Writing: on board the InterCity Express (ICE) train from Basel to Frankfurt, on my way to Würzburg.
Woke up this morning at 6:00am, facing one of the most difficult and time‐sensitive train‐riding days for this tour. How about this for a Saturday morning?
Departure (time) Arrival (time) Locarno (7:03am) Bellinzona (7:27am) Bellinzona (7:36am) Basel SBB (10:53am) Basel SBB (11:04am) Frankfurt Hbf (1:53pm) Frankfurt Hbf (2:16pm) Würzburg (3:31pm)
As any missed connection has the potential of completely destroying my plans, I decided to eliminate one weak point, and take the earlier (6:33am) train from Locarno—half an hour earlier, turning a 9 minutes connection time into 39, even enough to have a decent breakfast. That’s why I woke up so early despite the fact that my hotel is about 2 minutes walk from the station.
When I woke up, it wasn’t warm anymore. The temperature in the room was perfect; a bit cloudy outside, and pleasant wind made its way through the open balcony doors onto my body, where it frowned and reflected back as quickly as wind can go. Fifteen minutes to get myself together and I left the room, not before taking a few shots from the balcony.
As I turned around in the balcony to head back to the room, I noticed that a couple were sleeping in the neighbouring balcony! They literally moved all bedding items from the bed onto the balcony’s floor and slept the night there. I have no idea whether “sleeping” is the only activity that took place on the premises, though—it was hard enough falling asleep the night before due to a bunch of fucking drunken morons singing songs in Swiss‐German up until around 2:00am when they stopped—possibly due to the police popping for a visit.
Went downstairs to the reception; not a living soul there. Left my key and as I was about to exit the door, I noticed two huge crates of croissants—I figured these were delivered by a local bakery to provide breakfast to the hotel’s guests. Breakfast was included in my room’s rate (I think; it better be for 185 CHF a night!) so I grabbed a croissant and headed out.
The look of Lake Maggiore in the morning is nothing short of breathtaking. I unloaded my backpack onto a nearby bench, pulled the camera out and took some shots to brighten your days, folks.
During this trip, there are only a handful of countries I was so terribly sad for leaving after such a short time. I wouldn’t count The Netherlands here because I’ve been there before; notable examples are Norway, Sweden and Denmark—and now Switzerland has been added to the list. This is such a beautiful country. Right after the Locarno concert, Daniel & Jacqueline invited me over to their residence next time I’m in Switzerland—well, folks, it won’t be too long before it happens. I will come back, and that’s a promise (or a threat, depending on your point of view).
It’s a short S‐Bahn‐type train ride from Locarno to Bellinzona. All stops were met in such accuracy you could calibrate your watch by it, so I had 39 minutes to kill in Bellinzona. Went outside the train station and noticed an open cafe there with a terrace.
One thing I discovered in so many restaurants and cafes in Europe is that they are very often understaffed. Many times before I had meals in establishments where the waiters/patrons ratio was so ridiculously low that no wonder service took bloody forever. This is in contrast to most places I had dined in while in North America, where it’s not uncommon to see waiting staff twiddling their thumbs waiting for action. I guess it’s either the norm here to have slow service, or the fact that waiting staff earn respectable salaries (contrary to USA / Canada where waiting staff typically earn minimum wage—sometimes even less—and rely primarily on tips); or both. Anyway, when going to a restaurant in Western Europe, my advice to you is to plan for delays.
The experience in Bellinzona was no exception as I actually had to bypass the waitress and go directly to the cashier to place the order. One poor waitress serving about 25 people; I felt terrible for her.
Back to the train station and I hopped on the second train; destination—Basel. Did almost nothing but attempting to doze off—with limited success. The ride itself was a total thrill to the eye, though; this part of Switzerland is gorgeous; I took photos however, due to the direction of travel and the fact that the windows weren’t perfectly transparent, there’s a fair bit of reflection going on. Sorry, that’s all I have.
In the following photo, you get two in one: a sight of a lovely hill, plus the whatever it is you needed to know about the capabilities of my camera.
As the train approaches Basel, the scenery becomes less and less pretty until it becomes urban, boring and often times ugly. The train made it right on time and I used the short connection time to acquire a sandwich to consume during the next ride—from Basel to Frankfurt.
As Frankfurt was this train’s terminal station, dozing off was less risky as there’s very little chance to miss your stop. Almost 3 hours ride and I made it to Frankfurt right on time. Was good to be in Frankfurt’s train station—not because it’s such a beauty but more because I’m quite familiar with this place. Been here more than a few times already, and returning to a familiar place is always soothing for the soul. Twenty minutes or so, and I boarded the last train for the day—to Würzburg—a short 1 hour ride. Peanuts.
I knew absolutely nothing about Würzburg before the announcement of Mark Knopfler’s concert there. Just like in Middelfart’s case, I knew nothing—assumed that it’s a shithole—and turned up wrong. As the train left Frankfurt and rode towards Würzburg, the landscape changed significantly and before I knew it we were riding through vast farmlands, low rolling hills, the occasional forest here and there… Memories of home started creeping in, as Waterloo—where I currently live—is surrounded by such landscape.
Another neat element in the landscape is the abundance of castles, towers, old houses and such along the way. It was cloudy outside, started to rain (!) for a bit and looking through the train’s windows I got the impression as if I’m entering some sort of an enchanted place.
I started to feel awfully tired as the ride neared its end (perhaps that’s the explanation for the feeling of entering an “enchanted place”). The train arrived at 3:31pm sharp and it was time to calculate my next moves.
markknopfler.com ticket purchasers received a strange email with the subject of “early entry instructions” (as the concert was a general‐admission standing show) but with no instructions whatsoever as for how to take advantage of that offer. All I got in that email was the location of the box office and the time in which the doors open for the general public—4:30pm—which was one hour away.
Meanwhile, it started to rain and it didn’t seem like the rain was going away any time soon. So I had two options:
- Put my stuff in the hotel, rush to the venue in the rain, pick‐up my ticket, wait in line, enter the venue at 4:30pm and wait another three and a half hours at the open air (it was raining) for the show to begin; reward—watching the concert from the front.
- Go to the hotel, unload my stuff, go to sleep, take things easy and go to the concert at 7:55pm, five minutes before it starts, and enjoy it from the back.
Believe you me, I know of many people who would happily choose option number (1). However, I wasn’t in the mood for risking my health again a few days after I healed—and my experience showed me what happens to the body’s resistance when one neglects to sleep well. I opted at the second option and started walking very fast towards my hotel as rain started pouring down harder than before.
My hotel, City Partner Hotel Strauss, was located right at the city centre, less than one kilometre from the main train station. No air conditioning—well, as almost usual—luckily the weather wasn’t that hot. No Wi‐Fi either, but they did have some strange solution—an Ethernet cable stretched from the reception’s router so you could plug its other end to your laptop, sit in the lobby and work away. I have never seen anything like this before… I mean, I appreciate the gesture but it’s a bit funny that only one guest can use their Internet at any one time. Come on guys; a wireless router costs $30, just buy one and get it over with.
Quick shower and I had a pretty good nap while the rain stopped gradually.
Würzburg (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wurzburg) is located about 100km away from Frankfurt. It has a pretty interesting history. During the Nazi regime, virtually all Jewish and Gypsy population had been wiped out, and during World War II, the city took a beating far worse than Dresden’s: 90% of the city was destroyed in 17 minutes (!) following a massive attack of the British air force, while the city centre was destroyed in a fire storm, killing 5,000 people on its way. The city was rebuilt over the 20 years following the war, mostly by women—as most of the city’s men were either dead or held hostage.
The venue, Festung Marienberg (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortress_Marienberg), is actually a famous ancient fortress which lays on the banks of the Main river (by the way, here’s a piece of useful information I only learned a few months ago: if you’re ever in Frankfurt, remember that the main central station is called “Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof” not because it’s a “Main” station but because the full name of Frankfurt is Frankfurt am Main—which means “Frankfurt on the (river) Main”). This is one hell of an impressive fortress, nowadays serving as a museum. Much of the fortress’ area is now used as a park—which is sometimes used as a concert venue.
My hotel was about 20 minutes walk from the venue so I started walking there at around 6:30pm or so. I would have gone later, but for some reason I was worried that markknopfler.com ticket pickup would not be available close to show time (I recall a few concerts in which there was actually a certain period of time during which you could pick‐up your ticket, the limit being about 30 minutes before the concert’s start time). My plan, then, was to pick up the ticket, then go back to have some dinner, and then head to the venue.
The walk from the hotel to the venue goes along the River Main—a pleasant sight that warranted taking a few photos.
The following photo shows the Festung Marienberg as it’s seen from across the river:
One of the bridges crossing River Main is the old, very impressive bridge called Alte Mainbrücke (The Old Main Bridge). On the east side of the bridge (which is the side I was walking on; the Festung Marienberg is on its west side) there are quite a few businesses—shops, cafes, restaurants and whatnot—all very nicely designed to bring one to the realization that this is a city with a lot of mileage on it.
River Main as it looks from the bridge:
The bridge, which makes for a short (yet very pleasant) walk, offers statues of notable figures erected on both sides. Whoever had the luck to walk down Prague’s Charles Bridge would find this bridge very similar in nature and not much less impressive.
Once crossed to the other side of River Main, I followed the herds of people. I figured most of them are going to the concert, and their direction of walking aligned with the map I was holding, so why not. Now, this is a fortress, and as such, it is, after all, on a hill. After climbing about two million steps, we arrived to the park area of the fortress, where I found this neat little spot to take good pictures of the city.
Once I picked‐up the ticket, I backtracked a little bit and sat in a restaurant, about 5 minutes walk from the venue, for some quick meal before the show. The lovely waitress helped me pick something that would be fast enough to prepare—a schnitzel baguette.
Now, when thinking of a schnitzel baguette, one has to wonder how to involve the schnitzel and the baguette together. I mean, a schnitzel is sort‐of like a blob of meat, of random shape, while a baguette is… well… a baguette. Cut it into stripes? Cubes? Surely something must happen to the topology of the schnitzel.
… But that would be too easy. Instead, those chaps over there decided to take the short way out of this mess. “Schnitzel baguette” there means “Schnitzel baguette”, pronto. It was very funny to look at, and quite tricky to eat.
At least it tasted well. Went down very well and I started making my way towards the venue.
Three minutes after I arrived, the concert started—at 8:00pm sharp.
So here’s something you should know about attending a concert in this venue: unless you’re standing within 20–25 metres from the stage, you should be prepared to the possibility of seeing nothing of the band at all. Normally, you would expect some sort of a plain, or maybe even a slope where the people at the back are located higher so they could see something.
Well, here it was a bit strange. Sort of like random terrain. This must be by far the worst outdoor venue for concertgoers who enjoy concerts with their eyes as well as their ears—unless, of course, they arrived very early and managed to stand close to the stage.
When I arrived, the venue was almost full already. No chance to get anywhere with any reasonable view of the stage. Anywhere I stood, my view was blocked by either people or trees. Yes, trees; there are trees all over the place (should I repeat myself? this is a park).
After wandering around for a few minutes, I finally found a reasonable place to stand:
I decided to try for a better place, so proceeded a bit to the east until I found myself facing exactly the centre of the stage. Hooray! BUT—see this inconveniently located tree. Could it be located in a more obstructive spot?
A couple of songs into the concert, I realized that I should just cease trying looking for a place with a view, and instead look for a comfortable place to sit down and enjoy the music.
I think it was around Coyote when I got tired walking around, went almost all the way to the back, sat down on the semi‐wet grass and started enjoying the concert without the visual component. The sound was… well… harsh. No wonder, as trees have this interesting feature that sound waves reflect off them. If you ever wondered why none of your friends decided to plant a tree in the middle of their entertainment room, there’s you reason. It simply kills the sound.
(OK, I guess the wife might have something to do with it as well)
Why Aye Man made a comeback to the setlist, after quite a while of being put on the shelf (since Munich). Happy to hear it again, as I really like this song (more accurately: I really like the outro solo of this song and what the band makes of it, it’s always a pleasure).
A 15‐songs setlist featuring (again) only two songs from Get Lucky; it’s been like this for a while now—the last concert featuring three songs from Get Lucky was July 9 in Piazzola sul Brenta.
The audience? Well, apparently we’re not in Locarno anymore. As I was at the back, I could see three different behaviours exhibited by the audience.
Those who were standing where they could actually see something, appeared reasonably active but not too much. Those who were standing at the mid‐level could rarely see anything of whatever was going on on the stage, so most of them were attentive to the music but often worked their mouths speaking to their friends. Those who were at the back—and that’s about 50m distance from the stage, mind you—seemed to use the music as a soundtrack for any other type of activity: making out, chatting with friends, drinking a lot… a few people were even engaged in long phone conversations.
There’s something about this venue, I tell you. The sound at the back sucked—well, no wonder, considering the topology of the place—but what does come out of the speakers, combined with the ancient‐looking surroundings with the park and the trees etc—makes you feel as if you stepped into an enchanted castle with trees all around. Very relaxing, soothing environment—but definitely not for concerts.
This entire fortress went rumbling after Sultans of Swing, Speedway at Nazareth and Telegraph Road which evidently were the audience’s favourites.
It was a good concert, after all—discounting the fact that I couldn’t see anything of it; the audience appeared to have enjoyed it a lot, and that’s what matters. For me, however, having Locarno still ringing in my head, it would be hard to say that we have hit Locarno’s heights again; that’s the problem with going to so many concerts—once you attend a significantly great one, it’s hard to avoid looking at following concerts objectively.
The concert ended at 10:00pm; as I was standing very close to the exit, I was of the first ones to leave and was able to take a few photos of the city from above before the masses caught up with me.
As you can see, Würzburg isn’t by any mean the ugliest city in Germany. Down the stairs, and back to the bridge…
It was a Saturday night, and all of the pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, whatever—everything was occupied to its fullest. I stopped by some cafe offering ice‐cream to go, consumed it happily on my way to the hotel and just crashed into bed upon arrival.
Signing‐off this post while laying down on a beach chair on the panoramic terrace of my hotel in Monte‐Carlo, Monaco. It’s around 12:00am now. You probably are wondering what the view is like from here… and you should. So, see you at the next post.