My first purchase from the sprawling markets of Khao San Road, this evening, was a new backpack. Jack Wolfskin — high-quality German brand — and of course, this being Thailand, 100% genuine and original :P. For 400B (about $15), not a bad deal either. The plan is to leave my enormous bulky backpack (along with all my unneeded warm clothes and other accessories) in storage, here in Bangkok; and to travel around Thailand with this much smaller and lighter pack instead. 'Coz let's face it: you really don't need much when you're romping around in Thailand.
I was walking through the Christmas market in Salzburg this afternoon, with Lisa, when I couldn't help but notice some dried figs for sale in a stall. This wouldn't have been such a noteworthy moment, were it not for a little fact that Lisa explained to me earlier today: the word "fig" (with different spelling?) is apparently quite a rude word in German. If you tell someone you want a "fig" in Germany, then you will supposedly receive a stinging slap on the face. Anyway, they weren't labelled "figs", they were labelled with the equivalent German word "feigen": but hey, that sounds like a few other things in English, doesn't it now? Clearly, the fig is simply a dirty fruit, no matter what language you name it in.
I lost many valuable items when I got robbed on the train last week. One item that I particularly missed was my Wenger Swiss Army knife, which uncle Mark brought me as a present, on his last visit to Sydney 7 years ago. When Mark heard about the loss of the knife, he insisted on remedying the situation, and on doing what all good Swiss uncles with Aussie nephews do: he bought me yet another army knife. This time, a Victorinox, and one of the fancier and more full-featured models. Hopefully I'll get many years of good use out of this baby, just as I did out of the previous one.
There are some things that are expendable while travelling, and others that are essential. And a passport is about as essential as things get: which is why having been robbed of my passport over the weekend, I had to visit the Aussie Embassy today, and apply for a new emergency passport. A few hours and €90 later, and what do you know: my passport is ready, new as can be, and (for the short 6 months that it's valid) as good as the real thing. It was a hassle and a ripoff: but what can I do? I can't leave the country without a passport; I can't even go elsewhere within the EU (although in reality, there's no border control here in Europe). I'll try to be more careful with this one, than I was with the last one.
Written by world-renowned environmentalist and UCLA professor Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is a brilliant and eye-opening book, that analyses the reasons (particularly the environmental reasons) why various past and present societies have collapsed (or are collapsing), and that presents some conclusions about how humanity's current global society can avoid a similar such tragedy. Seeing as how I've been stripped even of my reading material this weekend, I couldn't resist buying this book in Rome: and already, it's proving to be an amazing read.
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?
On Wednesday I went window shopping; and today, I made the big purchase. As of now, I am the proud owner of a €50, second-hand, "Giant" brand mountain bike! As I suspected, I was able to purchase the bicycle, plus all its accessories, from Porto Portese — the dodgy Roman market to handle all your shopping needs. Got the bike from a funny old dude called Alfredo, who runs a little repair shop in the alley that makes up most of the market, and who permanently has a ciggy in the corner of his mouth. It doesn't look too crap: hopefully, it will get me around Sicily.
Before I scooted off out of England this afternoon, I managed to duck into one of London's big bookstores, and to stock up on some literary resources that I'll need for Italy et al. For my planned trip to Sicily, I grabbed a copy of the Nat Geo Sicily guide, as well as a detailed (as in 1:200,000) map of Sicily, and another map of Southern Italy (from Naples to the tip). Additionally, I threw in the LP Italian phrasebook; and for my journeying in Central Europe, the LP German phrasebook. Hopefully, all that will get me through the next few months in Europe.
I haven't bought any novels for a long time: so far on my trip, I've been subsisting on whatever paperbacks I can scrounge up at hostel book exchanges. This is all well and good, but the quality at those exchanges is generally somewhat lacking. I walked past a second-hand fair in Bristol this afternoon, and I couldn't resist buying a few quality novels. Grabbed myself "The Big Mango", by Norman Kelley; and "Blast from the Past", by Ben Elton. Seeing as I won't be in England again for a while, I managed to justify this little luxury to myself.
My dad and I went for a wander in the Harvard "Coop" bookshop this afternoon — after Paul's tour — and while there, I couldn't resist buying just one more geeky book. The Art of SQL is a very impressive text, that explains practical problems to some of the most common problems related to SQL querying, SQL data manipulation, and database design. The section on dealing with hierarchical data in a relational environment looks particularly interesting. And as with the drupal book that I bought a few days ago, this one also earned a much-coveted Slashdot review.