You’re probably wondering about the peculiar title of this post. It was, indeed, the most stressful day I can remember since April.
July 1 (by the way: Happy Canada Day, everyone) started well. My plan was to do almost nothing until about 5:00pm, then take the train to Amsterdam, and from there—take the sleeper train to Dresden, arriving Dresden 7:00am next morning. From there, it’s a 4 hours train ride to Wroclaw, Poland.
Jeroen was at work, so I figured I should go to his workplace to bid him farewell as he wasn’t scheduled to come home before 6:00pm or so. Woke up at 10:00am, a traditional Dutch breakfast and I went to Jeroen’s office.
Was good to see the people I had lunch with a few days prior. Sent everybody there a link to my first Amsterdam post—people came back laughing after reading it, particularly the Dutch cuisine part.
While in Jeroen’s office, I thought about the sleeper‐train I was going to take. As you may remember, the first sleeper‐train I took was a disaster; the one I took from Prague to Amsterdam was much better. Doing some research, I found out the reason—for the first sleeper‐train, I was booked what’s called a couchette—which is basically a simple dusty bunk bed (sharing the cabin with up to 5 other people), with toilets at the corridor; for the second sleeper‐train, I was booked an actual bed—well, still a bunk‐bed but much more comfortable, and the cabin itself had its own private toilets and shower. Difference in price was about €20; the problem was never the price—it was availability.
So, for the night‐train from Amsterdam to Dresden I was only able to book a couchette, which means—another sleepless night. Therefore, I was looking for alternatives. With the help of Jeroen, I came up with an alternative plan: instead of leaving Amsterdam at 7:00pm, I can leave Schiphol Airport (by train; the airport also serves as an important transportation hub) at 2:49pm and arrive at Dresden on 11:40pm, then stay at the InterCity Hotel in the train station (that’s a 4‐star hotel).
I loved that plan, so I booked the hotel. That didn’t leave me much time, as it required me to leave Delft ASAP to get to Schiphol Airport on time.
Bid Jeroen goodbye. That’s never a pleasant thing to do, as the June 30 concert in Amsterdam was the last concert in the Get Lucky tour that Jeroen intended going to—which means that we’ll see each other again next time I’m in Europe. Having said that, I have the strange feeling that I’ll see him again before the tour is over.
Left Delft’s train station taking the 1:24pm train. Easy ride to Schiphol Airport, and I had 40 minutes to kill prior taking the InterCity train all the way to Berlin, then connect to Dresden.
As I already had the reservation to the sleeper train, I decided to cancel the reservation and get half of the money back (€15). Wondered around to look for a place to eat, but couldn’t find any place in which I can have a meal in under 15 minutes… except for Burger King.
Time was pressing so I ate as fast as I could—which means very fast in human standards. 5 minutes before departure time, I looked for platform #3.
Found it and took the escalator down.
Looked for the sign showing the train’s details; found it.
A transit worker was there on the platform so I decided to ask him what was going on.
The train was cancelled.
Now, just so you understand what it meant: the 2:49pm train was the last train I could take in order to get to Dresden before train service time is over. The next InterCity train was scheduled to leave 2 hours later, arriving as far as Berlin—two hours away from Dresden. Connections at the next day—impossible.
Flight? no can do. In such a short notice, I’d have to pay so much money for a last‐minute ticket that I’m not sure I could afford it.
The sleeper train I had booked & cancelled just a short while before is apparently a very popular train: the day before, when I tried to upgrade to a better bed, I was told by ticketing attendants that the train was full. Beds in that train are snatched quickly, especially in summer time.
The bottom line: no way to get to Wroclaw on time. A lower line: missing the concert in Wroclaw.
I figured I should take a deep breath and calculate my moves. I was very upset, yet I knew there must be a way…
The line‐up at the ticket counter wasn’t a line‐up that I was looking forward to join as it was a bit too long to my taste, but I did it anyway. Time passed as three counters were open serving frustrated travelers.
My turn came, and I described the situation to the attendant.
– “So you’re at the same situation as I am”, I heard from my left‐hand side.
A cute young lady was standing there with a suitcase that was bigger than her, talking to the neighbouring attendant. Her name was Nicole; we’ll get back to her later.
Anyway, I decided that I want my sleeper train back. I knew I don’t stand much chance.
MIRACLE! a bed was available. Now, you might think that I was simply re‐gaining the bed that I cancelled an hour ago. Think again: it was a different bed, and the last one available. That can only mean one thing: somebody actually booked the bed that I had cancelled, while someone else cancelled.
Had the floor been a bit cleaner, I’d probably get down on my knees and kiss it.
As I was paying for the reservation, I learned that Nicole was looking into the possibility of taking a later train, to Berlin instead of Dresden, and then seek compensation from Deutsche‐Bahn in the form of a taxi‐cab ride from Berlin to Dresden. I decided to consider it as an alternative, and if the plan is acceptable by Deutsche‐Bahn—simply tag along with her to Berlin and then to Dresden by taxi.
As we were both considering this approach, we were swept into a deep conversation about everything over coffee & tea. Turns out she was doing her Masters in Leiden, while her boyfriend was doing her Masters in Dresden. Oh, they were both Canadian, too—which added to the joint feeling of joy.
At around 5:00pm, we parted ways as she returned home (will take the train the next morning) and I proceeded to Amsterdam Centraal—a 20 minutes train ride, to catch my night train.
So long Nicole, was a pleasure meeting with you and keep in touch!
After witnessing plans collapse like that, you start taking things much more seriously. In Amsterdam, got some good cappuccino at Clara’s. Then, went outside and decided to take some pictures before returning to the train station.
Those orange bands hung between the two sides of the street may have something to do with The Netherlands’ national team doing great at the world cup; at the right‐hand picture, well, one of the many coffee shops in Amsterdam, selling… well… not coffee.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city, however the touristic areas aren’t really representative of Dutch “living”. Still worth a visit. Obviously, I will go there again before long.
Went back to the departure hall, looking anxiously at the departure board, waiting for my train to be announced.
We left at 7:01pm, as planned.
Taking a short pause now: 11:00pm, and a German family (including a baby) just joined the cabin, occupying all other 5 beds. The male humanoid is devouring some salad with coleslaw, stinking up the cabin. I already dislike him.
Writing: on board the 7:32am train from Dresden to Wroclaw. It’s a miracle that I made it to this train.
Just when I thought that the ride to Poland can’t get any more complex and fragile, I woke up (more precisely, stopped turning in my bed) at around 1:30am and realized that the train was stopped. A quick look at the Deutsche‐Bahn real‐time train status (of the most useful BlackBerry applications one could have when travelling Europe) revealed a very disturbing truth; at that time, it was determined that the train will make it to Dresden 25 minutes late. That would mean a 7:32am arrival… and guess when the train to Wroclaw leaves (from a different platform): that’s right, 7:32am.
You know, it really felt as if life was shitting me, or—more precisely—shitting on me. What the hell have I done wrong in this world to deserve this?
The next hour, then, was dedicated to locating alternative routes. A flight out of Dresden (or Berlin, which we were going to stop in 2 hours)? impossible. The only viable alternative was to leave the train in Berlin—scheduled time around 4:30am—and then wait at the train station for a couple of hours and take a 6:30am train to Wroclaw, arriving at around 12:00pm.
Tough decision. What would you do? Would you walk aimlessly around Berlin’s central train station, dead tired at 4:30am, waiting for a train departing 2 hours later—with no food, no drink and absolutely no sleep—in order to make sure you make it to Poland?
And another one.
And I decided to return to sleep; Berlin is an hour or so away. I decided to wake up 10 minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time in Berlin, and see what the situation is like—sometimes, trains make up for delays somehow.
Went to sleep and woke up 10–15 minutes prior to arriving at Berlin, to the sound of Eddie Vedder’s “Rise” which also woke up the entire cabin. A quick look at the BlackBerry; delay has been cleared. Thank God… but I kept checking anyway.
Back to sleep and woke up at 6:30am by the attendant as we were approaching Dresden… or so we thought, at least. 15 minutes delay.
It was so good to leave that damn train, walk to the departure hall and see my Wroclaw train waiting for me, having 10 minutes to spare. So good. A quick visit to a neat‐looking market at the train station, grabbed a sandwich, a croissant and a bottle of water, and boarded the train.
I made it to the train.
Isaac—1, train delays—0.
Will take a short pause now. 8:50am, on board the train to Wroclaw. We just crossed the invisible border to Poland; Wroclaw is the terminating station for this train so I think I’ll try to get some sleep.
“Poland. What the fuck did I forget in Poland that I have to go there?”—that was pretty much my first reaction once I noticed the announcement regarding Mark Knopfler’s concert there. I believe it was towards the end of 2009, and the person who the reaction was aimed to was my good friend Jonathan. I recall him replying with something along the lines of:
Well, truth be told, I knew nothing about Poland. My entire knowledge of Poland amounted to the terrible things that happened to the Jewish people there during World War II, plus the stereotype of the “Jewish Polish Woman” (hint: cold in bed and extremely difficult to deal with (not just in bed)).
Another thing I knew about Poland was that it was the ski capital of the world. Every second word here ends with “‐ski”.
So, if I say that I had too many expectations from this short 1‐day visit to Poland, I’d be lying.
Anyway, no sleep taken on board the train to Wroclaw. Even the first‐class cabin was full at some point; poorly ventilated cabin, and combined with my utter tiredness and the bleak, depressing views of the ride (mostly Belgium‐like, occasionally worse!) my mood wasn’t really at its peak. All I wanted was to get some rest.
Finally, after four hours that seemed like fucking forever, we arrived at Wroclaw Glowny, which is Wroclaw’s main train station.
Now, some people say that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I will borrow an expression I have heard a while back, and say that, in the case of the Wroclaw Glowny area, the beauty is in the eyes of the beer holder. You gotta be drunk to think that this area has any sort of beauty even remotely associated with it. The last time I’ve seen such a bleak, depressing area was in Luxembourg, and it haunts me to this very day.
The looks of the central station and its surroundings was so depressing, that even though I was dying to take a leak, I preferred to just walk the 2km to the hotel over stopping anywhere. It was that depressing.
The long 2km walk seemed like eternity and then I took the turn to my hotel. Here is what I saw:
Seeing this with my tired eyes, I tried to remember what the hell was it that I booked for Wroclaw. Prices here are low, and I was sure that I booked a good hotel. In that instant, though, I had a flashback, reading a comment somewhere about this hotel with the title “don’t let the surroundings fool you”. And indeed: Centrum Dikul Hotel—located right next to whatever it is that’s worth seeing in Wroclaw—is a great hotel to spend a night (or a few nights) in. Great rooms, great service—they allowed me to check‐in 2 hours prior to check‐in time, great location, great price… what else would you need?
Checked‐in, entered the fantastic room, and took a shower. Now, when I say “shower”… don’t think of it as the shower you just had. Think about an uncomfortable bunk bed, think about the heat‐waves I got throughout that hell‐of‐a‐day when plans collapsed, think of a 2.5km walk in the sun, humidity at around 2 million percent. Feeling hot already? Good. That feeling should give you an idea of how good it was to be in the shower.
Straight to bed for a 3–4 hours sleep. I really can’t remember how long it took me to fall asleep—I’m inclined to say that it was less than one minute.
Woke up at around 4:00pm, hungry as a dog. Looking at the concert’s information over the ticket confirmation email as well as some websites, I could only see what time doors would be open. That was 6:00pm. When should the show start? only God knows. It wasn’t in the markknopfler.com ticket confirmation email; it wasn’t in Live Nation’s website; it was nowhere to be mentioned.
Therefore, I had to use some common sense. Doors open at 6:00pm—meaning the show starts no earlier than 7:30pm. Took some directions to an Italian restaurant—directions that took me bloody nowhere—so instead, I went to the central area, which is called “Market Square” (in English; in Polish—I have no idea).
And you know what? that made me change my mind a bit, about the city. As I wasn’t tired anymore, weather wasn’t as hot, things appeared to be more appealing. The Market Square area is pretty—well, not really like Prague or the best areas in Brussels, but still far, far better than, say, Oberhausen.
Earlier when I was walking from the station to the hotel, I posted a Tweet saying that Wroclaw is as bad as Oberhausen. Sorry, Wroclaw; I know we had our difficulties but you don’t deserve being compared to Oberhausen. I am sorry. Really.
Everybody, their mothers, sisters and nephews were flocking the terraces at the Market Square, watching football. The Netherlands played against Brazil, score was 1:1. Walking around looking for a place with a decent menu, I decided to have my lunch at a place called “Bierhalle” (or something of the like). Slow service as it was jam packed with enthusiastic fans—mostly of The Netherlands.
GOAL! 2:1 for The Netherlands. What a great team. They played really well; game ended and people went crazy on the streets. I finally got my food; ice‐cream followed shortly after and I went to the venue—a 3.5km walk, across the river to the north‐east part of Wroclaw.
The bridge that crosses the river (no Internet connection where I am at the moment) provides for some neat views…
… contrasted by views like this, as soon as you cross it.
Interesting mix of beauty and ugliness in the city of Wroclaw. Kuba, a reader of this blog who is native to Poland, sent me an interesting email just before I was about to head to lunch, explaining that the city (and the country as a whole) still struggles to find itself in the post‐wall era. It shows on everything: the buildings, the architecture, the roads. Even the people: the mature people look very tired, sometimes lifeless—as the young appear more vivid and, sometimes, a bit too rowdy.
Another bridge to cross and I’m nearing the Hala Stulecia…
Finally, I’m there.
As you approach the hall, BBQ smell fills the air. In warm weather, that’s less than pleasant so I decided to just go inside… bad mistake (as you’ll soon find out). Ticket pick‐up was easy: front row, seat 32. Upon entering the venue, I find out that, once again, I’m at the dead centre.
It was hot. Oh man, was it hot. Too hot to bear—no ventilation whatsoever (air conditioning? HA HA), sweaty people walking everywhere. I guess we’re not in Canada anymore.
So hot that I bought two bottles of water and decided that the best way to absorb the least amount of heat would be to go to my seat and just lock my ass to it.
A few minutes later, a gorgeous young lady, seated on a wheelchair, approached the centre of the front row along with her companion—a mature man who I assumed was her father. They had a long discussion between them, of which I could make no sense at all as it was all gibberish. Shortly after, the man left and two friends of her showed up, further extending the conversation.
I’m not a big fan of talkers, but there was something there… I can’t explain it. Found it hard to take my eyes off this lady. Half an hour before the concert, she asked me if it’s OK to sit next to me; of course I said yes, and then we started talking about all bunch of things—she taught me a bit of Polish, too. Her name was Joanna.
Advice: if you’re looking into learning a new language, do not choose Polish. You’re bound to get some serious headache trying to pronounce the simplest of words. Better learn some whistling‐based language of some tribe in mid‐Papua; would probably be useful, and for sure will be much more fun.
I proved to be a very bad student for Polish and after learning 4 sentences (of which I can remember NOTHING), the band captured the stage and the concert started.
Unfortunately there is not much I can tell you about the concert itself, mostly because I really didn’t hear it—at least not the way that I would like to hear a concert. As the audience appeared to have loved the show—judging by the sheer amount of cheers coming from the back—I’ll assume that the show was great, but for whoever was seated at the front rows, I believe it was a huge disappointment.
It was the sound. I cannot recall any venue in this tour, or the previous tour, and I cannot even imagine any venue that would offer sound quality as poor as the Hala Stulecia. Assuming that the sound crew did their best and whatever sound emitted through the speakers yesterday was the best sound that can be heard in this venue—it is my recommendation to all musicians in the world to avoid using the Hala Stulecia. This venue is not meant for concerts.
(Oh, yes, almost forgot. First time Mark appears on stage wearing a short‐sleeve shirt. Told you, folks. It was VERY HOT in the venue)
For once, Mark’s voice was almost unheard at the front rows. It seemed to me that the sound system was configured in a way that Mark’s voice only made it through the topmost speakers onto the far edges of the venue. As I had to go to the bathroom at the beginning of Telegraph Road, I verified that the problem also applied to the back of the venue—although not as severely.
With Mark’s voice basically nonexistent, one’s brain would naturally stick to the sound of the instruments. Also terrible; at the centre of the front row, you would notice really strange sound balance—for example, during Sailing to Philadelphia, John’s flute work could hardly be heard.
I should tell you though that not everything was so bleak. Sailing to Philadelphia’s solo involved superb guitar work at the solo parts, as John’s flute part was minimal—perhaps they knew that the flute could hardly be heard anywhere? Obviously I am not implying anything negative about John’s performance—just highlighting the fact that we heard much more guitar work during that solo than average.
The Running of the Bulls did not take place until about 30 seconds after Telegraph Road’s last note was struck. I stepped calmly towards the stage, and was immediately followed by millions of screaming sweaty Polish guys. The cheers were very loud; a group of individuals wearing red T‐shirts with the writing “www.knopfler.pl” dominated the stage area as well as the sound spectrum.
During the cheers part, I looked at Mike and signalled to him that it’s way too fucking hot in this venue. He smiled, pointed at his cup of beer as if saying “well, that’s what this is good for”. I gave him a look back that would be universally interpreted as “PLEASE GIVE ME A SIP”—you know, folks, I despise beer but it was so hot I would even drink pee if it was cold enough. He smiled as if feeling sympathetic for the hell I was going through.
I then thought about Joanna and the fact that she probably couldn’t see a thing now that the entire venue is on its feet, and decided to go back and sit next to her. As I was going to go back, I noticed her about one metre away from me, and asked a few mean‐looking Polish men to make way for her so her and I can switch places. I believe Joanna got a very good view of the encore as well—she seemed happy.
Before, during and after the encore, many fans raised all sorts of items hoping for Mark’s signature. The first picture below shows the LP cover of Brothers in Arms; the second one… well, some Polish guy decided to take his knopfler.pl T‐shirt off and hand it to Mark for a signature.
Concert ended at around 10:15pm to wild cheers.
Bid Joanna goodbye and left the venue. That spear in front of the venue looks nicer at night.
Walked the same way back; crossing the bridge to the city centre area presents a magnificent view of a remote tower reflecting over the water.
Back at the Market Square, the atmosphere was brilliant. Lots and lots of people having a good time, terraces were packed. Oh, some soccer, too. Uruguay played against Ghana, and I just arrived in time to see the down‐right stupid miss that Ghana made at the end of the overtime—then missing a penalty shot. What a rush. People watching the game were ecstatic.
Sat down in a restaurant and got myself a good meal to end the day with; then back to the hotel, not before I took a few pictures. That area is indeed very nice at night.
Just around the corner from my hotel, I encountered this. A building with more satellite dishes than in the entire province of Ontario.
The schedule for the next morning (which is this morning) was to wake up at 5:30am to catch the 6:08am train to Katowice, then connect to Vienna. I am signing‐off this post while on board the Eurocity train en route to Vienna, after a morning so stressful it made the Amsterdam fiasco feel like a walk in the park. Stay tuned for details in the next post…