It’s been a couple of days without a blog post as I recently realized that my time is running out for planning the Spain / Switzerland part of my trip, so I devoted all of yesterday (June 21) for that.
I know, I know; I know you missed me and I am terribly sorry. Rest assured that I missed (most of) you too.
So… Lets see.
As travel so far in Germany has been a breeze—short train rides every day—the ride from Leipzig to Köln (mainly known by the name Cologne outside of Europe) presented a step‐up in train‐ride aggravation: I had to take two trains, for a total riding time of about 5 hours. Oh, did I become spoiled or what. Only a week or so before, I was taking a night train to Denmark, 9 hours in the train with a snoring old lady, and now I find it appropriate to complain about the need to switch a train.
Originally, I had planned to spend three nights in Köln: the night of the show, the night after (day off) and the one after that (ride to Köln right after the Oberhausen concert as Köln is south of Oberhausen—perfect for the day after when I have to proceed to Mannheim. Sounds complex, huh. I know it is. Nothing is simple in this world any more). However, about a week ago, Ingrid has suggested that I drive back home with her to The Netherlands after the Köln show, spend the day off at her house and drive with her to Oberhausen (June 22) and continue from there. Very kind of her—of course I said yes. The revised plan was, then, to take the train to Köln, find Ingrid at the venue, put the backpack at the trunk of her car and—from there on—succumb to whatever Ingrid wanted to see or do as I was completely in her hands.
For some reason I can only attribute to spending a bit too much time with Miriam, I set the alarm clock to 8:00am so I can take the 9:11am train to Köln, arriving at around 2:00pm. The concert start time: 8:00pm. Distance between the main train station in Köln to the venue: 30 minutes walk, or one subway ride.
Sounds excessive, doesn’t it? I KNOW IT DOES, and that’s exactly what I thought to myself once I opened my eyes to the sound of Eddie Vedder’s “Rise” (from “Into the Wild”’s soundtrack; set as my alarm‐clock tune). Screw you Eddie, I don’t wanna rise; I wanna sleep. I was dead tired, and the Marriott’s beds are so, so, so, so comfortable…
Got up, fetched my toothbrush and toothpaste, entered the bathroom. Saw myself in the mirror; unpleasant. Toothpaste on the toothbrush. Another look at myself.
Screw it. Left everything as it was, back to my BlackBerry to find an alternate train. It seemed that leaving at 11:15am (three hours later) would result in me being in Köln at 5:00pm—still way more than enough time.
Another two hours of sleep… Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Ah. Woke up at 10:00am (two hours later) ready to conquer the world.
Back to my sandwich diet as I grabbed a mediocre sandwich at the train station along with some questionable, rebelliously‐bitter cappuccino. Half an hour later, I boarded the ICE train en route to Frankfurt’s airport, where I was supposed to change trains to Köln.
Boarding the first‐class cabin, a young blonde, blue‐eyed woman boarded right before me and chose the seat that was behind me. She looked at her luggage with a fair amount of hopelessness as there was no way her petit figure would be able to pick it up and place it above the seat.
She stared at me.
– “You probably need help with that, don’t you?”, I said.
– “Yes, please, could you? But be careful, it’s heavy.”
It was as heavy as a hockey bag filled with cotton balls.
Huge smile. “Thank you very much!”.
(I didn’t just tell you this story for nothing. Read on)
Tiredness attacked me a few times during the long three‐hours train ride to Frankfurt; hunger, too. In between eating and trying to fall asleep, I decided to check the real‐time train information of the train I was on. You know, just to see really where I am at the moment, what’s the next stop going to be, any scheduled delays…
“Frankfurt(M) Flughafen: Stop cancelled” (Flughafen = airport).
OK now you have to be kidding me. I could not rest anymore until I grabbed the attention of one of the train’s staff members, who kindly explained to me that, due to technical problems, the train will stop at a section of the airport that is intended for regional trains, instead of the usual section it stops at, which is intended for long distance trains.
Do you understand what I am saying here? I knew that Frankfurt’s airport has trains going out of it to pretty much anywhere you want in Europe. What I didn’t know was that there are actually two train stations there—one for long‐distance trains and one for regional ones. And the reason I’m amazed is that I still cannot understand how come the Europeans (and especially the Germans) have got public train transport light‐years ahead of North America. It is so, so frustrating. Trains coming into and out of Toronto’s Pearson airport… oh, what a dream.
Time to leave the train, and that lady looks up again, at her luggage, not knowing what to do with it.
– “… You probably need some help getting this down, don’t you?”, I said.
Again a big smile, of the ones that allow pretty ladies to get away with pretty much anything. So, I helped. Leaving the train together, I asked her if she knew where she was going.
– “I don’t know what terminal I have to go to… which terminal are you going to? where are you flying to?”, she asked.
– “Oh, I’m not flying anywhere. I’m taking a train to Köln. I have to go now, my train leaves in about 8 minutes.”
She stared, with a disappointed look on her face.
And there we stood, on the platform, for about ten seconds looking at each other and saying absolutely nothing; and the reason I’m mentioning it is because there was something very powerful going on in the air during those ten seconds. The air felt so thick you could cut it with a knife. Certainly not the typical casual farewell between two strangers that had previously said two or three sentences at most to each other.
When they say that 90% or so of human communication is non‐verbal, they’re wrong; make it 97% or 98%. Something in the eyes; the smile; the facial expression; the body language; ten seconds of no word spoken but tons of messages passed. Amazing how ten speechless, action‐less seconds can be so substantial.
I know you probably wished to hear a different ending for this story. Sorry, though; time was pressing, I shook her hand goodbye and left towards the long‐distance train station, about 3–4 minutes walk away.
The train ride to Köln was short—one hour—and uneventful. I have visited Köln’s main train station a few times already, once even prior to the Get Lucky tour so at least I knew where I was going.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last little while, you probably are aware of the fact that the FIFA World Cup games are taking place these days in South‐Africa. In Berlin, a couple of days prior, I watched quite a few Germans cheering for their team as it was losing 1:0 to Serbia; while I was at Köln’s train station, it was Italy playing against New‐Zealand. New‐Zealand was leading 1:0 and scores of people watched the games at the train station.
You’re probably asking yourself what does it mean “watching the game at the train station”. Well, the deal is this: if you own a food‐related business in the train station—be it a restaurant, a food‐stand, a juice‐stand, even a chocolate store—you are bound to lose customers during World Cup days if you don’t place at least one LCD screen in the area, for the simple reason that people prefer a place that does offer one. Everybody and their sister wants to watch the game, and if your fancy restaurant doesn’t provide the masses with the means to watch it—you’re going to be spending time in your restaurant by yourself.
The end result: TV’s are everywhere, and people are wherever TV’s are.
Sat down for an early dinner in some restaurant, watched the game and had a very disappointing meal of grilled chicken‐breast with other unidentifiable substances around it. That was one poor chicken. After that, went to book a sleeper train for my ride back from Budapest to Munich at the beginning of July. Had more time to kill, so I did it while sipping coffee at Segafredo. The small coffee‐shop had Italy’s flags all over it; the barista was a young Italian woman who watched the game even while making coffee; a few other individuals wearing blue shirts and speaking Italian were watching the game—I am inclined to believe they were cheering for Italy.
By that time, Italy scored and the result was 1:1. Watching the boring game, I finished my coffee and decided to make my way towards the Venue. Exiting the train station, I saw a nice cathedral that was under construction but still worth a picture.
The Lanxess Arena is within walking distance (about 25–30 minutes) from Köln’s main train station; once I started to walk, I realized that my right ankle is still in pain and retraced my steps. Getting very frustrated as I realized that my phone couldn’t get adequate 3G data connection in Köln, I boarded the S‐Bahn train with a terrible headache. One stop later, left the train and started making my way to the arena—and since my phone’s GPS was dysfunctional, I relied on a few signs I saw along the way. That turned a 5 minutes walk into 15.
At the end, finally, I found Ingrid, sitting with a few other fans, at a restaurant just facing the venue. I was relieved. A drink and a chat later, we went to her car so I can place my backpack there, then went into the venue.
The Lanxess Arena (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanxess_Arena) used to be called Kölnarena, until a sponsorship agreement with Lanxess prompted a temporary name change for the arena, for the period of ten years. It is used for music as well as sports, particularly handball and ice hockey.
Two readers of this blog, who introduced themselves to me prior to the concert (I am terrible with names), claimed that the Lanxess Arena is of the larger arenas hosting the Get Lucky tour.
20 minutes left for the beginning of the concert, and I sunk into my seat (somewhere near the dead centre of the front row), closed my eyes for a bit while sipping some water, trying to push the headache away. The concert started at 8:00pm, as planned.
At the previous concert, in Leipzig, it took Mark a few songs to warm up—something didn’t seem to quite “work” for him, be it during to tiredness, or pain, or some other reason.
That wasn’t the case at the Köln concert as it was a tip‐top concert start to finish. The sound wasn’t fantastic—this is quite a big hall—but still very much enjoyable. I’m not sure whether the event sold out or not, but still this is a huge arena and I’m sure that attendance in that concert was pretty high.
Not the quietest audience, either. Massive roars after several songs, especially Sultans of Swing and Telegraph Road. Once Speedway to Nazareth ended, I immediately blocked my poor ears as I knew what was coming; even with my ears blocked, the roar was approaching the “unbearable” mark.
Identical setlist to the one that was played in Leipzig, and it seems that The Fish and the Bird finally found a place to build a home in—right after Marbletown—and they aren’t going to roam anywhere.
Other than great music and massive audience, there wasn’t much out of the ordinary here; I was happy to see Mark in good shape again.
The show ended at 10:20pm.
Ingrid, myself and a few other fans found ourselves walking the streets of Köln looking for a place to have some food and drinks. That was also a good way to pass the time until the millions of people leave the venue with their cars—so instead of waiting standing‐still in the parking lot, why not enjoy life for a bit.
We all went to a Mexican restaurant nearby for about an hour. Good food—a bit pricey, but good—and I was way too full to remain conscious. Walk back to the car, and we started driving. That is—Ingrid started driving and I started counting down the minutes I have left to live.
Once we left Köln and arrived at the freeway, it was really interesting to see the traffic sign implying “no speed limit”. Ingrid’s car is a Peugeot 308CC—a 2‐seater convertible; obviously we had the roof up as it was too cold to drive convertibly at the immense speed of 170 km/h (that’s a bit over 100 mph).
Staring at the road watching it moving way quicker than I’m accustomed to, I realized how perfect those highways are. Clear, smooth… why really have a speed limit here? At certain sections, some limit is imposed but it’s usually 120–130 km/h.
Frustrating, isn’t it. Back in Canada we have endless highways (example: highway 401 from Windsor in south‐western Ontario all the way east to Cornwall, at the Ontario‐Québec border; that’s just under 900km of one highway) which are limited to 100 km/h. And here in Germany—a significantly smaller country—Ze Germans can arrive from point A to point B much, much faster.
The ride was… well… quick, until we crossed the invisible border to The Netherlands and Ingrid had to start behaving herself again (she didn’t). Another 30 minutes drive and we arrived at her house in Goirle, a tiny village near the border with Belgium.
A quick tour around the house at around 2:00am; exhausted, I went to bed and slept like a brick.
Not much to say about the day off (June 21) in Goirle. Other than sleeping, I dedicated most of my day to planning the rest of the trip—Switzerland and Spain now being a serious pain in the ass. In between, a good lunch in a restaurant named Mozes in Goirle’s centre area (which is not much more than a couple of blocks long & wide). At the evening, I had the pleasure to meet with Johann (please don’t kill me if I didn’t spell it correctly, Ingrid; there are a thousand ways to spell this name), Ingrid’s boyfriend. For dinner, we had a fabulous Chinese food at a nearby restaurant, then some drinks and back home to continue planning.
Rather uneventful day; that means success. I really needed the rest.
All the best,