Writing: June 27, my hotel room in “Falkensteiner Hotel Maria Prague”. Beautiful day outside and I’m stuck in my room blogging and doing travel planning.
How are you? Welcome back.
Writing: June 27, 4:10pm at “Coffee Heaven”, a cafe at the old city of Prague.
I really wanted to write something this morning at my hotel room (see above) but I just couldn’t concentrate as future travel plans keep on annoying me. Thanks to Julio, Spain looks clear now (thanks Julio! will do the bookings over the next couple of days) and the biggest problem now is what to do with the Montreux–Locarno–Würzburg sequence, as train travel between the three cities is WAY too complex to be successful. I’m looking for a place to serve as a “hub”, from which I can do a day trip to Montreux, another one to Locarno and then take an easy train ride to Würzburg.
(Daniel & Jacqueline… lets talk in Vienna!)
The best thing would be if I could catch a ride with someone after the Locarno concert back to Milano’s airport: that would solve pretty much my entire problem as I can fly from Milano to Frankfurt for very, very cheap.
Writing: June 27, 7:00pm while laying on my bed on board CityNightLine 456 en route to Amsterdam.
ANYWAY. Sorry for the interruptions, just couldn’t concentrate so far.
Woke up in Munich, very early in the morning. I was eager, very eager to arrive to Prague: my first trip out of my home country, in my adult life (a NYC trip when I was 13 to visit my uncle really doesn’t count), was to Prague—with my girlfriend at that time. That took place in October 2000, and I remember how awestruck I was with the beauty of that city.
As it was October, weather was a bit cold; not too many tourists on the streets as tourism season had passed; and I fell in love with that city. Ever since, I was looking forward for the opportunity to go back.
Alas, in order to get to Prague, a six hours train ride from Munich was due. No problem, I thought; first‐class cabins are usually comfortable enough to spend hours in.
As I arrived in Munich’s train station, some bagel & coffee for breakfast were very much in need and were therefore joyfully consumed at Coffee Fellows. Having some time before the train’s departure, I decided to try my luck again at the Deutsche Bahn reservation office, to do some bookings.
Those 10 minutes at the reservation booth were 10 of the most stressful minutes in the trip, much thanks to the reservation attendant who, on the surface, seemed happy to help but really just pissed me off with his arrogant attitude and pretentiousness. All I wanted was to make two train reservations, and the guy had me pull out my passport from pretty much the deepest pockets in my backpack (twice!), then had a lecture to give me about how incorrectly I am using this train pass that I have (he was technically right; explanation follows), and on and on. But I have no patience for people trying to explain to me what I already know; and as he was asking & doing all of that while knowing that I have to board a train in less than 5 minutes, I had no choice but to feel rather anxious. Spare me from your pretentious crap, dude.
EURail pass‐holders information: Technically, according to the passes’ usage terms, you must fill‐in the form, attached to your pass, with the details of each and every train ride that you take. At the end of your journey, you’re supposed to mail that travel log back to EURail, and what they do is basically spread the money you gave EURail amongst the carriers that you used. If you don’t maintain such travel log, you may get fined and your pass isn’t valid. While I maintain my travel log in my BlackBerry anyway, I opted to skip using a pen to fill‐out their stupid form. So far in all of my travels, NOBODY told me anything about that stupid form being empty. Attendants DO NOT CARE.
Boarded the train, awaiting to get my ass on a first‐class seat to unwind from the stress, my dreams about comfortable first‐class seats were shattered. At first, due to unclear markings on the cabins, I actually sat down in a second‐class seat which was occupied by a lonesome, weird‐looking guy, a mother and two extremely obnoxious kids. No ventilation, and I was determined to find myself a better place to sit. Only then I found out where the first‐class seats are… Basically, exactly the same cabin structure only having 5 seats instead of 6. No reclining leather seats, no comfort. FAIL.
At least it was quiet. Occasional chats with an American man sitting next to me helped pass the time. Finally, after some delays, we arrived at Prague’s central station.
My hotel, Falkensteiner Hotel Maria Prag (“Prag” is the spelling of this city at some language, I think German; in Czech, it’s spelled Praha), was located one minute walk from the train station, and about 4 minutes walk from one of the most touristic areas in Prague’s Old City. €79 for such a hotel room in such a location is definitely a bargain, if you ask me. Great hotel, great staff, great rooms. What else do you need?
After spending some time at the hotel, blogging away, I decided to go explore the touristic areas for a bit and reminisce old memories, before heading for the gig. The usual small backpack with the Netbook, electricity adapter, now lets get the BlackBerry’s holster…
The BlackBerry’s holster…
Where the fuck is it?!
30 minutes later, after searching each and every square inch of my backpack, I concluded that I had left it at the hotel in Munich. I was bummed to death. Walking around with a BlackBerry stuck in a pocket is a waste of a pocket, it’s uncomfortable and unsafe too as one unsafe sit‐down and my trip is over.
So yes, ladies and gentlemen. The first item lost during this trip: a $12 worth of leather BlackBerry holster. It could have been my shaving machine; or all of my clothes; but no. Fate must hit you where it hurts. It must hit you with your BlackBerry’s holster.
I decided to skip suicide and attempt enjoying the trip anyway, first task being locating a holster somewhere.
Many will tell you that Prague is the most beautiful city in Europe, and one of the most beautiful cities in the world; and you know what? They might as well be right. Of course, you can’t compare a city like Prague to, say, Jasper (Alberta, Canada); two completely different types of cities. But among cities of similar nature, I am willing to bet that Prague’s Old City is of the prettiest.
Prague (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague) (called Praha in the local language) just oozes character & beauty. You feel the power of history when you walk down the winding streets of this gorgeous old city. Some buildings here date hundreds over hundreds of years back; various types of architecture, buildings painted in all sorts of shades and colors… gives you the feeling as if you went back in time and you’re strolling down the streets of some fantasy of yours.
Its beauty is only one reason for this city being of the most favourite tourism destination in Europe (about 4.1 million tourists annually): the other reason is the price index. I recall my last time here, eight years ago with a girlfriend so far away, when I was completely and utterly amazed by how low prices were here. I thought it’s just outright ridiculous. Having said that, the situation has changed over the years as Czech Republic became a part of the European Union (though not a part of the European Monetary Union; they still carry their own currency here—The Czech Kroner—which stands at about 25 CZK per EUR at the moment); things became more expensive, but overall costs still are very low (some pubs here sell Czech beer for €1 a pint).
My suggestion to you, if you’re going to be spending time walking through the Old City; get a map, and do not trust a GPS. Streets here are narrow, and with buildings being a few stories high it’s often hard for GPS’s to get a good grip of their own location, making it very frustrating. Every reasonable hotel would give you those maps for free, and you should be good to go. Take your camera with you, and don’t bother putting it back in its case after each shot—you’re going to need it a lot.
I could have gone on and on about Prague, its quarters, its structure and attractions, but I won’t; first, it would be too long, and second, unfortunately I had time to explore almost nothing of it. I suggest you just go and visit: for a city trip, Prague is hard to beat.
Definitely, a place for me to re‐visit.
My first task in Prague was… that’s right! to find a replacement holster for my BlackBerry. Total failure as no mobile phone store carried it. I then decided to engage Jeroen Gerrits with the task of locating this thing so I can have it as soon as my feet touch Dutch soil.
Then, I started wondering out and about, while looking for a place to eat. The area I focused on was one of the most famous touristic areas in the Old City: millions of restaurants there, all of which are tourist‐traps offering food in prices similar to other parts of Europe, which is often about twice as much as you’d pay if you bothered walking just five minutes more. Alas, time wasn’t my friend so I decided to suffice with a tourist trap this time.
The impressive building you see at the horizon in the last picture is Prague’s National Museum, having over 14 million (!) items on display (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_%28Prague%29). It is located at one end of Wenceslas Square (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenceslas_Square), which is one of the most tourist‐infected area in Prague.
One of the very first things I noticed when walking down that lovely walkway was that it was very quiet, relative to the number of humans strolling down the same pathway. Most Czech people are quiet and courteous; they couldn’t speak English to save their lives but hey, at least they’re nice.
I ended up sitting down in an Italian restaurant that appeared to be good; what I ordered, though, sucked. Way too much pesto on that pasta… €7 went down the drain (a similar dish a few minutes walk away would cost around €4).
Concert time approached and I decided to head back to the hotel, to ask for directions how to get to the venue, as the venue was located very far from the Old City—about 6km away. Turned out there’s a tram that takes you there within 24 minutes. Not bad. Here are some pictures from around the tram station.
Boarded the tram and off it went towards the venue. That was the point when I realized that, apart from the Old City, this city really has nothing too extraordinary about it. In fact, it is quite boring and tired. Maybe the tram took me to the less attractive areas of the city but I doubt it. My conclusion: my next trip to Prague will be of about 4–5 days and will focus on the Old City only (unless somebody convinces me otherwise).
25 minutes in the tram and I arrived at the venue, the O₂ Arena, across the street from the tram station.
Did you know that the company O₂ (actually, its true name is Telefónica Europe; it trades in the stock exchange using the symbol O₂, which also is, conveniently enough, its logo) is perhaps the biggest mobile phone carrier on the planet, in terms of market capitalization and customer base? No? You didn’t know? Well, now you do. This company was built to gigantic size, not without the help of M&A (Mergers & Acquisitions) in the mobile networking market. I suspect that soon enough there will be more O₂ customers in the world than O₂ molecules.
No wonder they’re taking over sporting arenas all over the place. Their worth is about $150 billion.
The O₂ Arena (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O2_Arena_%28Prague%29), located north‐east of the Old City, is relatively new (opened at 2004), quite frankly, it shows. There’s enough space here for everybody, and even entering this venue presented a few interesting procedures.
First, everybody entering the venue has to go through a metal detector, as well as having their bags (if any) go through X‐ray. Yes, X‐ray. It went fast, though; but I have to say that it was very weird for me to go through metal detectors and (potential; I didn’t carry anything) X‐ray machines in order to go to a concert.
You must not enter the venue with drinks from outside; that’s normal. But what’s not normal is that you cannot enter the actual hall with any drink whatsoever. Consume your water (me) or beer (the rest of the Czech population; these people like beer) at the bar, please.
Holders of floor seats are the only ones allowed at the lower bar area, which is by far the most inviting drink / dining facility I have yet to see in a venue.
Went inside to see where my seat is. Good to be back at the dead‐centre of the front row after spending the concert in Munich at the very end of the front row facing mountains of speakers.
Elian and Arnaud decided to come to Prague for the concert; we met inside. Good to see the guys again.
Guy Krispin, a Knopfler fan who lives in a country far, far away (which also happens to be my home country) mentioned that he will be at the Prague concert and will look for me at the front row, so I headed there. Took some pictures:
And, lo and behold, a few minutes later he arrived with his friend Noam.
Hey wait a minute… there’s that red‐headed cute girl again staring at me and diverting her look as soon as I notice. She did it before, outside. Have we met before? I would probably remember.
Oh, the feeling of speaking your mother tongue to somebody standing right next to you. The last time I experienced that was talking to my dad just before entering Toronto’s airport for the flight to Dublin. That was over a month and a half ago. It felt very weird to suddenly speak my mother tongue, and I believe my two new friends have noticed it.
I’m not sure if I mentioned it before—I think I didn’t; but anyway—Israeli people at my age group have the interesting trait of being able to bond and become friends in matters of seconds. The exposure to the same background, same challenges growing up, same crazy atmosphere in that God‐forbiddingly complex country, same mentality… people there bond in seconds. I have yet to hear about such a trait in any other society; at least not to that extent. When people ask me what it is that I miss most (after my family, of course), my instant reply is exactly this thing that I’m describing. The sense of brotherhood a foreigner like myself can really never feel anywhere else.
One of the two chaps have seen Knopfler perform live only once before, in 2005; the other one is also a huge fan but he was a Knopfler concert‐virgin; first timer. The excitement just showed on their faces; they were also seated at the front row, to the right.
We talked to no end, and the only thing to have cut our conversation was the sounds of Feelin’ Good, at around 8:15pm. Seconds later, the show started.
A somewhat rocky start for Mark, within a few songs it was all good again; but something was missing. I love this feeling, you know, when something is missing and your brain is trying to figure out what the hell it is.
It was the audience.
And no, I am not referring to the number of people in the audience; I’m referring to their nature. Remember what I wrote before about walking down the streets of Prague, how it’s generally quiet there? Well, I guess that’s it then. Up to and excluding the encore, the audience yesterday was one of the most polite audiences so far this tour—and had it not been to a handful of girls screaming right behind me, that audience would share the gold medal with Belfast’s audience for being the most quiet.
A quiet audience deserves a quiet setlist and quiet performances. What was special about the concert’s performances of Coyote and Hill Farmer’s Blues was the overall “calmness” of Mark’s guitar work. Not burning the guitar’s neck as usual; keeping it modest.
Someone right behind me was filming parts of the show, making him the target of quite a few evil looks on behalf of Mark. As the guy was seated right behind me, I became a bit uncomfortable with those looks—so uncomfortable that I involuntarily moved my body sideways every time it happened.
The quiet audience lost a bit of its restraint after Sultans of Swing. Thank God for that. Occasionally looking at my two new friends who were looking forward to this concert more than the middle east is looking forward for peace, I noticed the sheer amount of excitement on their faces. Somehow, it made me happy.
In his tour diary, Richard Bennett described a malfunction in Mike McGoldrick’s monitors, driving him (Mike) mad. Sorry, I didn’t notice it at all. The guy played beautifully.
During Get Lucky, Mike is responsible for the outro (the flute work). It took longer than usual yesterday, and I could clearly notice Mike giving Mark a look after a few bars, as if signalling “are you going to end this now or what?”. Mark smiled, along with other band members as they all noticed Mark putting Mike on the spot making him improvise absolutely crazy flute work. It was fantastic. Thanks Mike for this brilliant outro!
The usual Telegraph Road extravaganza sent the front‐row sitters to the front for an all‐standing encore. Guy and Noam were not shy at all to rush to the rails, ending their charge about one meter away from me, to my right.
In sharp contrast to the first part of the concert, the encore featured a completely different audience atmosphere. Cheers up the ying‐yang, so much happiness on people’s faces… pleasure. Great encore as usual and the show ended at 10:20pm.
Everybody was happy; Guy and Noam took a few minutes to capture their breaths before being able to speak fluently again.
Before exiting the hall, I decided that I have to figure out who that red‐headed girl was. I didn’t want to be perceived as the jackass I really am by not approaching someone that gives me all the signs that I know them from somewhere. Approached and asked whether we know each other from somewhere.
So yes, she’s reading this blog, apparently (hello there!). She were there with her boyfriend (?), and so much has happened ever since that their names escaped me. Sorry. You may wish to comment and reveal yourself :-)
A quick chat with Elian & Arnaud, and we went to the metro to get a ride back to the Old City. On our way there, two more Israeli folks approached us three—also, two chaps that flew in especially for the show. There we were, five Israelites in Prague’s subway. I guess one of the things so enjoyable about a trip like this is that unexpected things can—and do—happen. Completely by chance. And if that’s not true fun, then please tell me—what is?
Back in the old city, the three of us went for some drinks and food at a local pizzeria‐bar. More than an hour went by very quickly, with us having absolutely great time (Elian & Arnaud were also having fun, some place else, with much less food involved).
Time to go back to the hotel. Now, people, this is Prague at night. Only a fraction of it. Now you look at this and you tell me this is not pretty.
Back at the hotel and I fell asleep very quickly. A truly enjoyable day and a sweet night sleep.
Of the greatest proofs of willpower and dedication I could have given myself was that I spent most of the day off in Prague (prior to my 6:30pm departure) for planning for the rest of the trip. Looking outside the hotel room’s window, I saw blue skies and I knew that few things could be as beautiful and soul‐filling as, say, a stroll down Charles Bridge to this weather. I decided, however, to resist the temptation; got clearance from the hotel for late check‐out, and I only left the hotel at around 2:00pm, after having some great progress with planning.
The 6:30pm train from Prague to Amsterdam takes 16 hours (!) to reach its destination. With my previous experience with sleeper trains, I was not looking forward to that; therefore I decided to pass this day on the easy side. Not too much effort, not too much stress. Go out for a peaceful stroll, take a few photos, have lunch, sit at a cafe for some more planning and go back to the hotel. That’s it.
I also decided to dedicate the walk to attempt to find some earplugs. One of the lessons from the previous sleeper‐train experience was to always carry earplugs with you as the cabin can get pretty noisy—not just due to other people you’re sharing the cabin with but also due to the engine’s roar.
I could not find earplugs anywhere. The Old City offers millions of souvenir stores, restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, cafes—EVERYTHING you want but not even ONE STORE that sells earplugs. The very question “do you sell earplugs?” made a few store owners raise their eyebrows. Needless to say, some of them didn’t even speak English.
Hunger followed and I found myself a restaurant with a terrace, serving Italian food. What a huge mistake. A tourist trap (of course), and I ordered a dish consisting of two pieces of chicken breast and one small potato cut in thirds. A family of five occupied the table right next to me; four of them were at their table, and the fifth one—the father, I assume—who also happened to be the most talkative one—overflowed onto my table. The party didn’t stop talking rubbish for even one second. I seriously started considering asking them to shut the fuck up in the most impolite way you could imagine; but I didn’t. Instead, I decided to eat (took 2 minutes) and just get the hell out of there.
A nearby cafe named “Coffee Heaven” provided great coffee and Tiramisu, to complement the ice‐cream I bought just two minutes before. Went upstairs, sat down on a comfy couch; not a soul around, and continued doing some planning over dessert. Good times… and unfortunately it had to end. 4:30pm and I made my way back to the hotel, where I had left my luggage.
Talking to the sweet lady receptionist, I decided, for whatever reason, to disclose the fact that I couldn’t find earplugs. She pretty much said “sorry about your luck”, went back to the back office and, just as I was ready to go sit at the hotel’s bar to pass the time, she re‐emerged.
– “Oh, here, take some”.
Turns out the hotel maintains a stock of earplugs for whatever reason; she just completely forgot about it, and now remembered.
I was so excited about the earplugs that I did something completely uncharacteristic of me.
– “Can I kiss you???”
Now, at this point, really, you could expect all sorts of replies. “Get out of here, you freak” is one of them, and is basically the one that is most representative of the line of replies I would expect.
– “(smiling) no… I have a boyfriend…”
Admit it: you didn’t see that coming. I know I didn’t.
An hour at the hotel’s bar, doing some planning while watching Germany kicks the living shit out of England 4:1, passed very quickly. That’s what I needed before embarking on a long train ride to Amsterdam: peace and quiet.
As the time came to leave, I finally accepted my fate and started walking towards the train station, completely unhappy about the forthcoming 16 hours or so. Also, I hated to leave Prague. Wish I could stay longer.
Prague’s central train station is not as sophisticated as the central stations in other major European cities; not too many options for dining, and the place appeared to be undergoing significant construction efforts. Got myself some water and a few snacks for the long ride ahead and went to board the train.
Oh, it was so lovely to find out that the sleeper cabin I’m going to be spend the next 16 hours in was a completely different deal than my last (and first) experience with sleeper trains. Clean cabin, comfortable‐enough beds, air conditioning… the cabin is designed to fit three people, and has an en‐suite toilet and shower. Perfect, absolutely perfect!
Even better news came when the attendant told me that the two other beds will only have human skin touching them once we get to Berlin, which is about five hours and a half ahead. Quick shower and I felt anew.
The views from the train’s window were pretty enough to justify taking a few photos.
I was happy enough to have a private cabin all for myself for a few hours; imagine how happy I was when the train left Berlin and the two beds remained empty!
Wouldn’t say I had a perfect night sleep—after all, it was a moving train with quite a few stops along the way; but I did catch some sleep, enough to get me through the first day in Amsterdam.
Signing‐off this post on board the fast Fyra train from Amsterdam Centraal to Rotterdam, then changing to Delft to meet with Jeroen.