Waiting, waiting, waiting… and then a variation of the soft shoe shuffle

It seems that we spend nearly as much time waiting as some of us do sleeping.  In fact, I’ve been known to be sleeping while waiting.

What is it in this era of mechanization and computerization that we still have to wait.  Is it the human element that is still holding us back?

But, hang on, isn’t it the human element that creates the mechanization and computerization?  Perhaps we are building in redundancy so that we are not replaced by the very things we are creating to make our lives easier?

We don’t have robots who can perform the same tasks as a GP doctor because we still need the human factor, and since one size does not fit all, no consultation can ever be fit into a specific time frame so there will always be waiting especially as the day wears on.

We cannot automate phone call answering except for the part where you are put in a queue and told your call is important and then you sit there listening to some awful music, seemingly forgotten

There will always be hundreds of calls in a queue for the most important services. or when you need an answer in a hurry, because only a few people are available to answer the phone.  Robots will not be able to answer calls either, because once again, only a real person can respond to the randomness of callers questions.

Artificial intelligence only works in science fiction.

Then there is the time we spend waiting at traffic lights, and then, even when the lights are with us, in traffic jams.  We are still stumped by trying to find an all-conquering answer to moving masses of people, either by the roads or by public transport.

The latter is all too frequently suffering delays and congestion due to the number of services needed and decaying networks and infrastructure, all of which is only going to get worse, with, of course, longer delays and more waiting.

Maybe the answer is to work from home but sadly the internet, that so-called answer to all our off-site networking, is not going to cope, and in fact, in this country, our latest update is a retrograde step on speed and availability, ie more waiting and less work.

Waiting, it seems, we are stuck with it whether we like it or not.  Good thing then our lives are longer.  But, if we delve into the mystery of longer lives now against what they were back when there was less waiting, maybe we still have the same amount of life, and the fact we’re living longer is negated by all the waiting.

I’m sure we didn’t have to wait very long for anything a hundred years ago.

Just saying.

Travel is part of the story, oh, the misery of a bad hotel!

Hotels can also be one of the major let downs of a holiday.

They can also be extensive fodder for writing material.  For the main stories I write, hotel stays feature prominently, and so each experience, no matter how insignificant, is another paragraph in my book of experiences.

So…

If you are going to use a travel agent to pick a hotel for you, make sure you check as much as you can before you see them, 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 have 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 is supposed to treat each guest equally, it’s 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 were once lucky enough to be in the highest hotel loyalty level and this gives us a number of privileges; at times working in our favor, but it is not always the case.

Privilege can sometimes count for nothing.  It often depends on the humor 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 has 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.  And if you’re lucky, at Niagara Falls, it might be that six inches of window space that allows a very limited view of the falls.

Still, why should I complain, you can see the Falls … can you not?

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; given the extortionate cost sometimes it’s better to just forget a car.

It is nothing like the movies, you just do not drive up to the front entrance, get out, hand the keys to the concierge, and expect everything else to happen by magic.

It doesn’t.

One time we waited for over an hour for our luggage to be delivered, and that was after three phone calls to the concierge desk.

Sometimes you can be reasonably near transport, yes, if you could walk the distance (which feels like the length of a marathon) to the nearest bus or tram stop.

The problem is we both have trouble with knees and ankles and walking distances are difficult at the best of times, and for us, it 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.

Also, be wary when a hotel says it is close to public transport.  While that may be true in London, anywhere else and especially in Europe, you could find yourself in the middle of nowhere.

It’s 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 that if you stayed at the Savoy.

So, those front line experiences are fodder for the travel blogger, and people who are also known as road warriors, the true frequent flyers.

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.

 

Travel is part of the story – Firenze (Florence), it’s been around a long, long time

For a writer, a place takes on a whole new meaning as we subconsciously look for locations in which parts of our stories will play out.  Of course, at the time, we have no idea what those parts of stories will be, but notes, mentally and physically, are taken for future reference.

And, unlike the usual tourist, we always see it differently.  I know I do.

Apologies now if I have misspelled any street, piazza or any other names.

The first time we arrived in Florence was by train, from Innsbruck in Austria.  We had been booked into the Hotel Brunelleschi, based on the fact it was built over part of a 12th-century monastery, it was conveniently located, and was a luxury hotel.

We took a taxi, not knowing how far it was, and found it tucked away in a street, via Sant’elisabetta, not far from Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo.  The taxi barely fitted through the streets.  First impressions, it was very old, second impression, the room we were given was amazing, with a view over the main street, and wafting up from a food shop below, the aroma of newly baked waffles.  We had to have one.

Words cannot describe how amazing it was to wake up that first morning and look out at the bright sunshine and blue sky.  We were in for a hot day, but that wasn’t going to deter the tourist in us.  Of course, after we had a great breakfast.  I particularly liked the crispy bacon.

The first place on the list to visit was the Piazza del Duomo, where the cathedral is located, and the Porta del Paradiso.  We went into the church, and also did a side trip down into the crypt.  We did not climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s cupola.  We tried the pizza, and hearing that the gelato was very expensive in the main part of the city, ventured further afield and found a gelato vendor that was inexpensive.  As the day was very hot it was a welcome relief.

The Ponte Vecchio, the bridge that crosses the Arno.  We walked to the bridge, taking in the views up and down the river before crossing to the other side, then back towards the Piazza Santa Croce.  On our most recent visit there was a football competition, Calcio Fiorentino, in progress that had taken over the whole Piazza, and during the day there was a parade where all the teams and others dressed in the historic clothing dating back to the 15th century.

The Galleria dell’Accademia was also high on the list of places to visit, and we left the hotel early as we had heard the queues are long to get in.  They were right.  We were at the end of a very, very long queue stretching back to Via delgi Alfani.  We were in the queue for about an hour and a half and it didn’t seem to move very quickly.

Then some people passing by said that we could go to the Museo Di San Marco, and purchase tickets to enter the gallery at a particular time.  We had also read or heard something similar, and, taking a risk we left the queue and went in search.  We found it at the Piazza San Marco, purchased tickets for 13:30 and had time to have lunch before turning up at the entrance for our timeslot, and sure enough, with others who had also purchased tickets, we went in.

Just out of curiosity I went back to the queue to see when the people in front of us were, and they still had an hour before gaining admission.

We saw everything that was recommended, including the famous statue of David, though I had a lot of trouble taking a photo when people kept walking in front.

The Piazza Della Signoria has a large number of statues, including another of David, the Marzocco, the symbol of Florence, Il Perseo, the fountain of Neptune, Poseidon, Perseus with the head of Medusa, and a hall of statues adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio.

Florence is old, the roads are cobbled and narrow, and there are many trails one can follow and discover something new at the end of every twist and turn.

I have to go back, other than the fact I need a new wallet and belt made from Italian leather.  My wife loves the purses and handbags, also leather, though the scarves have only recently been added to her list of most wanted items.  I want to simply soak up the atmosphere, relax, eat the pasta and drink the endless supply of Moretti’s.

 

Travel is only part of the story – Venice – 2

Venice is definitely a city to explore.  It has an incredible number of canals and walkways, and each time we would start our exploration from St Marks square.

Everyone I have spoken to about exploring Venice has told me how easy it is to get lost.  It has not happened to me, but with the infinite number of ways you can go, I guess it is possible.

We started our exploration of Venice in St Marks square, where, on one side there was the Museo di Palazzo Ducale and, next door, the Basilica di San Marco.  Early morning and/or at high tide, water can be seen bubbling up from under the square, partially flooding it.  I have seen this happen several times.  Each morning as we walked from the hotel (the time we stayed in the Savoia and Jolanda) we passed the Bridge of Sighs.

Around the other three sides of the square are archways and shops.  We have bought both confectionary and souvenirs from some of these stores, albeit relatively expensive.  Prices are cheaper in stores that are away from the square and we found some of these when we walked from St Marks square to the Railway station, through many walkways, and crossing many bridges, and passing through a number of small piazzas.  That day, after the trek, we caught the waterbus back to San Marco, and then went on the tour of the Museo di Palazzo Du which included the dungeons and the Bridge of Sighs from the inside.  It took a few hours, longer than I’d anticipated because there was so much to see.

The next day, we caught the waterbus from Sam Marco to the Ponte di Rialto bridge.  Just upstream from the wharf there was a very large passenger ship, and I noticed there were a number of passengers from the ship on the waterbus, one of whom spoke to us about visiting Venice.  I didn’t realize we looked like professional tourists who knew where we were going.    After a pleasant conversation, and taking in the views up and down the Grand Canal, we disembarked and headed for the bridge, looking at the shops, mostly selling upmarket and expensive gifts, and eventually crossing to the other side where there was a lot of small market type stalls selling souvenirs as well as clothes, and most importantly, it being a hot day, cold Limonata.  This was my first taste of Limonata and I was hooked.

Continuing on from there was a wide street at the end and a number of restaurants where we had lunch.  We had a map of Venice and I was going to plot a course back to the hotel, taking what would be a large circular route that would come out at the Accademia Bridge, and further on to the Terminal Fusina Venezia where there was another church to explore, the Santa Maria del Rosario.

It was useful knowledge for the second time we visited Venice because the waterbus from the Hilton hotel made its first stop, before San Marco, there.  We also discovered on that second visit a number of restaurants on the way from the terminal and church to the Accademia Bridge.

Items to note:

Restaurants off the beaten track were much cheaper and the food a lot different to that in the middle of the tourist areas.

There are a lot of churches, big and small, tucked away in interesting spots where there are small piazza’s.  You can look in all of them, though some asked for a small fee.

Souvenirs, coffee, and confectionary are very expensive in St Marks square.

Travel is only part of the story – Venice – 1

We have visited Venice twice, in 2006 and not so long ago.  Not much had changed from visit to visit.

Instead of staying in a hotel selected by a travel agent, the Savoia and Jolanda on the waterfront of Riva Degli Schiavoni, because I’m a Hilton Honors member, more recently we stayed at the Hilton Molino Stucky.  It was located on an island, Giudecca, and had its own transport from the hotel to St Mark’s Square for a very reasonable one-off charge for the stay.

The first time we visited Venice we took a taxi from the Railway Station.   We had taken the train from Florence to Venice.  A fellow passenger told us that it was a way to see some of the city by the canal, but to be prepared to negotiate a price.

We were not very good negotiators, and it cost 60 Euros.

But, despite the cost, it was worth every Euro because the taxi driver took us by the scenic route, directly from the Station to the doorstep of our hotel.  For the first time in Venice, and you want to see it from the water, a water taxi is the best option.

The first time we stayed at the Savoia and Jolanda Hotel, which was at the time quite old, and the room we had, on the ground floor, was comfortable enough, but being November, they had just stopped using the air conditioning, it was still quite warm, and at times uncomfortable.  There were better rooms, but this was beyond the knowledge of the travel agent, and one of the reasons we stopped using agents to book hotels.

The most recent visit we had driven down from Salzburg to Venice airport where we had to return the hire car.  From there we were intending to take a private water taxi from the airport to the hotel, for an estimated 120 Euros.  We saved our money and took the ACTV public waterbus, from the airport to the hotel, with one-stop.  It took a little over an hour and was equally as scenic.

Our room in the Hilton was on one of the upper levels, floor four, and had a view of the canal, the large passenger ships coming and going, as well as a remarkable view of Venice itself as far up the canal as St Marks Square in one direction, and the port for the passenger ships in the other.

We got to see three or four very large passenger ships come and go, along with a lot of other craft.  I hadn’t realized how busy the waterways, and the Grand Canal, were.

Each evening after a day’s exploring we would end up in the Executive Lounge, and then one of the many restaurants, usually Il Molino for breakfast, and the Rialto Lobby Bar and Lounge for dinner.  After that, it was a stroll down the waterfront taking in the night air, and perhaps to walk off the delicious dinner.

 

Past conversations with my cat – 3

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This is Chester.  Back on the bed.

Another argument lost, another smug ‘I’ve got the better of you, again’ look.

Time to move on, pick a battle I think I can win.

Food.  There’s the old wives tale, that cats love fish, and it’s true to a certain extent.

Chester doesn’t believe fish live in cans or plastic packets, despite how it’s dressed up.  Fresh fish, he’s into it, but there always seems to be a measured reluctance to eat something out of a can.

I think he regards us humans with disdain when our food comes out of a can or packet.

He refuses to eat the leftovers!

Then there’s chicken, or its more expensive neighbor, turkey.

He loves turkey.

I’m sure he’d eat quail and spatchcock too, but no, he’s a cat, and cats have to get used to eating chicken.  We’ve had this discussion, one too many times.

And just for good measure, I told him if he thinks he’s coming to Italy with us, he’d better get used to the idea of eating pasta.

Of course, always with the last word, he said, quite nonchalantly, ‘then you’d better call me Garfield’.

Grrrrrrr.

Past Conversations with my cat – 1

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This is Chester.

Don’t be fooled by the benign expression, I’m getting the ‘your conversation better improve, and quickly’ look.

I guess it’s the talkative Tonkinese in him, tempered by the crabby Siamese part.

But …

We were talking about the state of the world, and he agrees it isn’t looking good, especially for travelers in Europe.  Of course, he is averse to either of us leaving him alone for any length of time, so he would say it was unsafe and we’d better stay at home.hat

I suppose that selfish part comes from the Burmese in him.

However …

I have scratched Germany, Austria, France and England off the list for the time being and consider it’s time to see a lot more of Italy.

We’ve been there several times, to Rome, in summer, to look at the Ancient ruins (Chester was rather impressed when I showed him a picture of the Collosseum), to Florence several times, just for the ambiance, and to Venice simply because we love it.

Then, we have also spent a few days in Tuscany, in an apartment very close to the town center of Greve in Chianti.

Chester, of course, was dismissive, but, he says, if we agree to take him with us …