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, July 19, 2013

Taormina, Italy to Valletta, Malta (July 17, 2013)

Woke up in Taormina at 4:30am, ready to go. It was a good decision to take an afternoon nap the day before: I felt fresh and ready for the 2 hours drive south. Packed everything that needed packing, and shortly after 5:00am I was already in the driver’s seat, trying to navigate the car, in reverse, out of its parking spot. Small car, but still, it takes time to get used to the size of a car you had hardly driven before. A few attempts and I was out.

The drive to Pozzallo, in the southern tip of Sicily, takes about two hours. The ferry company demands that you’re on site to check in one hour before departure, scheduled for 9:15am. Theoretically, we could have left later but it was decided to err on the side of caution: a traffic jam anywhere along the way could result in the ferry leaving without me, and we all know that world order wouldn’t allow for that.

Taormina’s roads were nearly devoid of cars as we left. Long two hours ride with no incidents at all. Beautiful scenery: looking to the left, I could see the sun rising above the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily is beautiful and I will definitely visit again.

Arrived to Pozzallo at around 7:30am. First thing’s first: figure out where to drop the car off and where to line up for the ferry, before heading to breakfast: it’s better to do these investigations when time is still on your side. Once things were figured out, we found a nearby gas station, filled up the tank and headed to Pozzallo’s town center looking for a place to have breakfast.

Blimey, what a dead town. Nothing there. The very thought that I could have ended up spending almost an entire day here (had plans were not changed in the last minute) gave me the chills. Such a boring place. Almost nothing was open in the morning: incidentally, came across a cafe that was open and sold baked goods. The owner didn’t speak a word in English; a portrait of Castro was hung proudly on the wall, cleverly positioned so you couldn’t avoid looking at it even if you tried.

Nutella croissant that tasted like crap and a cappuccino that tasted almost entirely unlike any cappuccino in the world should be allowed to taste. Alas, nobody had the will and patience to look for an alternative place to dine in in this God forsaken town, so I had to pay my dues and eat the garbage being served.

That done, drove back to the Hertz booth to return the car. Again, Italian efficiency at its finest. When entering the section of the harbour where Hertz is located, you need to pass through a security guard. The security guard was sure that the car was intended to be loaded on the ferry, and him not being able to comprehend a single word in English, it was tricky conveying the message that no, this isn’t the case. The guard then went to call his friend, who happened to be speaking English, only to inform me of what I had already known: yes, I can drop my car off at Hertz; and yes, once it’s done, I need to check in to the ferry.

That exchange took 5 minutes of my life, that I will never get back.

Thought it ended here? wrong. Drove to the Hertz location, only to find out that the entrance to their parking lot is blocked with a long metal chain (the Hertz booth itself was closed, but they do have an afterhours key drop box). Backtracked, trying to find a way out of that mess. Two guys on site approached, asked what it was that I was doing. I told them that I’m trying to get to Hertz’s parking lot, so they sent me back to where I just came from. Drove back there, and the chain was still there. Not a complete surprise, if I might add. The two guys then looked at me, as if they were surprised to find me there; then, finally, they held the chain up high so I could enter the parking lot.

As this is Italy and I wouldn’t trust Italian vendors to tell me that the sky is blue in a warm July day, it was decided to take pictures of the fact that the car was indeed returned and the keys were placed in the key drop box.


Phew. OK, what’s next? headed to the only place that made sense: a particular spot where a guy was standing checking people’s passports, then letting them go on through a maze of fences to some sort of a waiting area. Passport—checked. “Boarding pass please”, he asked. What boarding pass? here’s all the printed documents I have. Choose one. “No, you have to go there to check in”. Great, thanks. Off to the booth: two windows, only one attendant. Checked in and received a boarding pass along with a voucher for a €10 credit if I play in Malta’s casino.

Back to the boarding line. Boarded, then was let into a “security check” area, where no security check was done at all. Once in the screened area, you can’t go back. Time: about 8:05am, more than an hour to departure.

No seats. Wanna sit down? there’s plenty of asphalt and gravel for you to sit on. More and more tourists came coming in. Families with noisy children. The clock ticked and I practiced numbing my senses as to minimize any connection with the outside world. Luckily, my chess partner was online so I spent most of the time playing eleven (yes, eleven) chess games with him, simultaneously.

FINALLY, the ferry arrived. Now, how long does it take to unload a ferry? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? more than 20 minutes passed until all passengers and vehicles were unloaded. Boarding commenced, prompting everyone to remove any trace of personal space of one another. Checked my luggage and went on board.

No assigned seats: sit wherever you’d like, just don’t dare cross that elastic band that blocks access to the stairway going up, as the top floor is for VIPs. Did what I always do first when I’m on a ferry: looked for the door leading to the deck. Sat on the deck, overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, and decided to do some writing under the sun. It went well for a couple of minutes, until it turned out that my laptop’s screen was too dusty and dirty, resulting in sunlight reflecting back to me, resulting in me not being able to see anything.

A sudden drop in energy level prompted me to head back inside, find a seat and try to pass out, which I think I did but no evidence to that exists as the Dutchman himself was already seated, mouth wide open sleeping his guts out (he didn’t take my advice to get an afternoon nap the day before).

Somehow, the ferry ride which should have taken less than two hours ended up taking two and a half hours, and feeling like nine hundred hours. Have I mentioned Italian efficiency already in this post? have I? good. Once the ferry docked, it took about fifteen minutes until passengers were allowed to leave. Why? first, of course, you need to wait for the honourable VIPs to depart: “Everybody please stand in a circle and watch the VIPs as they gracefully go down the stairs and leave the ferry before you”. As the ferry was carrying independent travellers (such as the Dutchman and I) as well as organized tours, some guidance had to be given as to which tourist group needs to go to which ferry deck, so they’re collected by the applicable buses. These announcements had to be done in multiple languages—Italian, English and I’m guessing Maltese. They even went more fine‐grained there: “buses number 3 and 4 will have the tour instructor speaking Russian and English; buses number 5 and 6 will have…”.

To add salt to injury, not all passengers necessarily listened to the instructions given to them over the speakers, so they came by and asked the staff personally.

If the above description is causing your brain to sweat, then I’m doing an excellent job conveying to you what I was feeling.

What a mess.

Was happy to leave that damned ferry. Went down the stairs and all I saw was beige.

And more beige.

Everywhere I looked, I saw beige.

I knew nothing about Malta before coming here. Sorry, erase that: I knew a few things. I knew that it’s an island and that it’s a part of the European Union. I knew that there’s a language out there called Maltese, and I was inclined to believe that it was Malta’s formal language. I also knew that it is a popular tourist destination for Israelis.

Plus, of course, I knew everything that there was to know about how to get from Sicily to Malta (see the previous post).

Temperature kissed the 9,000℃ mark, and as Malta is an island in which you’re never too far from the see, humidity levels were just above 815,000%. Hot. Too hot. Collected my luggage and headed to the nearby building which is supposed to be an “arrivals hall” but seemed to be functioning solely as a passage to the outside world.

A glance in Google Maps revealed that the hotel for the night, Luciano Valletta Boutique Hotel, was located more than 2km away with a positive elevation gain. Take a taxi? sure, why not. Followed the sign saying “Taxis” and we found ourselves outside the station, a few taxis lined up and shady people approaching us asking “taxi? taxi?”.

If there’s something I learned throughout my adult life, it is this: when a stranger approaches you on the street, they want your money. If a stranger approaches you on the street suggesting things to you, then “no” is always the right answer. Read any European travel guide and it will tell you that people approaching you and asking you if you’d like a taxi, in close to 100% of the cases, are complete crooks.

The Dutchman, however, decided to be smart.

– “How much is it?”, he asked.

– “€15”, the driver said, without even asking where it is that we wanted to get to.

Finally, a taxi driver with a sixth sense.

The Dutchman, apparently, missed on that crucial detail.

– “To the city center?”, he asked.

– “Yes.”

– “We need to get to a hotel called ‘Valletta Boutique’.”

The taxi driver squinted.

– “I can take you very close to the hotel for €15. For €20, I’ll take you all the way to the door.”

That was when I already lost my patience and just muttered towards the Dutchman “come on, let’s go” and started walking towards the hotel. The Dutchman was still processing the new data in his mind as the taxi driver started persuading him to hire his services. “But you’re going the wrong way!”, the driver said in a last attempt to extort cash out of innocent tourists.

The march towards the hotel was excruciating. I felt as if I was in the middle of a boxing ring, surrounded by professional boxers, each one landing their own blows onto my face in sequence. The weather on one side; hunger on another side; thirst on another; tiredness on yet another. How I survived that walk without passing out is beyond me.


And it wasn’t just beige: it was light beige. And you know what happens when the sun shines upon light beige, right? right. The light reflects back to you. So now, not only I was tired, hungry, thirsty and sweating like a sprinkler, I sometimes couldn’t even see clearly where I was going.

At some point, I did notice some green.


About half an hour walk in hell, and I stood where Google Maps claimed that the hotel should be.

I didn’t see any hotel. I saw many restaurants, but not a hotel.

Took a few minutes to figure it out: the hotel was actually located above a restaurant by the same name. It was crowded inside, but at least the air conditioner was on. One of the waitresses checked us in, asked us to leave our luggage behind and come back a couple of hours later as check‐in time was 2:00pm.


Grabbed my backpack (as I thought I may use the time to do some writing) and we went to resolve a burning issue: hunger. A couple of recommendations in TripAdvisor turned out to be closed, so the final honour of having me over for lunch befell on a place called La Mere Restaurant, located right at the main street in Valletta’s city center. The restaurant serves Maltese and Indian food, as well as fusion of both. Delicious.

From there, to Cafe Caravaggio, simply because they had a nice patio. Food prices seem to be relatively low in Malta, comparing to other European destinations.

Malta’s economy is small and very fragile. It produces about one fifth of the food needed to feed its inhabitants, and has no domestic energy sources: all energy in Malta is produced from oil (even though it could mitigate energy prices by using solar power), and all oil is imported as, again, Malta has no domestic energy sources.

What do people here live from, then? manufacturing and tourism. Tourism generates 35% of the GDP in Malta, and this is supported by the capital city, Valletta, looking like one huge tourist trap. Without tourism, Malta would be in trouble.

2:00pm sharp—back to the hotel/restaurant, where one of the waitresses showed us the room. Really funky place, doesn’t look like a hotel at all. Taking the elevator the second floor, you leave the elevator straight into what looks like a maintenance room of a restaurant. Three doors there—one to each room. Definitely not your usual hotel corridor. The room itself, however, was great and very comfortable.

What wasn’t comfortable was being neighbours to a stupid family that kept talking loudly outside their room.

About a week prior, we noticed that the hotel reservation for Malta specifies that air conditioning is provided for an “extra charge”. Puzzled, I sent them an email and got the following reply:

Dear Mr. Isaac,

We thank you for your reservation at our Boutique Accommodation. Kindly note that air‐ conditioning is according to consumption. We will give you a 5 euro card upon check in which will give your around 6 hrs of air conditioning free of charged. If you would like more hours you can top your card by another 5 euro to have another 6 hours.

(All typos in source.)

I was therefore very intrigued to see how that would work. I inquired about this, and to my puzzlement, the waitress/hostess told me that there’s no reason to worry about it, we’ll have air conditioning running for the entire time for no extra charge.

Thumbs up.

Did some writing as the air conditioner cooled the room off until it felt like an Igloo. Eyes started to shut down, so I went to bed and took a royal, fantastic nap., this tour around, has reported wrong concert times for a few concerts already. Not sure why exactly, but in general, I believe that there simply are way too many intermediary parties between the person determining the start time and the person who ends up sending emails to ticket purchasers informing them about the start time. Like most inconsistencies in life, this one can also be attributed to human error.

Decided not to trust the reported start times anymore. As the venue was located close to the hotel, and the tickets for the concert were under the Dutchman’s name, he volunteered to simply go there when the box office opens, collect the tickets and then proceed to see the city (if there is enough time); I stayed at the hotel, writing some more after waking up.

Lo and behold: the concert tickets reported a start time 30 minutes earlier than the one reported by OK. Time to wrap things up and get ready to go to the concert. Left the hotel late, and decided to grab a bite before heading to the concert. On the way to the venue, nothing special really popped up so we decided to share a Subway sandwich. That did the trick: last meal for the day.

The concert venue in Malta is called Il‐Fosos, which means “Pits” in Maltese (and Spanish). The place is also called “The Granaries” in English. Nowadays, this place is a public square; but what’s more interesting is what this place was used for up until not too long ago.

The place is called “The Granaries” in English for a reason: the square itself is built upon multiple pits where wheat and grain used to be stored to feed the population of Malta. The pits were constructed in the 17th century, and they were constructed underground in order to protect that food during times of war. These granaries were used to store grain up until 1962, when a new above‐ground silo was constructed.

This square is located in front of St. Publius Church.


The venue configuration allowed for seating in the front, and standing in the back. A fence separated between the two sections.

One thing that was of particular interest was this:


The stage was high. Between the stage and the front rows, was a thick wooden surface, supported by metal pegs.

The square itself seemed to be on a slope. I concluded that because the distance between the wooden surface and the floor remained more or less constant from left to right, but the height of the stage (relatively to the wooden surface) decreased as you headed towards the right hand side of the stage (the stage itself, obviously, must not be on a slope).


The venue quickly filled in, however the concert didn’t start before 8:30pm—half an hour past the time written on the ticket. You see, now I am confused. I have absolutely no idea why it is so difficult to coordinate these things—it’s frustrating and, more than being frustrating, it’s outright ridiculous.

A few songs into the concert, Mark noticed that there were people watching the concert from the roof of one of the buildings surrounding the square. Seemed like a government building of some sort, which led Mark to ask whether it’s the “Prime Minister or something” watching the concert from there.

Also about half way through the concert, a helicopter was flying around the square’s perimeter, then vanished. Mark again asked who could it be in that chopper, to which one audience member shouted “The President”.


Good concert, with a good receptive audience, except for a group of idiots sitting right behind me who chose to talk nonstop during the entire concert. I don’t even think they were listening to the music. That, puzzlingly, didn’t stop them from cheering between songs. Well, as I said many times before, the world is full of idiots; and the problem with alcohol is, that in most cases, when consumed without moderation, it intensifies one’s idiocy and turns it from being the problem of one person (the idiot) to a problem of many (all people surrounding said idiot in a concert).

Towards the encore, people started leaving their seats and approaching the stage. So Far Away was played while people were dancing (harmlessly) in front of the band. Piper to the End and the show was over.

Back to the hotel, made a small detour to see what the colour beige looks like in the dark, when lit with yellow light.


Back to the hotel and I was happy to see bed again. Looked forward to the next day: a day off, used to take the very last flight for the tour departing in the evening, leaving enough time to see more beige.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Lucca, Italy.



  1. Give me good bread and some salami (before 1990 this was usually horse meat and has since never been as good) and a can of coke and I am happy. I can live off that if money is tight. I would like to make a suggestion if I may. If you pass a bakery have a look at the types of bread they have for sale. Some bread is so good you don't need anything with it, apart from a drink. Advice: you need to drink at least 1 litre per hour in those climates. Heat exhaustion and delirium follows.

    1. Oh yeah..salt..gotta get some salt in you too.