Day two of my three-day rock climbing course stepped things up a notch. Yesterday was good fun, but nothing serious: just a few non-technical climbs on beginner runs, where I was teamed up with various people doing no-frills half-day sessions. Today, my venerable instructor Let taught me the most important and the most basic of technical climbing skills: how to perform top-rope lead climbing. It's very different to simply scrambling up carefree, with a rope above your head the entire time: more thrilling, but also far more scary.
And it's called Sairee Beach, Ko Tao. I'm blurting out the secret — so consider yourself privileged. This place is heaven. For our first day on Ko Tao, Alex, Caroline and myself spent most of the day semi-conscious on Sairee Beach, letting the water lap at our feet and the sun pour down on our backs. We managed to fit in some time for shopping around, as well — and after some quick research, we've booked our 4-day PADI Open Water course at what we hope is a good place. It was a chilled evening: just a few drinks at one of Sairee's super-mellow beach bars, sprawled out on the island's ubiquitous cushion-and-mat "seating", before exhaustion overcame us and we crashed into bed. If the rest of my time on Ko Tao is going to be like this, then things are looking real good indeed.
Today was a momentous day in the history of my life. First proper day in Thailand. First proper day in all of Asia. First proper sightseeing in Thailand or in Asia. And first ever visit to a Buddhist temple. A momentous day: but in my sweltering and jet-lagged state, not an overly strenuous one. To kick off my exploration of the sights and sounds of Bangkok, I went and saw Wat Phra Kaew, one of the largest and most magnificent of the city's many wats (lit: "temples"). Lovely temple — and boy, never before have I seen so much, covered in such quantities of pure gold, in all my life. Buddha like his gold nice 'n' shiny.
To continue my wanderings in Barcelona, this afternoon I took advantage of the improved weather, and I decided to go for a walk up to Montjuïc. This hill — literally meaning "hill of the Jews" — holds some of the city's most important landmarks; and from its slopes and peak, it affords gorgeous views of the whole of Barcelona. I started by walking west up Las Ramblas, and by then cutting south, along the main avenue that leads to the hill. I passed between the two towers that guard the main road up to the hill; and I ascended the lavishly decorated hillside that faces this road, and that's flanked by numerous museums, sweeping stairways and grand fountains. After, I wandered further up the hill, getting quite near to the 1992 Olympic Stadium, before wandering down past the teleférico (cable car) that straddles the eastern hillside, ahead of the onset of dark.
This evening, Deanna and I went to see a Flamenco show here in Barcelona. Flamenco is that most famous of Spanish dancing: you know the one, with the Riverdance-like foot-tapping, and the women in long flowing dresses, and the hairy guys twiddling cheesily on their guitars. It was very convenient — it's right next door to the Kabul hostel — and what's more, the show is free for all Kabul guests! The performance was beautiful, dramatic, stern, and yet fun — a combination that nobody can pull off quite like the Spanish can. The jug of sangria that we ordered wasn't bad, either. We caught the 9:30pm show, which was just as well: because the 10:30pm one was totally packed-out.
Things were a little messy this morning, after last night's big crawl. I woke up rather hung-over, to find that (after 3 privileged nights) I'm now sharing my room with 4 new people (2 Aussie couples from Melbourne), who informed me upon arising that I was snoring my head off all night (hey, they should kiss my a$$ — I could have done worse). Plus, I went downstairs, to find my beanie randomly hanging on a hook in the kitchen (WTF?). Anyway, a good Snowbunnys breakfast cured me a bit, as well as giving me my voice back (must have been all the passive smoking at Flannigans that robbed me of it — gawdammit Austria, could you please enter the 21st century and pass some anti-smoking laws!). And heading up to the Kitzbühelerhorn, for another day of skiing, was more than enough to complete the curing process.
Today was goodbye to Salzburg, goodbye to Yoho, and goodbye to some very good friends. But it was not goodbye to Craig, Sarah and Kade: because they too said goodbye to all this; and together, us four Aussies hopped on the train to Kitzbühel. Destination: winter wonderland, Austrian Alps. Mission: have a white Christmas, spend a week carving up the mountains, and engage in some serious après-ski. All that stood in our way: a mere 2-hour train ride. Easily tackled.
This morning I said goodbye to the crazy Wombat's Munich — and to Germany, for now — and hopped on the train down to Vienna. Just a quick 4-hour morning ride: I caught the 9:30am train (direct), and I was in Vienna by 1:30pm. The train went through Salzburg, which I'm going to visit after Vienna: it's a bit of a funny route, I know; but I can't help it, since Vienna's somewhat out-of-the-way from everywhere else I'm visiting around here.
When I was out with the crew last night, I asked Kaie from Texas what she thought was the best thing to do, as an introduction to Venice. Since she's been to the city three times before, and is "in love with it", I figured she should know. Her response: "Venice is the perfect city to get lost in... so just wander!" So today, that's exactly what I did: I spent the better part of the day admiring the neverending maze of beauty that is Venice, and getting well-and-truly lost within her embrace.
There's only one thing you really must see when you visit Pisa. I'll give you three guesses what it is. If you answered "the cemetery", or "the art gallery", then you're a knob, and you've obviously spent most of your existence living in a cave in Chad. And you've got one more try. So do yourself a favour, and don't make me pull out my electric cattle prod in frustration at you: tell me that you gotta see the tower! Since I had the entire day at my leisure today, here in the beautiful city of Pisa, I naturally spent at least some of it admiring the lovely and architecturally precarious landmark itself.