While a few train connections are possible from Montreux to Locarno, the easiest one—involving one change only—departs Montreux at around 8:30am daily so that meant another early wake‐up for me. The night before, Elian told me that he’s like to have breakfast at the hotel together before I depart, so we both woke up at around 7:00am.
As the days pass I’m getting pretty efficient in re‐packing. I have mastered the art of “minimum impact” so, unpacking what I need for the night takes exactly two minutes, same as re‐packing it the morning after. That’s one of the cool things in such extended trips—you learn to distinguish important things from the unimportant ones; you become more and more versed with what I call “overhead procedures”—procedures and tasks that you must follow and perform for the sole purpose of maintaining yourself through tight schedules and demanding environments.
Learning to minimize overhead takes longer than you might think, and requires quite a bit of mental strength especially when you come to meet your own limitations: what you’re willing to sacrifice and for what; what brings you closer to your comfort zone and what keeps you away from it; and so forth.
So many things are subject to change without notice during a journey like this. Too many variables; and just like in mathematics, systems based on many variables become much simpler once you take a few of those variables and fix them in place. In other words—come up with principles you’re absolutely unwilling to break. For me, one major principle is the willingness to give up ANYTHING that is within the realm of money and time, in order to make it to each and every show (or, better phrased—minimize the risk of missing a show. As I wrote a few posts ago, crap tends to hit the fan in various angles; I am not afraid much of challenges I can think of—I am much more afraid of challenges I hadn’t imagined already).
Keeping such goals and standards in mind has the inexplicable side‐effect that your mind starts working and adjusting itself to achieve those goals. If your goal is to not miss any show, your mind starts working in that direction, learning how to minimize overhead and maximize efficiency—all so you can actually realize the goal you had set for yourself. This may sound counter‐intuitive to some of you, but it is true: the very act of establishing goals and standards is already an important step on your way to success. Doubt leads to stagnation, which in turn almost inevitably translates to failure.
That’s why, even though Montreux’s main train station is within 5 minutes bus ride from the hotel (almost zero traffic in the mornings), I chose to not play with matches this morning as missing any of the two trains today could mean havoc. Elian and myself had breakfast on the terrace overlooking a magnificently‐quiet Lake Geneva. I could gabble here for hours in an attempt to describe to you how soul‐filling and relaxing experience it was—consuming superb breakfast in perfect morning weather watching heaven right in front of you—however any such attempt is bound to fail. Close your eyes and think of yourself at the most peaceful scene you can imagine; that’s how it was.
Out of the hotel, crossed the street to the bus station; Elian kept me company until the bus arrived, when I bid him goodbye (not for long, though; just for a few days) and boarded towards the station.
I was sorry to have left Montreux so early. I have spent less than 24 hours in Switzerland and already fell in love with it—not just the city of Montreux (which is pretty touristic, so it’s not a pure representative of Swiss life) but with the typical scenery, the people, the sense of freedom and peace in the air… just adopt the Euro, guys. Come on, make life simple for everybody, will you.
The train from Montreux to Domodossola (Italy) left on time and arrived on time—not entirely contradicting what you would expect from the ultra‐accurate Swiss. I have taken exactly the same route only at the other direction, the day before; was good to lay my eyes on those wonderful sights once again.
From Domodossola, the train to Locarno is not exactly the type of train I got used to. It’s actually a panoramic train, boasting extremely large windows. Two or three cars at the most.
I wasn’t sure whether I took the right train so I asked a couple who were seated next to me—confirmed: that’s the train to Locarno, which in fact doesn’t stop anywhere worth visiting other than Locarno itself.
The views… Oh my dear Lord, the views! Different in nature from the views one enjoys through the Oslo‐Bergen route in Norway, but I’m telling you, it’s just as pleasant. The train rides slowly—sometimes very slowly—as the route winds significantly through and around mountains, lots of tunnels, and there’s almost always a breathtaking valley right beside you.
I took the liberty to take a few shots. You may see some reflections in some of the pictures—well, the panoramic train’s windows are sealed so I’m sorry about your luck but that’s all I could do.
Here’s a picture of my entire compressed world:
At around 12:30pm, the train arrived at Locarno’s train station.
Left the station and started walking towards my hotel—located less than 200m from the train station. I booked that hotel only a week ago, once I realized that my chances to get a ride from Locarno to Milano after the concert are slim to none. Very expensive (185 CHF for a double room; single rooms were sold out) but, this being the Moon & Stars Festival season, I’m pretty sure I actually got a bit lucky to find anything.
As I was walking the short stretch towards the hotel, I realized that I have just left one heaven (Montreux) to get to another. Locarno (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locarno), like Montreux, is also located at the foot of the Alps. Around 15,000 people call Locarno home, and the town offers a breathtaking walk along Lake Maggiore: most of what there is to see and do in Locarno is within close proximity to the lake—well, lets face it, with an area of just under 20km², some of which is at the mountains’ slopes, it is very hard to be too far away from the lake when you’re in Locarno.
While Locarno is in Switzerland, the official language in the town is Italian; this may have something to do with the fact that Milano is a mere two hours drive away, and the Switzerland‐Italy border is even closer than that. I was interested to see how the Swiss accuracy and reliability was going to blend with the Italian mentality of informality, open‐heartedness and, well, inaccuracy.
The sun definitely shone that day; there’s a heat wave going on in Europe and Locarno wasn’t spared from it by any means. The average high temperature in Locarno during July‐August is just around the 25℃, however the temperature yesterday was significantly higher than that—I’d estimate it at around 30℃, not including the unbearable humidity. Most hotels in Locarno don’t offer air conditioning—for the mere fact that, on average, those aren’t really needed.
Arriving at the hotel, I encountered some really stressed‐out staff who were trying to cope with the fact that their hotel was completely sold out for the night. Piles of suitcases were scattered around and the chances of an early check‐in (normal check‐in time was 2:00pm) were kissing 0%—from the bottom. As I had just about two hours to kill, I decided to step out for lunch. On my way out, I ran into the very same couple I previously met at the train to Locarno (the ones who confirmed that I was on the right train). Funny coincidence, I thought; would be even funnier if I met them at the concert.
Locarno is a tourists town and so tourist‐traps abound. There are many, many dining options; searching the Internet for a good restaurant yielded results directing me to restaurants found in 5‐star hotels having ridiculously high prices, while reviews for local restaurants were rather unfriendly. Having nowhere in particular to go, I decided to roam the city centre area until I find something that “clicks”…
… Nothing did, though, so I found myself eating at a restaurant right next to my hotel, offering mediocre pizzas for not‐so‐mediocre prices and stupidly‐inadequate service. Next time in Locarno, I’ll be cooking my own food, thank you very much.
Back at the hotel’s lobby, I caught up with blogging until my room was ready. With every step I made towards my room, I was praying for an air‐conditioner to exist there. I suppose I have been committing way too many sins recently, as I opened the door and realized a big spacious room but no air‐conditioner whatsoever. What the room did have, though, is a great balcony with half lake view.
Quick shower and I went to bed for about an hour, to catch up with some sleep; it wasn’t before 5:00pm when I left the hotel room again, on my way to the venue to collect my ticket.
Took the opportunity to take a few shots for you folks. Neat, isn’t it?
The venue, Piazza Grande (at that stage I didn’t really know what the venue is all about; it turned out to be one of the most gorgeous venues I’ve seen—see pictures below), was located right at the city centre, not far from the lake, about 5 minutes walk from my hotel. These days, the Moon & Stars Festival is taking place in Locarno, and the Piazza Grande is the venue where major performances take place. markknopfler.com ticket pickup started at 5:00pm so I decided to pick‐up my ticket first, then sit at a nearby cafe to finish some blogging.
As I approached the will‐call booth (see pictures below), I noticed quite a few activity in the area, in the form of various food stands, drink stands and bars in the area.
Picked‐up my tickets and off I went to a nearby Gelateria offering free Wi‐Fi to customers. I was very happy to be a consumer of this:
Walked back to my hotel…
… Finished blogging, left my laptop in the room and went to the venue.
markknopfler.com ticket buyers received early entrance privileges for this time. The instructions I received were to arrive at 6:30pm and wait near a bus somewhere next to the venue (not a crew bus; I think that bus actually belonged to the Moon & Stars festival), where I should await further instructions. As I was walking towards the agreed‐upon location, a roast‐beef sandwich in one hand and a cup of water in the other, two Mercedes Benz cars slowed down just before entering the venue. I traditionally shy away from stage / staff entrances so it was the first time for me to witness the band’s cars entering a venue; waved a friendly hello and proceeded to the meet‐up location, which actually was two or three steps away from the performers’ entrance.
I happened to be the first one there—surprising, as the time was around 6:15pm and the early entry was scheduled for 6:30pm; people, however, started arriving and within minutes there were around 20–30 of us at the meet‐up area. Even though the early entry was scheduled for 6:30pm, this is after all semi‐Italy we’re talking about; after moving from one line‐up to another, we were finally allowed into the venue a couple of minutes past 7:00pm. Parked my ass on one of those metal plates at the centre of the stage and tried to forget the fact that the sun was cooking my scalp.
A few minutes later, the doors were opened for the general public so I took two photos demonstrating the Running of the Bulls. Behind the people, you can see what the Piazza Grande is all about (at daytime; at night, it’s a completely different story)—essentially a huge square surrounded by colourful old apartment buildings.
Not a lot of time passed until I was recognized by my neighbours. One of them, Marco, was actually the first Knopfler fan I have ever met that attended a Dire Straits concert back in 1979 (!)—that’s 31 years ago… I’m 32.
The Piazza Grande quickly filled‐up and, by the time the concert started, you couldn’t possibly speak without accidentally spitting on someone. A lovely sight to look at so I took a few photos, trying to capture as much as I could with my camera—to give you an idea of what it was like; luckily, my camera features a wide lens.
I know what you’re thinking: it must have been a great deal of fun to be a part of such a lively and happy audience. Indeed, it has been. I could have stayed there forever.
Back to reality…
Look at the last picture above (bottom right). See the balconies? well, people who live in these apartment buildings are lucky to enjoy concerts from the comfort of their own homes, for free!
A few minutes before the concert, I noticed Peter McKay looking at me. I guess he finally realized that it is my face that he sees on an almost daily basis for the last three months or so, so he smiled and gestured a motion with his finger against his head implying that I am insane. I replied using hand movements trying to somehow communicate the message “no, I really am not”. A minute later he showed up with a couple of ice‐cold bottles of water, and a couple of ice‐cold cans of Heineken. Took me by surprise I gotta tell you—thanks Peter, much appreciated mate!
The concert started exactly on the advertised time, 8:30pm.
I have met so many people during my travels and, except for very, very few, everybody seemed to be concerned with the answer to one question: which was the best concert so far in the tour?
I can see why people are so interested to know the answer to this question; however, as much as I can sympathize with the need to know, I must say that it really is hard to tell concerts apart. OK, so there can be one “most memorable experience”; that’s easy, and for me the answer has always been—the concert in Toronto. Admittedly, the fact that the Toronto concert took place in familiar territory—namely, about 100km from my house, in a city I know very well—had something to do with the entire experience being pleasant; the music that night was also exceptionally brilliant, led by Mark doing unbelievable things with his guitars.
Including the Locarno concert, there have been 74 concerts in the tour so far. Most of the shows were great; some of the shows were good; and a tiny minority were… well… “leaving some to be desired” would be a good way to put it. However, up until tonight, I had a single answer to “what was the best show”; and after tonight’s concert in Locarno, I have to say that I now have two answers.
The entire concert experience was absolutely stunning, exceptional by all means. In my books, the Locarno experience is the best Get Lucky experience in Europe so far.
If any band member(s) is / are reading this: I suggest you take good note of what time you woke up in the morning; what you had for breakfast; who you spoke with during the day; who made you smile; who made you think, and about what; what you had for lunch / dinner; which leg you put first on the floor upon waking up—take note of all of that, print it, hang it on the wall, read it a few times a day until you know it by heart. Congratulations: you gave the audience a stunning performance.
Some people assume direct correlation between “mistakes” during the concert to its quality; I strongly disagree and the Locarno concert would be my best case in point. Some minor faults did take place (there seemed to be a bit of a problem with the Speedway at Nazareth drum samples—started playing too early, then went off and then restarted again as Guy and a couple of crew members were addressing the problem during the first 30 seconds of the song), but still, I consider this to be the best concert in Europe so far.
Why, you ask? I suppose my writing “talent” is too limited to express it well enough in words; figuratively speaking, there was something going on on the stage that made this band play extremely well. You could look at the face of each and every one of them and immediately conclude that there was a great deal of passion on their faces—passion to give the best show eight musicians could give—which is exactly what they did.
The audience? some Swiss some Italian, this audience was an absolute blast. There wasn’t even one song that didn’t involve vocal and visual participation by the audience. Hands were thrown into the air during the entire concert, people singing—not humming; singing—the songs out loud… thrilling. Even during Done with Bonaparte, quite a few members of the audience sang along with Mike’s pipes between verses. How’s that for a thrill?!
The setlist that was played was identical to that of Montreux except for Prairie Wedding which went missing.
Sailing to Philadelphia featured one of the best instrumental works so far this tour (past the last verse all the way to the end); usually, what makes Sailing to Philadelphia’s outro performance is fantastic work by John and Matt, but this time, it was Mark who set the tone with guitar work that sent shivers down many thousands of spines.
Even Romeo and Juliet, traditionally having a relatively short outro solo, was very impressive: there was a lot of soul pouring into the electric guitar work here, by both Richard and Mark, and the final solo by Mark was truly remarkable—significantly more touching than usual.
Wild cheers and Danny started hitting those cymbals—Sultans of Swing started playing and it was amazing to see this huge audience—to my sides, behind me, or on the balconies of the apartments surrounding the square—all dancing, jumping, singing and having an altogether a great time.
It was Jordan and Val, two of my American friends, who opened my eyes to the following truth: superb feedback from the audience is one of the key factors making this band play better; and with this audience being of clear Italian mentality, it’s not surprising that the band kicked some serious ass.
Speedway at Nazareth threw thousands over thousands of hands into the air; people on the balconies were jumping and cheering as if we were in ancient Rome witnessing some serious Gladiators at work. The cheers, once the last chord was struck, were deafening.
Off we went to a superb performance of Marbletown; this Marbletown‐jam performance was mostly around John leading the way with strong—still very touching—violin work and Mark going exceptionally wild on his Martin guitar—I can’t recall seeing him strumming the Martin that way before during Marbletown; something tells me he was pretty excited with the audience giving him and the band such great feedback.
If I even begin writing to you how great Telegraph Road was, I’d run out of free space on my hard drive so I’ll just tell you that it was a perfect performance to conclude the first part of the show. The outro solo was so amazing, it was just as if the entire audience bent over and the band kicked us all in the ass with a giant foot.
Great encore, and by the time So Far Away was over, the audience didn’t look even one bit shorter of breath. That concert could have last 4 hours longer and everybody would be happy. Then came Piper to the End—stunning performance to conclude a stunning concert.
The show ended at around 10:30pm. Folks, attending an entire tour is worth the while if only for a handful of concerts like this one.
Walking back to the hotel, I took a few photos of the Piazza Grande at night. An “eye candy” would be an understatement here: absolutely gorgeous, no words.
Walking back to the hotel, I walked among a sea of people. Friday night and everybody’s out having fun—thousands of people around and music is played very loud.
Decided to stop over for an ice‐cream, and I think that now would be a good time to tell you that the face that dominated the audience pictures above belonged to the female half of the couple I had met in the train and in the hotel before. Why a good time? simply because as I was waiting for my turn at the ice‐cream stand, the couple just appeared out of nowhere making their way back to the hotel. It was then when I decided to put an end to this series of weird encounters and introduced myself. Well, what do you know: his name was Didier and her name was Claudia; Didier is the leader of the only Dire Straits tribute band in Switzerland. We stood there and talked for about fifteen minutes during which I de‐prioritized anything even remotely concerned with ice‐cream. Was good meeting such nice people—hell, meeting nice people is one part of this journey that makes it all so interesting, isn’t it?
Got my ice‐cream and walked back to the hotel, taking a few photos of the lake… didn’t turn out so good so here’s the best of them:
Back at the hotel room, it was very warm. Took a shower and went out to the balcony, the towel around me, and started writing this post. Went to sleep at around 1:00am; when I woke up today and went to the balcony, I noticed people sleeping at the neighbouring balconies. I’m telling you, folks… it was very warm.
Signing‐off this post on board the InterCity Express train. Long train‐riding day today to get to Würzburg.