I just received the shocking news this afternoon, about what happened to Dave. It happened on the 23rd, but it's taken some time for the news to spread, and finally to reach me. I don't want to say too much about it here, except that Dave was one of my best friends, and that like so many others I will miss him dearly. I wish I could make it to his funeral, which will be on Fri 1 Feb, but at that time I'll still be here in Thailand. I have no doubt, at least, that there will be no shortage of Dave's other numerous friends, family and colleagues in attendance, all to pay their respects. My deepest condolences to Ruth, Leslie and Debbie — Dave's mother, father and sister — as well as to Jo and Rountree, who were closer to Dave and who knew him better than most, and for whom I know the pain will be particularly strong. Sydney, AUJS, high school reunions, skiing, chess, Frisbee, action novels, playing Nintendo, talking loud, and losing count of girlfriends — these things simply won't be the same without you, mate.
It's 6:30am, and I've just pulled into Bangkok, tired and hungry after a night on the road. I'm wandering around the streets near Khao San Road, looking for a quiet café where I can grab some breakfast and read a book, while I wait for the city (and for myself) to wake up. I'm armed with my hefty backpack, and perusing the menu of an early-bird café, when a scantily-clad Thai girl runs up to me (out of nowhere), drapes her arm around me, and starts caressing me. I pretty much literally had to run away from her, before she gave up on offering herself to me, and left me in peace. For heaven's sake: if a bleary-eyed backpacker at the crack of dawn isn't safe from assaults by whores, when who and when the hell is safe?
It's been a while: but having now finished my stint in upmarket, "iz too expenzive fohr us" Europe, achim sheli are back! Like South America, Thailand too is one of the world's hotspots for young, IDF-complete, weed-smoking, shag-seeking, stingy-as-hell hordes of Israelis looking for a good time. And in Bangkok's Khao San Road, the yehudim do make themselves known. Reminiscent of such cities as Cusco and La Paz, here in Bangkok you can see Hebrew cardboard signs in shop windows, you can hear Hebrew being spoken as you walk along the street, and you can eat a falafel for every 50m that you cover (if you're crazy enough to not take advantage of the cheap and delicious local food, that is).
Like many a backpacker before me, my introduction to Thailand this evening came in the form of Bangkok's (in)famous tourist strip, Khao San Road. Khao San is quite literally a tourist mecca: in all my far and wide travels on this trip, I've never seen anything that comes even remotely close to matching the sheer density of tourists, tourist-hasslers, and tourist-related services that packs this one little area. The streets are thronged with farangs (lit: "foreigners" — I'll be using that word a lot, so get used to it!) from every corner of the globe. The buildings lining the sidewalks provide everything your average tourist could ever want, from guesthouses to cheap Internet, from tattoos to Pad Thai, from bars to travel agencies, and from laundry joints to Chabad house.
I think that my experiences as the victim of theft have finally driven me to the edge of insanity. This afternoon, I was about 15 minutes' walk away from the hostel — on my way to go exploring Montjuïc — when I was suddenly seized by a flash of paranoia. "Oh s$#%", I suddenly asked myself, "did I shut my locker before I left the hostel?" I knew that this random, irrational fear was most likely unfounded: but I also realised that so bad was my paranoia becoming, that if I didn't turn around and return to the hostel straightaway (to check the locker), then I'd have no peace of mind for the rest of the afternoon. So I walked briskly back to the hostel. And, as I suspected, I had indeed remembered to shut my locker, and it was locked safe 'n' sound when I inspected it. Dear G-d: what on Earth is this trip doing to me?!
This morning was my first-ever experience with Ryanair, Europe's favourite and most dodgy discount airline. I thought the easyJet flight was basic; but it was nothing compared to this. Flying with Ryanair is a joke, end of story. They're cheap, they're no-frills, and they get you there. It's best not to think about the rest.
We were entertained by several card tricks. We had more than a few to drink (I bought a bottle of Jim Beam yesterday, and it was received with glee in the Snowbunnys lounge this evening). And then, it was time for a CARDFIGHT! I never before realised just how fast and how hard you can throw a playing card: but as Jake and Mitch proved, they're actually quite aerodynamic little buggers, if you know how to flick 'em right (they hurt, too). So the Aussie brothers started flicking cards. And then everyone else started flicking them back. And after that, everything went way downhill.
Salzburg may be politically part of Austria; but geographically, it's actually much closer to Bavaria. And when it comes to beer, it's clear that the closeness is measured by more than mere kilometres. The Augustiner Bräu is where Craig, Sarah, Kade, Lisa, Thierry, Wilson and myself went tonight — for something to drink, and for something to eat — and it's the kind of place that could only possibly exist somewhere whose heart is of Bavarian fibre. I kid you not when I say: the Augustiner Bräu is a beer hall that has been operated for centuries by Augustine monks; that serves the Augustine beer that the monks themselves brew and copiously drink; and that is physically connected to the monks' fully-functional church. Of course — this being the crazy beer-religion-wotzdadiff place that it is — all that is perfectly normal and acceptable. Anyway, all I can say is that these monks sure do a good job, because they brew some of the best beer known to mankind; job satisfaction is no doubt a part of life for them.
Mr. Miller is an 84-year-old, Polish-born Munich local, who shamelessly (but not regrettably) interrupted our tour of Munich today in the Marienplatz. He staggered up to Ozzie, totally wasted on Glühwein (waving his Glühwein mug around); and wouldn't leave us alone until he'd told us his life story (at times, in surprisingly passable English), and sung us a few songs in G-d knows what language. You gotta see it to believe it: so check out the video below.
Exactly one month after arriving in Italy, today I said goodbye to this crazy but lovable country, and headed north to the colder, more efficient, not-quite-as-fun world of Central Europe. Once again, I had to battle with my dear friends at TrenI-frikking-talia in order to get anywhere — boy, will I be glad to see the back of them — but even in the face of a nationwide train strike today, I managed to cross the border, to cruise through the majestic snow-covered peaks and still lakes of the Swiss Alps, and to reach my uncle and aunt in Zürich by the afternoon. Italy, it's been a pazzo four-and-a-half weeks, but I'm afraid it's time to say "ciao baby".