I continued my exploration of greater Ko Tao today; but unlike yesterday's adventures, today I just wandered around on foot. From my new base at Chalok, I donned my hiking boots (which I haven't been wearing much, of late), and covered some serious ground. Ko Tao's a pretty small island, and virtually everywhere is reasonably accessible on foot: this makes walking a good option for reaching most places, especially considering how much safer it is than motorbike-riding on those horrific dirt roads.
With the dive course now finished, it's time to get out of Sairee, and to start exploring a bit more of Ko Tao. To kick off the exploration, today Adam and I rented a quad bike, and took it for a spin. A quad bike costs a fair bit more than a regular scooter motorbike to rent — but it's a much safer option, if you plan to tackle the shockingly poor-quality dirt roads that criss-cross most of the island. Short of running them off the road, quad bikes are extremely difficult to crash or to damage — whereas you can easily (and people regularly do) damage a scooter on a poor road, in which case you'll likely be facing a hefty repair bill. As I was still very much recovering from last night, Adam did most of the driving.
From Wat Phra Kaew, this afternoon I jumped on a ferry down the river, and explored the looming skyscrapers and the bloated shopping malls that comprise central Bangkok. The place is nothing like the chaos and squalor of Khao San Road; and yet, it's also vastly different to what you'd expect from the downtown area of a Western city. The river ferry service from Khao San down to the Central Pier is great fun: fast, cheap, breezy and very scenic — great way to see the city.
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.
My plan for today was to get through a good chunk of ye 'ol obligatory city exploration for Barcelona. At breakfast this morning (at Kabul), I got chatting with a Brazilian guy at the hostel — one of the many Brazilians staying there — and we agreed that since we had similar plans, we should go exploring together. The guy speaks barely any English: but his Spanish is (sort-of) passable enough for me to have a conversation with him en Español. Made for an interesting travelling companion, if a bit frustrating language barrier-wise.
Today is the first day of my life that I've ever been in Spain. But it sure doesn't feel that way. After 7 months in Latin America this year, the streets of Madrid seem refreshingly, wonderfully familiar to me. It's very similar to what I felt when I first reached England: England is in many ways so similar to Australia — my home — that it was hard to believe I'd never been there before. Likewise, Spain is in many ways so similar to South America — my second home — that arriving here was more of a nostalgic than a culture-shock sensation. Dios mio — ¡es muy bueno estar aquí!
It's been three months since I last hit the snow, and nine months since I last went skiing; so today, it was good to be back and to be doing both once again. For my first day of skiing at Austria's magnificent Kitzbühel resort, I took it easy, got back into the swing of things, and began exploring the icy but extensive selection of runs that are on offer.
This morning I paired up with my mate Thierry, and together we embarked upon a chilly but pleasant exploration of downtown Salzburg. Our ultimate aim was to reach the hilltop Hohensalzburg fortress; but we had no hurry, so we managed to take in a fair few of Salzburg's attractions along the way. Salzburg is a gorgeous town, perfectly preserved over more than 500 years, and ridiculously compact and convenient to wander around in. The weather was freezing (quite literally — town signboards read -2°C) — but at least it was reasonably sunny. And anyway: it was my first-ever exposure to a frost- and snow-covered cityscape, and I for one was revelling in its beauty.
This morning I hopped on the U-bahn (i.e. metro) from the Westbahnhof (central station) to Stephansplatz (city central square), and embarked on a walking tour of Vienna. It was rather freezing here — so chilly that the ground was covered in frost and ice in many places — but that did nothing to mar the Imperial glory of this, one of Europe's most charming cities. Vienna is a city of soaring churches, imposing palaces, and grand town squares — and of all those I saw plenty.
For my first day here in Berlin, my mate John and I embarked upon an epic exploratory tour of the city. We began in the city's east, and gradually worked our way west, towards the old wall. Berlin is a fascinating city to walk around in — especially if you're aware of the troubled history behind its sparkling new façades.