Searching for locations: Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

It was recently topical because of the Commonwealth Games, but we have been to the Gold Coast on many occasions and nearly always stayed at the Hilton.

Nearly all of the photos here are taken from floor 13 through to 45, some close to the ocean, others facing north, and west, towards the hinterland.

Below is one of the main beaches, where the typical sun, sand, and surf pretty well sums it up.  Been ion the water a few times myself, and it is amazing how warm it can be on some days, and how cold it can be on others.

And a surfer’s paradise it sure is!

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At the bottom, the start of the shopping centers and eateries.  The is more different types of food there that can be counted on the fingers and toes together.

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The beach just to the north, and where the market stalls set up at night.

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Further north, through the highrises, and far, far into the distance towards Brisbane.

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North, again, looking up Cavill Avenue.

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South, showing highrises and the Q Tower.

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South, taken from the Q Tower, the coastline to Coolangatta dotted with high rise apartment blocks.

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The two towers behind the Grand Chancellor, are the twin towers of the Hilton Hotel.

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From the Q Tower, looking towards the canal residential precinct.

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Yes, we were looking for whales, no we didn’t see any.  The ocean, though, was unusually calm.

Searching for locations: The Opera House, Paris, France

This was one of the more interesting experiences for the grandchildren as they were, as all young girls are, interested in ballet.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit which included some time watching ballet practice.

I could not convince anyone to take the elevator back down to the ground floor as it was suspected we might be ‘attacked’ by the ‘phantom’.  Certainly, the elevator was very old and I think at the time it was being repaired.

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Part of the Grand Staircase in Palais Garnier Opera de Paris

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The ceiling above the main staircase.  The ceiling above the staircase was painted by Isidore Pils to depict The Triumph of ApolloThe Enchantment of Music Deploying its CharmsMinerva Fighting Brutality Watched by the Gods of Olympus, and The City of Paris Receiving the Plan of the New Opéra.

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The ceiling of Chagall at the Palais Garnier

On 23 September 1964, the new ceiling of the Opéra Garnier was inaugurated with great pomp.  It was painted by Marc Chagall at the request of André Malraux

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Amphitheatre and Orchestra Pit entrance

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Interior, and doorways to boxes

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Box seats in the auditorium

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Ornate ceilings and columns

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Seating inside the auditorium

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The day we were leaving Paris, was the first night of the Bolshoi Ballet.  My two granddaughters were greatly disappointed at missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime, to see the Bolshoi Ballet at the Paris Opera House.

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But we did get to see the principals practicing.

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.

 

Where am I today?

Long after you have been on a holiday and forgotten about it.
Or, let’s face it, in this current hectic world we live in,  it’s literally the day after you get back.
And, then, the only reminder that you actually had a holiday, is the last of the washing.
What you need are little reminders that you actually went.  This might take the form of postcards or fridge magnets, but these tend to get lost among the everyday collections of bills and children’s paintings, drawings, or certificates.
And, there’s only so much you can stick on the fridge door.
But, there is another way.

If you stay in hotels as most of us do, they always, or nearly always, provide you with several very important items that can give us a little reminder of where we been and the associated memories, whether good or bad, but hopefully good.

The first is a writing pad and pen.  You don’t get much paper on that pad so it’s only good for writing down plot points, if you’re a writer like me, particularly if you’re in an overseas location

The second is the toiletries, like hair shampoo and conditioner, along with other items, like soap and bath gel.  These invariably have the hotel name and sometimes location on them, but often the hotel name is all that is needed.

Of course, some hotels are different, like the Hilton, because every Hilton has the same pen and the same toiletries, so with these hotels, you’re going to have to have a good memory, or as I do, take the pad.  It has the hotel’s address.

With other hotels, like the Bruneschelli in Florence, or the Savoir in Venice, they have their name on both.

Some people will use the toiletries and therefore will not have a keepsake reminder, or they may not see the use in taking the pen or the pad that comes with the room, but I suggest you do.

Then, when you least expect it, there will be that little reminder of where you go been and hopefully, it will bring back good memories

Like today.
I’m in Florence.
Well, for the duration of the shower, that is.

Is it a holiday, or are you just ‘going away’?

Some people we know have come up for a holiday in what could be described as a very touristy location.

But is it for a ‘holiday’?

They have come from one state and are staying in what could be called an apartment, not a hotel.  They are here for a week.

So, they have a kitchen of sorts and can cook their own meals, unlike staying in a hotel room and having to eat out or in the hotel restaurant, and the apartment has a mini laundry.

How much different is this to being at home?

Perhaps we need to have a definition of the word ‘holiday’ and its variations.

A lot of people use the term ‘vacation’.  Others use the term ‘leave’.  Leave’s a difficult term because it can cover a number of types such as annual, sick, and maternity.

But whatever we want to call it, is it when you’re taking some time away from work.

But is it when you go ‘away’, that is to say anywhere but home?

You say, ‘I’m going on vacation.”

We say, “Oh, where are you going?”

Some say camping.  Is that any different than staying in an apartment, or even a holiday house?  Still all the same chores, cooking, cleaning, washing.

Some might say they’re staying with relatives either on the other side of the country or on the other side of the world.
There are those who go camping.  Just mind the bugs, wild animals, and bears.
Some stay in self serve apartments where it’s just like being at home, only somewhere a little different.

But to truly have a holiday in every sense of the word, it seems that can only be achieved by staying in a 5-star hotel, or by going on what is a more recent phenomenon, embarking on an all-inclusive cruise where you don’t have to do anything at all.

For me, I’ll stick to the 5-star hotels.

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.

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.