Writing: on board ICE 15 from Liége‐Guillemins to Frankfurt. First class seat in a cabin featuring a few over‐talkative humanoids.
Oh Lord, the rush.
Before sitting down in a cafe to finish the previous post, I went to the ticketing office in Brussels‐Nord to do some train reservations for trains that require it. The attendant was amazed when I asked her to book trains for mid‐July; I guess it’s quite an uncommon practice. But hey, better do it when I’m in better control of time, and while seats are available.
Shortly after finishing writing the previous post, I made my way to the platform from which the ICE 15 train was supposed to depart. I had 15 minutes to kill so I killed them by doing absolutely nothing. The sign on the platform read “12:33 Frankfurt—=ICE=”, and I was happy.
The train arrived at 12:35pm and I boarded it. Took the first class cabin and was happy to be moving again.
Along comes the ticket man. He verified my train pass, said “thank you” and was about to go.
I don’t know what it was that made me do it—divine intervention, perhaps?—but I did it.
– “This is the train to Frankfurt, right?”
He looked at me with big, bright green eyes.
Now, let me set it straight for you guys. The ICE train sometimes reaches 280 km/h, and still I was going to have a 3 hours ride in it, arriving at Frankfurt on 3:40pm. Not a very lax schedule, if I may suggest. And receiving a “No” as a reply to such an innocent question, at this time, is unpleasant at best. I have heard many “No”’s in my life—yes, from women too—yet that particular “No” was of the hardest ones to hear.
I was waiting for this guy to smile and say “I’m just kidding”.
I waited a few more microseconds.
… No, this guy isn’t likely to smile any time soon.
Turns out that, about one minute before the ICE train was supposed to enter the platform, there was a platform change announcement. Alas, the announcement was broadcasted in French / Flemish / Dutch / whatever it is they speak in Belgium—no language that I can understand, at least. Two minutes later, a different train arrived at that platform—the train that I accidentally boarded.
The attendant said that I’ll have to change trains in Liége‐Guillemins, as the ICE train (which I had missed) stops there too. Fantastic, except for the fact that the ICE train travels faster than the train I’m in, and only God almighty knows which platform it departs from.
The next 40 minutes were spent doing all bunch of calculations (using the Deutsche‐Bahn BlackBerry application) for alternative routes. The only other feasible alternative was a route that involved 3 (!) changes, making it to Frankfurt two hours later than originally planned.
I decided to not give up, and do the best I can to locate the ICE train in Liége‐Guillemins, hoping it had a delay or something.
I grew even more anxious once I realized that the train I’m on is actually lagging behind. As soon as the train stopped, I came flying out of the door, determined to find the ICE.
And I did! Ha. Turned out it had a delay of about 15 minutes, and it was scheduled to depart from a platform very close to where I was. Upon arriving at the platform, I chatted with someone who verified that I’m at the right place. A minute later, another platform change has been announced and people started leaving the platform. No‐brainer… I found it easily.
The guy I chatted with before was a bit concerned as he had some tight connections he had to make. I offered my BlackBerry’s help and helped him plan alternative routes. You give some, you get some… Karma. I was happy to help.
At the moment, I have my ass parked on a comfy seat in an almost‐full first class car on board the ICE.
Travel tip for a EURail pass holder: while ICE reservations are generally not compulsory, they are compulsory for International ICE trains.
A couple of hours or so left, and I’ll be in Frankfurt. I’ll set an alarm clock (just in case; I believe though, that this train terminates in Frankfurt) and try to take a nap.
Oh, by the way… I promised to take some shots of Antwerp’s central train station… Here they are. Only two. Sorry. I was starving and looking for food.
Writing: 2:54pm, still on board ICE 15 en route to Frankfurt.
So no, I didn’t take a nap. I chose instead to reply to a few emails that were left behind, unfortunately, due to travel planning taking first priority. Also, I just finished consuming a tasty sandwich and great latte on board (first‐class travelers on ICE trains don’t even have to go to the on‐board kiosk… meals are served at your seat).
Whoever has travelled before is probably familiar with the situation of being hungry while flying / riding a train, and being enraged by the stupidly high prices. For me, it also didn’t make much sense to pay €7 for a sandwich and a latte.
But then, I came to think about it a bit further. There’s another angle to this topic which is often neglected: the angle of time.
Riding a train, flying and other activities during which you are doing nothing productive while waiting for something to happen (for example, the train to arrive at its destination)—these are all lead to what I can only call a waste of time.
In a capitalist environment, the poorest can (theoretically) become the richest, but nothing can turn time backwards. It only logically follows, then, that time is the most precious resource one has. It is limited (gee, Adam & Eve, thanks for that), and no amount of money can ever buy you more.
Sounds a bit dramatic? perhaps it does. But the more you think about it, the clearer it becomes: doesn’t matter what your profession is; doesn’t matter what you do in your spare time; doesn’t matter what you believe in, who you love, who you hate, who you are; your time is your most expensive resource.
(A little strange to write such an introduction for a short paragraph about buying food whilst riding a train, I know… but hey, I am not editing a book so work with me here.)
Buying food on a train / airplane costs more not just because competition is low (you can’t just go out and buy whatever food you feel like from whomever you feel like buying from) but also because you’re effectively “buying time”. You turn wasted time into productive time; once you leave the train, you need not spend additional time looking for a restaurant, ordering food and eating.
In essence, when ordering a sandwich & a latte for €7 whilst riding the train—a combination that would cost you €4 once you depart—ask yourself whether the €3 difference is an adequate price for the 30 minutes or so that it would take you to find a restaurant, order, eat, pay and leave.
So… how much money does your time worth? 99.9% of the people I know are smart enough to assign monetary value to everything (“come on… an i‐Pad for $400? no way”), except for their most precious resource—their own time. If I ask you now to sit down, close your eyes and do absolutely nothing for two hours—for payment, of course—what is the minimum payment you would accept?
Of course, none of this is relevant for people who have lots of spare time on their hands (as well as full stomachs). However, for those who are constantly striving to do, create, improve something—“spare time” is an extremely elusive term (for me, it doesn’t really exist). There’s always something interesting & useful to do.
Gee, I need a vacation.
Writing: on board ICE 1026 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Koblenz, en route to Luxembourg. Very fast train and I’m at a window seat. Through the window, thousands of acres of green hills. Just 10 minutes ago, we crossed a bridge offering magnificent views.
Finally arrived at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (I’ll make it simpler for you: Frankfurt’s main train station) at around 4:00pm. I was very happy that I made it to Frankfurt after the immense stress following the train mix‐up…
Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof is not new to me. I have been to Frankfurt before, but it was never due to Frankfurt being my destination; Frankfurt is a major air and ground transportation hub in Europe. Sometimes, when Air Canada attempts screwing me over a roundtrip flight ticket for a visit home, I fly with Lufthansa—sometimes spending a night in Frankfurt. Coming back from a visit home last year, I extended the 3‐hours layover time in Frankfurt to 3 days, and took the train to Jeroen’s place for a short visit.
So… I’ve been here before and therefore didn’t feel quite like a complete stranger.
The Hauptbahnhof is a brilliant train station, very well organized, very spacious. Pleasure to be here. Everything is there—dining opportunities, a major Deutsche‐Bahn ticketing office, subways that go everywhere… you can’t get lost.
The first thing I did in the train station was to go to Deutsche‐Bahn’s ticketing office in order to reserve all of the train connections for which seat reservations are required—up to mid‐July (I’m still clueless about Spain… I guess renting a car is my only option, as much as I don’t like it). A superbly‐courteous attendant spent about 15 minutes with me while I went through the list of train rides I need a reserved seat for. Fantastic.
(If only I knew back then that I could do this all by myself using the automated machines outside, I would have saved people in line some precious time… sorry)
The feeling of having everything booked ahead of time is indescribably relaxing. Save for a few hotels, I have everything planned out (somebody please help with Oslo!). I feel better and better about the possibility of using the non‐travel and non‐concert times for sight‐seeing.
My hotel, Hotel Excelsior, was located right across the street from the main train station. Can it be more convenient than that? Of course it can’t. Tourism in Germany must be in bad shape now as I somehow got a single room, free mini‐bar, free Internet, free breakfast, free everything for about €55.
The sense of accomplishment often inspires people to do more, get more done (perhaps logically; the sense of failure, on the other hand, makes most people give up and do nothing), so I decided to resolve another issue—mobile broadband USB stick for Germany, as I will be spending a total of over a week in Germany so having mobile broadband access makes sense (otherwise, how else would you be receiving these blog posts on time?).
The main shopping strip in Frankfurt is two subway stations away from the central station. Within an hour, I managed to do a price comparison of all available options. Tip: just go to Saturn, which is a huge store offering all sorts of electronics, including representatives of all major mobile phone providers. You can get deals there that are very hard to get anywhere else. For €29, I got the USB stick including 5 vouchers 24‐hours surfing time.
Back at the central station, then to the hotel to store the package I bought and off I went to the venue. A short stop at the central station for a sandwich, then took the tram to Festhalle.
The Festhalle (pronunciation: Fest‐Haal‐Le) is located about 700m away from the main train station and is a part of the exhibition centre. For the concert, the Festhalle was arranged as a seated venue.
Contrary to the venue used for the night before in Antwerp, the Festhalle—the reception area, the bar, the hall itself—is very spacious and comfortable. Upon entering, you find yourself next to a pleasant cafe‐bar (good latte’s here), with plenty of seating space stretched along the wall.
Had the latte and decided to head to the hall itself. There began a walk as long as the one taken by my ancient forefathers (according to some beliefs) on their way from Egypt to a place in which pyramids need not be built.
Long, yes, but still pleasant.
Went to check out the concert hall. My seat—block D, front row, a few seats from the centre (the very centre of the stage faces a wide aisle). A great opportunity to learn some techniques from Richard Bennett.
The concert hall is not too bad on the eyes. The ceiling is very high, and the hall is rather long, which gives the Festhalle a seriously bad reputation when it comes to acoustics.
Shortly after, the hall started filling up with people.
Miriam appeared as if out of nowhere a few minutes later, accompanied by her mother and a friend of her who goes by the name Mark.
Miriam is a serious fan… oh, right, she also likes Mark Knopfler. :-)
(OK I’m kidding, stop throwing sharp objects at me)
Had a nice chat with the trio, as well as a few readers of this blog who were kind enough to come up and introduce themselves—as always, pleasure to meet you and thank you for your support!
The concert started a few minutes past 8:00pm, the band being received to the roaring sound of a joyful audience.
Albeit a little warm, the temperature & humidity conditions at the Festhalle weren’t as bad as last night’s experience in Antwerp. The band members didn’t appear to be sweating as much. It’s interesting to notice, though, that these guys play great regardless of weather conditions; the concert in Frankfurt was just as good as the one in Antwerp.
Mark tends to not talk much to the audience in countries where English isn’t very widely spoken—so I’ve heard. That aligned well with yesterday’s extremely short introduction of the band members. A few words in German also found their way into Mark’s speech.
It was also the first time ever that I witness Mark announce the name of the song he’s going to play before playing it (Monteleone doesn’t count, as it follows a short introduction speech). That happened before playing Prairie Wedding.
The sound at the Festhalle, known to be problematic, wasn’t perfect but not as bad as I imagined. For example, the concert in Seattle (the first one in this tour) was worse. There was some echo, but nothing that can actually ruin a show. Seated at the mid‐right side of the stage, at the front row, there was a problem with the sound’s balance (some instruments weren’t as loud as they should have been, comparing to other instruments) but that’s almost unavoidable when one sits at the front and to the side—in a venue that has acoustic issues to begin with.
Beautiful performance of Sailing to Philadelphia at the Festhalle. Romeo and Juliet was a gem, making the audience applaud the band for more than 3 minutes (!) afterwards.
I never performed on stage in my life but it doesn’t take a genius to know that the band keeps itself in sync using certain gestures and other pre‐determined means such as bar‐counting. I mentioned before how hard it is to recover from synchronization problems… and apparently there were a few incidents last night when some signals apparently didn’t make it to all band members, thus requiring them to use interesting manoeuvres to recover. The end result: nobody except the pickiest of pickies noticed anything.
The highlight of the concert was (again) Marbletown. This time I could notice more involvement than usual on Matt’s behalf; trust me on this one—piano works wonderfully for the Marbletown jam‐session. I don’t know if I interpreted Matt’s expression correctly but, at some point, he appeared to be looking at Mark (while Mark was looking at him) as if to say “you’re not serious, you want me to play now?”. And he did; and it was beautiful.
(He used both hands, though. I guess they ran out of apples there :-))
And there we had the band creating a soulful, brilliant mini‐song during the Marbletown jam‐session. I rarely spring into standing ovation right after a song is done playing with a huge smile on my face—yet yesterday’s Marbletown genuinely deserved it.
The setlist has returned to normal with Piper to the End sealing the show. Also, for the first time since Mark’s injury, the band did take a short pause off‐stage (during the encore, rather than prior to it).
Looking at the audience, it didn’t quite look like the audience that will charge the stage prior to the encore; but it did. As a matter of fact, it did it earlier than usual—Telegraph Road had a minute or so left to play when people just rushed towards the stage. However, by what I’ve seen, the rush wasn’t as violent as it was at the Royal Albert Hall. I walked quite pleasantly and found myself right behind Ingrid & Miriam who were glued to the stage.
Shortly after, some security personnel came by and tried to create a buffer zone between the audience and the stage, gaining absolutely no success at all. What was it good for? I have no clue; however, horror stories I had heard about past concerts in Germany made me completely unsurprised when I noticed the security staff doing whatever they were doing (venues in Germany are known to be relatively strict in enforcing somewhat meaningless “stage order” practices).
The concert ended at 10:20pm or so; took about 15 minutes to walk outside the venue as human traffic was high.
Outside, I bid Miriam, her mother and Mark goodbye and went to a nearby Italian restaurant—Cucina Mediterraneo—just facing the Festhalle. Ingrid & Martina joined a few minutes later; I was starving, they were thirsty so it worked out well.
The restaurant has a very nice patio. Weather was perfect but, too bad, there was no available table at the patio.
Ingrid to the rescue again. At first I didn’t know what she was doing but, within a minute, she grabbed three chairs from tables that had extra chairs to them, ordered them in a small circle right at the middle of the patio and ordered us to sit down.
So there we were, sitting in the patio, with no table. A waitress came by to ask us what we want, and appeared to be completely thrown off her balance once she realized we have no table.
“The table disappeared”, I tried to explain. It didn’t work. A short discussion between Ingrid and the waitress (in German) revealed the fact that, since we don’t actually have a table, she cannot possibly serve us, not even drinks (probably because the restaurant’s ordering system has to assign a bill to an actual table number). Apparently, not a surprising occurrence as the Germans aren’t really well known for their willingness to deviate from rules.
Drinks for the ladies, and a pizza for me. We spent about an hour there talking about all sorts of things; bid them both goodbye, paid the bill and I was set on my way back to the hotel.
Some pictures from the 700m walk back to the hotel:
(The last picture shows the front of the Hauptbahnhof, at night)
Back at the hotel, a few arrangements for the next day (today) and I went to bed.
Finishing this post as the train arrives at Trier; from here, I’m supposed to take a connecting train to Luxembourg.