It was a long evening, getting out of Barcelona and back to London tonight. A long bus ride to yet another dodgy Ryanair airport. A long wait once at the airport. And an extremely long delay once we'd arrived back in dear old Inglaterra. Exciting, ridiculous, and heated at times. But most of the way, just long and extremely tedious. Travelling in Europe during the Christmas-break rush, and getting stuck right in the thick of that rush, simply ain't fun at all.
I have no complaints about my time here at the Cat's hostel in Madrid. It's been a great experience: that is, except for one very unpleasant incident this evening. It was New Year's Eve, and we were all down in the Cat's bar, having a few beverages as you do (but not that many). An American girl sitting upstairs asked me to heat up a donut that she'd bought: she said that we weren't supposed to go behind the bar and use the microwave; but I was in a jolly festive mood, so I said: "here, give me the donut, and I'll heat it up behind the bar — it's not like anyone's going to care." Boy, was I wrong — clearly, the hostel staff had no interest whatsoever in joining in on the New Year's spirit. In almost a year of travelling, I've managed to never once pi$$ off a hostel's management: and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that heating up a donut without permission would get me in more hostel-bound trouble than almost anything else on this trip.
Jake and Mitch are two Aussie brothers, one of whom has been to Kitzbühel before (and who just can't get enough of it), and who seems to know everyone in town. These two are absolute champions: they're utter bogan knobheads, and they're fond of getting wasted well beyond the limits of regular mortals; but they're also ridiculously friendly. They rocked up to Snowbunnys this evening, where they'll be staying for a few weeks, while they try their hand at snowboarding up on the mountain. At least, they might try some snowboarding — assuming that they can make it up the mountain, which is only possible on the rare occasion that their après-ski sessions finish before the sun rises.
I've heard of express international deliveries taking time, but this is getting beyond a joke. Seeing that I had nothing else to do today — apart from having to urgently leave Zürich (to see my friend Gerhard in Freiburg tonight) — today I spent most of the day sitting around in Mark and Susi's office, waiting for my bloody ATM card to arrive. I always thought that DHL were reasonably competent; but apparently, that is not the case. After calling and making repeated enquiries, it seems that the package arrived in Basel last night; that they had it in Zürich by this morning; that they then sent it back to Basel later in the morning; and that it didn't get back to Zürich (for a second time) until this afternoon. I finally gave up waiting for it, and grabbed the train up to Freiburg: but I'm going to have to come back for it tomorrow (which will be a right pain in the a$$); and I'm extremely frustrated that it's taking this long for the frikking thing to get here.
Exactly one month after arriving in Italy, today I said goodbye to this crazy but lovable country, and headed north to the colder, more efficient, not-quite-as-fun world of Central Europe. Once again, I had to battle with my dear friends at TrenI-frikking-talia in order to get anywhere — boy, will I be glad to see the back of them — but even in the face of a nationwide train strike today, I managed to cross the border, to cruise through the majestic snow-covered peaks and still lakes of the Swiss Alps, and to reach my uncle and aunt in Zürich by the afternoon. Italy, it's been a pazzo four-and-a-half weeks, but I'm afraid it's time to say "ciao baby".
It was a lazy old start this morning; but eventually, I checked myself out of the guesthouse in Pisa, and I jumped on the midday train to Venice. The local train from Venice to Florence was fine; but when I reached Florence, I realised that the city has two main train stations, and that my connecting train on to Venice departed from the station that I wasn't at. Eek! Apparently, while I got off at the "main" station of Firenze SMN, the InterCity train to Venice leaves from the "other main" station of Firenze Rifredi. Anyway, I managed to get the high-speed EuroStar Italia service to Venice instead: that train does leave from SMN; and although it has the added cost of a compulsory seat reservation and supplement, it is quite a nice train, and it didn't get me there too late (less than an hour later than planned).
After getting lost yesterday, Jack and I woke up this morning in Juan's house, feeling very grateful to have found a bed to sleep in, but also very eager to get back to Cusco. And, thankfully, after a bit of breakfast and a morning walk, make it back we did. Civilisation never smelt so good.
Yes, it was very stupid. Yes, we really were completely lost. Yes, we were lucky it didn't turn out very bad. Yes, it was fun and it was a good experience. And no, actually, we don't regret doing it one little bit.
Today, Jack and myself decided to explore some of the ruins north of Cusco. We made it (on the bus) to the first one; but we never reached any of the others. Instead, we became two Aussie bogans, lost in the mountains; and we had a grand adventure — one that we hadn't planned or anticipated at all.
In Australia, we have a tradition that when you reach the highest point in a hike through mountains, you acknowledge the occasion with a (shall we say) "special" kind of salute. Being the true blue Aussie that I am, I was obliged to salute my fellows atop Paso Salkantay, at 4,600m asl. But what I didn't expect was for the boys of the Belgian Front to join me in performing the salute. Great sports, those Belgians. And apparently quite capable of being as big a bunch of bogans as us Aussies.
Several different locals here in Mérida told me that President George W. Bush is going to be here, in town, today! I found this hard to believe, so I did a bit of research, and it looks like it could be true. Anyway, I was off at Uxmal all day today, and I didn't really notice a thing. But it's kinda cool to know that I was in town with the world's most powerful and most stupid man.