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.
I've heard of express international deliveries taking time, but this is getting beyond a joke. Seeing that I had nothing else to do today — apart from having to urgently leave Zürich (to see my friend Gerhard in Freiburg tonight) — today I spent most of the day sitting around in Mark and Susi's office, waiting for my bloody ATM card to arrive. I always thought that DHL were reasonably competent; but apparently, that is not the case. After calling and making repeated enquiries, it seems that the package arrived in Basel last night; that they had it in Zürich by this morning; that they then sent it back to Basel later in the morning; and that it didn't get back to Zürich (for a second time) until this afternoon. I finally gave up waiting for it, and grabbed the train up to Freiburg: but I'm going to have to come back for it tomorrow (which will be a right pain in the a$$); and I'm extremely frustrated that it's taking this long for the frikking thing to get here.
It was a lazy old start this morning; but eventually, I checked myself out of the guesthouse in Pisa, and I jumped on the midday train to Venice. The local train from Venice to Florence was fine; but when I reached Florence, I realised that the city has two main train stations, and that my connecting train on to Venice departed from the station that I wasn't at. Eek! Apparently, while I got off at the "main" station of Firenze SMN, the InterCity train to Venice leaves from the "other main" station of Firenze Rifredi. Anyway, I managed to get the high-speed EuroStar Italia service to Venice instead: that train does leave from SMN; and although it has the added cost of a compulsory seat reservation and supplement, it is quite a nice train, and it didn't get me there too late (less than an hour later than planned).
Seeing as how my passport was one of the victims of the train robbery on Saturday morning, today I had to go and visit the Australian Embassy here in Rome, in order to apply for a new (emergency) passport. Since the embassy's only open from Monday to Friday, I wasn't able to go until today. I had to wait around all day: but at least I had some people to keep me company; and at least they had the new passport ready for me within one day.
Things haven't gone exactly according to plan today: due to my bike's snapped axle, I had to end the day's riding far earlier than planned; so my hopes of reaching the Monti Iblei now have to be postponed until tomorrow. When I realised that I'd just missed the morning opening hours of the bike repair shop, and that I'd have to wait all afternoon to get my bike fixed up, I decided to find somewhere to dump my shwag for the rest of the day, and to put my feet up for the night. I checked in to the nearby Caravaggio B&B, a nice little place several blocks away from Ortygia (hence somewhat more affordable). I then had the whole afternoon to explore, enjoy, and relax in Syracuse.
Not much to report about the majority of today's riding, as it was fairly uneventful. This morning I rode east (and slightly north) from Agrigento, headed inland and slightly into the mountains. I intended to take the highway directly to the inland city of Caltanissetta: but the signs out of Agrigento were a bit confusing, and I ended up instead taking a lesser route, which detoured through the town of Favara. Not to worry: I found the main highway soon enough; and it was a small and scenic (and less heavy-in-traffic) detour. The rest of the way to Caltanissetta — on the SS640 the whole way — was incredibly boring. I shouldn't complain, as the good-quality road, the tail wind, and the fair weather helped me eat up plenty of distance. But seriously: the boring (and rather arid and ugly) countryside, the lack of towns or buildings, and the repetitive (if gentle) ups and downs, combined to make this one of the most uneventful legs of my ride so far.
This morning I rode out of the lovely tourist town of Cefalù — which unlike yesterday evening, was now gorgeous and sunny — and headed west along the coast, towards the city of Términi Imerese. And all I can say is that — despite lovely weather — it was an evil morning, and I'll remember Términi as an evil city. It ended up being twice the distance that I thought it was, from Cefalù (I guess the map wasn't 100% accurate), and the journey took twice as long as I thought it would (over 2 hours, instead of 1 hour). When I got there, I had to make use of the local post office — and as I expected, dealing with the Italian postal service was hardly a fun experience. I went into several cafes and asked for a hot chocolate — but all anyone had was cappuccino, so I had to subsist on that. The city's roads were the worst I've encountered so far on my trip: they're steep; they wind uphill; they're narrow and cobbled; they're poorly signposted; they're largely one-way; and they're utterly traffic-jammed. Plus, I had great difficulty finding my way out of the damn place: the road south, into the mountains and towards the town of Caccamo, proved most elusive indeed. Thus it is that I dub Términi Imerese a place of great woes — not a place about which I hold any fond memories.
I don't know how the hell I did it — I don't know who else to thank, so I'll thank G-d — but after the reunion drinks and the crazy adventure last night, I still managed to wake up at 5am this morning (tired and hung-over), and to jump on a train out of Rome at 5:45am. And what do you know: 11 hours, 3 train trips and a ferry ride later, I was in Sicily! It was a long day on the train — and with my crazy bike with me, I was quite the unorthodox passenger — but I got through it, and now the adventure of a lifetime can begin.
No matter where we go for the day, it seems that every single afternoon here in Boston, my dad and I inevitably end up standing on the same platform in Park Street station, waiting for a train back to Newton Center where we're staying. I can't help but feel really, really sick of this station! The fact that it's underground, ugly, and badly overheated doesn't help either. Every afternoon, we stand and wait for a train on the same Green C line, looking at the same flamboyant posters advertising iPods, hearing the same drone of pre-recorded announcements. I didn't come to Boston to become intimately familiar with Park Street station. I came to see my family.
Today was an incredibly bereft-of-fun day. Most of my day was spent on the phone, with either Qantas or British Airways, trying to get the rest of my round-the-world flights sorted out. Since my travel agent back in Sydney was unable to book all my flights when I left — as they can only be booked so far in advance — I have to book London-to-Bangkok and Bangkok-to-Sydney now. Wasn't easy: although I've paid for the round-the-world package, that doesn't guarantee me to seats on specific flights; and all the flights on those routes in Jan and Feb '08 are utterly booked out. The fact that I can only get specific super-dodgy seats on a given flight, and that my ticket is non-upgradeable, doesn't help at all. Anyway, managed to get it all sorted out — and managed to buy a Eurail ticket as well!