My plan for today was to get through a good chunk of ye 'ol obligatory city exploration for Barcelona. At breakfast this morning (at Kabul), I got chatting with a Brazilian guy at the hostel — one of the many Brazilians staying there — and we agreed that since we had similar plans, we should go exploring together. The guy speaks barely any English: but his Spanish is (sort-of) passable enough for me to have a conversation with him en Español. Made for an interesting travelling companion, if a bit frustrating language barrier-wise.
Such is the life of a Eurail pass holder: today was another "day on the tracks" for me; this time, from Dresden to Munich. After saying goodbye to the terribly-located Herberge der Jugend hostel, this morning I packed up my stuff, and hopped on the tram into the city centre. I was hoping to catch the 11:56am train out of Dresden Hbf (central station): however, I didn't have a ticket to ride on the tram; and since it was my misfortune that a ticket inspector jumped on halfway through my journey, I had to rapidly jump off, and wait for the next tram. By the time I reached the station, I'd missed the train by an excruciating 2 minutes. Stupid biatch inspector!
Today I finished my quick tour of tiny Belgium, by popping into the nation's capital, Brussels. I was originally planning to spend last night in Brussels, but I instead ended up staying in Liège with Christian. This morning, I got the train from Liège to Brussels, bright 'n' early with Christian, who's going there today anyway (for a training seminar). We caught the 6:45am train, and it was only an hour to the big city: when I got there, it was still dark (and stayed so until about 9am — dreary European winter). Too dark to begin exploring: so I checked my e-mail, and found a café for hanging out and having some coffee and waffle, before commencing my tour of the city. By 2pm, I was done with Brussels, and on my way to Amsterdam.
For today's main activity, my friends Stef and Annick took myself (and little Karlijn) on a drive out of their home town of Turnhout, and over to the big city of Antwerp. Antwerp is only 50km's away from Turnhout, so it was a quick drive of less than an hour to get there. Antwerp is the heart of Flemish Belgium, and I soaked in as much of it as I could, as Stef dragged me around in the dreary December weather to see the sights and sounds. Annick and Karlijn, however, had better things to do than get soaking wet while wandering the streets: they stayed warm and dry in Antwerp's central mall, where they embarked on that greatest of all female pastimes: window shopping.
I already explored Zürich yesterday; today, I couldn't be a$$ed doing very much at all. What with the horrible weather outside, and with nothing in particular to see or do in the city, and with unlimited free Internet access right where I was, my choice seemed obvious enough. I just hung around inside Mark and Susi's apartment all day, catching up on a bit of blogging and online reading, mucking around with some Internet gadgets (such as the cool custom map drawing feature in Google Maps), and otherwise keeping warm and dry. My new ATM card still hasn't arrived: where the hell is it? It's supposed to be getting sent by express DHL courier; but it's been 4 days since it left Sydney, and there's still no sign of it. I hope it comes soon — because nice as it is staying with the family, I can't hang around here forever.
In pleasant contrast to the madness of yesterday — where I experienced everything from nightmare, to high culture, to disappointment, to good times — not much happened today. I did some laundry. I had a coffee break. I bought a book. I grabbed a kebab. I bought a new backpack (first item from yesterday's incident to be replaced — can't do much without a day pack — cheap and dodgy, but it'll do for now). I cooked up some pasta for dinner (which my Mozambique buddy at Gulliver's shared with me). And I spent plenty of time online, gradually catching up on what I'm realising is the Great Sicilian Blogging Endeavour. A sleepy old Sunday in the heart of the ancient world.
Following the debacle of getting back to civilisation, this morning's ride continued to challenge me in more ways than one. From the back roads of the Piazza Armerina farming area, I rode south-east to the town or Mirabella, and from there continued on to the town of Caltagirone. The weather was a devil: windy with an icy bite, and light rain that came down regularly if intermittently. Plus, I was the victim of bad signage both in Mirabella, and upon reaching Caltagirone. The signs in Mirabella weren't too bad — it's only a small town, and the road onwards to Caltagirone is one of only a handful in the area — but in Caltagirone itself, I got seriously lost. So all up, not the most pleasant start to the day. But not all was doom and gloom: I at least made it to Caltagirone in time for a great hot choc and pastry; and I was able to take refuge in the coffee bar there for about ½ an hour, while I waited out a heavy downpour of rain.
After a great breakfast at my lucky find, this morning I headed out of the Sicilian capital, and found myself back on the road. I didn't really see much of Palermo — although I was here almost 24 hours, all I did was relax and catch up online — but I don't think I missed that much: apart from a few nice churches and museums (which are everywhere in Italy), it's really just a big and chaotic city. From Palermo, I headed south-west, uphill past the town of Monreale, and over a small set of mountains to Partinico. The weather was perfect when I first headed out, although it quickly deteriorated into a cold, light drizzle; and to some extent, the dreaded wind of previous days came back with a bite.
This afternoon I finished my two-day sojourn in the mountains of northern Sicily, by completing my descent through Le Madonie, and ending up in the coastal town of Cefalù. Cefalù is the most well-known and the most popular tourist spot on the Sicilian north coast, and I reached it at the bright-n-early time of 3pm. It's a gorgeous place — unlike the rest of the north coast, it's not just "another tacky generic beach resort", it's a quaint town with a very historic centre — but unfortunately, the weather there this afternoon was terrible. The mountains may have been sunny today; but the coast is stormy as can be, as well as decidedly chilly. Despite this, it was well worth spending the evening here, and soaking up the atmospheric ambiance without too many other tourists around.
One of the most famous historical attractions, here in England, happens to be right down here in the south-east. That is of course Stonehenge, the millenia-old mysterious standing-stones, that lie in the middle of the bleak high plains near Salisbury. Since it was a drizzly Sunday over in Bath (not that it drizzles exclusively on Sundays, naturally) — and since they do tours from Bath to Stonehenge daily, for quite a reasonable price — I decided to hop on a tour bus, and to see this important monument. What can I say: they're very old, and they're very mystifying; but really, they're just rocks.