Like other places in Thailand, Ko Tao is also home to the delicious late-night street snack roti (pancake). Ko Tao's roti is no different to the roti anywhere else: but in this case, it's how you cook it that makes all the difference. Ko Tao is home to the legendary Pancake Ninja: this guy can be found in his little stall on Sairee most nights; and no matter who or what you've witnessed previously, you ain't seen flippin' til you've seen him in action. In 30 seconds flat, pancake cooking meets Kung Fu. Check out the video.
Last night's Flamenco was so good, I just had to go see it again. The fact that it was still free, and still next door, also provided plenty of incentive. My friend Deanna (and her buddy Jenny) left this morning; but I had a new crowd to take along to teh show tonight, including my mate the Sicilian. Tonight's show was very similar, but somewhat different: about 2 of the 5 performers were new; and most of the songs and dances were also new. However, the style and the ambiance were identical to that of the first performance. Once again, great fun and a very impressive show.
It seems that Jake and Mitch, Kitzbühel's favourite two Aussie boys, never cease to entertain. The "red card black card" trick looks simple, but leaves you in awe. The way it works is as follows: the trickster deals the entire deck face-down into two piles, and picks a volunteer. Each time that the trickster deals a card, the volunteer says either "red" or "black"; and the card gets accordingly dealt to one of the two piles — the "red" pile, or the "black" pile. Exactly halfway through the deck, the two piles are swapped — i.e. all "red" cards now get dealt to the black pile, and vice versa. Through the entire dealing process, neither the trickster nor the volunteer sees any of the cards: the calling out of "red" or "black" is a completely random choice, decided each time by the volunteer. At the end, the trickster turns over and fans out both piles: and unbelievably, they're both exactly half-red (all together) and half-black! Check out the video.
Back in Argentina, I commented on the hi-tech lift ticket system that they now use at Cerro Catedral. At the time, I was quite impressed. However, I now have to say that the Catedral tickets aren't so funky after all: Kitzbühel's redefine the notion of funk altogether. Instead of merely sporting scannable barcodes, the tickets here at Kitzbühel are true RFID devices. No need to pull them out of your pocket, wave them under an infra-red reader, and wait for the beep. No, sirree! These babies require no effort whatsoever: you just leave them in your pocket, and walk right through the turnstiles — they register as soon as you reach the barrier, at which point you hear a little beep, and in you go. As long as you make sure to keep your ticket in your left pocket (as all the sensors seem to be on the left side of the turnstiles), it's as easy as pie.
To finish off my exploration of Vienna, this afternoon I went and visited the Schönbrunn palace — the largest of the many mansion residences built by the Habsburg dynasty in Imperial Austria-Hungary. The Schönbrunn is considered "the Versailles of Austria" — although having visited mega-opulent Versailles several years ago, I assure you that the Schönbrunn is hardly competition, neither in its size nor its majesty. It's just a quick trip on the U-bahn over to Hietzing, in the city's west, from where you can enter the palace grounds from the Tiergarten gate, and from where you can start by exploring the extensive gardens.
There may not be many other reasons to visit Catania: but this alone should make the city a "must" for anyone in the area. While passing through Catania this morning, I stopped at a very upmarket cafe on the city's seashore promenade, that proudly advertises letting you choose from 32 different types of chocolate, to be used in making you a hot choc. I was sold in two seconds flat. I walked in, closed my eyes, picked a number, and ordered no. 17. I really doubt that it would have mattered which number I'd chosen, though: I'd say they were all just as divine as each other. I also ordered a truly decadent, cream-filled cannoli pastry — all this was about double the price of the average morning coffee stop; but hey, sometimes you just gotta live life, and love life.
One thing that's really struck me, during my time in Sicily so far — but I assume it would strike me almost anywhere in Europe — is the amazing way in which old meets new around here. Europe is such an endlessly rich historical region: the cities are sometimes thousands of years old; patchwork farmlands have remained virtually the same for generations; and relics of past civilisations abound everywhere, from lonely mountaintops to musky caves. They've managed to preserve all of this history remarkably well; and yet amidst it all, they've also laid gleaming train tracks, industrial-strength power and communication lines, and wide tarmac freeways. It's a constant, in-your-face contrast and clash of eras, everywhere you go — but somehow, it all fits together — rather than conflicting, the interwoven old-new, natural-artificial tapestry of the European landscape is forever complementing itself, and giving an image of harmony and logic. How do they manage it?
When I started this Great Sicilian Ride of mine, I wasn't expecting much of the roads. I know that Europe in general is known for its great roads: but southern Italy is reputed to have much worse infrastructure than other areas further north; and Sicily is a far south as you can go. Well, to my pleasant surprise, the infrastructure has so far easily exceeded my modest expectations: Sicilian roads rock! Even in the remote mountain areas, the roads are smoothly sealed; they're seldom too steep; they're often banked; and they're generally very well signposted. All I can say is: well done, guys; how do you do it, and how can we make Aussie roads this good? And if this is an example of poorer European roads, then what the hell kind of seventh-heaven roads can I find further north?!