Bangkok would have to be the absolute least suitable place in the world to go running. Unfortunately, however, that's exactly what I was compelled to do this evening — when I was being led on foot to my next tourist bus, and I suddenly realised that I'd left my small bag on the side of the street near Khao San Road, I had no choice but to sprint back for it. The city's searing heat — and, far more pertinent, its horrendous air pollution — left my lungs feeling somewhere in between a wheezing petrol pump and a burning car tyre. And that was after a mere five minutes.
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.
My first proper meal for 2008 was about as Spanish as it gets: paella! The classic dish paella is best described as an "everything you can fit in the pan" stir-fry: it generally consists at least of rice, egg, vegetables, numerous seafoods (e.g. prawns, oyster, lobster — sorry G-d), and chicken. For a very late lunch today (late by normal standards, although on-time by Spanish standards), Miguel, Emmanuelle, an Aussie Indian girl and myself found a great-value restaurant: 3 courses (paella was entrée) and wine, for just €8. Filled us up, woke us up, and tasted tip-top.
I'm officially labelling today "the day that I just missed everything". First there was the train from Dresden that I missed by 2 minutes. Then, this evening, I wandered down to Munich's Christmas market, to grab a bratwurst for dinner — arriving in the square at 7:30pm — only to find all the stalls shutting in my face as I got there! Apparently, the market closes at 7:30pm sharp on Sunday evenings. Next, I went for the next-best (and next-cheapest) option, and found a kebab shop at which to grab some tucker. Too late: they'd already stopped serving for the evening; luckily I found another one around the corner, that obliged me with a meaty plate of doner and salad. Finally, I jumped online at a nearby café; and they decided to close ½ an hour earlier than advertised ("family crisis" with the owners), and to kick me out prematurely. It definitely hasn't been my lucky day!
This afternoon, I visited one of Europe's most renowned Jewish museums: the "Joods Historisch Museum" of Amsterdam. Amsterdam was home to one of the longest-thriving and best-treated Jewish communities in Europe, for at least 500 years; like everywhere else in Europe, though, it was all but decimated by the Nazis, during the Second World War. The museum is located inside what was once the long-time Jewish quarter of the city — it's built on the site of the old Great Synagogue, the restored version of which is part of the present-day complex — and it gives an extremely well-presented overview of the history of Amsterdam's Jews, from medieval times through to the present.
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.
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).
My hostel, The Generator, advertises a free tour of London, that's meant to leave from the hostel's reception at 10am daily. This morning, seven of us (including myself) turned up at 10am for the tour: we waited for about 45 minutes, but no tourguide showed up! Kwap. Apparently, the tour actually leaves from Monument tube station, further downtown; but someone is meant to come to the hostel, and take the daily Generator group down to this station. Whoever was meant to do this today, they clearly shirked out on their responsibility. We finally gave up, and went to Monument station ourselves — but by the time we arrived, the tour groups had already left. So it was time for a day's guide-yer-bloody-self tour of London.
It's been a nice day-and-a-half in New York — but the time has come to head up to Boston, and to see my family there. This afternoon, I hopped on the train with Amtrak, and did the 4-hour journey the scenic way. Unfortunately, the train ended up leaving NY's Penn Station about 40 minutes late, and it was an hour late by the time it reached Boston. Plus, it was absolutely packed — all of this because of it being Columbus Day long weekend, I assume. Bit of a pain for my uncle, who was waiting around when he came to pick me up from the station. Also a slight ripoff — apparently, the Amtrak tickets are much cheaper if you book them a few weeks in advance — I bought my ticket yesterday, and it cost me a whopping US$111! In retrospect, perhaps I should have just gotten the bus with Greyhound. Anyway, it was a good ride, and I got there in the end.
Yesterday, I explored some of the museums and ruins north of Chiclayo, in the Lambayeque area. This afternoon, I headed east, to the ruins of Sipán themselves — the site where the enormous treasure of El Señor de Sipán was uncovered. Long and much-delayed combi ride there and back — and the ruined pyramids are about as ruined and as unimpressive as their counterparts, that I saw yesterday at Túcume — but the tomb itself is a sight worth seeing, and the little museum next to the ruins is interesting as well.