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:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Helsinki, Finland to Hamar, Norway (June 10–11, 2013)

First thing’s first: I recently received a few pictures taken by my friends Lane and Katrina during our time together in London. Good to reminisce… wonderful people:


Getting back to the hotel in Helsinki very late at night, no time was left for anything: the itinerary for the next morning included a flight from Helsinki to Oslo, leaving Helsinki’s airport at 7:15am, arriving Oslo at around 8:00am (two hours flight; Finland’s time zone is one hour ahead of Norway’s). From Oslo’s airport, there’s a train leaving every hour towards Hamar.

Being constantly on the move hones your skills at packing, unpacking and repacking. It takes time to get adjusted to it, even though the “rules” are simple:

  • Don’t spread your belongings around the room; concentrate them all in one location.
  • Don’t unpack anything before you actually need it. Repack it as soon as you’re done with it.
  • The night before departure, pack as much as you can and also prepare your clothes for the next morning.

These are extremely important when you don’t have much time to sleep. It’s easier to get logistics done with before going to bed when you’re still kind of alert, than getting them done as soon as you wake up when you’re still yearning the sensation of your head resting upon a pillow.

This particular hotel had included breakfast starting (get this) 4:00am. By 5:00am, I was already in the dining room transporting edible substances from large containers into small plates. Ate quickly, back to the room, brushed teeth and got my stuff together.

As I was preparing to leave the room, Jeroen was busy checking us in online, through his mobile phone. Eventually, I received an email with a link, saying that this is my “travel document”. I opened it and found instructions in Norwegian.

I should mention that I don’t understand Norwegian. Also, nobody bothered to ask me whether I understand Norwegian (unless they tried asking me that in Norwegian and I didn’t understand, because, again, I don’t understand Norwegian).

Saw my name there, with a link. Clicked it and got a barcode, along with further instructions in Norwegian. No way to change the language.

I think I had written before about how surprised I am to find that people regard software engineers as overly intelligent. However, this industry, of which I have been a part for the last 17 years (formally; informally, around 25 years), doesn’t really lack its own population of idiots. It bothers me, to no foreseeable end, that someone in Norwegian Airlines—an airline that actually puts a lot of effort into becoming more and more efficient, yielding most check‐in and pre‐flight work to the passengers—thought, at some point, that putting an “English” link is not really necessary. It further bothers me that whoever tested this company’s mobile check‐in process never actually considered this to be a problem.

Decided to sort this out at the airport. Stormed out to catch the 5:40am shuttle to the airport, which arrived late.

Helsinki’s airport was very busy at 6:00am. After being completely confused regarding which line we should be standing in, things were sorted out. Apparently, with Norwegian Airlines, you can’t fully check in online if you have any baggage to check. You have to use the special check‐in machines located in the terminal.

Security check… as usual, I picked the line that ended up being the slowest. Coffee was skipped as I wasn’t willing to pay €5 for coffee that was most likely going to turn out a failure; bite me, Finland. Off to the gate for boarding with no delays.

During check‐in, there was an option for better seats so we took it—to adjacent aisle seats. Most passengers were already inside the aircraft when I suddenly heard a deep voice speaking to me in an accent that was so depressing, so condescending and so suspicious that it must have something to do with Russian.


Interesting. Some people usually begin a conversation with a “hello”.

– “No.”


– “Me too.”


– “No.”


I looked at him, squinting, trying to phrase my answer. Thought about it carefully until I came up with the absolute best response, which I conveyed using the most conversation‐discouraging tone I could have ever emitted.

– “No.”

A friend of the suspicious fellow, an older guy around 60–70 years old, took the window seat and the suspicious guy (who had quite the large figure) took the middle seat, next to me. For the first thirty minutes of the flight, this guy was irritatingly noisy; and by “noisy”, I am not referring to him talking, but to all sorts of weird hums and other mutterings. You know that voice—that hum—that you emit when yawning really hard? imagine that, continuously, for thirty minutes, until he decided to cover himself with his jacket and take a nap.

Note to self: email Bose, asking them to add a feature for blocking yawn‐induced hums with their next generation of noise‐cancelling headphones.

Flight arrived to Oslo almost 30 minutes ahead of schedule (how can a two hours flight be shortened by a quarter? beats me. No wind can be that strong. Maybe Philipp can answer?). Luggage quickly collected and made our way to the train station located just beneath the airport, ending up riding a train that left one hour prior to the one we were originally planning.

Norway is considered by many to boast some of the most beautiful natural scenery on the planet, which is another reason why I was happy to get here. The train ride to Hamar takes about an hour; there was a 30 minutes delay somewhere along the way, conveniently right next to this:


So it wasn’t a total loss after all. Here and there, I managed to doze off for a few minutes. At around 9:30am, finally arrived to Hamar.

Hamar is a small town located about 130km north of Oslo. Its history dates back to the 11th century: it used to be an important trade center during the Middle Ages, until it was hurt badly by the Black Plague in 1349, along with the rest of Norway (60% of Norway’s population was killed by the Black Plague). 200+ years later, most of Hamar’s trade was moved to Oslo, and Hamar stopped existing as a town until it was re‐founded in the 18th century.

Due to its geography, Hamar is susceptible to floods. A major flood took place here in 1789; few more have occurred since. Actually, only a couple of weeks ago there was a flood in the area, although not even close to the 1789 mayhem.

I did not know any of this before arriving here. As soon as I arrived in Hamar’s train station, the following issues felt rather burning:

  • I wasn’t holding any local currency; must get some cash from an ATM somewhere. Where?
  • I was dead tired.
  • I was starving.
  • My mobile phone had no data connectivity as my SIM card’s roaming plan doesn’t cover Norway.

It doesn’t cover Sweden or Denmark either. If anyone reading this post is from Sweden or Denmark, perhaps you could tell me which mobile carrier(s) I should go to in order to get a pre‐paid SIM with data connection? only data connection matters: I don’t make/receive phone calls or text messages.

Located a Seven Eleven nearby; ATM inside. Cash out—done. Next, walked to the hotel—well, actually a hostel, belonging to the world famous Hostelling International (HI) federation. It is located about 15 minutes walk from the train station and just across the street from the venue—actually, with the exception of the concert in Temecula, California during the Get Lucky tour, I don’t think I ever stayed so close to a Knopfler concert venue.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I went ahead to resolve the other burning issues as Jeroen headed to catch some sleep (unfortunately, Jeroen hasn’t been feeling well at all during the last few days. Getting better, though). Miraculously, an electronics store nearby sold SIM cards for a local mobile carrier (Telenor)—purchased and I’m a happy camper. Then I went off to a nearby supermarket that also had a cafe on site: ridiculously expensive sandwich (see below) and coffee and I was even a happier camper. As Jeroen decided to stay in the room for the entire day due to his illness, I did some shopping in the supermarket so the Dutchman doesn’t starve to death.

Back at the hotel, dropped the groceries and went outside to explore the surroundings. Somehow, I wasn’t tired anymore.

Norway is not a part of the European Union. Traditionally, Norwegians have been against joining the European Union for a variety of reasons. Polls are showing that, over time, the sentiments against joining the EU have been almost consistently growing (a poll from July 2012 shown close to 75% against joining).

Norway also maintains its own currency, called Norwegian Krone (abbreviated NOK) with the exchange rate currently standing at around 1 NOK per €0.13 / $0.18 CDN / $0.17 US.

I have a confession to make.

Economics is one of the few subjects that are of special interest for me. When I visit countries—even regions within countries—I always find myself becoming interested in issues such as cost of living, cost of real estate, cost of products / services, taxation, wages and such. Why? I don’t know, it’s just very interesting to me.

I have only visited Norway once before, during the 2010 Get Lucky tour. Back then, there were only two concerts in Norway—one in Oslo and one in Bergen—plus an unforgettable day‐off. From back then, I remembered Norway being ridiculously expensive for the traveller, and was wondering why.

Never got around to do more than a superficial research, though. I attributed the high costs to the fact that taxes in Norway are very high (when taxes are high, business owners often raise prices; they need to make money somehow. Also, sales tax here is at 25% in general, with the exception of food which is taxed at 14% and certain travel‐related services which are taxed at 8%).

Another thing I kept in mind is everything I heard about Norway being very advanced with respect to the social services provided to residents here. In other words, taxes are indeed high, but residents here get much back from the government in certain ways.

One error I did make, though, was to assume that Norwegians earn a lot of money. It made sense to me: heck, if you are to afford spending $35 on a pizza in a restaurant, you must be bringing quite a lot of cash home every month. Not to mention hotels: hotels in Norway are so ridiculously expensive that, at first, I thought my vision was impaired when I looked at hospitality prices.

I have to thank my friend Philipp Zeller who sent me back to do some research before I assume all sort of things. Norwegians, it turns out, do earn more in relative terms, but not by that much—not enough to justify the whopping difference in the restaurant and hotel prices. Norwegians themselves acknowledge the fact that certain “things” are simply ridiculously expensive—that’s how things are and they accept it. Food in restaurants is too expensive? fine—they simply don’t dine out as often as people in other countries (notably in the United States and Canada). Hotels are too expensive? fine—they simply don’t stay in hotels all too often anyway.

Groceries, for example, aren’t that expensive. I bought enough food for two people for one day for the price of just under €20.

To summarize: Norway is an expensive country to travel in. Ridiculously expensive, even. But that doesn’t have much to do with wages around here: that’s simply the way things are, period.

The hostel (and the venue) are located about a kilometer and a half from the town’s center. The path to the town’s center is surrounded by greenery, and water is almost always in sight.


From the east, the town’s center area begins with the central train station:


From there, exploring the area is very easy by foot, simply because it’s small. It was around 6:00pm—perhaps a bit more—and almost everything was closed.


Hungry, I was looking for a place to eat. This is tricky if you’re on any sort of a budget as restaurants in Norway are ridiculously expensive. A 12” pizza in a restaurant here can easily cost around $30–35, and I’m not talking about a full‐on Italian restaurant. Eventually, that pizza was the only sane thing to go for.

It wasn’t that good.

Nothing left to do in the city center area, I just walked back to the hostel, taking some more pictures to show off with:


The last picture shows a metal tower, located by the water nearby the venue. Here’s what you see from up there:


… And, of course, a couple of panoramic ones:


Nothing very dramatic, but still a natural beauty that, I think, would be better off just left alone.

Next morning—concert day—sun was shining bright over clear blue sky. Fantastic weather, great for exploring some more. Accompanied by an unhealthy Dutchman, I went back to the city center area to see if I missed anything the day before.

Glad I did.

First, just to demonstrate the distance from the hostel to the venue:


Morning view of the hostel. What a quiet, wonderful place:


Took similar pictures to the ones taken the preceding day—only now, the sky were completely blue:


Stopped for a morning snack at a local bakery. That was one of the weirdest bakery experiences I could recall. Food was very good, coffee was very good, but something was missing… the bakery smell. It didn’t smell at all like a bakery, even though fresh goodies were constantly brought in from the back. Very strange.

Kept on walking and then reached the waterfront. Fantastic walk.


At some point, came across this:


This monument shows the water levels during Hamar’s more serious floods. See the top one: July 24, 1789. Can you imagine? water as high as this?

Steps away, came across this:


This is a result of the more recent flood that took place here, just a couple of weeks ago (to my knowledge). Either that, or some morons found a really stupid way to pass the time.


Came across further evidence to the flood that took place here recently:


See this island? see the benches on it? well, it’s not really an island. This piece of land can usually be accessed by a narrow strip of land—you can notice how the “island” slowly fades into nothing at the right hand side of the picture (the shore is a few meters further to the right; unfortunately it wasn’t captured in this photograph).


Terrible. Just terrible. Well, I suppose that’s what happens when people screw around with Mother Nature: Mother Nature strikes back. Global warming still occurs, and governments still don’t seem like giving a crap. What prompts mankind to shoot itself in the foot… that I’ll never understand.

That’s not the world I was hoping to live in.

Finding a place for lunch took some walking, as no place seemed quite “right”. Eventually we settled for a good Italian restaurant in the city center. Tasty, good food—unfortunately, Jeroen couldn’t enjoy much of it as he has lost some of his sense of taste due to his illness.

Back to the hotel to bide the time before the concert.


The concert venue for Hamar is the Hamar Olympic Hall, but is usually referred to by the name Vikingskipet (“The Viking Ship”) for its design.


This venue was designed to serve as the speed skating rink for the 1994 Winter Olympics, not before raising some uproar due to the decision to build it in an area that was (and still is) included in an international treaty for the conservation of wetlands.

This venue is huge: it can seat up to 20,000 (!) for concerts. For this particular concert, the venue was arranged in a rather unusual way—the stage was set up along the longer edge of the venue, rather than the shorter one; huge, vast space to the left and to the right.


I tried taking a panoramic photo to capture how huge this venue is:


The concert started a few minutes past schedule. The lights went out but the venue was still pretty lit because it was full daylight outside, and rays of sun made their way inside through a few windows that remained unsealed. Similar set to the usual, except for the much‐awaited return of Kingdom of Gold and the less awaited (well, I have my own taste) Gator Blood.

The beginning of Privateering is when Mark usually interacts with the audience. This time, he went ahead to inform the audience that they live in a beautiful country (indeed, they do), suggesting that the Norwegians are keeping it secret (may be true; otherwise, mankind would probably find a way to screw it up).

Another comic relief was provided at the beginning of I Used to Could, as Mark started strumming his guitar but something appeared to have been missing in the guitar’s tone. Then he stopped playing. “Did you like it?” he asked, to the sound of cheers. He then hinted something towards the right hand side of the stage—I’m guessing he was referring to the crew—and within a few seconds everything went back to normal.

Another mishap took place at the beginning of Marbletown, when Richard’s amp seemed to not be making any sound, triggering a swift response by the crew; issue was resolved before anyone noticed.

The audience here is typically reserved and polite (so I have been told, and so I have witnessed in the Norway concerts during the last tour). Still, many times, people just found a reason to move from one side of the stage to another, holding cameras, taking photographs… rarely, if ever, pissing anybody off. It was all done in good spirit, nobody seemed to mind. People were also gathering in the aisles during some songs, for good photo‐ops.

I was once thinking to myself—what makes people take so many photographs during a concert? forget the discussion about whether it is annoying or not; distracting or not; useful or not.

Consider a hypothetical venue that provides an interesting service—top‐of‐the‐line professional photographers taking pictures during the show using bleeding‐edge equipment; at the end, all photographs are provided to the audience completely free of charge. Would that prompt concertgoers to stop taking photographs?

My guess is a solid strong “no”.

The reason people take photographs during concerts has very little to do with the end result (the picture), and much to do with the actual process (taking the picture) and—more than anything else—the senses of belonging and ownership. They want a photograph that they took. When they look at that photograph years from now, they don’t want to remember getting that photograph from someone else: instead, they want to reminisce the actual situation of holding up a camera and pressing the shutter.

What motivates people to do what they do has always been a fascinating subject for me.

Something very peculiar happened during Haul Away. Mark was busy focusing on John playing, when a lady approached the stage holding a paper. She put the paper on the stage and went back to her seat. I am not entirely sure that Mark noticed where that paper came from, but once he noticed it, he approached it, being evidently rather annoyed. He then proceeded to slide the paper away from the stage using his foot. That took a few attempts (it’s rather tricky to do, let alone when you’re busy performing in front of thousands of people), but at the end, the paper found its rightful destiny—the floor.


Some other lady later approached the stage and took the paper away.

Strange. I suggest the next one will try their luck by placing not a paper, but something more interesting. Like a book.

Telegraph Road, as usual, concluded the first part of the show—not before a few people from the audience started approaching the stage right before the outro solo. Similar to how it was done in Helsinki, there was no violence involved whatsoever. Nobody (that I could see) was running, pushing or squeezing anyone. Everything seemed to have been done in good spirit.

I should say, though, that once the audience got up, the show started becoming a blast. Beautiful Telegraph Road outro followed by the usual encore of So Far Away and Piper to the End, played in front of an exceptionally receptive audience.

The concert concluded just about two hours after it started. The venue being so huge and spacious, it didn’t take too long for people to leave; five minutes later, I was already at the hotel.

Tried to do some writing in the hotel’s garden, when I was approached by a group of local Knopfler aficionados who somehow recognized me. Lost some writing time but gained some good socializing time with nice people. Thanks fellas for coming to say hello, and see you later in the tour.

Signing off this post the hostel room in Bergen, Norway. Today was supposed to be a good, easy day of exploring one of the most beautiful cities I have come across; instead, it turned into a nightmare. More on that in the next post.

Yawn. (A quiet one.)


1 comment:

  1. Money: Norway is rolling in money. They have enough money to place an order for something like 35 new Boeing Jets. No shortage of money from oil revenues here. Personally I think they are going to mop up the Russian market in the airline business. Just why the costs for on the street punters are high is a mystery. Somehwere in Norway is a big pile of pur gold.