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

Valletta, Malta to Pisa and Lucca, Italy (July 18–19, 2013)

Thursday, July 18: woke up late. Very late. The day’s itinerary was simple: at around 2:20pm, take a bus to Malta’s airport; an hour and a half flight to Pisa, departing shortly after 5:00pm; get an airport pick‐up by the hotel’s shuttle. It’s a day off, and the next day’s concert was to take place in Lucca, which is half an hour train ride from Pisa. I’ve never been to Pisa before, so spending the night in Pisa before heading to Lucca seemed to be a good idea.

Woke up fresh. The room’s air conditioner did a great job cooling the room throughout the night, providing for an excellent night sleep. I was ready for the day, eager to spend my last few hours in Malta doing exactly what I like most: be stationary most of the time and write.

I felt no passion whatsoever to see what Malta has to offer. I already got the idea: beige buildings, more beige buildings and, to top it all, even more beige buildings. Call me when the start growing some trees here: I want out and I’m unlikely to ever come back. This place must be nature freaks’ hell.

The hotel I stayed in offered breakfast—a small selection of items from the restaurant on top of which the hotel rooms were. Very restrictive menu. Opted for an omelette inside something called “Maltese bread”. I didn’t know what “Maltese bread”—I assumed they were talking about a bread coloured beige, as everything in this island seems to be in beige—but I was willing to give it a shot. Delicious. Apparently there’s a Wikipedia entry for it, too.

Back to the room to do some writing until 11:00am; time to check out. Left the luggage at the hotel—they ran out of space in the luggage room (which also functions as a general storage room for the restaurant. Repulsive) so luggage had to be stored outside that room, by the wall in the restaurant itself. Now how about that for feeling confident that you’ll meet your luggage three hours later?

Took my small backpack containing my ridiculously heavy laptop (I should have bought an ultra‐book before doing this tour, it’d save a lot of headache and a lot of sweat). Jeroen decided to go explore the city, I decided to do some maintenance.

First task: find a pharmacy. I ran out of gauze pads, and decided that I’d be better off with a gauze roll instead. Makes much more sense for my situation. There are many pharmacies in Valletta’s city center. The first one I picked didn’t have what I was looking for, the second one did. Good. Now, I asked them whether they have a sink or something so I can wash my hand, apply some gel and wrap my wrist with one of the newly purchased pad. The attendant there didn’t know what I meant, so I had to rephrase. The mistake I did was mention the word “toilet”: as soon as that word was heard, the attendant went into complete defensive mode and nodded for a strong “no”. I guess that this place is so touristic that even pharmacies tend to get their toilets abused by careless travellers.

Whatever. I was planning on going to a cafe to do some writing anyway. Found a cafe nearby the hotel, and asked to go wash my hands before I sit down. Sure, go ahead. Now, that cafe had its toilets located in the basement. To get there, one needs to go down a very narrow spiral staircase, ducking the entire time. Every extra step you take down, temperature raises by 500℃, and humidity gets much, much worse. By the time I arrived to the basement level, I was already sweating like an exceptionally out‐of‐shape pig. Entered those toilets, total area of about one square meter. Got whatever I needed out of my backpack, applied the gel, then the gauze roll… now how do you cut it?

Now, you see, I’m not experienced in this kind of things. I suppose I should have known that gauze pads are designed to withstand exceptional pressure. Whatever I did, I just couldn’t cut the damned thing. Meanwhile, the energy I exerted caused me to sweat even worse.

BLOODY HELL. Held the remainder of the roll in my hand and sprang out of that toilet to breathe some fresh air outside. Before sitting down for coffee, I asked for a knife.

The waiter looked at me in a look that is specifically reserved to waiters that just encountered a diner asking for a sharp knife before even ordering anything. That was when I realized I should demonstrate why I need a knife. All sorted out then.

Sat down for some iced coffee (took me a full minute to explain what I wanted. These guys only know how to make iced coffee with ice cream and whipped cream on it. For some reason he couldn’t fathom a simple request to leave the last two out) and started to do some writing, all the while trying to reduce my core temperature.

At around 1:30pm, I decided to stop writing and go for a quick walk around: if I’m going to see so much beige, why should I be the only one to suffer?


Approaching the north end of Valletta, the Mediterranean Sea is right there, serving as a perfect blue background for… that’s right. More beige.


Finally, some green…


… and back to beige.


Dripping sweat, I made it back to the hotel at 2:00pm, to meet the Dutchman, grab the luggage and head to the bus station, to get to the airport. I was tired and frustrated from the heat, to the point that I started losing focus. Grabbed a sandwich from the hotel’s restaurant—which, of course, had to be cooked as it was only half‐cooked; great, that’s what I need: more heat—and headed to the bus station.

Boarded the bus and started consuming the sandwich. As soon as I was done, the bus started to move. At least in that part of Malta, roads aren’t in very good shape, and traffic is busy, resulting in the bus driver having to brake a lot. Now, you know the feeling you get when you ride a bus right after eating, and the ride is spotty? nausea. And the heat… blimey, the heat.

Finally, arrived to Malta’s international airport. Left the bus and entered the air‐conditioned space.

Step 1—reaching the airport—done.

Now came step 2, which I wasn’t very much looking forward to: dealing with an airline that is considered by many to be the worst in Europe.

Ryanair is a low‐cost airline based in Ireland. The airline is named after one of its founders, an Irish businessman named Tony Ryan. It’s been in business since 1985, experienced rapid growth, went public in 1997 and used the money raised (by taking the company public) to expand its services across Europe.

The company was designed to be a low‐cost, no‐frills airline. As such, over the years, it has gained a rather questionable reputation among customers. The lengths that Ryanair go to in order to squeeze extra money from travellers are truly astonishing.

Examples are aplenty: you must show up in the airport with your boarding pass (by checking in online), otherwise you pay a fee—if I recall right, it’s about €70. No free baggage: must pay for each piece, online of course (otherwise you pay extra fee, about €100). The very act of checking in online costs money (about €6 per passenger). Basically, there is no way to check‐in without paying some fee.

Even water on board costs money.

This airline is the closest an airline can get to a “flying bus”. Their aircrafts’ seats don’t recline, and don’t have those pockets behind them—all to cut costs. What else do they do to cut costs? at some point, the company proposed removing two toilets in each aircraft in order to add more seats; asked for permission to redesign its aircrafts so passengers can fly while standing up; suggested charging money to use the toilets while on board; suggested charging extra fees from obese people; and even suggested that passengers should carry their own checked‐in luggage onto the airplane.

Customer service‐wise, this airline is known to be as terrible as an airline cat get.

How terrible?

in 2002, they refused to provide wheelchairs to disabled passengers. Once that got to the courts, the courts decided that the responsibility for wheelchairs should be joint between the airlines and the airports. The result? all fares went up by €0.50.

In 2012, they disallowed a 69 years old lady, suffering from colostomy, to bring her medical kit on board, even though she was carrying a document from her doctor explaining her condition. The airline’s staff forced the lady to lift her shirt up, in front of all other passengers, to prove that she had a colostomy bag.

What else? false or misleading advertising; allegations for carrying less than the minimum amount of fuel on the aircraft in order to cut costs; and the list goes on and on.

I was therefore partly curious and partly horrified. As this tour is nearing its end, my energy level is low and I have less patience towards idiots than I have ever had before. I dislike rude people with passion, and I started envisioning how this airline’s employees are going to make me finally lose my mind.

Fortunately, we were prepared. All documents printed beforehand, leaving nothing to chance. Checked in, then off to the security gates. Malta’s airport is small, and security clearance there can get very hectic: it was very crowded, but things went quick. Security cleared; no gate assignment yet, so it was time to sit down and unwind in a cafe somewhere.

It was comforting to realize that a large part of the band’s crew was also taking this flight. I could recognize most faces, and surprisingly, my face was recognized as well. It was comforting because of two reasons: for once, it always feels better to be in the vicinity of people who are familiar to you, even if you never actually talked to them; and for twice, well, without this crew, there is no concert: if the flight is cancelled or diverted or whatever, my best bet would be to simply head where these guys are going as they know best how to get to the next concert—they must be there.

Sat down in the cafe, gazing at nothing. Took my noise cancelling headphones out, put them on and activated them. I felt increasingly numb towards anything and anyone around me: my eyes were unfocused. Thought about everything and nothing at once. My brain was a mush. I’m pretty sure that, at some point, I was on the verge of collapsing: I didn’t eat well, I wasn’t rested, and the heat experienced earlier left me very frustrated.

It must have been the heat. I really, really can’t function well in insanely hot places.

Finally, gates for the flight were announced: “gate 8–10”. Sorry, what’s that? which gate? 8? 9? 10? all of the above?

Walked towards gates 8, 9 & 10. Only gate 8 was open, and there was already a line‐up to enter the gate’s area. Why line‐up? because your boarding pass needs to be checked before you enter the gate area, and passengers with carry‐on luggage must prove that their carry‐on luggage fits into a fixture made of metal poles, denoting the maximum size for a carry‐on luggage.

That took forever. Finally at the gate, now waiting for the bus. One bus arrived, all passengers started walking towards gate 8’s exit. The bus left, people continued to stand. And stand. And stand. 20 minutes, standing like idiots. Finally, another bus came, but stopped next to gate 10’s exit. Announcement over the speakers: the bus will now collect everyone from gate 10, not 8. That caused an uproar: unless you pay for priority boarding, there are no assigned seats. People who want to ensure being seated together must board the aircraft quickly in order to ensure getting two (or more) adjacent seats. I didn’t care at all about all of this, but others did.

Loaded onto a bus… here’s the airplane. Got an aisle seat, so did the Dutchman. People kept boarding the aircraft, getting very frustrated because they couldn’t sit next to whoever they wanted to sit.

I really don’t understand the big deal about it. For heaven’s sake, it’s a short flight—a little more than an hour; is it really that important to you to sit next to someone you know, that you will start asking people to move to other seats to accommodate your wish?

My hypothesis is that there is a strong correlation between one’s eagerness to sit next to someone they know, and their inability to keep their mouth shut for periods that span more than a few minutes.

(The issue is not about why people prefer to sit next to someone they know; that is obvious. The issue is about being so enthusiastic about it, and being so frustrated when they can’t get what they want.)

On‐board baggage mayhem, too. Suitcases were flying in the air, being shoved into, and pulled out of, overhead bins. I practiced being numb, and I think I made good progress.

Flight took off a bit late, but arrived on time. Nightmare is over; welcome to Pisa.

I have never been to Pisa before in my life. Also, other than the fact that this city features a leaning tower, prompting hundreds of thousands of people every year to pose to the camera as if they’re pushing or supporting the tower.

It was funny when it was done once, a long time ago, by someone who was obviously much more original than you are. Let’s move on, shall we.

Baggage collected, and headed to the arrivals hall. Arrangements were made with the B&B that was booked for the night, for an airport pick‐up. Exited through the arrivals hall’s door and looked for someone holding a sign with my name.

Found him: a simple looking guy, wearing shorts and a T‐shirt, as well as a partly shy, partly suspicious expression. Now out to the car. Walking through the parking lot, I was expecting to find some sort of a shuttle or a minivan, branded with the B&B’s name; instead, I was surprised when the driver stopped by a small black jeep.

OK, interesting. We started driving towards Pisa’s city center, chatting with the driver who was showing a great deal of interest in his passengers. Before I knew it, though, the ride was over: Pisa’s airport is unique for being extremely close to the city center.

It didn’t look like a street that I’d want to spend too many nights in: more like a rough area of town. Oh well, I wasn’t intending to do much in here anyway. Luggage collected from the car and the driver started walking towards a nearby building. At the building’s entrance, there stood a guy repeatedly pushing an intercom button.

The driver approached.

– “Can I help you?”

The guy turned to the driver and a dialogue started. It was a confused dialog, during which each side was trying to figure out what the other side wants—partly in English, and partly in Italian.

Then, all became clear. The driver wasn’t just a driver: it was the owner of the B&B. The intercom button that the other guy was pushing was the button to ring the B&B’s owner’s office. The B&B owner asked the new client to wait until he finishes checking us in.

Now: I wrote before, on a few occasions, about how I keep getting surprised with new things almost on a daily basis, even though I’ve been travelling a lot recently. How long, would you say, a check‐in process (to a hotel or a B&B) takes, assuming that the individual checking you in has 100% of their attention dedicated to you?

1 minute? 2 minutes?

Well, some sophisticated and luxurious 5 stars hotels may take 4–5 minutes: they have to pretend to be working hard for you, to justify their ridiculous nightly rates.

So this one took 45 minutes, and to your immense surprise, you won’t hear me complaining about it much because it was a very interesting experience. The B&B owner, Michele, is really just a simple nice guy, very talkative but very knowledgeable about many things. His passion is photography—those 45 minutes included a demonstration of some of his work—and, by the way he talked about Italy in general and Pisa in particular, you could easily tell that he loves his country.

Asked for a restaurant recommendation, and a reservation was made in a Tuscan restaurant in the city center. With that, came a recommendation for gelateria which is considered (according to the B&B owner) to be one of the top 5 gelaterias in Italy.

Occupancy wasn’t full, so we were upgraded to a mini‐suite with two bedrooms. Quickly arranged everything and headed out for dinner.

Pisa’s central railway station, conveniently located by the B&B, also marks the south end of Pisa’s city center. From there, it’s a short walk north to River Arno that flows through the city, offering excellent city scenery.


The restaurant, Antica Trattoria il Campano—a name by which name the B&B’s owner would be willing to swear—provided good food indeed but nothing out of the ordinary except for a brilliant home‐made pasta. Let’s face it: after that glorious dinner in Sicily just a few days ago, I can’t really see how that Sicilian restaurant’s record can be met, let alone broken, by the time the tour ends. Still, a good place. Go there, just don’t order the lamb chops: hardly any meat in them.

Backtracked a little bit to get my hands on some gelato from Gelateria De’ Coltelli. Here, the B&B’s owner was right on the spot: the place claims to use only natural, organic materials. Faced with a variety of closed cans with only labels (in Italian) on them, it was very hard to pick so I just picked two in random. Great. That’s a place to savour memories of.


Of course, no (first time) visit in Pisa would be complete without seeing a leaning tower of some sort. The countless pictures I had the chance to see of that tower somehow gave me the impression that we’re talking about a very tall one; looking around me from the city center, I could see no tower at all. Fired up Google Maps, only to find out that it’s merely five minutes walk away.

OK… started walking through dark narrow streets, turned here, turned there… looking above me… no tower. Then, finally, it appeared as if out of nowhere.


Appears much smaller in reality than what I had imagined. It is indeed beautiful, and brilliantly lit at night time.

One of the things that annoys me the most in wide lens cameras is the phenomenon of lens distortion. Finally, I found a good use for this annoyance: taking one photograph showing as if the tower leans much more than it really does…


… and one showing as if it hardly leans at all.


Here’s one taken without any lens distortion, taken from the side to which the tower leans—giving the impression that the tower doesn’t lean at all:


A corresponding Facebook post evolved into a few failed guesses, plus me being scalded for not appreciating the tower for its touristic value.

Even at night time, the place was full of tourists. The usual tourist‐oriented kitsch—all sorts of shady merchants selling the usual souvenirs, trick spiders and other toys. Headed back to the hotel, and discovered a good opportunity for a long exposure shot.


The next day was scheduled to involve an extremely easy ride: 27 minutes train ride to Lucca. Good night sleep, no alarm clock set.

July 19: somehow, woke up early but fresh. The B&B’s breakfast ends at 9:30am. That being consumed, it was decided to bid Pisa adieu and head to Lucca. Frankly, except for that tower and its beautiful surrounding buildings, I wasn’t planning on seeing much in Pisa anyway: Lucca seemed much more interesting.

The train ride from Pisa to Lucca takes 27 minutes, offering very good scenery. Tuscany is gorgeous, as I can vividly remember from the last time I was here, 3 years ago. Green mountains, lakes, the works.

After an excruciating 27 minutes ride, arrived to Lucca’s central railway station.

I have been to Lucca before, during the 2010 Get Lucky tour. Back then, I was driven around Italy by the two wonderful Italian sisters, Daria and Valeria, who helped making that Italian leg of the tour so memorable. Still, in 2010, we only visited Lucca for the concert (arrived by car) and left right after, so I didn’t get much time to look around. This time around, though, a hotel was booked in Lucca’s city center, providing plenty of time for sightseeing.

A few minutes walk from Lucca’s central railway station, there’s one of the main entrances to Lucca’s old city area. Lucca’s old city area is surrounded by its famous walls, left intact since the Renaissance era: once you pass through a nice little garden informing you that the Lucca Summer Festival is taking place…


… you enter through the ancient wall into the old city, and immediately feel history all around you. This place is very beautiful, and despite the numerous tourists around, I wouldn’t say that it looks or feels like a complete tourist trap: Lucca’s old city area definitely has character.

It was still early in the morning (around 11:00am), but surprisingly, the hotel room in Hotel La Luna, located right in the old city’s center, was ready. Went to the room, quick set up and, for a few hours, did almost nothing but writing.

Once I was done uploading the previous post, I decided to go outside for a walk. Lucca’s old city center is very small, and you can cover it all within a day; I decided to head north, climb on the ancient wall and just walk on it.

Walked through the city center…


… until I arrived at the wall, about five minutes later. You can climb up the thick, few meters wide wall in many locations around the perimeter, and the walk along the wall is a rewarding one: you get to see Lucca’s old city center, as well as other neighbourhoods, along with some mountains in the back and lots, lots of green.


For the first time in quite a while, I decided to do that walk while listening to music. Nothing Knopfler, of course: I get 2 hours of Knopfler’s music on an almost nightly basis. Bob Dylan’s Tempest did the trick very well. Beautiful album.


Reached the southern tip of the old city center, climbed down and walked back to the hotel.


Having learned the lesson from the previous few concerts, when the announced start time didn’t correspond much with reality, I decided to go pick up the tickets as soon as the box office opens. The venue, Piazza Napoleone, is a square in the heart of Lucca’s old city center, and is where concerts are performed during the Lucca Summer Festival. I arrived to the Piazza just a few moments before they closed the entire area: I have no idea why they were doing this, but apparently, the entire Piazza Napoleone area is being evicted of people about 3 hours before concerts start, and you can only enter the area once again once the event’s “door opening time” arrives. Then, once you enter the Piazza, you can’t leave and come back anymore.

That’s very odd, for a venue that is actually a square and is located in the very heart of the city. The question then became how the hell was I supposed to go back to my hotel once I pick up my tickets? the answer: extra ten minutes walk around the entire Piazza area.

I am willing to bet that there is no Italian translation to the word “efficiency”. No reason to have one: they never employ it anyway.

Tickets collected, back to the hotel to rest. About an hour before the concert, left once again for a pre‐concert snack. A tasty fruit crepe hit the spot well, then off to the Piazza, waiting in line to get in.

I remember that, last time I was here in 2010, entering the venue was a huge mess: it was then when I realized how inefficiently things work in this country and how Italians simply can’t let go of this inefficiency (they apparently need it in order to survive). This time, it was less of a mess because we entered the venue about 20 minutes before the concert’s start time. As the concert time approached, though, a significant number of people were crowded against the entrance. Of course, not all people made it into the seated area by the time the concert started, resulting in people crossing the venue almost half way into the concert!

Some bizarre, nasty incident took place at the beginning. Like in every concert, a few professional photographers (employed by the press, or the promoter, or whatever) were allowed access to the narrow gap between the stage and the fence separating the audience from the stage, to take photographs. As usual, Peter Mackay was in charge of guiding the photographers through and instructing them where exactly they should be standing (or, more precisely, where exactly they should not be standing. Such restrictions, I believe, are imposed by Mark and the band, and are not to the venue’s discretion).

One particular photographer, though, didn’t quite subscribe to the idea of following these rules. While all other photographers obliged and seemed to be content with these restrictions, this particular low‐life scum decided that it wasn’t enough for him: he wanted more. He started getting into an argument with Peter, who tried to explain to the photographer that he (Peter) was simply doing his job. That explanation didn’t bode well with the rogue camera man, who proceeded to shout, yell, curse and throw the middle finger repeatedly at Peter.

How Peter was able to maintain his cool through all of that is beyond me, but he did. Peter is there in each and every concert, and I get to see him more often than not, dealing with all sorts of annoyances—primarily demanding that people respect the band’s photographing and video‐shooting policies. No matter where you are, there’s always that punk who just needs to use the flash while taking a picture; and there’s always that guy who just has to raise his tablet up and record the show, obstructing others’ view. To me and you, these are annoyances; but it’s Peter’s job to actually deal with it. Not sure how long I could have kept my cool being in Peter’s shoes: he must have a much higher tolerance to idiots than I do.

The concert itself was very good, featuring a shorter set. That seems to align with the last tour, as the set became shorter as the tour was nearing its end. Strong cheers from the audience who appeared to have appreciated the show. A Running of the Bulls session triggered before Telegraph Road ended up with people being sent back to their seats, only to perform a more vicious run later. The guy seated next to me simply sprang on his feet and ran amok towards the stage. I waited until the mess was all over before getting up and marching forward.

Good encore, during which I was able to capture a photograph of a moron recording the encore using his tablet.


Hey, moron, if you’re reading this—please don’t procreate. We’re backed up with idiots already.

Concert was over—took a long while before the lights turned on once the band left—and the march back towards the hotel began. A five minutes walk turned into a 15–20 minutes walk due to the fact that the Piazza is located right at the city center and everybody was leaving the venue at once, often choosing to stand and chat with their friends along the way, creating traffic jams.

Back to the hotel for a short night sleep, facing a long travel day the next morning. Wake up time: 5:30am.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Zürich. Will head out for dinner and then to the show: should be a beautiful venue tonight.



  1. Great places to visit but I am not sure I would like to go to these concerts. Are there times when you wish you had stayed away from any concert Isaac. All the hassle with the crowd behaving liked hot arsed flies would annoy me. There is only one way to deal with non compliant people and basically it comes down to playing chicken.

  2. I wouldn't go as far as "any concert", but certainly, obnoxious audiences can and do turn concert experiences into nightmares. I am very disappointed in that regards. In the 2010 tour, still there were lots of morons in the audience, but rudeness and inconsideration seem to have gone up a notch or two since then. Really, there isn't much you can do to combat them. I'm sure that the band and the tour management are doing whatever they can, but at the end of the day, staff may be able to cope with 1, 2 or 10 incidents - not 200. You can't even say anything to such morons, lest one of them turns out to be a hotheaded lunatic that will start going violent.

    Audiences in this tour seem to be more obnoxious than in previous tours, at least in Europe. Shame that it's even hard to enjoy concerts nowadays.

    1. Thanks for the advice. I will stay away from these events.

  3. Reading your Malta experience again I just can say again it's a shame you didn't visit Gozo. You'd have been surprised...
    And why sleep into the day when having a chance to see so many different cultures?

    Oh, and about the morons at concerts:
    they have not increased; there are just more as the audiences grow larger (again - like in the DS era) plus, your tolerance level goes down (which is understandable) plus your awareness increases as your concentration to the music decreases...


    1. well,and the availability of "devices" (tablets, phones) has increased, too... :(

  4. Hello Issac,

    This is Vijay, the guy from North Carolina you met in Padova and then again in Naples. We split up in Naples when you, Jeroen and the Swiss guys got into another cab. Just wanted to thank you for writing this daily report, which I know isn't easy given the challenges of constant travel. Jeroen and you are helping folks like me live the dream through your adventure.

    I'm back home after my 3 concerts in Italy and am quite envious of your "life on the road". See, I am a nomad at heart and dream of being completely footloose and fancy free, ideally on a motorcycle! Not possible right now since i have a wife and 2 kids to feed, but hopefully at some point in the next 20 years when I have fulfilled all my worldly responsibilities. Nothing better than exploring this beautiful planet and "sharing some brotherhood of man"....

    Take care, almost done withthe tour now...