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:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Budapest, Hungary to Bratislava, Slovakia to Salzburg, Austria (June 23–24, 2013)

The Budapest hotel located where it was, it was decided to have breakfast at the hotel despite its ridiculous breakfast charge (€10 per person. More expensive than breakfasts I had in certain hotels in western Europe). The central railway station area in Budapest does not service well any of the five senses, which went to demotivate me from even considering looking for a breakfast place.

As our room was booked without the breakfast “privilege”, we were told, upon check in, that we’d need to go through reception and notify them of our breakfast plans before heading to the dining room—which is what we did. However, arriving to the reception in the morning, the reception’s staff was occupied handling all sorts of requests and bequests from other guests.

Looked at the clock (well, not really a clock. My Android phone’s clock app). It was ticking.

“Hurry up”, I didn’t say.

They didn’t hurry up, most likely because I didn’t really say anything. So, I decided to try getting into the dining room and telling the attendant there to charge the damn breakfast to the room. That should be possible in any normal hotel.

But no, not here. The lady here needs a small ticket that you can get from reception. Without this ticket, you may as well starve to oblivion.

A ticket.

Felt somewhat like requiring a note from my parents the next day after missing class in third grade.

Well, she got the ticket alright. What did I get in return? a breakfast not worth the ticket allowing me into the Royal Breakfast Pavilion.

Ah, whatever. My second visit in Budapest: the first one ended with me being sick to my stomach for almost a week, so I suppose this visit was a step up in the ladder of joy. Settled the hotel’s bill and off to the central railway station, happy to be heading off to a place that would (hopefully) make more sense.

Boarded the 1st class cabin of the EuroCity train. These EuroCity trains are regular‐speed trains, usually old, and the 1st class cabins there (on routes that actually offer 1st class cabins) leave much to be desired if you’re used to the 1st class cabins of the more modern high‐speed trains. It’s very common for cabins in these trains to consist of compartments, rather than the traditional row‐based seating layout: each such compartment is basically its own little room, offering six seats. Some like it (Jeroen does), some don’t (that would be me).

With us in the cabin, there were two mature men who didn’t quite seem to be travelling together. The older one kept pestering the other with facts about places along the way, which didn’t quite trigger any sort of appreciation by the receiving end.

The train ride from Budapest to Bratislava is scenic, showing old, modest houses on lush green hills. Old signs saying things in languages I can’t make sense of, I didn’t quite know when it was when the train left Hungary and entered Slovakia. What I did know, however, was that my SIM card doesn’t provide discounted data roaming in Slovakia, so I was careful enough to turn data connectivity off while my phone was still connected to a Hungarian mobile carrier.

Finally, about three hours after leaving Budapest, arrived at Bratislava’s central railway station. Welcome to yet another country and another city that I had never been to before.


The only context in which I heard about the city of Bratislava was when my father once went there on a trip with a few friends. That’s all I knew about this city: it’s name. Plus, of course, the fact that it was the capital of Slovakia since Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into two separate countries—Czech Republic and Slovakia—on January 1, 1993 (Prague was the capital of Czechoslovakia, and remained as the Czech Republic’s capital after the dissolution).

Bratislava, then, is Slovakia’s capital and largest city. It dates back to 200 BC (!) and changed hands many times since. Who has ruled this place since Europeans decided that they were in the habit of declaring wars on one another? better ask who hasn’t. Reading about this city’s history in Wikipedia, I lost my way around within minutes.

It was a Sunday, and as such, the path from the central railway station to the hotel—about 1km—seemed to be rather vacant of humans and vehicles. Frankly, the sights of that part of the city weren’t that lucrative—maybe not as borderline appalling as Budapest’s central railway station area, but still nothing that would make a typical tourist say “this is where I want to be”. Weather was more forgiving than the day before in Budapest: still very warm, but not hot enough to make you feel like peeling your own skin off.

The hotel, Hotel Saffron, was located about a kilometer away from Bratislava’s old city area. You could easily spot it from the distance as it is adjacent to a building that is painted in saffron yellow, which, I am guessing, wasn’t a complete coincidence. A very good hotel for the price of around €70. Checked in and went for the elevators.

One of the things I find interesting in this tour is encountering all sorts of oddities and peculiarities in how things work in different places. In particular, as I am staying in a different hotel almost every night, I find it astonishing that I need to get accustomed to small differences in the way hotels are designed. I know this may sound strange and trivial, but still. It fascinates me to see how differently different people can think and how they go about implementing solutions.

So, in this hotel, there are two elevators. Usually, you’d just push the “up” or “down” button, and the system will decide which elevator to send over to you, based on all sorts of parameters (were you ever wondering what happens when you push the “up” or “down” button in an elevator? that is, how does the system decide which elevator to send over? I know I did. There are actually a few ways that elevator designers can go about implementing this, but the basic approach is the one that is implemented the most). Here, though, each elevator had its own “up” and “down” buttons. If you wanted to be sure you get to your destination the fastest, you had no choice but pressing both buttons and see what happens.

If everyone is “greedy” (that is, pushing buttons for all elevators), the average waiting time (for all hotel guests) is expected to increase.

Someone actually designed this and thought it’s a great idea.

Why are some people stupid?

Stuff unloaded in the room. It was early, which left ample time to explore Bratislava’s old city area, about a kilometer away.

On my way, I saw this sign:


This club hones your English skills to deal with real life situations. That’s quite the unique value proposition over all other language schools, which cater to prepare the student to deal with imaginary life situations.

A quick search in TripAdvisor suggested a place by the bombastic name of Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar. As of this writing, this place is ranked #6 in TripAdvisor, and for a very good reason. Interesting Slovakian dishes in the menu, tough to choose. Smoked meat dumplings with sauerkraut and sour cream—delicious. Full meal for two for under €20. I’m sold. Go there.

From the restaurant towards the old city area, the scenery gradually becomes more interesting.


Then, a short passage leads you to the old city area, which is where things become really beautiful. Nearly every moment walking through Bratislava’s old city is a postcard moment. Nothing here is too grandiose, and still, prettiness is all around. Many pictures were taken, and very few of them will be filtered out.


You could understand, then, why Bratislava’s old city area is the focal point of tourism in this city. Restaurants, cafes… you name it, it’s there; and for westerners, this place offers great deal for the money: things here cost more than they would in the non‐touristic parts of the city, but still low when compared to touristic areas in western Europe.

Walking down the path, arrived at the old city’s Hlavné Námestie, which means “main square”. Eventually, most tourists end up finding themselves hanging around this square, taking photographs of themselves ruining otherwise postcard‐perfect buildings.


A short walk to the south, there’s the Danube again. Seems like everywhere I go in this tour, the Danube is lurking somewhere.


Very clearly visible from both banks of the Danube is the pylon of the Most Slovenského národného povstania (meaning: “Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising”), simply referred to as Nový most (meaning: “New Bridge”).


The bridge is known for the UFO‐shaped structure positioned upon the bridge’s pylon (there’s a restaurant inside). The bridge was built between 1967 and 1972; most of Bratislava’s Jewish quarter, as well as some of the old city’s historical walls, “had to be” demolished in order to create the road leading to that bridge from the old city.

A short walk along the Danube…


… And back to the old city. A bazaar took place there, drawing tourists of all types, shapes and forms.


Perfect afternoon, walking around a beautiful city. Sipped some coffee in a local coffee shop, then headed back to the hotel (see the saffron‐coloured building in the following picture).


The concert venue was located about 2km away from the hotel, which called for careful planning of when to leave the hotel, where and when to have dinner (it was a Sunday, which made things a bit more problematic in that regards)… the usual concert attendance planning routine which became second nature here (one of the things I learned the hard way is to never go to a concert when I’m hungry, or in the likelihood of becoming hungry during the concert. I can’t enjoy anything on an empty stomach).

Somehow Jeroen dug up a place called Cafe Estremo, on the way to the venue.


Just like in Budapest’s case, I was getting ready to mock the Dutchman for his pick as this cafe is located in a rather uninviting location. Still, this place currently ranks #9 in Bratislava by TripAdvisor so there must be something to it… and there is. It’s an Italian restaurant offering absolutely fantastic food. Gnocchi in a sauce made of cream, walnuts and pears. Sounds screwed up, right? I know it does, which is precisely why I ordered it. It was all devoured before I knew it. Brilliant.

No time for desserts; off to the venue, located about 10–15 minutes walk up the road.

The NTC Arena (also called “Aegon Arena”) is actually a tennis arena (NTC stands for National Tennis Center), also hosting concerts. It’s a small venue, can seat very few thousands.


A good concert, fortunately featuring Kingdom of Gold which keeps getting better and better with (almost) each time it is being played.


Out of the venue and a long walk back to the hotel.

Was a very good day, actually. Short travel from Budapest, plenty of time to see a beautiful city, and a good concert to finish. Felt almost like a day off.

Monday: a new week. Early wakeup and breakfast at the hotel. The evening prior, we booked a taxi for the next morning, to take us to the central railway station: €5, saving us a kilometer worth of walk… no brainer. Sold.

Train was scheduled to leave 9:42am. Taxi was booked for 9:15am, the ride to the train station is about 10 minutes. When it was 9:20am and the taxi didn’t show up, I started getting nervous and, once again, found myself questioning my belief in all living things. I have an extremely low level of tolerance towards people who aren’t too good with keeping time, especially when I depend on such people, for example, to catch trains.

It did arrive, eventually. After taking all sorts of weird turns into side streets and whatnot—at times, I was sure that this driver didn’t quite know where he’s heading—the central railway station was at plain sight.


The itinerary from Bratislava to Salzburg is tricky. From Bratislava, it’s a regional train to Vienna’s central railway station (Wien Hauptbahnhof). From there, one needs to take two underground lines in order to get to Vienna’s western railway station (Wien Westbahnhof), in order to catch the train from Vienna to Salzburg. As Vienna’s central railway station is still under construction (supposed to end in a couple of years), you need to walk about 10 minutes between the train’s platform to the underground… outside. And it was raining.

Raining? yes, raining. After about a week of a horrendous heat wave in Europe, temperatures fell dramatically overnight. It felt weird to wear my red rain jacket again after spending about a week with the burning desire to peel my own skin off.

Hopped on the underground, quick ride to the city center, then change to another line… and there’s Wien Westbahnhof again. Looks exactly the way it did a few days earlier. Nothing’s changed.

As we arrived earlier than planned, we decided to ask whether we could take an earlier train to Salzburg than the one originally planned. Asked someone who initially appeared to be knowing anything, we got a strict “no”.

Well, alright then. An hour to kill in this train station. Had lunch (to get it over with), and looked for a coffee place. Found a place called “Don’s Espresso Bar”, located inside the train station. From outside its glass door, it looked fabulous: everything that an espresso bar is supposed to have. Great decor, soothing dark colours… the works.

Opened the door and almost choked to death. The entire place stunk up from cigarettes’ smoke. So, apparently, this place caters exclusively to those who are happy to smoke either actively or passively. Interesting concept.

Fun in the train station didn’t end there. Found another coffee place, put the bags down and headed to the cashier. Asked what I want, I replied. Great. How much does it cost, I asked. Cashier points at a random direction and mumbles something in German.

Whatever; I’ll sort it out with you later. Sat down waiting for the coffee to be ready. As it was ready, I went ahead to grab it, grabbed it, put it on the table and tried to pay again.

“How can I pay?”, I asked a seemingly simple question, now for the second time.

Again, fingers pointed at a random direction. Now, that got me a bit peeved. Look, dear: I really, really want to pay you. There’s money in my pocket that I worked really hard to save—penny to penny—just so I can gather it all up and pay you for the (hopefully) delicious cappuccino that you had just prepared for me and I’m dying to drink already.


Again, a finger pointed at a certain direction. Then I noticed that she’s pointing at some guy who appeared to be picking things up from tables and taking orders. Well, fantastic: this is a sit‐down cafe, then? thanks for allowing me to place my own order at the cashier, then. How could I miss that?

Of course, took a while to grab this dude’s attention—not surprising, as he was serving 900 tables at once. It was of the few times that I was actually happy to pay just so I could leave.

Up to the platform and to ÖBB’s Lounge, fortunately accessible to us as first class passengers. Standing in line there, to be validated (you need to prove that you’re allowed access). The bloke currently getting service appears to fill the receptionist in with his entire life story. Clock is ticking, damn it, I just want to sit down and chill out from this noisy train station. Five… long… minutes, approved, yes, you may sit down, thanks. Bottle of water and it was already time to leave.

Boarded the train and was happy to get that stress over with.

(If you feel stressed after reading the last few paragraphs, then I’m happy. Means that I properly delivered an emotion. Hell, I got upset just re‐reading it.)

I’ve never been to Salzburg before. I also didn’t know much about it until I got there. What I did know, however, is that many consider it to be a very pretty city. Because of that, the original plan was to stay in Salzburg during the day off after the concert, taking a night train to Paris—so I have enough time to explore this city.

These plans were later scrapped as I decided that I’m over and done with sleeper trains for the remainder of my life.

Arrived to Salzburg Monday afternoon, close to 4:00pm, due to some train delays (of course). Concert was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm, which meant almost no time at all to do anything in the city. That’s fine, though: plans were to leave Salzburg the next day (Tuesday; a day off) late, allowing for a few hours to explore the city the day after the concert.

Camped at the hotel—the Ramada Salzburg City Center—attached to the railway station. I was dead tired: power‐napped for an hour, woke up at 5:30pm and we headed out, hoping to get some good dinner before the show.

Unfortunately, the restaurant we had in mind turned out closed. Even worse: that was the only proper restaurant on the path leading from the hotel to the venue, some 2km later. What do you do? of course, you backtrack and look for the first viable option.

That was not a good thing to do. The first place turned up was a restaurant that belonged to a shady hotel. Serving Austrian, Italian and Indian food at once. Think about it for a second and tell me whether you think that such a restaurant can ever produce food that makes any sense. If you think it can, then I am smarter than you. It can’t, and it didn’t. Horrible expensive food. Ordered a “Parisian” schnitzel, which was allegedly based on turkey meat; got a sponge‐like substance that only remotely reminded me of turkey. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a happy turkey either.


Off to the venue…


It was raining—not an ideal situation to take photographs—but still, even by merely walking (fast) towards the venue, I could easily tell that Salzburg is an immensely pretty city. Was looking forward to the next day, to get some time to explore it.


The venue, Salzburgarena, is a sporting arena also used for concerts, seating around 6,700. Pretty from the outside… nothing very special from the inside.


My friend Philipp from Switzerland made his way to this concert. Philipp is an amateur pilot, so he was planning on flying to Salzburg; however, due to the weather conditions, he had to change his plans so he drove instead. Six hours. Way to go for the tenacity and not giving up. Was good to see Philipp, as it always is.

The concert was slated to begin 7:30pm, and it was the first time so far in this tour (that I can remember) that the concert really started right on time.

Another good concert—Kingdom of Gold played again, that’s two nights in a row—and, for the first time this tour, the set consisted of less than 16 songs. A 15 songs set (dropping Haul Away), slightly under two hours. Encore played in front of a crowded standing audience in front of the stage. Good times.


Concert ended; raining outside. Quick walk to Philipp’s hotel to pick up a battery charger he was so kind to lend to me for the next couple of weeks, then back to the Ramada for a bit of writing, work, catching up with things.

Unfortunately, the Ramada’s internet connection was a total failure, which is why this post is so late.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Stuttgart, Germany. Brilliant day off today—details (and amazing photos) will be published in the next post. Tomorrow morning: heading to Paris.


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