Just in time
In a continuing battle with the forces of incompetence, I finally received and managed to pick up my new ATM card today. at 10:30am, I went online from my hostel in Freiburg, checked DHL's tracking service, and saw that my package was in Zürich, and was "with courier vehicle" (i.e. actually in the van, about to be delivered to Mark and Susi's surgery). So I grabbed the tram to Freiburg train station, just managed to catch the 11am train back to Zürich; and by 1:45pm, I too had arrived back in Zürich, and had caught the tram over to the surgery. And what did I see, quite literally just as I walked in? I saw the DHL guy walking out of the building, having only just delivered the package — took him all day just to drop it off there; how bloody pathetic!
I had a mad pre-dinner Venetian adventure this evening: I attempted to go to the supermarket and buy some wine (to do with dinner), and to find a public call centre (for ringing my Uncle in Switzerland, who I'm supposed to be visiting tomorrow); however, I failed to do either of these things. Instead, I narrowly missed various shop closing times, got extremely lost in the bowels of Venice, and ended up completing an epic run through the cobbled alleyways — and miraculously finding my way back to the hostel — in order to get back in time for dinner. Anyway, it all ended well: I collapsed back into the hostel in time for another night of delicious pasta (plus more wine — not everyone missed the shop closing times); and after that, the crew (some old faces from last night, some new ones tonight) went out onto the streets, bought a large quantity of beer, wine and sangria, and got wasted by the Canal Grande: what a bunch of yobboes we were, drinking on street in Venice! Nothing quite as fun as doing something completely uncultured and improper, in one of the great cultured and refined cities of the world.
The mosaics at Villa Romana were the highlight of today's voyaging — and I'm very glad that I managed to fit them in this afternoon. However, by the time I was done with exploring the Roman mansion, and was back on my bike, it was the very late hour of 4:40pm; and the cold, dark onset of night was approaching rapidly. As I rode on towards the town of Piazza Armerina, I sought reassurance from a little brown ferret, who was promoting a nearby campground called "Agricasale" (so-called because it was an "Agriturismo" or "farm holiday" facility, and because of Villa Romana's full name being "Villa Imperiale del Casale"). The Agricasale ferret smiled at me from bright yellow signs (placed everywhere along the road); and under him was painted the instruction: "Follow me!" Pity that the little bugger never cared to mention just how much more following I needed to do, before I found the place.
From the town of Roccapalumba, this afternoon I kept cycling through the highlands for as long as I could, until it was getting dark and I simply had to camp somewhere. I managed to make it just short of the town of Lercara, where I found a field that was between several properties (houses, workshops, and such), and that didn't seem to be claimed or used by any of its neighbours. I guess it was vacant — anyway, the neighbours saw me camped there, and they didn't try to kick me off, or to hassle me in any way; so stay there the night is what I did. The field was a little bit close to the highway (traffic noise), and there were leeches crawling around in the grass; but otherwise, it was a good spot to squat for the night; and I had a nice view of the countryside all around, and of the city of Lercara lit up ahead of me.
It's been a looong time — over 6 months, in fact. During that time, we've both been reasonably lazy in keeping track of each other, and we've both made a few (failed) attempts to meet up. But now, finally, we've managed to successfully organise a reunion. Tonight, I met up with my mate Jack, whom I met back in Cusco, and with whom I went on that famous adventure, those many moons ago! Jack's one of the greatest people I've met on this trip, and it was good to see that he hasn't changed at all: it was totally sweet to see him again.
I needed to get the bus back from Bath to London this morning — but I hadn't booked a ticket; and I had no idea what the departure times were (I tried checking yesterday, but the terminal was closed). As it turned out, I was really, really lucky: I checked out of St. Christopher's, rocked up at the bus terminal at 9:40am, and just managed to jump on the 9:45am express bus to London! Phew — would have been quite a wait if I'd missed it. See, turns out that you don't have to plan and book-ahead everything here in Europe: sometimes you can get away with doing it the Latin way — i.e. turn up, and go somewhere, just like that.
Our friends and hosts Tara and Ashki were very lucky today: they managed to score two free tickets to tonight's Red Sox baseball game, here in Boston's Fenway Park! Normally, Red Sox tickets are virtually impossible to obtain unless you're a club member with a season pass — and even then, you're looking at a minimum of $200 a pop. However, they happen to be best friends with another couple, who are club members, and who do have season passes, but who realised at the last minute that they wouldn't be able to make it to tonight's game. So their friends were kind enough to donate their tickets to them. Not a bad deal at all.
After I arrived in New York this evening, and got through immigration, my first order of business was finding a hostel in which to spend the night. Considering that it was 12:30am by the time I got past the gates, I was kinda dreading this a bit. I hadn't made a reservation anywhere, as — unlike for the South American hostels — none of the hostels here in New York accept simple "online booking requests"; all that they accept online is a live advance credit-card payment, which I wasn't prepared to make. Anyway, I knew it wouldn't be fun searching for a bed at this hour on a Saturday night; but I never imagined that it would be this hard! I had the phone numbers of 6 different hostels: I called all of them; and of the places that I called, 3 didn't respond, and the other 3 were fully booked. Apparently it's Columbus Day long weekend here at the moment, and New York is packed with visitors. Just my luck, eh?
At about 5:30pm this afternoon, I realised that Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) was starting in about an hour's time, and that I had no decent shirt to wear for it. I had a half-decent shirt — but even that was off getting washed. So I madly rushed around town, looking for a clothes shop and a nice white shirt. Managed to find myself something: not exactly my style, but it fits OK, and it's white, and it'll do for celebrating the New Year in.
This afternoon, for my first day here in Pucón, I decided to go on a bike ride over to the nearby Lago Caburgua ("Caburgua Lake"). I had wanted to leave a bit earlier, and to get some supplies (e.g. backpack, sunnies, water) — but since I couldn't get into my hostel, I couldn't get those things, and I got delayed and didn't set off until about 3pm. Despite those hiccups, however, it was a lovely ride, and I made it back in time to avoid the onset of night.