Saturday, January 27, 2007

Roadie Report 22 - Germany, Denmark & Cardiff by Camilla McGuinn

Danish Street (photo by Camilla)

The German autobahn is a delightful roadway on which to put the pedal to the metal. The drivers keep a safe distance and only drive in the passing lane when they are passing. Some of them are passing all the time - at about 200 mph.

Roger found a comfortable speed at 200klm/h, I found one at 160klm/h. The roads are in very good condition but we found ourselves laughing, “The good news is you can go as fast as you want. The bad news is – you can’t!" There was road construction every 50 miles. The GPS had a great feature. It would pick up on traffic jams and tell us in a very refined voice, “Traffic ahead. Recalculating route. Thanks to the GPS, we can say that we drove the country roads of Germany.

Le Meridian Hotel in Hamburg is a few blocks away from Lange Reihe, the restaurant row of the neighborhood. We strolled down the street, peering in the restaurant windows looking more for ambiance than for food. Our knowledge of the German language was rusty, so we were hoping that when we found the right lighting and tablecloths, there would be a helpful waiter. It didn’t take long before I saw the table I wanted to sit at for the evening’s feast. It was a corner table, by the window in an Italian restaurant, Casa Di Roma. There was a good chance we might be able to decipher something on an Italian menu written in German.

The first person to greet us inside the restaurant door didn’t want to seat us at the table I wanted, but a more authoritative gentleman saw our reluctance to follow the greeter and came to our rescue. He returned my smile and guided us to the prize spot in the restaurant. As he seated us, I asked in my best English, “Do you take credit cards?” “ Of course Madame.” he replied in better English. He was our table captain for the evening and it was not only romantic, it was delicious.

My original plan for travel to Copenhagen was to take the ferry, but the GPS knew that the new bridge connecting the islands of Denmark was the faster way to go. The big new bridge is a toll bridge and I only slightly panicked when I realized I was going to have to choose the right lane to get into and how to pay. We ended up in a credit card only lane and thankfully it accepted our card.
We didn’t have a clue how much the toll was until we checked our card statement later in the week. It was almost $35.

The concert promoters in Denmark arranged the hotels and the majority of them were very good. Most of them were close to the downtown areas which made it easy to discover the charm of the cities. The streets of Esbjerg, Denmark (photo by Camilla)

In Copenhagen the Danish agent, Bent, arranged a radio interview for Roger. He emailed me that Robin Cox, the interviewer, would meet us at our hotel and guide us on a 30 minute drive to Roskilde. Then he told me Robin is blind. I started shaking my head. So we were going to have a blind guide. Hmm, sounded like a case of the blind leading the blind. I emailed back and asked if that seemed strange to anyone? In the end, Robin and a sighted friend of his picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Roskilde.

Robin is a fascinating gentleman with an incredible radio voice. His father is English, so his accent sounds like a very proper 1940’s English actor. When he mentioned that he had read the night before, I started shaking my head again, “You just said you read Roger’s web page. How did you read it?” He explained that he had a machine that read for him. I wanted to turn the interview into questions for him.

On the ride back to the hotel, he was very open to answer all my questions. He told me about his life long blindness and that it has never stopped him from pursuing his dreams. He navigates all around Denmark using public transportation, a cane and the kindness of the wonderful people of the land.

Even though the official language of the people in the Kingdom of Denmark is Danish, the majority of the people also speak English. Everyone explained to us that they are a small nation of about 5 million people and they can’t expect people to learn their language, so they learn other languages. It made communicating with everyone very easy but all the signs are in Danish. We had trouble parking the car in a self pay lot, using self-service gas stations and we couldn’t read the road signs. We would have been real lost without a GPS and the kindness of others.

Time for a romantic lunch (photo by Camilla)

Roger’s concerts were scheduled for every other day. That is dream scheduling for a singer and for traveling. Our longest drive within Denmark didn’t take longer than 4 hours, so we had the time to explore each of the cities, visit the food markets and have romantic meals. It was fun to walk the streets of the nation of Roger’s mother’s grandparents, the Heyns.

The last Danish concert was in the very small town of Aarup. A group of music lovers had banded together, and with the help of the government, restored an old theater so they could bring live music to their tiny town. The only hotel on the main street didn’t have private baths, so we stayed in the town of Middlefart at the Hotel KongebroGaarden. We were told that Sir Paul McCartney had once rented the whole hotel for his tour. Fortunately, Roger was the only artist appearing locally, so they had a room available.The view on the pathway from the hotel into the town of Middlefart, (photo by Camilla)

The day after the concert, we hit the road early because we had over 500 miles to drive. We needed to turn in our rental car before the Sixt Rental desk closed at the hotel in Brussels at 6pm. Since we were once again driving through Germany, we could quickly make the trip. Roger did complain that I hogged most of the Autobahn driving on the way back to Brussels. I had developed a need for speed.

On October 11, we caught the Eurostar from Brussels to London’s Waterloo Station, hailed a taxi to the London Paddington train station, had our BritRail passes stamped and boarded a First Great Western train to Cardiff, Wales.

In our possession was a bottle of Champagne that the porters on the Eurostar had given me as a souvenir. After lunch on the Eurostar, I explored the train and spent a lot of time talking with the porters and inquiring about their lives. When we stepped off the train, our porter whispered to me that I should go to the other car because there was a present for us. My new friends wanted to send us away with a gift.

I love the train trip from London to Cardiff. Wales is the land of all the cities of the song “The Bells of Rhymney.” I always feel like I’m coming back to a very familiar setting because the song is one of Roger’s favorites and he loves to sing it in his concerts. My favorite memory of the song is the night he sang it at the Bottom Line in NYC for a songwriter’s showcase. Allan Pepper, the owner, asked me if Roger would participate in this event and I told Allan if he could get Pete Seeger to do it, then Roger would. A few days later Allan excitedly called me and said Pete said, “yes!” The showcase featured Pete Seeger, Joe South, Ted Hawkins and Roger. At the end of the second show that night, the moderator, Vin Scelsa, asked Roger to sing a song he wished he had written. During the first show Roger sang, “Turn, Turn, Turn” but this time he sang Pete’s song, “Bells of Rhymney”. After the show, Pete came to Roger’s dressing room, stood at the door and said, “ Bells of Rhymney”…I’ve never heard it sung so well.”

Tears flooded our eyes as Pete turned and walked away.

The postcard Pete sent to Roger after the Bottom Line show. The last line mentions "Bells of Rhymney" -Bells of R

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