In joyful strains then let us sing,
"Advance Australia fair!"
Jan 26th — Happy Australia Day, folks!
We may not know all the words to our national anthem (and some even deny the existence of a second verse). We may have less respect for our politicians than for a skunk in rehab. But there's one grand tradition for which us Aussies do hold national pride: we know how to put on a good BBQ! So, to celebrate this momentous day — when, 220 years ago, an English dude landed on our beloved soil, whacked a Union Jack into the ground, and promptly impaled several tribes' worth of Aborigines upon it — the Aussies of Ko Tao pulled out the grill and sizzled up some sossies. The fine folks at Chopper's (the one-and-only Aussie bar on the island) offered a free BBQ for 2 hours this evening: all you had to do was purchase a beer, and a generous plate-full of meat 'n' salad was on the house. Aus-tra-li-a, F$#% YEAH!!
It's downright impossible to believe, but as of today, my life as a 21-year-old has officially come to a close. Today was the big day, Jan Third: happy 22nd birthday to me! I didn't do all that much to celebrate: just the usual hanging out, grabbing dinner, and shmoozing down in the Kabul lounge and bar. I didn't even partake in any birthday drinking: seeing as I was still recovering from an unfortunate lunch, I elected to just sip on water all evening instead. Birthdays are always good: but I must say that as birthdays go, 22 really is something of an anticlimax after the feistiness of 21.
After a few drinks at Cat's — and something else at Cat's, that was rather less pleasant — a big group of us went down to Plaza del Sol, Madrid's central square, to welcome in a Happy New Year ("Feliz Año Nuevo") madrileño-style. Emmanuelle, her Dutch friend, Miguel, Dan, Matt, Kenny and myself headed to the plaza together — although almost the entire hostel went there at some point; not to mention almost all of Madrid at large. It was mad, it was flamboyant, and it was without doubt the most jam-packed crowd I've ever been in. But it was certainly unique. And because this is Spain, midnight was just the beginning.
In Australia, we dream of a white Christmas. Well, this year — as of now — I for one am dreaming no longer: here in Kitzbühel, Christmas has arrived; and Christmases don't come much whiter than this. What with the snow, and the cold, and the cosy Austrian mountain village atmosphere... in a nutshell, I believe that this is how Christmas was meant to be. What could possibly be better than Dec 25th in Austria? I may be Jewish, and I may have never properly celebrated Christmas (or any other Christian festival) in my life; but I've been exposed to it my whole life, and I know something special when I see it. To all my readers: wishing you a very merry Christmas; and wherever you are, try not to be too jealous of me. Bwahahahaha.
Turnhout may be a small and insignificant town; but if you're there with the locals, and if you're willing to hit a few pubs, you'll find that it sure as hell ain't sleepy on a Saturday night. To my great surprise, tonight was one of the biggest nights I've had this year. I drank more beer, more types of beer, and a higher quality of beer than I've ever drunk before in my life; and hopefully (in the interests of my own health and sanity) more than I'll ever drink again. After our greasy local dinner, we returned to Turnhout; and while Annick and Karlijn retired back home for the evening, Stef and I began a long and sustained night of beverage-sampling, that spanned several pubs and numerous brews. After tonight, I haven't yet conquered all 500+ of Belgium's beers; but I believe I've made a solid dent in the landscape, and a promising start.
As my mate Dave would say: very saaad news, folks. This was it — today was the last day of the Great Sicilian Ride, all around Sicily and back again. And it wasn't a particularly long or memorable day either: just a quick, flat, straight 50km's or so of easy coastal road, from Giardini Naxos back up to Messina. Most of the way, all that I rode through was an uninspiring sprawl of beach towns and beach resorts — less beautiful than most here in Sicily, although not the worst I've seen or heard of. The landscape on this final morning's ride was dominated by the Monti Peloritani, an extremely rugged range of mountains that's virtually uninhabited, and that leaves naught but a very narrow strip of coastal land for most of the way: the result of this is that between Taormina and Messina, you can see towns, highways, autostrade and railways, all crammed in between the mountains and the sea. I managed the ride in around 3 hours, which meant that by midday today, the loop was complete. 20 days straight on a bike — and now I'm back to square one!
Talk about contrasting experiences: following yesterday's stormy ride to Modica, today's riding was nothing short of divine. This morning — after an amazing B&B breakfast — I rode out of Modica, and ended the mountain detouring of the past few days, by returning to Sicily's ever-gorgeous coast. The morning weather couldn't have been better, or more different to yesterday's: all those evil storms and winds were gone; and were instead replaced with clear blue skies, and with warm and soothing sunshine. First destination of the day: the southernmost tip of Sicily, and indeed of all Italy — Isola Delle Correnti.
After much ado, today my great, epic bicycle ride around Sicily began! To commence, I rode north from the city of Messina, up to Capo Peloro — Sicily's northernmost and easternmost point — and then around the coast, to Capo di Milazzo and beyond. I was scared, I was nervous, and I was pumped: but the day started out incredibly, and it just seemed to get better and better, as I went along. The Great Sicilian Ride is in progress — let's just hope that this awesome first day has set the standard for the whole voyage.
I'd just finished my tour of London this evening, and I was wandering around Leicester Square, when I noticed a big throng of people near one of the cinemas. I went to investigate, and it turned out that the red carpet was rolled out, in anticipation of no lesser stars than Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush (two of the biggest Aussie names in the world): they were coming here, for the UK premiere of their new movie, Elizabeth: The Golden Age! Cate didn't come very close to the crowds; but Geoffrey came right up to where I was standing, and signed autographs — so I got some good shots of him. Check it out.
Our friends and hosts Tara and Ashki were very lucky today: they managed to score two free tickets to tonight's Red Sox baseball game, here in Boston's Fenway Park! Normally, Red Sox tickets are virtually impossible to obtain unless you're a club member with a season pass — and even then, you're looking at a minimum of $200 a pop. However, they happen to be best friends with another couple, who are club members, and who do have season passes, but who realised at the last minute that they wouldn't be able to make it to tonight's game. So their friends were kind enough to donate their tickets to them. Not a bad deal at all.