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, June 28, 2013

Paris to Caen, France (June 27, 2013)

After a wonderful evening in Paris, woke up feeling not much more than half rested. The hotel’s air conditioner didn’t seem to work during the night—only circulating air around, not cooling it. I have low tolerance to heat when I’m asleep, which is why I woke up a couple of times during the night.

Of course, the air conditioner started working wonderfully, cooling the room to the temperature of 17℃, as soon as I woke up.

The hotel, Corail Hotel, was centrally located and reasonably priced. Of course, you can’t have it all in this world, so the great ratio between price and location came on account of the room’s size. Two single beds, short gap between them, almost no room to walk around.

Jeroen’s headphones’ battery ran out, and he was sure he had some extra batteries lying around in his pack. The reason I’m telling you this has nothing to do with my level of interest in Jeroen’s portable energy reserves (which amounts to no interest at all), but has to do with the fact that there wasn’t enough room around to open the pack comfortably and mess around with it. That’s how small the room was.

Left the room feeling a tad claustrophobic, back to the railway station’s area for a glorious (and expensive) breakfast, watching Paris go by. Back to the hotel, grabbed the luggage and off to the metro station. A few stops to Paris Saint‐Lazare, arriving way, way too early.

The schedule: easy. From Paris, it is about two hours direct train ride west to Caen. It wasn’t the TGV, but still a fast train boasting an excellent 1st class experience. Split the ride between trying to catch up with sleep and writing: writing didn’t go well because I kept losing 3G signal along the way, and sleeping didn’t go to well because I can’t fall asleep for more than a minute in a rattling cabin.

Arrived at Caen right of schedule.

“Caen? hold on a second. Isn’t it where they have that famous film festival?”

—That’s what I thought to myself when I first read the Privateering tour’s schedule. Yes! The French Riviera. I only wish it would be for more than one day.

So, no.

Even Wikipedia, under the Caen entry, states—in the very first line:

Not to be confused with Cannes.

Caen is a small town located in France’s north west, a few kilometers south of the English Channel. The city is located in the region of Normandy: shortly after the Invasion of Normandy during World War II, much of this city was destroyed before being liberated by British and Canadian troops.

Its population count is around 120,000 and whoever I asked about this town said that there’s nothing really interesting to see or do there.

I still had quite a bit of writing to do, so I passed on the opportunity to explore the area and spent a couple of hours in the hotel room, writing and writing even more, as the Dutchman set off to see what this small town has to offer:


Finished writing in just about the time the Dutchman arrived back to the hotel. Post uploaded—it always feels good; some feeling of accomplishment—and stormed out looking for a pre‐concert meal.

During the 2010 Get Lucky tour, I often encountered serious trouble feeding myself in France and Spain. This is because restaurants there tend to follow certain opening hours throughout the day, and this problem is magnified the smaller the city you’re in. If you are to dine out, you better adjust your dining time to certain timeframes—which is not necessarily bad overall, but extremely problematic when you crisscross the country by train. Why? simple: often, train rides take place during the time when restaurants are open, and once you arrive at your destination, it’s too late for lunch and too early for dinner.

What do you do in that case? well, you have the obvious option to starve to death; but, assuming you are not a masochist, you simply have to find a place offering lighter fare—usually sandwiches, desserts and such. At times, you may come across proper restaurants offering food outside the normal dining hours: you are likely to run into those in the more tourist‐centric areas, and food there tends to be way overpriced considering its quality.

That’s exactly what happened in Caen. Looking for proper food had us walk through the (small) city center a few times to compare between the available options. There was no place that could offer what we were looking for, so ended up getting a small wrap in Big Apple Coffee, then heading to a nearby Paul shop where I was refused a cappuccino (again—second time in two days!) but allowed a proper sandwich, and then head back to Big Apple Coffee for… well… coffee.

That’s quite the effort to exert when you’re hungry.

A lesson was learned: in France, Italy and Spain, research will be done ahead of time to decide where to eat upon arrival.

Nevertheless, Caen’s town center area isn’t too cruel on the eyes. It is small, and maybe there’s not too much to see and do, but I wouldn’t call it a total failure. Took some photos myself.


Came across a restaurant that offered tartars made of lawyers:


I don’t have much against lawyers, but I still wouldn’t want to eat them.

Back to the hotel to grab a rain jacket—as weather forecast called for some drizzle later on—and out again, heading to the concert.


The venue, Zénith de Caen, is located about 2km away from the city center. It is a part of the Zénith “chain” of indoor arenas. It can seat about 7,000, and it did—as this show, like most other shows in France, was sold out.

First thing was first: collecting the tickets, quite expectedly going through French efficiency at its best. Long line to a small booth. Two people working inside, and still the line takes forever. The two seemed to not really understand what they were doing there in the first place. Are the tickets in this pile? no… let me look… maybe in this one? yes. Ah, no. Asking her colleague now. Meanwhile, it gets crowded inside, as the booth’s entrance also serves as an exit (otherwise people’s lives might be comfortable).

Fifteen minutes in line to collect the tickets, then trying to enter the venue through the wrong gate. Forget the fact that entrances’ lines were pretty much vacant: still, no, you have to enter through that gate. Yes, Sir: please, control me. Correct me. Lead me. I will learn an awful lot about life if I am redirected from one empty queue to another.

Entered the venue and headed to the hall itself. Approaching the hall, I noticed yet another long, long line‐up of people standing on some reddish carpet. OK, that’s a first: I can’t recall seeing a line‐up in such a strange location and in such a strange context—not even in Canada, the mother land of all queues, where people fight for their right to queue anywhere, anytime, for any reason.

What is that queue for? I didn’t know. Now, the entrance to the hall was very wide, and the queue was very narrow, so we just entered the hall. An usher came over and mumbled something in French. At that point I already lost patience towards any sort of bureaucracy or protocol: really, screw this. Just headed to my seat completely ignoring my surroundings.

I can’t speak French to save my life, but the Dutchman can (to some extent). Turns out that we were asked whether we were “already seated”. According to this venue’s protocol, you need to be seated by staff upon your first entry to the venue.

Excuse moi? no, I wasn’t “already seated”. Here’s my seat, right in front of me. It’s two meters away. Are you really expecting me to wait in line just so your colleague can peek at my ticket and prove to me that they know how this venue is organized—let alone that the line is huge and the concert starts in just about three minutes?

Don’t think so, but really, thanks anyway.

Apparently, though, I was a minority in my line of thinking. That queue just kept growing.

Ruth Moody and her band, the opening act for Mark et al in France, showed up on the stage performing their usual set. Apparently, her parents were in the audience. That didn’t do much to affect the performance, which was, as usual, lovely.


Of course, ten minutes into Ruth’s performance, people were still being “seated” by the courteous staff. Now, what happens once an usher seats a person? they have to go back to the line‐up, to collect the next victim. How do they go about doing so? AH. Good question. They do so by running through the aisles. Imagine that, staff running through the venue through the first 10–15 minutes of the show.

Ruth’s act concluded: about 20–25 minutes break and Paul Crockford arrived at the stage, asking the audience to welcome Mark back to Caen, setting of a stellar concert, not at all less impressive than the one performed just 24 hours prior in Paris. I was expecting a shorter set (as the band had to fly back to Paris), but no: a good 17 songs set, including the “Golden Moody Trio”—I Dug Up a Diamond, Seattle and—performed with Ruth for the first time since the Amsterdam show—the mighty Kingdom of Gold.

During Marbletown, certain people decided it’d be a great idea to applaud during the performance’s more subtle part, prompting someone from the audience to emit a rather strong shushing sound, stopping the applause but starting a wave of laughter instead.

For the first time in quite a while, Speedway at Nazareth was skipped, triggering a rush of enthusiastic bulls towards the stage. Learning my lesson from the night before, I walked forward very carefully. No injury this time. Let a short nice girl in front of me (she seemed to be way overly ecstatic of whatever was happening on the stage); joy, happiness and peace for all.

Looking at the stage, I noticed a large piece of paper, on which there was written—

I was at the Royal Albert Hall. Please play Sultans tonight!

—which made me wonder perhaps I should bring my own piece of paper to the stage, with something like the following written on it:

I have been to all concerts so far in this tour, please skip Sultans tonight as well. Thank you.

(Unfortunately, I don’t have a photograph of that paper to share here, but I will in a few days.)

After the concert, a light drizzle through the 20 minutes walk back to the hotel. I was planning on doing some writing but was so tired I decided to skip.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Rennes. Will try to take a nap before heading to the venue. Need to catch up with some sleep.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stuttgart, Germany to Paris, France (June 26, 2013)

Wednesday, June 26, was a day I was really looking forward to: this tour around, that would be the first concert in France. Five concerts in a row in various places across this beautiful country, before heading back to Germany for a week (and returning to France for a few more dates, some time in July).

Not sure how many of you, who are reading this, had the chance to read my 2010 Get Lucky tour blog. If you did, then you should already know my feelings towards France: I love it.

My first time ever in France was during that tour in 2010, and I approached it with care, as I was told more than a few things about the French people: that they’re arrogant; that they’re snobbish; that they won’t help tourists if they need help.

This is all complete rubbish.

Arrogant and snobbish? give me a break. The fact that they’re not as polite as people in many other countries (notably Canada and the United States, where politeness is, more often than not, artificial), doesn’t make them rude. They’re direct, they’re passionate about what they say and do—which is precisely why I think I can connect with the French mentality more than I can connect with many others. I myself am direct, upfront and passionate about what I say and do—a trait that I preserved rather well through ten years living in Canada, even though it closed a few doors for me (but opened a few others, probably better ones).

Combine this with the fact that the French cuisine is of the best that this planet has to offer, and you should understand why I was looking forward to visit France again; and what would be the best place to start, if it’s not for the country’s capital city?

From Stuttgart, there are a few high speed trains (TGV) headed to Paris every day. The ride takes about 3.5 hours, during which the train reaches speeds in excess of 300km/h. TGV rides that span multiple countries are usually very expensive: even EURail and Interrail pass holders are required to pay a hefty supplement fee to ride these trains. This particular train, for example, resulted in a supplement of €30. Without a rail pass, the price would be much more.

Having said that, the TGV’s 1st class cabins are more comfortable to ride than the 1st class cabins of, say, the ICE trains. Seats are wider and more comfortable, and they also recline (slightly) better.

For international travellers—those who pay that extra fee—a light meal is also served on board. I can’t remember whether I took an international TGV train during the 2010 Get Lucky tour; anyway, neither of us knew of the coming meal which is why we bothered consuming breakfast at the hotel as well as buy sandwiches from Le Crobag. Most of that meal, then, was left untouched.


It was an uneventful ride to Paris, as I spent the time partly for attempting to doze off and partly for writing the previous post. These posts are surprisingly difficult to complete without proper internet connection—best I can do is to bring them into “almost finished” state, and finish them off once I have access to a hotspot. TGV, unfortunately, doesn’t offer on‐board Wi‐Fi (other railway carriers, such as Thalys, do).

Train arrived to Paris‐Est (“Paris East”) railway station on time. Leaving the train, I took note of the weather: not too cold, not too warm, a bit cloudy but not too much—in other words, this should be a good day to spend outside.

The hotel for the night, Corail Hotel, was chosen for its location: a short walking distance from the concert’s venue, as well as from Gare de Lyon—a major railway station in Paris. It takes two metro rides to get to Gare de Lyon from Paris‐Est, which took a bit of time to figure out as I don’t have much experience (read: I hardly have any experience) riding Paris’ metro system. It was around 2:00pm, and the metro was flooded with people. Much like a sardine, I got cramped up in a cabin on the M7 line, then changed in Châtelet to the M14. One more station… done. Off the train, up to the platform and exited Gare de Lyon onto the street.

Welcome to Paris.

From the station, it’s a five minutes walk to the hotel. Checked in, and instead of heading straight out, I decided to sit down and complete the previous post. Believe you me, that was a tough decision to make. Weather outside was fantastic for a walk in the city, and the hotel’s central location made it seem all to easy to just forget about writing any blog and head outside, being sucked into the rush that is Paris.

I hate deadlines (although I do insist to meet them, especially in my profession), and when I’m writing, I hate to be reminded that my time is up. Therefore, uncertain as to how long it would take, I informed the Dutchman that he should not wait for me. He didn’t. Took me about 15 minutes to finish that post. Took a quick shower and headed to the streets.

A short walk north, there’s the Place de la Bastille:


When the 2011 joint Knopfler‐Dylan tour arrived at Lille, I remember going to an amazing desserts shop there called Meert. Those sweet memories (pun intended) prompted me to search whether there’s a Meert store in Paris: Google Maps found two. Went to the closest one of them, but it turned out to be a very small store, offering mostly candy. Still, I earned about 10–15 minutes of walking around, taking photographs of this beautiful city.


Coffee time. A quick search in TripAdvisor brought up La Cafeotheque as a potential provider of coffee. It’s currently ranked #563 in Paris… out of 9,774. Approximately 94% of all dining places in Paris are worse than this place, and in a city like Paris, that means a lot. Headed there…


Not a regular coffee shop. This place is divided into several “parts”, a couple of which have dining tables and chairs, while one particular room—pictured below—was organized differently. A few random seats, plus one long cushion along the inner wall, and a few small tables (more like stands. They were very small) scattered around. Gives you the feeling that people here come to sit back and sip some coffee over a good book or something. I appreciated it.


The atmosphere there was so nice and charming that I didn’t even pay attention that I spent about a full hour (!) there, sipping coffee and enjoying a delicious cheese cake while… well… hard to admit here, but yes: playing online chess. I lost more than I won.

Back on the streets, I just wandered around aimlessly. Crossed Pont Louis Philippe (Pont = Bridge), taking a few photographs of the Seine.


I couldn’t possibly take good enough photographs to capture just how breathtaking this city is. You could easily spend a couple of weeks here and still have a few things left to see and do. Merely walking in these streets—even without any predetermined destination—is itself an enjoyable experience.


South on Rue Jean du Bellay, crossed Pont Saint‐Louis, leading to Île de la Cité—one of the two remaining natural islands on the Seine within the city of Paris.


Accidentally, I entered a street that was flooded with tourists. Headed there. To the side, a beautiful square—Square Jean‐XXIII, named after Pope John XXIII.


Right behind it, even more tourists were rambling around like maniacs. Turned out that, incidentally, the world famous Notre Dame de Paris is right there.


I could have kept on wandering around for hours; however, it was time to head back to the hotel and figure out technical issues such as… well… you know… dinner.


The Dutchman was already at the hotel when I arrived. He had his fair share of nice walks around the city as well. Of course, he took a few interesting photographs. I chose these two to include here: pictures from Pont de l’Archevêché—also called the “Padlock Bridge” because… well…


An attempt to look for a place online didn’t go well. Well, that’s the thing about using something like TripAdvisor or Yelp in a city with about 10,000 restaurants (that is, about 10,000 restaurants known to those search engines. Who knows how many more are there): the variety is so huge that you really don’t know what to pick anymore. It’s much easier to use such engines in smaller places, showing you 10–15 top places to pick from: in a city like Paris—especially in a central location such as the one where the hotel was located—you could easily sift through hundreds of restaurants, completely losing track over things.

One of my all‐time favourite books was written specifically about this subject: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. This book is a must read for anyone with the slightest interest in what motivates people to behave the way they do. Truly an eye‐opening book. Read it.

Completely unwilling to spend too much time looking for a place, we decided on a place called Cafe Aux Cadrans located very close to the hotel and the railway station. Grilled salmon with pesto and wild rice, drinks and I was good to go.


The venue, Palais Omnisport de Paris‐Bercy (often referred to as simply “Bercy”; “Bercy” is the name of a neighbourhood in Paris), is an indoor arena and concert hall in Paris. I am no stranger here, as I was here twice before: once during the 2010 Get Lucky tour and once during the 2011 joint Knopfler‐Dylan tour. The Bercy is located a short walk from Gare de Lyon, even though there’s a metro station (perhaps not coincidentally named “Bercy”) steps away from it. The venue is surrounded by a myriad of dining places—cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants… really, endless. I’m pretty sure that this venue doesn’t make a lot of money selling food: you need to be particularly negligent to arrive hungry to a Bercy concert (unless you were rushing or something).


Tickets pick‐up took place in the regular place, through one of the side gates. As usual in the Bercy, an exceptionally long line‐up for ticket collection (note: this is ticket collection, not ticket purchase. When you’re in that line‐up, you already have a ticket purchased: all you need to do is display some ID and get your tickets. Not rocket science). My friend Laurent joined a few minutes later and informed me that this is French efficiency at its best. I couldn’t believe it when I was told that there were actually three people working inside, handing tickets to people. It really took forever. That’s about 45 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

Tickets collected, a group of friends decided to head to a nearby bar for a drink. As I had my annual third litre of beer just the preceding night, I opted out of alcohol. Everyone was ordering beers and other alcoholic beverages, and this stuck‐up snob asked for a cappuccino. Laurent, communicating with the bartender, informed me that I can’t get my cappuccino. Why? because the bartender doesn’t have time to make it, he’s too busy.

I still don’t know whether Laurent was joking or not.

A minute later, I spotted a couple of familiar faces outside. My friends Jordan and Steve, from California, flew in for a few shows in France. Mike joined a couple of minutes later. Was good to see these good folks three years after we had a lot of fun getting together before, during and after concerts in North America and the UK.

Time ran out: headed to the venue. Entering through the gate, you are being checked by three different people. One checks that you’re at the right gate, another checks your belongings (if any), and another scans your ticket. Again, French efficiency at its best.

The Bercy, while not too sophisticated a venue, is still impressive to look at.


Ruth Moody and her band are back to the opening act spot for Knopfler in France. Was good to see these folks again. As the Bercy was sold out for this concert, I’m gathering that close to 12,000 people watched Ruth perform—which is, if I recall right, the largest audience she performed in front of during this tour. Must have been quite an experience for her, but she and her band did very well.


Half an hour break after Ruth’s opening act, and the lights went out again. Immensely loud cheers all over as the band was introduced: Mark’s music is, and has always been, very popular in France, and the typical French audience isn’t particularly known for it being of the laid back, quiet ones.

Of course, the audience and the band work in some sort of a feedback loop. Stronger audience reaction triggers better performances, and vice versa. This concert would definitely be considered of the top ones so far this tour, and Ruth joining for I Dug Up a Diamond and Seattle was a major push forward.


The audience… well, the audience went nuts. That, again, wasn’t unexpected. That’s one of the reasons why I like attending concerts in France: just being a part of the audience is already exciting. There’s a lot of passion flying everywhere.

The Running of the Bulls commenced very early, as someone from the back decided to head to the stage way, way, before the encore. That triggered a major rush. I tried to avoid it, walking slowly towards the stage, when I was pushed by someone. I instinctively pushed back as my sore right wrist was hit, only to find out that it was my friend Vincent standing there. Apparently he was pushed by someone else right onto me. Sorry again Vincent… that was instinctive. Perhaps, with my wrist’s condition, I shouldn’t even have got up from my seat.

Beautiful encore played in front of a standing audience. As Piper to the End started playing, I was sure I heard some sobbing behind me. Turned around and noticed a guy who was obviously extremely excited and obviously emotional by whatever was going on (I wouldn’t be surprised if this had something to do with the actual song, rather than the event itself: Piper to the End is a very touching farewell song, written by Mark about his uncle—a piper in the Scottish infantry, who carried his pipes into the battlefield, where he eventually died). I realized that his view of the stage was rather blocked, so I offered my spot to him—an offer that he appeared to be very happy to take. Glad to have been of help.

After the concert, a group of friends decided to head to that same pub for drinks. Sure, why not. Vincent was there as well with a few friends for a while—thanks for the drink, pal, and sorry again for that push!—and it was already after midnight when Nelly and I bid everyone else goodbye and headed back to Gare de Lyon, where our hotels were located.

Great, fantastic day in the gorgeous city of Paris. Hell, it’s about time I head there for a proper vacation. A day is far from being anywhere close to enough.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Caen. Will head for dinner now, and then to tonight’s concert.