirts (two layers. As I said, it looked as if it was going to be cold) turned into a pile of sweat.

The hotel, Best Western Connaught Hotel, is located steps away from the beach and is surprisingly ranked #1 in Bournemouth by TripAdvisor—bypassing the Marriott. How? Beats me. The hotel consists of two buildings, one of which is where the reception is and I think was the fancy one. The other one—where I ended up staying in—is nearby and provides a typical English hotel experience: thick carpets in the hallway, hardwood (or laminate; not sure, didn’t bother to check) flooring that makes sounds whenever more than one pound of weight is exerted on it. Aromatically, the room reminded me of my childhood as it smelled like old, cheap toothpaste.


Many hotels in Bournemouth are made up of very old buildings. You are unlikely to run into state‐of‐the‐art modern architecture here. I am not sure whether this is due to some sort of a municipal bylaw or something else, but one thing is for sure—it helps (for the most part) maintain Bournemouth’s authentic look. Unfortunately, some of them are both old and inconvenient to stay in. I mean, I’m OK with “roughing it up” but there’s a limit. In comparison to my previous visit to Bournemouth (during the joint Knopfler‐Dylan tour), though, this present hotel was certainly an upgrade.

Bournemouth’s streets seemed to be rather vacant on Monday as we set out looking for food and drinks. It was a lovely walk in a sleepy beach town.


The city center is not far from the beach.


It was evening, and businesses around were surprisingly closed. Holiday? maybe. That, however, interfered with my goal of finding some coffee. Eventually I came across a Costa Coffee shop (they’re everywhere) five minutes before closing time.

Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero are two major UK coffee chains. They both are everywhere, and often you’ll run into situations when a Costa and a Nero are facing each other. Their coffee is OK. Not terrible like Starbucks, but not great. If you can’t find any local, independent coffee shop, either a Costa or a Nero would do.

This particular one had a deal: balance a twenty pence coin on a lemon floating in water, and get a free drink.


I failed to deliver, and so did the coffee.

Back at the hotel, I decided to be enterprising and take advantage of the hotel’s spa facilities. They have an 18 meters pool there, a Jacuzzi tub, a steam room and a sauna. A few short laps in the pool did much for cardio work alright, but at some point—I don’t know why, perhaps it was the general look of the place which was quite depressing—I had a mysophobia attack and decided to imminently stop swimming in other people’s urine. Hopped to the hot tub for a few minutes—realizing that the only difference between it and a swimming pool was that, in a hot tub, I’m sitting in other people’s germs, whereas in a swimming pool I’m in motion—and then into the steam room.

I don’t exactly remember when was the last time I was in a steam room. I think it was about 20 years ago when I visited a country club to which my family was subscribed. This particular one chose to add some eucalyptus extract to the steam, which was nice. Ten minutes later I was out.

It felt like Tel Aviv in June.

Next up: the sauna. The dry sauna’s goal (as far as I understood) is to make you sweat, thereby cleaning your skins from all sorts of toxins.

It felt like Tel Aviv in August.

You know what? it worked, I did sweat. Unbearable heat, couldn’t stand it for more than 5 minutes and I stormed out of there gasping for air—directly into the pool area which, quite frankly, stank.

The overall impression I got is that I possibly am not a big fan of swimming pools anymore—at least not ones that seem to be run down and not quite hygienic. The steam room & sauna, though, were an interesting experience. I shall make use of those more often.

The next morning was the morning of an easy day: the hotel, the city center and the venue were all located within a relatively short walk from each other.


The first order of business was to find some breakfast. One of the highest ranked places in Bournemouth for breakfast is Frieda’s Tearoom, offering good breakfasts. Altogether a nice place for a quiet breakfast, really. However, it did get a bit annoying that we had to sit there for about 20 minutes before realizing that you will never get the bill to your table in this place—payment is at the cashier. During that time, I have seen the waitress there texting, talking on her mobile phone, hooking up her phone to a laptop to synchronize some tunes, reading the news… anything but divert her looks towards an impatient arse in a table nearby dying to pay the bill and go on with his life.

Kept walking through the city center area…


Came across this, and penned it down as the spot for a pre‐show snack.


Came across Camera Obscura, which, at the time of checking, was the #301 restaurant in all of Bournemouth… out of 301.


Then, finally, arrived to this place:


Espresso Kitchen in Bournemouth is locally owned by an exceptionally cool lady by the name of Francesca. Provide me with an establishment like this one for every day during the tour, and I’m a happy camper. It takes guts to set up an independent, local coffee shop steps away from Starbucks, Costa and Nero, and it takes talent to bring this place to be #2 in TripAdvisor within two months. Delicious healthy cakes baked on site, and the coffee—hell, that’s what I’ve been looking for.

Kept on wandering around…


Pre‐concert snack in Patisserie Valerie and back to the beach area, where the venue is located.


The venue, Bournemouth International Center (usually referred to as simply “The BIC”) is a general purpose arena—a boring one, but not more boring than most other general purpose arenas previously played in this tour—and is a major venue in southern England. It seats 6,500.


Good concert—nothing unusual except for Our Shangri La making its debut in the UK. As Nigel Hitchcock joins the band in the UK, he was involved in this song’s performance, which added an entire layer of beauty to it. Well done.

Having gained some rest in Bournemouth, it was time to leave England’s wonderful coast area for a few days (should be back here for the Brighton concert soon) and head north west to Cardiff, Wales. Easy wake up: nobody was in the mood for walking 30 minutes to the train station. Instead, (mediocre) breakfast was consumed at the hotel and a taxi was hailed to take us to the central railway station. Half an hour ride to Southampton, then change to a 2nd class only train heading to Cardiff Central. Not as cramped as my previous few experiences with 2nd class coaches, but still, I wouldn’t classify the ride as being extraordinarily pleasant.

Now, here is something you need to know when you ride the trains in the UK, especially when you travel 2nd class: most train routes give you the option to reserve a seat. The fact that you hold a train ticket, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be seated (there are a few trains for which seat reservations are mandatory, in which case, everybody is seated). The pleasure of ensuring that your ass will be met with a seat (other than a toilet) while the train is moving usually costs an extra few pounds, on top of what you paid for the ride.

Seats are only possible to reserve up to a certain amount of time before departure (I think one hour). That’s because the train’s staff need to print seating stubs—a stub for each seat on the train, containing information about which sections of the train ride this seat is in a “reserved” status.

For example, if the train’s origin is in point A, its destination is point F, and it stops in B, C, D and E along the way, it is definitely possible that seat number 23 will be reserved in the sections BC and EF. It can also be reserved in the sections C⇒D and D⇒E, by two different people.

All of these details are printed on the seat’s stub and the stub is placed on the seat’s headrest.

Now, the fun thing is that, more often than not, people boarding the train initially seat themselves wherever the hell they feel like, which is not necessarily the exact seat that they were reserving. For example, if you reserved seat 23, which happens to be adjacent to seat number 24; seat number 24 is occupied by an individual with an exceptionally offensive body odour and all sorts of swastika‐shaped tattoos on their skin (this is not a random example); and there are fifty other vacant seats available in the coach—you are very likely to seat yourself somewhere else, preferably far away from the smelly Neo Nazi, say seat number 51. If the “true” owner of seat number 51 boards the train at some point and insists to take his seat, you would get up and find another vacant seat, or—if you have no other choice—return to your beloved and reserved seat number 23, next to the charming war monger.

This sort of arrangement is harmless in cases when the coach is sparsely occupied. However, the more people board the coach, the more probable it is for someone to insist on their reserved seat. The result: a few dozens of people shuffling around inside the coach (while the train is moving, mind you), along with their luggage.

The reason I’m telling you all of that is, that during the ride from Southampton to Cardiff, such mess ensued that took about 10 minutes to sort out. Naturally, luck had it and the coach was filled with old (yet charming. Well, mostly) English ladies carrying suitcases back and forth in the cabin (I helped some of them). Not one foot remained unharmed.

It was a fun morning exercise. I wish I could do it more often, but I don’t want to.

Finally arrived to Cardiff. Sun! I don’t think I ever got to see Cardiff in the sun.

Luggage placed in the hotel (can’t check in yet; too early) and off to find some place to eat.

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales. In Welsh, “Cardiff” (spelled “Caerdydd”) means “The Fort of Taff”, where “Taff” refers to River Taff that runs through Wales. I have been here twice before—in 2010 and 2011—and there’s something in this city that makes me… I don’t know… makes me like it.


A glance in TripAdvisor showed up Cafe Citta as a promising Italian restaurant. Ranked #2 out of 572, expectations were high. The restaurant is owned and operated by Italian folks; the menu is simple and food is delicious. I have been to a few Italian restaurants in Cardiff before and this one ranks high. Go there.

But if you’re going there and expecting to pay with cash, make sure you have enough change. For whatever reason, this place found it appropriate to take payment that was approximately 20% higher than the cost, never returning any change. At some point, while we were sitting there waiting for some change, the restaurant’s owner looked at me and said “thank you”. I didn’t quite understand why; it only registered with me once I realized we’re sitting there for 15 minutes waiting for something that is unlikely to happen.

One of the good things about money is that it helps you avoid dealing with awkward situations, especially when you have something more important to do with your life. A decision was made to leave the premises rather than getting into a deep discussion about ethical restaurateur‐ship with the owners.


In the previous times when I was here, I skipped entering the Cardiff Castle and wanted to go for it this time around. Unfortunately it was closed. Still, it looks lovely from outside. It dates back to the 11th century and serves no purpose nowadays other than being a major tourist attraction.


Back for coffee in my favourite Cardiff coffee spot—Coffee #1, right by the central railway station—and back to the hotel.


The hotel, Royal Hotel Cardiff, was picked because I stayed there before and liked it. It is conveniently located right at the city center, and is spacious, comfortable and well‐maintained.

Well, at least it was. The hotel was going through renovations over the last couple of years; the renovations have just ended two weeks ago so, if at all, I was expecting a better experience than last time’s.

Hell, what a miserable experience, starting right from the beginning with a rather obnoxious receptionist. Room was at the 7th floor, and I’ll leave you to guess which floor button didn’t work in the (only) elevator. Windows were locked shut, expecting you to use the air conditioning system instead; guess what, it’s turned on “heat” mode and you can’t change it.

But you know what? fine. I have stayed in crappier places before. But what I really can’t forgive any hotel for is poor Wi‐Fi connectivity. We’re in the 21st century already. Dear hotel owner: if you can’t have proper Wi‐Fi infrastructure in your hotel, then I don’t want to stay there.

It was the first time ever that I had to manually set my network adapter’s DNS settings to a custom DNS address, as the hotel’s DHCP server provided me with a wrong one.

(If you don’t understand anything in the preceding paragraph, that’s OK.)

Internet connection was still slow despite all my attempts to remedy the situation. Couldn’t even do proper lookups for the purpose of writing this blog entry, so we went for another walk outside. Weather became cooler, which might be explained by Iceman’s decision to take a crap on Cardiff’s sidewalk.


Back to the hotel, got ready and off to the venue, located a few minutes walk away.

The venue, Motorpoint Arena, used to be called “CIA”—Cardiff International Arena—until a car sales company by the name of “Motorpoint” purchased the arena’s naming rights. Again, a general purpose arena used for exhibitions and conferences, with a full seating capacity of about 5,000.


A shorter, 16 songs set, was played featuring a beautiful performance of Back to Tupelo as well as another saxophone‐accompanied rendition of Our Shangri La. An occurrence worth noting took place before the encore, when people started gathering close to the stage. Security staff started instructing people to go back to their seats. Mark noticed, referred to the security worker through the microphone saying “No, don’t spoil it”. The security worker didn’t hear it at first, which prompted Mark to step towards the front of the stage, in order to gain his attention. Before that happened, the security worker finally understood what he was supposed to allow people to do and fled the scene.


Arrived to Birmingham on Friday, around noon time, very tired due to all sorts of events that took place in the preceding few days. Accidentally, we took the wrong train from London to Birmingham—the slow one that makes stops all throughout the UK before arriving to Birmingham New Street station.

I can hardly remember when was the last time I was that tired, but I surely recognize the symptoms: feeling as if your brain turns into some sort of a mush; inability to form a proper coherent sentence without it taking a hell of a lot of effort. I tried to pass out on the train, but couldn’t.

Luckily, the Holiday Inn hotel in the city center is very close to the railway station. Not exactly sure how I made it safe and sound to the hotel, given the fact that I was only 10% awake. As I was just as hungry as I was tired, I had to resolve the more urgent problem first: Minmin is a Vietnamese restaurant nearby. Been a while since I had Vietnamese food. I ate it but was too tired to appreciate the taste.

Off to the hotel and I had one of the best two hour naps in mankind’s history. The story of that nap will be taught in schools in years to come. Naps like that one, if left unattended, could cause you to wake up and not understand why everyone around you grew older by a couple of years.

Woke up and immediately headed to the train station, to get to the venue.

The LG Arena is a part of Birmingham’s National Exhibition Center (NEC). The NEC is the largest exhibition center in the UK and the seventh largest in Europe, and inside the NEC, the LG Arena is where concerts take place. It is quite large, and can seat up to 16,000. I have been here before, too.

The NEC is located nearby Birmingham’s airport. Access to it from the city center is best done using trains: most trains departing from, or arriving to, Birmingham city center, also make a stop in Birmingham International railway station, which serves both the NEC and the airport.

The concert started close to 8:00pm—almost half an hour past schedule. About 15 minutes prior, Paul Crockford took the microphone and explained that the reason for the delay is the terrible traffic outside the venue, which meant that lots of people are still on their way.

Good concert, ended shortly before 10:00pm. Train back to the hotel, not before having to walk outside for a bit (it takes a few minutes to walk from the LG Arena to the main NEC area). If it wasn’t clear so far, I should tell you that England is going through one of its worst springs recently. Weather is actually winter‐like: this isn’t typical to the end of May. Hell, June is right around the corner!

While some might say that a long period of travelling is an excellent way to disconnect yourself from the everyday life, I hold a different theory: if you are looking forward to disconnect yourself from your everyday life, perhaps you should make some changes in it. The more I travel, the more I realize that I have my life right where I want it.

Sort of.

I miss home; well, both of them.


1 comment:

  1. Brilliant account of somewhere I have never been. Thanks Isaac. The reason the weather is fricked up is because we are just starting on the next ice age. The gulf stream is buggered and the ice caps are melting. Of course 500 horse power Range Rovers make it essential we have chem trails as soon as the skies are blue..gotta stop that global warming. Now I am no saint and I am a big sinner just as you are, we all are, in destroying this planet.