Tonight I finally got around to visiting the largest and the most famous of Chiang Mai's markets, the city's Night Bazaar. The market runs every evening from around 6pm-12am, and it stretches along a broad avenue for about 5 blocks. It's an incredible experience: the market is filled with endless food, endless souvenirs, endless clothing, and... well, endless everything! I arrived there a bit late this evening (11pm), and the cheap eats in particular were largely closed by that time; but I still managed to find some places where I could grab a bite. I'll have to return to this market another night, and to explore its many and varied colourful stalls a bit earlier.
I popped into a cheap café in Salzburg today for lunch, and ordered something called a Fitness-Salat. I wasn't expecting much: but what I received left no room for complaints. The Fitness-Salat is a salad dish consisting of fried chicken, lettuce, tomato, corn, grated carrot, olives, egg, mozzarella cheese, and (I think) more. Tastes great: and the place that I went to served an enormous portion at a great price. Nice change from the "can't afford a decent meal" phenomenon, that I've been facing of late in Europe. I was really hungry: but even so, I struggled to finished this one.
The historic centre of Cologne has various buildings and monuments to see — but by far the biggest, and the only one that it's essential to see, is the city's famous "Dom" (i.e. cathedral). Located smack bang in the middle of town — just outside the main train station — the Dom is so bloody enormous, it's quite impossible to miss. With its impressive towering exterior, and its gorgeous arches and windows inside, it's believed to be the largest fully-preserved gothic structure in all of Europe. Entrance is free, too: just wander in and look at your leisure. This morning, before I scooted out of town, I checked out the Dom, and got somewhat blown away by it. No, really: it was a super-windy morning; and while standing in the exposed plaza in front of the Dom, I literally got blown inside.
I quickly ate breakfast and packed up this morning — in my field near Pedagaggi that I camped in last night — then managed to sneak out of the farm unobserved (despite the occupants of the farm going along their driveway again, just before I left). As I continued riding north, downhill out of the Monti Iblei, I was greeted with a bitter morning cold (explained by the fact that I was on the road at 8am), but also by lovely, rolling farmland scenery. The other amazing scenery that greeted me, was that which I first saw yesterday afternoon: the Plain of Catania stretching away below me, and colossal Mt. Etna looming on the horizon. I'm going to be seeing Etna all day today; but regardless, I highly doubt that I'll get sick of the view. Put simply, it's a bloody big, bloody nice mountain.
Once I'd returned to Ferla this afternoon — from my visit to Pantálica — I took the road north out of the "valley of Pantálica" area, and up onto the ridge that comprises the north edge of the Monti Iblei. I'd originally planned to head west to the village of Buccheri this afternoon, and to spend the evening near or beyond there; but upon reaching the north ridge, I decided that it was getting too late in the day (about 4:15pm), and that Buccheri was too much extra ascent (the town is marked on my map as being several hundred metres higher than Ferla). So instead I turned east, and headed along the ridge road towards Sortino. Along the way, I turned my gaze north: and boy, was I greeted with a vista and a half! Spread out below me was the broad, flat expanse of the Plain of Catania; and beyond it, rising up out of the horizon like a stone monster, I had my first sweeping view of Mt. Etna — the highest mountain in Sicily, and the tallest active volcano in all of Europe.
After almost two weeks here, my dad and I are finally saying goodbye to the cousins (and to each other), and leaving Boston. To farewell us in style, the Goldsteins took us to The Cheesecake Factory — a fine restaurant not far from Newton — for a Sunday brunch. The strawberry pancake thingies were sensational: although they were so big that even I, pig-out waste-nothing shoestring-backpacker that I am, couldn't finish mine.
The highlight of today's visit to the Itaipu dam, was seeing one of the colossal hydroelectric turbines in action, spinning around at the bottom of the inner dam wall, generating billions of watts of energy right in front of our eyes. Check out the video.
The Itaipu dam, built on the Paraná River (which forms the border between Brazil and Paraguay), is the biggest dam and the biggest hydroelectric power plant in the world. It's also one of the "seven wonders of the modern world". With 20 turbine generators, and a dam wall almost 8km long, the plant supplies a whopping 90% of Paraguay's electricity, as well as 25% of Brazil's. Thus, most ironically, Paraguay — otherwise one of the most backward s$%#-holes in South America — has virtually the greenest energy in the entire world. This afternoon, Annemie, Hendrik and I went on a tour of the dam, and we saw this monster feat of modern engineering in action.
The last and the most spectacular thing that we saw today, on the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls, was the Garganta del Diablo (lit: "Devil's Throat"), the biggest waterfall in the national park, and an absolutely, unbelievably, mind-blowingly massive stream of water. Do yourself a favour, and save this baby for the end of the day: it doesn't get much better than this. You could stand and stare at it for hours. We did. And the catwalk takes you right to the edge of it, where you have a simply phenomenal view of the thing cascading down all around and below you. Enjoy the photos below.
Lunch today was my last meal before the 25-hour fast of Yom Kippur (the holiest day in the Jewish year) — therefore, as far as quantity went, I wasn't playing around. This afternoon, Oly and I went to a great restaurant in San Telmo, called Desnivel, where I ordered a bife de chorizo mariposa (butterfly T-bone steak) that was bigger than me. Had to have been the largest piece of meat I've eaten in my life. Getting through the fast this year is going to be no problem at all :P.