This afternoon I arrived in Turnhout (northern Belgium) to see my friends Stef and Annick, who are half of the original Belgian Front. As with seeing Regine in Cologne last night, this was a reunion with 2 of my 10 amazing companions from the Salkantay hike, that I did in Peru back in April. Stef was there, waiting for me at tiny Turnhout train station when I pulled in; and soon after, I also saw Annick, as well as the couple's little niece Karlijn (who they're looking after for the weekend). Good to see that The Front is as crazy and as fun as ever.
Regine lives in the city of Bonn (next-door neighbour of Cologne), and she's one of the amazing 10 companions with whom I went on the Salkantay hike to Machu Picchu, back in Peru in April. She came up to Cologne for the evening to have a little reunion with me, and to show me the sights and sounds (and food and drink) of the city. She hasn't changed since Peru: she's the same warm and friendly person, who always looks like she's ready to dance, and who's amazingly a vegetarian in Germany. We ended up going for some great Indian curry here in Cologne, which we followed with some delicious Kölsch beer.
Occasionally known as Gerhard Killesreiter, Killes is a resident of the town of Freiburg (in Baden-Württemberg), and is also one of the oldest, most-valued, and most central members of the Drupal developer community. Seeing that I was passing through his neck of the woods, I was lucky enough to get a hold of Killes, and to meet him in person for the first time. Despite his fierce reputation as a "blunt, rude newbie-killer" when online, Killes is actually a very friendly and easy-going guy in real life, and he was more than happy to take me out for a tour of his town, and for some dinner and drinks this evening.
Although he grew up just like me, in Sydney Australia, my mum's brother Mark hasn't lived there for more than 25 years, since he wandered off around the world, met his Swiss-dwelling wife Susi, and became a qualified dentist. My uncle Mark and auntie Susi have now lived in Zürich for over 10 years. This is the first time I've been to visit them, and also the first time I've seen them, since they last visited Sydney about 7 years ago. It was very nice to see them again, after all these years, and to enjoy their hospitality while here in Switzerland.
For my first night in Venice, we at the Fish turned out to be quite the crew tonight. As the evening wore on, and as four drinks started to follow the previous three, names and faces started to get blurred and mushed-up a bit. But I do remember most of the gang. There was Canadian Scott: very funny guy, and the two of us ended up rebounding comic stupidity off each other for most of the night, and inflicting it on the others. USA Scott was quieter, but also a fun bloke. There was Kaie from Texas, who's been to Venice three times before, doesn't know how long she's staying this time, and professes to be in love with the city. There was the hot blonde American chick, who was a little limited when it came to deep intellectual discussion, but who fortunately had plenty of other redeeming features. There was the quiet Aussie girl from Melbourne, who said little and drank even less. There were the random Aussie westies with the private room, who we saw only briefly during the evening (they piked on dinner). And of course, there was the Persian. Together, we engaged in much fun and revelry during the evening, there was much singing and telling of rude and inappropriate jokes, and it was good.
Nobody can ever remember this guy's name: but he's the guy who not only cooks the dinners at A Venice Fish every night; he also single-handedly runs the place, virtually 24/7, week after week. And as if all that wasn't enough: he's also a really friendly and sociable bloke, who enjoys taking his guests out on the town later on some nights, and showing them the best pubs and clubs. The Persian was very impressed that one of my best friends back in Sydney is from Iran, and that I can say one sentence in Persian: "tavalodet mobarak" (lit: "happy birthday").
Beatrice ("Bea") is a beautiful blonde Italian girl, whom I met this evening at the guesthouse. Although only 21 years old (like myself), she's already been working three years full-time as a flight attendant (that being the PC-GN term for "air hostess") for RyanAir, Europe's favourite budget airline. She's moved from her home in northern Italy over to Dublin, Ireland; and she's just in Pisa for one night, exhausted and in between flights. She was too buggered for me to take her out anywhere tonight; but she did help me polish off the home-made pasta napolitana that I cooked up for dinner.
When I visited the Australian Embassy today, I was amazed to see that no less than four other Aussies had also had their passports stolen in Italy during the weekend — two others also on the train, one on a ferry, and another on the street. Ridiculous: theft is absolutely rife and out-of-control in this country! Plus, most of them were exercising at least as much care with their valuables as I do, if not more. There was a middle-aged couple from Wollongong, as well as two women from Melbourne, all of whom had been robbed just like me. We kept each other company in the embassy today, while we waited for our new emergency passports to be issued.
As with the last time that I stayed at Gulliver's House, this evening I found Rome's cosiest hostel to be virtually taken over by numerous young Americans. In particular, there were two guys who are currently studying up in Germany, and who came out with Pei and myself for some dinner. Plus, there were a bunch of girls (also studying in Europe) who joined us later on for drinks. Nice group of kids, although a bit loud and obsessed with American football.
Pei's a dinky-dai Aussie girl from the Hurstville area, in Sydney's south. Her family's of Chinese origin, although she can barely speak Chinese herself, and considers herself to be as true-blue as the rest of 'em. Pei's travelling for several months, and has just arrived in Europe from sunny Thailand, where she's been backpacking for the past several weeks (so I had plenty of questions to ask her — since I'm off to Thailand after Europe). I went out with Pei and with several other people at Gulliver's House this evening, for a bit of dinner and fun.