Looking for locations: Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg, Austria

Hohensalzburg Castle sits atop the Festungsberg, accessed by a cable car.

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Below is a view down into Salzburg from the castle walls.

We 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.

The square below featured in the Sound of Music.

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Among the more interesting objects to be seen, the gun below shows what some of the castle’s armaments might have been.  These cannons, in the ‘Firing Gallery’ date back to the thirty years war in the early 1600s.

Looking 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.

Searching for Locations: Hong Kong

Sometimes the experiences we have often find their way into stories.  This was certainly one of them:

Remarkably, the Peninsula Hotel experience began at the arrival gate.

The moment we stepped out of the air bridge and into the terminal building, a representative of the Hong Kong airport was waiting with a card with our name on it.  She was there, with driver and electric car (sometimes called a golf cart) to ease our way through the immigration and baggage formalities.

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No walking for us, which was fine by me.  It’s a train ride and a long walk from the gate to immigration.  And after all the sitting on the airplane, walking was not the first thing I was looking forward to.

The drive took a few minutes, slowed down by many other passengers walking towards the same destination, most wondering why two relatively young people like us (even if we are in our 60’s) were getting a ride.

After clearing immigration, which took very little time, and where there was a very short queue considering the number of arrivals they handle, we were met on the other side by our airport representative, and taken to the baggage carousel.

Another simple process, our bags were almost waiting for us.  From there we exited customs, and out representative handed us over to the representative of the hotel.  I thought he was the driver.

He took us through to the limousine lounge and directly to our car, a very clean shiny new looking green Rolls Royce, the ultimate in the airport to hotel transportation.

Inside it was immaculate, and astonishing, and very, very comfortable.  I could image the Queen riding in the back of one.  It took about 30 to 40 minutes, one of the quietest, most smooth rides I’d ever had, and worth every cent we paid for it.

The bucket list now has one less item on it.

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The arrival at the hotel was effortlessly handled.  We were met by two of the check-in staff and escorted to our room on the fourth floor.

There was just enough time to take in the amazing foyer, front entrance and twin staircases leading to a mezzanine floor, before getting into a waiting elevator and taken to our floor.  As an aside, the mirrors in the elevator were like something out of a hall of mirrors, you look into the mirror and see dozens of yourself looking back.

It’s an effect I’ll have to take a photo of.

We have been upgraded, and out room is larger than the one originally allocated.  It has a view of the Space Museum, the Veranda Cafe roof, and parts of Hong Kong harbor.  It is overcast and raining so it does not matter about the view.

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It’s Hong Kong, and that view will change every hour.

Formalities over, we are left standing in stunned silence.

We have arrived.

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They say getting there is half the fun.

They’re wrong.

Or at least in the case of the Peninsular Hotel they are.

If just getting to the hotel via the signature Green Rolls Royce is any indication, there had to be a lot more in store.

We booked a room in the ‘old’ hotel and it was categorized as ‘deluxe’.  The Peninsula adds a whole new meaning to the word Deluxe.  If this was one of their lower priced rooms, then I’d love to see their better rooms.

But the room itself is not the sum of the experience; it is also the aura within the building, the service, which is quiet and unassumingly polite and unobtrusive.  You are ushered from the front door, held open by a very elegantly dressed concierge, to your room without so much as a heartbeat.

The details, well, they are mere details that cause no concern, all taken care of before you arrived.  We arrived early, before the advertised check-in, and this fazed no one.  Room available, tired travelers sigh in relief, knowing a hot shower and several hours sleep would not be possible.

I was more than pleasantly surprised, and exploring the hotel would have to wait.

For a few hours anyway.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium

And probably would be, if I was away on holidays in Europe, simply because I’ve always wanted to be in Belgium on a Tuesday just so I could use that line.

By the way, it’s out of a movie, but I’m not sure which one.  Obviously, it wasn’t that great if I can’t remember it.

But…

Searching for locations for my stories takes a lot of time and effort, using Google Earth and other means like street view.  Finding houses, or apartments required a great deal of real estate research, almost to the point of buying a property.

Is there any better way to see the street it’s in, the neighbours, the neighbourhood, and inside the house and gardens.  Almost as if you lived there, which of course you do in the story.

Last year we decided to go on an adventure

The reality of that saw us in Canada on the trans-Canada highway heading towards Banff, on icy roads in winter.  Yes, that’s where we were this year in early January, getting a feel for the place, the roads, the weather, the people, and the sights.

Cold, yes.  Atmospheric, yes, exciting, double yes.  Sometimes research is really fun, well, I don’t call it that, otherwise everyone else will think it was not the birthday treat that it was meant to be.

And was.

My wife’s 65th birthday will be one she certainly will never forget.

So..,

Writing is proceeding better now that I’ve knuckled down.  The Trans-Canada experience has been translated into a story attached to a photo and now sits on the writing blog

The treasure hunt story that went from an idea to reality is now at its 32nd episode and has taken shape, now that it’s moved beyond the initial two episodes I wrote in Canada, and it’s going to be around for a while yet.  New players, and contingency plans.  Evil will be lurking behind and under every rock.

And as for the helicopter crash story and its aftermath, I’m on the last part now where the main character knows why he’s just been put through hell, he now had to go through another.

We shall see what transpires

And the Being Inspired series just got 80 and 81 written, and ready to be published.

By the way, Canada was spectacular in winter.  I thoroughly recommend you go, adventurous or not.  Lake Louise frozen over and the ice castle at the Fairmont Hotel, well, there are no words to describe it.  Youjust have to see it yourself.

It’s been a good day for the Maple Leafs

It’s an unusual topic, but I was looking for a distraction from the rigours of NaNoWriMo, and this fitted the bill perfectly.

For someone who doesn’t really care about sport in general, and rarely able to find the time in between all the writing to actually sit down for several hours, and, in some cases, all day, today seems to have been an exception.

I got through my NaNoWriMo exercise earlier this morning, and since the Maple Leafs were playing today, I thought I’d fire up the computer and take a look at how they’re going.

By the time I’d found the streaming site the game had started but it was nil-all so it was much the same as not missing the start.

I thought it odd that an Australian would be interested in ice hockey, but it seems I’m not alone.  Nor that others barracked for Toronto, Ottowa, and Edmonton, and all seem to dislike with varying degrees of intensity, the New York Islanders.

Maybe because they’ve won ten straight games.

So, it takes a long time, almost halfway through the third period for the first goal, and its the opposition the Vegas Golden Knights.

Damn them.

And now I have this sinking feeling the game might slip away.  Their form can hardly be labelled stellar, and I thought I heard the home crowd booing them, but that must have been my imagination.

No, my dismay is misplaced, there it is, Mathews comes to life and evens up the scoreline.

And for the rest of the period, Anderson keeps the Golden Knights out.  As only Anderson can when he’s on his game.

Once again we’re in overtime, with more heart in mouth stuff, and, of course, the man we’ve been missing, Tavares finally pulls the rabbit out of the hat.

It’s a pity we couldn’t be there in person to see it.

Searching for locations: Chateau Tongariro, New Zealand

This chateau was built in 1929 and was originally intended as a hostel for hikers.

It is now near the  Whakapapa skifield on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu and within  the boundary of the Tongariro National Park

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We had afternoon tea in the lounge several times, and it is very pleasant in winter with the log fires burning.

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The interior is still as ornate as it had been in the 1930s.  The chairs are very comfortable, and the atmosphere pleasant.

Mount Ngauruhoe can be seen through the window of the lounge.  This was used a backdrop in the filming of Lord of the Rings.

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Searching for locations: Siena, Italy

The Piazza del Campo is one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe. 

It is shaped like a shell.

This is where the Palazzo Publico and the Torre del Mangia are. 

At 102 meters (334 feet), the bell tower is the city’s second tallest structure. 

When it was built in 1848 it was the exact same height of the Duomo to show that the state and church had equal amounts of power.

Around the edges of the Piazza are a lot of restaurants, where you can sit in the shade, have a plate of pasta and sip on a cold limonata.