CityStay's a very clean, very secure, very modern hostel, and it's in a great central location in Berlin. Unfortunately, it suffers from one big common European hostel problem: it's often full of school groups. Fortunately, however, it does have a great bar and common area, which makes it easy to meet the other (minority) real backpackers staying there. Excellent value, and especially recommended if you're not after a crazy party hostel.
Bob's is a basic affair, but it's cheap and it's good fun — and it's central enough that all the essentials are an easy walking-distance nearby. The most memorable thing about Bob's is the "dungeon" entrance / reception / lounge area: it's a glorified weed den. People sit down here and smoke weed, literally for days on end — with the result that the room is presided over by a permanent smoky haze. The rooms are pretty squashy, and the bathrooms are a bit seedy: but breakfast is included, the staff are very laid-back, and the fellow guests (when not stoned to the point of being comatose) are a friendly enough bunch.
The Station Backpacker's is a reasonable enough place: big, full of party spirit, and right in the heart of fun-packed Cologne. My biggest gripe is that the hostel has too many levels, and too many winding stairs to take you up to them: you kind of end up racing up and down them a lot. Otherwise, it's a well laid-out affair, with good staff and even better fellow guests. As with yesterday's hostel in Freiburg, it's just a pity that I can't stay here longer — but my schedule is rather hectic at the moment.
The Black Forest Hostel is a lovely big hostel, situated in a quiet street not-too-far from the centre of compact Freiburg, and (as its name suggests) just down the road from the start of the famous forest itself. The hostel was pretty quiet when I stayed there this evening; but it has a great common room — complete with couches, beanbags, TV, pool table, and fussball — which I'm sure would be great fun with more guests around. I didn't have time to hang around here for more than one night: but if my schedule had allowed it, there's no doubt that I would have chilled here for longer.
Good hostels (and, quite often, any hostels) are hard to come by in Italy: but A Venice Fish was a lucky find, in a city where a good place to stay makes all the difference. This hostel is clean and friendly, and it has charm and a laid-back atmosphere. But without a doubt, the main selling-point of the Fish is its free dinners: not only are they a huge cash-saver in this most pricey of cities; they're also delicious, and a great way to meet and greet all your fellow guests at the hostel. This is the first free-dinner hostel I've stayed at in Europe; and not surprisingly, it's also the most fun I've had at a hostel on this side of the Atlantic.
The Central Station Guesthouse is a brand-new place to stay in Pisa, and it's run by the same woman who manages the more-established Welcome B&B in town. I was meant to be staying at the B&B while here in Pisa: but due to complications caused by fog, I got moved to the guesthouse. I'm not sure if the pricing is permanent — but at the moment, the guesthouse's private rooms are going as cheap as are hostel beds in most other cities in Italy. The guesthouse currently has no street appeal whatsoever — it's on the 3rd floor of an apartment complex, with no sign on the building — but it's in a great location, and it's a very comfortable place to stay.
It was a grinding afternoon's ride, as I continued north and ascended higher up the eastern slopes of Mt. Etna. However, fortunately it wasn't an overly late one today. At around 4:15pm, I was just approaching the town of Milo — which is in the heart of the forested wilderness area around here — when I came across the campsite "Mareneve" (lit: "Sea and Snow"). My map had a single official campsite marked in the vicinity of Milo; so I assumed that this was it, and I stopped in to check it out. As with the place near Avola three nights back, I was most relieved to find that this place was actually open for business. As confucius says: "man who camp rough sleep with the cows, but man who camp legally sleep with the stars." So, since I had the opportunity, tonight I slept with the stars.
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.
Once I reached central Palermo this morning, my main task was to find somewhere reasonably cheap — and reasonably comfortable — to clean myself up after roughing it in the highlands, and to relax for the night. I ended up riding pseudo-randomly around the historic tourist centre, and looking for what I hoped would be such a place. And boy, did I score a lucky find! I stumbled across a B&B, where they were asking a price way above what I was prepared to pay, and way above the price of my other accommodation so far in Sicily. That was to be expected, I guess: Palermo's a big city, and things are bound to cost more in a big city. However, when I pressed them for a cheaper option, they offered me a spare apartment around the corner for the night — not sure what the deal was with this place, if it belonged to a friend who was away for the weekend, or if it was a vacant holiday apartment, or whatever. But I didn't care: not only did they give me this gorgeous apartment for the night; they gave it to me for a very reasonable price, and they threw in breakfast at the B&B to boot! So as far as a night in Palermo went, I didn't do too badly at all.
After a crazy day of trains and ferries, I've made it to Messina, my first stop on the island of Sicily. Messina is a nice enough town, but certainly nothing special: there's nothing here to attract tourists; apart from the fact that if coming by ferry, it's the main way in. Anyway, although I'm all geared-up for camping during my Great Sicilian Ride, I decided to just stay at a hotel here in town tonight: by the time I reached Messina, it was already too dark to get out into the countryside; plus, I need to buy food and other supplies, and I need to finalise the setup for my bike.