The New Year has well and truly arrived, and it's now time to say goodbye to Madrid. Today I took a big but worthwhile splurge, and travelled on the special high-speed Alvia train service from Madrid to Barcelona. The trains are extremely popular, here in Spain: I purchased my Alvia ticket three days ago (as soon as I arrived in Madrid); and even then, they were already sold out of economy-class tickets, and I had to settle for business-class instead. Additionally, I've now used up my Eurail pass — and it didn't cover Spain anyway — so I had to pay for the ticket outright, and at full cost. But still, I enjoyed a fast, pleasant, and bloody luxurious ride today.
Today I concluded my brief one-night stand in Cologne (and my mere two days in western Germany), and headed straight to Belgium, and to the small Flemish city of Turnhout (via Brussels), to meet my friends Annick and Stef. Before I left Cologne, I managed to buy myself a new money belt in the train station (since I lost my old one in Italy), and I now feel a lot more secure with my valuables in it: I'll be wearing it on every single train ride from now on. Turnhout is a small place; but amazingly, the DB attendant was able to sell me a ticket straight there, as he had it available as a direct destination in his computer (Annick and Stef were amazed and flattered when I told them). So, for now, I say auf wiedersehen to Germany.
Today's cycling was still very windy, and quite cold. But it was very short, and it was downhill virtually the whole way. From last night's field near Corleone, it only took me about 2½ hours this morning to ride north out of the mountainous Mafia heartland; and down to Palermo, the capital and largest city of Sicily. It took a little while to get into the centre of Palermo — plus, I was forced for the first time to cycle on the autostrada (freeway), as there seemed to be no other way to reach the city centre (I don't think bicycles are allowed on the autostrada — but what the hell). Seeing as it was such a quick ride to the capital, I guess I can spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering from my rugged time in the hills.
The sweetest thing that we did today, at the spectacular Iguazu Falls, was go on a speedboat ride up the river. We started a few k's downstream, and then powered up the water at ridiculous speeds, before we came close to some of the waterfalls. Then, it was time to get very wet, because the boat drove almost diretly beneath some of the falls! I tell you what: that certainly woke me up for the day :P. Great little adventure, and the drivers are utterly nuts. Fortunately, they also give you dry-bags to put your camera and other personal items in, so nothing gets damaged (but your clothes still get soaked). Photos and videos below.