Location, location, location

And, no, I’m not talking about the television show.

I imagine when considering making a film, a group of people sit around a table and look at the places where a story can be told.  Quite often the story has the locations, and for those seeking to make the film, they have a head start.

Provided there is enough money in the budget to do so.

As a writer, I use travel to find new locations for my stories, but unlike the movie makers, I don’t have any place in mind before I go.

So it that a chicken and egg thing?

When away, I’m always typing little notes into my smartphone in an app called Somnote.  It’s very handy and even allows you to write larger pieces as well.  It’s where most of my blog posts originate because the ideas for these often come out of left field.

And while I’m out., sometimes at very inconvenient moments.

But I digress…again…

I like old world hotels, probably not for their aesthetic value, but because it gives me an idea of what it was like in the past.

And maybe a ghost or two as well, just to liven up things at night.

Dining rooms, particular that of one at Raffles in Singapore, are just dripping with atmosphere, and the time we went, I was waiting for the ghost of the last big cat to come and visit us.

Other than that my imagination ran wild that day.

Other hotels such as one in Lucerne Switzerland, and Kamloops in Canada, were a number of buildings cobbled together with a myriad of passageways and small sets of stairs where presumably the joins of the buildings were.

It was not the first time I was looking for secret passageways.

And small lifts, one that holds two people or one person and two suitcases, are another highlight and are ripe for use in storytelling.  These sorts of elevators exist in smaller hotels, and one in particular, we found in Paris.

It was only four floors, but having to walk instead of us=ing the elevator, was only useful for those who love exercise.

Elevators, old or new are always are a thing of interest, from a writers point of view, such as one in the Paris Opera house, where my granddaughters believed there was a ghost, and looking at it, they may have been right.

They would not get in it.

Another elevator, and perhaps there are a lot more like it, was in an old building in Brisbane, where the stairs wrapped around the elevator shaft and you could see the elevator going up and down,  I guess before they updated it, the old elevator had sides you could look out (and those on the stairs look ib).

Excellent inspiration for all manner of plotlines and that’s just using an elevator.

Try this for size, outrunning the elevator to the top.  Not so hard as old elevators were not the fastest means of getting to your floor.

If you want a fast elevator, go to the empire state building and head to the lookout.  THose elevators are fast.

Love the ones with the iron foldable doors that require you to do a few months pumping iron, just so you can open and close that heavy and sometimes miscreant door.

And just to get your imagination jumping, think about the walkways at some of London underground railways.   If you know what I’m talking about, how many chase scenes can you write just from one walk?

Travel is part of the story – Paris, there are so many stories that could be told

We have been to Paris a number of times over the years.

The first was at the end of a whirlwind bus tour, seven countries in seven days or something like that.  It was a relief to get to Paris and stay two nights if only to catch our breath.

I remember three events from that tour, the visit to the Eiffel Tower, the tour of the night lights, not that we were able to take much in from the inside of the bus, and the farewell dinner in one of the tour guides specially selected restaurants.  The food and atmosphere were incredible.  It was also notable for introducing us to a crepe restaurant in Montmartre, another of the tour guide’s favorite places.

On that trip to Paris, we also spent an afternoon exploring the Palace of Versailles.

The next time we visited Paris we flew in from London.  OK, it was a short flight, but it took all day.  From the hotel to the airport, the wait at the airport, departure, flying through time zones, arrival at Charles De Gaulle airport, now there’s an experience, and waiting for a transfer that never arrived, but that’s another story.

I can’t remember where we stayed the first time, it was somewhere out in the suburbs, but the second time we stayed at the Hilton near both the Eiffel Tower and the Australian Embassy, notable only because the concierge was dating an Australian girl working in the Embassy.  That was our ticket for special treatment, which at times you need to get around in Paris.

It was the year before 2000 and the Eiffel Tower was covered in lights, and every hour or so it looked like a bubbling bottle of champagne.  It was the first time we went to Level 3 of the Tower, and it was well worth it.  The previous tour only included Level 2.  This time we were acquainted with the fries available on the second level, and down below under the tower.

This time we acquainted ourselves with the Metro, the underground railway system, to navigate our way around to the various tourist spots, such as Notre Dame de Paris, The Louvre, Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and Les Invalides, and, of course, the trip to the crepe restaurant.

We also went to the Louvre for the express purpose of seeing the Mona Lisa, and I came away slightly disappointed.  I had thought it to be a much larger painting.  We then went to see the statue of Venus de Milo and spent some time trying to get a photo of it without stray visitors walking in front of us.  Aside from that, we spent the rest of the day looking at the vast number of paintings, and Egyptian artifacts in the Museum.

We also visited the Opera House which was architecturally magnificent.

The third time we visited Paris we took our daughter, who was on her first international holiday.  This time we stayed in a quaint Parisian hotel called Hotel Claude Bernard Saint Germain, (43 Rue Des Ecoles, Paris, 75005, France),  recommended to us by a relation who’d stayed there the year before.  It was small, and the elevator could only fit two people or one person and a suitcase.  Our rooms were on the 4th floor, so climbing the stairs with luggage was out of the question.

It included breakfast and wifi, and it was quite reasonable for the four days we stayed there.

It was close to everything you could want, down the hill to the railway station, and a square where on some days there was a market, and for those days when we were hungry after a day’s exploring, a baguette shop where rolls and salad were very inexpensive and very delicious.

To our daughter we appeared to be experienced travelers, going on the Metro, visiting the Louvre, going, yes once again, to the crepe restaurant and the Basilica at Montmartre, Notre Dame, and this time by boat to the Eiffel Tower.  We were going to do a boat rode on the Seine the last time but ran out of time.

We have some magnificent photos of the Tower from the boat.

Lunch on one of the days was at a restaurant not far from the Arc de Triomphe, where our daughter had a bucket of mussels.  I was not as daring and had a hamburger and fries.  Then we went to the center of the Arch and watched the traffic.

Our first time in Paris the bus driver got into the roundabout just to show us the dangers of driving in an unpredictable situation where drivers seem to take huge risks to get out at their exit.  Needless to say, we survived that experience, though we did make a number of circuits.

The next time we visited Paris we brought the two eldest grandchildren.   We took the Eurostar train from St Pancras station direct to Disneyland, then took the free bus from the station to the hotel.  The train station was directly outside Disneyland.

We stayed at the Dream Castle Hotel, rather than Disneyland itself as it was a cheaper option and we had a family room that was quite large and breakfast was included every morning.  Then it was a matter of getting the free bus to Disneyland.

We spent three days, time which seem to pass far too quickly, and we didn’t get to see everything.  They did, however, find the time to buy two princess dresses, and then spent the rest of the time playing dress-ups whenever they could.

In Paris, we stayed at the Crown Plaza at Republique Square and took the children to the Eiffel Tower where the fries, and the carousel at the bottom of the tower, seemed to be more memorable than the tower itself.  The day we visited the third level was closed.  The day was cold and windy so that probably accounted for the less than memorable visit.

We travelled on the Metro where it was pointed out to me that the trains actually ran on rubber tires, something I had not noticed before.  It was a first for both children to travel on a double-decker train.

When we went to the Louvre where, when we took the girls to the Mona Lisa, one said, “and we walked all this way to see this small painting”.  It quickly became obvious their idea of paintings were the much larger ones hanging in other galleries.  We took them to the Arc de Triomphe, the Disney shop, which I’m still wondering why after spending a small fortune at Disneyland itself, the Opera House, where one of the children thought she saw the ghost and refused to travel in one of the elevators, and lastly Notre Dame.

Sadly, I don’t think they were all that interested in architecture, but at the Opera House, they did actually get to see some ballet stars from the Russian Bolshoi ballet company practicing.  As we were leaving the next day we could not go and see a performance.

All in all, traveling with children and experiencing Paris through their eyes made it a more memorable experience.

Conversations with my cat – 20

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This is Chester.  He’s about as bored a cat can get.

Why?

I’m reading a section of one of my stories that I know is terrible, and I’m using him as a measure of how boring.

I think both you and I would agree.

This story needs re-writing.

In fact, just as I reached the end, I saw some movement.

Is it a mouse, or is it relief?

Reading time over, it’s time for some classical music.

At least I know he likes that!

 

 

 

Travel is part of the story – Rome, hotter than hell, but a writer’s paradise

We visited Rome in August

It was hot.

It was verrrry hot.

We flew into Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport after a rather bumpy flight from London.  Unlike most other airports the plane parked at a satellite terminal and after we disembarked we had to catch a train to the main terminal.

The most notable memory of this airport was my daughter’s discovery of a salami shop.

We had booked a transfer to take us to the hotel the Roma Corso Trieste Mercure in Via Gradisca from the airport.  It was a white air-conditioned van and so far we had avoided the heat.

One of the rooms had a faulty air conditioning an absolute must as the rooms were very hot without it and necessitated a room change which was done quickly and efficiently.

The hotel was in the suburbs and without a car we were dependent on public transport.  According to the reception staff, there was a bus stop nearby, and a longer walk to the tram or light railway.  The bus seemed to be the best option as it would take us to the central terminal near the railway station, where all tour buses also operated from, and particularly the open top buses that went to all the major tourist attractions.

That first day basically was given over to traveling, arriving by plane and settling into the hotel, thus we didn’t get to feel the force of the heat.  That came the next day.

After a walk around the hotel precinct to get our bearings and see what shops and restaurants were available, on returning to the hotel we were faced with the limited choices of room service or to go out for dinner.

My daughter and l go for a long walk up Via Nomentana to find several shops and a restaurant.  We went into the restaurant and sat down.   We waited for 10 minutes and got no service nor did anyone come and ask us if we wanted to order food so instead we left somewhat disappointed and go next door to what seems to be the Italian version of a delicatessen and order sandwiches and beer.   I bought a half dozen cans of Moretti beer two of which I drank on the way home.

It was still very hot even at eight at night and the sandwiches are delicious.  It just might be by that time we were starving and anything would have tasted great.

The next morning we are up and ready to chance the weather and some history.  Breakfast at the hotel is limited but very good.

We were going to use public transport and I’d studied up on the Internet.

Traveling on the bus required pre-purchase of tickets which could be bought in certain shops and locally when exploring the area near the hotel, l found a tobacconist.

Next, we needed to understand how to use the tickets. There was no one on the bus who could help so when l tried to scan the tickets and it failed, l gave up.  We had the same issue each day and in the end, the tickets never got used.

The trip to central Rome by bus took about 15 minutes.  In the morning it was reasonably cool and showed us a little of suburban Rome.  We also saw the trams but we would not be able to use them because our hotel not on a direct route.

That first full day we decided to go and see the Vatican.

Not understanding buses and which one we needed to get to the Vatican, we took a taxi.

Wow.  It was the metaphorical equivalent of driving over the edge of a cliff with a daredevil.  It was quite literally terrifying.

Or maybe we just didn’t know that this was probably the way people drove in Rome.

Shaken but delivered in one piece we found ourselves in the square opposite St Peters Basilica.

The square is impressive, with the statues atop a circular colonnaded walkway.  The church is incredible, and took a few hours to take in and to top off the day we did a tour of the Vatican museum which took the rest of the afternoon.

Then it was back to the delicatessen for more sandwiches and beer, and an interesting discussion with several elderly Italian ladies, of which I did not understand one word.

The second full day we decided to use one of the open top bus tours and eventually decided on the hop on hop off tour simply because the bus was at the central transport terminal for trains and buses and it was getting hotter.

Our first stop was the Colosseum.  There were other monuments nearby, such as the Arch of Constantine, but as the heat factor increased we joined the queue to go into the Colosseum and gladly welcomed the shade once we got inside.

The queue was long and the wait equally so, but it was worth the wait.  It would be more interesting if they could restore part of it to its former glory so we could get a sense of the place as it once was.  But alas that may never happen, but even so, it is still magnificent as a ruin.

Outside in the heat, it was off to the ruins which were a longish walk from the Colosseum, taking Via Sacra, not far from the Arch of Constantine.  This day in the walkway there were a number of illegal vendors, selling knockoff goods such as handbags and watches, and who, at the first sight of the police, packed up their wares in a blanket and ran.

Included in these ruins were The Roman Forum, or just a few columns remaining, the Palatine Hill, Imperial Fori, including the Forum of Augustus, the Forum of Caesar, and more specifically the Forum of Trajan.  It was, unfortunately very hot and dusty in the ruins the day we visited.

We walked all the way to the Foro Romano and the Septimus Severo Arch at the other end of the ruins, past the Temple of Caesar.  I found it very difficult to picture what it was like when the buildings were intact, so I bought a guide to the ruins which showed the buildings as ruins and an overlay of how they would have looked.  The buildings, then, would be as amazing as the Colosseum, and it would have been interesting to have lived back then, though perhaps not as a Christian.

I lost count of the number of bottles of water we bought, but the word ‘frizzante’ was ringing in my ears by the end of the day.  Fortunately, water did not cost a lot to buy.

At the end of the day, we caught the hop on hop off bus at the Colosseum and decided not to get off and see any more monuments but observe them from the bus.  The only one I remember seeing was Circo Massimo.  Perhaps if we’d know it was going to be twice as hot on the bus, yes, there was no air-conditioning; we may have chosen another form of transport to get back to the hotel.

The third and last day in Rome we decided to go to the Trevi Fountain, see the pantheon and walk up the Spanish Steps.  We spent most of the morning in the cool of a café watching the tourists at the fountain.  By the time we reached the top of the Spanish Steps, we were finished.

 

Travel is part of the story – Venice, you really have to look under the covers

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 San 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 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.