Karen and Nick are a super-chilled Canadian couple: Nick's been here on Ton Sai for a few weeks already; and Karen just rocked up today (not sure if they're together, or just friends, or what-have-you). Nick is apparently "extremely short on cash": as such, he's sleeping in a tent instead of renting a bungalow (can't afford $7/night — ouch). I met the two of them while having dinner this evening, and I later went out and had a few drinks with them, at the Chill Out bar on the beach. Saw plenty of other folks at the beach bars tonight as well — great, pleasant way to end my time in Ton Sai.
One night in Krabi: I really needed it, in between Ko Tao and Ton Sai. You can't go straight from one farang beach retreat to another: sometimes, you just need to spend a night in a real town. A place where you can find a cheap room, cheap food, and cheap Internet. And a place where a big city boy like myself can feel slightly more at home. Krabi's a pleasant enough town, but it's a bit small and boring. I mingled with my Dutch friend this evening, over dinner and a few drinks. She also insisted on finding a Thai massage, which I stupidly tagged along to: of the several Thai massages that I've had during my time here, it was one of the more painful (apparently, the more it hurts while they're doing it, the better you feel after — I have yet to verify this). Seems that most folks don't linger in Krabi too long: everyone heads to either Railay, Ton Sai or Ao Nang pretty fast.
As of today, Marie, Claire and myself have moved out of Mr. Jan's Bungalows (cosy though they are, and nice though Mr. Jan is). Following Sonny's example, we've moved over to the Unicorn I bungalows, where we are privy to what is possibly the deal of the century. For a mere 100B/night, the Unicorn I offers quaint little bungalows (albeit rustic), in a gorgeous grassy field — plus, they let you use all the luxury facilities of the nearby (but much pricier) Unicorn II resort! The newer and flashier Unicorn II boasts such freebies as a private swimming pool, a sauna, and free Internet. If you're heading to Pai anytime soon, be sure to check out the Unicorn thing.
Every bar in the world is unique: but few are as unique as Pai's "sewer bar". On the main street of Pai, they have a hilarious setup: the town's largest supermarket (not very large) is also the town's cheapest source of alcohol; and in order to cash in on this fact, they've got a long line of picnic tables and benches available right outside! So you can buy your booze for less, and not even have to worry about finding somewhere to drink it. There is one small catch — namely, the sewerage drain that runs uncovered down the side of the street, and that makes the picnic-bench area positively reek — but 'tis a small price to pay. And in my opinion (and if you have a different opinion, then you may kindly shove it up your a$$ :P), this only adds to the ambiance. There are some things you can only do in a small town in Thailand.
Everyone's dream is to find a bar where you order one drink, and where they insist on refilling that one drink for free, all night long. Tonight, that's exactly what I found: I ordered one whisky and coke; and the lady behind the bar just kept topping it up again and again. Not a bad deal! The place in question was the "quintessential dodgy Thai bar" — quite a sight in itself. Deplorable Thai pop music playing non-stop. Ladyboys hanging out on the benches. Rickety old pool table with awkward legs and chipped balls. And to top it off, a z-grade horror-slash-porn movie on the TV (monsters exploding out of the stomachs of naked women, every 2 minutes or so). Why don't we have places like this back home?
I made it to the Kabul hostel by about 4pm this afternoon — only to find the hostel staff hopelessly knee-deep in some sort of paperwork (how much paperwork can a hostel have?), and a queue of about 30 people waiting to check-in before me. Bloody Spanish: they really are an inefficient bunch, aren't they? Anyway, at least they're inefficient with a smile. I grabbed a sandwich for lunch, and played a game of pool in the hostel lounge, while I waited to check-in — which I was eventually able to do, about an hour later. My introductory first night in Barcelona wasn't a massive one, but it was good relaxed fun nonetheless.
This morning was my first-ever experience with Ryanair, Europe's favourite and most dodgy discount airline. I thought the easyJet flight was basic; but it was nothing compared to this. Flying with Ryanair is a joke, end of story. They're cheap, they're no-frills, and they get you there. It's best not to think about the rest.
I didn't have long to spend in Frankfurt — just tonight — and I made it a quiet one. I did a little bit of shopping in the area around Frankfurt Hbf (central station): it's a seedy and unattractive red-light area; but it's also packed with numerous indistinguishable cheap variety stores, where I was able to finish off some of the things that I still hadn't replaced since losing them (e.g. new headlamp, new combination padlocks). The free pasta dinner at Stay and Learn was good: and I met an interesting Brazilian guy over dinner, as well as a big group of Italian students (mainly girls), with whom I had a nice shmooze. Other than that, it was just a bit of online time — I met a random Peruvian girl at the cafe down the road — and then off to bed, in preparation for tomorrow's early start.
After having been here only one evening, it's already official: Berlin is the cheapest city I've visited in Europe. Food, in particular, is an absolute bargain: it's incredibly well-priced; the variety is mind-boggling (everything from currywurst to noodle stir-fry); and most of it is fresh and fast. And as for the price of Internet: nowhere else I've been in Europe comes close to the sensational €0.50/hr to be found around here! Accommodation, transport and sightseeing are pretty cheap here too. Drinking and partying are still reasonably expensive — but they, too, are good-value. I guess it's because Berlin is so close to eastern Europe, that it offers such good value. It ain't quite like being back in South America, but it's still a welcome drop.
My adventures in the rain this morning left me cold, wet, and buggered by midday. Once I said goodbye to my Sicilian angels, Cristina and Alessandra, I decided to call it an early day, and to find somewhere in Modica where I could dry out, warm up, and get myself clean once more. From the shopping centre where the girls left me, I rode into historic centre of Modica (still with light rain) — which, as with Ragusa, is a gorgeous Baroque affair — and put my feet up. I checked in to a lovely little B&B called Camera con Vista (lit: "Bed with a View"), where I had a long hot shower, and where I emptied all of my soaked belongings and laid them out to dry. Rather than endure any more arcic-condition cycling for the day, I waited out the afternoon under the covers of a warm bed, with a good book to keep me company.