Being unwell in the time of a pandemic

It’s a rather interesting situation to get unwell in a pandemic, and you have to go to a hospital for medical assistance for something other than being a victim of the virus.

First of all, what we found was that before you could gain access to the hospital’s emergency department, you were quizzed on the potential for having the virus.  Displaying any symptoms will get you tested.

This gives those going into the hospital a sense of relief that there will be very little chance of contracting it in the waiting room.

Second of all, the waiting room, for the first time I’ve been there, was just about empty.  I’ve been coming to this hospital for many, many, years and not once had there been less than 20 people, and quite often, a lot more.  Any hour of the day or night.

This meant we had a better chance of seeing a doctor quickly.

Or perhaps not.

When we arrived there was about 6 or 7 ahead of us.  A half-hour later, there’s now about 20 and a line forming at reception.  There’s a steady increase in the numbers in the waiting room.

After about an hour we are called in.

It’s a preliminary interview where the symptoms are discussed, and the doctor attempts to match a malady to the symptoms.  There doesn’t seem to be anything to indicate what she has is life-threatening, but…

After a cursory listen to what’s going on in the chest region, the doctor decided on a blood test, an x-ray and an ECG.  She thought she heard an anomaly in the heartbeat but wasn’t quite sure what it was.

Blood taken, we are moved to one of the beds in Emergency to have her heart monitored, and this takes about ten to fifteen minutes.  Then it’s back to the waiting area

Another half-hour before she is taken away for the X-ray.  That takes another fifteen minutes.  From there it’s a waiting game.

What is evident today as distinct from other times I have been in the Emergency department is firstly the lack of people, movement, and noise.  The is, if anything, a surreal silence, and total lack of what might be previously described as controlled panic.

There’s a sense of purpose all around.  There were four of us waiting.  Usually, it was overflowing.  I get the impression unless there was an essential reason to be at the hospital, you were quickly dealt with and moved on.

Only one of the five or six beds has a waiting patient
Whereas other times they would be full of family members spilling out into the passageways.

There was no one.  The one that had a patient and one visitor was moved on very quickly.

It seemed like they were on a war footing and you can feel it.  Another week I suspect it is going to be a pandemonium of a different sort, and I hope I don’t get to see it or be part of It

Another hour and the doctor has all the results.  Nothing.  She cannot definitively show what is wrong other than it was not life-threatening.  If it’s still prevalent in five days, a GP was the first point of call.

From there, our visit was over.

There were still a lot of people in the waiting room, but in the several hours we were inside the inner sanctum, there were no new admissions.

Again on the way out we passed the Covid-19 testing station, and all was calm.  The only change was the person on the other side desk.

I’m sure what I was witnessing was the calm before the storm.

The writer’s toolbox

Travelling is always a good source of material to add to the writing store.

Writers collect anecdotes, descriptions of their fellow travellers, more the idiosyncrasies than an actual physical description, and of the experience, though it is all the better if it turns out to be really, really bad than good.

This equally applies to experiences in hotels, with hire cars, tourist spots and especially fellow travellers.

Start with the airline. This can make or break the start of a holiday and could be the difference between a great start or a horrid one.

We can usually accept the sardine arrangements, the lack of legroom, being within earshot of a screaming baby, or put up with the constant kicking in the back of the seat by the wretched uncontrollable child sitting behind you.

It’s having the person in front fully reclining their seat in your face that gets your goat. For an hour and a half or eight hours, it is still the biggest bone of contention when flying.

We are taking one airline down to Melbourne the one that makes a big deal out of the full service it provides, and another airline back, formerly a low-cost airline but now trying to match its so-called full-service rival.

The flight down is smooth, and the food reasonably good. The landing, even though the pilot was battling sharp crosswinds, was very heavy and left us in no doubt we had reached terra firma again. I’ve been on worse.

Hire cars are a rich field to pick over and I’ve read some interesting experiences involving even the best. So far I’ve not had a problem. I pre-booked as far in advance as possible to get a small fuel-efficient vehicle. Sometimes we are upgraded and while they think they are doing you a favour it is not necessarily the case, especially when you finish up with a large car that barely fits small provincial French roads one lane wide. It does happen.

There is also the waiting time at the car rental desk, particularly when it’s the rental company you picked, while other company desks are empty. You also quickly discover that most of the people in the queue didn’t think of pre-booking a car, which to my mind is expecting trouble with it being the peak holiday period.

We had to wait in a long queue after taking a chance it would be less crowded at the pick-up point than the desk in the airport terminal. It was no surprise to discover that a lot of other travellers had the same thought.

Hotels can also be one of the major letdowns of a holiday. If you are going to use a travel agent to pick a hotel for you, make sure you check as much as you can because no matter how it is described, seeing it, in reality, is always completely different than the pictures in a brochure and sometimes on the Internet. It requires research and a good look at TripAdvisor. Or word of mouth by someone you know and trust who has stayed there.

Take, for instance, staying in a five-star hotel the usual stomping ground of the rich and famous, it is always interesting to see how the less privileged fare. Where hotel staff are supposed to treat each guess equally it is not always the case. Certainly, if you’re flashing money around, the staff will be happy to take it though you may not necessarily get what you’re expecting.

We are lucky to be in the highest loyalty level and this accords us a number of privileges; this time working in our favour but it is not always the case. Privilege can sometimes count for nothing. It often depends on the humour of the front desk clerk and woe betide you if you get the receptionist from hell. Been there, done that, more than once.

Then there is the room. There is such a wide variety of rooms available even if the hotel site or brochure had representative pictures the odds are you can still get a room that is nothing like you’re expecting or were promised.

Believe me, there are rooms with a view, overlooking pigeon coops or air-conditioning vents.

A bone of contention often can be the location of the hotel and sometimes parking facilities not the least of which is the cost.  Valet parking; forget it.

We are reasonably near transport if we could walk, the km to the nearest bus or tram stop is a long long way when you can’t walk and that’s when the hotel starts to feel like a prison. Taxis may be cheap but when you have to use them three or four times a day it all adds up.

Be wary when a hotel says it is close to public transport. While that may be true in London, anywhere else especially in Europe you could find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Its when you discover your travel agent didn’t exactly lie but it is why that weekly rate was so cheap. In the end, the sum of the taxi fares and the accommodation turns out to be dearer than if you stayed at the Savoy.

So airline, hire car and hotel aside those front line experiences are fodder for the travel blogger, these people who are also known as road warriors.

I wondered why until we started travelling and discovered the incredible highs and lows, of flying, yes there are good and bad airlines and the bad are not confined to the low cost, of rental cars and of hotels. There is a very large gulf between five stars and three and sometimes three can be very generous. And of course, l now have a list of hotels l would never stay in again, the names of which might surprise you.

Unfortunately, my travel exploits are sometimes as boring as the day is long, but even then, there’s at least one calamity to deal with.

Our airport experiences are all without incident, although from time to time the sight of police or soldiers patrolling with guns can be disconcerting.

We have also experienced the odd problem in London at Heathrow firstly trying to get hep from the designated help staff and then to find the check-in desk of an airline apparently no one available knew existed.

That was momentarily exciting after phone calls were not answered and internet contact was not possible. Not until a little footwork found the agents desk and the misunderstanding was sorted out.

By the way, the airline itself was a pleasure to fly on, the staff pleasant and most of all we arrived just before the airport closed.

On the way home, only a flight stands between us and getting home. After days sometimes weeks it is that moment we all look forward to sleeping on our own beds making our own food and getting to the gym to work off those extra kilos put on by delicious hotel food or local fare where calorie counting is not part of the dining experience.

Of course, getting to the airport from the hotel can be an experience in itself whether by taxi perhaps the taxi driver from hell who knows only two speeds fast and stop and is also, unfortunately, colour blind.

Or whether you have arranged for a transfer only to discover it’s not coming because the company went out of business or you changed hotels and someone forgot to tell them.

Or the travel agent made a mistake or forgot to confirm the booking.

Oh yes, it happens.

We have a hire car and will be returning it t the same place. Let’s hope the signage at the airport makes it easy to find the rental place. In London we had a hell of a time trying to find it; good thing we were hours earlier than we should be.

And just because the sign says rental returns for the lane you’re in it doesn’t necessarily follow it’s the right lane. Then as you miss the exit, and get stuck on the one-way road system, all of a sudden you have left the airport and you’re heading back to the city.

If you’re running late …

But if everything goes to plan you get to the airport with time to spare.

We manage to arrive early at the airport. Rather than wait three hours for our flight we decide to try and get on an earlier departure. This will depend on our ticket type and whether there are seats available, preferably together.

We line up in the service queue, which by its very description means you have a long wait as service is mostly between difficult to impossible depending on the request.

We wait for twenty minutes. There’s a long queue behind us. Our request is taken care of quickly and efficiently making it almost seamless, certainly painless. I’m sure our request was one of the very few easy ones the staff will get.

Today it seems it is our lucky day. The transfer to an earlier flight is free and there are two seats available together. All we have to do is alert the pick-up driver at our destination we are going to be an hour earlier. Done.

Checking in bags is usually the bane of the traveller’s existence.

No matter which airport in whatever country you are departing from the only difference is the length of the queue; from incredibly long with a half-hour wait to the head of the line to up to an hour. Our queue is 15 to 20 minutes.

One assumes this is why intending passengers are asked to go to the airport two hours ahead of their fight. There are times of the day where the queues are horrendous, and that not only applies to Heathrow.

And if you are late, just panic.

And if your bags are overweight be prepared to have your credit card hammered.

Especially if you’re flying Air France from Venice to Paris. Domestically in Australia, it’s not so bad.

Now its time to relax. There is an hour before we have to be at the gate so just enough time to get coffee and a doughnut.

And be horrified at what shops charge for simple items like sandwiches. I think $10 is very expensive. But if you’re hungry and forgot to eat before getting to the airport then be prepared to pay more than you usually would for the same fare.

It’s also time to observe our fellow passengers, and there is always the one who has a last-minute dash for a plane that is just about to leave, passengers with panic-stricken looks.

We all know what happens if you miss the flight even as you’re downing that last cocktail in the airline lounge while thinking, yes they’ll hold the flight for me!

Apparently not because airlines want to keep their ‘on-time’ record.

Even so, there’s still three more calls for the missing passengers and then nothing. If they missed the plane there their problems are just beginning. It’s the same feeling you have when your name is called out before the flight starts loading.

Only once have we been called up and given an upgrade, and once in the US to be told we could take another flight because our flight was overbooked. Business-class was greatly appreciated and was worth the extra hour we had to wait.

The next bottleneck is the scanners and sometimes the queue here is very long and moving slowly because the scanners are set to pick up belts and shoes so people are scattered everywhere getting redressed and putting shoes on. Today being a weekday the queue is not so bad.

Loading is painless and reasonably organized except when the passengers in high numbered rows try to board by the front door instead of the rear door and clash midway in the plane. After they untangle themselves and get to their seats we’re ready to go.

This flight still has a manual safety demonstration which most people ignored but is slightly better than the video demonstration. Let’s hope we don’t go down over the water.

I’ve charted my path to the emergency exit and l have quite a few people before me. I guess there’s more than one way to be last off the plane.

Sometimes you get to pick who you get to sit next to, especially if you are travelling with your partner which this time l am, but in a three-seat arrangement, you have no control over who takes that third seat.

We are lucky this time because it will not become a tight squeeze but unfortunately, our fellow traveller has a cold and in a confined space for several hours it could turn out to be a problem.

The flight is smooth, the snacks edible, but there is no liquor service like the full-service rival but that might be a good thing.

No air rage on this flight.

Time flies, pardon the pun, and we have arrived. Even though it took forever for the baggage to be delivered we still got home early.

Until the next time, we fly.

 

Searching for locations: Hong Kong Park, Hong Kong

After arriving in Hong Kong early in the morning, we were taken to the Hong Kong Conrad Hotel where we were staying for several days.  We had a short sleep, then I took the grandchildren for a walk and we found Hong Kong Park, with a Fountain Plaza, waterways, a waterfall, and turtles.

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Part of the fountain area.

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Turtles resting on a rock

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A turtle about to go in the water

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The waterfall.

It was a pleasant surprise to find this park in such a highly built-up area.

Nearby was a multi-story underground shopping center that was huge, and very conveniently accessible from our hotel.

A movie review – Call of the Wild

It’s always a pleasure to go and see a movie with Harrison Ford in it, whether beating off a hoard of crooked treasure hunters or just being a grumpy old man.

In this, he was playing his grumpy old man.

But it’s the dog, Buck, a cross between a St Bernard and a Scotch Collie that steals the show.

And rightly so.

Everyone else came to see Harrison Ford, who comes in and out of the picture until the end.  I came to see the dog, whom I think might well be nicknamed ‘the great galuka’ though I have no idea where that name originated.

Certainly, for sheer size and energy he bounds his way across the countryside, from his home in California to the wilds of the Yukon and Alaska, from being a spoilt household pet, then a sled dog and part of a group of other dogs, delivering mail, then a sled dog for a cruel gold seeker, to finally becoming a companion for an old man, yes, Harrison Ford, who saved him from a certain death, who seeks to get away from everyone and everything.

The end is sad in one sense but uplifting in another, nor did I find any part of it slow-moving or boring.

Solid performances all round.

I give it four stars out of five.

A Movie Review – Emma

This is not the first time I have seen a movie about Jane Austen’s Emma. The last one starred Gwyneth Paltrow who did a reasonable job of being the self-appointed matchmaker. In this new edition, the role of Emma went to Anya Taylor-Joy whom I thought was the better of the two.

In every one of these period pieces, it is always a treat to see who’s been roped into an acting role from a long list of old and new British television and film stars.

I was particularly pleased with Bill Nighy’s rendition of Mr. Woodhouse’s role, the running gag of searching for those invisible draughts, and strategic use of the fireside panels.

Rupert Graves, as Mr. Weston, the recipient of Emma’s matchmaking prowess (or otherwise) was also a welcome addition to what was an almost flawless selection of cast members.

But, other than the familiar plotline that included attempted matchmaking and the exercise of privilege, two things stood out. Johnny Flynn’s rendition of Mr. Knightley didn’t sit well with me as I kept going back to previous actors who filled the role, and who were in my opinion, better, and the other, the treatment of the clergy.

It seems to me that Jane Austen didn’t have much time for them because both in this and in Pride and Prejudice, the role seemed to require a buffoon rather than someone sensible. Perhaps it was best portrayed as such as it added some comic light relief from some of the more stodgy moments.

I give it a three out of five stars.

Searching for locations: Salzburg, Austria

Along with My Fair Lady, another of my favorite musicals was Sound of Music and having seen it a number of times over the years, it had conjured up a number of images of Salzburg in my mind, and with them a desire to go there.  We had been to Salzburg once before, an overnight train stop between Vienna and Innsbruck, an afterthought, but what we saw then was reason enough to come back later and spend several days.

A pity then the day we arrived, and for much of our stay, it rained.  But, like hardened travelers, very little stops us from doing anything, and particularly sightseeing.

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza – The Pitter in a very well-appointed room.  Breakfast included, it was a great way to start the day.  The afternoon we arrived we went for a short walk to the old city passing through the Mirabelle gardens with the Pegasus Fountain, Rose Garden, and Dwarves Garden.  Later we discovered that the archway had been used in part of the filming of Sound of Music.

We took the Festungsbahn funicular railway up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg, dating back to 1077, and the largest fortress still standing in Europe.  We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering through the rooms and exhibits and then had lunch at a café, the Salzburg Fortress Café, that overlooked the countryside.  This was where we were introduced to Mozart Gold Chocolate Cream added to our coffee.

It led us to search for the product which we eventually found in a confectionary store, Holzemayr in the Alter Markt.  Not only sis we find the Gold liqueur there was also a dark chocolate variety as well.  We bought a whole box to bring back with us, as well as a number of other chocolates including Victor Schmidt Austrian Mozart Balls, a delicious chocolate and marzipan combination.

With another afternoon to spare we visited the Salzburg Residence which previously housed Salzburg’s ruling prince-archbishops.  We visited the reception rooms and living quarters, as well as the Gallery.  It is as ornate as any of the palaces in Austria, resplendent with furnishings and paintings.  After that, the visit to Mozart’s birthplace was something of an anticlimax.

But, what we were in Salzburg for, the Sound of Music tour, and the places we visited:

The Mirabelle gardens, where Maria sang Do Re Mi in front of the gates to the gardens.  We spent some time here before and after the tour, and also has a look inside the Mirabelle Palace, which is not open to the public as it is the city administrative offices.

Leopoldskron Palace where the boating scene was filmed as well as exteriors.  They were not allowed to film inside the place and were only allowed to use the exterior.  An interesting tidbit of information, one of the children nearly drowned.

Heilbrunn palace is now home to the gazebo where Rolf and Leisl sang their song, ‘16 going on 17’.  The interesting part of this was the fact the Gazebo used to film the scene was much larger than the actual Gazebo on display.

The walkway from the fortress back to the old city passes Nonnberg Abbey where Maria was a novice, and where the opening scenes were filmed.  A number of scenes were filmed here, including the song ‘Maria’ in the courtyard.  The tour only showed the exterior of the Abbey.

Salzburg lake district where panorama and picnic scenes were filmed.  Even on the dullest of days, during which throughout our tour in continually rained, the scenery was still magnificent.

Mondsee church, where the wedding scenes were filmed.  It was surprising just how small the church really is.  It was also a stop to have afternoon tea or some ‘famous’ apple strudel.

Needless to say, we watched Sound of Music straight after the tour and managed to pick out all of the places we had been to.  The only downside to the tour, singing along to the songs.  I’m sorry, but I do not sing, and some of those that were, well, I say no more.

Buying a new car, I’d rather go to the dentist

Buying a new car is an experience most of us would regard as a chore at best and a waste of valuable time at worst.

It would be a lot easier if the salespeople actually treated you with the respect you deserved. The problem is, while most of them are polite and affable, underneath that seemingly ‘I’m your best friend’ countenance, is the under the breath uttered words ‘how much can I make from this deal’.

And that’s the truth of it.

It all comes down to money.

How much your willing to pay, and how much they can screw out of you.

Sorry, but after years and years of dealing with these people, I have built up considerable cynicism

But, once again, it’s time to go out into the shady underworld of car sales to get a new car, or as the case will be this time, a new SUV.

We don’t have a lot of money to spend this time, so the choices are going to be limited, and unlike years past when I could used the business to pay for a lease, and therefore watch the salesman load the price of the car to make it seem like we were getting more for our trade in that it was worth, this time it’s a straight cash transaction.

First thing we notice is that all the advertised prices are loaded for people buying with finance. So, we say there’s no trade in and we’re paying cash, and they say the price is the same.

Liars.

We haven’t event got out of the block, and they’re barefaced lying to us.

We have a short list of three. At all three showrpoms, when approached with no trade in pay by cash deal, all said it wouldn’t affect the price.

A good enough reason to just walk away, but that had the effect of getting, at the very least, their attention. Never seen a salesman yet who would let a customer just walk away. Perhaps they do a deal, they say.

OK, so now we know there is some movement on the price. Not much, but it’s a start.

First car is a Honda CRV. In reality there’s really only a few models, equating to basic, better, best, and top of the range. Prices run from 28000 to 50000 before the dealar starts loading the price with imaginary costs like the ubiquitous dealer delivery charge, otherwise known as guaranteed profit.

Whatever else the salesman can bluff out of the customer adds to his commission and the unwritten profit margin per car that’s been set by the manager.

You can always tell who the manager is, he’s the one all the sales people go to when pretending to to discuss any further allowances in the price ostensibly to the advantage of the customer.

It’s more likely a discussion about the footy picking competition, if it’s winter, or the next bbq if it’s summer. Salesman of the month is the host.

Sometimes they’ll find a few dollars or thrown in a freebie, but most times there’s no change.

That’s when you walk.

It’s where you discover that their so-called best price is nothing like what they can do if it means losing a sale. Or not.

You have to be prepared to walk away, even if there’s no prospect of a better deal, and even if that’s the car you want. There are other dealers.

There are also other cars. I’ve found it’s not a good idea to get hooked on one particular car. It’s why we have a shortlist of three. I could live with any one of them.

The Honda people are affable, the salesman shows us the car, gives an little talk about the features, and we go for a test drive.

It fits the criteria, and has a few bells and whistles, like the screen, and safety features. The cost to get those extra bells and whistles might be too much.

We then go to see the Rav4.

First thing we learn, that Toyota is the biggest car company in the world, and the largest seller of vehicles in the world.

Relevance?

Well I suppose that’s meant to make us feel better about the car, that Toyota wouldn’t be the biggest and best if they sold crummy cars.

Not buying it. Any car manufacturer can make a lemon, and happily sell it to an unsuspecting purchaser.

We get a run down of the car on a large interactive t.v. screen. It certainly had the features were looking for, has the same 4 types of models, and roughly the same pricing.

The test drive proved that it may serve our on road requirements. Similarly we are told that there’s not a lot of room to move on price, surprise surprise, but one more advantage, fixed price servicing that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

The third contender is a Nissan X Trail. The same model structure but with a slight difference, there’s a special on giving the second top model a little more incentive to buy. Still, at 40000 it’s more than we were expecting to pay.

But..

The first experience with sales is not only disappointing, it was unprofessional. Never had someone on the floor apparently know nothing about the products being sold.

I walk out.

My wife doesn’t, mainly because one of the real salesmen had noticed the problem, and wasn’t going to let a sale slip through his fingers.

He does know his stuff, and the sales experience is one of the best we’ve had.

But…

Still can’t get past the first impression.

So after spending about 4 hours on the quest, it’s time to made a decision.

Or not.

Perhaps it’s time to simply think about it.

My preference was for the Nissan X-trail but it’s remarkable how a bad experience in a car dealership can put you off. Now it’s back to one of the other two.

In order to make an informed decision I think we need to look at the basic model and it’s bottom line features.

In that regard, The Rav4 wins hands down.

So, we’re going with the Rav4, and back to the dealership for round two