Tour Take Two

crapbot and east cackalacky in manchester england

Saying goodbye to Number 1, Oldham

Back on the road!

Yeah, yeah, okay, you already guessed…was it the slew of photos and happy smiling faces that greeted your Facebook feed???

C’mon kids! Take a seat at the kitchen table and grab yourself a cup of coffee; we’d like to share our strategy with you.

Mom and Dad have a plan. We want to take advantage of the hard work we did in England and we want to return to the States in style. We want to end our stay in Europe with more busking, and we need to finish all the writing, videos and music for the Kickstarter. This can only mean one thing: tour take two.

So we’ve picked ourself a finish line to cross. Are you ready for this? Our finish line is Copenhagen, July 30th, 2014.

Kids, we’re growing up a little. Y’know, it had to happen. We reigned in our ambitions and tour length to a reasonable amount. To help prevent us from killing each other, and to prevent us from attacking the gypsy on the corner who just took our mother-fucking busking spot again….

Eurostar from England to France

Trains will make us lean, meaning killing machines!

Two months of gallivanting around Europe seems just about perfect, and we know you’ll agree. It gives us enough pressure to get our bums moving, but won’t kill us. Right, did I mention, we’ve planned this whole trip to avoid any death?

This all means we must be sleek jaguar machines. No more hitchhiking around back country France like snails.

A big difference from last year. And I know you’ll miss all the stories of ‘how-we-got-stuck-in-the-middle-of-po-dunk-France,’ and we’ll miss the dash of unknown that comes with getting stuck in the middle of po-dunk France. But we won’t miss getting stuck………………..

Look, there’s still plenty of room for the unknown on this trip, so don’t worry your little hearts.

We’re still only planning a couple of days in advance. And we’re headed to Eastern Europe and Turkey, the lesser travelled, not as wealthy Europe where we could crash and become homeless all over again!

teh wild musician stalks its play

Mobile music setup for better recording.

In the middle we’d like to hit these European hotspots: Gdansk, Kaunus, Krakow, Budapest, Istanbul, Sofia, Romania, the Balkins, Northern Greece, Croatia, Prague, Austria and maybe another pass through Munich.

It’s still quite an adventure. Two months rushing through Europe. We’re feeling pretty damn excited about this one!

And, more importantly, we’ve planned it so there’s extra time for music. Last year that was one thing we missed out on – despite busking long hours, we didn’t really have any time to write or record we were so busy surviving.

One last thing – make no mistake. Our plans for world domination fester on!

That’s it, that’ all we have to say. Get back to work! I know you’re busy.

And watch out for The Cack.

 

 

crapbot in Oxford

Must sow the seeds of robotism around the world.

 

 

 

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Reflections on Busking Western Europe (part 3)

Let’s do a little more talking about this summer, shall we?

englishmoney

As you read in the first post, we learned a lot about what it means to travel poor in a foreign country including get used to eating bread and cheese and learn how to collect bottles. Right, that’s covered.

We also learned a lot about what it means to busk Europe. And that is…

…busking Europe is very similar to busking the United States.

waterfallzaragozaEurope does have certain advantages: the cities are closer together, so there are more viable busking options in a shorter distance. Going on tour is a quicker operation.

But the same challenges apply: cities where busking is illegal or frowned upon and euros stretched thin due to competition.

Tom Senkus in the London UndergroundChallenge 1: Where to play

We could easily make this a formula. Out of 12 pounts…

Start with location:  Three points for a coastal/port town.

One point if town has ‘traditional’ architecture and historic downtown.

Another point if it’s possible to busk on the historic downtown streets.

Add a point if busking is legal.

Add a point if city is between 70,000 and 400,000 people.

Subtract two points if you find more than one gypsy in downtown area.

Add two points if town has been recommended by other buskers and travelers.

Add a point if downtown has multiple pedestrian-only streets.

Add a point for double-decker tour bus.

Add a point if city is/is near to wealthy metropolitan area.

For example…

There’s a reasonrain, rain go away you're never going to stop anyway! San Sebastian, La Rochelle and Lubeck were all really great places to play. Coastal port towns, hassle-free busking, larger than 70,000 but smaller than 400,000. Mostly gypsy free. Recommended by other buskers. Filled with tourists on tour buses. Near to wealthy metropolitan areas. Historic downtowns in doll-house size that funnel visitors by the music.

Then there are places like Manchester (not coastal, not recommended, no tour buses, lots of gypsies) where you can work all day and do OK, but you wouldn’t seek it out to make your fortune.

And then there are places like Mataro. Don’t go, you’ll just get shut down anyway.

Even within a town it takes some trial and error to find the right place to play. Here’s one where other buskers are not always right: what works for them may not work for you!  We always avoided the most popular spots, i.e. Glasgow’s Buchannan street, Covent Gardens (London), Paris in general, Spitalarstrasse in Hamburg. In order to really thrive in these places you have to have to have good amplification. And some talent.

IMG_20131006_131911Challenge 2: A Creative Angle to Defeat the Competition

In Europe you’re not likely to find a classic rock playing guitarist on every corner, so my guess is that you could easily show up with your classic and indie rock repertoire and impress.

Possibly, maybe, we’ve heard. But then again, that’s not our angle.

On the other hand, there’s at least two accordionists per city block so best to just throw that instrument into the river.

Leave the Django at home. And if for some reason you were tempted to play Autumn Leaves only do it as a bad-ass punk cover: this has got to be the number one over-busked song in Europe.

Creative busking always wins. Costumes, novelty instruments, odd but palatable songs, children’s acts. Put on a good show and people will love you.

Or say fuck it all and become a “bubbler.” Minimal set-up, maximum crowd interaction, and all you have to do is wave your arms around. Who doesn’t love bubbles?!?!?!?!

downtown rostock buskers

Downtown Rostock

Challenge 3: Icky City Laws

Shockingly (and maddeningly) busking is not legal in all European towns! Legality is not always easy to learn ahead of time, either. You have to trust word-of-mouth busker warnings and outdated musician blogs so every time you approach a new place you could be taking a risk.

Luckily, it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, especially if you’re foreign. The risk is worth it on the chance that the cops won’t give a shit.

We never once were fined/jailed or had our instruments confiscated. We were warned, we were ID’d and we moved on, but it’s the same as in America, cops have bigger problems like drugs and crime and stupid tourists. We just follow the ‘always apologize humbly’ to a police officer motto. And if you can, add some bubbles to ease the tension.

campbazelFlourishing

Busking is a lifestyle as well as a career.

No, I don’t mean that we’re destined to live out or days digging through trash and jamming on three-stringed guitars.

We busk in order to travel and we travel in order to busk and underneath all of this is the gleeful feeling that we are actually making money off of playing music.

It’s possible, it’s possible, it’s possible!

It’s not easy. Before we left we had this misconception that it would be easier than America. Why? Who knows. You can’t ever get away from competition, mistrust, local government bans, bad weather, and that unmentionable busker flaw that prevents us from getting ahead.

So fuck easy, enjoy hardship. Stimulate your artist neurons. Force yourself to learn that song so well you end up re-harmonizing it because you got bored of playing the same chords every day for three months.

Many have gone on extravagant busking tours before, many will do again despite all the warnings that say: you’re going to run out of money and fail and get stuck or deported.

And that’s exactly what happened to us!

It was so worth it.

We got to fail spectacularly and plan to do so again. And again. And again. Until one day failing becomes the new success.

WEEk 11 in Review ::: Familiar France

caravans for miles

caravans for miles

Monday June 24th

Montpellier. After our coolest hitchhike ride ever, with the fabulous Julio Cesar, we end up camping in the snail fields of France on a cold and windy night. Montpellier’s got some stiff competition including human statue Neptune and youthful break dancers. Downtown is packed, but busking is only okay.

Tuesday June 25th

Montpellier x2. Work, work, work, and then give ourselves  a break by counsurfing in the evening. It’s the first time we’ve ‘surfed since Bordeaux, and basically we’re doing it ’cause we need a shower, but we really plan to busk more! As always, couchsurfing has it’s own agenda and we end up spending the night with Ys and her college friends as they party late into the night. One thing of note: French people make awesome pasta.

dogs bath in the fountain in Montpellier

Montpellier

Wednesday June 26th

Montpellier x3. Nah, we’re kinda tired of this town. Again, 12-15€ per hour is acceptable, but only okay. The deal is sealed when we are 1) bribed to leave our favorite spot by an ice-cream vendor and, 2) mistaken for homeless beggars outside of the Carrefour. So we walk out of Montpellier and get an instant hitchhike ride to Avignon. Booyah!

Thursday June 27th

avignon by the river oh yeah

Avignon

Avignon. HOLY STREET PERFORMER, I’ve never seen so many buskers in one town in my life! Apparently there’s a theater festival approaching and everyone’s come for the party. We have Leon, the German-born, Flamenco-fusion guitar player. Then there’s Tony, the escaped-from-a-commune English punk rocker, Cesar, the tri-lingual Argentinian caricature maker, the gold statue woman, the gold statue man, the balloon blower, the gypsy accordionist, the 3-piece gypsy band, Polish Zorro (who has anger management issues), the Spanish flamenco-duo, random street kid with a didgeridoo… What to do? Play-play-play for our desperate 30€ in four hours. The only thing left to do is get drunk with the Polish immigrants at the end of the night.

Friday June 28th

Avignon x2. Holy street performers who are not doing so well! Leon with the professional set-up and the escape van has been cleaning up, but everyone else is complaining. So much so, that we actually convince English Tony to leave town with us. Well, we can bus out of town together, but hitchhiking will be difficult with three. We let Tony stage himself before the pèage, and we slip behind the toll booth. It’s good to be cute Americans: we get a quick ride to Orange and wave goodbye to Tony.

fuck you orange France

fuck you orange

Saturday June 29th

Orange. We busk our hearts out for this sleepy town and then…boom! get shut down. The police suggest we go to Avignon, “there’s a place for people like you to make your music.” Hahahaha. We have a different plan, and head for the North. After 3 hours in the sun, we finally get a ride from a Quebeçois woman, Josee, who takes us all the way to Lyon. Yay! Conversation is limited because she doesn’t speak much English, and our French – well, you know. But Josee still stops with us in Vienne to check out the cathedrals and drink a beer. Plus Bon Jovi sing-alongs in the car. Awesome!

Sunday June 30th

Lyon. We’ve found the cheapest food in France : dollar hamburgs right near the Hotel de Ville. Fueled by the chili-mayo sauce, we play a fabulous Sunday morning set and make 70 whole Euros! Oh, the relief at being back in business! Lyon is beautiful as well, an “old-town” pedestrian street of cobblestones with those quaint and expensive French cafes that make culture happen. We will say one thing, this town hammers home our new Europe rule – don’t play longer than 45 minutes in one spot because someone will complain. That’s okay, we don’t care, because at least people are enjoying our music here! Horay for the Lion!

Lesson of the Week – Nice to have busker camaraderie, but when the streets are infested with musicians, get out!

Challenges and Solutions in French Travel : How A Busker Gets By

the language barrier is like the sea, berck, france1) The Language Barrier

This is a lot less of an obstacle than you would imagine. The sign, ‘Autres Directions’ is not a bad French translation of English, that is French. Do you understand?

When you have to speak, entire conversations can be elaborated with hand gestures.

For example: Walked into a country shop hungry for some food. I explained right away, “Je ne parle pas français”. Instead I pointed to the things I want. The clerk was more than happy to suggest food options (he’s getting paid after all!) and he even knew the words “cheese, bread and food, eat!” That’s enough for a conversation! I left with cheese and bread, and he left with money. Bingo!

Of course, not speaking the language can get you into trouble sometimes. I.E., when our hitchhike ride dropped us off in the middle of nowhere because we kept nodding our heads and saying, “oui, oui” to everything. Didn’t someone warn us not to wee wee?

cafecornerrouenTravel Advice, i.e., some solutions to overcoming the language barrier

Learn how to say, “do you speak English?” After that, you’ll be forgiven for wild hand gestures and poorly drawn diagrams. Look like you’re trying really hard. Laugh a lot. If you’re going to be using public transportation, learn how to say, “to where does this go?” or “I want to go to…” The best thing you can do is bring a pen and notebook and write down the name of the town you’re traveling to. Nobody in France pronounces “Rouen” exactly the same, and nobody will understand your pronunciation of it anyway.

Stereotypes dispelled

Contrary to what we’ve been told, French people are more than happy to meet you half way if you don’t speak the language. Many of them know enough English to say a few words. No Frenchman ever looked angry if we couldn’t speak to him in French, only slightly ashamed they couldn’t speak English. Those who knew some English were happy to give it a try.

the bordeaux tram2) Getting Around the Country

Trains are prohibitively expensive in France. Think 30€/person for about 50 km. Long distance busses are few and far between. Cheaper regional busses exist, but finding them can be a bit tricky as they aren’t advertised well online, and when they are, the website is in French. Duh. Don’t bother asking people, because most of them don’t know whether or not a bus exists, and they especially won’t know what time the bus runs. Don’t ask the train station because they will conveniently tell you there’s no bus. The tourist information beaureu always directs you to the most expensive transportation – train. In other words, it’s freaking hard to find out where and when busses run.

Travel Advice, i.e., some solutions to getting around cheaply

If you’re not on a time schedule, hitchhiking is the best option. Although they may not always be driving long distances, French people will pick you up.

If you’re in a hurry…

on the sncf in France

trains are very comfy

and want travel via train:

There’s the Ter line, local trains that make smaller hops and local stops, and cost significantly less than the long distance trains. Ter lines run on the same SNCF tracks and you can purchase the tickets in the train station. How do you know if you’re on a Ter line? Go look through the station. If there’s a Ter ticket dispenser in the railway station, odds are you can find a cheaper ticket. Sometimes you just get lucky and discover your ticket was way cheaper than you thought. Then you can spend your savings on 2€ vending machine biscuits.

No Ter line? Be under 25, or travel with a chip and pin credit card so you can buy under 25 tickets from the automated ticket machines. If you’re under 25, you get a 10 or 15% discount. Once the counter lady gave me the discount just by asking my age. Another time, a different counter lady didn’t give it to me when I asked for a discount for being 24. I’m not sure, then, how one gets this discount every time, but if you pay via automated machine you can give yourself the discount (only if you have a chip and pin card, though, automated machines don’t take cash!) If you like to plan in advance, check online and some people “resell” tickets they don’t use. Of course, you have to have a mailing address for this and plan far in advance…

the wonderful 1€ bus of local franceAlso, train tickets are much cheaper when purchased months in advance. But who plans that far on a busking tour?

…and want to travel via bus they do exist. Especially in the South, there are regional bus lines that will get you a decent distance for a fraction of the price that the train will cost. For example, there’s the Les Mouettes bus line that runs from La Rochelle to Saintes. There’s also a bus line that runs from La Roche sur Yon to La Rochelle. The logo is red and white. I’ve seen it on the side of the road – although I can’t find it on the internet anywhere.

These bus stations are usually located outside the train station, off to the side, around the corner from the main train station, and tucked away into a nook. But they exist and a thorough glance around the train station can save you some serious dough!

On the very, very positive side, every French town has a good network of local busses. A one-way pass ranges from 1€-1.50€. Now that’s a great deal!

rain, rain go away you're never going to stop anyway!3) The Weather

Despite all our research, we somehow missed the fact that Normandy, the Northern Coast of France, rains all the time. This seems to be popular knowledge amongst the French and they have parody cards and cartoons to illustrate this. Normandy rains more than England. And it’s pretty fucking cold. Now that we’ve escaped it, it’s easy to look back and laugh, however the Battle of Rouen happened, and the blow to morale has yet to fully recover.

The general rule is, expect it to rain along the Western coast of France. A lot. Even the tourist destinations: Dieppe, Nantes, Bordeaux were all plagued by rain.

Travel Advice, i.e. some solutions to the weather

Bring an umbrella. Or a raincoat. And if you have packs, bring pack covers. Or trash bags. Expect to get wet. Smile about it.

east cackalacky's mobile mcdonalds office

mobile office in the mackies

4) Finding the Internet/Charging Equipment

Ironically, France doesn’t really have coffee shops. It has bar/coffee shops/tobacco vendors/convenience stores where you can buy coffee. It has outdoor cafes where you can drink coffee. But the hang-out-all-day-with-your-gear-plugged-in shops are lacking.

Travel Advice, i.e. where to plug in three devices while surfing the internet for 3 hours

France does have McDonalds with wifi. And their McDonalds are pretty classy. Instead of being the most upscale citizen in the dining room, you’ll be the vagabond. But that’s okay, they still won’t kick you out. And they’ll have outlets. And you can buy one shot of expresso and hang out all day. They can be a little hard to find in the smaller cities, so stick to bigger cities! The big cities all have McDonalds in the center, and it’s a good landmark because it’s one place the French can give you perfect directions to! FYI, the French call it “McDo’s.”

veche in berck sur mer france

a cute picture of cows that’s unrelated to coffee

5) The size of coffee

Omg, we thought UK coffee was small? Well, that was luxury! French coffee is usually a shot of expresso, for 1.50€, or you can spend 3€ to get a latte. We never found drip coffee, it just doesn’t exist! No Starbucks either. A sad, sad reality for American travelers.

Travel Advice for those who need their fucking coffee! in the morning

Buy instant coffee. Buy a mug. Fill mug with instant coffee. If you don’t want to buy a mug, use old water bottle. Fill mug with water. Put in sun for a few hours. No sun for the 5th day in a row? Just drink it cold dammit, it’s caffeine!

magical self-cleaning toilets of Bayonne

magical self-cleaning toilets of Bayonne

6) Public Restrooms

They exist. Often you have to pay for them. The train stations always have bathrooms. Usually you pay .30€ to use them. Okay, that’s allowable. A few towns have public bathrooms on the street. You pay .30€ to use them. McDonalds always requires a passcode, so you’ll pay the price of coffee to use those. Only Bayonne had the magical, self-cleaning, french-speaking, FREE public toilets. A very good reason to visit Bayonne.

closed on sunday in france

the horror of a closed market

7) Buying food on Sundays

Some supermarkets are open until 1 pm. Many are closed. Especially if they’re in the outskirts of town, or in the city center, the supermarkets will be closed. Even if it’s a large brand name.

Advice for travelers who don’t want to eat at restaurants on Sundays

Buy your food in advance. Don’t expect any supermarket to be open on Sundays. Eat doner kebab instead. It’s cheap.

East Cackalacky in Berck France on the beach