Sunday, September 20, 2009


This post is being written 34,000 feet above the ground, on my way to Washington DC where I will take the connection flight to Buffalo, NY and then drive home to Canada.

I spent the first few hours of the flight in extreme pain; something must have gone wrong with my left ear and the air-pressure gap upon departure seemed to have aggravated it to no end. The pain slowly faded away (there is still some).

(Back to optimism again Isaac. Nobody is really interested to hear about your ear. Come on, put some smile on for God’s sake!)

Interesting things seem to happen to me while I am on vacation. Of course, unwinding and relaxation are two very welcome side-effects of being on vacation, however it does not end here; that is just the start. Ironically, unwinding and relaxation make me want to get out of my “comfort zone”, rather than making me want to stay there.

Cannot help but thinking that this is very bizarre.

As a matter of fact, the reason I took this vacation was Mark Knopfler’s Prince’s Trust concert. I got a VIP ticket and decided that there is very little in this world to make me not go, and if I am in Europe already, why not build a vacation around it?

Once again I realize that the highlights of this vacation are very similar, in nature, to the highlights in any of my previous ones, including the enormous Kill to Get Crimson tour I took last year: they all have to do with the people I meet along the way – people who I already know and happy to meet, and people whom I never met before and I am happy to meet for the first time.

Seriously: the best moments I am taking away from this trip, other than the Prince’s Trust concert for which I went to Europe in the first place, are (in chronological order):

  • Meeting with Jeroen, whom I met before, at the day of the concert;
  • Meeting with Daria, whom I got to know last year as she were following my Kill to Get Crimson blog and now we met for the first time, also at the day of the concert;
  • Meeting Zuzana for the first time – sweet lady. Hey, she drew a beautiful Mark Knopfler collage and dedicated it to me! now how cool is that, huh.
  • Spending time with Jeroen in The Netherlands;
  • Meeting my childhood friend, and the individual who I can rightfully refer to as my best friend, Ran Liebermann, back in London;
  • Meeting lots of people along the way, smiling at them, introducing myself and having spontaneous, funny conversations with them (and often some pictures, as well).

Other than these, I should say that the most exciting moment I had in the trip was at one particular afternoon, when I was walking through the streets of Amsterdam; gazillions of people around, and I am feeling like an ant trying to make its way to some unknown destination – when suddenly my BlackBerry went off ringing. It was an email from an individual who happens to manage, among other things, the contents of Mark Knopfler’s official Facebook fan page (, acknowledging my recent post about Listening to Get Lucky for the First Time; later, I realized that the post has been promoted to Knopfler’s Facebook page.

I have absolutely no idea who clued this individual into my post; but whoever you are, I thank you dearly.

“Happiness is only real when shared” wrote a remarkable individual named Christopher McCandless once trapped in Alaska with no way to cross his way back home (? who knows) after spending so much time alone.

So very true.

See you all next year, when I will be blogging my Get Lucky excursion. Until then, feel free to contact me (see profile page for email; Facebook is also a good option).

Isaac Shabtay


After a good night sleep I woke up at around 9:00am. Had a couple of hours to kill before making my way to the Brussels-Zuid train station for my journey to Frankfurt, so I decided to go to Cafe Metropolitan again for breakfast. 12 Euros (expensive, if you ask me) for a light meal – a couple of toasts, ham, cheese, croissant, orange juice and cappuccino (which was quite good, actually).

I like slow mornings. Too bad I am not expected to have too many of those during the European leg of the Get Lucky tour next year. :-(

Instead of taking a taxi cab or fight with the unreadable signs of the Metro stations, I decided to walk the 1-2 kilometres to the train station. Very simple walk – just go south on the same road the hotel is on. Weather was pleasant and I made my way there within half an hour, carrying my backpack and my travel guitar.

One of the benefits in taking this vacation was to be able to witness what I’m going to experience next year, travelling Europe by train following the Get Lucky tour. While I am generally satisfied with the results of this little experiment, I came across the sad realization that, even though my Baby Taylor guitar is quite small and light, I am not going to take it with me to Europe; reason being that there is no convenient way to hook it up to a backpack and still be completely hands-free while walking around. I am going to miss guitar playing while being in Europe next year, that’s for sure.

Another take-away from this “experience” is transportation. I already mentioned how awestruck I am with the train system here. Turns out that, with most carriers, you can travel ticket-free if you have a smart phone – you can do everything online and the ticket, with a barcode on it, is emailed to you so the ticket-police can scan it. BRILLIANT.

(Just as an FYI, Air Canada has also recently launched a similar service. Online check-in has been around for a while, but now you can also get your boarding pass electronically. Travel without papers. Joy)

(Another FYI: while ticket-police will agree to scan barcodes directly from your laptop’s screen, note that this will NOT work if you have a glossy screen. It didn’t work for me… however now that I’m thinking about it, it may be because I forgot to scale the PDF to “real” size – by default, Adobe Reader fits to the screen’s width. Anyway, consider yourself warned)

As I got to the train station earlier than expected, I had about 45 minutes to kill before boarding the train so I decided to kill them in a small coffee place called Sam’s Cafe next to the Thalys gates (Thalys is a major European train carrier with excellent online availability and very fast trains. They also have Wi-Fi on board).

At the time I am starting to write this post, we’re cruising through Germany in immense speed. I see towers and churches at the horizon, nestled between sheer amounts of greenery on slopes of hills and mountains. This part of Germany seems like a neat place for a visit. Will do some time.

The train station in Köln (named Cologne in English) is a major transportation hub in Germany. I believe there are around 12 platforms here, and the departures/arrivals boards suggest that trains come and go very frequently and on time. In fact, this is one thing that the German train system is known for; it’s accurate. Going over the huge departures/arrivals board I noticed two trains that were marked “late by about 5 minutes”. Very impressive.

The platforms themselves are spotless and quite high-tech. LCD boards show you exactly what you need to know, in German and English. Nearly impossible to get lost.

I boarded the ICE (Inter-City Express) train that gets to 300 km/h, on my way to Frankfurt where my flight back home departs tomorrow (more accurately: Frankfurt to Washington DC, then to Buffalo, NY where Jonathan will be waiting with my car after returning from a weekend in New-York City).

The hotel I stayed in while in Frankfurt is National Hotel, right across the road from the train station. There are plenty of hotels there; I stayed at the National Hotel before (six months ago) and was satisfied with it, and since I had neither time or will to embark on hotel research, I decided to go for it again.

Took a walk through the streets of Frankfurt at the evening. There really isn’t much going on… at least not where I was hanging out. I was impressed by the Euro monument at the Taunusanlage, right across from the Frankfurt Oper building - which looks brilliant at night.

The area itself didn’t seem like the most upscale area in Germany, to say the least. Lots of panhandlers, suspicious figures wandering up and down the streets… but altogether the atmosphere appeared safe enough. I was walking for a couple of hours listening to Get Lucky, weather was perfect; quick dinner in a nearby restaurant-bar and back to the hotel.

Tomorrow’s going to be a very long day. Frankfurt airport is known for its notoriety when it comes to security checks etc – I will never forget what I went through when I was here last, six months ago – and I am not going to take chances.

Eight hours and a half flight to Washington DC, passport control (and I forgot my NEXUS card at home… fail), then another one-hour flight to Buffalo, and then two-hours drive home. Long day.