In every town, in every country…

The Railway Hotel

20191002_122507

It seems to me that in a lot of towns where the railway passes through, and there’s a station, there is a ubiquitous Railway Hotel.

And, for some reason, they are all very old, as if they were built when the railway first went through, and it was the nearest hotel to the station.

In some railway towns, there’s more than one hotel, because I’m sure the Railway Hotel did actually fill up, and people had to stay somewhere else.

I’ve stayed in one or two over the years, and they are monuments to the past, a glimpse into how the notion of grand hotels was, a hundred years ago.

Now, they’re just tired.

Peeling or fading wallpaper, threadbare and stained carpets, creaking floorboards, staircases that were once grand, but now don’t quite feel as solid as they used to be.

There’d be no sneaking upstairs because there’s always two or three stairs that creak.

And what’s that interesting aroma that seems to permeate everywhere?  Brass polish.  Wood polish.  Or just the remnants of the last meal; was that cabbage?

There’s always a lounge with a huge fire burning in winter, and there’s nothing like the warmth and smell of burning wood.  All the better to toast marshmallows!

The dining room had the wooden walls, the wooden floors and the wooden tables with crisply starched tablecloths and silverware that’s been polished every day for a hundred years.  Here you are served from a limited menu that has the basics and plenty of it,  Roast beef, lamb, or chicken, potatoes, carrots, mash potatoes, and beans and peas, and gravy that’s to die for.

Dining in that room is still an experience, and perhaps more so than the new hotel’s soulless restaurants with cordon bleu meals, sometimes scraps on a very large plate.

Give me a Railway Hotel any day.

Searching for locations: Lake Louise, Canada

A sleigh ride wasn’t the first activity that came to mind, but that first day we saw the sleighs lining up and thought it might be a bit of a lark.

It was New Year’s Eve and we booked a 2pm sleigh ride.  I figured any later we’d probably freeze to death.  The ride was for about 45 minutes, out around the edge of the lake and back.

Rides were on the hour and sometimes run at night.

We arrived at the departure point about 15 minutes before the ride and watched those who had been on the ride before come back looking somewhat frozen.  The only covering you had provided was a red blanket.

Wisely we put on many layers of clothing, hats, and gloves.

We managed to get a seat for ourselves where the maximum per seat was three.  The blanket wasn’t the thickest.

It was cold, and according to my phone, about minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  You could feel it, and it was lucky we were not moving fast.

 At the halfway point, we went out onto the lake to turn around.  It gave us a chance to take a photo of the sleigh, and the horses pulling it.  I felt sorry for the horses out in the cold.

As we turned around, we got to see a frozen waterfall.

A writer’s experience – this will go in a book

New York is amazing place, filled with a multitude of experiences that often you have to go looking for, or, as in the case of the Brooklyn Diner, stumble over when out for a walk around the block, a very large block I might add.

This is one of those surprise discoveries.

On an early morning walk, I discovered the Brooklyn Diner, a small restaurant tucked away in a street not far from Columbus Circle, perhaps a piece of history from the American past.

After all, if you’re going to take in the sights, sounds, and food of a country what better way to do it than visiting what was once a tradition.

This one was called the Brooklyn Diner.  It had a combination of booths and counter sit down, though the latter was not a very big space, so we opted for a booth.

The object of going to a Diner is the fact they serve traditional American food, which when you get past the hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, takes the form of turkey and chicken pot pies among a variety of other choices.

Still looking for a perfectly cooked turkey, something I’ve never been able to do myself, I opted for the Traditional Turkey Lunch, which the menu invitingly said was cooked especially at the diner and was succulent.  I couldn’t wait.

We also ordered a hamburger, yes, yet another, and a chicken pot pie, on the basis the last one I had in Toronto was absolutely delicious (and cooked the same way since the mid-1930s)

While waiting we got to look at a slice of history belonging to another great American tradition, Baseball, a painting on the wall of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets field, long since gone from their home.

The Turnkey lunch looked like this

which didn’t seem to be much, and had this odd pasta slice on the plate, but the turkey was amazing and lived up to the menu description.

The Chicken Pot Pie looked like this

And looked a lot larger in reality than the photo shows.

But, sadly while it was not bad, it was a little dry, and could possibly do with using the more succulent thigh part of the chicken.

All of this was washed down by Long Island Ice Teas and Brooklyn Lager.

AS for the Diner experience, it’s definitely a 10 out of 10 for me.

Virtual flying

I’d like to say that I’m currently on a  Cathay Pacific flight to somewhere. but I’m not.

I was going through a lot of my old photographs on devices that have been mothballed by the march of time, this being a Samsung Galaxy Tab and at the time we were inseparable.

It has been to three separate continents and countless countries, and written far more words than there are miles to the moon and back, a rather quaint measure that get’s used a lot.

And of course now I have to and look up just how many miles that is:  238,855.

OK, then it’s more like 10 times that over the years.  And, no, I’m not going to go back over everything I’ve written since Noah launched the ark and find out.

It has now been replaced with the latest Galaxy Tab, and I haven’t yet been seduced to the dark side, and bought and Ipad, even though my other half has one.  In fact, she has the trifecta, an i-pad, an i-phone, and an i-watch.

Once, when we were in Singapore I nearly bought an i-pod, but even in the cheapest electronics store they were still as dear as they were back home.  That was where I finally realized duty-free was just two words and no basis in fact.  These days, I’ve found most things at duty-free stores can be found cheaper in a normal store.

So, my virtual flight is to Hong Kong. 

Unfortunately due to the new Chinese law over Hong Kong, and the fact the Chinese hate Australians, or so we’re told by members of their embassy here, quite intensely, there is no way I would ever go to Hong Kong again.

I’m guessing most of the 26 million potential visitors who live here will feel the same.

Good thing then the plane just turned around to come back home.  Some sort of defect, they say, with the landing gear.

Good thing then I’m located at the rear of the plane.

Searching for locations: Driving in ice and snow, Canada

This morning started with a visit to the car rental place in Vancouver.  It reinforced the notion that you can be given the address and still not find the place.  It happened in Washington where it was hiding in the back of the main railway station, and it happened again in Vancouver when it was hidden inside a hotel.

We simply walked straight past it.  Pity there wasn’t a sign to let people know.

However…

We went in expecting a Grand Jeep Cherokee and walked out with a Ford Flex, suitable for three people and four large suitcases.  It actually seats 7, but forget the baggage, you’d be lucky to get two large suitcases in that configuration.

It is more than adequate for our requirements.

Things to note, it was delivered with just over a quarter of a tank of gas, and it had only done about 11,000 km, so it’s relatively new.  It’s reasonably spacious, and when the extra seats are folded down, there is plenty of baggage space.

So far, so good.

We finally leave the hotel at about half-past ten, and it is raining.  It is a simple task to get on Highway 1, the TransCanada Highway, initially, and then onto Highway 5, the Coquihalla Highway for the trip to Kamloops.

It rains all the way to the top of the mountain, progress hampered from time to time by water sprays from both vehicles and trucks.  The rain is relentless.  At the top of the mountain, the rain turns into snow and the road surface to slush.  It’s 0 degrees, but being the afternoon, I was not expecting it to turn to ice very quickly.

On the other side of the mountain, closer to Kamloops, there was sleet, then rain, then nothing, the last 100kms or so, in reasonably dry conditions.

Outside Kamloops, and in the town itself, there was evidence of snow recently cleared, and slushy roads.  Cars in various places were covered in snow, indicating the most recent falls had been the night before.

We’re staying at the Park Hotel, a heritage building, apparently built in the later 1920s.  In the style of the time, it is a little like a rabbit warren with passages turning off in a number of directions, and showing it is spread across a number of different buildings.

It has the original Otis elevator that can take a maximum of four passengers, and a sign on the wall that says “no horseplay inside the elevator” which is a rather interesting expression that only someone of my vintage would understand.  And, for those without a sense of humor, you definitely couldn’t fit a horse in it to play with.

The thing is, how do you find a balance between keeping the old world charm with modern-day expectations.  You can’t.  Some hotels try valiantly to get that balance.  Here, it is simply old world charm, which I guess we should be grateful for because sooner rather than later it’s going to disappear forever.

In my writer’s mind, given the importance of the railways, this was probably a thriving place for travelers, and once upon a time, there were a lot more hotels like this one.

Searching for locations: Florence, Italy

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 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.

But, in reality, I want to simply soak up the atmosphere, relax, eat the pasta and drink the endless supply of Moretti’s.

Past conversations with my cat – 82

This is Chester.

It’s been a long summer, and it’s not only the heat that’s been bothering him.

It’s been school holidays, and along with many households where it’s not possible for parents to go on holidays, it falls to the grand parents to mind children. It’s a job I take seriously, and also a time to be spent with them before they grow up and disappear into the adult world.

Chester, however, only sees it from a cat’s point of view. To him, they’re trouble, but perhaps not without reason. They did torment him something terrible when they were young.

Of course, what he fails to realise is that children when young don’t quite understand animal etiquette, that is they should be treated with care.

But, I said in their defence, when you were a kitten you were an absolute monster, sinking your claws into everything, ruined lounge chairs and curtains, unravelled balls of wool, and, this was the cruncher, refused to chase mice.

Of course, as usual, when the arguement goes against him, those eyes close, and he pretends he’s asleep. It doesn’t fool me. But once that happens, no one scores any points.

And something else I’ve noticed, his memory is fading.

Of course, I didn’t tell him that they don’t officially go back till Wednesday, so he’s in for a surprise tomorrow morning.

Searching for locations: The canals of Suzhou, China

This morning is a boat ride that will take us along a small portion of the main canal, and we head through a number of back streets, to a landing where there are a number of boats all vying with each other to get us passengers on boats.

But…

These boats don’t have a wharf to tie up to and then put out a stable gangplank.  No.  They just more into a concrete step and you take your life in your hands getting on.  One wrong step and you’re in the canal.  And not a very clean one at that.

That’s if another boat doesn’t come along and bumps you, knocking you off balance.  We managed not to lose anyone in boarding the vessel.

This is where we get on the boat

We go along what appears to be downstream towards another larger canal, past tree-lined streets until the canal narrows and we’re looking at the backs of houses, which look very dilapidated.

And the canals?  Well, it’s not quite like it is in Venice

Though some parts of the canal look better than others

What doesn’t bear thinking about is the electrical wiring which is a nightmarish spider web of cables going off in all directions.  How anyone could troubleshoot problems is beyond me.

We pass under a number of bridges, and then, about 30 minutes after leaving, we reach a larger canal and do a 180-degree turn, and head back to a drop off point the will enable us to walk through a typical everyday Chinese market for food and the other items.

This drop off point is much the same as the starting point, a concrete step which is as hazardous as the first.  At least we don’t have to compete with other boats for the landing spot.

We take a leisurely stroll down a small section of Pingjiang Road with small shops on either side, selling all manner of goods

but my interest is in the food and the prices, which at times seem quite expensive for so-called local people, so maybe because the tourists go down this street every day, the prices have been inflated accordingly.

I find it rather disappointing.

We walk to the bridge, go under to the other side crossing the canal and find the coffee shop which is also the meeting place.

So…

When is a coffee shop not a coffee shop, when it takes an eternity to make a cup of coffee, we waited 25 minutes?

We also ordered beef black pepper rice and it took 20 minutes before it arrived, but it was well worth the wait.  Strands of perfectly cooked beef with onion, carrot, and capsicum, with a very peppery and spicy sauce, with a side of boiled rice.

A pizza was ordered too but it did not arrive at all before we left.

Where am I today?

Long after you have been on a holiday and forgotten about it, basically those places you visited are just a distant memory.
Let’s face it unless something calamitous happens to remind you, and generally not in a good way, those places just disappear as distant memories.
And, let’s face it, in this current hectic world we live in,  those placers have gone 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, and that, for me, is on the shower.

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

As for going where I haven’t been before…

A lot of locations for stories are based on places that I’ve visited.  So, any time I’m on holiday, I’m also discreetly observing, and noting, the places with an ulterior motive.

At some point in time, they’ll finish up in a story.

Places like Florence, London, Paris, and Venice have all been used in recent stories.

Of course, places change, and there are some that I can’t get to, so it’s useful having Google Maps and Street View.  These can either make up for lack of memory and a refresher.

Especially if you need to visit Africa.  Parts of my stories are set in Nigeria, not exactly a place I would go, no matter how much I wanted to get the lie of the land, nor would I go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda, maybe, but in investigating locations, it is interesting to discover that places like Kenya and Rwanda are reasonably safe.  Uganda is more or less the same, but whether I’d visit, as inviting as it might be to see the wildlife (animals that is) I’m thinking Google Maps will do for now.

And as a matter of curiosity when I was a child in school most of those countries were British colonies and held a deep fascination for any child.

How much has changed since?