Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks Mrs Henderson

It’s official – the smoking, steaming remains of the Queen Mary will be collected next Tuesday morning. Shortly thereafter a man from Mercedes will deliver a much smaller car - with automatic transmission.

At last I will have a free hand with which I can respond to the regular friendly gestures I get from other Austrian drivers. As far as I can tell these gestures mean ‘Welcome to Wien’, ‘You drive beautifully’ and ‘I like your style’ – but I can’t be sure as I have never spoken to the drivers concerned.

We are not going to Turkey next week. Cate instead is going to Korea – and I am not going anywhere. Cate is looking forward to this as last time she went to Korea they made her eat live octopus and she just can’t wait to see what they have lined up for her next time.

She does not have to fly Duckair this time so is reasonably cheerful about the trip – well as cheerful as one can be under the circumstances of missing out on a weekend in Istanbul with a spunk like me.

India and Thailand have been crossed off Cate’s ‘to visit’ list for the time being and I guess this will be added to as the world gets madder by the day.

News from the Austrian Times is that Vienna’s "Monument to the Honour of the Soldiers of the Soviet Army," popularly called the "Russian Memorial," is to be renovated at a cost of 828,000 Euros.The 1955 State Treaty ending Austria’s occupation by four Allied armies, including the Soviet Union’s, requires Austria to keep all Allied graves and monuments in top condition.The monument was the first large-scale building project in the Second Republic founded right after World War II. Work on it, much of which was done by prisoners of war, began on 19 August 1945.

I suspect this is a ruse by the Austrians who will accidentally demolish it halfway through the renovation process. The least they could do would be to make it look at least as ghastly as some of the buildings the Russians left behind.

We had the last of Mrs Henderson’s famous Singleton Hot Pot today and delicious it was too. Mrs Henderson gave us the recipe when we visited them in their country mansion before we left Australia. It didn’t have precisely the same ingredients – but was quite an extraordinary culinary achievement.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's goodbye to the Queen Mary

Gareth's tail fell off in the snow on the weekend. He doesn't look happy.

Apparently the Austrians do not always know when it is going to snow. An item in the online version of the Austrian Times says that ‘A snowfall that took forecasters by surprise last year left Vienna practically paralyzed and many vehicles stranded on a nearby motorway. Many people had to spend the night in their cars before being rescued the following morning.’

They are, however, well prepared this year and say that they have ample supplies of kitty litter and salt.

We have so far escaped having to drive on snowy roads but our time is coming. It is snowing again today and soon when I drive Cate to and from work we may have to brave the conditions. I am carrying a wooden peg for Cate to bite on as we skate along Ungargasse. I may also wear ear plugs.

The ransacking of Cate’s lunch money has stopped – or at the very least has slowed down. This may only mean that the lunch money thief is on holidays but we will keep a close eye on the situation.

Today we learned that the Queen Mary is being taken away from us. Unfortunately it is not because our car is ready as the people in Germany have still not decided whether or not they will build it.

They are however so embarrassed by the whole sordid affair that they are going to provide us with a Mercedes Benz C Class Saloon until ours is ready.

This car will be smaller than the Queen Mary (most things are) so I will be able to develop my rallying skills in the cobbled streets of Landstrasse.

After some expert and sustained attention from the panel beaters the Queen Mary is being retired and will be used as a floating hotel in Dubai.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cate can't get her head around Zwolf

My second German lesson went well but we still haven’t moved on to meat. My teacher is a traditionalist and thinks that I need to learn grammar and verbs and stuff like that.

I will finish the first book by the end of December and my teacher says that I will be able to do most things in Wien in German.

I have asked her if it will help me get the car but she is not confident so I will keep buying lottery tickets (I missed out on the Skoda Octavia).

But I have moved ahead in the meat department in leaps and bounds lately. I can with a reasonable degree of accuracy identify and buy beef and chicken of various types. I did have a bit of a disaster with bacon today but can recover from that because it is going into a beef hotpot and Cate will not be able to identify it by the time I have finished.

I did ask for bacon at Spar and he asked me something incomprehensible (it could have been ‘have you got your car yet?”) and I said yes. He then sliced it so finely you could watch TV through it - and it dissolved when I put in into the hotpot – but I am sure it will taste just fine.

I am more worried about some other vegetables which are supposed to be in there but which I could not find. I have put in substitutes – the names of which I shall not mention because Cate reads the blog and will say something like ‘I thought that tasted like X – you should never put X into a hotpot as it gives it a funny flavour’.

Cate is going to start her German lessons in December after she finishes her next round of trips. We have already started informally and she can say ‘Bitte’ ‘Danke’ ‘Gruss Gott’ and ‘Enschuldigung’ – and can count up to 11. We have been stuck on 11 for a month or so because she can’t get her head around Zwolf but will keep plugging away and hope to be at 14 by Christmas Eve.

We just have to hope that she doesn’t have an urgent need for 12 of something between now and then. She would have to ask for 11 and then for 1 and this may cause massive confusion.

We have settled at the moment on a blend of coffee called ‘Caruso’ which we get from Alt Wien in Schleifmuhlgasse. It is fabulous stuff and makes our hearts sing in the morning. Well not really but you get the picture.

We had a another fire last night and watched the last 4 episodes of season 3 of 24. This is truly the silliest TV program I have ever seen (apart from I Dream Of Jeannie) – but is addictive. It is worth watching just for the laugh out loud moments as improbable situation follows farcical moment as the bunch of hapless stooges in CTU save us from yet another mad terrorist.

CTU makes the Bush Presidency seem like a monument to careful planning, prudent management and sound judgement.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A visit by the snow fairy

Christmas markets at the Rathaus

Katzengrass and FrozenPhillip

We had snow on Saturday and it was very exciting. Cate and I went out and played in it in the streets of Wien.

We found Katzengrass for Bill and Muffin - and Muffin was very pleased indeed to get some greenery into her diet. She starting munching as soon as we go home and had two really good vomits by the end of the weekend.

We went to Diglas in the Wollzeile which is one of our favourite coffee houses – mainly because of the size of their slices of cake.

Cate bought two very stylish hats and a pair of gloves and now looks almost Viennese.

In the evening we went to the Christmas markets outside the Rathaus. Cate had a Gluhwein and a Punch which warmed her up nicely. The markets have to be seen to be believed and are full of every type of thing a person could possibly want to use as Christmas decorations. They also sell the most amazing piles of crap that one sees in every market in the world. They even have fairy floss – which they call Zuckerwatte (a much more practical name) and charge a truly staggering sum for this pink fluff on a stick. I mean – come on – they charge the same for Zuckerwatte as they do for Gluhwein. There are no prizes for guessing where the big crowds are.

We staggered off to a delightful restaurant called Ellas in Judenplatz where they fleeced us comprehensively and sent us out into the snow again.

The first snow we had was lumpy and we thought it was a piece of Austrian trickery – and was really just white rain. But later in the evening we had the proper fluffy stuff. The cats had a really quick look at it on the terrace but decided that it was too cold and too wet – so took up their accustomed positions in front of the fire.

The Austrians are cunning and know when it is going to snow. The night before snow the kitty litter fairy goes around the streets scattering gravel on all the footpaths. Then when the snow fairy arrives there are no quite so many accidents – except on the roads of course where car drivers seem to think that that ice and snow are agents to help you stop more quickly.

The wood that was to last us until he end of winter may get us into December – but it will be close. One of our problems is that we have discovered since the cold weather arrived that our air conditioners in the living rooms downstairs only operate on cool. This will require the services of an Austrian mechanic and I have started the process.

Mr Begelpuscher down the road has a son who has just started school and I have put my name down with him for a service call in case he decides to do engineering at university.

On Sunday we went to the Sissi museum which is as exciting as every other museum I have ever been to – but Cate can’t get enough of this stuff so I am happy to trail along as long is the trips are punctuated by bouts of coffee.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cate would like to marry her Blackberry Bold

Great Synagogue - Budapest

Today’s news in Wien is that Viennese authorities have scrapped plans to rent the city’s famous Ferris Wheel out to a British company. I don’t know why a British company would want to rent out the Ferris Wheel in the Prater and will add it to my list of questions that need to be asked.

I have set up my iPhone and it is brilliant – quite the most astonishing piece of technology I have owned – I love it!

According to my iPhone the temperature in Wien on the weekend will get down to 1 degree and there will be snow. I was out today and it is indeed very cold and windy – so cold that I wore a scarf and a beanie.

Unfortunately the wind usually drives Muffin crazy so we are expecting the worst. We are up high and the wind howls around the apartment and whooshes down the chimney but so far she has been able to hold it together. But she has at best a tenuous hold on reality so we are bracing ourselves for one or more episodes of unhingedness.

We tried a number of different coffees and the Caruso blend scored the highest with 8/10. I went to Alt Wien and bought a kilo so that we can road test it properly. I also called into Bobby’s to get some English jam and mustard. I can’t get the hang of Austrian jam – I am not sure why – but it is on the list of questions to be answered.

I haven’t told you much about Cate recently and I know there are readers who are anxious for more news. They appear to be more concerned about Cate that they are about me so I will devote more time in future to Cate. (That was a lie!)

Cate is enjoying life in Wien and is starting to enjoy her job. She has identified some of the people in the organisation who are barking mad and is able to avoid most of them most of the time.

Cate hasn’t summoned up enough courage to drive to work yet so I am still driving her. She is daunted by the size of the Queen Mary and the difficulty in getting it out of and into the garage. Her plan is that she will walk home – and sometimes she does – but it will become more difficult as the weather gets colder.

She continues to work very hard and works most nights until very late. She works in her pyjamas and is usually accompanied by a glass of nice white wine.

She usually has the weekends off so that we can do exciting things and watch DVDs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

She really loves her Blackberry Bold and would marry it if she could (but that would be bigamy).

She has had a couple of trips (which I have told you about) and is planning on going to Istanbul in a couple of weeks. I am going with her on this trip and am going to watch Midnight Express again to prepare myself. (Unfortunately our cat sitter is not available as she is very selfishly going on a holiday to Mexico for 3 months - so we are trying to find a replacement).

She has told her faithful and very efficient assistant that she is not flying Duckair again as the trip to Korea was too uncomfortable. The beds are not flat and she arrives looking like a pretzel - and in great pain.

She has found a nice clothing shop in Krugerstrasse and we have become regulars. The owner is very fond of us and her eyes light up when she sees Cate coming.

Her lunch money is still being stolen and she still hasn’t found out who is doing it – but is not really trying.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Please jump on your phone before leaving the store

I have bought my iPhone. It took a while – all my documents had to be faxed somewhere while I sat and waited for the OK. I don’t know where they went – Interpol? the CIA? Anyway I am apparently trustworthy at T Mobile (but not at Drei next door).

While I was sitting and waiting the T Mobile people organised some entertainment for me. A man came in with a mobile phone and had an animated conversation with the sales assistant. I understood only a few words – one of which was ‘Kaput’.

After some discussion the customer threw his phone on the floor and jumped on it many times until it broke into a number of small pieces. He then collected these and left the store. This was clearly not an Austrian Advent ceremony as the customer did not look at all festive.

Finally the young lady gave me my phone, together with an instruction book in German – and said that she hoped I would have fun. I asked if I had to jump on my phone like the last customer and she said that it would not be necessary. I left before she could cancel the contract and call the police.

I stopped at Massimo for a Cappuccino and was of course the only customer. He always gives me the local newspaper so that I can look at the pictures and read the few words in German that I do understand.

I also read the local English language newspaper online so that I am up to date with current affairs in Austria. Breaking news today was that a woman found a frog with one leg in a packet of deep frozen spinach she bought from a supermarket.

She admits that she probably broke the other leg off while she was stirring the spinach. The story says that “The supermarket where she bought the deep-frozen meal has offered a few packets of free coffee in compensation and has promised to investigate the frog affair”.

Que? A few packets of free coffee? Where is the apology, counseling and €100 million law suit for pain and suffering? Oh that’s right – this is Austria.

What may happen is that the supermarket will sue the woman for the return of the frog’s other leg – and there will be a law somewhere that says that it is illegal to dismember frogs in spinach in Austria. She will be lucky to escape with a stiff fine.

It is getting cold here and the locals are dressed for an arctic winter. There are people with sleds being pulled by Huskies in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse and snow is expected on the weekend. This will be very exciting as I haven’t lived where it has snowed so will be able to examine it carefully. The cats will certainly have a new adventure on the terraces.

There are many really big white dogs here – they may be Alaskan Malamutes. They are very beautiful but any time I see a dog I think of kitty litter and how this would be with a dog the size of a Shetland pony.

The Ice Skating rink near to us – at the back of the Intercontinental hotel - opened in late October but we have not been tempted. I can roller blade quite well but I have been ice skating before and know that ice is a lot harder and colder – and wetter – than a footpath.

I had my first German lesson with Helga and actually know quite a few words. It’s putting them in the right order which is tricky but I will be working hard to do this because when people jump on telephones in front of me I really need to know what is happening and how I can avoid this eventuality.

News updates:

Melissa has booked her tickets and will be here in time to do the tree on Christmas Eve.

I have received Anna’s latest letter with grateful thanks together with the many press cuttings and pictures.

I have spoken to Kerry-Ann and Michael. Felise is being naughty and Jake has had an ear infection and may need grommets.

David rang from Las Vegas this morning. He wasn’t too keen on Los Angeles because it is very big and very dirty - but the people are nice and they had some good food. They have some gourmet experiences planned for Las Vegas and for New York.

Ann from White Street has sent details about the activities in White Street and the adventures of a ginger cat in her back garden. She provided many details about this and I am concerned there may not be enough going on in her life. She may not be drinking enough red wine (although this has not been the case in the past).

Quolly has given me an email update and has assured me that she has never - as far as she is aware -run over any drunks in her car.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Don't buy Gummy Bears in Budapest

A number of people – including Melissa in Paris - have told me that I can indeed get good coffee in Budapest. So next time we go there we will be well prepared.

In exchange I can tell you that the best place to buy Gummy Bears is not from the man outside the old castle on the hill. Even at the very favourable Euro-Woggle exchange rate they still cost more per ounce than plutonium.

A few months before we left Sydney I signed up for a new mobile contract with Three and acquired a new Motorola telephone. When we found that we were moving to Vienna I asked Three if we could transfer the 2 year contract to Vienna. You know what the answer was don’t you!

Drei in Vienna won’t give me a contract as I haven’t been living here long enough to qualify. They trusted me in Sydney but are much more suspicious here. I guess they can’t work out why anyone would willingly come into a Drei shop in Wien and try to get a contract. Drei says 6 months is the minimum residency before I can be trusted. So I have a top up sim card with Drei which I can replenish by the very sophisticated means of going into a Tabak and buying more time.

T Mobile will give me a contract provided I have a passport, Meldezettel, Credit Card and a written reference from Barack Obama. So I have decided to shower them with my business and plan on going in to buy an iPhone. I have watched the demonstration video about the iPhones and it is the most amazing thing (apart from Sarah Palin) that I have ever seen.

I imagine that it will not work quite as well as the demo but am prepared to give it a go. I will report back.

Today I was making Rogan Josh when the electric frying pan hurled itself onto the kitchen floor and exploded. I have removed most of the stuff from the ceiling, walls and cupboards and my clothes but my runners are another thing all together. The only way I have been able to get them reasonably clean is to wash them on the boil-trash cycle for an hour or so. They are a bit smaller now but at least are no longer bright orange.

Cate was quite good about this incident and was happy to spit out the crunchy bits of frying pan she encountered while eating her dinner. Well I was hardly going to throw it away given how hard it is for me to buy meat here.

I imagine that as walk down Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse people will be looking around for the Indian restaurant.

The turntable was not working this morning so I had to back and fill for some time to get the car out of the garage. When I got home from dropping Cate at work I did not get the car in as neatly as I should have and tonight the passenger side rear view mirror committed hara kiri by hurling itself against the side of the hoist. I have reassembled it after fashion and hope it holds together long enough for us to get the car back the Budget.

However – they have not started building our car yet (Shriek!). It was ordered on 1 September but apparently there is a problem on the assembly line. Why didn’t they tell us? They probably thought we wouldn’t be interested. I have a suspicion that Telekom Austria are involved in this!

Monday, November 17, 2008

What kind of people don’t eat breakfast?

New York Palace Hotel Budapest

We found Budapest easily but our hotel was a little bit harder to locate. It was in a part of the city that had apparently just been extensively carpet bombed so we have to drive around some ruins and rubble. Cate was not happy with the area but warmed up when she found that large parts of Budapest are like this.

The Soho hotel is new – and nice. Cate thought the room was a bit on the small side but I always think it is an advantage if you can open the fridge with your big toe while you are lying in bed.

They have these weird beds (as they do in Austria) which are really two single beds pushed together - with two single doonas. The sewing kits in these hotels are useless and it took me hours to stitch the two doonas together.

Many parts of Budapest are beautiful and verging on prosperous. Large parts are a wasteland blighted by decaying buildings and really bad architecture.

You can always see where the Communists have been. They leave an indelible mark and I am not sure how long it takes to erase this – probably anywhere from 50 to 100 years. There is a long way to go in Budapest.

And the coffee? Collectively the worst coffee we have ever had anywhere (excluding the USA chains which are in a class of their own).

On Friday night we went to a lovely restaurant - the XO Bistro - where we had French Onion soup and a gallon of wine each. I rarely drink but tasted some really nice Hungarian Sauvignon Blanc so we sat there for hours and got plastered. When we realised how many Hungarian Woggles there are to one Euro we had some more. Everything is really very cheap in Budapest.

When we got back to the hotel the bar was still open so we had some more wine. This seemed like a good idea at the time but severely impeded our progress on Saturday morning.

It’s amazing how few Woggles it costs to get hammered in Budapest. (Although at one stage later in the evening we had a panic attack when we thought that perhaps we had gotten the Woggle-Euro exchange rate wrong by a factor of 10).

The guide book had said don’t expect anything useful for breakfast as the Hungarians don’t eat breakfast. The guide book was right. What kind of people don’t eat breakfast?

We missed breakfast in the hotel so when we found an open café – opposite the Great Synagogue – they had disgusting cheese sandwiches or disgusting cheese ‘croissants’ and disgusting coffee. I had the disgusting croissants and Cate had the disgusting sandwiches (but wisely didn’t eat them) - and we both had the disgusting coffee. The only thing worse than the food was the service.

Cate ordered many coffees over the weekend but drank only two.

On Saturday we walked for hours and saw many exciting things including the House of Terror where the Hungarian Nazis and then the Communists tortured and executed the locals. The torture chamber was not attractive but was bigger than our hotel room. There are lots of very scary displays in this museum and it is not recommended for the faint hearted.

On Saturday night we went to an Italian restaurant Il Terzo Cerchio where Cate had, in her words, ‘the best Italian meal she has ever had’. High praise indeed. My meal was also fabulous, the Tiramisu was divine and the coffee was excellent. It was very near our hotel and had fortunately survived the recent bombing.

On Sunday morning we skipped breakfast in the hotel and went instead to the café in the ostentatious, ornate and five star New York Palace hotel – 50 meters from our hotel. We thought that surely a place like this will do breakfast – Nope! Worse than Saturday unless you wanted eggs and bacon – which Cate ordered because they had no toast. No toast? What kind of place has no toast?

Apparently the locals have cigarettes and coffee for breakfast. This may explain the astonishingly high rates of alcoholism and suicide. I had very small, stale, dry, hard, cold croissants. Imagine dog droppings that have been baked in a Pizza Oven and then put in the freezer.

On Sunday we went to the big castle thingy on the hill in Buda. We did not really know what it was because Cate was too hung over to read the guide book and I had forgotten my glasses. Anyway – it was very big and very old and was in the old walled city. We walked across the Chain Bridge and through the city and there are many beautiful parts. There are also many, many empty shops and buildings but it is easy to imagine what Hungary was like in the early 20th century.

There is much to do and to see in Budapest. My advice would be to start early, drink only in moderation - and take your own toast.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I don't have my heated bathroom floor inspection certificate

I went to pick up the firewood holder from the Feuerhaus in Gumpendorferstrasse and dragged it home in the rain. It was more difficult than I thought it would be – but most things are.

The firewood holder is now next to the fire and is stacked with wood and compressed sawdust – the cats can’t wait.

Each time we have a fire they lie in front of it all night and then the next morning sit in front of it again waiting for another fire. We only have fires on the weekend because we don’t have the time to laze about on week nights – well Cate doesn’t because she works most nights in her study.

Someone rang Cate and asked if they could come to look at the heated floors in our bathrooms. Why I have no idea – there is nothing wrong with them but perhaps there is an annual heated floor inspection by the appropriate authority. No one came so we are now on a default list somewhere and I expect to be fined for not having a current heated floor certificate.

The other day there was a knock at the door and a man wearing a bandana and with lots of tools and other implements hanging about his person indicated that he wanted to come in. Sure I said – why not. He fiddled about with the telephone connection for a while and then left. I have no idea what he wanted or what he did. I had made some disparaging remarks about Telekom Austria in my Blog so he may have been disconnecting our phone – or bugging it. We don’t use it so I just don’t know.

I find there are enough things to worry about here without trying to fathom the incomprehensible and it’s easier to go with the flow.

I hung the pictures today and tonight when Cate gets home she will explain to me why they are in the wrong places – are at the wrong height – and in fact are the wrong pictures. I will make notes and promise her that this will be fixed tomorrow.

I have been reminded by my children in Australia that I did get Fathers Day presents before leaving and son David has also reminded me that he gave me a very fine going away present. This is a Boxing Kangaroo pen that lights up when you write with it and it has pride of place on my desk. Melissa in Paris has used the ‘la fete des pères is in June' excuse so I will make sure I catch up next year.

We are off to Budapest on the weekend so we have advised the OAMTC to warn other motorists that a very large silver monolith will be careering down the road tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What if Donald Rumsfeld was black?

Cate in Beatrixgasse (Our back entrance)

Klaus Emmerich, the chief US political reporter for Austrian broadcaster ORF has said that Barack Obama is ‘not civilised’ enough to be the US President. He said that ‘blacks are not as far advanced in the civilisation process nor in their political progress’. (Imagine what he would have said about a black Donald Rumsfeld!)

Klaus is 80 so we can accept that he is on the way to Ga Ga land - but this is still a disturbing statement – and is consistent with other evidence of racism in Austria. ORF has not sacked him – so they think its OK for him to say what he did.

In the recent elections the right wing parties in Austria got 29 percent of the vote - which is indeed a scary number. However, God was so displeased with this result that she allowed their leader, Jorg Haider, to get blind staggering dunk and drive into a tree at 140 kilometres an hour. This was very decisive – but may have been an overreaction on her part. Perhaps she was watching FOX and was having a bad start to her day.

I have discovered the most expensive way to buy firewood in Wien. This is to get it from Hornbach and have it delivered. The delivery costs were more than half the cost of the firewood. It seemed like a good idea at the time but this is another case of defective reasoning – instances of which of abound in my life.

The delivery man rang me and said something which I assumed was that he was about to arrive. This is because the delivery window I got from Hornbach was from 8:00 to 12:00 and when he rang it was 11:40. Apparently what he rang to say was that he was stopping in to see his grandmother in Simmering and would be having some coffee and Guglhupf - because he didn’t turn up for some considerable time. I am not sure why I am always get the scrag end of any delivery window. If it’s 8-12 why can’t I ever get 8?

On the subject of wood - apparently the compressed sawdust is environmentally friendly because it is made of waste material. Cate says I can’t give it to the cats and have to use it in the fire. So they will miss out on this valuable source of roughage and Bill will have continue to chew my shoelaces.

We still haven’t hung the pictures because Cate can’t make up her mind what ones she wants and where they should go. Last night I got her to tell me which ones will be hung and which ones go back to the basement. This is progress. The next part is harder as she has to decide where they have to go. Then when she has done this – and I have put them up – she will tell me where they should really go. This process will take a while and if I can hang on long enough we will change apartments and can start again.

I realised today that by leaving Sydney in early September I missed Fathers Day so got no cards or presents from my children. OK – I can deal with that – but I didn’t get my usual card from the Cats - and they were here with me. Cate says it is because they immediately adopted the local Vatertag which is in June. I am not sure I believe her and in any event that still means that I missed out completely.

The German teacher rang today and said we can start next week. My first lesson is on Monday and I would like to start with meat.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Perhaps we don't have the whole ghastly retail driven krapfest frenzy here?

We discovered the Alt Wien Kaffeerosterei in Schleifmuhlgasse on the weekend on the way to see James Bond so I went back there to buy some coffee. We are having all sorts of problems finding a coffee we really like so I have bought four different types to test them. I gave Cate some coffee the other day and she said 'this is perfect' - and I said 'this is the last of our favourite from Sydney'.

We also saw Bobby’s for the first time and admired their array of all things English (and they do have Vegemite). Strangely enough – we now eat almost no Vegemite as I usually have Kipferls or Croissants and jam for breakfast. Also strangely enough – the Austrians call Croissants by that name. They probably couldn't think of a 16 syllable word to describe them - or is is caught up in the 'Impossible German Words' section of the appropriate government department.
I called into the Feuerhaus in Gumpendorferstrasse to find out about our wood container – ordered some weeks ago. Well part of it is there and the other part is MIA. The man said he would call me when he found it – and he did – today – Holy Toledo!

This is important as we have ordered some wood which arrives tomorrow and I don’t want to have to pile it on the floor or the owls will start to nest in it. We have still to use the last of the compressed sawdust but I will dispose of this quickly by breaking it up and putting it in the cat food. What I can’t understand is why Austrians still have open fires which one assumes are not very environmentally friendly.

But then……… I saw a man bring a gigantic hairy animal (I assume it was a dog but it may have been a small horse) out on to the footpath and he smoked while it deposited an enormous pile of dung onto the footpath. He then dropped his cigarette butt in the street – hopped on his animal and rode into the sunset. I guess they don’t really care that much.
The modem and wireless key work fine when they can see each other and for the first time I have a stable Internet connection. However – we don’t really want wires running across the floor so I am inching them apart to see if they can cope. If they start to suffer from separation anxiety we will just have to put up with wires.

Silvia has put the stuff about Christmas and Advent on the Virtual Vienna Net today and for the first time I have been able to see what is required - it's a bit daunting. The Christmas tree doesn’t go up until Christmas Eve so there will be a bit of pressure – but Melissa will be here so I will have some help.

There is no Santa Claus here – we have St. Nikolas. On the face of it he appears to be much more attractive that the fat sweaty fellow in the red suit who infests shopping centres in Australia. He is older but appears to be much more urbane. He is probably a Democrat.
I am not sure yet but is seems that we may escape from the non stop playing of Christmas carols in shops and the whole ghastly retail driven crap fest frenzy that is Christmas in Australia.

Sarah Palin says she is putting her political future in God’s hands. Now I know God has a bit on at the moment with the Middle East, Afghanistan, Somalia and various other catastrophes throughout the world - not to mention getting President Obama to sort out the chaos in the White House - but I hope she/he has an eye on this one because it is very, very important.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What is it about popcorn?

We went to the Wien Museum – it’s fantastic.

It shows life in Wien going back to before they invented Krapfens. Those Romans were inveterate travellers and there haven’t been too many places I have been where there is no evidence of Romans. (Except Australia of course – but we had no Pasta).

The Museum is free on Sundays – an excellent price indeed.

We also went to the Hayden English Cinema to see the latest James Bond movie. Why? I hear you ask. because we haven’t been to the movies for three months and couldn’t remember what it was like.

Now we remember – the cinema is full of people who haven’t eaten for months and feel compelled to drink Pepsi and eat popcorn non stop for two hours. The popcorn containers here are the biggest I have ever seen – two young girls were staggering up the steps with a bucket of popcorn bigger than they were. One man with a pregnant wife had to bring her up the stairs and go back for the popcorn. What is it about cinemas that people are compelled to eat through every movie and crunch the last piece of popcorn as the closing credits roll. Instead of carpet they should put down straw.

Logistically the cinema is great. You can book and reserve seats online. So you can wander in at any time and know that your seat will be there – right next to the two girls eating the world’s largest container of popcorn. One man arrived carrying what looked like a five course Chinese meal and a coffee maker but he was way up the back and all we heard during the movie was the click of chopsticks and the faint hiss of him squeezing out another espresso.

The movie was no sillier than an other Bond movie and was better that most. There were many laugh out loud moments. It starts with a fantastic car chase that leaves his car looking a bit like the Queen Mary – only he doesn’t have to explain to the rental company what happened to his Aston Martin - and the QM still has its doors. I love the sequences where they use touch screen technology and images appear instantly – and they can communicate with people anywhere in the world within seconds. Bill Gates watches these movies and says ‘see – that’s what I wanted it to be like!’

We have also been watching 24 with Kiefer Sutherland. It is about a Federal Agent Jack Bauer who works for the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) and catches very evil baddies who want to destroy the American way of life (the Bastards!). The series (each of 24 episodes) leaves no cliché unused and the best fun is guessing the next plot twist – which is getting easier as we are in series two and they have already used every plot twist and turn at least once.

There is even a black President who is surrounded by traitors and has to outwit them – which of course he does. The CTU itself is staffed entirely by a bunch of half wit no hopers who spend their entire lives plotting against one another, sleeping with each other, betraying each other or just generally stuffing things up.

Jack is easily the most dangerous person on the planet and leaves a trail of corpses, crushed and mangled bodies and smoking ruins behind him. (Dick Cheney could play this part). Jack Bauer’s daughter, on the other hand, is by far and away the stupidest and most annoying person on the planet and we have taken to fast forwarding the frequent segments with her in them.

If there really are people as dysfunctional as Jack Bauer and the CTU clowns I am simply not going to the USA again. I won’t and you can’t make me!

Last night our iron exploded. There was smoke and flame and crackling noises. I dropped to the floor expecting Jack Bauer to arrive and kill us all but it was just an electrical fault. I had a successful trip to Saturn to buy an iron – and bought one with the longest cord I could find.

I also bought some USB extensions so that I could run my wireless connection across the study floor and hang it over the balcony above the modem. Hopefully they will establish a dialogue and I can stop losing my internet connection every 20 minutes. Apparently only being a metre apart is not good enough – they have to be able to see each other.

On TV tonight they were interviewing some Marines who are heroes because there was a fire in a Florida motel where they were staying and they went from door to door to warn the other residents. ‘This is what we trained for’ said one of the Marines. Call me old fashioned but shouldn’t they be training them how to kill the Taliban rather than how to knock on doors in Florida motels?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Scary toilets

I have always faithfully reported the weird and wonderful things I have found in Vienna but this one almost defies belief. I say almost because we have now been here for two months and have had our eyes opened considerably. But this one takes the biscuit so far.

There is apparently something called the ‘ledge’ toilet which is still in use in some apartments in Vienna. I refuse to put a picture on the Blog but you can find one at

Those with a delicate constitution should read no further.

So you can see how this works. Your droppings plop onto the ledge and remain there until you flush the toilet. That much I understand.

What I don’t know is why in tarnation you would want this to happen. My research shows that this may have been a German invention and is also prevalent in Holland. (It sounds like something that would be designed by Dick Cheney). I guess it is mainly in older buildings and don’t suppose that they still make them (but anything is – shriek! - possible).

The purposes of the ledge toilet could be as follows:

So that you can carefully examine your own droppings before you part company with them. (Perhaps they might have formed the face of a Saint or someone famous and could be baked and sold on eBay).

So that you can retrieve and weigh them (I am not sure why you want to do this but you could save some time and effort by balancing some kitchen scales on the ledge).

So that you can retrieve your wedding ring if you eat it accidentally during dinner. I am sure this doesn’t happen very often – even in Vienna.

So that your cat doesn’t drown if it falls into the toilet. Now Muffin is not intellectually gifted but even she is unlikely to jump into the toilet – and if she does she sure as hell won’t need a ledge to get out.

So that the toilet brush industry doesn't go ....well....down the toilet.

It sure beats the stuffing out of me. I have seen some scary toilets in my time – especially in Asia – but nothing beats the ledge toilet for pure drama. I am likely to have nightmares about this!
I have nothing further to say today about anything at all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Did a Muslim Black Panther pay for Obama’s Harvard tuition?

Flak Towers in Landstrasse

Well it certainly was a wonderful evening. Muffin and I sat there together until the wee hours and enjoyed every morsel of the spectacle unfolding before us. I have decided not to build the fallout shelter in the basement and just hope that President Bush keeps taking his medication until Inauguration Day.

However, Russian President Medvedev has blamed the USA for the world’s problems and has announced new missile deployments in Europe. Missile deployments? Is this man being advised by Dick Cheney? Why in the name of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would anyone who is not insane want to deploy missiles in Europe? Has he entered the MTV 'who is the craziest President’ contest? There is some stiff competition but he would certainly give it a shake.

I guess that Sarah and the Alaskan ‘First Dude’ will now start their run for 2012 and it will be interesting to see if the Republican party is unhinged enough to entertain the concept. More than 50 Million Americans apparently thought that Sarah Palin would be a suitable Vice President - and that is a truly scary number.

Incidentally – of all the totally loony far right wing hacks in the USA – Ann Coulter is by far and away the looniest of them all. She makes Bill O’Reilly look like Karl Marx. Her Blog is hilarious and should be compulsory reading -

Stories not to be missed include ‘Did a Muslim Black Panther pay for Obama’s Harvard tuition?’

There is a section on Wikipedia about Flak Towers and the link is

According to a local Blog reader – the towers are so big and solidly built that to would be impossible to knock them down without using explosives – and this is not possible because of the proximity of residential buildings. So I guess they will be there forever and may be the last things left on the planet when we finally destroy it.

We don’t enjoy driving much as we should as we haven’t adapted to the high speed motorways - and are still a bit timid. Cate insists on driving when we travel as she says I drive to close to the edge of the lane – or the middle of the lane – or too fast or too slow – or whatever the case may be. Anyway – she got the Queen Mary up to about 140 on the A1 and was passed by many cars including some that could fit into our boot. I am not at all worried by fast driving – it’s the slow stopping that will be the problem.

The good news is that Melissa is coming from Paris for Christmas (but sadly without Merlin – and of course Henri). So I will need an extra duck from Stadtpark for Christmas dinner.

Once again I was the only customer in Massimo – at 12:30 – and there were three staff there. This place obviously does not make its money from being a café so I will need to investigate to find out what is really going on.

I had my first trip to the local Post Office to collect a parcel from Amazon. I was not home when it arrived so the Postie left a note in my letter box. This was a remarkably painless exercise and required very little action on my part other than to present my notice and identification. Most of the offices here are well hidden in side streets – and are very quiet. The few that are visible are always crowded and should be avoided.

I also managed a conversation of sorts with the meat person at Radatz in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse and asked him for some meat for a goulash. I actually wanted it for a curry but don’t know the German word for curry yet – but figure they are much the same sort of meat. I will let you know. I have found that the answer to most questions asked by sales assistants should be ‘Ja, Danke’ and use this a lot. I have had a few surprises but mainly seem to get by. However, when I asked for a Coca Cola in Anker today the young lady tried to sell me some Orbit chewing gum – I think my accent needs more work.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's election day!

This is Salzburg.
Election day dawned bright and sunny in Wien. It's finally over and I have given thanks to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for getting me through this ordeal unharmed and with brains relatively intact.

I went walking as usual this morning and took some photos of the Flak Towers on Neulinggasse. For those of you who are not from Wien, these are towers that were built during the war so that the flak guns could get clear shots at the Allied bombers who were on a mission to flatten every city and town in Germany and Austria – regardless of their military importance. They are enormous – and I am not sure why they are still there – but will try to find out. Perhaps they are to be taken down by Telekom Austria but they haven’t made it to the work orders for 1952 yet.

I have read a number of books about the deliberate campaign by the Allies to flatten German and Austrian cities and still think it was the worst mistake they made during the war – for a whole raft of reasons to numerous to go into here. However, one of the main reasons is that after the war there was apparently only one set of plans left – and no architects – so all the buildings erected in Wien between 1948 and 1975 look the same and are made out of the same awful stuff.

I am still on a quest to find out about meat so was browsing bookshops on Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse looking at pictures of meat (with captions). I filled in some gaps in my knowledge but couldn’t find a book that gives me what I need. I will search further. I can’t stay too long in bookshops looking at pictures of meat or people will call the police.

I am apparently supposed to have my passport with me wherever I go but keep forgetting it. I was asked for it when we arrived at the hotel on Friday night but they let me in when I showed them my residency card. So if I do get arrested for loitering over meat pictures I will suffer the consequences. If they then look at the car they will see how dangerous I really am.

We are just about to start the quest for driving licences and the first step is a medical examination. At this examination we have been advised to say that we do not wear glasses for reading – or else it involves another trip to the optometrist. There are many more steps after this but I don’t look to far ahead when dealing with the Austrian bureaucracy or I start to feel faint and have to lie down. There is apparently no driving test which is probably just as well as I could not do it in the Queen Mary -and after this length of time may not be able to drive a car they weighs less than 60 tonnes. We are hoping that the global recession may mean that we get our car before 2009 if other orders are cancelled – but don’t really expect that to happen.

A more realistic goal is for us to win a car in a competition so I have started filling in entry forms an sending them off. I am in the running for a Skoda Octavia and will know next Friday!

My favourite café is Massimo in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse – but the Italian man who owns rarely has any other customers. I think this is because most of tables are for non-smokers – so the Viennese stay away in droves. I am sure he will come to his senses soon and dump the non-smoking table – and he will have a full café like every other on in the street.

I have been watching FOX for the last few days to see how badly they deal with the election of Obama. They are taking it very badly indeed and are becoming incandescent with rage that a (Gasp!) Democrat will once again occupy the White House. They have trundled out a number of not very inventive lies and today’s was the story that Obama has undertaken - when elected - to bankrupt the Coal industry. They played this story every hour. But what is the point as surely no rational undecided voter would watch FOX. Surely it is only for hardcore Republicans and people like me who enjoy a spot of Schadenfreude. Anyway it’s great fun and I am having a whale of a time.

I am planning on waiting up for a result – which won’t happen until at least 2:00 AM Wien time so it will be a long – but satisfying night.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Room with a crematorium

Well we went to Salzburg and had a wonderful time. We thought it would be cold but it was about 14 degrees – which is not nearly cold enough for us.

I had booked this hotel which I thought would be really weird – and it was. I had booked a suite on the basis that it was only €10 per night more than the double room. The room had a bath and a crematorium in it (Cate says it is a heater) and the picture shows what I mean.

The hotel also comprises the Mozart Kino where we could have seen the latest James Bond movie in German. I am not at all sure that this would have detracted from its attraction as an action movie but we had a lot to do and had to pass. I am also not convinced that Mozart would have been comfortable with the concept but after seeing his first ‘Mostly Mozart’ shop he probably would have been heavily sedated for some time. We did see where he was born but didn't buy his baby shoes which were on special for €19,95.

The Hotel also include the ‘Trattoria Domani’ which had an Italian menu – and to which we went twice. The first night because we knew we would get there late and so we had booked in – the second night because after walking up to the Festung and all around the city we were too tired to venture further. The Trattoria Domani on night one was staffed by Germans – and on night two it was staffed entirely by Indians. No I don’t know why Indians are running an Italian restaurant in Austria.

Our room was directly above the Trattoria Domani and the kitchen stove vented into the crematorium in the corner of the room. We enjoyed the aroma of many dinners at night and especially enjoyed the drunks leaving the restaurant late at night and throwing each other through the plate glass windows in Kaigasse. The receptionist in the hotel told us that this was their finest suite – I guess they use the others for commando training.

Salzburg is a very beautiful place – especially when it is shut tight as it was on Saturday because of the holiday. The only thing we saw open all weekend (apart from Mostly Mozart, cafés and restaurants) was the Trafik opposite the hotel. The owner opened for 15 minutes to restock the cigarette machine on the wall outside his store. The Austrians can go without everything except their cigarettes.

Instead of taking the funicular we walked up the hill to the Festung Hohensalzburg so needed coffee when we got to the top (this is our normal state). They didn’t have coffee so I had a cup of hot kitty litter and Cate wisely chose the mineral water. But I am not sure what I expected from a café that sold ‘Festungburgers’.

This is another ancient and magnificent edifice of the type which abound in Austria. We also went to a very large church which was first built in 763. It was of course festooned with angels and cherubs. We went to the MIrabellgarten where Cate took 163 pictures of the trees. We are not accustomed to real Autumns so leaves turning brown and falling off trees in large numbers are a real treat for us.

When we arrived in our room and looked out the window we saw that there was a truly gigantic rubbish bin on the footpath just below. We wondered what this could be for and found out at 6:00 AM on Sunday Morning. The Trattoria Indians had decided to empty the entire contents of an apartment into the bin – throwing things from some height. And I mean the entire contents, tables, chairs, fridges, radios, clothes – the whole lot. By the looks of the furniture I think this apartment had been hidden from view for more than 60 years. Maybe someone walled themselves in when the allies arrived in 1945 and the Indians found the secret doorway while looking for the last packet of Basmati rice in the back of the kitchen cupboard?

After sustained complaints from the hotel they stopped for about half an hour – recommencing at 7:30 and finishing about 9:00. It was a wonderful way to start the day and we set off refreshed for the day’s adventures.

Cate lost it completely last night when Muffin got hold of one of my socks and dragged it around the house yowling pitifully. Bill then tried to sit on her head. This followed the recent back-licking incident and other atrocities. Both cats were evicted from the bedroom immediately and have now been banned at night. They have plenty of places to be in the apartment or if they really want to they can sit outside our door and yowl. This won’t bother us because there are double doors into the bedroom so we won’t hear them. I know this seems callous but if you have ever been woken by a large cat planting its bottom on your face you will understand our need for remedial action.

This morning a very small bird landed on the terrace and died. I had just been out on the terrace cleaning out the cleaning out the Kitty Litter but I am sure that it wasn’t that potent. Goodness me – if small birds are that sensitive it’s amazing that there are any at all. These Viennese birds need to toughen up a bit. I’d suggest a weekend living in the Kaserbrau Hotel and Mozart Kino in Salzburg.