Sunday, February 26, 2012

Who can live without toast

I hadn’t bought a birthday present for Cate – we never do it on the day as we like to wait for something that we want specially.

But as luck would have it - yesterday our fabulous Dualit toaster finally popped its clogs – after more than 20 years of faithful service. Until yesterday it had never missed a beat but I started making toast and then black smoke billowed forth and the power went out.

So it was not just an element but something terminal.

I told Cate I would get her na extra birthday present and we went and scoured Vienna for a Dualit – finding one in Cuisinarum in Singerstrasse – which I think is the best kitchen shop in Vienna.

I had forgotten how expensive they were – I think our dead toaster cost us $100 more than 20 years ago – and of course we had to have the four slot model because who wants to wait for toast to cook two slices at a time. I mean – life is too short for that.

So it was a toss up between the toaster and a holiday in Barbados – but who can live without toast.

We are very pleased with it. It is silver and will dazzle everyone when I shine it.

I have promised Cate a real birthday present and she is eagerly awaiting the iPad 3.

And here is Merisi’s recipe for Apfelstrudel.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Now I can make an Apfelstrudel

We have had brilliant weather during the last week and it almost feels like Spring has arrived. But I know how this works so I am quite sure that we are going to have another really cold snap.

Jules came yesterday and we went to Bauhaus and got another load of logs for the fire.

I gave up up carting wood after I broke my ribs so now I just supervise Jules while he loads the logs into the car and then out again at the other end – carts them up to the apartment and then stacks them. He is only a slip of a boy but is very strong and can carry much more than I can.

It’s not actually necessary for us to have a fire because the heating actually works properly now – but the cats just love it so  much that it is worthwhile lighting the fire just to see them stretch out in front of it and toast themselves.

Yesterday was Cate’s birthday and she was in a hotel room in Bangkok - on her way home. She got back early this morning so we are having a knees up tonight.

I spent yesterday blowing up balloons and doing flower displays throughout the house. I took the cats to have a colour and blow dry at the Friseur downstairs so that they were in top condition for her homecoming.  

Yesterday Merisi taught me how to make real Viennese Apfelstrudel and took these photos. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Really - I am just fine

I think my last post made me sound lonely.

I am actually not. I am by nature a solitary person and am entirely happy with my own company - and that of two fine cats - and of course Cate when she is here. 

I have more than enough to keep me occupied when Cate is away and have no trouble filling my days.

I was merely pondering that my life is a bit unusual – but I am happy that it is the way it is.

So please don’t worry about me. I am just fine. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It’s actually a bit scary.

Cate did not call me tonight.

She often does not because she has meetings that go forever and for example she called me at 3:00 AM last night  - her time - having just finished a meeting which probably discussed whether some recalcitrant staff should be beheaded or hung, drawn and quartered.

I hope they opted for the more merciful outcome.

But tonight it occurred to me that I live an isolated existence.

I live in this belfry in Vienna and have no companionship when Cate is away – apart from two cats.

Certainly they are fine cats – but cats nonetheless. And their strongpoints are not conversation.

I have one dear friend in Vienna  - Merisi – who is possibly the best photographer in Vienna – and the link to her blog is on my website – and I see her every week or so.

But I have no other friends and this has suddenly struck me as being unusual. And I have only just thought about it.

It’s actually a bit scary.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Maybe it is an Austrian cat thing?


Today was such a fabulous day in Vienna that I went for a two hour bike ride along the Donauinsel. It was just perfect with no wind – and very few other people around.

Well – it is still very cold and according to the weather thingy in my iPhone it was -°4 while I was cycling – but I was well rugged up.

Anyway – there is this thing with the cats at night.

Now any cat I have ever had has wanted to sleep on top of me but Monika has a real fetish and follows me around waiting for me to sit down and provide a perch. The moment I recline in front of the TV she climbs up and settles on my chest.

It is the same when I am in bed except that her preference there is to sleep on  my shoulder when I am lying on my side. She actually perches on my shoulder – with her head next to mine - and can sleep happily like this for hours.

When I roll over she walks over me like lumberjack - log rolling until she gets to the other shoulder. I have never had a cat do this.

So I can cope with that because she eventually gets sick of perching and goes and lies somewhere less precarious.

Sissi’s problem is that she constantly wants to be patted and have her head rubbed – and this is a frequent requirement at night.

But she is not passive about this because when she feels like a pat she comes up to the sleeping human and prods him or her with her needle like claws until they wake up and oblige. And if you fall asleep before she has had enough - well you get another clawing.

I have never had a cat do this either and it can be a bit wearing when it happens at 3:00 AM because Sissi is feeling neglected.  

Maybe it is an Austrian cat thing?  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sorry - my life is boring

I just re-read my last week of blogs and my eyes nearly fell from my head with the boring crap that I have served up.

I must apologise - but the truth is that there is nothing happening here at all. Not that my existence is usually scintillating – but lately we seem to have dropped into an abyss of normality.

The only recent excitement has been that I got a new car next to me in the car park. It was from Slovakia and the owner clearly did not understand how the car park works because they parked nose first – just as I do.

Meaning that we both had to get out on the driver’s side. To illustrate the problem I have attached a photo of our car park.

However – the car park is so small that – so that there is room for both drivers to get out in the middle – the car on the left hand side has to park tail first.

This is so bleedingly obvious that it I figured that the driver must be a complete  nincompoop - or maybe the car had no reverse gear. The first option seemed to be the most likely.

I was reluctant to leave a note because you never know these days who is a bunny boiler - and this person was clearly not too bright – so may well have been unhinged. Having no wish to be hacked to death by a crazed Slovakian I was circumspect.

Perhaps I am being unkind – the car park is quite formidable and if you have not seen one like it before you could well become confused. I mean – in my early days – I had nightmares about his car park and in fact – with our first car – because it was so large – had to park by touch.

I still remember the sound of crunching plastic (years ago cars were made of metal) as I guided our first beast – the Queen Mary – into her berth. It was a steep learning curve. The car park was very small - Queen Mary was very big.

That was a rental car and I remember well the disappointment of the rental man that accompanied the handing back of the steaming hunk of plastic that used to be a fully functioning automobile. 

Anyway – I eventually snapped and left a very polite note – and Herr (or Frau) Slovakia mended his or her ways.

We now park appropriately and each has access for egress.  

I am also pleased to report that the plants on the terrace appear to have survived the recent frigid weather. I expected them to do what all other plants have done and turn up their toes at the first sign of snow but apparently my winter wrapping is doing the job.

It is early days of course – we have a long way to go until spring – but we have had some really cold weather lately and it does seem that they are made of sterner stuff than the plants we have had in recent years that died as soon as they saw a snowflake. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The pond will soon be back to normal

Frau Knickerbocker is pleased with my progress. I am not so pleased but think I am probably expecting too much. Every time I get the hang of something she tells me about a new rule – and I just know there are thousands more of these waiting to ambush me.

We are however struggling along and today we took on the Perfect Tense and I was not too bad. We can now have basic conversations and she is remarkably good at not gritting her ears when I use words she has never heard pronounced that way before. 

I have been keeping an eye on the ducks and - while the pond in Stadtpark is frozen - they still have enough water to paddle about in – although it is a bit crowded when they are all in the water together.

I have wondered why it never ices over completely when it gets really cold. It is strange because the Wienfluss  - which is usually always running – froze solid on the weekend. I have not seen that before.

Is it because so may ducks are paddling about or because there is human intervention?

I have in the past seen a man breaking the edges of the ice with a stick – so that the ducks do have water to paddle about in - so maybe that’s it.

Anyway  - the ducks seem to be quite happy and are coping well. I have told them to hang on because the weather is starting to get warmer and soon they will have the pond back to its normal state.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

You can't fight with those people and win


I didn’t mention that Molly had to move apartments in Paris. This was – as you can imagine – a traumatic event for Molly and Merlin – not the least reason being that Molly chose to have a fight with the people who were moving her WiFi connection.

I would have thought that everyone knew that you cannot fight with these people and win and the inevitable result was that she ended up not having any Internet for the first two weeks she was in her new apartment.

This was disastrous as she works from home using the Internet constantly so had to start haunting cafés with WiFi connections until she bought one of those little USB thingies that you can use – at vast expense – to get a connection.

Anyway – after a significant amount of grovelling and begging she is back on line.

Merlin was quite unhappy about the whole business of moving and Molly being out all day but is now back to normal.

Her new apartment is next to Sacré Coeur in Montmartre and has a nice view. I am not sure about bells – she hasn’t mentioned these so I assume they are not a problem.

The downside is that she is on the 5th floor and there is no elevator – but she hates elevators anyway so that does not bother her. However  - it could be a struggle for me when I visit her. I will travel light.

Her new landlord appears to be sane – which is a great leap forward from the crazy lady who owned her previous apartment.

Next week I am having a break from cooking. Cate’s boss – Huggy Bear – is retiring and the new guy is in town for a series of meetings with all the senior staff from all the areas.

There will be a series of knees ups and meetings and the upshot of this is that she will be out every night. 

Then next Saturday she goes away again - to a land far away - for a week - so the cats and I will be on our own.

We have a big week planned. I am going to study German and the cats are going to sleep. Should be a blast!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Or is it just me?

I was not looking forward to round two with Frau Knickerbocker’s cupboard because we were getting to the bit where the doors had to be hung – but - saints be praised! – when I rang her today to say I was on my way to her place she said that the job was finished. Snapping Turtles! 

Apparently her neighbour had called in last night and had seen this contraption in the process of assembly – knew exactly what it was – and had put it together. What a wonderful person.

There were no bits left over and – I have checked – the doors open and close properly and unsqueakingly  – unlike any door I have ever installed in my life.

Frau Knickerbocker can thank her lucky stars that she was spared from my final assembly work and will thus have years of happy use from her cupboard.

Unlike in our house where it is a constant battle with doors and drawers that I have put together and just do not seem to fit properly.

But it is not for the lack of trying or attention to detail. I really do try hard but just do not get the hang of the plans they provide with these contraptions – inevitably put them together incorrectly and have to undo it all – and then they just never seem to fit together again.

I tend to lose heart because after studying the plan for an hour I will start bolting things together – but I just know that in the fullness of time they will be the wrong way round and that I will have to unbolt them again.

But I did learn my lesson. When we bought our desks I asked for someone to come and put them together. It was a pleasure to watch him in action and worth every euro.

Although I must say that when Gwenyth and I watched a video and then deboned a Turkey we did a damn fine job. Maybe that’s what they should have with these things instead of 40 page booklets – instructional DVDs.

Or is it just me? 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's harder than I thought it would be

Rozalin harassed the air con people and a man came on Monday. He got all the units running on warm and by Tuesday lunchtime the apartment had heated up to a balmy °20.

I have hopes it will warm up to maybe °22. They may all clag out again if it gets any colder outside but it is now quite comfortable.

Today we had some real snow for Sissi to play in but she was not too keen. She only stayed outside for about 30 seconds and then scuttled back inside. Monika is much more sensible and spends her time in the bathroom where the floor is warm.

I made my delayed trip to Frau Knickerbocker’s apartment to assemble the cupboard.

This in itself was quite a task as there was heavy snow and some of the streets had not been cleared. When I came home I used my ‘snow brush’ to clear the snow off the car and windows. This does not happen very often. 

The cupboard thing was even more horrendous than I thought it would be. The assembly brochure is 40 pages long and is – in large parts – incomprehensible and could well be be the assembly instructions for a Piper Cherokee.  They certainly do not appear to relate to some parts we have – but only time will tell.

But - there is no propeller in the many boxes she has so we know we are not building an aeroplane.

However we set about it with grim determination – she speaking only German (so as to improve my German) and me speaking English and German and understanding very little of what she said as she was using words I have never heard before – having never built a cupboard with sliding doors.

I would like to think we made some progress and indeed we attached some parts to the cupboard and built a door. This took us about three hours and then she had to go and teach a German class somewhere. We shall resume tomorrow.

It is an extremely difficult task. I do not think it would be possible to do it alone. One needs the guidance of another critical eye to make sure the right parts are being attached to each other – the right way around. There are many possibilities for error and ultimate catastrophe.

I am quietly confident because she is actually better at it than I am and needs me only for backup. We shall see.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Another one bites the dust

 On Saturday it hit -°12 in Vienna and our last functioning air conditioner celebrated this by switching to cold.

The lounge room plummeted to a frosty °16 so we keep fairly rugged up when we go there -  and we keep the fire blazing.

The cats have retreated to the bathrooms where the heated floors are on - and refuse even to lie in front of the fire because it is not warm enough.

But everything else in the apartment is working so we are not going to die of the cold. Yet.

According to the forecasts it is going to get colder so we anticipate that one by one the units around the rest of the apartment will shut down but if there is one thing we have plenty of it is winter gear – which we bought for Finland and Norway – so go ahead – do your worst.

I have some portable heaters in the basement that I can bring up for the cats and I am about to email Jules with an urgent request for his attendance at a firewood foraging session.

The ducks are of course now having a tough time and most of the Stadtpark duck pond is frozen over. I just bet they thought that they were going to get through this winter without any troubles and whammo!

It doesn’t seem to bother them much though.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Guess what's gone kaputt again?

Blue Mountains -Australia

I had a flu shot at the start of this winter so cannot understand what I got this week - but it was more than just a cold and is surely some form of grippe - and certainly took hold of me. 

I have spent the least few days in bed in a semi-comatose state and Cate has been bringing me the stuff I got from the Apotheke for her - but she did not use.

Anyway – it is called NeoCitran  - and  Rozalin recommended it – and it is basically a hot lemon drink and makes me feel better. That and lots of cold tablets and headache tablets and sleep and I am starting to feel better but I will not emerge much over the weekend.

One reason to stay in bed is that it has turned mighty cold outside – as I write this it is -°8 - and our air conditioning has celebrated this occasion by going kaputt!

This is its usual response to sudden changes in temperature. It is a delicate little petal and a butterfly fluttering its wings in Salzburg can affect the operation of our system.

We have four floor units in the lounge room – each about the size of a VW Beetle – and three started blowing only cold air. So I have turned these off and the one remaining unit left working is gasping out puffs of warm air in the manner of an asthmatic bear on a stairmaster.

The result of this is that the lounge room is being kept at a rather fresh °18 and is not the sort of place one wants to linger.

I have a call in to the people who maintain the death watch over the system and they will send someone who will tinker with it and will recommend some action. Cleaning the pipes or blowing the nodes or even shivering the timbers.

By the time this is done the moment will have passed – summer will be here and the system will be heating the apartment to a balmy °45. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What do I do with my days?

Oslo to Bergen by train

My quietness of this occasion is due to my getting a cold – which I am hoping does not turn into what Cate has. She is still barking like a seal although otherwise is much better.

I think mine is just a cold which has manifested itself in the form of non-stop snuffling and sneezing and dripping - which makes it really difficult to do much at all. But I am sure it will pass soon.

I may have to postpone the putting together of Frau Knickerbocker’s cupboard because I am not sure I can focus on the minutiae of Ikea plans and I also do not wish to infect her with whatever it is that I have.

I get an extraordinary number of colds in this country and I just do not know why because I do not have that much contact with people other than when I go shopping.

Anyway – yesterday I had to lodge our new passport applications at the Australian Embassy and I had filled out my renewal form but because Cate has two passports Rozalin had filled out an application for a new passport and had done all that was required.

I started the process at 9:30 AM with my first trip to the Embassy. It is only a kilometre or so away so I walked there. I waited for half and hour then handed in my passport application – had it checked and then handed over €275 and I was done.

Then we started on Cate’s application.

All was fine until we got to the part when they required photo ID. Apparently the fact that they had Cate’s old passport was not enough. I needed more photo ID plus a credit card and bank statements.

I returned home somewhat crestfallen – but Cate was still there – having done some calls from home – so I was able to get her driver’s licence and the other paper work and I took this back. This time I cycled. By this time my throat was croaky and my nose was snuffly  – I knew I had a problem.

A new lady was there so we started again – and we had a few procedural difficulties with some of the forms that were provided. ‘I am not sure this is the current form I will need to check – you know that they change the rules all the time’ (Oh yes we know).

We were almost triumphant – except that Cate had not signed the application. Hmm---- that is a fundamental problem.

So home again on my bicycle – into the car and off to Cate’s work – Cate signs form - back home and onto my bicycle – back to the Embassy  - present signed document.

Pay €275 - Victory!

Time 2:30PM

And people wonder what I do with my days.

Why does Cate have two passports I hear you ask?

Because she needs visas for many places that she goes and has to lodge passports to do this – but still needs a separate passport to continue to travel.

But I still had time to make a hotpot for dinner and it was not bad at all.

And by the way – we are heading for a big freeze this weekend. We are talking -°14. Now that is my kind of weather! But still no snow.