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 9, 2013

Zagreb, Croatia to Prague, Czech Republic to Łódź, Poland (May 6–8, 2013)

Getting from Zagreb to Prague was the longest travel day in the entire tour schedule: Leaving Zagreb 7:25am towards Vienna, arriving 1:57pm; then depart Vienna 2:32pm, arrive Prague 7:21pm. Total time in transit: 12 hours minus four minutes.

While the option was there to split the train ride into two, spending the day off in Vienna, it was decided to get all travel done at once, during the day off, and enjoy two nights and one full day in the amazing city of Prague.

It was difficult getting out of bed at 6:00am. Hotel’s breakfast starts at 6:30am, and what a breakfast it was—magnificent. So much selection that you’re granted to find more than a thing or two to satisfy your hunger with. Very good, Best Western Astoria.

Unfortunately, breakfast had to be consumed in a rush in order to make it to the 7:25am train on time, which we did. Comfortable first class cabin on board the EuroCity 158 train, courtesy of ÖBB—the Austrian railway company. Was even able to catch a short nap.

Caught up with work and blogging, and enjoyed the view. Almost the entire train ride was an amazing treat for the eyes: I am inclined to say that this train ride, along with the one I took from Montreux to Locarno during the Get Lucky tour, are the two most scenic train rides I have ever been on.

As it is difficult to take proper photos from within a moving train, the following will have to do:


Hills, mountains, old houses, castles, rivers, lakes—what more could you ask for?

Oh, I know what else you could ask for: you could ask for a major railway clusterfuck to not take place 30km south of Vienna.

About 30km south of Wien Meidling—a major railway hub in Vienna—our train suddenly stopped, due to a “technical problem”. The problem with such stoppages is that you can never really know what’s going on, or any sort of estimate as to when (if at all) the train will move on. Such knowledge is necessary when you have a connecting train to hop on; in our case, the gap between the train arriving at Vienna and the one departing to Prague was about 35 minutes. In other words, we really wanted to know whether the delay is going to take less than 35 minutes (good) or more (bad).

Finally, close to an hour later, the train started moving again. That meant that we’d have to take the next train available to Prague, leaving 2 hours after our originally‐scheduled train. Annoying, but not too much; we could have just spend the time at the train station having lunch.

But, no. ÖBB had other plans for us. An announcement (in German) was made that our train is going to stop its journey at the next stop, and that we should find alternative ways to get to our Vienna station.

Now, in an advanced country such as Austria, in a location so close to its capital city, you’d think that you would be able to get some help from on‐site railway staff, as to which train you should be taking. Surprisingly, no such help was available. The result: hundreds of confused and frustrated passengers, completely oblivious as to what to do next. The departures board was confusing and completely useless, causing these hundreds of passengers (including us) to switch platforms many times before making sense out of this mess.

Now, when you read the phrase “switch platform”, consider having to carry your luggage down a flight of about 20 stairs, then walk for about 20 meters and then carry your luggage up the stairs to get to the other platform. Now imagine doing this when it’s warm outside. Once you are done imagining that, imagine that you’re doing it with hundreds of people around you. Four times.

Fun? I’d say.

Eventually, we struck a conversation with two locals who were as frustrated as we were. A train came by, and we asked these locals whether this train takes us to Vienna, to which they said “yes”.

We boarded, not knowing for sure whether the train goes at the right direction, and which stop to take. Fortunately, it sorted itself out: thirty minutes later, we were in Wien Meidling.

Next step: figure out which train to take next. Inquiring at the ticketing office, we were told that there’s another train leaving just an hour from now. It has more than 300 vacant seats, so we should be able to find a place. Good.

As we’re riding first class trains all throughout (except for the UK), we were allowed access to OBB’s first class lounge, offering free drinks, snacks, Wi‐Fi and comfortable sofas.

Our train, EuroCity 74, departed about 20+ minutes late. Turns out that something rather serious happened in the railway system just south of Vienna, screwing up many.

My ex told me, a while ago, that my life revolves around looking for problems and working on resolving them; that the very act of looking for a fault is what motivates me, and the act of fixing these faults is what builds my self image. I am still amazed how right‐on she was.

I suppose that explains why I get frustrated when everyday breakages occur. In this instance, I was less frustrated with the resulting 2 hours delay, than I was frustrated over the fact that, in a developed country in the 21st century, a technical difficulty in one train or one track can still result in a chain of reaction adversely impacting the daily schedule of thousands of people. Moreover, it bothers me to acknowledge that many of such problems can be avoided by simply taking preventative measures against them, rather than reacting after the fact.

Finally, after a long, long traveling day, the train made it to Prague’s central railway station. I was happy: Prague, in my eyes, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and definitely ranks very high among European cities worth visiting.

I have only been here twice before. The first time was about 13 years ago, on my first ever trip to any European destination, with my girlfriend at that time. In retrospect, the city left a much more lasting impression on me than did my ex‐girlfriend: there’s something in this city’s beauty that makes you desire to explore it.

Here is myself playing the grand piano of the Corinthia Hotel 13 years ago. I used to wear a watch. I don’t anymore.


The hotel, Falkensteiner Hotel Maria Prag, was the same hotel I stayed in during the Get Lucky tour. A bit pricey, but conveniently located right next to the central train station and a few minutes walk away from Prague’s best known touristic areas. This time around, the stay wasn’t as pleasant as it was 3 years ago, primarily due to the fact that air conditioning here is only available during the summer and the room in the top floor boasted two windows there were impossible to keep open for too long without them being slammed shut by the help of wind.

Having spent the day feeding exclusively on dry sandwiches, a proper dinner was in place. Very close to the hotel is Wenceslas Square, which, for tourists, is the main square to start exploring the city from. It is so touristic that it really isn’t representative of Prague anymore: various over‐priced restaurants offering poor‐quality food for ridiculous prices; casinos; all sorts of establishments aimed at demeaning, objectifying and nullifying the value of 50% of the worldly population that only happen to be unfortunate enough to not carry the Y chromosome; and, of course, dozens and dozens of street peddlers, approaching you with all sorts of suggestions for drinks, drugs, parties and women. A remarkably beautiful square turned a touristic nightmare in the name of bullshit.

I suggest you avoid it.

The true beauty of Prague begins once you reach the northern point of Wenceslas Square and start exploring the myriad of small, narrow streets. The city of Prague is exceptionally beautiful at night due to the clever lighting that the city maintains over the old city’s colourful buildings, making the entire old city area appear as if taken from a magical fairy tale.

The next day, after a good night sleep, it was time for some tour maintenance. Laundry first, and while waiting for it to be done, we went to a camera service store to fix my camera. The damnest thing, happening for the second time now: some dust, or a hair, somehow made it to the comfortable position of right behind the lens. If anyone can tell me what could cause this, please let me know.


(The second picture shows Wenceslas Square; the building at its end is the Czech National Museum.)

That required a tram ride, plus some walking in Prague’s less popular areas.


Waiting for the camera to be fixed, we came across Cafe Pavlac, which is a pleasant spot for sipping hot and cold drinks while waiting for something else, more interesting, to happen.


Back to the hotel around noon…


… and it was time to take a walk and see some beauty in Prague’s historic center, which was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1992:


Not far from Wenceslas Square, there is the Old Town Square.


Before heading on, stopped for a lunch in Pizzeria Ristorante Giovanni for delicious, reasonably priced food even though it’s located less than a minute walk from the most touristic place in the city.

Not far from there, lies The Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge crosses the Vltava River, connecting the Prague Castle with the Old Town. It was constructed in the 14th century by King Charles IV.


According to Wikipedia, the bridge tower in the pictures above is considered to be “one of the most astonishing civil gothic‐style buildings in the world”. It is indeed remarkably impressive, and so are the 30+ baroque‐style statues on both edges of the bridge, which is approximately 600 meters long. Many pictures were taken, most of which aren’t doing quite the good job in capturing just how inspiring this place is.

Tourists? name any sort of human DNA sequence, and it was there holding a camera. The place was absolutely flocked with tourists of all ways, shapes and forms. Of course, wherever there is a large concentration of tourists, there are also all sorts of street‐side attractions such as caricature painters, street artists and whatnot. And this isn’t even summer time yet.


One particular statue that made me wonder was this:


This is obviously Jesus being crucified, but what’s interesting is the inscription above and around, which is in Hebrew. The top word means “Sacred”, and the full phrase is קדוש קדוש קדוש יהוה צבאות, which is a phrase very often used in Jewish prayers—so often used that even I am aware of it. It means, in general “God is sacred” (the word “Sacred” repeated twice). Now, whoever knows a thing or two about how Christianity began, and how (according to belief) Jesus found himself crucified to begin with, can’t help but wonder about the implied message.

I was intrigued. Upon further research, it turned out that this statue is called “The Crucifix and Calvary”. The Hebrew text was put there as means of humiliating Prague’s Jewish population, as a result of the accusation of a Jewish community leader of blasphemy at the end of the 17th century. Really interesting, and you can read about it here (search for “The Crucifix and Calvary”).


Once reached the other side of the bridge, a new world of exploration possibilities open—unfortunately, though, time was tight before the show so this will be left for my next visit here.


Turning back and walking the bridge the opposite way was no less a pleasure.


So much beauty in one city… and this is just in day time.

The concert in Prague took place in the O2 Arena, which is where the Get Lucky tour stopped for a visit three years ago.


The concert started a few minutes past schedule and featured the longest set so far in the tour—17 songs—with Kingdom of Gold done just about right and Miss You Blues played for the second time around. A good set altogether, despite the resurrection of Sultans of Swing. Gator Blood was played again, this time with a short introduction by Mark mentioning that this is a song about a music manager. I could have never arrived to that conclusion by reading the lyrics. Admittedly, not one of my favourite songs but sounds better played live than on the studio album.


To my right, a nice mature couple was seated. One of them—the male half—kept on turning to me before each and every song and letting me know which song he thinks was going to be played next. I nodded, especially when he announced that So Far from the Clyde is going to be played when Mark was holding the Danelectro guitar for Miss You Blues. I was not in the proper disposition to inform him that this certainly wasn’t my first show this tour around, and that I would certainly enjoy the surprise element; so I shut up.

Behind me, a lady was screaming before and after, and sometimes during, most songs. Initially I was sure that she’s in labour, or being bitten by an exceptionally aggressive alligator.

Again, a standing ovation before the encore, followed by a Walking of the Bulls, which is essentially the Running of the Bulls done peacefully without violence and without anyone getting hurt.


After the show, I felt the urge to see Prague at night once again.


Next to the Old Town Square, Zebra Asian Noodle Bar serves Asian food, including sushi.

Triangular sushi.


A short walk around to sample a few sights…


And back to the hotel for an early night sleep, knowing that the next day was going to be a really tough one.

After only 30+ hours in Prague, it was time to leave this gorgeous city and embark on the hardest (though not longest) travel part of the tour: a 9.5 hours bus ride from Prague to Łódź.

The most annoying thing about travelling in Poland is, well, getting in and out of there. It is a bit puzzling at first: Poland isn’t exactly located in a remote land, far off from civilization. It certainly is not “fly shit on the map”, as someone said once in 2004. Still, during both the Get Lucky tour and in this current tour, the travel to and out of Poland has been rather difficult to plan, and more difficult to actually perform.

First, the railway system here is certainly not of the more developed ones in the world. In 2010, I had the misfortune of arriving to Poland by train, and I vividly recall it being an experience drastically different from the usual train experience in western Europe. It’s not only about the actual trains that are old and out‐dated; there simply aren’t too many railways here. Unlike Germany, for instance, where you can travel from pretty much anywhere to pretty much anywhere else using trains, Poland decided to leave the railway system behind and use cars & buses as the main transportation method for the masses.

While you can fly out of Prague to a few destinations in Poland for a reasonable amount of money, Łódź’s airport is still a small one and isn’t well‐served internationally. The other options were Wroclaw and Warsaw, but transportation from these airports to Łódź turned out to be either too expensive, too inconvenient, or both. The only option that made sense was to go on Polski Bus, which offers bus services involving Poland and neighbouring countries. It costs about $17 per person to get from Prague to Łódź—very cheap—and the bus includes a toilet and free Wi‐Fi which, surprisingly, worked during most of the journey.

But for me, the most memorable experience between the time I departed Prague until I checked into the room in the Łódź hotel was my pursuit of a suitable place to urinate, so if you’re not into reading about it, you better scroll down a few paragraph.

The bus journey was as pleasant and wonderful as Chinese torture must be. The seats’ leg room was, indeed, leg room: you could place a leg there, and not much else. One refreshment stop only—2 hours after departure—so if you’re like me and having trouble urinating in a moving bus, better rent a car. At some point I was so helpless that I posted the following on the company’s Facebook page:

Dear driver of the bus from Prague to Łódź: please stop the bus. We would all like to take a piss. Thank you.

Not that I intended the driver to read it—it was more of a statement—but still, a couple of Poles took it seriously and replied to my post telling me, essentially, to go fuck myself—which I would happily do had my bladder been empty, which it hadn’t been. My post was later removed from Polski Bus’ Facebook wall.

After close to ten excruciating hours of riding a bus, finally, Łódź’s Kaliska coach station was in plain sight. Getting there took another 20 minutes because of a huge traffic jam right before the last traffic light.

As soon as the bus stopped and opened its doors, I stormed out of it like a maniac and right into the station, looking for a “WC” sign. None was found, but a small window was. A lady there referred me to a small building nearby, which looked like a cube, and told me to take 3 Zluti with me, which she happily changed for me.

Fine. Approaching the small cube‐like building, I noticed someone trying to enter and failing. Repeatedly. Which wasn’t surprising as he didn’t put any coins in it.

As soon as he left, I felt superior. Here I am with my 3 Zluti in my hand, about to fulfil a 5 hours wish.

But hey, this is Poland. And whenever I’m in Poland, something just has to go wrong. Put my entire Zluti holdings into that thing. The door opened, but didn’t close. There was a huge green button inside that just screamed “Push me”. As the palm of my hand was on its way to push the button, the door started closing but it was too late for my brain to retract my hand. The big button was pushed, and the door broke open again.

Turned out that the big “Push me” button was the button that you should be pressing once you’re done.

I didn’t have additional 3 Zluti.

FUCK this world, I’m out of here. Back to the station, and we took a taxi cab to the hotel—1km away. Stormed into the hotel as if I was a privateer in search for some loot. “Bathroom is on the first floor, past the conference room”. No further directions were given, and the first floor didn’t really show you where that conference room was. Five painful minutes later I finally found it and faith in humanity was partly restored.

Arriving to the hotel at around 6:30pm, with about an hour left before the concert time, there was no time to even breathe: quickly changed and stormed out of the hotel, walking towards the venue.

The path from the hotel, Hotel Focus Łódź, to the venue, Arena Łódź, is about 2km. Thought about taking a taxi but decided to walk instead. Good decision, because the entire population of Poland made it to the (sold out) venue by car. Fifteen minutes later, arrived at the arena.


The arena is yet one of those multi‐purpose arenas, used for sports, concerts and other events that involve including as many heads as possible under one roof.

Locating the ticket booth to collect the tickets was surprisingly difficult. I was told that the tickets should be picked up from a blue booth saying “KASA” on it. That’s where I went. That box had 3 windows, all signed in Polish except for the middle one that had a sign saying “Clearing Point”. What the hell is a “Clearing Point”, you’re asking? beats me, I have no idea. Waited in line for a few minutes, only to realize that the specific window I was waiting for isn’t quite the window I should have been waiting for, and that I should move to the window that’s located two meters to the right.

No, there was no way to predict that.

Tickets collected and within a couple of minutes I was finally standing inside the venue. Every step towards the concert felt like some sort of accomplishment: here I am again in Poland, just about to watch a concert, and there’s no catastrophe yet.

As our entire food intake since 7:00am consisted of a small breakfast and one sandwich, we decided to eat in the venue. Total and utter garbage. Long line that took about 30 minutes to pass, as the people working there found a fantastically efficient way to work: two workers are working at the same time with the same customer, with the third one doing fuck all on the side. I measured: about two minutes per customer ordering a drink and a stinking bag of nachos, or a doughnut. There were about 5,000,000 people in line.

By the time I actually had an edible substance in my hand, it was 7:25pm—about five minutes before the concert’s start time. Had to consume those like a hungry monkey who had just escaped the zoo, and rushed into the hall.


A few Knopfler fans from Poland, who happen to be reading this blog, approached and said hello. That did much to diffuse the immense frustration that has been building up during that awful travel day: it is always nice to meet friendly people, let alone at the end of a very frustrating day. A big thank you to Knopfler’s Polish fans.

The concert started shortly before 8:00pm. There’s something special in finishing up a terrible day with watching this band play: it serves to normalize everything, putting things in perspective and showing you that you’re in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing—listening to great music performed by eight musical masters.


5:15am was played again, beautiful, again with Richard playing solo parts with Mark in charge of the rhythm. Very similar set to the one before, with Miss You Blues replaced by one of my favourite Privateering tracks, Haul Away.

During Postcards from Paraguay, Mike decided that he can’t possibly wait for his part to begin during the outro and started playing it a couple of bars before schedule, resulting in the entire band focusing on him as if to ask what was going on, then laughing it off. Funny moment. I’m not sure many of the audience noticed the fault.

I recall the Polish audience from the last tour being very vocal when it comes to cheering, so I wasn’t surprised when I had to block my ears to avoid perpetual hearing damage when we all stood up against the barrier during the encore. Remarkably supportive audience in a sold out venue.

Good concert; glad I made it.

Back to the hotel, the city of Łódź seemed like a place where nothing happens. Absolutely no business open; the only option for dining was in the hotel. A mediocre fillet of salmon did the trick and off to bed before a 5:30am wake up. More on that tomorrow.



  1. What a pity we did not meet... joanna

  2. I did a little search of you at the end of concert just to shake hands and to ask about your journey from Prague. Without success...Best wishes, take care. pawel

  3. Train stoppages like this are often due to suicides. I would guess that line was closed for a while.

  4. It seems that you haven't had to use a "long haul" bus in Canada, or you would have already discovered that Poland and Canada seem pretty much the same as far as bus transportation are concerned. :) The 12 hour ride from Sault Ste Marie to Waterloo is a joy to endure :/.

  5. Hallo Isaac, like to read your blog but where are the news? Hope all is well and you had a good ride to Berlin.We all are big Knopfler Fans and love to read the news.
    so long, Matthias from Germany

  6. Nice trip but I can see that the weather was not great :)
    I have been to Croatia and Love this country and I think about visiting the Czech Republic...