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:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Delft to Zwolle, The Netherlands (June 7, 2013)

As expected, it was sad to leave London: not only because it’s one of my favourite cities, but also because it meant packing yet again. Alas, every good thing must come to an end (interestingly enough, the same isn’t true for bad things). After having breakfast with a friend Sunday morning, we headed up to London’s St. Pancras station (no, it’s not spelled “St. Pancreas” as I had seen someone spelling it before). Arrived early and killed some time in the terminal, then boarded the Eurostar train to take us back to mainland Europe.

I have taken the Eurostar train a few times before. It is the only train that takes passengers from England to mainland Europe, spending much of the ride underwater, traversing the Channel Tunnel. Complete darkness around—it’d be nice had they designed the entire tunnel to be a see‐thru aquarium, but hey, nobody listens to my suggestions anymore—and of course, the occasional sensation of pressure in the ears. Then, as if out of nowhere, the train emerges from the tunnel right into the vast greens of northern France. First stop is in Lille, and the next one is in Brussels.

Only two and some weeks prior, I had the displeasure of consuming two cups of coffee here—that is, tasting one; throwing it away; tasting the other one and just consuming it without listening to my taste buds—so, this time I didn’t even try.

On my Facebook wall, a friend has suggested that Brussels is not a true representation of Belgium and therefore it’d be improper to draw conclusions about the country based on my impression of Brussels alone, let alone if I were to judge by Brussels’ Midi train station (that discussion later led to a quarrel).

Lucky Belgium, then. I find it hard to describe the level of depression I get every single time I set foot in that train station: everything—everything!—looks bleak and hopeless. Everything from the floor, through the people and to the ceiling. This place must be a black hole sucking worldly good mood. World War III is likely to start here.

Half an hour wait to the connecting train seemed like taking forever. Eventually, we were on our way to The Netherlands. Shortly into the ride, an announcement was made that due to problems in the Dutch railway network, we’d have to leave this train in Roosendaal and proceed with a different train. Whatever, really; just take me to Delft already.

Arrived in Delft late evening. On one hand, I was very happy: finally, a familiar place in a city I like a lot, an apartment of a good friend of mine. On the other hand, hey, that meant sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a few nights. That’s fine, I guess… I’ve had worse.

The next few days in Delft were almost entirely vacant of any challenges—just as I was hoping those days to be. That break came in a good time, almost half way into the tour: rest was definitely required as the second part of the tour is unpleasant when it comes to travel schedule. No amount of rest could therefore be deemed as “enough”.

The weather in Delft was perfect. Sunny, cool wind—basically, every day was good for taking walks around this beautiful city and sipping coffee in various places, enjoying the weather and the lovely Dutch atmosphere.


Also took a short trip to The Hague for a couple of hours. The Hague is located about 10 minutes train ride north of Delft:


By far, the greatest challenge I put myself through during this break was making a perfect Duo Penotti sandwich, during lunch with Jeroen’s colleagues:


In the morning of the last free day in Delft, I decided to go to the city’s main square once again, sip some coffee in the sun. Little did I know that the city of Delft had other plans for that square—setting up an outdoor market:


I of course wasn’t impressed much from the fact that my beloved quiet spot suddenly became flooded with humans. Found a nearby spot away from the crowd and peace was restored.

June 7th arrived; the Delft break is over, back to touring mode. Everything charged—toothbrush; phone; tablet; laptop; everything washed and dried up. Everything ready to charge at the tour’s second leg with full power and vigour.

Originally, the itinerary was to fly on June 6th to Moscow, Russia through Tallinn, Estonia, as there were two concerts scheduled in Russia (Moscow & St. Petersburg). Some time in March, Mark decided to cancel his two concerts in Russia due to the Russian government’s crackdown on Human Rights Watch and other human rights‐related organizations.

The cancellation of the Russian dates raised a few problems in the itinerary: the flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg was only partly refunded; train tickets from St. Petersburg to Helsinki were non‐refundable and therefore lost. Also, money paid to the Moscow hotel for the first night was lost, as it had to be prepaid for issuing the invitation required to get a Visa for Jeroen.

Getting a Visa to Russia is a long, tedious process; in the light of Russia’s attitude towards the west, I wouldn’t be surprised if the process of getting a Visa is intentionally tedious as means of deterring visitors in the first place.

First, you need to fill out an online application. Application? more like the bureaucratic equivalent of a full‐on rectal examination. The amount of data they’re looking for, about you and your family, is ridiculous. Among other things, they want to know the details of each and every country you have been in over the last ten years, including arrival and departure date from each. If you entered a country more than once—all arrivals and departures must be specified. This is particularly painful for Canadians who happen to cross the border to the USA frequently, sometimes even for just a few minutes in order to pick up a package.

Filling that online form isn’t enough. You also need to get an actual, formal invitation from the establishment that is going to host you. If you’re there for a conference, an invitation must be provided by the conference center. If you’re going to be staying in a hotel, the hotel itself must generate such invitation. Of course, these invitations cost money, and if you’re staying in a hotel, then most hotels will require you to pre‐pay for your first night’s stay as a condition to getting that invitation (which, of course, you have to pay for separately). All of these payments are non‐refundable. To add some more cruelness into the mix, most hotels are willing to provide you with an invitation that covers only the dates in which you’re staying in that hotel. If you’re staying in multiple places in Russia, you might end up having to get a separate invitation from each hotel.

Think you’re through? no. Once all of the above is completed, you need to appear for an interview in your nearest Russian embassy or consulate. Then you get the Visa.

Citizens of a few countries are exempt from requiring a Visa; Israeli citizens fall into this category (Canadian citizens don’t), so I didn’t have to go through this bullshit.

As soon as the cancellation was made public, we changed our plans accordingly: we changed the Amsterdam‐Tallinn‐Moscow ticket so instead of departing June 6th, we’d be departing on June 8th with the same route—except that we’d simply check out in Tallinn instead of proceeding to Moscow. From Tallinn, it’s less than two hours ferry ride to Helsinki.

As our flight to Tallinn the next morning was scheduled to depart in the morning, it made much more sense to stay the night in Schiphol than anywhere else. Late in the afternoon, we bid the beautiful city of Delft adieu and boarded the train to Schiphol airport. From Schiphol, it’s a short 10 minutes shuttle ride to the Steigenberger Hotel; checked in and almost immediately left back to Schiphol, to meet Philipp and take the train to Zwolle, about an hour and a half train ride east.

Zwolle? what?

I have never heard of Zwolle before in my life. The city, with the population of about 120,000, is located in the province of Overijssel (pronounced: O‐ver‐ai‐sel) in The Netherlands (just FYI, even though the term “Holland” is often used to refer to The Netherlands, it is misleading. “South Holland” and “North Holland” are two provinces in The Netherlands).

The city’s name originates from the word “Suolle”, which means “Hill”. That “hill” refers to, well, a hill that is located between the four rivers that surround the city (the city actually sits on that hill). Those rivers used to get flooded every now and then, and that “hill” was the only part of the land (between the four rivers) to remain dry.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: during World War II, Zwolle’s liberation from Nazi Germany is mainly attributed to the actions of one soldier, corporal Leo Major from… Canada. The story of how he (“singlehandedly”, according to Wikipedia) went about doing so is very interesting, I suggest you give it a read.

I didn’t get much time to look around the city but it is a treat to the eyes:


Typical Dutch city landscape.

As time was pressing, there wasn’t the luxury of picking a proper place to eat so the three of us went to a place called Kota Radja, suggested by TripAdvisor as a good place to fill up. It is an Asian fusion restaurant, in a prime location and very interesting menu.

Getting food in this restaurant is the culinary equivalent of applying for a Visa to Russia. The table gets a card, listing all available dishes. The card has five columns, each representing a “round” of ordering. A table can order up to five rounds of food in total, with each round containing up to three dishes per diner (are you following? good. There’s a quiz at the end of this post). The restaurant’s staff simply visits your table occasionally, checking whether the form is filled with orders for the next round (you’re supposed to shove the card into a special metal holder to signify “we’re ready”), picking it up and serving the dishes as soon as they’re ready.

Lots of work, but it paid: the food was very good. I was starving and completely gave up after four rounds. I figure it’d be very hard to finish five full rounds in that restaurant and remain hungry. Cost is quite expensive (about €26 per person), however.

The Netherlands being a very strong fan base of this band, naturally we ran into more than a few familiar faces on the way to the venue, including Ingrid of course. Ten minutes away, we arrived at the venue.


Wikipedia has the following to say (as of this writing) about the venue, IJsselhallen:

IJsselhallen is a building in Zwolle, Netherlands. It is a conference centre, and has hosted many concerts. It hosted Legoland 2010.

That isn’t much, and indeed, there isn’t much that can be said about this huge box of concrete appearing as if out of absolutely nowhere right in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It is huge, as it contains of multiple halls inside, some of which are separated by curtains rather than by any hard material, for flexibility.

Entering the venue and walking towards the concert hall, I already felt that something in this venue is strange. Passed through what seemed to be a place for wedding receptions, and just before entering the seated area of the hall, I saw this:


In case you are wondering what this is: it’s a bulk food stand, selling bulk candy for about €1.50 per 100 grams. Have you ever seen such a thing in any concert venue? I haven’t.

Entering the area in the venue where the concert was to take place, the feeling of strangeness intensified.


Immediately I couldn’t quite point my finger at what didn’t ring well. Then I found it: the layout of the seating area wasn’t symmetrical (not even close) with respect to the margins. If you click on the image above and look at the left hand side, you’ll see a curtain stretching from the left hand tip of the stage all the way to the back. On the right hand side of the picture, you won’t find such a curtain. Conclusion: this venue’s seating layout was intentionally rearranged to allow for less audience than usual. Either that or I’m missing something basic. It looked very odd.

One other thing that was obvious—this time, for everyone—is that whoever was running this venue wasn’t a big fan of… well… fans. I mean this type of fan:


The heat in the venue was simply unbearable and air circulation wasn’t working to any satisfactory capacity, which negatively affected my enjoyment of the concert (and I bet I’m not the only one). Two bottles of water consumed during the concert just to maintain sanity. Heck, I feel warm just writing about it.

The concert, however, was good. The band seemed fresh after a vacation of almost a week. As neither Ruth Moody nor Nigel Hitchcock were present (Ruth will make a comeback for the Paris concert; I’m not sure about Nigel, but I seem to recall that he was only scheduled to appear as a guest during the UK shows), the set got back to the pre‐UK days.

Apparently, the audience wasn’t alone in feeling the intense heat inside this pile of concrete: Mike McGoldrick was spotted with his back completely and utterly wet of sweat. The performance itself wasn’t much affected by it all, though.

In this venue, the distance between the front row to the barrier positioned before the stage was huge, about 3–4 meters. You could easily add a few rows there but you’d have to either equip people sitting there with earplugs, or pay for their healthcare bill afterwards as some of them would have lost their hearing. The sound was very loud where I was seated. Either way, the long gap between the seated area and the stage’s barrier allowed for the Running of the Bulls to go on without casualties. Warm, sweaty encore and the concert was over.

Trains at night run less frequently than during the day. As we were walking back to the train station, we realized that we could save a few minutes from the overall itinerary if we run to the train station, a distance usually made by 7–8 minutes of walking, within 3 minutes. I ran fast, very fast—but arrived last: still, we made it. The train’s doors were closed shut as soon as I boarded. Back in Schiphol airport, the hotel shuttle was unavailable anymore, which left no choice but take a taxi to the hotel.

Long, long day.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Helsinki, Finland. Got here yesterday, concert ended just a couple of hours ago, and the last two days were fantastic—during which, unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to write. More on that in the next post, hopefully to be completed tomorrow.

Heading off to bed: flight to Oslo leaves at 7:15am (!!), scheduled to arrive to Hamar, Norway at around 10:00am.



  1. Glad you found out the way to describe the different parts of B and NL. Damn confusing, I just travelled thru without even guessing where the F was. It's all Netherlands to hell with it.. I guess that's why they call it Benelux..or have I got that confused with Luxembourg?

    1. Not sure what you're implying that you might have confused... Benelux is Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg. Netherlands and Belgium are different, and Luxembourg is different form both - although I'd say that Luxembourg reminds me more of Belgium than The Netherlands.

      Dutch people claim that there's an easy way to know, when riding a train, when Belgium ends and The Netherlands starts: The Netherlands starts when things stop appearing ugly.

    2. A question please Isaac: you use the word "implying". Now that is accusatory. Looking at your background and first language I am thinking here...Do you find that the English speaking places talk around the subject. In other words they are very diplomatically trying to tell you something. I am interested in a candid reply here because I have a lot of trouble with this method of communication. I have read your rant about Israel and other place where you speak of "in your face" and "invasion of personal space". So the question is: when someone from the British commonwealth interascts with you in speech or text do you automatically switch on your "WTF is he really saying" brain ability. This is a serious question. Not easy to answer maybe but a question that is of interest.

    3. It was a bad choice of words. I meant to say that I wasn't sure what you're referring to with regards to the confusion you had.

      Unfortunately I am also unsure what your question here really is, perhaps you could rephrase? of course I always switch on my "WTF is he really saying" ability. I was only partly able to adjust to the indirect way of speech exhibited by Brits (and Canadians), and, admittedly, this inability to fully adjust resulted in a few doors closing for me - but resulted in other doors being opened.

      If you could rephrase your question I'll be more than happy to answer.

    4. Thanks for the understood what I was saying. I have this problem often...and note well that I was born in the UK and have lived all my life here...all 59 years. "I was only partly able to adjust to the indirect way of speech exhibited by Brits (and Canadians), and, admittedly, this inability to fully adjust resulted in a few doors closing for me - but resulted in other doors being opened." That answers the question...thanks.

  2. Then there is the language thing too...some of them speak French and some Walloons..sp?. A lot of the Japanese manufacturers have chosen this place..still not sure if it is B or the HQ for the Euro operations. All of them speak perfect English though. Once you get on that big concrete slab of road that leads to the German border I can't tell where I am. The Belgium cars have red lettered plates and the NL cars have yellow reflective plates and that is as far as I go in knowing about these places.