Monday, April 30, 2012

Ungrateful little sods

An Oxford Duck

Well the buds are budding, the blossoms are blossoming and the air conditioning is kaputting. This is normal for this time of the year. Our air conditioning does not like to change from hot to cold and requires quite some coaxing.

Well it’s as hot as Billy-oh here now and change time has come.

In theory you can switch from heating to cooling cycles using the buttons and dials on the air conditioning units. However these do not work - and I suspect they are not actually connected to anything and are provided simply for the amusement of the manufacturers.

What actually happens is that two men with screwdrivers have to come and fiddle about in the innards of each unit until they starting running cold – or hot – as required.

This is a delicate task and we have asked them to come as soon as possible as only when they perform their magic rituals can we make our apartment liveable. 

The arrival of really warm weather has prompted my new plants to die. Well they are not actually dead yet but they are going crispy at the edges and this is never a good sign.

I don’t know what I did wrong – I never do – but the result is always the same. 

I remind you that I planted these new ones on 27 March – as detailed in this blog – so they have barely made it through a month. I gave them a good home with a view of Stephansdom and they died after a month.

Ungrateful little sods.

Friday, April 27, 2012

We loved the bookshops

Oxford Botanic Gardens

What we did love being in England was the opportunity to go into Waterstones and spend some time browsing through shelves and tables of  English language books. This was bliss.

Sure we buy lots of books from Amazon but it is just not the same and using only Amazon you lose touch completely with what’s new and available. There is nothing like being able to pick up a book and leaf through it.

I should mention that some stores in Vienna do have English language book sections – but what we miss are big stores with a zillion books.

In Oxford Cate was at a conference so I mooched around – sat in no SB chairs – and took almost no photos because the weather was not too good and I didn’t want to get my camera wet. I even went on one of those tourist bus things – a first for me.

We did have another lovely hotel – Cate gave me another high mark – even though I did not choose it.

They were not at all worried about my Campers so we were able to have drinks in the bar and could even have gone to dinner if we had wanted to.

Oxford is interesting and one can usefully spend a day there. I suspect it is much more fun if you are actually going to the University.  It is rather more ancient and salubrious than my old Alma Mater.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I make them wish they had one

Of course in London we shopped. Or to be more accurate – one of us shopped while the other spent a considerable amount of time sitting in the Sad Bastard’s chair whiling away the hours.

Unfortunately not all shops have SB chairs. This is calamitous for the SBs who have nowhere to go – especially when it is raining outside.

There is only so long you can look at racks of women’s clothing  - in my case it is less than 60 seconds – and then I prowl the shop like a caged Lion making the sales assistants wish they DID have an SB chair.

Or – as happened in Cos in London – there is already a SB in the chair – and you just know he could be there for some time. In fact he was and I could not think of a suitable ruse to make him move other than standing near him and sneezing and he was not going to fall for that one.

One thing I do not understand about shopping is that you get the same shops in every city in every country.

Oxford Street in London could be Pitt Street in Sydney or Fifth Avenue in New York. The shops are all the same. This is not a worry to an intrepid shopper like Cate as these shops are as a candle to a moth.

But after that she bought almost nothing – which is good because we packed - as we usually do – as if for a trip across the Alps by pack horse - and left no potentially wearable article at home. Oh except for warm clothing – we did not have much of that so froze during the trip.

For some reason we did not really believe the weather forecasts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It sure was Ritzy

My apologies for the paucity of blogs while we have been gallivanting about in London and Oxford.

Well the Ritz was fabulous. We were however – as guests – entirely inadequate and did not measure up to the high standards of the hotel. 

The problem was that we had not thought about it too much and I did not take a coat or a tie – or proper shoes.

I had only my Campers which are entirely adequate for street wear but just do not butter any parsnips at the Ritz.

OK so they indulged us to a point and allowed us to stay in the hotel and walk through the public areas. They even allowed us to have a drink in the Tivoli bar one evening.

Of course sir had to borrow a coat from the establishment (too small I looked like a penguin) and the waiter told sir that he would not normally be allowed in unless he was wearing ‘classic’  shoes but that he (the waiter) would pretend – on this one occasion only – not to notice.

I am afraid that dinner at the Ritz was out of the question. My question to the concierge as to whether I could get into the dining room - dressed as I was – in my best clothes - elicited the response

‘Not tonight Josephine’

Which was a bit strange but answered my question.

This was a pity and we really should have thought about the dress standards at places like the Ritz and the Savoy – where I used to stay often.

Perhaps it is anachronistic – but I do not have a problem with it.  It was a delightful experience and if we ever get the opportunity we will do it again.

And – importantly – for my choice of hotels I got 5 stars from Cate. This is the maximum available – and my highest score ever. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Oh Goody! Another shopping opportunity

So this week we go to London on Thursday and then to Oxford on Saturday morning so that Cate can attend a conference.

So we only have one day in London on the way to Oxford and there are no prizes for guessing what we will be doing on that day.

Correct – shopping.

More to the point – Cate will be shopping and I will  be carrying the bags for her and generally whining pitifully for coffee.

Most shops theses days have seats for spouses so I can try to tuck myself out of the way and play with my iPhone.

These ‘sad bastards’ seats are usually placed conspicuously so that the wives can keep an eye on their miserable spouses who sit there waiting for deliverance from the torture.

On Saturday we spent sometime in an underwear shop in Vienna while Cate shopped and they had no spouse seat so I had to park myself on the steps going in the women’s underwear section and tell everyone ‘Ich warte for meine Frau’  so that they did not call the police. (There was no chair in the men’s section either.)

We are going to Oxford by train on Saturday morning and then I will have a day and a half to mooch about while Cate attends the conference.

Then she gets picked up by a car at 6:30 AM on Monday morning to take her to Heathrow so she can get a flight to Moscow. I just don’t know how she does it.

I am taking a leisurely train back to London and will have the next two days there on my own so that I can mooch about and take some photos. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It’s just not fair

This person drives faster than I do

I just do not believe that I got a speeding ticket on the A23.

According to the notice I got by email from Rozalin (the notices go to Ducky Pharma) I was hammering along at 98 kph in an 80 kph zone.

Well of course I was.

I am very careful around Vienna – especially in the 50 kph zones – and at SCS where they are ferocious.

But on autobahns no one in Austria drives at the speed limit. I do not recall the exact occasion because I always drive at 100 kph on the A23 – but I do it in the slow lane because the fast lane is reserved for those doing 120 kph – or more.

I think I am being victimised - or else as I speak many thousands more people are getting surprised by fines for the speeding blitz on 23 March.

On the weekend when we drove to and from Innsbruck Cate reached speeds of 140 kph – I bet SHE does not get a ticket. And people were passing us at speeds of at least 160 kph.

Cate always drives like the Hounds of Hell are after her and she has had just one measly ticket since she has been here. This is about my fourth.

Fortunately – in Austria you just get fined – and not very much – and don’t lose points off your licence.

I know – all you curmudgeons out there will say ‘well if you don’t speed you won’t get caught’.

But if I did not speed I would be the only one in Austria doing the speed limit.

It’s just not fair.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I just can't read maps

Schloss Ambras Innsbruck

We are going to Cyprus in June and will be hiring a car. Cate is going for work so I am going to tag along and we are taking a few extra days to explore the Island.

So we will ask for a navigation system which they agree to provide but unfortunately when we pick up the car there will not be one available and they will give us a map of Cyprus the size of an iPad and say here use this. This has happened before so we know what to expect.

When we went to Turkey we asked for a navigation system so that we could find our way to Gallipoli but alas they were out of systems when we got our car – and they gave us a map of Turkey the size of an A4 sheet of paper. We survived by using the maps in my iPhone but this is a very expensive way to do it because you have to turn on global roaming.

Unfortunately I am very bad at reading maps – especially tiny ones – so car navigation systems are really the only things that can get us to where we want to go. Sure – many people say they are bad at reading maps but trust me I would be a medallist in the ‘world’s worst map readers’ Olympics.

So to prepare for this eventuality I decided that I should buy a portable car navigation system. I used to have a Tom Tom but lost this on a trip – but it was pretty well shagged out anyway.

We don’t need a portable one in Austria because we have one built into our car and it has taken us all over Europe.

First I looked to see who has maps of Cyprus. Tom Tom does not - and Garmin does not specifically say it has - but Googling told me that there is a map of Cyprus in the Garmin Greek map.

So I duly bought a baby Garmin which included the maps for all of Europe – and ostensibly one for Cyprus. I can’t find this despite an extensive search. I have emailed Garmin and do not expect a reply.

So back to Google – and I discover that there is a map of Cyprus available from Garmin in Cyprus – so I email them for details.

Turns out it costs €110 and is only available on an SD card. This is just a little bit less than the cost of my new Garmin  - which includes all the countries of Europe.

So I have ordered a map of Cyprus from Amazon. We will just have to do it the old fashioned way.

On the bright side we will get hopelessly lost and see many parts of Cyprus we had never planned to.

And I imagine that on more than one occasion I will say ‘I wish I had bought that Garmin map for Cyprus’.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I just don't get Sachertorte


We had a lovely time in Innsbruck. The weather was cold – which was good for us – and we even had some snow. We saw the Hofburg and the Schloss Ambras – which were just like any other Hofs and Schlosses I have ever seen but Cate simply cannot get enough of them so they are a must see in every place we go.

We had afternoon tea twice at the Sacher CafĂ© in the old town and I tried – for the second time in my life – the Sachertorte – the first time was in the Sacher Hotel in Vienna when we first came here.

I still don’t understand what the fuss is about. I just don’t get why it is so popular – to me it is a very average, dry chocolate cake with jam in it. Wikipedia suggests that most Viennese find the cake too dry to be eaten on its own so it is served with whipped cream. Quite. It is as dry as a bird’s bum and as far as I can tell has no redeeming features – other than that it is chocolate. (Which of course is a plus.)

Our only bad experience was the hotel  because we fell into that old trap about air conditioning. We try never to stay in hotels that are not air conditioned simply because we find the rooms too hot, stuffy and smoky.

However – we did check to see that the Grand Hotel Europa (Innsbruck’s only 5 star hotel – according to the blurb) was air conditioned.

When we got to our room it was like an oven so we turned the air conditioning on and it ran for 10 seconds and stopped.

We then attempted to have the problem rectified – without success - until our third call when we were advised that our room was not in fact air conditioned but that it was not hot outside so we could open the window.

It transpires that the air conditioning in most of the hotel was not actually turned on and the units in each room were – in effect – ornaments.

After some unhappy conversations we  were offered another room which we moved to the next morning – after a difficult night.

The whole event was rather more grisly and visceral than this – because Cate was in full Death Stare mode - but I am sparing you the sordid details as we ended up in a very nice air conditioned room and were as happy as clams.

But if you are going to Innsbruck I can assure you that you can see everything you want to in two days – and even then you will have to move really slowly and have lots of coffee breaks. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I am off the hook on the Innsbruck hotel

Stadtpark and Kursalon 4 April

Cate arrived back safely from Saudi Arabia. She does not enjoy trips to that place but just has to do it to see the people in the office – who are all male. 

She hates having to wear an Abaya – although the advantage is that she does not have to dress up for work each day and it does not matter what she wears underneath.

Apparently Arab women can be quite expressive under their Abayas and wear all sorts of exotic underwear and jewellery. And even some Abayas can be quite fancy. Cate has one that could almost be fashionable (in Saudi Arabia of course - it would not work in Vienna). 

So Easter is here and we have decided that we will go to Innsbruck. We will drive there on Friday and come back on Monday.

The shortest way there is through Germany - so we will go there that way and drive back via the scenic route through the mountains and valleys.

Cate has chosen the hotel so I am off the hook on that one. Of course she hasn’t taken any chances as the blurb says it is Innsbruck's only five star hotel - and anyone can do that. 

But I have been caught before so we shall see.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Where did the ducks go?

Duck pond without water and ducks

Once again I have been slack in terms of both blogging and blog reading. It’s not that my life is particularly busy but I have had a bit on my mind lately - and  I also  decided that my blogs have been so bland of late that I would wait until I could write an interesting one.

The bad news is that this is not it.

But I thought I should say something.

We had decided that Cate should have a new iPad for her birthday and we were waiting for the iPad 3 – which was released on 23 March and is not called the iPad3 – it is called ‘the new iPad’.

Which means that the next one will probably be called ‘the newer iPad’.

In the interim Cate’s boss decided that his staff should have iPads – so Ducky Pharma is paying for them. Anyway – I ordered it from Apple in Austria and it arrived yesterday and I had fun setting it up.

I haven’t given Cate all the Apps that I have – such as my various incarnations of Angry Birds – because she does not have time for such frivolities.

It is remarkably like the iPad 2 but I will take their word for it that it is streets ahead in terms of display and battery life.

Anyway last week they emptied the duck pond. I am not sure who ‘they’ is mind you - but there was hardly a skerrick of water left in in and I discovered that the entire pond is made of concrete.

Most of the ducks had gone to other places - where I imagine there was water.

I guess this was spring cleaning because today the pond is full again and the water is remarkable clean – and all the ducks are back. Well I haven’t counted them but you know what I mean.