Monday, January 30, 2012

How hard can it be?

Train trip from Oslo to Bergen 

Lenny sent me details of this great game for the iPad – for cats – but things being what they are in Mac World I have not found a way to download it.

I can download the free version which gives me the laser but I am not going to have my cats chasing a fake laser - I want them to chase  a fake mouse – and of course the mouse costs money – although not much – and this itself is not a problem except that you can only download the free versions from Apple stores and then have to buy the mouse version online.

Well – I have to do this from the Apple store in Austria – through my iPad  – and here we have struck a snag.

I don’t know why but I am working on it. The solution could take any time from days to years so I have told Sissi it will probably be a birthday present – and in any event it is a fake mouse so why would she care.

I spent some time on the weekend wondering why ‘Find my iPhone’ and ‘Find my iPad’ were not working in my iMac.

These are wonderful little bits of software that allow you to find your iPhone and iPad if you lose them – and lock them if you want to – or send a message to the screen. Well – they are wonderful if they work.

I mislaid my iPhone on the weekend and I thought it was in the house but to make sure I went to ‘Find my iPhone’ and there it told me it was not operating. Brilliant. Apparently when I changed to the newfangled iCloud thingy it turned off the find thingy.  

So I fiddled about for an hour or so and then went to Mac Forums like I should have done in the first place and solved the problem in seconds.

Today I cooked a new dish for the first time - from a Bill Granger cookbook. It is Lamb Biryani – or it was when it was ready - but it was prehistoric Lamb Biryani with crusty rice when Cate got home.

On Thursday I am going to help Frau Knickerbocker put together a wardrobe she bought from Ikea. It has utterly defeated her and she was almost in tears at today’s lesson explaining the impossibility of comprehending the sliding door plans provided by the manufacturer. 

Well I can just imagine. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Now I am not much good at this myself - as I demonstrated very clearly early in our Viennese days when I was foolish enough to buy things and put them together.

It took me three days to build three cupboards and I hung the doors upside down. You think I am joking but I am not. These are three cupboards  – the tallest no more than one metre – and it took me three full days to build them.

But Frau Knickerbocker just has sliding doors. How hard can it be? 

Friday, January 27, 2012

It is a language composed in bedlam

Cate is sort of on the mend but is still at home and of course this is an added strain on my home duties as it requires constant attention  to her needs for water and lemon juice and coffee and such.

Last night she spent from 7:00 PM until 11:00 PM on a telephone call and I simply would not have thought this would have been possible – but clearly it is because she did it – barking like a seal every now and then - but muting the call when she did so as to not alarm the other participants.

I have just finished my second week with Frau Knickerbocker and I must say that up until a week or so ago I thought that separable verbs were the worst things the Germans had ever invented – but no – there are in fact more ghastly things.

Each – yes EACH German noun is Nominativ, Akkusative or Dativ and (depending on what they are) this will determine how you form the rest of the sentence you are about to construct.

Did I mention that you also have to know what the gender of the noun is? EVERY noun.

There are of course many other rules – too numerous to mention. Some so arcane and so baroque that they would make Machiavelli swoon.

It is astonishing to me that Germans can communicate at all.

I am eternally flabbergasted that Germans do not meet each other in the street and emit guttural grunts while flapping their arms uselessly in the air - attempting to convey the meaning of their words.

It is a language composed in bedlam by a committee of loons.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sissi was disappointed with the snowfall

Cate has been ill in bed for the last three days so I have been playing nurse. This is the consequences of not getting an annual flu shot which we all should do in Vienna - and which I did.

Cate says it was not her fault because she travels so much – to which I say – Foofle!

She should get this at her work and she was not there when it took place but she can always go along to see Dr Mordor with me and I will make sure she does that next year because the last three days have not been a happy time for either of us.

I have done the best I can providing fresh orange juice and hot lemon juice and using a Bobcat to clean out the used tissues but it has not been a happy time.

She is however on the mend and is now wading through the six million emails that arrived during her time of incapacity.

You can tell when Cate is really unwell – she is too feeble to use her BlackBerry.

However – on the bright side – as she has been running a ferocious fever she has been generating enormous heat so the cats have been able to warm up nicely by lying on top of her - and she has been too weak to shrug them off.

I have shown a photo of the drizzly amount of snow we got last week. Sissi was most disappointed with the paucity of the fall.

I should mention that last week Merisi went to Vorarlberg and stayed near Damuls which calls itself the 'snowiest village on earth'.

In this area they measure their snowfalls in metres. This is where Cate and I should be and we may go there this year instead of Schladming which is our usual spot at the end of summer. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

After two hours of German my brain goes mushy

I would like to tell you that I have not blogged because I have spent every spare moment studying German - but of course this is not the case.

After two hours of German my brain goes a bit mushy and I have to repair to the TV to watch something less taxing - like cricket or golf or ski jumping – and in the latter case I am pleased to report that the Austrians are world champions.

But – and I have complained about this before – I am astonished by the UK advertisers fascination with animals. Almost every second advertisement has a person communicating in some way with an imaginary animal or creature.

And they interact with them quite normally. They discuss insurance and mobile phones. Now I always watch these with the sound muted so maybe they lose something - but to me they seem surreal.

They latest one has a man and a woman sitting at a counter discussing a mobile phone or something and there is the Yoda character from Star Wars who dives in and (I think) tells them about the best plan.

I mean – what would he know about mobile phones – wasn’t he suppose to be telepathic. I mean he can raise himself off his arse through his own thought processes – who would he call?

And the endless fascination with washing powders.

Oh Mummy something horrible happened at school today – Snotty Potter’s mummy washed his shirt with New Omo and he dazzled the shit out of all of us – it was so humiliating.

OMG! I knew this would happen if I kept washing with  Grey Sludge – quick I will run to Tesco’s for New Omo while you get all your shirts out. No more humiliation for you young man!

Not to mention the never-ending morbid fascination they have for toilet bowls. I will spare you the details on that one.

But the people who drive me crazy are the ones who won’t stop still while they talk to you (not that I have any idea what they are saying because I am not listening) but you would think that they had been given plenty of notice that they have to do this commercial so would just stop still long enough to do it.

But no – the camera has to chase them down supermarket aisles and around counters and through turnstiles and out into car parks.

Or else they start walking toward the camera and won’t stop and the poor camera man has to backtrack through the supermarket or bank dodging people and prams and trolleys while they bang on about the wallop that they are selling which is no good to me even if I wanted it because it is in a different country.

I would fix them. I would say – take a break for coffee – and then I would glue their shoes to the floor.

See how far you can walk now!

We have had some snow after a fashion in Vienna but it has been a bit spasmodic and sludgy. I have now despondently written winter off and am preparing myself for spring.  

Still – there is nothing wrong with spring. It’s an excellent time to learn German – and advertise washing powder and toilet cleaner. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Just you wait and see

I have been a bit busy lately because I have started German lessons again (yes again) and I have been working hard.

I have decided that I am not happy with my combination of fractured German, sign language and charades so am going to make a mighty effort to get through the barrier of this monstrously difficult language.

I exhausted my previous teachers. One went to Brazil and another left to have a baby. My new teacher - Frau Knickerbocker - drew the short straw for this assignment and has brought cotton wool to put in her ears when I speak – so as to dull the noise.

She also has a club in case I attempt to work on separable verbs as this would be too much for a German speaker to stomach.

Frau Knickerbocker is an excellent teacher and if anyone can get me there – she can. I am having three lessons each week for the first few months of this latest bout of manic activity.

She is giving me lots of homework and I being most diligent in doing this and also doing extra study.

I just cannot imagine how anyone could have allowed a language to develop like this.

You would think that – having discovered that the grammar is complete nonsense – they would have changed it – but no – they continue to teach it year after year.

Makes no sense to me at all.

But I will learn it – just you wait and see. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Sami have been doing it for millennia

Cate makes friends with a Husky named Archie
A final word on the popping ‘bulbs’. Parts of our lounge room are about four metres high and at the very top of the ceiling there is a row of down lights.

Well so far since we have been here only two of these have popped. There is no way I can possibly get to them to change them.

Well there is – theoretically. I could move the dining room table under them - put four dining room chairs on top of the table – gaffer taping these together so that they do not move around – and then stand my tallest ladder on top of the chairs.

I would then have to stand on the very top of the ladder. I might consider doing this if I was insane.

The chances of that happening are less than zero – and when all the lights pop I am going to ring  a man and ask him to bring a big ladder and do the job.

This will be expensive because the elevator is only two meters high and anything over this height has to be carried up the stairs.

Any workman who discovers this always arrives at the door out of breath and unhappy and automatically increases the price.

And here is the link to the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes.

Well the snow hotel was an interesting experience and is something you would do if you have more money than sense. Which we did before the experience – but no longer.

For the three of us together it cost €1,000 which is such an unspeakably large amount of money to spend the night in a refrigerator I am embarrassed to tell you about it.

I mean if you really want to know what the Snow Hotel is like just go and ask your local butcher if you can spend the night in his cool room.

Sure it will not have the same ambience and you will have to ignore the hanging dead animals but it will cost you a shitload less than €1,000. Just imagine that your are at a Republican Primary.

I don’t remember much about it anyway because I was plastered because I knew I would not be able to sleep unless I was. It is fecking cold in there.

And for those of you who are worried about the snow hotel crashing in around you – forget about it. The Sami have been doing this for many thousands of years and have never lost a guest.

The worst that can happen is that you will you will need to go to the toilet and will stumble out into the snow and die. I am told that it is not a bad way to go.

For those Viennese who read the blog – we have discovered a marvellous new vegetarian restaurant in 1010. It is called Tian and the food is sensational – and very reasonably priced. It is non-smoking of course – otherwise we would not go there. It has been open about a month and is very popular. Do yourself a favour. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

We have a few flakes

Gwenyth is back in Sydney dealing with the problems of people who live in houses for which they are responsible.

You know – when drains get blocked they have to fix them. We don’t have that problem here. I only have to deal with lights blowing – but we have so many I get one every couple of days.

They are all ‘down’ lights and the globes are supposed to last 10,000 hours or years or something like that and I find that they do last quite a long time if you can get them past the first five seconds but an extraordinary number pop as soon as I put them in.

I have given you a picture of a down light so you know what I am talking about.

I climb up and take the old one out  and put the new one in and then climb down and turn the light on to make sure it works and when it does I turn the lights off again as you can’t refit it while it is on as it gets too hot.

Fitting can be tricky because while there is surely – (indeed must be by now) – a better method – ours is the old ring of springy metal which you have to pinch together with needle-nosed pliers and insert inside the ring of the light fitting.

The inevitable result as you let go the ring is a ‘ping’ as the metal ring launches itself into space and hides somewhere in the room – usually under a piece of furniture – and it will do this as many times as it likes – it has the patience of Job.

It can – cunningly – do this with a high degree of stealth so sometimes you cannot ever hear it land and don’t even know where to start looking.

When I eventually get it fitted I climb down and turn the lights on – to find that the light I have just fitted is not actually working at all.  Not quite 10,000 hours then.

Not that we do not have household responsibilities for the house we own in Australia –  its just that our agent looks after this for us – for a considerable sum of money of course.

The current person is Milton and he sends us notes saying things like ‘the sliding door track for the laundry door needs replacing and the quote for this is $326.67 - can we go ahead?’

Look I once would have queried a cost like this but it is after all only the cost of a modest continental breakfast in Norway so now I would just say – sure Milton – and have it bronzed as well for a lasting job.

We burned the Christmas tree last week. It seems impossible but it grew when we were away and we had difficulty getting into the apartment when we got back.

It put up a hell of a struggle and it took us hours of hand to hand combat to chop it up into burn size chunks and get it into the fire. It took three of us to do it and it went spitting and fizzling and sizzling to meet its maker. The cats were not happy.

So we are back to normal in Am Heumarkt. The Snow Fairy teased us today with a few little half-baked flakes. But we have hopes – it is very cold at the moment and the air conditioning has clagged out.

This is always a good sign of impending frigid weather and possible snow. Let us hope.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don’t go to Norway for New Year’s Eve dinner.

Last day in Oslo

Did I mention our New Year’s Eve. I should before I have managed to expunge the memory entirely from my consciousness. It was a truly gruesome experience and we all agreed that it may not have been the worst meal we have ever had in out lives – but it was certainly in the top five.

It was not for want of trying. We had been anticipating this for weeks and had tried to book any one of the best restaurants in Bergen by email but of course  there were no responses because – as we now know – Norway is nailed shut from before Christmas until the end of the first week of January.

But we had asked our hotel to find something for us and the young man at the counter told us on the morning we arrived – which was in fact New Year’s Eve - that we were in luck. We had been on the waiting list for the ‘best restaurant in Bergen’ but they now had a vacancy and we were in.

This was our lucky night. We would be celebrating the coming of 2012 with the glitterati of Bergen.

And where – we enquired - was this fine establishment to which we had so fortuitously gained entry?

Well – he said proudly – it is our finest dining establishment – the Radisson Blu.

A collective shudder ran down our spines but - we thought – perhaps indeed there may be fine dining to be had – this young man should know – he is – after all – the Concierge of one of the finest hotels in Bergen.

We were a bit worried about what to wear as we were short of fine dining gear but we dressed up as best we could and hoped that no one would notice us – and would forgive a few tourists amongst the gay crowd of dinner jacketed and cocktail gowned citizens quaffing champagne and snuffling canap├ęs in the deep north.

We could have gone as miners straight from the coal face and not have been out of place – even with our lamps still burning.

The restaurant is called Ole Bull – named after a famous Norwegian violinist and composer. 

It actually resembles a works cafeteria and we – assuming that we were in the wrong place – asked the man at reception where the real restaurant was.

He replied tersely that this was the only restaurant open and that it was a buffet and he indicated clearly that he did not want to work on New Year’s Eve and that we were welcome to fuck off.

We wish now that we had taken this indication as a warning of what was to come but with a look between us of ‘how bad could it be?’ we were taken to a table that had a nice view of four Russian labourers who were using eating utensils for the first time and a child who was trying to push beans into its ears – with some degree of success.

It was apparent that this was going to be a night to remember – and not for the right reasons.

I did a quick reconnaissance of the buffet and brought back the bad news. There was a desultory salad – three lacklustre vegetables – potatoes and one large lump of unidentifiable meat (when asked the server later described it as ‘old bull’). There were no cold meats or fish or anything else vaguely edible.

Resorting to wine we selected a bottle which turned out to be corked. The man was unconvinced until he took a mouthful and had to leave the room. The second bottle was also corked. The third bottle of a different type of wine was not corked but was barely drinkable.

It seems that many people knew what they were in for and had dressed accordingly in jeans and sweatshirts. These may have been the hotel guests. Some like us obviously though it was in fact a restaurant and that they were going to have a big night out.

It was funny to watch people who were dressed up arrive and see what awaited them. They all reached for the wine list first.

The highlight for us was watching a mature and very elegant couple in evening attire arrive for what they thought was going to be a great night out. The (only) waiter tried to sit them in the middle of the restaurant next to the child rubbing his dinner into his hair and another other one red-faced and grunting as it filled its nappy.

The look on their faces was wonderful to behold.

The lady looked like she has seen Newt Gingrich in his long johns  – with the flap open.

After much pleading they were given a table  next to the window where they sat in a catatonic state gulping wine.

The food was disgusting muck and cost €100 per head. Coffee came from an urn.

We were gone by 9:00

Don’t go to Norway for your New Year’s Eve dinner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Apple wants me to have a good time

We stayed in the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes which is just about at the end of  the earth. It was quite a fascinating experience as it is entirely constructed of ice and snow and the beds are made of ice but with mats on top of them on which you sleep – in sleeping bags.

It is -4° in the hotel so one needs to keep very warm - or die.

If one does need to answer a call of nature during the night the toilets are quite a distance away along a path covered with snow. I did not need to undertake this perilous voyage.

As  it usually does – my iPhone calendar had deleted all my travel details as soon as I left on our trip so I had no electronic record of flights and hotels or travel.

I do not appear to have iCloud working as well as I should.

In anticipation of this – as it has happened before -  I had printed out hard copies of everything – so was well prepared.

When I got back to Vienna I discovered that my iCal had planned a big year/century for me.

A ‘new event’ had been created for every day for every year for as far ahead as I could see. Now there was no telling what the events were  - I had to fill in the details – but Apple clearly want me to have a good time – forever.

What nice people they are.

Now if I could just work out how to keep my exciting events in my calendar I would be even happier.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

As far north as you can go

More magic yesterday when we visited the North Cape which is the northerly most point on the continent.

We took a bus trip through falling snow for about half an hour to the North Cape (71° 10’ 21”) where we were able to play in the falling snow and in massive snow drifts.

In the evening we had the Snow Safari which was actually a journey between two towns. This was more exciting and terrifying than I had imagined it would be and although I did manage to fall off a snowmobile it was not mine.

These things are beasts and it is easy to fly off the track – which Cate did – and got beached on a hillock.

In an attempt to rescue her I managed to overturn her machine and ended up upside down in the snow – but surprisingly the machine did not roll on top of me and crush me into oblivion. God loves me.

Contrary to my assertion that the snowmobiles would be governed as to speed – they were not - and our guide assured us that they easily do 120 kph if we wanted them to.

I am sure I got close to this on a couple of occasions when I panicked and attempted to brake but accelerated instead.

It was a maniacal experience punctuated by bouts of breathtaking beauty when we stopped in the semi-arctic wilderness to soak up the darkened landscape and look for the northern lights – which we did not see on this occasion.

Today we are Kirkenes and are just about to go on a Husky Safari. Cate will be driving – I will be a passenger. You can’t expect God to look after me two days running what with everything that is happening in the world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We have seen the Northern Lights

Northern Norway
Today we visited Tromso which is the most northerly something in the world. They did tell us what but I have forgotten. Everything up here is the northern most something.

Last night we stayed up late so that Gwenyth could beat me at Yahtzee and had to do this in the bar because that was the only place we could get a drink.

The only white wine we could get was the Hurtigruten house wine which was Portuguese and had a frisson of Avgas about it but was otherwise acceptable – and was half the price of the wine we normally drink.

The downside was that there was a two-piece band that played prehistoric music (quite well as it happens) but who dressed like they were out of the Rocky Horror musical and the woman looked like she had been hung out to dry in a wind tunnel before coming to work.

After this we went on deck where it was freezing and windy but miraculously after about half an hour – at about 11:30 PM – the Northern Lights appeared directly in front of us.

It was not a magical display but it was wonderful to see them at last. I put my flask full of Jameson to use and we stayed on deck for about an hour watching the lights flickering in the distant sky.

The days are very short now and there is almost no real daylight but there is enough light to see the ethereally beautiful scenery. It is impossible to describe and my limited internet access does not allow me to put any photos on Picasa but I will do this when I get back.

This morning after breakfast we had a nearly full moon which added its own magical light to the scenery.

Northern Lights (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Snow and ice at last

Trondheim was quite special – and had snow. Well – none fell but there was a bit lying around. There was also lots of ice on the footpaths and I of course managed to fall over – narrowly avoiding doing this on my camera.

Thinking ‘Huskies’, ‘broken ribs’ and ‘smashed cameras’ as my feet slipped from under me I grabbed my camera and flung it to the side. Fortunately it was tethered to me by a strap – and I nursed it as I fell – taking the hit on my thigh.

So we boarded the ‘Nordnorge’ which is the biggest and newest of the Hurtigruten fleet. There should have be about 50 of us but one of the other boats broke down so we have been joined by about 200 Germans – oh goody.

But for some reason we were upgraded and have cabins on an upper deck – and they are really quite nice.

It’s a bonzer boat but you can’t get an espresso coffee until the bar opens at 2:30 PM and until then you have to drink the brown sludge.

A decent bottle of wine costs €95.

You can tell the new passengers on board after each stop – they are the ones looking vacantly at the wine list and dribbling. 

The scenery is just stunning – never seen anything like it.

It is getting colder and frostier as we move north. We moved into the arctic circle this morning – but we still have not seen snow falling from the sky - and may not while we are on the boat.
Tomorrow night we are going on a Snowmobile Safari for 2.5 hours into the wilderness. What an opportunity for complete mayhem. I will not be carrying a camera. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I won but Gwenyth was plastered

Bergen was closed and it was raining hard all day so we were stuck indoors.  So we napped and sort of shot the breeze.

On Sunday afternoon - New Year’s Day, there is not a lot happening in Bergen and it is raining so we went to  Egon which is the only restaurant which is open and I had a pizza and it said it came with meat which it certainly did and I tried to prise most of this off.

Cate and Gwenyth had some other stuff and two bottles of French Chablis.

This was not too bad and was only €70 per bottle – a bargain by Norwegian standards. 

I stuck to the coke because this was like 4:00 PM and the sun was not over the yardarm (even though it set at 3:27 PM). (It rises here at about 9:30 AM.)

We had a delightful lunch which I finished with pancakes and then adjourned to our room which is a deluxe double room overlooking the harbour and costs almost as much per night as a meal in a restaurant. This is now the benchmark.

Gwenyth had sent me to 7-11 to buy playing cards so that she could teach me German Whist. This is not a complicated card game but requires that you remember the cards that are played and that you picked up.

This is of course quite beyond me because at my age I can barely remember to put my underpants on in the morning so she beat me hollow. I won no games out of about 20.  

My revenge was to challenge her to chess using my iPad. The advantage I had was that:

1: She had not played chess for a very long time.

2: The iPad chess game makes all the pieces seem like imploded sea creatures. It is impossible to distinguish a bishop from a pawn.

3: She was completely plastered.

Naturally I won – but not easily because I had been sucking Jameson at the time and deteriorated as time went on – but fortunately not as rapidly as Gwenyth.

Tomorrow early we go to Trondheim. Who knows? It may snow. Sorry Steph. No pics, too much rain.  

Bergen is closed and wet

Akershus Fortress Oslo

When we went to collect our railway tickets I finally found a money exchange place so was able to get an enormous number of Norwegian woggles. Well - enough to buy a couple of dinners anyway.

The prices of everything just leave us gasping. It’s just like when we first arrived in Vienna from Australia.

Restaurants in particular are horrendous – and the food is just not that good in the places we have been. But of course we have not yet – and will not be able – to visit a restaurant with any sort of reputation.

So we arrived in Bergen after a 7 hour train trip from Oslo. A most beautiful and spectacular train trip – reputed as one of the world’s best – through wonderful snow covered mountains and villages. Snow so deep it almost covered houses.

Unfortunately – and as usual – as we came down to the sea – the snow disappeared again and we still have not actually experienced snow falling on us this winter– or walked through snow – and me with all my woolly gear and Ugg boots and Ugg gloves and Boss winter coat and special lined pants.

Bergen is a lovely town and – like the rest of Norway – is closed - even more so than Oslo.

We had tried to book restaurants for New Year's Eve from Oslo but none had replied (now we know why) but when we arrived our hotel concierge said that he had managed to get us into the ‘best restaurant in Bergen.’

This turned out to be the Ole Bull in the Radisson Blu and it was the least impressive buffet any of us had ever seen.

It was rather like a works cafeteria – but with food that would have had the workers out on strike.

The first two bottles of wine with which we were presented were corked. There was no choice of a main meal –  we were told it was in fact old bull. There was no fish. No fish in a Norwegian buffet?

Because it was in fact the only restaurant open in the hotel we were of course surrounded by families with small children.

We were kept amused by the sight of people dressed to kill for a night on the town arriving and beginning to understand what New Year’s Eve at the ‘best restaurant in town’ was like.

It was of course shriekingly expensive at more than €100 per person.

We were done by 9:00 and in bed by 10:00 but the fireworks over the harbour woke us up at midnight.

We are a bit stuck for our one day in Bergen. It is  raining so we cannot do much walking about and as it is New Year’s Day all the museums are closed – along with ALL the restaurants and shops and coffee shops.

Tomorrow we fly early to Trondheim where we pick up our boat – the Nordnorge.

We have paid for this in advance and so that we do not need to rely on their alcohol (wine from €37 per bottle) I have with me 1.5 litres of Jameson.