It was a long evening, getting out of Barcelona and back to London tonight. A long bus ride to yet another dodgy Ryanair airport. A long wait once at the airport. And an extremely long delay once we'd arrived back in dear old Inglaterra. Exciting, ridiculous, and heated at times. But most of the way, just long and extremely tedious. Travelling in Europe during the Christmas-break rush, and getting stuck right in the thick of that rush, simply ain't fun at all.
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?!
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.
During our tour of Munich today, Ozzie shared with us some interesting if alarming facts about beer and Bavaria. Bavaria is officially the beer capital of the world: not just by reputation, but also by the irrefutable weight of statistics. Have a look at some of these hair-raising facts, and you'll see what I mean.
Turnhout may be a small and insignificant town; but if you're there with the locals, and if you're willing to hit a few pubs, you'll find that it sure as hell ain't sleepy on a Saturday night. To my great surprise, tonight was one of the biggest nights I've had this year. I drank more beer, more types of beer, and a higher quality of beer than I've ever drunk before in my life; and hopefully (in the interests of my own health and sanity) more than I'll ever drink again. After our greasy local dinner, we returned to Turnhout; and while Annick and Karlijn retired back home for the evening, Stef and I began a long and sustained night of beverage-sampling, that spanned several pubs and numerous brews. After tonight, I haven't yet conquered all 500+ of Belgium's beers; but I believe I've made a solid dent in the landscape, and a promising start.
Europe is famous for being a small place with an awful lot of languages. Going through three or more language regions in one day is perfectly possible: and in the past few weeks, by hopping around on the trains, I've done just that. It was pretty intense in Switzerland, what with its German dominance, its smaller pockets of French and Italian, and its general nation-wide efforts at English. It was a little less full-on in Germany, where German is spoken by everyone around the country, and where almost everyone can also speak reasonable English. But upon arriving here in Belgium, it dawned on me just what a ridiculously over-linguified continent this is. And I'd say that as Europe goes, Belgium is about the most extreme example of language craziness to be found: the nation split virtually in half with the Flemish (i.e. Dutch) and French divide; smaller pockets of German in the east; and the whole place also being highly fluent in English. What with the plethora of languages to be learned, it's amazing they have time to do anything else at all around here.
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".
After going to the pub for some reunion beers, my friends Tom and Fede took me to the heart of Rome, for a very unique (although not 100% legal) tour of the city's ancient ruins. They showed me how the ruins of central Rome seem to have almost no security at night: all they have is fences; and these proved to be ridiculously easy to climb over. Apparently, Italy simply has so many ancient ruins and archaeological parks, that they can't be bothered to provide proper guards or patrols for any of them. This was fine with me: it allowed my friends to show me ancient Rome in a much more cool way than most tourists see it; and seeing the ruins at night has a certain beauty and eerieness to it that you just don't get during the sunlit, tourist-infested daytime.
Yesterday, as part of my visit to the Vatican, I was unable to visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, as they were closed for All Souls' Day. Today, I attempted to make up for the loss, and to try visiting them again: but to no avail. When I arrived there this afternoon, I encountered what was quite literally the longest queue I have ever seen in my life. Ever. The queue snaked around about a quarter of the entire Vatican complex (i.e. around a quarter of an entire sovereign nation state :P), taking up the sidewalk for at least 10 blocks, and almsot reaching back into St. Peter's Square itself. It took me 15 minutes of solid walking, just to get to the back of the line. I realised that this queue was so long, I actually had no chance of getting in today (assuming I wished to wait and try for 3+ hours, that is). So it's still a no-go. Maybe next time I'm in Rome, I'll be able to see this incredibly popular attraction. For now, its popularity has defeated me.