This morning I said goodbye to Vienna — it was only a brief stint here — and jumped on the train to Salzburg. I scored my 4th free Wombat's brekkie before I left: although for the first time, this one was legitimately free, as they gave me a free breakfast voucher as a bonus for staying at both the Munich and Vienna hostels. If only they knew :P. It was a quick but cold walk through the back streets of Vienna, from the hostel to the Westbahnhof train station; and then the 3-hour ride to Salzburg began. As with the train to Vienna two days ago (which passed through Salzburg, and which thus took the same route), I was rewarded with beautiful snow-covered scenery most of the way; otherwise, the trip was smooth and uneventful. I reached Salzburg by about 12:30pm; and once there, I had no trouble finding my hostel, and walking the short distance to reach it.
For some relaxation after our long walk around Berlin all day, this evening John and I popped in to a few of the local pubs in Berlin's Mitte district. Our mission was simple: to drink beer, and to drink good, tasty German beer. Fortunately, that proved to be quite an attainable endeavour — even by my generally beer-hating standards, Germany is one place where nobody can be disappointed by the quality of the brews.
Brian's an elderly English chap whom I met on the train from Amsterdam to Berlin today. He's a real character: for the few hours that we ended up sitting together, he started chatting away about all sorts of things, from international politics to the nature of women. He's a great-grandfather, who has family scattered all over Europe (and the world), and who's been a bachelor since his wife passed away several years ago. He's amazingly pro-active for his age, and is obviously "the rock" of his large family. He lives in a small suburban place near London called Hertford.
This evening I arrived in Amsterdam, Europe's most infamous city and one of its backpacker favourites. The train from Brussels was a quick 3 hours: it was pretty boring (Belgium is green and flat, Holland is green and even flatter), and I slept most of the way, tired after all my walking around Brussels in the morning. My first impression, upon walking into my hostel here (Bob's), is that this is a city of serious weed junkies. Everyone here is totally stoned! Further exploration of the city — going into the many nearby "cafés" — revealed that the stoned-ness is not limited to the basement of my hostel, either: it's absolutely everywhere. Since I don't smoke (anything), I might be hard-pressed finding something to do around here. Amsterdam is a junkies' and layabouts' paradise.
I already explored Zürich yesterday; today, I couldn't be a$$ed doing very much at all. What with the horrible weather outside, and with nothing in particular to see or do in the city, and with unlimited free Internet access right where I was, my choice seemed obvious enough. I just hung around inside Mark and Susi's apartment all day, catching up on a bit of blogging and online reading, mucking around with some Internet gadgets (such as the cool custom map drawing feature in Google Maps), and otherwise keeping warm and dry. My new ATM card still hasn't arrived: where the hell is it? It's supposed to be getting sent by express DHL courier; but it's been 4 days since it left Sydney, and there's still no sign of it. I hope it comes soon — because nice as it is staying with the family, I can't hang around here forever.
For something completely different, today uncle Mark took me on a little excursion out of Zürich, west to the city of Basel, in order to visit the unique and fascinating Tinguely museum. And to see the special exhibit that was on there. And for a nice lunch. And just to see beautiful Basel. Susi couldn't make it — she had something else on for most of the day — but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.
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.
In pleasant contrast to the madness of yesterday — where I experienced everything from nightmare, to high culture, to disappointment, to good times — not much happened today. I did some laundry. I had a coffee break. I bought a book. I grabbed a kebab. I bought a new backpack (first item from yesterday's incident to be replaced — can't do much without a day pack — cheap and dodgy, but it'll do for now). I cooked up some pasta for dinner (which my Mozambique buddy at Gulliver's shared with me). And I spent plenty of time online, gradually catching up on what I'm realising is the Great Sicilian Blogging Endeavour. A sleepy old Sunday in the heart of the ancient world.
After hanging out, meeting and greeting many of my fellow guests at Gulliver's House, this evening a few of us ventured into the city, for a bit of a night out. Pei, two of the Yanks and myself found a rather fancy trattoria restaurant at which to grab some dinner (the pasta was delicious, but small and quite expensive — this is why I generally avoid restaurants in Italy), as well as a nice jug of red house wine. As the night progressed, Pei retired back to the hostel, but myself and the two Yank boys met up with the remainder of the Yanks — the group of three girls — and together, we grabbed a few (massively overpriced but good) beers at a nearby Irish pub. I thoroughly enjoyed the night out. It gave me some much-needed socialising after my lonely ride through Sicily, plus it provided some (equally much-needed) relaxation after today's nightmare.
When I arrived back in Messina today, the main order of business was to try and sell my bike. I'm not planning to do any more cycling in Italy (or anywhere else in Europe), so I don't need it any more. Unfortunately, I didn't have any success in flogging the daym thing off to anyone. I spent about an hour cruising around the streets of downtown Messina, looking for bike shops that might be interested in purchasing it. I only found one place that was a dedicated bike shop: they flatly declined interest in the bike, saying that they only sold new bikes, and that none of their customers would be interested in my third-hand (at least) piece-of-junk. The only other place I found was a hardware store, but they also sold a few bikes: they too had no interest in buying. Doesn't anyone want a nice, cheap Roman bike here in Sicily?