Conversations with my cat – 28

20160928_161422

This is Chester.  He thinks it’s still winter.

It’s not, but how do you tell a cat who thinks he knows everything.

Today, we are having a battle over his bed.  The blanket needs washing.  I tell him, in as polite a manner I can muster,m there is an aroma that is bordering on unpleasant.

He tells me he can’t smell anything, and refuses to budge.

I suspect not since he is now used to it.

Not even the tempting offer of stretching out on the end of our bed has any effect.

I guess it’s the time from Plan B.

I give him one last chance.

It’s outright defiance now.

I go down to the laundry, fetch the green bucket, half fill it with hot water, and return.

He’s looking warily at me now, knowing something has changed since he last saw me.

Ah, yes, what’s that bucket for?

CAll me mean, I tell him, but nothing moves faster than a scalded cat.

Not that I would, but I think he now understands the subtle art of compromise.

 

 

Travel is part of the story – Salzburg, looking for Maria and the Von Trapps

Many years ago I stumbled across a thriller writer by the name of Helen McInnes and one of those stories was set in Salzburg.

Reading about a place in such a setting and with all manner of intrigue going on, is it any wonder we might want to go and look for ourselves?

We have, twice, once as a whistle-stop between Vienna and Innsbruck, such a quick visit we had time for lunch, a dash around the old town, a look in the river, and get back on the train after a night in what might have been a gloomy dark hotel.

The second w3as longer, and yes, the Sound of Music tour was on the list.

So was the incessant rain, but in that sort of picturesque countryside, how could it be anything but both magical and mystical?

 

Along with My Fair Lady, another of my favourite 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 Liesl 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.

Travel is part of the story – New York, it’s a wonderful town

I think if there was any other city in the world I would want to live, it’s New York.  It is so large, it is so atmospheric, and it doesn’t matter when in the year, there is always a reason to be out and about.

It is why the city features so often on my stories.

 

It is an amazing coincidence that both times we have flown into New York, it is the day after the worst snow storms.

The first time, we were delayed out of Los Angeles and waited for hours before the plane left.  We had a free lunch and our first introduction to American hamburgers and chips.  Wow!

I had thought we had left enough time with connections to make it in time for New Year’s Eve, like four to five hours before.  As it turned out, we arrived in New York at 10:30, and thanks to continual updating with our limousine service, he was there to take us to the hotel.

The landing was rough, the plane swaying all over the place and many of the passengers were sick.  Blankets were in short supply!

We made it to the hotel, despite snow, traffic, and the inevitable problems associated with NYE in New York, with enough time to throw our baggage in the room, put on our cold wear, and get out onto the streets.  We could not go to Times Square but finished up at Central Park with thousands of others, in time to see the ball drop on a big screen, exchange new year’s greetings, and see the fireworks.

Then, as luck would have it, we were able to get an authentic New York hotdog, just before the police moved the vendor on, and our night was complete.

 

The second time we were the last plane out of Los Angeles to New York.  After waiting and waiting, we boarded, and then started circling the airport waiting for takeoff permission.  We stopped once to refuel, and then the pilot decided we were leaving.

This time we took our eldest granddaughter, who was 9 at the time, and she thought it was an adventure.  It was.

When we landed, we were directed to an older part of the airport, a disused terminal.  We were not the only plane to land, at about one in the morning, but one of about four.  The terminal building filled very quickly, and we were all waiting for baggage.  The baggage belts broke so there were a lot of porters bring the baggage in by hand.

One part of the terminal was just a sea of bags.  To find ours our granddaughter, who, while waiting, sat on top of the cabin baggage playing her DSI until the announcement our bags were available, walked across the top of the bags till she found them.  Thankfully no one was really looking in her direction.

Once again we kept our limousine service updated, and, once we knew what terminal we were at, he came to pick us up.  This time we arrived some days before NYE, so there was not so much of a rush.  We got to the hotel about 3:30 in the morning, checked in, and then went over the road to an all-night diner where we ordered hamburgers and chips.

And a Dr. Pepper.

 

And, just getting there, as you can see,  is a story in itself.

Can we believe what we read, and what we hear, even what we see?

Information comes at us at a million miles an hour, reams and reams of it.  Some of it may be true, however, the vast majority of it might not be, but something else, conjecture.

We are all guilty of it, we read something, and then put our own slant on it.  It comes from upbringing, education, and the people around us.  There’s an awful lot of influences around us that shapes the way we interpret what we see, what we hear, and what we read.

This is, of course, literary gold for a writer, particularly if you are a journalist.

Everyone has an agenda, whether they choose to admit it or not.  Sometimes circumstances might get in the way, and then they will have to find a way to influence others to knowingly or u8nknowingly support their p[oint of view.

It sounds a lot like politics, doesn’t it?

This sort of thing not only happens in government, but it also happens in private industry.  Everyone to be successful must find a way to push their product or service, sometimes by any and all means possible.

In both cases, there’s more than just a story to be told, and if people learned the truth of how a certain product finally made it into the marketplace, they might not necessarily buy it.

Conspiracy theories abound, pharmaceutical companies rigging test results knowing their product is faulty or using questionable test subjects, shady government agencies running smear campaigns on people who may have influence in an election, leaders of government and private industry misusing statistics and quoting them as fact.

Some even say the moon landings were a hoax.  Given how advanced the magic of the movies is these days, even back then, who’s to say it’s real or not.

Someone always knows the truth.  It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.

And it will provide writers with a rich vein of plotlines until the end of time.

That’s two days of my life I won’t get back

Yep…

I just spent 26 and a half hours in planes and in airport terminals getting home, and lost two days in the process.  The 15th of January just didn’t exist for us.

This is what happens when you fly from Vancouver in Canada to Brisbane Australia, via Shanghai.  The thing is, everywhere way, way overseas is a two-stop run.  We have to break our journey somewhere, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and for the sake of managing delays at the originating end, we usually end up with a mid airports stay of five to ten hours.

It all means that when you finally arrive in Australia, you are tired, and look it.  I feel sorry for the Immigration officials who must rarely see people looking good on their arrival.

This time we were fortunate to get back in the morning.  To save being picked up by relatives we arranged for a limousine service, and it worked out well.

I couldn’t say the same for some of the pickup services overseas, but that was more the fault of the travel agent here than anything else.

It only reinforced my thoughts on travel agents, some are excellent, and some are complacent, relying too much on travel wholesalers whose knowledge of the products they sell is appalling.

The original bookings were fine, the agent we used knew her stuff.  But she left and someone else took over, and not so good I’m afraid.

However…

On the whole, it was an incredible expedition, from temperatures of 30 plus celsius to temperatures of -21 degrees Fahrenheit, and rarely above 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The highlight:  Lake Louise in Canada.  Everyone should see this place in Winter at least once in their lifetime.  Certainly, my wife’s 65th birthday, spent there, was something she will never forget.

And the sleigh ride, in -14 or -15 degrees, well, we might be eligible to be declared start staring mad, but seeing the frozen waterfall was just another of those magical moments that reinforces why we should be preserving the planet, not trying to destroy it.

But…

We’re back home and glad to be so.

 

 

Time Wasting

Have you ever wondered how much of your life you have spent

a) waiting for a doctor’s surgery or hospital appointment, and

b) waiting on the end of the phone to reach customer service or a public servant.

In the first instance, I have had a lot of recent experience with injured children and spouse, and, more recently myself.

What bothers me is that they give you a time and place and issue all the threats around the place if you don’t turn up on time, but it seems to be perfectly ok if they are late.

It could be for some perfectly logical reason but most of the time they don’t tell you why they’re running late, and sometimes don’t even apologize.

Then there are the chairs they make you sit in, obviously specially designed so you do not get comfortable, especially in hospitals.

But the most infuriating aspect?  Just how small the waiting room is and how often it is overcrowded with people also waiting to see a doctor.

They ask if we remain respectful but after an hour and a half in those chairs and not treating us with that same respect they ask for, I’m surprised I have only witnessed one case of the angry patient.

In the second instance, there are two circumstances I take issue with.

The first is where you have to select from a menu and what you want isn’t one of the menu items and there’s no catch-all just disconnection, and

After waiting patiently on the line for up to thirty minutes or more you hear the connection, you think you are about to get to an agent and the call disconnects.

That is only one step removed from being connected … back at the selection menu and then sent to the back of the queue.

I’m sorry, but this technology is no advancement but I doubt if we will get back to the ‘old days’.

Of course, there is that other major advancement in telephone answering technology, voice recognition.  I’ve been on the end of it, and quite frankly, it just doesn’t understand me.

Odd, I Know, because I speak very good English with no accent.  Perhaps that’s the problem.

I can’t wait for the first humanoid robots.  I hope they can understand me better than the inhuman phones do!

Things I’ve learned while away

Probably the main one is that we should appreciate living in Australia more than we do.

Why?

We do not have many of the problems that exist in countries like America and Canada.  Our politicians, or as they are called here lawmakers, are stupid, but they do not hold workers to ransom to score points.

We do not have the multicultural problems at home like there are in both Canada and America.  Perhaps that’s because we live on an island, and there’s no need to build walls.  We just have people arriving in boats.  Or used to.

But politically, we have developed a universal attitude that all our politicians are like children, you only have to read Hansard to discover how childlike they are, and nothing ever gets done because we have a three-year political cycle.

Best of all is the political campaigning at election time.  Each side blames the other for the lack of progress and promises to make it better.  And once elected, blames the other side as the reason why they can’t.  The end result, another three years of nothing happening.

I can empathize with everyone in America.  Your politicians or lawmakers are the same as everywhere else, blame the other side, and bury their heads in the sand.

But…

At least everything is cheaper than at home, or almost.  Lego in Canada is dearer.  Or perhaps I should say you never can tell what the price of anything is in Canada because there’s the price on the shelf, then the one that ends up on the receipt at the cash register, invariably higher.

At home, the price on the tag is THE price.

Petrol is cheaper, though out in some areas it can be very expensive, and particularly on Manhattan island, where the price is three times that in New Jersey.

Books, which is one of the reasons I was excited about coming, are dearer than at home, much dearer in fact, so I’m leaving disappointed.

As for the tourist experience, we have had only one bad experience, and that was in an Avis office in New York where the black woman behind the counter called me ‘stupid’ in front of other customers, for breaking the GPS which she did not think to check before giving it to us.

It was a case of treating foreign white trash with contempt, and it was amusing, not annoying.

It was the only bad experience, and every other person, no matter what nationality were the epitome of the best ambassadors their respective countries could offer.  I have nothing but respect for people who sometimes work in very unappreciated positions, but all of that can easily be undone by one person.

This time it did not.  I just will never use Avis in New York ever again.

There’s more positives, but this can wait for another time.