Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Back on the road again

Well, here we all are again for Symphonica, round 2! A little older and a little wiser. Or not as the case may be - really George, again with the overcrowded tour schedule? Never mind, George is alive and if you're reading this, so are you! And in the end, that's all that matters.

Anyway, Symphonica 2012 or #Symphonica2 as it's been dubbed, is about to start and I don't know about you but I'm all excited. Time to get back on the road again and live the the wonderful but hectic life of the die-hard fan.

Every somewhat romantic idea I may have had about the muscian's 'life on the road' vanished when I started going to lots of 25Live and Symphonica concerts and saw with my own eyes how much hard work it all is. Of course the main man and his entourage travel in luxury, but almost all others of the Symphonica crew have to suffer for their art. They may have played or sung the concert of their lives but with the last applause still ringing in their ears they're rounded up and put in the tour coach to travel overnight to the next city. Not exactly glamorous!

And believe me, life on the road for a die-hard fan is even less glamorous. For a start there is the travel.  This ranges from wonderful to absolutely horrible.
The Bolt Bus in America was fantastic. In 2008 the franchise was just starting out and they wanted to attract new customers with low pricing. And so it was that we travelled in relative comfort (good seats, free Wi-FI)  from New York City to Washington DC in just over 5 hours for the grand total of 8 dollars - for the both of us!

The night bus from Dublin to London however was quite a different affair. I was broke and simply couldn't afford last minute air travel. The Eurolines website boasted free wi-fi, comfortable seats - they assured us our trip would be a wonderful experience. Needless to say, none of it was true. I've never seen such a blatant case of bait and switch in my life. While the night crossing on a modern ferry was nice, the 8 hour bus ride to London was horrible. It was an old, clapped-out bus - which should have been retired a decade ago. Only the desperate, the very poor, and the die-hard fan (and I was all three!) would ever choose this method of travelling. Unfortunately, it was also a favourite of a lot of people with poor personal hygiene. Never again!

And let's not forget accommodation. We had a beautiful cottage next to small lake all to ourselves in Herning, Denmark. It was very clean, with impeccable wi-fi. In contrast the very expensive London hotel we stayed at last year couldn't supply a steady wi-fi connection for longer than 5 minutes. Printing out a simple document turned out to be complete beyond the capabilities of the nice staff.

Verona was absolutely lovely, I stayed on my own in  a huge apartment with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a big living room, an amazing last-minute find. In New York we redefined the concept 'cheap accomodation'. In a city not exactly renowned for it's opportunities for budget travel the two of us stayed 7 nights for under 400 dollars in the YMCA in Queens. Cheap yes, but healthy or nice it definitely wasn't. I'll spare you a description of the communal bathrooms, suffice it to say I have never in 30 years of travel come across facilities as filthy as those. The ancient AC which can't have been cleaned in years blew a steady stream of bacteria in our room, giving me a nasty infection that took me ages to get rid of. Once again the positive picture painted on the YMCA website bore no resemblance at all to the reality of the place. But ... we didn't get bed bugs so on the whole we were pleased.

You see and hear some pretty weird things. Here are two experiences I will never forget from our time in New York. We were on the subway back to Queens where we were staying for budgetary reasons. It was very late at night - after the concert - and I was scribbling my impressions of the concert in a little notebook. For me it's important to write stuff down while it's still fresh in my mind and it was a long subway ride. A young man was standing not too far from where we were sitting, beer in hand, looking as if he'd had quite a few beers inside him already. All of a sudden he turned to me and began screaming at me: "You 're writing about me. Stop writing about me. You're going to tell people about me". On and on he went. Years of watching American movies made me all too aware of the the nasty things that can happen to people on subways and this crazy guy had me terrified. Of course I tried explaining that I wasn't writing about him at all (until now that is) but to no avail. It was strange experience to say the least. I breathed a sigh of relief when he finally got off the train.

In my pre-laptop days of  25Live I always had to find a internet cafe to write a review of the concert I'd just seen. Some were very nice (the internet terminal in the youth hostel in Belfast), some were not so nice. It took us a long time to find an internet cafĂ© in New York. Finally we found one not too far from our hostel. It was an unpleasant place, very dark, dirty and smelly, but - and this was a huge plus - open 24 hours a day so we could go there straight after the show. This particular night I was typing up a storm, my long-suffering but very supportive wife was nodding on an old couch nearby. Every half hour or so she would look at me in a beseeching manner and I would inform her once again that I was "nearly done". It was 2 AM and you'd think the place would be deserted but no. In the terminal next to me I could hear the excited voices of two teenage boys playing some online game that by the sounds of it was very violent indeed. They spurred each other on with lovely phrases as : Don't be so gay, kill him already!" Very surreal! Somehow it wasn't the time or place to talk to them about their incorrect usage of the word 'gay'!

I'm curious what weird stuff will happen to me in the coming weeks. I'll keep you posted!

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