Everyone loves a Top Ten list, and while on this most recent 5 week European tour I kept thinking about how lucky I am to spend so much time overseas. I realized that I will have spent over 4 months this year in Europe. Crazy… There are a lot of things I don’t like about touring Europe (too many cars, too much cigarette smoke, lack of space, etc etc), but I’d rather focus on the positives. Life is already too complicated and stressful for me these days, I need to think about good things 🙂 Here we go:
There’s nothing quite like driving a manual 6 speed diesel, especially on the left side of the road, hitting a roundabout and zipping across it like nobody’s business 🙂 And these cars are smart enough to turn themselves off while sitting at a light or while stuck in traffic! I’ve lucked out with amazing rental cars in both the UK and on the Continent. When you’re going to drive on the autobahn in Germany it’s very important to have a car that can handle 140 km/hr and up. The last few tours on the Continent my rental cars just coasted along at 140 km/hr, whereas my lovely little Toyota Matrix back in Canada would start screaming at me if I hit 130!
9. Combi-Boilers & Self-Cleaning Toilet Seats
I’m staying with friends who never run out of hot water. It’s a beautiful thing. I keep hearing about these combi-boilers, they’re very popular in Europe. They combine central heating with domestic hot water in one device (slightly different from tankless water heaters that are becoming more known in North America). Then there are the self-cleaning toilet seats at the German autobhan stops. This little arm full of cleaning fluid comes out of the wall and the toilet seat spins around and voila, a clean seat! Only cost 75 cents to watch! 🙂
8. Distance Between Venues
As a Canadian, this is huge. A long drive in Europe is 3 hours, but most venues are often an hour away from each other. Back home in Canada that doesn’t even get me to the next gig, let alone the next town. Granted, it can be incredibly exhausting to drive that 1 or 2 hours as there is about 10x the amount of traffic on the roads. But it’s definitely a treat to be able to drive less between gigs.
I don’t drink coffee back home but over here, it’s another story. Freshly ground beans per cup, fresh milk steamed per cup (for cappuccino and latte drinkers), all available even at the tiniest of petrol stations! It’s rather tempting 🙂 Can’t find that at the PetroCan or Esso stations back home.
Food has always been great on the Continent, and now the UK has upped its food game! I must say that food over here (for the most part) is pretty spectacular. Some of the best meals I’ve had are in Belgium, eating like a queen. I also don’t eat a lot of bread, cheese or yoghurt back home in North America, but when I head overseas I live it up! They have all 3 down to an art. The best Greek yoghurt I’ve had is Fage Total. I dream about it… I also dream about Dutch mustard soup. It’s amazing… And fries with mayonnaise! Is there any other way? The motorway stops in the UK have real food too! M&S and Waitrose now have great salads and pre-made healthy meals, but the stops in Germany and the Netherlands win HANDS DOWN for food on the road. Imagine everything made fresh, both hot and cold food bars, soups, a salad bar, cheese, fresh bread… Sorry, Tim Horton’s, you don’t even qualify.
6a. Indian Food
I think this deserves a sub-category all of its own 🙂 “Star of Bengal” in Whitstable is my new favourite curry house. Just had a marango dish, which was chicken cooked in a mild and creamy sauce with mango slices, then had perhaps the best bindi bhaji (okra) on the planet, and THEN amazing saag paneer. Haven’t had Indian quite this good since I visited Shrewsbury this past June 🙂
5. Bikes in the Netherlands
I’m still in awe of bike culture in the Netherlands. You see people of every age, every income level, every profession riding bikes, riding in suits, in dresses, in uniforms… People ride to work, to school, to concerts, to parties. Teenagers hang out on bikes, act goofy on bikes, try to look cool on bikes. There is even a whole entire highway network committed to bikes! No wonder the Dutch can eat all the fries and mayonnaise they want, when you ride as much as they do those calories are burned in an instant! 🙂
Canada and the US are relatively young countries (I am, of course, referring to when we “officially” became nations), so I never tire of seeing old buildings and houses on my travels here in Europe. I love even more the chance to perform in venues that are older than my home country! It’s happened many times — last tour I played in a Norman castle that was 900 years old, this tour we played in a church from the 1600s. I stayed in a house that was built in the 1400s… Walking on cobbled streets, hitting my head on doorframes because I’m too tall (ha! what’s up with that!?!?!). The list goes on.
3. Ginger Beer
Canada Dry Ginger Ale doesn’t even come close. I am a ginger lover, so the perfect after-gig beverage for me (especially in the UK) is a cold ginger beer. Some of the finer ones include Bunderberg and Fentiman’s. If you want something alcoholic there’s Crabbies. Very lovely indeed…
2. Dresses & Banjos
My purple polka-dot dress comes from Whitstable in England. I also love playing the banjo with my Banjo Master Johnny Fewings, also in Whitstable. He calls me Grasshopper.
It’s a privilege getting to tour in different countries, places where English is a 2nd language (on the Continent), where people’s customs are different from my own. I love getting to know these people, being welcomed into their homes and their lives. I’ve been coming regularly to Europe now since 2007 and I have a most incredible network of friends here, in many different areas. People who will feed me and house me and take me on bike rides and pick me up at the airport and store my stuff for me… And such amazing fans! People who come out faithfully to shows, who offer their support by buying CDs (and socks!), who take part in my Indie Music Angels project. One fan came up to me recently and asked if I was going to start fundraising again for a new album. It made me feel very lucky, to know that people over here care about the longevity of my career, and care about me.
THANK YOU EUROPE!