Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Paris Je t'aime

Melissa wondered what the photo on the blog had to do with the heading ‘Boring Blog from Paris’. The answer is nothing – it is a photo of the moon rising over Mt Rainier in Washington State. Well – I didn’t have any new photos so recycled an old one.

No photo today – technical difficulties – I have to write the Blog in the bar and there are no photos on my new PC.

My Mexican Swine Flu is getting worse so I stayed in bed this morning and did not venture out until after lunch. I went to the Luxembourg Gardens and took photos of statues and trees. To get close to the statues I had to walk on the grass which had a sort of a small iron fence around it so – as no one else was on it – I assumed that it may be verboten.

I asked a man ‘can I walk on the grass?’ but he looked at me strangely and was non committal. Reflecting later on our brief but unsatisfactory conversation I think I may have asked him ‘can I sneeze on your sheep?’

There were no Bees and no Ducks (has Merisi been here?)

But, generally speaking, my French is holding up and I managed to have lunch without the waiter sneering at me at spitting at me in English. I think my judicious use of a few ‘Dankes’ may have thrown him off the scent.

There is simply nowhere like Paris and I know why Melissa loves it so much. It is just so.....well...Parisienne! The streets, the shops, the mélange of people, the light – it has a certain ´je ne sais quoi’ which is hard to explain – but wonderful to see. The city has a charm of its own and I see more inside it each time I come here.

Melissa and I went to the back of the Butte tonight to try a new Restaurant Japonais that she has been eyeing. Not bad – the first glass of white wine was execrable but of course it improved (funny how that always happens).

We cruised back up Rue des Abbesses and the Patron in one of the bars recognised me a waved – so of course I had to go in for a Mélange and a glass of white wine. He had only met me once before but I had taken the trouble to explain to him that I was Melissa’s father.

I had my coffee and white wine and one of the patrons remarked – that is an unusual combination. The Patron shrugged and said ‘Ah...he is Australian’.

Needless to say my USB Wireless Internet connection does not work here. It should but ‘should’ doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in Internet World. I will go back to the man in 3 in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse and he will say ‘Ah yes...this one works everywhere except the 6th Arrondissement in Paris!’

Cate arrives home each night at 1-ish and flops into be exhausted. of has to work and I love her for it.

Cat photography tomorrow. Melissa says that there are no cats at La Cimetiere Montparnasse – I hope to prove her wrong.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Boring Blog from Paris

Turns out that I know very few words in German and the ones I do know are not used by either Microsoft or HP in their German notebook PCs.

It was quite the most difficult thing I have done for some time and took a long, long time to do.
It was not helped by the fact that when I had do the initial setup – when faced with many German words and being required to pick an option – I chose at least one wrong one – and I am sure that more will emerge.

I set up the computer to use an English Keyboard – so that the letters that appear when you press keys bear no resemblance to the letter which is on the key itself.

It took me some time to work out what had happened – and in the meantime I really struggled. It took me 20 minutes to find the @ key - which is really important!

I also made some bad choices when I was asked questions – but now know that if you want to move forward do not click on ‘Abbrechen’.

On a happier note I now have a keyboard with an Umlaut and other weird things the Germans use. I just have to remember that when I want a Z I press Y – and if I want a @ I press 2. (Update – Melissa has fixed this for me).

I received a cheerful message from Austrian Airlines giving me my flight details, telling me what the weather was like in Paris, and inviting me to do a website check in. Sure I said – why not?

After a futile 20 minutes on the Internet – being told that my booking did not exist – I moved to Plan B.

When I telephoned I got a recorded message saying ‘Welcome to Austrian Airlines – your call will be answered IMMEDIATELY’.

WOW - I thought – that’s fantastic!

Unfortunately this was ‘immediately’ Austrian time so I had to listen to that same message a number of times – and large chunks of Strauss – while I waited. Why do they do this?

After much farnarkling the young lady told me that I could not check in because the flight was being provided by Air France. I refrained from asking ‘so why did you send me an email suggesting I check in on the web’ because I did not think it would elicit a useful response.

There were two people in the cafe at the airport wearing masks. But they took them off to drink their coffee. I think this is an unacceptable compromise. If you are going to wear a mask in Vienna airport I think you need to go without food and drink. I waved some of my special germs in their direction as I left.

Melissa met me at CDG and we took a train and a taxi to the hotel. It is not up to the usual high standard (for Cate) but beats the stuffing out of the Prima Lepic. It is cold and has been raining heavily so we mooched over the road to have an Omelette. Henri came along later and we discussed our plans for the next few days.

Cat photography day is Thursday and we are looking for a traditional Parisian Bistro for Saturday night. Last time we all did this we went to Bistro Allard which was just wonderful.
My language is a mélange of English, German and French – but I can still get by.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Pepperoni Pizza - and hold the Pepperoni!

It’s a well known fact that John Howard and Peter Costello caused the global recession. Sure – people aren’t talking about their role in this awful business – but we know they were responsible.

I am not sure how they did it – but by the Lord Harry they are cunning and devious and were able to cover their tracks very well.

I mention this in passing because – while John and Peter caused me endless suffering and misery – just by being there – the current incumbent of the Lodge has given me a gift.

$900 to be precise – paid into my bank account.

This is part of the stimulus package designed to help Australia out of the mess that John and Peter left it in.

Now – I may not help much because I will spend it in Austria – but this will help the Austrians immensely. I fact I have already spent it.

For my birthday I was going to ask Cate for a baby notebook PC that I can use when I travel so that I don’t have to take the Dell Godzilla with me. It is enormous and weighs a lot.

So today – after checking my bank account to make sure that Kevin was not just kidding I went to see my friend Mario at Hartlauer and bought a baby HP computer. It is just delicious and I love it. Of course everything is in German – including the keyboard so it will take some getting used to but I am ready for the challenge.

This means that Cate does not have to waste any money on me and can buy more useful things - like frocks - with her money.

There was a minor glitch because I wanted a black PC but when I got it home it was white. You may think this is astonishing if I tell you that Mario took it out of its box to look at the serial number – and neither of us noticed that it was white.

But I promise you Kevin – when we come back in July we will spend a boatload of money!

I saw my Doctor this morning to get something for an infection (I don’t think it’s Mexican Swine Flu but you can never be too sure).

He gave me something that gave me a rash all over and brought me out in large lumps. These calmed down after a couple of hours but I am reluctant to take another dose.

I am sick of paying all this money for medicine to Apothekes. I am thinking of cutting out the middle woman (I have never seen a man in an Apotheke) and of taking my cricket bat next time I go to see Dr Mordor so he can just club me to death and be done with it.

Cycling on the weekend was the hardest it has ever been. We both went on Saturday to the other end of Donauinsel and road back into the teeth of a howling gale. It was awful.

I went on Sunday – after Cate left for Paris – and it was worse.

Today I went out to go to post office and the bicycle shop and it is no better. And no matter where I go I seem to be riding into a headwind. It is really hard going and my knees are giving me trouble. Perhaps I should go and see the Doctor? Hmmm….perhaps not - at least I can still walk.

I went to the bicycle shop to get a repair kit and a spare tube. As we (and particularly I) travel so far afield now I can be up to 20 kilometres from home. This is a long walk home if I have a flat tire so I had to get the bits and pieces to make the appropriate repairs.

It is a long time since I have changed a bike tire but I am sure I will pick it up again. Things are much more compact. I have a small bag big enough for a Swiss Army Knife and a toothpick and it (so the man says) contains everything I need to repair the bike. We shall see. It probably contains a Swiss Army Knife and a toothpick.

Last night (as Cate is in Paris) I went to Pizzeria Grado and ordered a Pepperoni Pizza. These normally come covered with all sorts of stuff including some type of crappy peppery things. I did not want this so I said ‘Nur Pepperoni’ – meaning in German ‘only Pepperoni’.

I guess the waiter thought I said ‘no Pepperoni’ because what I got was a cheese Pizza – with nothing on it except enormous amounts of cheese – and of course the usual crappy peppery things which I always have to scrape off.

I ate every chewy mouthful as I pondered why the waiter thought I would ask for a Pepperoni Pizza – but hold the Pepperoni. Why wouldn’t I just ask for a cheese Pizza.

Perhaps there is an obscure German Grammar rule that says that ‘nur’ is ‘only’ except when it is being used to ask for a Pepperoni Pizza – when it means ‘no Pepperoni’.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where is Keegan?

Cate goes to Paris on Sunday and I follow on Tuesday. Grizelda the regular cat minder is away so Rozalin is going to look after Muffin.

Rozalin’s cat Mogli is apparently a lot like Muffin in the sense that she prowls around the bed at night and keeps Rozalin and her husband awake.

Cats are good like that. They can sense when you fall into a deep sleep so know exactly when to do those essential housekeeping things like – for example – licking themselves from top to toe – with the appropriate sound effects.

Billy could suck his toes so loudly it sounded like owls being fed into a blender.

If this fails to wake everyone up there isn’t a cat alive who can’t cough up a fur ball under the bed at 3:00 AM – or find an imaginary mouse to chase around the house for 15 minutes.

As I am with Cate on this occasion in Paris I will be in a proper hotel. There will not be straw on the floor and I may get a chocolate on my pillow.

Cate will be busy for the first few days so I will beetle about pretending that I can take photographs.

With luck Melissa may be able to take some time away from her PC and we can go to cemeteries and photograph cats.

Billy (the car) has changed to summer tires and apparently looks splendid. This is very exciting and will be the first time he has been properly kitted out with his real Mercedes Benz wheels. These – I might add – are very heavy – and I had to carry them up from the basement and stuff them into Billy ready for the big day.

I seem to spend a lot of time struggling up and down from the basement with really heavy things. Last week I had to take the unused firewood down there.

The weather in Wien at the moment is just fabulous – and I am really sorry I have missed two days of cycling. However, on a sadder note The Austrian Times has reported that

“Twenty-four people have died in avalanches in Austria so far this winter/spring season and one person is still missing – slightly down on the average number of 26 deaths in past seasons”.

This is in addition to the many, many people who have died on the ski slopes. This place is more dangerous than Afghanistan and they could use most of Austria as an SAS training camp. I will take my chances with sharks, crocodiles, spiders, snakes and Irukandji any day over the ski slopes in Austria.

We are going to the Anzac Day service at Karlskirche on Friday. This is being organised by the Australian and New Zealand embassies. We have joined OzCon which is a group of Australians – none of whom we have yet met.

Reviewing my Blogs over the last few weeks (very briefly mind you) I find that they are universally dull and uninspiring. Look – I don’t think it’s just me. I think my life is dull for other people. For me it is fabulous! This is the nature of Blogs.

Wien is wonderful. I love every day here. I walk out of the bedroom in the morning and stand naked on the balcony (try not to imagine this) and see the city in front of me with Stephansdom and all those other churches which Cate knows the names of and I don’t – and my heart sings (well…you know what I mean).

I know that soon I will be out there amongst it mangling the German language and creating havoc everywhere I go.

There is always so much to do. Drive Cate to work, clean out the kitty litter, do the shopping, empty the rubbish, drink coffee, read the paper, write the Blog, learn German (groan), counsel Muffin, prepare dinner.

For you it’s boring – for me it’s bliss.

If you can’t stand it any more sign up to Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter thingy.

And by the way – where is Keegan? He hasn’t commented for weeks.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I am not going to look at Twitter

They have Horse Restaurants in Slovenia - and no these are not places where Horses go to celebrate a birthday.

However, I am quite sure they do not eat cats. Well - no - actually I'm not - but I am not going to dwell on it.

The Blogger still has a cold and a headache and has not cycled for two days (Grrr) so will not be doing much of a Blog today.

I was going to see a new Doctor today at 5:00 but at 4:00 she rang in sick.

Two years ago this month I took out a new mobile phone contract with 3 in Australia and agreed to pay them $50 per month. I of course have been paying this since we arrived in Wien.

The contract expires in a week or so – so on Monday I went online and changed the contract to one which costs only $10 per month. (I have to have an Australian mobile number or I cannot do any banking transactions).

Yesterday the mobile phone itself expired in a flash of light and a puff of smoke. What incredible timing – how do they do that?

Anyway I mention in passing that Ashton Kutcher has more than 1,000,000 followers on Twitter.

I am really, really struggling to think what Ashton (who I am sure is a lovely man) could possibly say – in chunks of 140 letters – that would induce that many people to sign up (although he was in a contest with CNN at the time – which he won).

I seriously doubt that if Moses was at this moment delivering commandments by Twitter that he would get 1,000,000 followers.

NO - I am SO NOT going to look at Twitter to find out what Ashton is saying.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

KAP Update

The Blogger has a bad cold and was not able to cycle today (sob) and has had also to cancel his German lesson tomorrow.

The Blogger is not well and is not happy so there will be not much to report today.

However – I am now able to provide a reasonably authoritative update on the KAP. After much searching the KAP Officer came up with four kittens – only one of which was a girl. However, the mother had been abandoned and needed a home so we have decided to take on the mother and her girl baby.

The mother is called Moni and we are going to see her and her babies on Saturday. They live near the airport. We won’t be able to get them until we get back from Australia in July but we will show them pictures of the apartment and their sleeping accommodation.

I will tell Moni that the lounge is cream leather so she can start sharpening her claws – and training Junior.

We have talked to Muffin about this and while she is not dead keen we think she will be OK as Moni is only two and seems very nice.

We (of course) have to be inspected by the current owner to make sure that we are suitable. Where else but in Austria would you find a stray pregnant cat by the side of the road, then find a potential adopter, and then want to inspect them and their apartment to make sure they are suitable?

Rozalin pointed me in the right direction ( and I am now the proud owner of a transparent Katzen-Schutznetz. That’s right – a cat net.

It is well know that all Austrian cats are jumping cats and just can’t wait to get to a terrace so that they can leap into space and fall to their deaths.

This is intended to prevent this type of occurrence although we will probably have to hide all the sharp implements so that they can’t cut their way out.

Moni of course will have to keep her name - but we will add some. And we need to name the baby.

We have been working on this for some time and at the moment have excluded only John and George - other than that anything is possible.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The iPhone workshop is in Ouagadougou

More pics of Ljubljana

Cate has pointed out to me (and is quite correct) that the NSW State Government would not put a car race track on Donauinsel.

They would of course sell it to developers for apartment blocks – in exchange of course for some worthwhile donations.

The widget that mutes my iPhone fell off on the weekend so I went to T-Mobile today just to confirm that – for reasons which would become obvious if I read the fine print (but this is in German) this particular part of the iPhone is not covered by warranty.

Well the man shook his head sadly and did confirm this - and I think the situation is that:

It is not covered under warranty because it is a widget which – while part of the iPhone (indeed a very important part) it is not actually IN the iPhone so therefore is not REALLY part of the iPhone, or

I voided the warranty when I took the iPhone out of its box and turned it on.

Either of these two answers achieves the same result so I am plugging for number two because it is more elegant.

However – if I leave the iPhone with the man he will send it to the workshop and they may fix it under warranty (he did not say why they would do this but I suspect he does not know much about warranties and always used the default NO answer) but if they do not it will cost hundreds of Euros and will take two weeks.

I am guessing that the iPhone workshop is in Ouagadougou and the main expense is the Camel Train and the overtime for the drivers.

He provided me with a number of incentives not to leave the iPhone with him.

Without the widget it is possible for me to use the muting button by prying it open and closed with a Stanley knife but this is not something I want to be carrying with me when I travel – particularly flying.

Unfortunately there is no software solution to his problem so to mute the iPhone I now have to turn it off or go into its settings and turn the ring sound down. However, I will manage.

As an illustration of how important and powerful Cate is I am letting you know that last week she sent a message to one of her staff asking this person to print a document for her.

She inadvertently sent the message to some poor sod in the Singapore Office. This person checked who Cate was, and thinking this was a test to see if blind obedience could triumph over common sense (an essential requirement in any organisation), printed the document, sent it by courier to Cate (in Vienna) and emailed her a copy of the delivery note.

This person is now eagerly awaiting the next test so Cate is thinking of something really tough. (e.g. can you change the ink cartridge in my Mont Blanc fountain pen? Certainly Ms Cate – what model is it - I will be there in 16 hours).

When we drove to Slovenia Cate hammered – HAMMERED - down the A2 and back again and there was not a policeman in sight.

Whereas I was beetling along at 70 inside SCS – and I might say going at the same speed as all the other cars – and received my second fine for speeding – this one for €20.

There is something wrong here. Am being victimised because I obtained my Driving Licence under false pretences? Well Cate did too – in fact she is legally blind and at least I can see the white lines on the road.

I have now explored fully the Donauinsel from end to end. It is 22 kilometers long and is delicious. There are a few ghastly bits where they have really tacky things (as every park like this in the world does) but overall it is just fabulous.

I have never seen so many cyclists and roller bladers out and about – on the weekend and on weekdays. I just love it. I cycled for 2 ½ hours today and then went for another cycle with Cate when she got home.

Today I saw two topless women sunbathers (each of whom was no less that 70 years old and I am being generous) and one naked man who wandered across the road in front of me carry a plastic Billa bag which contained (I hope) his clothing.

My legs are taking on a life of their own and when I die they are going to have to club them to death so they can be with me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Possum!

This delightful creature is my friend Possum.

In this picture, which was taken many long years ago - I think she was trying out for a role in a Cold Power advertisement but clearly the budget didn’t amount to much.

Apparently it got much more exciting after this photo was taken when she got her nightie caught in the mangle and had to be cut our by the fire brigade with the 'Jaws of Life'

Possum is a bit older now – and will be 70 on Sunday. She is still beautiful but – as one of her daughters said on her Blog – ‘in an old, hobbledly way’.

There is a Knees Up of Epic Proportions being perpetrated upon the people of Marrickville on Saturday night at the Royal Exchange Hotel and the Police Rescue and Dog Squads have been put on high alert.

Anyway – Happy Birthday Possum – we shall celebrate in an appropriate fashion when we see you in July.

We have kitten lift off!

We went to the Dermatologist today (together) for a check up. We had made an appointment for 10:15 but, as with other Doctors we have seen in Wien, appointment times are meaningless – and I really have no idea why they make them.

We arrived at 10:15 and there were 7 other people in the waiting room. After sitting in the waiting room for 10 minutes I checked with the receptionist and confirmed our worst fears that these people were going in before us. So we left.

Cate had a telephone call she had to take at 11:15 and there was no way we would have been out of there before 12:00.

If I ever get to see a Doctor who does make appointments – and then ignores them – I will ask the reason for this bizarre ritual.

The more observant among you will have noted that I was going to join a Gym – but have not mentioned it since.

Well. I was just about to go when Muffin attempted to murder to me so had to postpone it on account of looking bad and feeing worse.

Then I started bike riding – which I do now every day – and this is excellent fun. Wien has hundreds (possibly thousands) of kilometers of dedicated bicycle paths and I am exploring these – sometimes with Cate but usually on my own.

Today I rode all the way to the end of the Donaukanal Radweg (Donau Canal Bicycle Path) then across to Donauinsel (Donau Island) and back up this to the Prater. Total distance probably about 25 kilometres.

The Donau Island is an artificial island. It is 21.1 kilometers long and is just wonderful for walking and cycling.

They have an annual festival there which we shall see this year.

The NSW State Government would hate it and would have teams of people digging pits with sharp spikes in them and setting bear traps for cyclists. No – what they would do would be to have car racing on it – with lots of fireworks.

Anyway – cycling works. I am feeling really good and losing weight and look fantastic – I have to beat off the girls (well women really – older – well much older - OK ancient women - but I have to beat them off – well not really but Gee I look good – all things considered) Not that I was fat mind you – I am only trying to lose 5 kilos.

Of course my old knee football injuries are emerging again and I think the day may not be too far off when I will have to have some surgery.

This will be a challenge – how do I get up and down the stairs to feed and water Cate when I am in plaster and she is in her study?

I may have to rig up a system of baskets and pulleys – or cut a hole in her study floor.

The Kitten Acquisition Program Officer has been hard and work now for a LONG time – and has been under considerable pressure. I am please to report that we have lift off - but not in the manner anticipated.

More soon………..

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Miss Snow Mountain is moving to Brazil

Today I had my lesson with Miss Snow Mountain and we actually had a conversation (after a fashion) for about an hour.

Admittedly this was at kindergarten level and I had to use English words, some French, sign language Charades and Morse Code but it demonstrates to me that if I keep at this for another year or so I may be able to have a conversation with a (not so) intelligent 7 year old German child.

Miss Snow Mountain told me something of her history. Apparently her father was a White Slaver in Gambia but he was devoured by a Hippopotamus in the Zambezi while trying to drill for oil (He was drilling – not the Hippo).

Her mother is a hot air ballooner who does daily flights over Carinthia and shoots deer from the Gondola with a bow and arrow – pulls them up and roasts them.

Miss Snow Mountain tragically lost both legs when she was attacked by a Wild Boar while skiing but manages now with wooden legs (it doesn’t show at all).

There was a lot more but this is all I could understand. I still have to check a couple of words so the above may not be entirely accurate.

However, what is true is that Miss Snow Mountain is going to live in Brazil with her boyfriend Caruso who is either a contract killer or a football trainer. (I didn't think I should ask for clarification).

She will leave in June which really messes up Cate because she was planning to have her second lesson around about then (the first one was in December). She is leaving 6 months between each lesson so that she can totally absorb the word she has learned.

However, We have managed to break through the 13 barrier she can now count to 20. Once you get there with German it’s dead easy.

It is starting to get really hot in the apartment and I am going to have to go to SDS to look for machines to cool the place down. Our experience from last year is that the studies upstairs are unusable when it gets really hot because the roof melts and drips onto the computer keyboards and Muffin.

I have lacquered the ducks. (Oh – I am not sure I mentioned the ducks) We bought two wire ducks to adorn our terrace and keep our new outdoor furniture company. As these will be outside for most of the time they needed to be protected so I went to the local hardware shop and acquired some clear lacquer to spray them.

This has been done and the ducks are now fully protected against the elements. I shall in due course provide pictures.

The man at the hardware shop speaks NO English at all so – as I alway have to ask for things the names of which I do not know – we have some fantastical conversations. Had we recorded the one about wanting Clear Lacquer in Gloss it would certainly be on You Tube.

But he is a lovely man and when I buy small things he wraps them up in little cones fashioned from newspaper.

And by the way – Cate LIKES the outdoor furniture. I am not sure what she is up to but am keeping a close eye on her. This is clearly a cunning ruse.

It is Possum’s Birthday soon so there will of course be a special mention in the Blog. However, Possum does complain that I do not always respond to things she puts in her letters to me. It’s like this:

Possum is a most venerable, erudite and intelligent person and knows more about most things than anyone on the planet. But Cate and I cannot read her writing. We try – Leaping Lizards we try – we received a letter on Thursday and spent 10 minutes just on one word alone before giving up.

Possum writes like she is holding her pen in her mouth but has no teeth, forgot to put her glasses on, is holding the paper between her toes, is riding the Bucking Bronco at the Crazy Horse Saloon – and is drunk.

It is without doubt the most indecipherable writing I have ever seen and – had Possum been the Chief Scribe at the time and carved out the Rosetta Stone – they would still be working on it and we would know us much about the Ancients as we do now about why GWB did what he did.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Somehow I have ended up with Hugo Boss underpants

Cate and I spent some time in Ljubljana discussing my underwear.

It has been in bad shape for some time but you know – with everything else that has been going on and me looking after Cate and Muffin I have just let my undergarments disintegrate into a very sad state indeed.

To say that they are a bit ragged would do that word an injustice.

Anyway – at some stage over Easter Cate took a long hard look at my underwear and gave me strict instructions to take immediate and effective remedial action.

This I attempted to do today – but you know – it is not always that easy to get things done in Wien and for me things rarely ever go to plan.

The outcome of this was that I attempted to creep into Don Gill in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse to sort of check out what there was in the underwear department and – after a series of unfortunate events and misunderstandings – the shop assistant spoke no English at all – I became the proud owner of a pair of Hugo Boss underpants that cost €29,90

Now I don’t know about you people out there – but for me €29,90 for a pair of underpants is pretty serious. And it’s not as though they are stylish – they look like the underpants my grandfather would have worn.

Clearly I cannot wear them – for both style and cost reasons – so I am going to have them bronzed and will use them as a door stop.

Following this fiasco I then went to Eduscho and bought two pairs of underpants for €8,99. Being on a roll I then went into Hofer and bought two more pairs for €5,95.

I have tested them and the Eduscho ones seem to be the most satisfying so I will acquire some more of these and retire the sad remains that currently grace my underwear cupboard – which because I have no space at all for my clothes – is a shoe box under the sofa.

When we were in the hotel in Ljubljana we discovered something in the breakfast room called Eurocrem. It is in a small packet and we examined it carefully but were not courageous enough to eat any. We guess it is something the Commissioners invented when they were sitting around in Brussels unable to solve the problems of the European Community.

I am going to see if I can get them to bring Vegemite into Europe. We can call it Euromite.

My apologies to all Slovenians in advance – but your white wine is not very good. What’s more – in all the restaurants we tried – it is the only wine you can buy. This may explain the size of the wine glasses in our room. These were the smallest wine glasses we have ever seen and simply have to be seen to be believed. Hence the photo.

When you go to Bled you must see the Vintgar Gorge. We have some photos but they do not do it justice. It is Magic!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Slovenia is fabulous

Correction 1:

Merisi has pointed out that Niki Lauda’s partner donated a kidney to him. I was aware of this and was not suggesting that Niki and his lovely wife were not the ideal couple. The point I was making is that I am not sure that 60 is the ideal time for a man – even with the prodigious talent of Herr Lauda (whom I have revered for many years) to start a new family.

Hence the clumsy kitten reference (i.e. kittens instead of babies) I apologise to the Lauda family and anyone else who may have been distressed by the Blog entry.

It is a little known fact that I was once quite close to Herr Lauda. In the Jet Café in Sydney we once sat back to back in two separate booths and had I wanted to I could have reached out and touched him. Fortunately Cate pinned my arms to my sides making this impossible.

Correction 2:

Merisi (again) has quite rightly pointed of that of course Slovenia was communist because it was part of Yugoslavia. I was aware of this but was making the point that it was not a place the communists had invaded with armies and tanks so they may not have had the opportunity to engage in the City Beautification projects as they have done in cities such as Budapest and Bratislava.

In fact it is clear that there were never any Russian architects in Ljubljana. The communists may have been control here for a remarkably long time but they failed to do what they did in most other places where they were in power and turn the country into a vast rubbish heap.

Perhaps the Slovenians pleaded ‘Please – do what you want with us but don’t send us your architects.’ Well – architect – I am not sure there was ever more than one -and his template was a house brick.

Sure there are some scruffy bits but in general Ljubljana is gorgeous – and so is Slovenia.

It is modern and prosperous. The city looks good, the roads are outstanding.

The architecture is usually either very old and in good shape – or modern and adventurous – and often exciting.

Of course we were in the wrong hotel – but there is a limit to what can be done on the Internet and I got Cate to sign off on this one before we came. And for one of our meals we chose the worst possible restaurant in Ljubljana – but this is not unusual for us – we have the uncanny knack of wandering the streets for hours looking for restaurants and then going in to the worst or most expensive in town – knowing when we are doing it that we are making a terrible mistake but being drawn inexorably into the place like moths to a candle.

The Hotel Lev is supposed to be 5 Star but is closer to 3.7. We had a suite which was fine except that the previous occupant apparently barbecued goats in there and we couldn’t get rid of the smell – even leaving the windows open all the time.

We overlooked the main road and an ‘Erotic Parlour’ called ‘Venera’ but weren’t tempted.

For those of you who have the Lonely Planet guide to Eastern Europe please tear out chapter on Slovenia and throw it away. It is not worth a pinch of Pelican Poo. We have done what we could by pasting Skulls and Crossbones on the exteriors of the restaurants recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide. (At least those that still existed).

Ljubljana is remarkably small and you can see what you need to in a day. It is just a delight to walk around the city and along the river - and they serve very good coffee.

It is a University Town and there are lots of lovely young men and women having fun and living life to the full (and smoking) and I hated them all – just for being young and fearless!

As a special treat (maybe just for us) they crucified somebody on Saturday next to the river. It didn’t draw much of a crowd even though the girls singing about Hayzus were quite cute but it is a very old story and most people have heard it many times before. I mean it’s not like 24 where you just know something really weird is going to happen at the end of each episode.

People expect more these days and the Pope is simply going to have to tweak the ending.

And – what’s more – the waiters were all friendly and actually seemed to like tourists - or even (shriek!) people.

Some asked us where we were from and expressed interest in us (swoon). We are going to recommend Ljubljana as a training place for Wiener waiters – but will just get a good beating for our troubles and end up (again) in the stocks in Stephansplatz.

And what’s more – this could well be the least expensive country in Europe! What do you think about two Coffees, an orange juice and two mineral waters for €6.00?

Frolicking Frogs! The average Viennese Café would not fart in your general direction for €6.00! I was so impressed I kept the receipt.

And –what’s more – they don’t allow smoking in restaurants or bars! It’s bliss!

And – what’s more – there are zillions of dogs but NO Dog Poo on the pavements.

We spent Saturday mooching in Ljubljana and on Sunday went to Bled which is a truly astonishingly beautiful place – the likes of which we have never seen before – but unfortunately has only one public parking spot which on this day was being occupied by the Mayor’s daughter. To park you have to drive to Italy and walk back.

The only places we have sent like this previously were in Provence in tiny little towns on hills where you park miles away. A word of advice – do not visit Bled in August or September.

In fact – time for a word of advice for Australians who wish to travel to Europe. Do not do this during the European Spring and Summer. It is HELL. No I mean it – Paris and any other European Capitals in this period – and in August and September in particular – are absolutely GHASTLY.

I can tell you are not listening because I know how Australians think. Ah Paris (or Vienna or Whatever) in Summer – absolute Bliss. No it’s not. listen to someone how has done it many times – it’s awful. Why do you think the French leave town?

Imagine being trapped in a stalled elevator with Billy Ray Cyrus and Celine Dion and John Howard singing ‘Achy Breaky Heart’. It is WORSE THAN THIS!

It is hot, expensive, you pay more to get here, you pay more when you are here, you have to fight for every chair in every restaurant and café. You line up for hours to see anything worth seeing.

It is So Bleeding HOT.

The waiters HATE you (they always do but they hate you more during peak season). The prices that are charged for EVERYTHING make you SCREAM with fear when you think about the AUD/EURO exchange rate – and if the hotel you booked into does have air conditioning (which is not likely) it excretes air at the same temperature and velocity as a gnat farting and sounds like fully loaded 747B doing a wheels up landing on a galvanised iron roof.

You lie away and sweat all night just longing for daylight and the buffet breakfast which you just know is going to be execrable (and will include hard boiled eggs and cheese – and indescribably bad coffee) but you would do anything to get out of the oven which is masquerading as your bedroom because the Turkey Timer you brought with you popped with the ‘I’m Done’ sign at 3:00 AM.

Then you can lurch forth into the steaming heat to be pushed, jostled, robbed, insulted and possible beaten – not necessarily in that order – and to try to get a photograph that has fewer than 1,000 other tourists in it – and realise that this is not possible.

Anyway - back to our weekend - Austria – wake up! Slovenia is coming to get you. This place is sensational and is obviously the ‘next big thing’ in Europe. We love it!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Niki would be better off with a kitten

Views from the Terrace

We are driving to Ljubljana tomorrow. The first thing I am going to do when I get there is ask someone how to pronounce it.

According to the Austrian Times:

“The Easter weekend is one of the most dangerous times to drive in Austria, new research has shown.The Austrian Traffic Club said today its analysis of accident data over the past six Easter weekends had revealed there had been a serious accident every 18 minutes and a fatality every nine hours.The highest number of Easter traffic deaths, 17, occurred in 2004, and the lowest, six, occurred in 2006, the club said”.

By new research I assume that someone counted the number of fatalities and worked out that more people die at Easter than at any other time. This is the type of research Muffin could do.

It is interesting that there is in fact a more dangerous place in Austria than the ski slopes.

The problem with Austrians is that the don’t have any dangerous critters to contend with so become complacent. If they – like their counterparts in Australia – were engaged on a daily basis in hand to hand combat with deadly crocodiles, snakes, spiders, sea wasps, sharks and blue ringed octopi then they would value life more and ski and drive more carefully.

So we are approaching the trip with some trepidation – give our knowledge of the way some Austrians drive when they see empty space in front of them.

‘I see a speck in the distance – it might be a town – I wonder how fast I can get there – I wonder if this car really can do 240 like it says on the speedometer – yes I see it all now – I really am Niki Lauda - I wish my wife and children would stop screaming it is giving me a headache -why is there blue smoke coming from the back of the car -can I get there before the engine blows up?’

We hear that Slovenia is quite beautiful. The communists weren’t there so that is an excellent start.

It is astonishing how the communists could take perfectly good cities and turn them into trash heaps in what was really a relatively short time.

There must surely have been a special department for this – sort of the opposite of ‘City Beautification’. The slogan would be ‘Let’s make every city look like Irkutsk Circa 1898 – just after the earthquake and the great fire’.

I wonder if Lenin had any idea what would happen to architecture (and indeed almost everything else) under communism. Perhaps if he had some inkling he might have thought that it was not such a good idea after all.

Anyway – news day and I have to report that Niki Lauda (60) and his wife (30) have just produced a very small child. The report of their wedding last September said:

“Formula 1 racing legend Niki Lauda has married the woman who saved his life in a wedding that lasted just four minutes.”

Well – my question is – how can you nearly die in a wedding that lasts only four minutes – unless you go into it in a very wobbly condition indeed – and how did she save his life – the Heimlich Manoeuvre? More information is required.

Anyway I wish them all the best but I really think they would have been better off with a kitten.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Muffin likes the new outdoor furniture

In addition to not being able to read street directories one of my many failings is being able to comprehensively massacre travel bookings.

My failures in this respect are legendary (although Cate is not much better).

My worst one to date is our trip to France in 2007 when I booked a British Airways flight London-Paris return and was able to get a Business Class return fare for 10 Pounds per person. What a clever Badger I thought!

When we were actually in Provence closer examination of the tickets revealed that our return flight arrived in London the day after our flight left for Australia.

So I had to buy new tickets – Economy Class – for many hundreds of Euros to get there on the right date.

I sat there in Economy Class seething at the people up front sucking on their Champagne and munching Duck Gizzards or whatever they were.

I ate a stale bread roll that looked like it had been warmed up by being clenched between the flight attendant's (Stop - that will be quite enough of that thank you - this is a family Blog!)

Last night I booked part of our trip home – with the inevitable result – but Cate discovered the fatal flaw very quickly and I was able to fix it without penalty.

(Tip - you have to be somewhere before you can leave it!)

The outdoor furniture has been delivered (in boxes of course) and has been assembled.

It has only two major flaws – it is the wrong colour and it is too big – but other than that is perfect and meets none of Cate's expectations (It was never going to).

Importantly – Muffin likes it – especially the seat cushions and is munching Katzengrass so she can start vomiting on them and break them in.

My face is much better and I can now go out without a bag over my head and Cate is happy to walk beside me again. My headache is gradually receding and most of my other wounds are mending – although I think I will have the bruise on my arm for sometime yet.

We have been riding for an hour every day – usually through the Prater and back along the canal. Takes about an hour and a bit and makes our bums very sore. I suppose it does us some good.

I plan on doing this every day until I get fit and lose weight – or die – whichever comes first.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I am teaching Muffin how to play Pinochle (and it's Michael's Birthday)

You are such a good looking guy I am only going to charge you three times what I normally charge for Turkish Delight!

Its Michael's birthday (well - yesterday actually) but as we operate on European time we miss almost everything.

Anyway - Happy Birthday Michael - had we not gone to dinner at Le Ciel we would have been able to afford a card. But we will make it up to you in July.

I have mentioned before that the calendar is filling up. Since my last bulletin about this Cate has booked Gwenyth for a week in Vienna and a weeks sailing with Gwenyth (without me) in Denmark in August.

This is just after our visit to Australia in July.

Burne and Jan are coming for three weeks in October, Geoffrey and Carmella are coming for a few days in August, Liz and Darryl are here in Europe for a month in September and October.

Cate has now arranged for the two of us, together with Gwenyth, to go to St Petersburg after Christmas. Mmmm....should be nice and warm there!

This is of course in addition to Cates business trips of which there will be at least one each month.

She still has to go to Thailand for my birthday in May (without me - she likes to celebrate this in a different place each year – usually without me but what can you expect for someone who went on their honeymoon with their girlfriend) and has lots of other exciting trips planned.

I am teaching Muffin how to play Pinochle so that we don't have to watch National Geographic channel every night. Of course when we get the two kittens we will have enough for bridge.

November is still free – but you will need to get in early as there is a surcharge for late bookings you may end up in the room next to the kitty litter.

Cate and I went for a cycle to the Donau and then through the Prater and back through Gasometer City and then had our first outdoor meals for the year at Pizzeria Grado. We have done this cycling thing twice and plan on doing something like it often.

I will by cycling every day and Cate will try to do it a few times each week.

I have checked on the Duck Pond – the water is back in it but there are very few ducks. I find this whole business very mysterious but then if it’s not in the Austrian Times I am not likely to know about it at all – and they rarely talk about the ducks in Stadtpark.

This is one of the most popular spots on town and there were hordes of people there on the weekend swarming all over the seats and the grass.

We were astonished to learn that the Bangarra Dance Theatre

is coming to St. Pölten in few weeks so we have of course booked tickets.

We have photos of two of the dancers on our walls and never missed anything they did in Australia.

It will be good to see them again – although they probably won’t recognise us may and think we are Austrians. We may wear our Kangaroo outfits so that we stand out.

Monday, April 6, 2009

We are so not impressed by lobster foam!

Yes Madam I am fully licenced by the Turkish government to rip you off. Please step over here and empty your purse onto the table.

On Saturday we had dinner at Le Ciel.

In our quest to find the best restaurants in Wien we have been using the Gault Millau guide and working through all the ones that are highly rated. Our experience to date has been that – in general - the ratings do not refect reality.

Meinl Am Graben for example is vastly overrated. It is no surprise that Herr Meinl has been arrested on charges of fraud and bailed for €100 Million Euros. He deserves this for the mark up on his wine list – let alone the outrageous charges for very average food.

I regret to say (sigh) that Le Ciel is in the same category. It is ranked 16/20 in Gault Millau - and I am beginning to think that the reviewers have no taste buds.

Le Ciel is part of the Grand Hotel Wien and is on the top floor of the hotel. The setting is lovely, the ambience is very nice indeed. Everyone dresses up – even the Russian gangsters wear coats – but the food is so average it would make you weep.

It was very hot so I did take my coat off – and I was the only one to do so – perhaps this had a detrimental impact on the kitchen staff?

We had the Lobster foam buttons with crispy noodles, very white bland and listless fish and oh so very average chicken. The wine with each course was nice – but not sensational.

This cost €200. This is simply not acceptable in Wien. There really is good food to be had here at prices that are not outrageous. It seems that in Wien – (I am sorry to say) it is often a case of style over substance.

People seem to go to these places because they are the places to go. We go for the food because (as I am sure you know by now) we are truly sensational arbiters of food style and taste and are at the cutting edge of food technology. (Which is why Lobster foam did not impress us – these days we expect Lobster essence – taken through the nostrils – or as a suppository)

We have a few more restaurants to go in the top categories but so far we have had very few successes. To be honest – to date restaurants in general in Wien have been very, very disappointing. There have been some standouts – on which I have reported –but – overall – abysmal – and very much over priced.

In Istanbul we had – in three meals – the three best meals we have had so far in Europe – and at less than half the cost of the meals in Wien.

But I am not complaining about Wien – this is a great town and I love it!

Well – except for the smoke and the dog poo.

I have nothing against smokers per se. Cate and I were both smokers for many years and gave up on 23 November 1993. I am happy for people to smoke as much as they want. I am happy for them to smoke themselves to death – as long as they do it quickly.

I just don’t want them to smoke where I am. I love fresh air, good food, good wine and good coffee (not necessarily in that order). Smoke spoils this and gives me an instant headache.

There are signs all over Wien at the moment which say ‘Geld Scheisser’. This means what you think it means. If your dog poos on the pavement it will cost you money.

This does not seem to have made much of a difference in our area as people still bring their dogs out to shit on the footpath every day – but I guess if you are in fact that stupid and insensitive there is no sign or fine that is going to change your dumb ass ways.

I think they should give the job of policing this to the parking police. These people are the most tenacious and hardy souls I have ever seen and I reckon could stop the dog poo problem in a matter of days. I would legislate to make the owners eat the dog poo. But then I would legislate to make smokers eat their cigarette butts.

That’s the type of cruel insensitive person I am.