The New Year has well and truly arrived, and it's now time to say goodbye to Madrid. Today I took a big but worthwhile splurge, and travelled on the special high-speed Alvia train service from Madrid to Barcelona. The trains are extremely popular, here in Spain: I purchased my Alvia ticket three days ago (as soon as I arrived in Madrid); and even then, they were already sold out of economy-class tickets, and I had to settle for business-class instead. Additionally, I've now used up my Eurail pass — and it didn't cover Spain anyway — so I had to pay for the ticket outright, and at full cost. But still, I enjoyed a fast, pleasant, and bloody luxurious ride today.
Today's trip from Kitzbühel to Frankfurt marks the end of my time spent travelling on a Eurail pass. My Eurail Select 5-Country Pass — which allows 10 (not necessarily consecutive) days of unlimited travel, within 2 months, within 5 neighbouring countries (I chose Italy, Switzerland, Benelux, Germany and Austria) — has been tremendously handy, and has been used in place of around €600-€650 worth of over-the-counter tickets (not bad, considering that it originally cost only €350). Backpacking by train in Europe has been a great experience: generally speaking, it's comfortable, reliable, and flexible — and there are trains literally everywhere.
The long 3-legged train ride from Kitzbühel to Frankfurt took up most of today. From Kitzbühel-Hahnenkamm station (the secondary station at Kitzbühel, where there's no office or ticket machine, just the platforms and the tracks), I jumped on the 10:55am local train back to Wörgl; and from there (with a mere 6-minute change gap!), I caught another local train up to Rosenheim, which is just over the German border. Then, it was 4½ hours on an InterCity train, direct from Rosenheim to Frankfurt (via Munich, Stuttgart and Heidelberg). Not the most eventful of days — but no problems on the trains, and I reached Frankfurt at a reasonable hour.
Today was goodbye to Salzburg, goodbye to Yoho, and goodbye to some very good friends. But it was not goodbye to Craig, Sarah and Kade: because they too said goodbye to all this; and together, us four Aussies hopped on the train to Kitzbühel. Destination: winter wonderland, Austrian Alps. Mission: have a white Christmas, spend a week carving up the mountains, and engage in some serious après-ski. All that stood in our way: a mere 2-hour train ride. Easily tackled.
This morning I said goodbye to Vienna — it was only a brief stint here — and jumped on the train to Salzburg. I scored my 4th free Wombat's brekkie before I left: although for the first time, this one was legitimately free, as they gave me a free breakfast voucher as a bonus for staying at both the Munich and Vienna hostels. If only they knew :P. It was a quick but cold walk through the back streets of Vienna, from the hostel to the Westbahnhof train station; and then the 3-hour ride to Salzburg began. As with the train to Vienna two days ago (which passed through Salzburg, and which thus took the same route), I was rewarded with beautiful snow-covered scenery most of the way; otherwise, the trip was smooth and uneventful. I reached Salzburg by about 12:30pm; and once there, I had no trouble finding my hostel, and walking the short distance to reach it.
This morning I said goodbye to the crazy Wombat's Munich — and to Germany, for now — and hopped on the train down to Vienna. Just a quick 4-hour morning ride: I caught the 9:30am train (direct), and I was in Vienna by 1:30pm. The train went through Salzburg, which I'm going to visit after Vienna: it's a bit of a funny route, I know; but I can't help it, since Vienna's somewhat out-of-the-way from everywhere else I'm visiting around here.
Such is the life of a Eurail pass holder: today was another "day on the tracks" for me; this time, from Dresden to Munich. After saying goodbye to the terribly-located Herberge der Jugend hostel, this morning I packed up my stuff, and hopped on the tram into the city centre. I was hoping to catch the 11:56am train out of Dresden Hbf (central station): however, I didn't have a ticket to ride on the tram; and since it was my misfortune that a ticket inspector jumped on halfway through my journey, I had to rapidly jump off, and wait for the next tram. By the time I reached the station, I'd missed the train by an excruciating 2 minutes. Stupid biatch inspector!
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.
Today I concluded my brief one-night stand in Cologne (and my mere two days in western Germany), and headed straight to Belgium, and to the small Flemish city of Turnhout (via Brussels), to meet my friends Annick and Stef. Before I left Cologne, I managed to buy myself a new money belt in the train station (since I lost my old one in Italy), and I now feel a lot more secure with my valuables in it: I'll be wearing it on every single train ride from now on. Turnhout is a small place; but amazingly, the DB attendant was able to sell me a ticket straight there, as he had it available as a direct destination in his computer (Annick and Stef were amazed and flattered when I told them). So, for now, I say auf wiedersehen to Germany.
In a continuing battle with the forces of incompetence, I finally received and managed to pick up my new ATM card today. at 10:30am, I went online from my hostel in Freiburg, checked DHL's tracking service, and saw that my package was in Zürich, and was "with courier vehicle" (i.e. actually in the van, about to be delivered to Mark and Susi's surgery). So I grabbed the tram to Freiburg train station, just managed to catch the 11am train back to Zürich; and by 1:45pm, I too had arrived back in Zürich, and had caught the tram over to the surgery. And what did I see, quite literally just as I walked in? I saw the DHL guy walking out of the building, having only just delivered the package — took him all day just to drop it off there; how bloody pathetic!