Saturday, September 12, 2009

Listening to “Get Lucky” for the First Time

This event wouldn’t have its own dedicated blog entry, however short, had it not been such an amazing experience.

At around 9:00pm, we dimmed the lights, shut down all phones and started playing Mark Knopfler’s Get Lucky on Jeroen’s surround sound system.

The first song, Border Reiver, wasn’t new to us as it was published in Mark’s official website a few weeks ago; however that was the first time I listened to it through a great sound system and it sounded even more amazing that way. We came to an agreement that this song would be the perfect gig-opener during the tour. There is so much positive power in this song to make you fly, kind of like a “boom” to send you right into heaven right at the beginning of the show.

The next song, Hard Shoulder, is a very soft song. I can think of very few songs that are such a perfect fit for a walk down a moonlit pathway – by yourself. This song placed right after the dramatic Border Reiver really relaxes you.

The next song is a You Can’t Beat the House. The first time I listen to the band playing blues. This song is fundamentally different than all other songs in the album – somewhat jolly, very different style, cheering you up and putting a smile on your face (listen to the lyrics, of course).

Before Gas & TV comes right after. Begins slowly and quietly, but soon enough becomes dramatic; the instrumental work in this song is phenomenal, led by guitar work that haunts you in very much the same way that Brothers in Arms’ does. I am an absolute and complete sucker for guitar works such as these, which makes this song one of my all-time favourites.

Monteleone follows. A quiet, soft song – already heard it in the Prince’s Trust concert and the album version is superb. Chills you out in no time; Mark’s voice goes as soft as I have ever heard it – whispering and literally forces you to relax. Great strings work. Such a simple & great song.

Cleaning My Gun is an island of rock music in this album. This is as close to rock as this album gets – rhythmic, flowing very well with great guitar work. I’m thinking this entire song consists of four chords – very simple and gets you into an optimistic, cheery mood (interesting lyrics…)

The Car was the One for some reason reminds me of KTGC’s The Fizzy and the Still at times. Nice song, somewhat “restrained” with great piano work and interesting lyrics (the CD’s insert provides Mark’s explanation of this song. Bizarre, I always got the impression that Mark prefers to not discuss the meaning behind his songs).

Remembrance Day follows. What a touching song with brilliant keyboard work and guitar work so haunting and touching that can easily make you choke up in a gloomy day. The choir accompanying the song, consisting primarily of the family members (wives, kids) of band members as well as people closely associated with them, adds an interesting “aspect” to this song. Very well done!

Get Lucky, the title track, is next. When this song was first published in Mark Knopfler’s official website, it immediately made its way into a one-song playlist that played for hours in a loop straight into my brain – it is that beautiful. What’s interesting, though, is that if you listen to this song after listening to all previous songs in the album, you get a totally different “atmosphere” from the one you’d get if you listened to this song by itself. This is “musical priming” at its best.

So Far from the Clyde follows. This song and Before Gas & TV are my favourite tracks in this album. While all other tracks are amazing, these two are my favourite for a simple reason: they are dramatic with extremely prominent, well-timed and well-emphasized minor chords. As for this song – I can only describe it as a “never-ending provider of shivers”. EVERYTHING in this song is perfect – the guitar work (my God), keyboard work, accordion, and of course the whistles, flutes… what more could I have asked for.

Piper to the End concludes this beautifully-crafted album. Mark has written this song in reference to an uncle he never knew (lost in battle). The lyrics are very touching, and together with heart-warming instrumental work you end up getting a simple, yet powerful song. As the song builds up, you realize that the album is almost over, which makes you quite sad because you haven’t listened to such perfect music in quite a while and you don’t want it to end. Viciously enough, this track ends in a fade-out (the only track that fades-out in this album)… I really didn’t want this fade-out to end. It’s like you’re seeing the finest ship in the world sailing away from you. You want to hold it so it doesn’t leave your sight, but yet it sails away and you are nearing tears when you realize that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to make it stay there with you.

In total, this is a fantastic album. I tend to be very attentive to the smallest details and so far, after listening to this album pretty much all day, I have to say – I am stumped. This album has no flaws in it. Nothing. These are the best musicians that I have ever come across, playing perfect music in perfect harmony, creating an album that, in my opinion, is the apex of Mark’s creations so far.

I have to say that this is a little frustrating. Yet again, Mark has claimed that he’s going to create a “better album”, I couldn’t believe it’s even possible and I come up a loser.

Shortly after listening to the album, I logged into a prominent Israeli news site and reported my impression in one of the music forums there. I have claimed, quite vigorously, that this is Mark’s best solo album so far and the two main reasons for it (in my opinion) are the facts that it has been recorded in a brilliant studio and, even more importantly, that it was performed by a group of musicians that appear to have perfect symbiosis between them.

I didn’t want this album to end, really… and while I am looking forward to listening to some tracks from this album being played live in 2010 as I will attend the entire tour, I can’t escape the thought about the emptiness of the day after.



A Day in Delft, The Netherlands


I slept like a baby for about 9 hours straight. Correction: I slept better than a baby, unless we’re talking about one hell of a peaceful baby. Jeroen was already awake and it was time for breakfast.

Jeroen made us some typical Dutch breakfast – slices of bread with Gouda cheese and sliced ham. Gouda is a famous cheese originated in The Netherlands, with a very interesting texture and heavenly taste. I viciously devoured whatever was on my plate – that’s usually what happens when severe hunger is collided with the provision of good food on my plate.

Jeroen took a few hours off work so we can fulfill our God-sent destiny early Friday morning: our order of Mark Knopfler’s “Get Lucky” Deluxe Limited Edition has arrived at the store and it was time to go pick it up. We walked to the downtown area of Delft – a pleasant 10 minutes walk beset by narrow canals, neat flora and gazillions of bicycles.

Dutch people love their bicycles, and that also impacts traffic regulations: bicycle-only lanes are very common, and they’re usually twice or three times wider than bicycle lanes in, say, Toronto. It is much more likely to get run over by a bicycle in The Netherlands, than by a car.

And everybody – I repeat: everybody rides them. You will see kids, youth, adults and seniors on bicycles, riding as if there’s no tomorrow. Lots of people also own folding bikes – an ingenious invention that lets you basically pack your bike and insert it into your backpack, so you can involve public transit (trains, trams, buses) in your journey.

Here is an example of how it’s done. This picture was taken just outside the Delft train station:


And another one:


Who the hell needs a car here, that I don’t know.

Anyway, we went into the music store in the pretty downtown area of Delft and asked for the packages we had ordered. They were still in a box, probably arrived just the day before. There they were – two LP-sized boxes of an album so eagerly awaited that it was very exciting to lay hands upon. Jeroen took the two boxes in his backpack with him to work (of course, riding his bicycle) and I was left to spend a day in Delft.

This is what I like doing – pack a small backpack, being thrown into a new place and simply start exploring by foot. Beats exploring by car any day of the week. Weather was perfect and there I went strolling down the streets of Delft.

The stroll took a not-so-surprising pause after two minutes when the smell of fresh pastries attacked my brain in a way that left me absolutely no choice but to enter that cafe, about 20m away from the music store where I started my stroll. Beautiful terrace (that’s what they call a “patio” in The Netherlands), and what a beautiful dish of thick smoked salmon served on fresh multigrain bread, fresh squeezed orange juice on the side.

After an hour of eating and writing in my blog, I left the cafe and started strolling the streets of Delft (for real now). Took me less than a minute to get to what turned out to be the starting point from which Delft should be explored – the huge square with the “New Church” (, facing the City Hall. This is what the New Church looks like:


Opposing it is the City Hall:


Some other views of the square, beset by coffee places, restaurants and what not:


As I’m on vacation and I prefer time to expand rather than compress (Richard: hope you don’t mind I’m borrowing this expression from you), I took some time to shift my butt to neutral mode and rested for a bit in one these cafe’s, looking at the world go by and concentrating very hard on taking deep breaths in, and out; in, and out; relaxation.

Wi-Fi is not something you usually get for free in Delft, it turns out. I was craving some espresso (who would have guessed) and therefore went to this place called “The Coffee Company”. Turned out to have very good espresso and – lo and behold – Wi-Fi for customers. Good time to catch up with emails and upload some blog posts.

It was time to go home already, as Jeroen was taking half a day off. Walking back to his house is such a pleasant walk… here, take a look:


Canals are everywhere in Delft, and I’m pretty sure that holds true for most cities in The Netherlands. I happen to have strong feelings towards bodies of water – I must have been a sailor (or a fish) in one of my past lives.

There is a term “Delft Blue”, which is a very specific shade of blue often used on ceramics. So yes, it was invented here, it turns out. Once you see the picture, you’ll understand what I’m talking about… my grandmother has tons of these:


On my way, I took some corner and saw this. Hmmmm.


Another thing I don’t quite get – and it seems to be very common in Europe, is demonstrated in the following picture:


See the doors to your right? these are entrances to actual houses. People live on the first floor, and the houses are built so you enter into the house directly from the street. Now, that might not have been so strange, however there are windows there as well – you can easily turn your head to the right and see whatever is going on in that house. This is very problematic when you’re walking in pairs. Unless you’re walking one behind another, somebody simply has to be on the right-hand side. How do you talk to him / her without having your eyes hover over those windows?

Bizarre. Anyhow, these houses along the canals cost a lot of money.

Arrived at Jeroen’s place, and he made us dinner – stir-fried chicken with vegetables, wrapped, some salsa sauce on top, with grated old Gouda cheese (Gouda’s are like wine – grows better with age). That was great.

We made plans to listen to Get Lucky at the first time once the sun goes down. We had some time to kill so I used it to play my guitar on Jeroen’s balcony, facing a nice-looking canal and lots of green.

Then the time came to listen to Get Lucky

(Continued at the next post)

First Day at The Netherlands, Coldplay Concert

We had to wake up really early the morning after the concert, as we had an early 8:40am flight from London to Amsterdam. Flying out of the London City Center turned out to be quite a nicer experience than flying out of Heathrow.

After a short breakfast at the airport, we proceeded to security – Jeroen armed with a small backpack and me wearing quite a big backpack along with a travel guitar. No problem in security control whatsoever, and we proceeded to the gate.

Once arrived at the gate, I was approached by one of the ladies working there. She was pointing at my backpack.

- “I am sorry, you will have to check it in”, she said.

- “… OK, how do I go about doing that?”, I replied.

She didn’t really answer my question, though.

- “This is a very big backpack. How did you manage to get it through security?”

I tried to come up with a proper reply but couldn’t. What am I supposed to say? “I hid it under my coat”? Maybe “I sneaked it in”? Or, maybe the best would be “who said I got here through security control?”.

- (looking at her with a helpless expression) “How am I supposed to answer this question?”

She really didn’t know what to say but I did notice a few people standing around giggling. She ended up giving me a note (like in school) and instructions to put the bag on a cart right next to the airplane, and I shall be receiving it as I deplane.

One hour and a half waiting inside the damn airplane! Formal excuse was “luggage discrepancy”, and after a while it was “need to refuel due to the airplane’s engine being turned on for so long, waiting”. We finally departed an hour and a half past scheduled time. That means much less time to sleep at Jeroen’s place before heading to Coldplay’s concert.

We finally arrived at Amsterdam, took the train to Delft (where Jeroen lives), changed and immediately left towards a city by a name so strange that I fail to recall it right now. There, we were going to meet Lennart (Jeroen’s colleague), Ineke (Lennart’s girlfriend) and Jeffrey (Lennart’s brother). Lennart was commissioned to drive us to the venue in Nijmegen, about two hours away from Delft. We ended up spending three hours in the car due to terrible traffic, but we had fun along the way.

We reached the venue – a huge park – at around 6:30pm, two hours and a half before the main event. White Lies were warming up for Coldplay. Weather was perfect for an outdoors concert, and the sound was very impressive.

At 9:00pm, Coldplay went on stage and gave a stunning performance. Truly stunning. Out of the 41 concerts I have been to in my life, this was the third one that was NOT Mark Knopfler’s (the first one being Guns n’ Roses in Tel-Aviv, 1993, and Eric Clapton in Toronto, 2008).

The crowd was great, participating really well in the concert itself, except for two 16 years old girls beside us who obviously had some alcohol in them, screaming to no end. We were located about 70m away from the stage, but could still see the concert through the big screens at both sides of the stage.

I am only familiar with Coldplay’s earlier material and listening to those songs played live was very enjoyable. Happy to have been there.

Our way back was very easy. Hardly no traffic and I was actually asleep most of the way – I was devastated after this extremely long day. Within an hour and a half we arrived at Jeroen’s place, where I bid Lennart, Ineke and Jeffrey goodbye. Within 15 minutes I was already fast asleep.

Another great day is over.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Tips for the Independent Traveller, Part II of (?)

In my previous post about the subject, I covered the topic of packing, with the main message being – be a minimalist. Today I will discuss the topic of food and diet.

I am approaching this subject with a fair bit of caution. Last year during the KTGC tour, in one of the posts I mentioned that I fail to understand how most Americans & Canadians have their breakfast consist of food that renders them tired and unproductive (actually I think the word I used was “useless”) for the entire day. That appeared to have triggered someone to call me a jackass. I never knew that food is such a touchy subject.

That said, the same rule of thumb that applies for packing also applies for food: be a minimalist.

Ideally, if you have enough time to prepare for such a trip and you are overweight, you will want to lose that extra padding. No, the reason is not that I want you to look good (unless you happen to be a woman and our ways are bound to cross). Losing weight before such a trip has a few indispensible advantages:

  • The actual reduction in your body weight means that it’s physically easier for you to move around. Sometimes, you may have to walk some good distances and every single pound counts.
  • Assuming you have reduced weight in a “healthy” manner (rather than going on an extreme, hazardous diet), the very act of losing weight will normally translate to your body being able to maintain itself with less food intake. The very last thing you want to happen to you while on such a trip, is being in a constant state of hunger.

Now to the diet – that means, how and what you should be eating and drinking while on your trip.

Some background: I have spent 4.5 out of the last 5.5 years living with a partner that was extremely strict when it comes to food. She used to study chemistry, biology and other related subjects and knew pretty much anything there is to know about the body, nutrition etc. When we met, I used to eat a lot of garbage, but very quickly I changed my ways – drastically reduced the amount of garbage intake and overall took better care of my diet. Today I am indebted to her for training me to eat well.

While you are on an independent trip, one of the key things you want to achieve is control and predictability, especially when it comes to your body; and the simplest way I know of achieving this level of control and predictability is to not “surprise” your body. Your diet should be regular and consistent. The more consistent you are with your diet, the lower the risk that your body will give you trouble and there are very few things that can ruin a trip more than an angry stomach.

You also want to eat only when you’re hungry, but be careful not to wait until you’re starving. Also, you want to eat many small meals rather than a few big ones. The reason is that it takes your body between 15-30 minutes to realize that it’s not hungry anymore, and it will surprise you on how much less food you can survive. Try it for yourself… wait until you’re hungry, then eat half the quantity you usually eat when you’re hungry, then take a 20 minutes break. Most of the chances are that you’ll be surprised with the results and you won’t want to eat any further.

In summary, the “how” part of the diet is: eat in a predictable, regular manner, and eat a little.

Now about the “what”.

Candies and “simple” sugars (chocolate bars, candy bars, ice creams) are generally a big no-no. Having your blood sugar in control means a lot, and too much sugar can easily turn your trip from being a delight into a being a pain in the ass. High sugar level will cause you to eat more and be hyperactive – and, depending on how insulin behaves in your body – may sometimes make you simply fall asleep (due to sudden blood-sugar level drops). There is more than enough sugar in the food that you should be eating, and there’s no need to compliment it with candy.

Fast-food such as McDonald’s, Burger King and the vicious KFC (AKA “The Dirty Bird”) are also absolute no-no’s. Not only they contain ample amounts of sugar, the abundance of fat in these foods will make you sleepy and agitated. Given. Maybe in your regular life you don’t need to maintain a high level of attention for long periods of time (in which case consumption of “junk food” wouldn’t matter much), when you’re in an independent trip you really want to be on high alert to what’s going on and fat consumption clearly is not the way to go.

What you should eat is what you always heard that you should eat but never listened to. You want to eat foods that are high on fibre and low on sugar & fat. So-called “complex carbohydrates” (yams, whole-wheat bread, whole rice and, in fact, whole foods in general) are also good, as they are being digested rather slowly which means that you get a longer sense of “fullness” from them, essentially forcing you to eat less.

If you would like to eat something sweet, always prefer fruit over candy. Sweetness comes from sugars, and if you’re already going to consume sugars, might as well consume natural sugars (fruit) over synthetic, actually poisonous ones (candy).

When it comes to drink: avoid soft drinks such as cola, 7-up and other poisonous, sugar-filled crap and stick to the basics: water, tea, coffee (use milk rather than cream) and natural fruit juices. Same rules as before: the less sugar the better, and if you consume sugar already, always prefer natural over synthetic.

That’s it with regards to food… for now. There may be other tips I can provide but so far I captured what I believe are the most important things.


Mark Knopfler’s Prince’s Trust Concert

At 7:30pm, when the doors opened, there were approximately 150 people waiting to enter. I looked around, and the vast majority of people I’ve seen were quite adult, very respected-looking people - “London’s Best” as one would put it.

We were invited into a particularly small hall, maybe 2-3 times the size of my bedroom at home. The room was intended to contain all of the VIP people, and it is where the private concert was to be performed. We were handed some champagne, and the atmosphere really resembled what you would expect from a high-society gathering. As it turned out, the VIP invitees were predominantly people who had close & long-running association with the Prince’s Trust and/or the Hurlingham Club.

As Giuseppe, his girlfriend and myself were standing about a foot away from the 2-feet high stage, a nice woman approached me and asked me for my name. It turned out to be Martina (I hope my spelling is correct). I have heard her name mentioned in the past as a reference to an extremely hard-core Mark Knopfler fan, strongly involved with the abundance of fan forums.

Martina and I engaged in a conversation about the Kill to Get Crimson tour, and then she pointed out some details that I was not aware of. It turned out that Mark’s wife, Kitty, was standing right there beside me, talking with a very important-looking individual. One of Mark’s sons was standing beside her as well.

(My knowledge of Mark’s private life approximates to zero, which is, pretty much I guess, the way that he would have liked it to be)

The very fact that Mark’s family was there, in the same room with us, was an alarmingly clear sign that certainly wasn’t going to be a fan-oriented gathering. The intimacy of the place was also something extremely extraordinary, and whoever knows the first thing about Mark Knopfler knows that he shies away from fans as if from fire, and the only people he feels comfortable surrounding himself with – let alone within a radius of no more than a few meters – are people who wouldn’t be generally categorized as “typical fans”.

I never bet (even in Vegas; ask my friend Jonathan), however I am willing to bet a good portion of my money that, at maximum, ten VIP tickets were given to fans.

The show’s host then entered the room and gave a short introduction. Within a minute, he announced Mark’s name. Looking to my right, I could see Mark entering the room, dressed in extremely simple clothes, and hopped on the stage, sitting not more than one meter away from where I was standing. Guy Fletcher, John McCusker, Danny Cummings and two other band mates of whom I was not familiar with, stood at the door. Guy and John were waving “hello” at me – I guess after seeing the same face for 31 concerts in a row, it remains burnt in some people’s memories. I waved back – it was great seeing them again.

The way the VIP private concert worked – and, as it turns out, the entire performance – was in the form of questions presented to Mark by the show’s host, then Mark providing elaborate answers, often (yet not always) involving playing songs.

The intimacy of the VIP hall was, as I said, extraordinary. Listening to Mark Knopfler speak is nothing less enjoyable than listening to him play and sing – one of the things I like most about this fellow is the way he speaks, the vocabulary he uses and the amazingly sharp sense of humour.

Every question presented by the host was “designed” to lead to a particular song. The reaction of the attendees to the choice of the first song would be a clear way to distinguish fans from non-fans, in the sense that fans would never really see it coming. The song was “Behind with the Rent” from the Kill to Get Crimson album. The host asked Mark about the process in which he brings songs to life, and gave “Behind with the Rent” as an example – a great example as this song really gives you a “personal” feeling and the sense of “stepping into” the song’s subject’s shoes.

Mark then performed “Behind with the Rent”… kind of. Why “kind of”? Well, it was played with a completely different chord set. Same lyrics, but with kind of a jolly melody, in sharp contrast to the “minor” spirit of the original song. This has created a phenomenon that I have never witnessed before. If you follow the lyrics of the song, accompanied by the original melody, you actually get a slight sense of… well… fright. It’s a dark song, full of expressions that would only be used by a stalker of some sort (“This crumpet’s past its sell-by date but they all would qualify / they’re gonna lonely and be happy to comply”). Wouldn’t want to meet this song alone in a dark alley, really. However when you listen to it with the alternative melody, you can’t help but laughing. You get a completely different feeling – basically some sort of pity over an extremely unfortunate guy.

I think that it takes a musical genius in order to achieve such a level of being able to “prime” people with feelings through music, and not only that – but being able to prime them with completely different feelings using the same lyrics but different melody.

After this peculiar performance, the rest of the band joined and they all played the “proper” version of “Behind with the Rent”, which was very special and beautiful.

Then the Q & A led Mark & the band to play “Secondary Waltz” (from “Kill to Get Crimson”) and Marbletown (from “The Ragpicker’s Dream”), the latter including the infamous intermission, as played in the Kill to Get Crimson tour (with less “power” though; remember this wasn’t a full-fledged concert).

As soon as Marbletown ended, the band said “thank you” and immediately left the room. Everybody had disappeared and I found myself standing aimlessly at the VIP hall, the entrance to which was still monitored (as they served food & champagne inside). I was really looking forward to the opportunity to say hello to John and Guy, but that opportunity, unfortunately, never came.

Shortly before the main concert began, my path happened to cross that of Mrs. Knopfler and their son. I was thinking about introducing myself, then decided that I probably shouldn’t – mostly because I couldn’t really think of a smart and/or useful thing to say.

My seat was located at the thirteenth row, right at the middle – good visibility. By now it became clear that this is not going to be a “normal” concert, but rather a Q & A, story-telling-like session involving a few performances. It was a really interesting experience though, to listen to the band talking about all sorts of topics – instruments being used, as well as whatever went through Mark’s head when he composed the songs. Some songs were played in full, and some were played only partially (the crowd went really, really disappointed when the band played about a minute and a half of “Money for Nothing” and then stopped at once, with Mark saying “and so and so on”).

At some point, the host made a reference to the 9/11 anniversary coming up. I was somewhat shocked as I couldn’t see the connection between September 11 and any of Mark’s songs. Then Mark provided some background to a song he wrote about the event (while my mind goes “WTF?!”), and particularly about the last moments of so many of the victims who called their loved ones once they knew they were going to die. An old woman sitting beside me started crying uncontrollably while I still didn’t understand how on earth this is related to anything that Mark had written. Mark went on to say that these expressions of love, through the recorded “last calls” from the victims, signified the victory of harmony and love over those (quote) “barbaric and backward acts”.

While he was saying these things, my mind went racing over the entire Mark Knopfler catalogue and then it hit me in much the same way as if somebody hit my head with a baseball bat. I reached the conclusion just as it was mentioned that this song is from Mark’s duet album with Emmylou Harris (“All the Roadrunning”, 2006) – the song was “If This Is Goodbye”.

“If This Is Goodbye” is a love-song so touching and beautiful that it is very hard to listen to without getting the shivers – especially the guitar solo at the end. The song has been bearing a very special meaning to me during the last 6-7 months due to personal reasons beyond the scope of this blog. I had the impression that this song is about some sort of a break-up, or separation, of a couple. It turned out that I was pretty much the only one to not know that this song was written about the 9/11 aftermath. Listening to this song live for the first time, listening to every word carefully now that I know the true context in which they were written, was one of the strongest emotional experiences I have had in years and, for me, that did the show.

The band played (not in that order) “Sultans of Swing” (only the last verse & solo), “Sailing to Philadelphia” (full), “Money for Nothing” (one verse), “Romeo and Juliet” (partial), “If This Is Goodbye” (full), “True Love Will Never Fade” (full), “Song for Sonny Liston” (full), “Why Worry” (full) and from the new album - “Get Lucky” and “Monteleone” (full).

For encore, they played “Brothers in Arms” (full) and “Local Hero” (full).

The concert ended and we all went our way. I met Daria at the exit, and Jeroen sent me a text message saying that he’ll be waiting for us at the meeting-point we had agreed upon.

On the exit, I ran into beautiful Zuzana again… and so did my camera:


(Fortunately, my mother is not following my blog… and I shall not elaborate any further)

This concert has been an extremely interesting experience and I am happy to have been given the opportunity to attend it. However, that concert had yet another revelation for me in its back pocket – an extremely sad & frightening realization that I prefer to not share (just writing this here as a “mental bookmark”).

Met with Jeroen at the agreed-upon meeting point and we all made our way to Earl’s Court, where Jeroen & myself bid Daria farewell, then hopped again on the underground on our way back to Russell Square.

Went to sleep as soon as got to the hotel as Jeroen and I had to catch an early plane to Amsterdam.


Prince’s Trust Concert Day

Time seemed to pass so quickly and, finally, the day that we have all been waiting for has arrived. Wednesday, September 9, Mark Knopfler performing in the Hurlingham Club – a charity concert for the Prince’s Trust.

Shortly after 12:30pm, I met with Jeroen Gerrits came from The Netherlands for the show. It was great meeting with him, as always; we proceeded to the Trafalgar Square area, catching up with what’s been going on recently. Few groceries from a nearby Pret-A-Monger and we were sitting at the Square, chewing and talking, not necessarily in that order.

I was also expecting a shout from Daria. Daria is an extremely nice & pretty Italian woman whom I got to know last year; she was following my KTGC blog and we kept in touch over e-mail ever since – and today we were going to meet for the first time. Finally, after a couple of hours involving following the wrong directions to her hotel (the so-called “Warwick Rd. vs. Warwick Ave. incident”), we met in Earl’s Court. It was very exciting to meet with her, at last.

We decided to hit some place for a quick early dinner before proceeding to the show. The VIP section, for which I had a ticket, was to start at 7:00pm and it was already 4:00pm or so and nobody wanted to take chances. Got back to our hotel in Russell Square, picked up the tickets and went to have an early dinner in “The Diner of Bloomsbury”, the same place I had that fantastic goat-cheese-covered hamburger during my first night in London.

Aimee, our waitress, recognized me from my first night. She’s in London to attend college, studying English. She was very nice to us so I decided to make her famous:


Early dinner was great and then we proceeded back to the underground, to catch the 40-minutes ride to the Hurlingham Club. We arrived at around 5:30pm, only to be informed that doors are only going to open shortly before 7:00pm. We went looking for a place to sit down and chill out with some coffee – to no avail. Either we were looking at the wrong places, or the Putney Bridge area (where the Hurlingham Club is located) is not one’s best choice for leisure activities. The former is probably the case.

While waiting for the doors to open, Daria, Jeroen and myself came to know a young Italian couple (the guy’s name is Giuseppe, and I never got his girlfriend’s name). Daria was apparently very happy to have someone to communicate fluently with, and the trio commenced on a long discussion involving multiple finger-pointing gestures towards me, sometimes accompanies by laughter – not anything I’m not used to already.

Near us, there stood quietly this superbly-beautiful lady who appeared to be a bit out of touch with what was going on. Of course, myself being an extremely curious individual, I struck up a conversation (I attribute my ability to strike up a conversation with total strangers solely to being a Canadian resident for such a long time). Her name is Zuzana, originally from the Czech Republic. I took a picture with her after the concert… see the next post.

Finally, the time arrived. Around 7:00pm, the doors were opened to the VIP ticket holders. Giuseppe, his girlfriend and myself were the only VIP ticket holders within the group of people with which I was familiar. We made our way through the club towards one of the buildings, in which the concert was to be performed.

The Hurlingham Club in London (close to the Putney Bridge) is, by far, the most impressive sports club I have seen in my life. I simply cannot imagine any place more inviting and inspiring to get into shape. Super-fine tennis courts, swimming pools… Google it up and read about it in Wikipedia.

So once you read about it, you may get excited and want to become a member. Well, unfortunately, for most of us, that would be as far as we would get. As it turns out, the club has a few thousand members and the process of becoming a member is quite… how to say… peculiar. First, you have to find two club members that will “sponsor” (or: recommend) you. Then you pay a 250 pounds enrolment fee, in order to earn the right to get into their waiting list.

Now comes the fun part. This waiting list is truly full of waiting. People who became members in January 2008 have done that after being in the waiting list for – wait till you hear this – 7 (seven) to 9 (nine) years. However, they were actually lucky. Being on the waiting list for a longer stretch of time – say 17 (seventeen) years – is not very uncommon. One reason for this is that the club is extremely reluctant to admit a wider audience into the club, in order to keep the experience “unique”. However, the primary reason for the waiting list is that children of members receive preference in becoming members themselves.

And so we were walking through the club – Giuseppe, his girlfriend and myself. At some point, we crossed a tiny bridge over a narrow creek, heavily populated with ducks. Giuseppe points at one, and draws my attention to the duck with his second hand. In a thick Italian accent, he mentions:

“Look-e, Duck-e!”

And then imitating the action of hunting one using a rifle. I looked at him and told him that this is just as Italian as you could get, and we both burst into laughter as Giuseppe’s girlfriend slapping him for showing any sign of animal cruelty.

We arrived at the door, which was closed and slated to open at around 7:30pm. There were maybe 20 people there, which made us feel quite unique, however that has quickly changed in a way that somewhat told us that what was going to happen was quite different than what we expected.

(Continued at the next post)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sleepless in London… Again

2:50am now and I can’t sleep. One of those night when so many thoughts are running through your head that you’re just trying to keep up.

So first, about the second half of today… really did nothing much. Spent a couple of hours playing my guitar at the garden next to the hotel, and then went to have some pizza at a chain called “Pizza Express”.

I am a huge fan of pizza, however very picky. Sure I can eat Pizza Hut, Domino’s however what I really appreciate is good, quality pizza. So far in my life, the top three pizza’s I had were:

“Wooden Heads” in Kingston, Ontario

“Libretto” in Toronto, Ontario

And some other place I can’t remember, in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Seems a bit peculiar, huh? as if I never really went too far to try pizza’s. Well, surprise – I did. I eat pizza pretty much everywhere I travel to, and I travel a lot.

So anyway, that Pizza Express thing turned out to be, well, OK. First of all, nothing in it was “express”: the service was friendly but very slow, and the pizza took forever to arrive (the best pizza place I’ve been in, “Wooden Heads” in Kingston, serves your pizza within 5-8 minutes and I guarantee that it’s one of the best – if not the best – pizza you had in your life).

The crust was relatively good, but the sauce didn’t appear to be very fresh, and so were the toppings. Wouldn’t go there again unless I’m really hungry and all other dining options have been exhausted.

Went back to the hotel and crashed for about an hour. Being in a big city for a few days takes some mental toll – noise makes me tired. So after about an hour, I went for another walk in the Oxford Circus area, some dessert and back to the hotel.

A pint of “Foster’s” to end another good day in London, then went upstairs to the hotel room and simply couldn’t sleep.

I received a very surprising email today, from a guy named Alex Flagg. I met Alex during the KTGC tour – he’s from San-Francisco but flew to Boston to attend another MK show. A super-nice guy. He emailed me today to ask me with regards to my plans for the Get Lucky tour in 2010. As it turns out, he’s planning on attending a few shows in the West Coast. Would be great to meet with him again.

So, time to summarize my London experience.

First, this city has a vibe that is very hard to ignore. I find the atmosphere here comparable to that of New-York City. There’s always something going on, and you can feel the busy life in the air.

Transportation in this city is very efficient and altogether amazing. Going back to Canada is going to be a huge disappointment when it comes to transportation. Unless you live in a big city such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, you pretty much must have a car; and if you live in a big city, still, public transportation is rarely a delight to use.

The architecture in this city is stunning. Everywhere you go you see and feel history.

The people – well, that’s very complex and I’m actually trying to figure it out. It’s very hard to describe people, not only because it may get people upset but also because it’s all very relative. So obviously, whatever I’m writing here is not intended to hurt anyone’s feelings but instead just provides my own viewpoint, how I felt amongst the residents of London.

If I compare people in London to people in, say, Toronto, I can confidently say that people in London smile and flirt much, much, much less. Striking a conversation with a stranger in Toronto isn’t something that out of the ordinary, however I simply can’t see it happening here in London.

While it would be very “easy” to categorize the people in London as rude, I think that it would be a major overreaction. It boils down to cultural differences. In Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) for example, when you walk down the street and someone is coming from the opposite side, usually your eyes will meet, and in that case, it is very customary to greet each other (“hello”, “good morning” etc) and, in most cases, you can see that it’s not a “fake” greeting; people want to greet each other.

This simply doesn’t happen here. I walked the streets here for hours after hours; people simply avoid looking at you in the first place. Now I may not be the sexiest most attractive human being in the universe, but I’m pretty sure that external appearance has nothing to do with it. People just avoid eye contact here.

That’s how they were taught, that’s how they were raised. They’re not rude, they’re not bad. They’re just themselves, that’s how they are and it has nothing personal against you.

Smalltalk in Canada is extremely common. You’re in line waiting for coffee at Starbucks, and there’s somebody next to you – in a lot of cases, that’s already a topic for discussion. It is just extremely easier to strike-up a conversation in Toronto. That’s why they say that Torontonians (and Canadians in general) are extremely friendly people, I guess.

I don’t see small-talking happening here, in an extent even close to the extent it’s done in Canada.

What I usually like doing when I’m going to new places is to observe people, try to learn about them from their body language; listen to the way they speak, see the way they move. May sound freakish to you, but for me, spotting and recognizing such cultural differences is a very interesting exercise, not to say fascinating. So what I gather about people in London is not that they’re mean; they aren’t. And even though I initially thought they’re snobs, after some thought I decided that it’s not the case. They’re not snobs either. They are simply very occupied, I think, with the fast pace of living here.

Not only London is the “core” of England, you also have to remember that there’s a recession going on, and the UK is said to be the European country hurt the most by it. The economy here is not in its best. Also, there seems to be some friction between natives and immigrants here. What the source of the friction is – that I don’t know, but what I do know is that the very existence of immigrants in a big city is not necessarily a reason for friction to happen. Case in point being Toronto, which is (if my memory serves me right) the most multi-cultural city in the world, when almost (or more than?) half of its population isn’t Canadian-born. The natives-immigrants friction in Toronto is nowhere near as close in its severity to what’s going on in some European capitals, including London.

Some people here claim that the terrorist attack in the London Underground a few years ago has raised the friction to record levels and that the friction didn’t really lose much since then.

So to sum it up – if you’re a Canadian and you’re visiting London, don’t be alarmed by what you think is “unfriendliness” of people. I think that the “problem” is less with people in London being “too rude”; it’s actually the other way around – Canadians are just way, way nicer than average. :-)

OK, time to sleep now. I have to. Big day tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Being a Tourist, Part III

My second-to-last day in London started pretty much similarly to before: the keyword is “slow”. It wasn’t before 10:30am when I left the hotel room for breakfast.

Then it was time to go pick-up the concert tickets. Apparently the venue in which the concert is taking place has decided to allow attendees to pick-up their tickets a few days before the show, in order to ease up the congestion at the box office. As Jeroen is arriving tomorrow from Amsterdam, I had the idea of picking up his ticket for him so we save time tomorrow.

Walking towards the Prince’s Trust place, a 2km walk, has been rather frustrating. Millions of cars on the road, traffic doesn’t move – which I don’t really care about as I was walking – but it’s been a very hot day today, and smog was unbearable.

As these tickets are by no means cheap, I was planning on carrying them in my pocket, which explains my utter disappointment when I found out that these tickets are huge in size and enclosed within an envelope too big to fit in a pocket unless you’re an elephant or other large mammal. I therefore had to walk all the way back with two envelopers held in my hands. On my way back, I witnessed what appeared to be an extremely drunk brute beating somebody up inside a bus. Traffic stopped in both directions and bystanders did what they do best – stood by and watched.

Once I dropped the envelopes at the hotel, it was time to start yet another round of exploration. I haven’t seen the London Bridge yet, so that became my next destination.

Weather was (still is, actually, as I’m sitting in a cafe to write this post) quite hot and humid, precisely the kind of weather I migrated 10,000km west to avoid.

Getting to the London Bridge is a snap by using the underground. There’s a stop right at the pathway that leads to the bridge. This is what it looks like from a distance:


And here is the best picture I could take:


The pathway that leads to the bridge is beset by all bunch of neat constructs and monuments, and there are plenty of places when you can sit, enjoy the view and relax. You could easily spend a few hours in the area.

Stopped for short late lunch at “Bagel Street Deli & Cafe” right by the bridge, and found it very funny to find out that Bagel Street now also sells wraps. Currently I’m parking my butt on a comfortably-padded bench at Caffe Nero. I don’t know why I keep on visiting this chain, their coffee isn’t that good. I guess it’s because they have Caffe Nero at pretty much every corner.

Today is my last easy day in London. Tomorrow, Jeroen will be arriving at the afternoon, and after sitting down for early dinner to catch up, we’ll be making our ways to the Hurlingham Club and watch Mark Knopfler playing “Get Lucky” live for the first time ever - for me, the most exciting event this year.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Tips for the Independent Traveller, Part I of (?)

Ever since the KTGC tour days, there was this idea in my head to provide tips for people who intend to embark on crazy multi-city journeys. Not that I think that I’m the most sophisticated traveller in the world, of course; but you know, sometimes, when you share ideas with other people, their comments may teach you something you didn’t already know.

So the first tip I can give you is about packing, and it goes like this: PACK LIGHT. Very simple, huh? well, as it turns out, easier said than done.

The basic fact you have to fully understand here is that each and every extra gram you pack, is another gram you have to carry with you. So most people say “hey, what’s another 100 gram here or there”. Well, quoting from Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”, the vast majority of people have trouble understanding the concept of compounding. If I give you a piece of paper and ask you what would be the height of the folded paper if you folded it 50 times, not a lot of people will be smart enough to reply back that it’s physically impossible because such a stack will be so high that it will surpass the distance between Earth and the Sun.

So yes, weight counts, and counts a lot. There’s an extremely good reason why, for example, weight difference of 100g in laptop prices can lead to differences of hundreds of dollars.

“Packing light” means two things at the same time:

  1. Only pack what you absolutely need, and
  2. Of what you need, if you can, select the lightest and smallest item possible (for example: if you really need a camera, get the lightest and smallest you can possibly get)

Special tip about clothes: don’t take too many. It really isn’t necessary. For the Get Lucky tour, for instance, I intend on taking two pairs of jeans and two shirts. That’s it. You really, absolutely don’t need more than that.

Shoes: pick the lightest you can, and accept the fact that it’s going to cost you. That said, it’s definitely worth it.

Depending on your strength and physical condition, always prefer a container that you can carry on your shoulders and hips (i.e. a backpack) over a suitcase. A proper backpack should have comfortable straps that allows you to fasten the backpack around your hips, making it very easy on your shoulders and you will be surprised how easy it is to get around.

The reason I would always prefer a backpack is that you can walk around and still have your hands available to do whatever you need to do. Also, it is immensely easier to maintain in trains, buses etc and, if you followed my previous instructions about packing light then you might have been lucky enough to suffice with a backpack small enough to fit as a carry-on luggage – eliminating the need to go through baggage claim if your itinerary involves flights.

Once you pack according to my instructions above, if you follow my directions strictly, you will end up with a backpack that is half empty. You will be very tempted to say “wow, I can really put more stuff in here, so why not? Look how much space I have”.

BULLOCKS. Trust me on this one – DON’T DO IT. Instead, go buy yourself a smaller backpack.

An advice about backpacks: good backpacks cost good money, but this is one of those things that you don’t, and I repeat, don’t want to skimp with. Your backpack is your best friend. Not sure what’s the inventory in Europe, but in Canada, I wouldn’t buy my backpack anywhere else other than a renowned outdoors gear store. My favourite one is MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-Op) – they sell outstanding gear; it’s pricier than the average, but you get a lifetime warranty for pretty much anything that can go wrong with your backpack, and those are very, very well made.

That’s it about packing, for now. The next subject will be food & diet.


Being a Tourist, Part II

I found it extremely hard to walk away from the stairs leading to the monument in front of the Palace. No, it’s not that I became emotionally involved with the beauty around me; it’s just that my ass has adapted its shape to that of the stairs, and standing up was a rather inconvenient process.

So, a few major attractions in Central London are within walking distance from one another. From Trafalgar Square it’s an easy 15 minutes walk to the Palace; the Big Ben is another 10-15 minutes walk, and 10 Downing Street is somewhere between the Big Ben and Trafalgar Square. Those three attractions are lined up in some sort of a triangle.

Weather has been quite kind; as a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t rained since I got here. It’s cloudy though, and the sun rarely shows up.

So I followed Google Maps’ instructions how to get to the Big Ben (for all of you BlackBerry owners out there – if you are travelling, make sure you download a copy of Google Maps for BlackBerry. This is one fine piece of software, immensely better than RIM’s BlackBerry Maps).


Quite the clock, and it receives the amount of attention proportionally to its size; dozens of people are photo shooting this clock at any one time, including the more-sophisticated tourists that have their friends take a photo of themselves “pushing” the clock.

After gazing at the clock for approximately two minutes, I turned left and proceeded to 10 Downing Street, to see where Gordon Brown lives / works. A left turn that I was supposed to take (according to the map) appeared to have been closed, so I decided that Gordon Brown isn’t that important to me after all and proceeded to Trafalgar Square.

Stopped to eat at a local pub. I was looking for something relatively healthy, no grease. They had some risotto there, with goat’s cheese and chicken. That seemed to be the healthiest item in the menu. It wasn’t very expensive and I thought to myself that they will have to work very hard in order to ruin a risotto that bad, if it has goat’s cheese on it (I’m a sucker for goat’s cheese).

Well guess what, they appear to have outthought me and what I ended up getting was a very mediocre risotto with a slice of extremely dry, obviously just a minute ago frozen, chicken breast. I then instantly sent a message to my friend Jonathan to inform him of my dire situation, which made him laugh. After all, I really am an idiot, ordering risotto in a pub and expecting it to be good.

My feet appeared to have healed and I decided to walk back to the hotel. It’s basically keeping straight on one road until I hit the hotel, about a mile away. Now, this is London in rush hour. Holy Moses (or Jesus, or whatever; pick your favourite deity), the amount of noise! Unbelievable. However as you get closer to Bloomsbury, the noise slowly disappears and an altogether nicer environment takes its place.

Sitting at Cafe Nerro at the moment; will upload these two posts from the hotel room and I think I’ll take my guitar to the nearby garden and play for a bit, to unwind after this long and joyful day.


Being a Tourist

Shortly after 1:00pm I made my way out towards the touristic places in London, if only to avoid the “what, you’ve been all the way to London and haven’t paid a visit to X?” kind of questions.

My first mission to find a memory card for the camera has ended after approximately two minutes, when I realized that there’s an electronic store literally steps away from the hotel. I paid about £15 for the ability to take pictures again and avoid carrying 1 pound of worthless electronics (= my camera) for nothing.

Took bus #91 from the hotel to Trafalgar Square, my first stop. Looking through the bus’ window I came again to realize that using a car in this city takes the kind of logic that I simply can’t relate to. Those red, double-deck buses are fairly neat, I have to say.

Within 10 minutes the bus arrived to Trafalgar Square, its final destination. The first thing you notice when looking at the square is the exceedingly tall monument that is conveniently erected there:


This picture was taken from the footsteps of the National Gallery, adjacent to the Square. There was a sign at the gallery’s entrance asking people to donate a pound to “keep the gallery free”, which I did. This gallery is amazing, and even people who fail to get excited by paintings (such as myself) will find it very interesting. The walls, the decorations, the atmosphere… very special. I spent 15 minutes there, which is 14 minutes more than I would voluntarily spend in a gallery.

From Trafalgar Square I proceeded south west to Buckingham Palace. “The Mall”, which is a stretch that leads to the Palace, is a very pleasant walk. On my way, I noticed some of those guards that stand still beside the gates, nothing seems to interrupt their stillness. Thoughts of that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza offers a chair to a security guard at a boutique store (which eventually leads to robbery) instantly came to mind.

Very bizarre. Never quite understood the rationale behind having people stand still for hours like this and be tortured by curious tourists’ stupidity (basically trying whatever they can in order to divert the guards’ attention).

After about 10 minutes walk I arrived at the palace:


Impressive, I’d say. Couple of people asked me to take their pictures with their cameras – why do we all have the desire of having our picture taken alongside with a landmark, that I don’t know; a subject for research, I think – to which I happily agreed.

I then proceeded to take some pictures of the garden next to the palace:


You must be asking yourself what’s the deal with the ladies. Well, as I was aiming the camera to take the photo, they were there. They noticed that I’m about to take a picture, and with a face expression of “sorry, here, we’re leaving so you can take your photo” they started walking away. I don’t know what it was that made me signal to them that I would actually like them in the picture. They looked at each other with astonishment, exchanging looks as if trying to comprehend the system of logic employed by the guy standing in front of them. Was a really funny moment, after which they happily posed.

So here’s a picture of the garden without ladies in it (at least not knowingly):


I am writing this post while sitting at the footsteps of the monument facing the palace:


Hunger is kicking in, I can feel it. Time to hunt for food.



Lots of Walking

Paraphrasing Douglas Adams, yesterday (Sunday) has been a walking day, in much the same way as today won’t. My feet hurt in ways only describable by picking a random vowel, repeating it about a dozen times (in capital letters) and placing exclamation marks all throughout.

Started the day very easily, by visiting the hotel’s dining room for breakfast. What I found there was a buffet-style, limited-yet-fair selection of food. A few years ago, such a sight would cause me to embark in a sensual all-I-can-eat extravaganza, however I guess some things change as you grow up. Especially when travelling, I keep it small and simple. Two eggs, one toast, and some fruit. A five-minutes meal to start the day.

I walked from the hotel to the Tottenham Court area, with the goal in mind to purchase an xD card for my digital camera. What I found out was that London, at least at the areas I hung out in, is a very boring and quiet place on Sunday mornings. The vast majority of stores were closed. I managed to find a store that sells those cards however, as it turned out, my camera is “so old” (3 years) that it was unclear which type of card I really need.

Then I started a seemingly-endless walk. At some point I arrived at Hyde Park; this is some huge park. I was trying to locate that scene where people stand and talk their minds in front of an audience more fascinated by the speaker’s “weirdness” of talking to nobody than being fascinated by the actual speech; with no success whatsoever. I walked the park for more than an hour, and all I’ve seen was herds over herds of humans rambling around in much the same way that I did – maybe they were all looking for the speakers, who knows.

It is, however, a fine park. I liked it, seems like a great place for a day’s hangout.

I left the park in its south-west corner (I believe), only to notice a sign that the Royal Albert Hall is right around the corner. So much I have heard about this venue; Mark Knopfler plays here on every tour (in 2010, he will be performing here six nights in a row; I will let you know how it went); my friend Jeroen, who has been here before, claims vigorously that this is the most beautiful venue he could think of, and pictures I have seen over the Internet clearly show that he may not be too far from the truth.

(I have never been to the Royal Albert Hall myself, however the most beautiful venue I have been in is the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado and I doubt anything can beat that; Google it up and see for yourself)

After sniffing around the venue I’m going to be visiting daily for a week next year, I proceeded towards South Kensington. The Kensington area is pretty neat, however there’s some construction going on that ruins it. I was so tired after so much walking and went for lunch in this cafe-restaurant place. Again, entree-sized salad with a few slices of bread. Yes, I am determined to maintain my weight.

All this walking around made me extremely tired; I guess jetlag kicked in as well, and so I found myself catching the underground back to the hotel. Once at the hotel room, I just crashed into bed and slept for a couple of hours.

Took my guitar to the garden right across the street from the hotel, sat on the grass and started playing while occasionally chatting with Jeroen. I have been working on this tune recently, that I would like to record – something that’s been buzzing in my mind for a few years but never got around to actually make something out of. And what I found out was that, apparently, on vacation, I play better than at home. I have long realized that my main handicap in guitar-playing is with my technique; I never had a teacher and therefore had to teach myself, and I’m pretty sure that whatever I do can be done easier and smoother with a better technique. However, yesterday it seemed as if most of these obstacles have been lifted and I was playing extremely well (of course, to my definition of “well”).

Hunger kicked in again and I found myself taking yet another walk towards the Euston Station area (by mistake; where I really wanted to go was the Tottenham Court area), then rambling around and taking the underground to Oxford Circus. A short walk to the Soho and I came across a restaurant that seemed interesting from the outside. The place was called “Imli”, and it was an Indian restaurant.

As it has been quite a while since I had Indian food, I decided to give it a shot. That turned out to be a very wise decision; the menu was short, to the point, and extremely interesting. You could tell, by looking, chewing and tasting the food, that it is fresh. A short two-course meal and I was on my way out for dessert in another location (same location as the night before, with all those pastries lying around waiting for you to pick them out), then back to the hotel.

I was absolutely wiped and so went to bed early. Woke up a couple of hours later – I guess the time was around 11:00pm – and wanted to go out but my feet wouldn’t let me. I ended up spending most of the night awake, then finally got some sleep at around 7:00am.

12:30pm now (Monday) and I’m sitting in a cafe by the hotel. Feet still ache and I decided to not challenge them much further today. No Wi-Fi here (damn, I should have bought that mobile broadband USB adapter), so I’ll upload this post from the hotel room and go on my way to finally buy that digital camera storage card to get it over with.

I may visit the touristic areas (London Bridge, Downing Street etc) later today.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Easy Going in London

So yesterday’s exploration of London was concentrated primarily around the Russell Square and Tottenham Court areas, as well as Oxford Street and the abundance of streets spreading off it into smaller, alley-like streets with much to see and do.

Shortly after leaving the hotel, as I was making my way towards what I thought would be the Russell Square underground station, I suddenly heard some voice in a foreign language that didn’t quite fit the moment. That was Hebrew, spoken by two very nice looking gals.

Hardly a huge surprise; London is a very popular tourism destination for Israelis. There is also a rather developed Jewish / Israeli community here in London.

So those two gals are standing next to some food / candy stand right next to (what I still sure was) Russell Square station, checking out the prices of Pringles boxes. I approached them and struck a conversation, in Hebrew of course.

- “Hello”.

The left-hand girl looks at me, answering very nonchalantly, in Hebrew of course:

- “Hello. How much does this cost?”, holding a small box of Pringles.

The fact that I was speaking her native tongue (to which she replied in her native tongue as well), standing right beside her with a huge tourist-like smile didn’t seem, I guess, to deviate her thought process away from the Pringles box. I guess that the desire to find out the cost of that box was burning so violently inside her that all other details seemed minor.

- “I don’t know, I don’t work here”.

After a moment of embarrassment, another moment of mutual laughter just to break the ice after the social faux-pas that had just taken place, I asked them if they are aware of a good place to grab a bite. They told me that I can’t go wrong in Oxford Street, with literally millions of places to eat, drink and whatnot.

Bid them farewell and off I went to the underground station. Got a 3-days pass and entered the Tube system only to realize that I have no clue how to get to where I wanted (Oxford Circus). Failing to find a Tube map on the wall, I went out and got myself a map.

Holy Moses, these guys in London clearly have public transport at their top priority. There are just so many underground lines, trains, buses, trams and whatnot, which makes owning a car in this city an almost-certain exercise in wasting money, efforts and the environment. You can get around pretty well using public transit; rent a car for the odd weekend you’re going away, and you still save lots of time, effort and money.

Very short Tube trip and I’m in Oxford Street, where everything happens on Saturday night.

The first thing you grasp once you look at this place is not how big it is, but rather the abundance of things to see, do and, more importantly, eat. Herds of people in the street, with pubs, bars, restaurants and cafe’s bustling with people. What a fantastic, great atmosphere! Weather was excellent, a clear night with semi-cool breeze to freshen you up and get you going in this brilliant city.

I was starving not much unlike a stray dog and was looking for a nice place to eat. Doing so, I got to feel, first hand, the effects of what’s called “The Paradox of Choice”. Having so many options to choose from really made my life miserable. There are endless spots to eat and drink in here. Pick a cuisine, and you have it here. This is foodies’ heaven.

I ended up eating in this place – Gosh, I failed to obtain its name – you enter, pick all sorts of really nice looking dishes they have on display, then sit along long tables (next to people you never met in your life) and eat. The food was delicious, the atmosphere exhilarating.

I then went on to explore the area by foot. I got all the way to what I believe is Piccadilly Circus. Kind of like Manhattan’s Times Square – in fact, that entire area around Oxford Street looks beautiful at night time.

Mark Knopfler’s “Border Reiver” (new single from his upcoming Get Lucky album) playing in my ears, and I am strolling the streets of London. I feel a deep shame that in my 31 years of living, only now I got to experience this place. I love it.

Parked my butt in “Bella Italia”, a coffee bar / restaurant up Argyll Street, to unwind from this long walk.

Decided to walk back to the hotel, rather than taking transit. Distances here are not so great; but that, of course, is relative. For Canadians, the walk from Oxford Circus to my hotel (slightly above one mile) wouldn’t seem such a great distance, but in Europe this appears to be a great voyage. I suppose that, with public transport so efficient and handy, people don’t even bother walking around. Or maybe they’re in a hurry, I don’t know.

20 minutes of walking and I was approaching my hotel, when I noticed an interesting sign promising the best hamburger in Bloomsbury (the neighborhood in which my hotel is located). As I am a great fan of hamburgers, I couldn’t say no to such a nice, lucrative sign and stepped inside. I believe the place was called Bloomsbury Diner, but it wasn’t really a “Diner” – it was a restaurant with great service. I ordered the Bloomsbury Burger, which is a hamburger topped with an extremely generous layer of goat cheese.


Finished eating and went back to the hotel. Only after lying down on the bed, I realized how tired my feet were.

What a great day, looking forward to tomorrow.