Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Air Conditioning is Kaputt!

Cate and Gwenyth went bicycling around the Ring today and left the house looking like Yetis. It is so cold Cate is thinking of investing in a pair of ear muffs. You know it is cold when Cate worries more about the cold than what she will look like.

This is a girl who wouldn’t wear gloves to work some days because they did not go with her shoes, or nose ring - or something.

I think the average Austrian woman worries more about keeping warm than looking elegant and I like this sense of practicality. But being who I am I really don’t care much about what I look like in winter.

Fortunately Cate keeps me from committing really atrocious fashion faux pas but I can still usually manage to look like a hobo no matter where I go. Cate hates it when I wear my Siberian Elk Hunters hat but I would rather have warm ears than look good.

We have had the fire roaring away every night since Christmas Eve and do feel a bit guilty about this – but we don’t have any other heating in the living area so don’t have much choice. It won’t be long before I have to visit Hornbach for another load of wood – which will be more difficult now because we no longer have a station wagon – or an estate as they are called these days.

Cate has been driving Bill Benz everywhere we go so that she gets accustomed to it. She is very worried about scratching it so drives very slowly and very carefully. Any slower and there would be a man walking in front of us carrying a red flag.

She doesn’t want to be the first one to scratch it so I have the task of getting it in and out of the garage. Of course as soon as I do scratch it she will be off the hook. She will call me a clumsy clot and then drive like a lunatic again.

No matter what we do Muffin can usually manage to find a sock at about 4:00 AM which she then drags about the bedroom yowling. Neither of us ever has the strength to get out of bed to stop this atrocity so we bury our heads and wait for her to collapse from exhaustion. This can sometimes take a while. She has always done this and it doesn't get any easier.

After much diligence Muffin has finally loosened a couple of threads in the rug and has been triumphantly pulling at these for the last few days. She is confident that she will be able to burrow through the rug to bare floor boards by Easter but I may trick her by putting another rug underneath – or even a steel plate.

I asked Rozalin for instructions about the tree and she says we can take it down any time we like. Apparently there are places out there where you can take trees but I simply cannot imagine how we could get a very large dead tree in full flight down the stairs without making such a colossal mess that Frau Schlumberger would throw a total wobbly.

I also don’t like the idea that a tree that has given us such faithful service over Christmas will just get dumped in a big pile along with many other trees and be left to go mouldy. I think we will end up giving it a Viking funeral by cutting it up and putting it in the fire.

We are still not sure about New Years Eve and were planning on going into the city but have been advised by many people not to do this because of the crowds and the boisterous behavior of revelers.

We will certainly visit Café Malipop which is a tiny little bar in Ungargasse. It opens from 1900 to 0200 and the woman who runs it plays vinyl records – loudly. I walk past it most days but we went there for the first time a few nights ago and had a Schnapps.

Well I thought Schnapps was Austrian firewater but it turns out that in Austria Schnapps is a generic term for any liquor. So when I asked for Schnapps – in my very best German – I ended up in one of those dreadful conversations where I am made to look like a complete fool. Fortunately I am well accustomed to this and take it in my stride.

We eventually ended up with Austrian Schnapps – which is what I was looking for in the first place. I explained to the woman that I was not in fact an escapee from an asylum but was from Australia and lived just around the corner. She warmed up considerably and has decided to allow me back into the bar if I don’t attempt to further mutilate the German language.

I have downloaded an iPhone application to translate German words and phrases. Now when I am out and about I can punch in a German word and get a result immediately. This is greatly enhancing my knowledge but I have such a long way to go that it is depressing. I know that I will just have to keep plugging away and that one day I will be able to pick up a newspaper in German and read it. Some of the pronunciations are really quite surprising and there are many strange variations and aberrations. All of these should guarantee that I will always speak German like a half wit with a golf ball in his mouth.

The Air Con man arrived today and after some investigation pronounced the system kaputt! It will need some extensive work and this will involve quotes being prepared, the approval of the landlord being obtained, parts being requisitioned, a team of experts being flown from Germany and a major job of logistics and coordination. Who knows how many forms will need to be completed before anything can happen so we are not planning on having heating any time soon.

You will have realized by now that we are made of stern stuff and having survived everything that Australia can throw at us including droughts, bushfires, Irukandji, Crocodiles, Redback Spiders, Tiger Snakes, John Howard and Brendan Nelson we are not about to be daunted by a minor setback like this.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wien is swarming with pigs

Hundertwasser House

Melissa is back in Paris with Merlin and Henri. She will probably have nightmares about meat for the next few months while she recovers from the recent Fleischfest in Wien.

Gwen has arrived and we have warned Muffin that she is not a cat lover. Muffin usually ignores this type of advice but is steering well clear of Gwen. I think she is just out of sorts about Bill but is possibly worried about what Gwen keeps in her gigantic suitcase.

Wien is now swarming with pigs of all sizes. These are apparently lucky charms and I am not sure whether you give them to people for luck or buy them yourself. I will make further enquiries. The pigs were certainly out of luck in Am Heumarkt over Christmas.

We went to Hundertwasser house which is a truly astonishing sight quite near to us in Landstrasse. See

We also went to Mauthausen Concentration Camp which is about 160 kilometers from Wien and is a very scary place indeed. It was bitterly cold and it is not hard to imagine what it was like there during the war.

I have just finished reading Armageddon by Max Hastings. This is the best book I have read about the last year of the war in Europe and gave me a lot of very interesting information. I am trying to find stuff about Austria - and Wien in particular - but of course it is all in German so I have a lot of work to do.

I may have been a bit hard on The Third Man. I will have another look.

There were a few snowflakes over Christmas and while we were driving but nothing to shout about yet. Today it got down to about -4 when we went to the Flughafen to pick Gwen up and we were glad to get back home to a fire.

The Air Conditioning people were supposed to come today but missed the appointment (again). I am not sure what we need to do to get them to call - possibly I haven't filled in the right form or use the correct code word. I will keep plugging away until I hit on the right answer.

Rozalin has already made enquiries about the KAP but we are in the wrong season and may have to wait a few months.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Muffin needs some little friends

Muffin is lonely. She wanders around the house looking for Bill and waits next to the front door for him. Cate let her out and she went down three flights of stairs before being herded back inside.

We have decided that she must have some feline company so are embarking on a Kitten Acquisition Program (KAP) which will be put into effect soon. When Cate goes back to work she will consult Rozalin who, amongst many other things, is an expert on acquiring cats in Wien.

Rozalin is also in the market for a kitten and is planning on acquiring one in March when she gets back from her honeymoon. Yes – I know she is already married but she has been busy getting some new tattoos and didn’t have time for a honeymoon.

The Goose was a spectacular success – as indeed were the Pork and Turkey. Cate cooked dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and demonstrated her stunning culinary skills. Her Date and Red Wine sauce was a triumph – as were the Brussels Sprouts.

The only recipe we could find was one of Gordon Ramsay’s so we both used a lot very bad language and cheated on each other while we cooked – and it seemed to work.

Of course we had much more meat than we could possibly eat so the fridge is still stuffed full and we will have our Semmels with cold meat for the rest of the week.

Melissa didn’t help much as we couldn’t make the Goose and Turkey look like Gummy Bears so she had to focus on the vegetables.

We went out a few times but our movements were restricted because Melissa feels the cold and turns blue fairly quickly. We bought her some leather gloves in the Wollzeile and these helped a bit but we couldn’t find any nose muffs so that part of her anatomy remained unprotected.

We did visit the Kaisergruft in the Capuchin Church. All the Hapsburgs are interred there in metal coffins – some of them astonishingly elaborate. These cheered up Melissa immensely because she likes nothing better than a really good graveyard.

We took Billy Benz for a gallop. He is a joy to drive and has a terrific navigation system. They were able to provide me with a manual in English so I will be able to work out what most of the buttons and gadgets are for.

We watched ‘The Third Man’ which is an unremarkable film except for the fact that it is set in Wien just after the end of the war - so we could point to places we recognise. I am not sure what the fuss is about and probably should watch it again to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We love youse all!

Melissa has arrived and has had a ride in Billy Benz.

Rozalin ordered the meat for us and we have Goose. Turkey and Pork. The Goose is the size of a Pterodactyl and won’t fit willingly into the fridge.

This leaves us with a problem as Melissa won’t eat meat that looks like meat. So Cate is cooking the pork tonight and then cutting into the shape of gummy bears and painting it red. (Cate cooking – can you beat that!). This may work but to be on the safe side we are going to fill Melissa full of champagne before dinner so she won’t notice.

We all went for a walk down Karntnerstrasse and the Wollzeile to look at the Christmas lights and there are very few people around. The city looks truly lovely and the we are just loving our first Christmas in Wien.

As we usually do on Christmas Eve, we will watch the first part of The Lord of The Rings. Towards midnight we will get onto Skype and talk to families and friends on the other side of the world – baking in the heat of an Australian summer.

We love youse all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Billy the Benz has arrived

I had a terrible German lesson on Monday. Bill was really as crook as Rookwood all weekend and I knew he was cactus. So I didn’t do my preparation properly and finished the lesson after one hour so that I could get to the vet.

The vet confirmed the cactus diagnosis but I could hardly spifflicate the Badger on the spot as I needed to confer with Cate who I knew would want to be there to say goodbye.

So the vets agreed to come at 8:30 PM to Beatrixgasse to do the job and that they did. Very tactfully and very gently and there were of course many tears.

Billy has been with us for 15 years and we have been through many trying times together. This included 11 years of John Howard and 8 years of George Bush – which is enough to make anyone want to merge with infinity.

Bill was the Samwise Gamgee of the cat world. Staunch, loyal, selfless and heroic. He defended his Mother, Brother and Cousins whenever required and left a number of his claws and most of his teeth in cats throughout the neighbourhood in Sydney. It was always a risk bringing our ancient cats to Wien – but we could never leave them behind.

Only cat people will understand what I mean. The rest of you can sod off.

The new car was delivered today (that didn’t take long!) and has been christened Billy (the Benz) in honour of Billy the Cat. It is very bright and shiny and I have promised Cate that I will try very hard not to drive it into the side of the garage – or anything else for that matter.

I asked for a manual in English – and amazingly enough they provided one. So I will be able to work out what the widgets and gizmos are for. It will get its first run tomorrow when I collect Melissa from the airport.

Muffin is still working on the rug and has so far chewed it, scratched it, eaten on it and vomited on it - but to no avail. It appears to be impervious to her attempts to scar or hole it so I am keen to know what else she has in store.

Monday, December 22, 2008

We lost our Bill today

Our lovely boy cat Bill got very sick last week and was worse on the weekend. I took him to the vet today and he is suffering from kidney and liver failure in addition to having heart problems.

We could not watch him suffer any more so the vet came tonight to put him to sleep. We are very sad here – we lost Robbie two weeks before we left Australia and did not expect to lose another so soon.

We will miss you so much Billy.

The new car will be named Billy in your honour.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Carp for Christmas Eve - AGAIN!

Tree unbundled
- waiting for decorations.

My plan to get Rozalin drunk didn’t work and she remained rock solid all evening. On the other hand Cate and I got hammered and shouted 'we come from the Ukraine' in German and showed passers by our tattoos as we lurched down Singerstrasse on our way home.

Rozalin’s husband must be a good guy because he has all of Rammstein’s albums. It follows that he will also be partially deaf.

We went to a restaurant called Yohm which was chosen by Rozalin. We had the 6 course Degustation menu with wine. The food was Asian, the wines were Austrian and both were superb. It was a feast of epic proportions and if we can ever save up enough money we will do it again.

We both really like Austrian whites wines – which are much better than we thought they would be (I am not sure why we thought that because they have been doing it for a very long time so should have the hang of it by now). But we are not so keen on the reds and have never found reds anywhere that are as good as the best Australian reds. Not this has stopped us drinking non-Australian reds in large quantities and when we were in Provence with Liz and Darryl last year made a significant dent in the French harvest.

We received John Henderson’s Christmas letter and – as he admits – it is not up to the usual high standard. John is very unhappy about the financial meltdown and has used a lot of upper case letters to express his dissatisfaction. He now spends a lot of time sulking and counting the fireplaces in his country estate in Singleton. Christine will whip him into shape and he will be back in form soon.

Rozalin says that it may snow on Christmas day – but is not providing any guarantees. This would be very exciting as I have never had a white Christmas.

It has in fact been snowing today. There was a minor miracle when I received an SMS from Lutz telling me that the glass TV widget was ready. I went to get this and it started snowing but not enough to worry about in terms of driving. I am not looking forward to driving on ice and snow but will just have to tough it out.

The Austrian Times reports today that a survey has found that almost no Austrians are planning to eat Pizza, toast or noodles on Christmas Eve. 50% of people in northern Austria will be eating Carp – as they have done every year since 556 BC. I have offered to do the survey for them next year at no charge and will be able to produce accurate results without talking to anyone at all.

Exciting news today is that our car is on its way to Austria - and Rozalin says it will be delivered next Tuesday. I am going to have Beatrixgasse decorated for the occasion and may have a marching band and jumping castle.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Separable verbs suck

Tree wrapped

We now seem to spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in front of the TV – with the fire going - watching DVDs. We are plodding through 24 and are on series 6. The show is so silly it makes me cross – but it is addictive.

As a consequence of this DVD addiction we are using lots of wood in the fire so I sallied forth to Bauhaus to get some more. They train the sales assistants at Bauhaus by getting them up and dawn, taking them for a cross country run in the nude – and then flogging them with wet tree branches. Then – without breakfast – they are sent into stores to help the eager clients. Anyone rash enough to ask for assistance deserves what they get.

There is a big hairy brute with tattoos in the gardening section and I take great care to avoid him as he looks like a killer to me and is usually carrying a blunt object.

There was no wood at Bauhaus – NO wood. All the big piles of compressed sawdust and Sushi Rolls were gone. There was not a single packet of wood remaining. The area had been cleaned out and swept clean. Did I miss something? Is winter over? Have the swallows come back to Capistrano already?

I think the wood was much too popular and was making the punters happy. This alone is reason enough for Bauhaus to stop doing it – so they did.

I had to find Hornbach and was hoping to do this with the assistance of Tom Tom the GPS system. Tom Tom didn’t want to play and refused to work until I was well and truly lost in the wilds of Bezirk 22.

I am one of those people who cannot read street directories. I don’t mean that I have difficulty with them – I really do mean that I cannot understand them and get impossibly lost even when I have the street directory in front of me. I have absolutely no sense of direction.

Anyway – Tom Tom eventually came to life and saved me and I went to the wood department at Hornbach and piled my trolley high. Getting home was much easier although I terrified one local by forgetting what side of the road to drive on at a critical moment. To avoid a head on collision I lurched into a gas station and out the other side. These things happen occasionally and used to bother me but I have toughened up a lot since I arrived here.

I discovered some truly horrible things today. They are called Separable Verbs. Only the Germans could come up with something like a Separable Verb. What you do is take a perfectly good verb – say ‘Einkaufen’ - for shopping and then split it up – and put the first part of it at the end of the sentence. So we have something like ‘Rozalin kauft in Supermarkt ein.’ This is lunacy and is clearly designed to stop anyone but native German speakers getting hold of the language.

I can just imagine the horrors that await me in future lessons.

I see that Mercedes have plans to release a new E Class Model in 2009. Details have been leaked and are on the internet. This means that our car – ordered on 1 September and still not received – is now obsolete. Call me old fashioned but if you buy a current model car shouldn’t you get if before it becomes obsolete?

AC/DC is coming to town on 24 May 2009 and tickets went on sale today. I was going to get some for Cate and I but she says she has already allocated that night to tidy her sock drawer.

We are going to dinner with Rozalin tonight and I am planning on getting her drunk so that she will show me where her tattoos are. Her husband won’t be there because he won’t eat with anyone who doesn’t understand and appreciate separable verbs.

We have received an email from Annie and Michael so they are off the ‘head on a strange animal Photoshop’ list. They are really lovely people and we hope they will visit us.

We also had an email from Ron who says that he is now a Private Investigator. I may get him to track down our new car.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where are Rozalin's tattoos?

Alt Wien - outstanding coffee!

We went to Stephansdom to see an Adventkonzert. They have this wonderful system in Austria that when you pay an extraordinary amount of money to sit in a freezing cold and draughty place – the price only entitles you to enter the frosty and windswept venue.

To actually get a seat within 100 metres of what is happening you have to line up outside in the rain/snow/sleet/whatever until they open the door 30 minutes before the start. Your main task is then to stay alive as a heaving, screaming horde of humanity hurls itself inside the stone ice cube to engage in hand to hand combat for cold, hard wooden seats.

They are able to perpetrate these atrocities upon the population because an amazing number of nitwits such as us continue to pay large amounts of money to freeze our bums off in stone ice boxes.

For the price you pay and the crowds that go you expect to see the Rolling Stones and AC/DC on a Double Bill.

But no – and you know you are in trouble when the singers wear ear muffs.

There was a string quartet, a trumpet player, a man who spoke to us occasionally from the pulpit and what was supposed to be the Vienna Girls Choir – which were described in the program as ‘highly enthusiastic girls in the age between ten and 15 are singing choral music on the highest standard’.

There were two girls only and they lacked enthusiasm to a significant degree. One was young and tall, the other was very young and very, very small. But they both sang like I assume angels would if they existed and could be bothered.

I have no idea where the other choir members were – but can reasonably assume that they were even less enthusiastic than the two who turned up. Perhaps they were buying their Christmas Trees.

The trumpet player had less to do than anyone else so fidgeted throughout the entire performance. He had two trumpets and was obsessed with the mouthpieces – of which he had quite a collection – and changed these constantly. He apparently generated large amounts of …ahem….spittle…and shook this all over the place. I hope the other members of the troupe had towels with them.

If I was in charge of this gig I would lose him and add an Oboe player who uses Prozac.

The man whose job it was to speak did so twice. The first time he read – in German – part of the Austrian Industrial relations Act (1954) (as amended). I know this is so because I recognized ‘Mitarbeiter’ and ‘Friseur’. The second time he spoke it was in English but his accent was so strong that I did not realise this until he had nearly finished. My recollection is that he was describing a boxing match and one of the boxers was named ‘Hope’. On the other hand it could have been the 1936 match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium. What a fight that was!

The overall performance could be described as lackluster but adequate. The most important thing is that we have done it, can tick it off the list – and do not have to do it again until next year.

There is a great sense of community at these types of events and when they are over people help each other lever their frozen asses of the seats and struggle together out into the snow – stepping over the frozen bodies of the fallen.

The amazing Rozalin has introduced us to Christmas Tree blankets.

Well – when you buy a tree it comes standing up in a wooden cross. We assumed that we would wrap this in paper – or even a towel. In Australia I would just shoot a Bunyip in the back garden and use the skin (and toss the Bunyip into the Christmas stew – minus the farnarkles of course).

The Austrians – bless their hearts – have invented covers for the bottoms of their Christmas trees. These are called Wende-Tannenbaumdecke and they are magnificent. Ours is reversible and is gold on one side and red on the other. Of course you buy them at Tchibo or Eduscho – the people who sell coffee and clothing in the one store. Works for me.

Apparently Rozalin has tattoos which are not necessarily all visible to the naked eye. Cate says I am not allowed to ask Rozalin on which parts of her anatomy they reside.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The pine needles will probably make Muffin vomit

Rozalin was of course right about the Christmas trees.

On Friday I had to fight my way to Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse through Christmas tree vendors. They are everywhere in all shapes and sizes – the trees and the vendors.

I hear that the vendors who tried to jump the gun and sell on Thursday were executed in the Prater this morning. There are rules in Austria and they are there to be followed. Not knowing the rules is no excuse.

Trina said that there were trees on sale at Modenapark so we went up there on Saturday morning and acquired a very fine specimen indeed. Cate bought the tallest tree she could find and they put in into the Christmas Tree wrapping thingy and bundled it up in plastic mesh.

This was a fascinating sight for someone who has never seen this process before. We declined the offer of Schnapps (and no doubt offended the Christmas Tree sellers) – but it was a bit too early even for a soak like Cate.

We carried it home and of course it was much too tall for the elevator so we dragged it up the steps. It is more than 3 metres tall and only just fits in the lounge room. The cats are not quite sure about it yet but are investigating it thoroughly.

I imagine that Muffin will soon find that the pine needles (or whatever they are) make her vomit. Almost everything else green does so there is unlikely to be a rain check for a Christmas tree.

We spent some time decorating it and only broke one ornament. We don’t have enough lights so need some more – but are very pleased with the overall result.

I went to the Post Office in Marokkanergasse to get some stamps for our Christmas cards back to Australia. I took with me a card I had bought at Morawa so that I could find out the cost to send a card that size to Australia.

The man in the Post Office thought it was one of his and tried to sell it to me - but it wasn’t in his inventory. At one stage I was desperately trying to pull it out of his hand – shouting ‘das ist mein’ at the same time he was trying to put it through the cash register and shouting (I think) ‘it’s not yours until you have paid for it’.

The whole affair was ghastly and as they escorted me from the premises I thought about this latest triumph of living in Wien - and how I could have done it so very much better.

Unfortunately the Post Office is just near the Dry Cleaners and they probably talk to each other. It won’t be long before my picture is in most retail outlets in Landstrasse with a ‘Vorsicht!’ sign.

We had our best meal in Wien so far – at Cantinetta Antinori in Jasomirgottstrasse. We have negotiated a repayment plan and hope to have the back of the debt broken before we leave Wien.

We also had a lovely (and much cheaper meal) at Da Vitti in Kumpfgasse. When you wander out at 7:00 on a Winter night in the Innere Stadt without a reservation you are very likely to starve to death but we luckily found this place – which appears to be used mainly by locals. It was spoiled somewhat by a smoker – this one with a cigar. But we will certainly go back there.

A warning light came on in Benny on Thursday. It showed a picture of a skidding car with some incomprehensible words that I haven’t found in my German lessons yet. I wasn’t skidding at the time so I did the only thing I could do and ignored it. It comes and goes but I am not doing anything until a siren sounds.

The Austrian Times has informed us that Austria has the distinction of having the first chess player banned for doping

“When officials from the country’s anti-doping agency turned up at amateur chess player Monika Galamfalvy’s Vienna flat she thought someone was playing a practical joke on her and slammed the door in their faces. But now she has been told in a letter that she refused to undergo a doping test and has therefore been given a ban for an indefinite period”.

I am really struggling to imagine what sort of drugs could enhance the performance of a chess player so would welcome suggestions.

I have received an email and a card from Quolly and a letter from Anna. Also an email from Annie and Jim – and an email from Jill at Down Syndrome NSW.

For those freeloaders who read the blog and don’t send cards or emails at Christmas - you can expect to be mentioned very unfavorably in the blog in the new year. I may also Photoshop some pictures of your heads on very strange animals.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I think Llama's legs are the problem

I went for a ride this evening around the Inner Ring – it takes about 30 minutes. When I say this evening – I left at 3.45 PM and it was well and truly dark by the time I got back home. Wien is a magical city at this time of the year and is worth visiting just to see the Christmas lights.

Cate went to the optometrist to get her eyes tested for new glasses. She has only one pair so we have to guard them very carefully. She really cannot see very well at all without glasses and there is always a mad panic when they are mislaid. This happens almost hourly.

Before we leave for work each day we have a checklist we need to go through. This includes keys, Mitarbeiter pass, BlackBerry Bold and Notebook PC – and yes at some stage all of these things have been left behind.

After lesson number four I can now say in German ‘what do you think of my apartment – would you like to see the kitchen?’. This has limited use – as we don’t have any visitors except workmen who come to fix things - and these are almost never in the kitchen – and I am sure none of them gives a rat’s bottom about the apartment.

Anyway my teacher says I am coming along nicely. She is very good and has accepted that there are some words that I will never be able to pronounce properly. I may get a slate and some chalk so that I can communicate better when I go out by writing the words I can’t say. I can say things like ‘Do you have any…?” and then hold up the slate. I asked for a Mouse Mat in a shop recently and the man laughed out loud.

Cate found some cloth mice in a drawer and thought it would be a good idea to give them to the cats so that they could play with them. It wasn’t. She now spends a lot of time shouting ‘for God’s sake stop it!” at them as the hurtle around the house with the mice and Muffy carries them around yowling. I sit in my study and smugly say ‘I told you this would happen’.

Rozalin says that Christmas Trees will emerge in droves on Friday so I will be able to go out and buy one and drag it home. If Rozalin says it – it must be true.

Everything usually happens when it is supposed to in Wien but we are going to break the rules and put the tree up before Christmas Eve. I imagine that there are rules against this and that time in the slammer is a possibility – but we are prepared to risk it.

We have a acquired (I think) a Saint Nicholas who graces our wohnzimmer. He has a very small head and is very badly dressed – with a rope belt - but I am trusting Interio not to sell me something that is not appropriate.

We may not find this out until we have some Austrian visitors - who will run out of the apartment screaming when they see Nick because he is the patron saint of Austrian parking police (only better dressed). Anyway – we know no better so he will do us for the time being.

We have also acquired some more owls and now have a flock of four. This may not be enough as there is a lot of spare space so we will keep an eye on it. Another small brown bear has also been added to our menagerie and I am eyeing some deer who are loitering in the flower shop over the road. As with most things here, they appear to be made out of twigs. With the number of things the Austrians make out of sticks and twigs I am surprised that there are any trees left.

In Australia we would have them made in China out of plastic that was made to look like sticks and twigs.

And by the way – the Very Gorgeous Llama (VGL) was supposed to visit us and now I find out that she is going skiing in North America. I mean – she works for a French company – has us to provide accommodation in Austria (with snow up to our armpits) and then goes to North America. What is going on here? I think it’s the way I looked at her legs last time I saw her. (Well she is Drop Dead Gorgeous and has legs to die for).

Still no word from Quolly.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The new rug has Muffin stumped

A winter morning in Wien.

I went to Shopping City Sud to buy an electric frying pan to replace the one that exploded a few weeks or so ago and demolished the kitchen.

Saturn has electric grills, woks and griddles but no frying pans. This might be an Austrian thing – and maybe I have to go somewhere else. This may call for a trip to Tescos in Bratislava.

I will have to ask Rozalin (Cate’s immensely knowledgeable assistant) about this because she knows everything (or can find it out – she has spies everywhere).

David and Simone are back from eating their way around America and had a wonderful time. They ate something called ‘po boys’ and I will need to make further enquiries about the nature of this no doubt yummy dish. It sounds a bit like Cod intestines to me.

Muffin seems to have met her match with the new rug. Normally she can burrow through to the floor boards after a couple of days but Cod intestines reinforced with titanium have her stumped. She is eyeing the rug warily – planning the way forward.

I ventured back to Putzerei with some more dry cleaning for Cate and they agreed to take it from me if I provided the substantial amount of cash together with a bank guarantee - and left my wedding ring as security. It takes three days to get dry cleaning done – no I really don’t know what they do with it – but for what they charge they could send it to the USA and still make a profit.

I am a bit worried about Bill. For the last few days he hasn’t been eating his Rindgulasch and unless he does this he doesn’t really have anything substantial that he can bring up. I will have to keep an eye on him – but he seems to be quite happy.

The cats best trick is to get lumps of meat and spread them around Cate’s side of the bed so that when she gets up in the morning – if they are really lucky – she will step on one. This produces a truly astonishing reaction and my ears ring for days afterwards.

The big day for our Drivers Licences is next Wednesday and we have an 0800 slot. Naturally we have to take a couple of kilos of paperwork including our fraudulently obtained medical certificates, residency certificates, residency cards and (of course) passports. There cannot be too many people in Wien who have yet to see our passports – perhaps the sales assistants at Spar may be the only ones - I will take them in tomorrow to show them.

Quolly hasn’t written to me for a long time and we haven’t had a letter from Anna since John Howard was Prime Minister.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cate doesn't like Cod intestines

We saw some famous people a few nights ago. We were walking past the Sacher hotel after having dinner and some famous people came out and got into a black Mercedes Benz. We assume they were famous because there were people watching them and there were photographers taking their pictures.

To us of course they were just people – and this would have disturbed them enormously. The problem with being famous is that you are only famous to people who know who you are.

In Vienna – WE are the most famous people we know. I mean – we live in a fabulous penthouse overlooking Wien - drive a Mercedes with writing on its sides and wear Calvin Klein jeans – how hot is that!

This time in Korea they made Cate eat Cod intestines. She says they were worse than live octopus – I believe her. She also had Fugu and I told her that if her fingers started to tingle it was a sign that she had been poisoned and would die - but there was nothing she could do about it.
Of course as soon as I said this her fingers started to tingle and she spent the night waiting to die in an aeroplane on the way back to Wien. During this time she sent the cats a goodbye postcard and wrote a long letter of apology to John Howard and George Bush for the appalling things she has said about them during the last few years.

Nadia Poponova last week said that her friend’s cat was very old and had just died. ‘How old?’ I enquired. ‘14’ she said. Muffin is 16 and Bill is 15 so I am glad that they did not overhear this particular conversation.

We took the Mercedes for a gallop and it is indeed a thoroughbred! It is not as powerful as the Queen Mary (it doesn’t have to be – it doesn’t weigh 60 tonnes) but is agile, responsive and – importantly – automatic. This is bliss! We have named him Benny.

It is covered in advertising for the people who took my order under false pretences - oh so very long ago. So I am driving a car with a gigantic ‘Wiesenthal’ sign down each side and on the back window.

We went to Shopping City Sud to by a rug, a coat rack and Christmas tree decorations. We got all of these. Cate says that coat rack we bought is ‘hideous’. Imagine what she thought of the ones we didn’t buy!

Muffin loves the new rug and is trying to tear it to pieces. However it is made out of a mix of Cod intestines and titanium so it will take her months. In the meantime she has started leaving lumps of meat on it in the hope that they will leave marks. It is not really very furry so she may not vomit on it – although it is next to the Katzengrass so she doesn't have far to go if the mood take her.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Muffin is glad that Obama won

Cate brought me a men’s jumper that was not mine and said that it was with her dry cleaning. I believed her. I took it back to the dry cleaners and said – in my very best German ‘I come from the Ukraine – this was with my dry cleaning but it is not mine’.

The lady I spoke to had no English at all but was able to make me understand that the jumper was not hers as the dry cleaning tag on the did not belong to Putzerei. She also did not believe that I was from the Ukraine. We didn’t make much progress until I realised that Putzerei was the name of the dry cleaners I was in – and then things started to fall into place.

I was going to try my latest German phrase ‘do you have these pyjamas in my size?’ but I could see that she was not in the mood so left before she called the police.

Closer analysis revealed that it had what was clearly an Australian dry cleaning tag and we had brought it from the other side of the world four months ago. Our local dry cleaner in Sydney was Chinese and spoke as much English as the lady at Putzerei – so I imagine he had a very unpleasant conversation with the former owner of the sweater which is now in my possession.

The sweater is very stylish and does fit me quite well - so I will able to wear it in Landstrasse safe in the knowledge that the owner is not likely to identify it and give me a beating for stealing his clothing.

It is strange to be in a place and know that wherever you go you will not see a single solitary soul that you know – other than people like the owner of the coffee shop and the sales people in Spar. This is not daunting and is in fact reassuring. As one who spent my entire working life being badgered by my many people about all sorts of things it is nice to know that the only person who will badger me is Cate – and of course Muffin and Bill (who rarely give me a moments peace).

I am by nature a solitary person and am happy with my own company. I would like to meet Kylie Minogue one day but am prepared to let things take their course. I would like to know how someone who cannot sing at all can be so successful – and of course I would like to see her bum up close.

My intellectual stimulation while Cate is away comes from my conversations will Bill and Muffin – which are very one-sided. Neither of them is intellectually gifted but do provide a measure of support. I tried to explain the US electoral college system to Muffin during the presidential election but she just couldn’t get hold of it and kept falling asleep.

She was pleased that Obama won though because both she and Bill are (or were) black. They have sort of faded to a brownish colour and are officially listed on the Austrian cat immigration documents as ‘dark tabbies’.

Bill is interested only in meat and it is pointless trying to have a meaningful discussion with him.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Do you have any bananas?

I have purchased from Morawa in the Wollzeile the 2009 edition of the Gault Millau restaurant guide – which lists 646 restaurants, plus hotels and cafes.

Also included with the package was a book of the best gourmet food providers - and a book about Austrian wines and beer.

The more perceptive among you will have realised already that these books are in German and that this is not my mother tongue.

However, the restaurant book gives all restaurants a rating – which even I can understand – so I just have to make sure that they have an acceptable rating and that they serve something we can eat.

Austrians eat a number of very scary things which we try to avoid. The boiled calves heads at Plachutta – for example – are things which are unlikely ever to be ordered by us.

I hope that by the judicious use of Gault Millau we will avoid a repeat of some of the horrendous experiences we have had in the back streets of Landstrasse and Innere Stadt on Friday and Saturday nights.

Morawa is a wonderful bookshop and makes me wish I could read German. But it won’t be long – I am up to lesson 4 in my Schritte textbook and can now say many useful things such as ‘Do you have any bananas?’ and ‘I come from the Ukraine’.

I am waiting for an opportunity to use the first phrase and hang about in the fruit and vegetable section in Spar waiting for them to run out of bananas – so that I can ask.

‘I come from the Ukraine’ could be a bit trickier but I will try to work it in somewhere.

I love being able to order things online and get Billa to deliver all the heavy stuff including kitty litter and mineral water. It works fine except when they don’t have what I have ordered and ring me to tell me that they have something else instead. I just say ‘Ja, das ist gut’ and wait for the surprise when the stuff arrives. As far as I can tell – the prices are the same as they are at the Billa market and the delivery costs only €6. It sure beats the stuffing of having to cart things back from Billa or Spar down the road - especially 10 kilo bags of litter.

The Mercedes has not yet had a gallop as I have been caught up with Herr Stumpfchen, a Billa delivery and a visit to Wein and Co. I went to Wein and Co just near Stephansplatz and there seem to be just as many tourists around that area as there are in the middle of summer. I guess there is not a time when people don’t want to see Wien – and a lot probably come to see the Christmas lights.

Of course now that I live here I am offended by tourists and in my spare moments I go down to Am Heumarkt and shout ‘I live here!’ as tourist buses go by. Cate usually stops me from doing this and takes me inside and gives me a glass of warm milk and a cracker with vegemite so that I will settle down.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The blind people are trying to trick us

Two Cobbers in Wien in September. John is not really that tall and is standing on a bag of Krapfens.

Cate has arrived safely in Korea but her Blackberry is flat and her charger does not work. She has enormous problems with electronics and really should have a maintenance person travel with her. Fortunately she has an internet connection so can do almost everything she needs to.

News here is that the new Austrian SPÖ-ÖVP grand-coalition government, the 24th in the history of the post-WWII Second Republic, has just taken office. Since the election the various parties have apparently been locked in a room beating each other with clubs trying to form a government - and the survivors are now able to do this. I am trying to pay attention to what this means (I suspect it means very little) and will report to you if I can ever get to understand it.

Much more exciting is the fact that Hermann Maier has won the first super-G of the World Cup Season. The Herminator is Austria’s most famous skier and of course I am a fan of winter sports and the Herminator. (In fact I have always been a fan of the Herminator).

I would even watch some skiing except that we have lost nearly all of our TV channels and can now only watch BBC and CNN news and some music channels. However Herr Stumpfchen arrived today with his mallet and spanner to attend to this problem – which unfortunately turned out to be my fault.

The credit card I gave them for the monthly subscription only had a small limit and I filled it up fairly quickly. The card was issued by our bank on the premise that we should not use it except to buy milk and Krapfens so of course we blew it to pieces by lashing out on meals in restaurants.

The system here is that your bank account is debited at the end of the month for the balance payable on your credit card. We had in our account at least 10 times the balance of the credit card but this does not amount to a hill of beans in Austria. Limits are made to be adhered to.

The TV people were unable to collect the amount due so cancelled my account. The option of contacting me had apparently not occurred to them but I suppose I should be grateful that I escaped arrest and incarceration.

I did not help matters when Herr Stumpfchen was here by giving him my Austrian Airlines Miles and More card instead of my Austrian Airlines Visa Card. This caused much more confusion than was necessary as his English is much worse than my German.

I can’t say that I improved his day much and will try to do better in future. He is a very patient man but I tested him today.

At the same time as he was here some electricians from his company arrived to fix a broken down light. The problem proved to be intractable and they took the light away for forensic examination. I hope it does not turn out to be my fault.

On a brighter note – the people from Velux rang to say that someone will be along on 15 December to fit new blinds in the studies upstairs. We think this is a trick because it has only been three months since they came to see what blinds needed to be replaced. I am not sure what their game is and will have to think about it carefully.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Death of a Queen

We had our medical examinations for our drivers licences. The Doctor took great pains to advise us that if we had any medical problems of any type we could expect to be caught up in the Austrian bureaucracy for some considerable time – and that deportation was a likely outcome.

The required answer for all the questions was no – and this answer we dutifully gave to all questions.

I had to fake my eye test. I said I had a piece of kitty litter in my right eye. Cate confessed outright that she is legally blind and that her dog was in the waiting room with me.

This did not stop the Doctor who was focused on filling in the form and getting it stamped properly. In Austria this is always the most important thing as there is a special government department that punishes people who fill out forms incorrectly. Those caught are turned into parking police until they meet a quota – and this explains why the parking police are so zealous.

We eventually emerged triumphant with our certificates. I had some difficulty as the door handle of the surgery came off in the Doctor’s hand and she had to put it back together again before we could leave. I was not worried as we were only on the first floor and there was enough material in her blouse and my jeans that we could use to make an escape rope. In fact her blouse was plenty big enough.

Step 2 is to go to the required government department where we will be subjected to a number of atrocities and indignities before being issued with drivers licences. These procedures are designed to let you know that you are insignificant, powerless and are but a dollop of Pelican poo defiling the Austrian Nation with your presence.

You have to jump through many administrative hoops to get a licence – but none of them involves driving a car or knowing any road rules. This is evident once you start to drive and are subject to frequent suicide attacks by other drivers.

Frau Schlumberger has decorated the fir tree in our courtyard as a Christmas tree. Frau Schlumberger is the building Hausmeisterin and looks after the building, does the cleaning, changes the light globes and makes sure that the young Asian ladies in the massage parlour on level 2 don’t hang their knickers over the balcony.

Cate is disappointed in the outcome with the Christmas Tree and thinks that Mrs Schlumberger did not have her heart in it. I think Cate is expecting far too much – Mrs S has a great deal to do in an apartment building this size - even without the knickers - but must admit that the tree looks much better at night than it does during the day. Based on this performance Mrs S is unlikely to get the job of doing the Christmas lights in Karntnerstrasse.

The big news is of course that the Queen Mary has been draped in black and has been dragged off up Opernring on a gun carriage. The route was lined with Budget Rental Car employees wearing black arm bands who shouted things like ‘it was a suicide mission!’ , ‘too young to die!’ and ‘we love you Queenie!’

The man who collected her was a battled scarred veteran but even he bit his lip as he catalogued the disgraceful condition of the once glorious Queen Mary. After a lengthy restoration process the Queen Mary will be placed in a glass case on rosewood plinths in the Budget Hall of Martyrs – with before and after pictures – so that the Viennese can see what happens when you lend your cars to Auslanders.

On a brighter note…….her replacement - a gleaming and perfectly formed Mercedes Benz C-Class Estate – sits quivering in the garage ready for action. You can almost hear her snorting and pawing the ground as she waits to come to grips with the cobble stones in Ungargasse.

Tomorrow I shall unleash her on Wien! Vorsicht!

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Sushi Rolls smell funny when you burn them

I was lying in bed early on Friday morning quietly contemplating the way forward when Bill came into the room and pissed on my jeans – which were lying next to the bed. This could have been an expression of displeasure at not being allowed into the bedroom at night – or it could have been a statement about my lack of fashion sense. I know Calvin Klein is not as cool as it once was – but pissing on them seems to be an over reaction. What would he have done to Hugo Boss?

We visited Martinellis in Freyung on Friday night and it was the most astonishingly expensive meal we have had – and on the value for money scale rated about 4/10. The food was not very good and there was not much of it – but the wine was OK and I had my first glass of Prosecco. I will be drinking more of this and will visit Wein and Co this week.

We wandered around the Innere Stadt and looked at the very many sights and lights. Wien is indeed very beautiful at this time of the year and the Christmas lights are spectacular - and an amazing sight for someone from the Southern Hemisphere. It has been our wish for a long time to be in a European city at Christmas – and here we are.

No one is more surprised than us about what has happened and we have to pinch ourselves to make sure we are not dreaming. When we go home to our apartment in the sky and look over at the city we never cease to be amazed at the wonder of it all.

We are on a quest to try as many restaurants as we can so that we can build a list of good food, good value restaurants where there are smoke free sections. There are in fact, surprisingly enough, some cafés and restaurants in Wien that are entirely smoke free. Café Griensteidl in Michaelerplatz is one that is smoke free and where the cakes are big.

I always forget to say ‘no cream’ and end up with a Cappuccino with an enormous dollop of cream – which is the typical way of serving coffee in Wien. Cate watches me carefully and has the paddles ready in case I have a heart attack during one of these episodes.

We have acquired a grate for the fire and now logs do not drop out and make the cats jump six feet into the air. It seems to work quite well and there have been no major disasters. We always make sure the fire is nearly dead before we go to bed as I hate to think what the penalty is in Wien for burning down apartment blocks. It is a good flogging and a week in the stocks for losing a house key so it is probably death by hanging for such a heinous crime as turning Wieners out of their beds on a winter night.

Cate is preparing for her trip to Korea and has packed a camping survival kit in case she is trapped in her room - together with a rope so that she abseil down the side of the building in case she needs to escape in a hurry.

We have substitutes for the compressed sawdust. These are also compressed sawdust but burn for a lot longer and (Cate says) smell funny. They are brown and she calls them Sushi Rolls. I have acquired 20 packets and have dragged them up to the apartment in my granny shopping basket with wheels. This is not as easy as it sounds as there are many steps to negotiate. I am trying to think of a way I could look more stupid but haven’t been able to do so. Suggestions are welcome.