How To Drive In Europe: The Basics

Ever wondered whether driving in Europe is different to driving at home? Are you planning a trip that will involve you driving in Europe? This article is an explanation of everything you need to know to drive safely in Europe (including the UK), broken down into key aspects so you can drive safely and confidently on your next European Road Trip.  This is very comprehensive but I’ve written it as concisely as possible from both my own experiences and research I’ve done to check current driving laws around Europe; I have this article saved to my computer to print out to take with me whenever I drive in Europe.  Feel free to do the same.

Contents:
Side of the Road,
Roundabouts,
Multi-Lane Roads,
Indicators and Overtaking,
Smoking in Vehicles,
Things You Need In Your Car,
Tolls and taxes,
Speed Limits,
Carrying Hazardous/Dangerous Items in Your Vehicle,
Further Reading.

 

Side of the road:

1. In Malta, Cyprus Ireland and the UK (excluding Gibraltar), you drive on the left.

2. Everywhere else you drive on the right.

Roundabouts:

Roundabouts are often used instead of traffic lights where roads intersect each other.

Where you drive on the left (in the UK etc):

Go around the roundabout in a clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the right hand side and ignore traffic on the left (unless it’s cutting you up in which case peep your horn at them to warn them of your presence). You can imagine most roundabouts as a complicated type of crossroads, and some of them have traffic lights on them as well. You indicate as you approach the roundabout to inform people that you are either not getting off the roundabout yet (indicate right, for right turns or straight ahead) or you indicate to inform people that you are getting off the roundabout at the very next exit (indicate left, for the very next left turn). If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane, people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout so always check mirrors and blind spot before changing direction unexpectedly and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Where you drive on the right (in France etc):

Go around the roundabout in an anti-clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the left hand side and ignore traffic on the right (unless they’re cutting you up in which case slow down). To indicate, do so whilst you are on the roundabout (or two or three cars away from joining it) and indicate left (staying on the roundabout) or right (getting off the roundabout), EXCEPT in Slovenia where you only indicate to show when you’re leaving the roundabout. If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane be aware people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout, so check your mirrors and blind spot before changing lane unexpectedly, and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Multi-Lane Roads:

Where you drive on the left (UK, Ireland etc):

Stay in the left hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on a motorway (3 lanes or more) you may see big blue signs showing that the road is going to split into two new roads. When this is happening, pick the lane that follows the correct blue sign to where you are going. If in doubt, keeping right at a fork is usually to stay on the road you’re currently on. As soon as you are on the new road or as soon as you have passed the fork or new road split, return to the left hand lane if it’s safe to do so.

When overtaking, it’s good practice to pull back over to the left after you’ve overtaken, however, because other people don’t always do this, and because people don’t leave a sensible amount of space between themselves and the cars in front, it can sometimes be more efficient to stay in the right hand lane if you know you need to overtake again soon, because it can be very difficult to rejoin overtaking traffic once you’ve had to slow down. If you see a police car, pull into the left hand lane because it is now illegal to just drive in an overtaking lane (which is every lane apart from the left lane), although nothing’s changed in terms of how people drive because UK police don’t appear to be enforcing this OR the new law against tailgating.
In Ireland, there are a lot of elderly drivers but people seem to be more mellow and courteous on the road, so I always pull back to the left after overtaking although not everyone does. Ireland doesn’t seem to have the same horrific traffic congestion as the UK does, probably because people drive with courtesy and are more tolerant of mistakes (such as being in the wrong lane).

Where you drive on the right (France, Germany etc):

Stay in the right hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on an Autoroute or Autobahn or Autostrada (freeway, motorway), the left hand lane is the overtaking lane. If you need to overtake someone, check your mirrors (especially in Germany where there’s no upper speed limits on some routes) and only pull out where there’s no-one approaching at speed – if someone’s passing you at 150 miles an hour and you’re pulling out at 60, it’s not going to end well for anyone. When you are done overtaking, pull back in, and remember to overtake EACH VEHICLE INDIVIDUALLY. In the UK people have a tendency to stay in the overtaking lane when they shouldn’t, because they can see another car ahead that they will want to overtake in a couple of minutes – in Europe, this can get you pulled over by the police, but not before a VW Kamper has tailgated you for a couple of miles flashing his lights at you to draw your attention to the fact that you’re in the wrong lane. Once you’re done overtaking, get out of the overtaking lane.

Near some European cities such as Florence (and Glasgow), there are now moments when you will either get corralled through the city on a motorway that avoids all the junctions, or you will be moved onto a motorway that HAS all the junctions. It is critically important here that you are aware a) how long you will be on a no-junction motorway and b) whether you will miss your exit. We didn’t understand the signs because the with-junctions motorway was signposted with suburbs of Florence (which should have been closer than our exit), and the without-junctions motorway was signposted with Milan, which was a VERY long way away compared to where our exit was. We were trying to get to Verona. We chose the Milan motorway, thinking the other was a ring road type system around Florence. Big mistake. We were shuttled 50km north of our starting point, all the time in slow moving traffic in 40 degree (Celsius) heat, with no air conditioning and a thick fog of petrol fumes surrounding us; we had realized as we passed the exit to the other motorway that we were on the wrong road. We then spent three hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling until we FINALLY reached the first exit off this road which was far, far beyond the exit we had needed. For the first forty minutes on the shuttle road, our road was directly alongside the road we should have taken, and there was no way to get to it. We had to turn around at the first exit 50km later, and then we had to sit through another two hours of traffic to get back to the place where we could turn around again to choose the correct road because it wasn’t reachable from the other side of the road. Many road signs in Italy make no sense and I would highly recommend you get a sat nav as well as a paper road map if you intend to drive in Italy (and don’t rely on the Google sat nav on your phone because a) you’ll wear your battery down by charging it and using it at the same time and b) it’s dependent on you getting a phone signal as well as a GPS one). The moral of the story here is to be aware of these shuttle roads (I don’t know if they have a fancy name) if you plan to drive anywhere in Europe.

Indicators and Overtaking:

In every European country, you must not overtake a school bus while it is stopped to let passengers on or off. In the former Eastern Bloc countries (such as Serbia) you may not overtake any buses that are stopped. Use your common sense – if the rest of the traffic has overtaken the bus, or if the bus is clearly stopped for a lunch break, it’s probably safe to overtake if you take care and do so slowly, so you don’t hit any pedestrians crossing in front of the bus.

On autoroutes/autobahns (motorways, freeways) some nationalities continue to indicate even after they’ve maneuvered, until they have pulled back into the right hand (non-overtaking) lane. This might seem strange to people who have driven in the UK where many high end cars (BMWs, Audis, Mercedes etc) don’t actually appear to be fitted with indicators since their drivers just pull out without warning. It is not compulsory to indicate with the expressive gusto of drivers from Luxembourg, but it is compulsory to use the correct indicators to inform other traffic that you are changing lane or turning.

On roundabouts in Slovenia, you do not indicate when entering a roundabout, you only indicate to show that you are leaving the roundabout.

Smoking in Vehicles:

It is now illegal to smoke in any vehicle where children are passengers in the UK.  It might be illegal to NOT smoke in any vehicle in Montenegro (joking; the UK one is true though).

Things you need in your car (by law):

Some things are needed everywhere in Europe, other things are needed only in one country. In general, the Eastern European countries require you to take more stuff than Western Europe. As far as enforcement goes, unless you get stopped by the police and your vehicle checked for some reason, you shouldn’t really have any problems, so if you’re a flexible good driver (as opposed to one who inflexibly follows every letter of the highway code regardless of situation) you will probably never need to prove these items are in your car.

The UK:

A spare wheel.

Most countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Scandinavia:

Warning triangle (always 2 in Spain, 2 in some other countries IF you’re towing a caravan)

Hi-Viz vest

First aid kit

Spare bulbs

A spare wheel

A bumper sticker showing which country you have driven from (eg. GB sticker) unless your registration plate states a country code on it.

Countries where it gets very cold and snowy, including Austria, Scandinavia and most of the former Eastern Bloc:

Your vehicle MUST be fitted with winter tyres, usually between October and March. Check each country’s requirement on the AA website before taking your vehicle.

Countries where it is very hot:

In Spain, most window tinting is illegal.

In most hot countries you are not allowed to carry spare petrol, but you are generally allowed to carry diesel.

Former Soviet-Bloc countries (Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Former Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, but not Greece):

These are the countries which will often check at the border whether your car has all the correct items, so if you’re travelling to or through any of the former USSR countries, you need to tick all the boxes because they still have a culture of bureaucracy at border checkpoints.

Spare bulbs,

Spare wheel (this must be the same size as the wheels fitted to the vehicle),

First Aid Kit,

Reflective Jacket,

Tow rope and tow bar (or loop e.g. on the Citroen Xsara Picasso),

Warning triangle (two if towing something),

Winter Tyres between November and April (with a minimum tread of 4mm, or 6mm in Ukraine),

Additionally, in all of the former Soviet Bloc countries, you must get the border control officer to certify in writing any damage to your car (dents and scrapes etc) before you enter the country, otherwise you may have serious problems when you try to leave. This is to prevent people from having accidents in these countries then fleeing without prosecution.

It is NOT compulsory to adjust your headlights from a left hand drive to right hand drive country (or vice versa) the laws all state that you must not DAZZLE oncoming traffic. Often this means a headlight adjustment but the law is clear it’s the dazzling that’s the problem, so dip your headlights enough and you will actually probably do a better job at not dazzling traffic than those people who incorrectly use the headlight adjustment stickers.

Tolls and Taxes:

Tolls:

Most freeway type roads (autostrada, autoroute etc) charge a toll.  The exceptions are Germany’s autobahns, which are currently free, and the countries which require you to pay road tax or a vignette.  Tolls in Italy are generally fairly reasonable (usually under E5 every 50-100 miles-ish) and tolls in France are utterly arbitrary (we paid E16 to drive 25 miles at one point and E3 to drive another 40 miles).  This is where buying a roadmap comes in handy – the one I had detailed which roads were toll and which were not, along with the location of the toll booths, so we knew which roads to avoid in France after getting robbed by a toll booth.  The map doesn’t tell you how much the tolls are, but most toll motorways have a non-toll smaller road running next to it which will take you longer, but won’t cost as much in tolls (whether this increases your fuel consumption is another matter).

On trying to enter Eastern European countries, I’ve heard of some drivers being charged a car washing fine for an official to throw a bucket of water over their car because it was too dirty to continue.  This was apparently in Slovenia, although it is definitely illegal to drive an unwashed car in Romania so budget for a car wash every so often.  Then you won’t get charged a E150 fee to enter any of these countries.

Car Tax or Vignettes:

The countries which charge longer term for you to use their roads are:

Austria (the road from Italy to Innsbruck still costs E9 on top of the vignette) which requires a relatively cheap vignette (pronounced vin-yet) which you can buy at petrol stations approaching the Austrian border (say: “eine vignette fur Osterreich bitte” to the clerk then how long you want it for.  “Funfzig tage” is fifteen days and “dreizig tage” gets you thirty days, sorry about my spelling for any native speakers).

Switzerland requires a vignette that in 2016 costs 40CHF (one Swiss Franc is usually worth roughly the same as the Canadian dollar on the exchange rate) and runs from 1st January to 31st December.  If you are travelling during January or December you might get ripped off.  They don’t do smaller units of tax in Switzerland.  According to the Swiss government website, non-EU citizens can buy Swiss road tax online here although I’d get it when approaching the Swiss border to be sure it arrives (and because that exchange rate on that website is very badly messed up).

The UK has a very complicated vehicle taxation and roadworthiness system that I’m not going to go into, because if you’re only there for less than 28 days you can ignore it completely and if you’re there for longer you can consult the British DVLA.

Speed Limits:

Speed limits are signposted very clearly everywhere in Europe, it’s really easy to follow the speed limit and we found there was a way to change the mileometer on the Picasso so it showed the speed in kph.  Germany has very clear speed limits except on the Autobahn, where there is no upper speed limit, only a suggested speed limit in adverse weather conditions.  This teaches you to look at the state of the road, the congestion, the road surface (e.g. is it icy, wet or dry) and use your own judgement.  If you lack this judgement, or if you’re a new driver, stick to 70-80 miles per hour and you’ll generally not be out of place amongst the traffic.  Remember, it’s illegal to take a slow moving vehicle on a motorway or freeway in most European countries so you MUST make an effort to keep up with the slowest moving flow of traffic on the road.

Carrying hazardous/dangerous items such as weapons in your vehicle:

Check the individual country’s requirement as it ranges from 100% legal to hold it whilst driving (swords in Poland) to 99.9% illegal to have it in the car (guns in Britain).  Each country has it’s own definition of what is hazardous or dangerous, just to complicate matters even more.

Further Reading

You may also want to check out these other articles I’ve written to help you drive in Europe and beyond:
Buying petrol in Europe
International Window Tinting Laws Around the World
Travel Money Guide a helpful article explaining how to access your money and what sort of money to take when travelling in Europe, including answering questions about working in Europe, using credit cards and ATM machines. Essential reading if you’re planning a European road trip or driving in Europe.

Coming soon:  Driving with your pets in Europe, and pet-transport laws.

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Mysteries and Histories of Newgrange, Ireland

I slept like a log last night.  Do logs actually sleep?  How do logs sleep?  Like me?

This is Newgrange, a Neolithic site in Ireland that was on my 30 list, which I visited in June when I went to Dublin to see The Who (I recently re-read that article and I’m glad I waited to write this one because I wasn’t making a lot of sense back then).

All the photos from Newgrange came out very, very brightly, because the light was doing something strange here.
All the photos from Newgrange came out very, very brightly, because the light was doing something strange here.

Archaeology:

Newgrange was constructed around 3,200BCE (it’s 5,000 years old; BCE means ‘before common era’).  It’s a chambered passage tomb in Neath, Ireland, about 40 minutes drive up the road from Dublin Airport.  It is ringed by kerbstones, most of which are carved.  The site was previously filled to the top with soil and remains (I have no idea what they were remains of), but in an act of Archaeological Stupidity, it was cleared out in the Victorian era (Ireland did also call the time period this because they were under British occupation at the time) so we don’t have as much evidence as we would like, so archaeologists can’t really say what was going on except that it was a chambered passage tomb.  Which I said already.

It’s mostly risen to significance in the last hundred years because of an interesting phenomenon:  For a couple of days before and after the winter solstice (December 21, midwinter), every year, when the sun rises, it shines in through a hole above the doorway and shines on the floor of the tomb, making it a clever way to mark the passage of time because it marks an annual event.  You can get entered into the lottery that they draw to get a ticket to see it in December but you’d have to make your own way there and you’d have to go alone because the lottery is per ticket.  I went alone but I’m not sure I felt like repeating the trip in the middle of winter and I have to wonder how many people win a ticket then don’t show up for whatever reason, causing other people (who would have turned up) to miss out.

Why does it only do it on Solstice?  Because the Earth is tilted, and it’s orbit around the sun is slightly elliptical, so the sun appears to move position in the sky to different heights (in its second dimension, it rises and sets on one plane and lifts and falls on another; see the diagram below) at different times of year.  In Ireland, in winter, it’s at its lowest during the winter solstice, so the rest of the year, it’s too high in the sky to shine through the hole above the entrance to Newgrange.  In summer, it’s got further to travel than in winter, so the days are longer (actually, we’re the ones travelling, but it’s easier to think of it this way if you’re stuck).

I just drew this to show how the sun appears to move across the sky at different heights at different times of year.
I just drew this to show how the sun appears to move across the sky at different heights at different times of year.

Why go to all the trouble to build something so big just to mark the passage of time?  Well there’s a few reasons (if we’re assuming this was its only purpose which is doubtful due to the human remains that have been found inside), but it’s mostly to do with the fact that during the Neolithic (when Newgrange was built) most of the world had transitioned to agriculture – in fact, these days, we define “Neolithic” as happening at different times around the world depending on when the onset of agriculture was, nothing at all to do with stone tools or fire or whatever.  The Neolithic fits into our current “age system” for prehistory (was the “three age system,” but sort of expanded now) like so:

Palaeolithic – Was “Upper Stone Age” (really long time ago, all of human prehistory until 10,000 years ago)
Mesolithic – Wasn’t a thing, now defined as between 10,000 years ago and the onset of agriculture.  The time of the “hunter-gatherers”
Neolithic – Onset of agriculture.
Iron Age – Discovery of and use of iron.
Bronze Age – Discovery of and use of bronze (an alloyed metal)
Historical – documentary evidence of events in the past.

These “ages” are debatable and the time we reached them differs around the world and particularly how they are defined differs around the world as different cultures view different events as being pivotal moments in their past development.  It is fairly likely that Newgrange, then, was built without the use of iron and was built by people who were living in an agri-culture.  Because this is really all we know about them, it has been put forward and agreed upon by many archaeologists that Newgrange’s function as a big calendar probably has something to do with needing to keep track of the time of year for purposes such as planting crops.  This, of course, would depend on what sort of agriculture was taking place because there is always a bit of an assumption that agriculture has always looked the same since it was first brought to the West, but we don’t actually know that to be true (and are gaining evidence that this is not the case – a topic for further discussion at some point perhaps).  Evidence for agricultural practices has pre-historically been difficult to find although advances in bioarchaeology might move us forward with this if people start seeing farmed land as legitimate archaeological sites instead of just looking for settlements.  Anyway…

I’m not using “absolute” words because you can’t point to anything in the past and say it’s a fact or an absolute truth, because it’s all down to whether we’ve made the correct interpretations of the evidence or not, and while scientific methods can reduce the margin of error, they can never fully eliminate it so most of the time we can’t construct those elaborate “histories” or narratives of the past that people like to hear with any great amount of accuracy.  Which sort of defeats the original point of archaeology if we’re to believe it was ever really about finding narratives of the people from the past in the first place (which I don’t believe, I believe that came later).

Enough Archaeology!  Show Me The Photos:

On the approach. The darker stones to the left are original, the whitest ones are part of a reconstruction.
On the approach. The darker stones to the left are original, the whitest ones are part of a reconstruction.
The entrance to the actual tomb, from almost straight-on (at a slight angle so you can see some contrast in the pic because the sun shines directly on it).
The entrance to the actual tomb, from almost straight-on (at a slight angle so you can see some contrast in the pic because the sun shines directly on it).
The opening through which the sun shines around the December solstice.
The opening through which the sun shines around the December solstice.
The corridor leading to the chamber in the heart of the tomb (photography not allowed inside).
The corridor leading to the chamber in the heart of the tomb (photography not allowed inside).
Another interesting structure nearby.
Another interesting structure nearby.
The site is still disappearing into the landscape and becoming one with its environment, making it hard to get a good picture from a distance.
The site is still disappearing into the landscape and becoming one with its environment, making it hard to get a good picture from a distance.
Many of the rocks were carved in the Neolithic, into intricate patterns that many call "Celtic."
Many of the big rocks (kerbstones) were carved in the Neolithic, into intricate patterns that many call “Celtic.”  These carvings would probably have been done with flint (a type of stone) tools because there were no iron tools yet.
Rock art in one of the rocks forming the outer back wall.
Rock art in one of the rocks forming the outer back wall.
A side view of Newgrange.
A side view of Newgrange.
A tumbledown farmhouse near the site. I thought it was particularly beautiful.
A tumbledown farmhouse near the site. I thought it was particularly beautiful.
A closer picture of the old and reconstructed stones.
A closer picture of the old and reconstructed stones.
A shot of Newgrange taken from the Visitor centre.
A shot of Newgrange taken from the Visitor centre.

The Tour:

It was remarkably short but still enjoyable.  For the fact I’d waited so long in line and on the bus and for the tour to start, I thought there could have been a lot more made of the age, construction, and archaeological finds (by contrast, the tour at Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh is fantastic, if you want an out of the way and mysterious site to visit with a damn good tour, go there).  Most of the information I gave you in “archaeology” was stuff I had researched as part of my archaeology final year dissertation (and never used, because I decided to stick with British Neolithic sites).  There were also too many people visiting for the size inside the tomb, and the guide told the taller people to get to the back (which is fair on the shorter people, and usually I’m all for this, but when the taller people are then unable to see much, it’s just a bit unfair).  It was stunning inside, but there was no photography.  More annoying still, there were no photos of the inside of the tomb available to buy in the gift shop, all the pictures focussed on the light on the floor or this one specific rock with carvings in it.  For you, dear readers, I did sketch while I was in there.  Forgive my crude drawings; I got a D in GCSE Art and when I did my degree, I only did archaeological drawing for 2 days then I dropped it because it was the stupidest course I ever went on, and everything we learned there had no real use in a situation like this (y’know, an actual archaeological site).

This was done inside the main chamber. The roof (bottom right) was from standing in the middle of the central atrium (see pencil arrow) and looking straight upwards.
This was done inside the main chamber. The roof (bottom right) was from standing in the middle of the central atrium (see pencil arrow) and looking straight upwards.  The zigzags and swirls were copied from some of the stones in the three chambers.

Given the way that the sun was behaving, and the fact that I went two days after the Summer Solstice (midsummer’s day) I would like to put forward, based on the evidence of my own eyes, an additional theory about Newgrange:  That it wasn’t originally just a winter calendar, but also a summer one – there’s a straight up and down arrangement of rocks (see my drawing) with a capstone which may not have been original, through which, I’m fairly sure the sun could have shone in from above if the capstone hadn’t been in the way.  So perhaps, since it was full of soil and overgrown when people found it back in the Victorian days, the whole thing was repurposed and filled in at a later date (when the capstone went on)?  I don’t have any hard evidence of this, just my drawings, but it seems entirely possible to me.

A major redeeming feature of the tour was that the guide was open in admitting  that we don’t really know much about Newgrange – there are all sorts of theories and ideas bouncing around in the academic and “fringe” circles, but at the end of the day what they’re all lacking is any kind of evidence.  Some people (not archaeologists, I hope,) make it their life’s work to concoct plausible stories for big sites, using the least amount of evidence (a grain of truth to support their lies, if you will), and the most amount of drama, fantasy and “inference” (in quotation marks because it’s not so much inference as ‘making it up to get on the History Channel’), and sadly these versions of things run around the world before we can research, get evidence, assess context and investigator biases, consider reductionism, and all the other things that need to be done to support an idea about the past.  I’ve been to a few “historical sites” and found the guides to be reiterating as “facts” some complete gobbledegook that has no basis in evidence at all.  I found it very refreshing that what little the guide did tell us was all clearly stated as interpretation and she did tell us what those interpretations were based on (and why we don’t know more) and I think there’s a middle ground between “we just don’t know” and “a wizard did it.”

Accessibility:

There is no disabled access to the actual Neolithic tomb of Newgrange itself.  This picture is taken at the entrance, this is as far as you can get if you’re not pedwardly mobile:

There is no disabled access to the tomb of Newgrange.
There is no disabled access to the tomb of Newgrange.

Tickets must be bought at the Visitor Centre not at the site, and there is a walk and a bus ride between the Visitor Centre and the site.

Newgrange 3

You must get there early.  I got there before 9:00am and went on the first  tour of the day, and this was the queue already for tickets when I arrived:

This was before 9:00am and there was about 30 people inside the building who I had to wait behind before I got to the ticket desk.
This was before 9:00am and there was about 30 people inside the building who I had to wait behind before I got to the ticket desk.

Buying tickets:

When I visited, the combined ticket was the same price as the separate tickets for Newgrange and Knowth, so you may as well go to Newgrange first (because that sells out) then decide whether that’s enough chambered passage tombs for you or not (I decided it was enough for me but then I’d been up for 2 days and that always kills my attention span).  Ticket for Newgrange cost 6 Euros.  Check opening times and do some Googling before you go so you don’t miss out on the significance of this site.

Psychedelic Ghost Photos as The Who Turns 50 In Dublin; Trivia and Ryanair

Longtime readers will have realized I never ever miss a Travel Tuesday post.  Yesterday, I decided that rather than pre-scheduling, I wanted to talk about the trip I was actually going to be on when I was due to post (if you see what I mean).  At 3am yesterday morning, I got back out of bed to go to Dublin to see The Who.  I just got back at 11am when I started writing this post (yeah I got interrupted by something VERY important to do with our house’s roof).  Tired now.  I packed some other stuff into my 24 hours in Dublin, I’ll do a separate article each on Dublin and Newgrange in future posts.

Anyway, I digressed, so I’ve cut my digression into a separate article, and I haven’t had much sleep due to sleeping last night for about an hour, all on the cold stone floor of an airport, so I will keep rambling I’m afraid.

The Who concert didn’t start well for me:  When you’ve flown abroad and spent time hiring a car, the absolute last thing you want to hear is “your tickets been declined” at three different doors.  I did eventually get in to find out I was seated next to the lighting rig.  In case you’re wondering, that’s a terrible place to sit because the sound quality is as shit as a tyrannosaurus with dysentery.

It’s a shame because I was actually closer to the front (at the back of this venue) than I was to Marilyn Manson 2 weeks ago at Download, and I could see and hear a lot better at Download because they’ve got sound engineers who know how sound waves travel, and know they need to angle the goddamn speakers to point at the crowd, not aim it all at somewhere in the middle.  The high notes were painfully shrill and the bass was non-existent.  I fashioned myself some earplugs out of toilet paper so I could overcome the distortion as best as possible in order to actually enjoy the gig.

This is another of the best photos I've ever taken.  Every single aspect of this photo is bizzarre, but the eeriest thing is the aura round the man in the hat at the back.
This is another of the weirdest photos I’ve ever taken. Every single aspect of this photo is bizzarre, but the eeriest thing is the aura round the man in the hat at the back.  I promise that’s The Who!!
That's Pete Townshend in the middle of the most trippy photo I've ever taken in my life.
That’s Pete Townshend in the middle of the most trippy photo I’ve ever taken in my life.  It’s like the camera’s picked up on the sound waves and made them visible or something.  So surreal.
Another psychedelic phenomenon photo from The Who concert in Dublin last night.  The music seems to be visible here as well.  It's so odd!
Another psychedelic phenomenon photo from The Who concert in Dublin last night. The music seems to be visible here as well. It’s so odd!  It’s like there’s a giant hand at the top pulling strings of the players.

The Trivia:

At the beginning there was a slideshow of The Who pictures and trivia.  I wrote some of the more interesting things down to share with you, because I can’t not take notes when someone puts words on a PowerPoint and plays it to me:

Apparently the proper name for their “target” motif is a “roundel” which is symbolic of Mod culture (I knew I didn’t like it for some reason, presumably because I inherited a dislike of scooters *cough*hairdryers*cough* in favour of real motorbikes – but then, I always thought the mod vs rocker thing was a bit of a non starter because they all dropped off the face of the earth when the hippie movement turned up and I think it was probably a lot of the same people wearing a different badge – psychedelia instead of “mod” or “rocker” but no-one seems to really know).

Zak Starkey, drummer for The Who, replaced Keith Moon.
Zak Starkey, drummer for The Who, replaced Keith Moon.  I thought this was a normal photo but I’ve just seen the ghost behind the drummer (look at the hairline, it’s clearly Keith Moon)… wtf was going on at this concert??  I don’t touch my photos except to make them smaller, and I have the originals if anyone wants to verify this.

The drummer who’s been touring with The Who since 1996 is Ringo Starr’s son – Zak Starkey.  Having seen him in action I can say he is an excellent drummer.  There’s something that separates a good drummer from an outstanding drummer, and whatever it is, Zak Starkey has got it.  I guess when your “Uncle Keith” (Keith Moon) buys you your first drum kit, you’re going to probably be inspired to become a great drummer.  He has more than earned his unofficial membership as an honorary member of The Who.  What’s bizarre is the photo above shows a figure with black hair and white face standing behind him, and I just looked for a picture of Keith Moon and he looked like this on Wikipedia:

Keith Moon in 1975, from Wikipedia, see the hair parting and compare to the figure behind the drummer in my photo above.  I don't even have software on my computer that could do this, I wouldn't know how, and I don't even retouch my photos for color!  I am really freaked out by this now and am going to dig the "blurry" deleted pics from the recycle bin.
Keith Moon in 1975, from Wikipedia, see the hair parting and compare to the figure behind the drummer in my photo above. I don’t even have software on my computer that could do this, I wouldn’t know how, and I don’t even retouch my photos for color! I am really freaked out by this now and am going to dig the “blurry” deleted pics from the recycle bin.

I don’t know who replaced Moon from 1978 (when he died) to 1996, but John Entwhistle was replaced straight away when he died in 2002 by Pino Palladino.  I found out by experience that he can pull out a canny bass solo when he feels like it.

I often feel like replacement members in a band as legendary as The Who have to be twice as good as the originals they replace.  Taking Pink Floyd as a comparable example, Syd Barrett was replaced by Dave Gilmour, who is responsible for the characteristic sound of Pink Floyd as they were when they made it really really big.  In fact, Gilmour was so good that his membership overshadowed Syd’s, and tragically, Syd was not welcomed back when his manager tried to arrange a “surprise reunion” at the recording of Wish You Were Here.  Another example is Myles Kennedy, currently touring with Slash (of Guns N Roses) and I would say that their rendition of Anastasia (which gives me chills) must make Axl Rose green with envy that he missed out on being part of such a fantastic piece of music, not only that but Myles can cover all the old Guns N Roses stuff and you wouldn’t know it wasn’t Axl singing.  I was very impressed by that.  And I was very impressed last night in The Who Hits 50 in Dublin by Pino and Zak; certainly they are very, very good players and they are by no means a lesser substitute for John (E) or Keith.  You’re not getting second best, you’re getting first best from people whose life path brought them here from a different place.

Apparently Keith Moon used Premier Drums.  In 1967 they gave him a Pictures of Lily version (the famous Day Glow Victorian pictures of a similar style to the Monty Python’s Flying Circus animations).  Keith Moon used this drum kit for 2 years, calling it something like (and I’m sorry if this is slightly wrong, the slide disappeared as I was scribbling it) “Keith Moon Patent Exploding Drummer Kit.”

The Who in Focus live Dublin tour
Look behind the drummer’s head, you may need to look from an odd angle, I see it from when my eyes are higher than the laptop screen. That ghost again!

The guitar smashing was apparently inspired by one Malcolm Cecil, a teacher at Ealing Tech, who did a performance where he sawed through his cello, inspiring Pete Townshend to think about the deeper artistic statement of it (yeah folks were all doing a lot of weird stuff back then).  Pete smashed his guitars with the stated purpose of making an art statement about value and cost, as well as proving that there would be no encores after the guitar was wrecked.  Apparently, because it’s  become too commonplace and too many artists do it, he doesn’t smash guitars as a spectacle.  Since 2000, 4 guitars have been smashed total – one in 2000, two in 2002 and one in 2004, although these were apparently because he was displeased with the performance of the instrument and wanted “to prevent a bad guitar from returning.”

The Union Jack jacket was inspired by Pop Art (the art movement) and David Bowie was inspired to get one for his 1997 Earthlings album as a throwback to The Who (also that year, Geri Halliwell made headlines when she wore to the Brit Awards a Union Flag dress which was very very short, but this wasn’t mentioned in The Who Turns 50’s slideshow, presumably because it’s less cool to inspire the Spice Girls than to inspire David Bowie, who was after all a contemporary of The Who).

Apparently The Who played at Woodstock.  They didn’t like it because they had to leave the van miles away and one of them was carrying a tiny baby at the time.

The supporting band:

The supporting band were called The Last Internationale.  The lead singer had a powerful voice but she was shrill despite not being high pitched, which was a distinct disadvantage.  This was when I made earplugs because my ears were in pain and I guess it serves me right for going to a The Who concert with a migraine.

I wasn’t very impressed with them because they seemed to have no idea what to do with a crowd that big, and I think the best way they could have warmed the crowd up would be to leave. They failed to win me over, and I’m not sure that what they were playing classes as music, but they at least started to get my attention, from about their 3rd or 4th song, which was called something like “Wanted Now” and by their finale they were successfully demonstrating that it was possible to play and jump around at the same time, which seemed to be their party trick.  Apparently they’ve just released their first single in the US so you’ll probably hear about them s’more soon unless they bomb on the charts.  Not sure Wal-Mart will add them to the playlist though since they tend to avoid rock-y sounds, but you never know.

A very long wait during changeover while the stage is re-set:

I don’t want a sausage inna bun.

I don’t want a sausage inna bun.

I don’t want a sausage inna bun.

I should have had a second lunch before the show.

I don’t want a sausage inna bun.

Or a programme.

Yes, it will be a collector’s item in 20 years’ time but will the increase in value justify the space I’d need to keep it in my house just for that reason?  Nope.  Imagine if I did that with every potentially valuable item, I’d end up keeping millions of things just for the sake of selling them again at some point in the future.  It’s hoarding, and it’s the complete opposite of minimalism.

Maybe I should distract myself with a sausage inna bun?
NO! I don’t want a sausage inna bun!

The trouble is, the snacks available are either full of sugar (eg skittles) or they are hot dogs.  Which are also very bad for me as I cannot tolerate pork at all and I’d probably get more nutritional value from eating the programme than the sausage inna bun.

 

The Concert:

The Who In Almost Focus.  When you see how far back I was (next photo has no zoom) you'll see why these pictures didn't focus as well as I would have liked.
The Who In Almost Focus. When you see how far back I was (next photo has no zoom) you’ll see why these pictures didn’t focus as well as I would have liked.
This is with no zoom.  Those heads are the two who went out of their way to cause nuisance.
This is with no zoom. Those heads are the two I mentioned below.

Half to two thirds of the attendees didn’t turn up until 5 minutes before The Who started – I think about 50 people in consecutive seats all arrived at once, presumably a late coach, but the others just seemed to have it sussed to avoid all the waiting.  They’ve clearly been before.  There was so very much waiting.

Here’s as much of the setlist as I managed to write down:

Song 1 and 2: ???

Song 3: Who are you?

Song 4: The Kids Are Alright [sic]

Song 5: I can see for miles.

Song 6: My generation.  Which had a verse which was a drum-underscored bass solo.  Excellent.

Song 7: Behind Blue Eyes.

Song 8: Bargain.

Song 9: I wasn’t sure at the time, thought it was “join the river” which was really confusing but it’s actually “join together.” I’d never heard it before.

Song 10: You’d Better You Bet.

Song 11: I’m one.

Song 12: Love Reign O’Er Me

Song 13: Eminence Front

Song 14: A quick one (while he’s away).

The heat was problematic, and the temperature control was non-existent.  I was sat by the lighting rig.  Lights get HOT at concerts.  But I wasn’t the only one suffering.  The band paused after a song to try and get someone to do something about the temperature.  They weren’t precious about it though, and even made a bit of a song out of it while they waited for someone to put a fan on, the Air Con, or get them some water because it was far too hot.

Sadly, at this point in the concert, I was overcome with heat and listened to the next two from the doorway.  I think if it’d been brought back with something I had wanted to hear after A Quick One (while he’s away) I would have stuck around, but the last one I’d actually heard before (and I’m not an ignoramus I just don’t know their whole back catalogue) was #8, and number 15 was nothing I recognized so I decided we must be nearly finished, and that I would just go back to the car hire place and return the car.  When I looked up what I’d missed, I found that only two (Pinball Wizard and Baba O’Riley) of the five remaining songs were ones I’d wanted to hear.  I know it’s good for a band to play what THEY want not just what fans want, but when you’ve got such a fabulous back catalogue I don’t know why you would pick below average pop-tastic songs unless they just can’t play the others any more or hate them so much that they can’t stand them.  Who knows.

See what I did there.

I did it again there.  Instead of a question mark, the full stop makes it a statement which answers the question which would be posed if there was a question mark.

I digress.

Leaving:

 

Anyway, I enjoyed what I saw of The Who, despite the heat and stress of the two people in front of me being coked up twats and very tall and talking nineteen to the dozen with grand gestures and snogging (like, the gross kind that 15 year olds do to show everyone in the vicinity that they’re going out, not the passionate kind of snog that people in love do) and stretching whilst talking and snogging and basically doing as much as they could to ruin my view and then trying to feel me up (I shit you not), and despite the fact the sound quality was awful in that part of the 3 Arena, it was still a very good show.  I was struck by how much interaction The Who had with the audience – literally, after every song they would talk for a bit and tell you a bit about the background to the next one.  It was fascinating.  I made brief notes because I didn’t want note-taking to get in the way of enjoying the show.  But they didn’t short-change on the songs, either, and they played plenty (although theirs tend to be shorter than most other bands I listen to, because they were always more poppy when they were making big hits).

Afterwards I balked at how much parking had cost – my ticket came up as E30 when it should have been E12 for event parking, but I had to get the car out of the car park because it was a hire car so I just paid.

So lots of things conspiring to put a downer on the day, and I wasn’t necessarily in the right place to be as caught up in the hype as I would have been if I hadn’t needed to manage a migraine, but even though I left early I was happy with what I’d seen, felt it just about justified the effort and more than justified the expenditure (which was STILL cheaper and more convenient than going to London) and think I can definitely tick them off my Bands Bucket List.  I should post that list at some point in its entirety.

More on Ireland, specifically Dublin and Newgrange, soon…

What do you think of those weird psychedelic photos?  I was going to delete them until I saw that some of them looked very artistic, now I’m intrigued by the possibility of interference from the spiritual realm.  Glad I bought a silver Virgin Mary medallion (it’s an Irish thing) earlier that afternoon!

See what’s on the rest of my Bands Bucket list
Other concerts I’ve reviewed.