For my absolute final entry on this blog (I swear, this is it!), I would like to take a few moments and a few kilobytes to thank everyone that was part of this trip, or that made it possible, in any and every shape and form. The previous entry was really the last page; so think of this as the epilogue, or simply as the credits. If there's one thing I've learned on this trip, it's that it's not where you go, it's who you meet; and that it's not places, but people, that make a big trip (and life in general, really) such an amazing experience. I hope I've remembered everyone of import here; but if I've missed you out, then I deeply apologise — and feel free to post a scathing comment, in which you make yourself and your significance known for all eternity. We do ask that you remain seated, and that you leave your mobile phones switched off, until the blog has come to a complete stop in front of the terminal building. Once again, thank you for flying with Jaza's World Trip, and we hope you enjoyed the flight.
It's over! Finito. Es todo. Sayonara. As I write this, it's now two weeks to the day since I landed back home in Sydney (this is the first entry in a while that's actually dated when it was written — been playing catch-up for a while). And I still can't believe that I'm actually home again, and that I'm not jumping on a long-distance bus tomorrow, and carting myself and my oversized rucksack to yet another new and exotic city. I'm back, and — for now, at least — I'm here to stay. And while on the one hand I still feel like I'm in backpacker mode, on the other hand the entire trip is already starting to feel like a wild and concocted dream. It seems impossible that anything that fun and marvellous ever could have happened at all, now that I'm firmly re-established in the daily grind of my old life. But it did happen — after all, I have this blog and all my photos (and videos) to prove it, to myself if to nobody else.
It's been a while since I blogged about a country's music — and when I did it previously, I had mainly good things to say. Unfortunately, the verdict is not so rosy for Thailand. This country has many great and captivating qualities, but I'm afraid that its music simply isn't one of them. The main local music around here — in the urban centres I've visited, at least — is Thai pop. Put simply, Thai pop is about as bad as music gets. Pop music in general is widely recognised as rubbish; Asian pop is known to be particularly rubbish; and Thai pop is without doubt at the bottom of the heap. It's super-soppy, it's super-boppy, and it's super-lacking in talent. And as if it wasn't bad enough, the locals insist on singing along to the cheesy pop tracks, in one of their favourite pastimes — karaoke. Thank heavens I've been sticking mainly to farang hangouts, and that I've as such largely avoided the pop scene — because, hell, even Bob is better than that poison.
During my far-and-wide travels the past year, I've been (like my ancestors long before me) "a stranger in a strange land", and I've been dwelling amongst all manner of strange and foreign people (many of whom were also far from home). It's no secret that I'm an Aussie; and naturally, "where you from?" is one of the first questions that gets asked and answered, when meeting new people while on the road. But until this trip, I never before realised just how strong and widely-known the stereotypical Aussie image is, or how much of a preconceived view this could implant in people, before they've even spoken two words to me. I've never really considered myself to be anything remotely close to the "quintessential Aussie bloke"; and having now been an ambassador of my country in the big wide world, I feel that I've done a dismal job of representing patriotically. Unfortunately, I've discovered a sad but undeniable truth about introductions: it's not who you are, it's what you are.
As I approach the end of my massive world trip — I now have exactly one week to go, before I touch down back in Sydney — I can't help but think about what it's going to be like returning home. And one thing that keeps worrying me, is that after a year of travelling, my English language skills have become somewhat eroded! I never expected I'd ever be saying this: but I'm really concerned that my spoken English has deteriorated during my travels. I believe that it's been caused by a combination of my intensive Spanish study; of the significant amount of time that I've spent in non-English-speaking countries; and more than anything, of the amount of conversing that I've done, in English, with non-native English speakers.
Facebook: the great online social networking success story of 2007. A few years ago, Facebook was a small and elite little community of American college students, largely unheard-of by the Net at large. Today, it boasts over 60 million users worldwide, and it seems that nobody is free from its ever-expanding influence. I joined Facebook during this trip, in March last year — a mere one month into the voyage — and since then, it's become an ever-more important part of my online life, as well as (surprisingly) an indispensable aid to travelling. It's now reached the point where Facebook has become quite a significant element in the story of this trip. Which is why I feel that the time has finally come to blog about it.
This evening, down in the basement bar of Cat's, I ended up sitting down and sharing a few beers with two Moroccan guys, who are immigrants living and working here in Madrid. I've observed (and even met) recent immigrants almost everywhere I've been in Europe: in particular, I've encountered numerous economically impoverished immigrants from North Africa, from the Middle East, and from Eastern Europe. Many, although not all of them, are here illegally. Tonight was the first time I've really sat down with some of the immigrants themselves, and had an in-depth chat about their situation. Few people around here are prepared to admit it, or to objectively discuss it: but this is an enormous issue for Europe, and in my opinion it's one that they're dealing with in an appalling manner at the moment.
Today's trip from Kitzbühel to Frankfurt marks the end of my time spent travelling on a Eurail pass. My Eurail Select 5-Country Pass — which allows 10 (not necessarily consecutive) days of unlimited travel, within 2 months, within 5 neighbouring countries (I chose Italy, Switzerland, Benelux, Germany and Austria) — has been tremendously handy, and has been used in place of around €600-€650 worth of over-the-counter tickets (not bad, considering that it originally cost only €350). Backpacking by train in Europe has been a great experience: generally speaking, it's comfortable, reliable, and flexible — and there are trains literally everywhere.
This morning I woke up, to find Jake asleep at the breakfast table — apparently, after last night, him and Mitch managed to flood the bathroom, and the flood spread into the entire lounge-room area. Man, I'm gonna miss those boys, they're the biggest bogans on Earth: I just hope they don't get kicked out of the hostel. I had some brekkie, said goodbye to everyone (especially to my good friends, the crazy Swedes)... and that's it for Kitzbühel! It's been an incredible week: as with my previous week in the snow this year, it's been one of the best weeks of the whole trip. Pity that spending the whole year skiing would send me broke — otherwise, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
In the past three weeks or so that I've been train-hopping around Europe, I've been seeing Christmas markets everywhere I go. You may have noticed my blogging about them again, and again, and again. That's because at this time of year — in December, leading up to the big holiday itself — it seems that you're guaranteed to find them in virtually every city and town around. I've seen them in Switzerland, in Belgium, in Germany, and now also in Austria. Here in Europe, they really take their Christmas festivities seriously: every man and his dog's off to the local Christmas market, to share in the spirit and to have a bit of fun.