Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pizza and Beer.

It occurred to me last night as I ate my dinner,  that pizza and beer might not be the very best combination,  but it seems to have been OK.
 There was a time when I decided to take a little visit to the Doc back in Canada after experiencing some strange goings on in the nether regions of my guts,  and when he asked what I had been eating,  I confessed,  "Pizza and Beer".   He didn't exactly approve.   Seems there was this slight issue with something called "diverticulitis"  that I then had to contend with.  I now actually have to be mindful of what I shove in my pie hole.
 Sucks to get old,  but better than the alternative I suppose.  I've heard it said that it's not for sissies.


Once again I'd like to compare our life here in Wienerland to sailing a boat.   We're presently on a long tack,  and we're using the autopilot.
 Our fourth group of visitors for the summer arrived on the weekend,  have already wandered around and scoped out a large chunk of the first district,  have been taken to a concert at the State Opera,  and are now in Slovenia.

 Well,  none of them had been to Slovenia.   They wanted to check it out.  Pretty sure they're on a beach today in Portorož

 I took them to pick up their rental car at the airport on Tuesday morning.   I took my travelling companion to the airport on Wednesday for her flight to Serbia.

 So here I sit.

And now for a little photographic interlude:

Here they are opposite the Opera.   I probably should have tried to do the touristy thing and include the building,  but as usual the place was mobbed with tourists.

I had given a not too subtle hint that we were NOT going to the Opera house in our shorts and tee shirts,  so everyone had obliged by getting a little dressed up.
It's not easy to pack nice stuff for travel,  so I do appreciate their effort.

I didn't see anyone in the place that was shabbily dressed,  and there's even a guy in the background of this photo wearing a suit and tie.   Pretty sure that's where I draw the line however.

As for the performance,  it was the usual suspects.   You may recall we had been to a virtually identical performance two sets of visitors ago at the "Musikverein".   We were even able to identify some of the same musicians.   This bunch have a whole roster of singers,  players and conductors that they change more often than a major league baseball team.

It was fun.   Really.

Even though it's supposedly a Mozart concert,  tradition has to be upheld and the last two pieces of the evening were more of the "Strauss"  variety.  First of which was the Blue Danube
("An der schönen blauen Donau" op. 314 by Johann Strauss Jr.,)
 That's a youtube link of just under 12 minutes if you want a little music in your day.

 I don't profess to be a music critic,  I just happen to be cursed with relative pitch,  so when I say they did a decent job,  that's actually quite something,  since it's a tough piece,  especially if you only have a couple french horn players.
 (they tend to try a little too hard and end up being consistently sharp....GAH!!)

Oh,  speaking of "off key",  you'll notice in the above photo that there are of course a couple heads in my way,  which is only fair,  but for some reason they didn't come back after intermission.   Either they thought the thing was over,  or they really,  really didn't like what they were hearing.
Don't know.
Don't care.
I had a better view.

HOWEVER,  it was only during the Blue Danube that I was then wishing that the lady beside me on my right had also decided to leave,  since she started humming along.....
 ....and she wasn't very good...

 Perfectly acceptable at a hockey game.  Not at a f**king concert!   I knew we were almost done so I wasn't about to tell her to zip it,  but OH MY GOD!  I just might have had a bad thought or two.

 Then of course the last piece of the evening is.....wait for it....The Radetzky March.
Also written by a Strauss,  but this time Johann Strauss SENIOR.  

If you're still remotely interested,  I've managed to find a performance by the Vienna Phil under Daniel Barenboim. 
He does manage to inject a little humour.

  One of the things that I had scheduled to happen in the absence of the rest of the household was my "German lesson",   which took place yesterday afternoon.  Since we typically run out of time after a couple hours,  we decided to schedule a three hour session.   I know?   Who the hell can yak in German for three hours you ask? 
 Well,  apparently it's quite possible.   Pretty sure six months ago that would have given me a huge headache,  which certainly wasn't the case this time,  so I guess something must be going on.
 Anyway,  at some point along the way,  the door bell rings,  and we both look at each other with that sort of, "Are you expecting someone?"  look.
I answer the door,  and there stand  a couple Jehovahs!   I didn't quite pick up on it at first,  until I saw one of them (both women,  which is not unusual) clutching a copy of the "Watchtower".    Actually in German it's the "Wachturm",  but there's no fooling this old dog.   I'm not putting in a link.  If you don't know what that is,  you can do your own search,  unless you're reading this on a stone tablet somewhere.

I sent them on their way.

Turns out,  it might have been good sport to invite them in.  Well,  except for the fact that we're hanging around here in Wienerland for a while and they'd just come back.

 Here's the story:

 I may or may not have given any clues to the qualifications of my German teacher,  but he's kind of a died in the wool academic and has a great long string of letters behind his name,  none of which are entirely relevant to our little story,  except to say he has a certain intellectual curiosity.   The story goes that,  many years ago while doing some work with a college at his house out in Langenzersdorf,  there came a knock on the door,  and there stood two Jehovahs.   Two men this time,  and they were invited in.   Since they wanted to discuss the Bible,  the two learned academics thought that would be great fun,  and decided to start off with the Book of Job. 
 Now,  I have no desire to reread the Book of Job to know what's going on there,  but suffice to say,  the two Jehovahs didn't quite have the answers but promised to come back in a couple weeks time after having consulted with some of their learned higher ups.

This went on for six months!

But here's what happened.  After the six months, the two Jehovahs actually left the cult.  (lost their faith!)   Became agnostic!

One of them lost his job since he was working somewhere where it was all Jehovahs.   Couldn't stay there.

Now,  my German teacher actually felt quite bad about this,  as that was never their intent,  since it was really only intellectual curiosity that killed that particular cat.

For my part however,  I damned near fell off my chair!

Always good to have a good laugh.

So here's the question.   If I ever see these two Jehovahs again,  do I tell them just how close they came to having a life changing experience?

Nah,  didn't think so.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

We have an elevator.

Or for those of you using the "Queen's English",  a lift.
Seems that if we get the slightest bit of rain on the "torrential" side of the scale,  the stupid elevator decides to pack it in.  Not sure if there's water sitting somewhere in some sump or other,  but that's what I gathered from the note on the other non working elevator over on the other side of the building.
 The slightly better news was that we had already hoisted all our guests up on the Thursday night,  and the rains didn't come until the wee hours of Saturday.
 Now,  I don't mind taking the stairs a couple times a day for a little exercise if I so choose.  If I'm lugging groceries or beer however,  I may very well choose not to climb six flights.
That's also not too terribly annoying if this condition only lasts for a day or so,  which was the case the last time the thing crapped out back in May when we had the flood.
 It's now Thursday,  it was not working as of yesterday.  First of all,  apparently there were some 400 Otis elevators that crapped out throughout the city.    The elevator to the parking garage works fine.   It's stinky,  but it works fine.   It's a Thyssen.
The elevator in the subway,  though only slightly less stinky,  was also working fine.  They use Schindler.
 Do you see where I'm going with this?   You may recall that I had half jokingly referred to the thing as a "Todesfalle"  (death trap)  but apparently it's also a huge pile of poo as well.

Now,  I know it had nothing to do with it,  but by yesterday I had had enough,  and finally phoned the knobs who supposedly run the place and asked a couple questions.  Questions like,  "Why did we rent a place from you with the understanding that there would be an elevator,  when in fact there isn't one?"  And, "Why do we pay extra every month for the privilege of now having to climb the stairs?"  
 There were a couple moments of silence on the other end of the phone.   All that was offered was that there was some part or other that had to be ordered.   Seems some company called "Kone"  looks after that.   (I'm not putting in a link to their site,  since their website sucks just as bad as their service)

 Let's just stop and reflect for a moment,  shall we?   If I'm in the business of say,  oh I don't know,  Facilities Services?  (um,  note title of blog)  then,  don't you think that I'd have a little inventory of things that I might need to replace from time to time,  like oh,  I don't know,  light bulbs?   That kind of thing?   And if it was something that I didn't have a part for,  then I'm pretty sure that any number of companies on my little list of contacts could have the problem sorted out within hours.   NOT DAYS.

 So if I'm in the business of servicing  these piece of poo elevators and I know for a fact that a particular module is going to crap out if I look at it sideways,  (remember the Ford F150 pick-ups in the seventies?) wouldn't it be a pretty good idea to have a line on getting replacements in fairly short order?   Just wondering.

  I pointed out to the lady on the phone that it was a good thing that my wife had another office up in Shrems where she could work for a couple days and stay in a hotel,  (with a working elevator)  since there was no way she could continue to climb the stairs day and night.  I think I mentioned ending up in either the hospital or a coffin.    Gee,  maybe they have lawsuits over here too,  d'ya think?
 In any case,  suddenly the elevator was working again this morning.   I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one whose irate phone calls they had to put up with. 
 The other morning I passed our next door neighbour down stairs on crutches!  Her foot is in a cast!  That must be fun.  Negotiating six flights on crutches.

 If that means I'm a miserable so and so,  well that's just too bad.  I can be reasonable after all,  but after five days?  Please.

 At some point I'll put up a couple pictures of our guests whom we entertained over the last few days.  We'll see what kind of mood I'm in later.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Twenty Years

Who knew?

 After a couple mutual wishes of "Happy Anniversary"  this morning,  it took a couple minutes to come up with the amount.   Twenty years.   I never thought she'd put up with me that long,  but I'm still kicking around*.
 Now,  before any of you mushy types say,  "Oh how wonderful that you're in Vienna for your Twentieth Anniversary",  you might just want to hold that thought there,   Kemo Sabe.
While I typically don't have any issues with hanging around the homestead toiling over a slightly warm computer,  while my Travelling Companion goes off to try and lead the lost out of the wilderness,  today's particular manifestation of work for her consisted of flying off to,  wait for it......


 Such good planning.  Never mind that she had a conference call within minutes of hitting the tarmac and had to get the driver to stop the car for a time so as not to drop the call.  Took her two tries just to get through to me just a little while ago.   That was around four p.m. Wienerland Time.  She is being driven through Transylvania at this very moment.

Yes Virginia,  there really is a Transylvania.

Birthdays and anniversaries alone are part of the deal I guess.  We'll celebrate later maybe.

Or next year.

 Now,  it so happens that the 10th of August (yesterday for those of you who lost track) was also somewhat of a milestone.   See,  so happens that I was supposed to return to work on that day,  or I was done in,  out of a job.


 I didn't quite make it.

 Months ago when we were trying to figure out just how we would solve this thing called work when it came to my end of the bargain,  I figured I'd just have to pack it in,  or go home at some point and put on the blue shirt and safety boots.

Fun times.

Extending the leave of absence past the two year mark wasn't a possibility,  since our employee group just so happens to have a collective agreement,  and somewhere along the way,  some very wise contributor (quite likely the employer) covered off that issue.

I can only get two years.

 No amount of threatening letters from some lawyer or other (I've had offers)  would change a damned thing.  Well,  except perhaps the amount of money in our bank account.

 The notion of going back and hanging around with my employer for a time,  and then trying my luck at asking for another leave of absence didn't seem to make a whole heap of sense,  since they could have very well turned around and quite simply said...."no".

 That would have been a fine pickle,  since it would have meant first of all,  having to get myself back to Canader,  then having to buy a set of wheels of some sort to get back and forth to work, since I could have ended up in any of the 80 elementary or 17 high schools within the district,  since I lost my own school at the end of the first year that we were away.

 Note previous comment about "bank account".
(So how long would I have to work to break even on that part of the deal?) 

I'm sure they wouldn't have made me drive 40 kilometres to work every morning,  but you never know.  Either way,  I wouldn't have been taking the bike back with me on the plane.
 And....public transit?   In Burlington, Ontario?   You must be joking.

 So there would be a certain financial disincentive,  and then the more we chewed away at the problem,  the more my Travelling Companion realised that I simply couldn't leave.
Her exact words were,  "You can't leave me".

 OK then.

 I guess that's reassuring,  and does tend to tie in with that whole "Twenty Years"  theme.

 It's one thing to be a few hours away by car in a place like Horseheads, N.Y.
or even in Puerto Rico for that matter.   But Wienerland is not just a few hours away from central Canada.
 For her to be left to her own devices in a land where she can't speak the lingo,  so far from kin and country would really,  really suck.

I sure hope I don't now have to change the name of the blog,  since I'm currently "between commitments"?

 Not only that,  I'll have to figure out what to do with all those blue shirts.


* Or as my sister so aptly mentioned to our sister-in-law on her fortieth anniversary,  "Just think,  you'd be out by now!"

I'll let you figure that one out....but suffice to say,  we no longer have capital punishment in the Great White North.  It's OK though,  my sister-in-law didn't get it either.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

And now we wait.

Seems like this is getting to be a "weekly blog",  since there's bugger all to talk about most of the time.   Hey,  life goes on.  There's enough crap on the internet,  you don't need me to add to it.
I haven't really made mention of this yet,  but we basically have guests stacked up in a holding pattern.
 A sister-in-law and her troupe are coming in from Slovenia on Thursday night.   Oldest daughter and her troupe are coming in on the 20th,  and an old friend and her sister are coming in some time in September.    Don't remember the date for that one,  and I'd have to rummage through some emails to find it.

Maybe later.

 So,  this morning's activities have consisted of lining up hotel rooms and picking up concert tickets.

I don't want to make this more convoluted than necessary,  but these tickets and hotel rooms have nothing to do with the first group.  Those arrangements have been sorted out.   We're working on the second group,  who will first come here for a couple days and then head off to Slovenia.   We're going to meet them in Bled for some pastry. (OK,  there might be a glass of Union in there too)

The first group are already in Slovenia.  But you knew that.

Just on a side note,  one of the group made reservations for them at a place in Ljublana,  and was all excited that they knew how to spell her name! (it's a Slovenian name)
Kind of nice once in a while when you don't have to laboriously spell out your name every single time,  like I always have to here in Wienerland.

 Thanks to a very nice young chap on the phone at Vienna Concert Tickets,  I had my little story all ready in case they gave me a hard time at the ticket office,  since they would prefer to have you pick up the tickets just before the performance.
 Now,  we've been to the State Opera,  which is where this gig is happening,  and that place confuses the hell outta me,  so I really wanted to have our tickets in my hot little hands ahead of time.  Plus I just told the guy that I really didn't want to line up with all the tourists.
He understood completely.

Sorry if that sounds snobbish,  but you have no idea just how mobbed some of these places can be.  

It's not like I'm coming in from out of town,  but that was the little story I eluded to,  by way of getting around the 'lining up on the night of' routine.
The slight consideration was,  it's the summer time,  and all of these places are overrun with summer students.  Thankfully there was an "adult" passing by,  who pretty much took over and got the situation sorted out.  I now know how their system works,  since all the tickets are sitting in these large folder type things inside a credenza.  They simply take them across the street to Opera house on the day of the performance.  (or to the Musikverein,  or where ever).
There's no mystery,  so all he had to do (the student)  was go to the folder,   bring it back to his desk,  look at what I paid for the tickets,  and ask which ones in that section I wanted.   That was too complicated for him.

Now that I think on it,  I'm not really sure what he and his other young associate were doing.   Keeping their seats warm I guess.

The other part of today's agenda was to pick up a watch that belongs to my travelling companion that was in need of a battery.

 I guess it's kind of like when you want to do a tune up on certain car brands.   Not everyone wants to touch them.  The watch happens to be a Gucci.  Now before you get all "la-dee-da" on me and start rolling your eyes,  it was a Christmas present a number of years ago for my travelling companion,  and it's quite nice.  It wasn't crazy expensive but,  perhaps in the range of what I paid for my first used car,  but has up to this point,  lasted considerably longer.
 So fine,  there's a Gucci location in Vienna on their website,  it's just too bad that the phone number is wrong.
 I'm willing to go to a train station for some "recon",  but I wasn't quite willing to jump on the subway and head down to the first district to try and find some mysterious Gucci store.  I just figured I'd go out here on Mariahilfer and go into the first jeweller store I came across and ask them if there was in fact a Gucci outlet on Kohlmarkt.

 Turns out there is.

 Very nice people.   Even the door man.  (um...ya,   places like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have door men)  Only thing was,  they would have to send it to German to get a battery put in.
Hm....welcome to "Absurdistan".

 Instead,  the very kind young lady told me to simply go down the street towards Michaelerplatz to a place called Shullin

where they would probably be able to change it that day.   I decided to leave it over night.

This time around though I thought I'd take the bike,  just to try and keep my arteries from hardening.  It just makes it heaps easier to make multiple stops.   Once again,  the slight consideration is....wait for's summer time,  and the number of tourists in that area is truly amazing.  Oh.. my.. goodness.

I probably should have just taken a picture of all the tourists,  but you'll have to use your imagination.

I think if we get any more activities lined up,  I'll need a bigger notice board.

Have you noticed that Mozart is kind of a prominent theme in Vienna?


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Something to do with Manchester.

OK,  this isn't some slimy way of getting unsolicited hits,  it's just that there was another Manchester in the news on the very day that our recent guests left Wienerland on their way to Manchester,  UK.
Not as much gun play up there,  thankfully.
Considerably worse in the weather department though.
We were very fortunate to have pretty good weather for the whole six days they were here.  It did rain one night,  and threatened on a couple of occasions,  but it can rain all it wants at night as far as I'm concerned.

 On a somewhat unpleasant note,  we may have lost one of our stars and been dropped from four stars to three,  due to a miscue on the air-conditioning in the one guest room,  as the remote was somehow on the wrong setting.  Didn't work worth a damn.
Since there is a certain amount of city noise,  once in a while it can be pleasant to close up and put on the air,  but it didn't work on Sunday night.
Oh dear.
I don't know how it happened,  but once I actually put my glasses on the next morning and consulted the manual,  it was painfully obvious that it was set to "heat",  and not "air condition".    Gah!

 I'm thinking if it had been set to "do sweet bugger all" instead of "heat",  that would have at least been some consolation.

Oh well.

 Won't be falling for that one again.

 All in all it was a very pleasant visit,   with days spent either seeing sights or shopping,  with evenings spent yakking by candle light on the terrace.  Like I said,  the weather was just about perfect.

Don't get the wrong idea though.  I'm not really all that enthusiastic when it comes to hours of shopping,  so on more than one occasion I gave them a set of keys and sent them on their way.
We're close enough to everything that there really isn't any need to take public transit if one is willing to meander far enough,  and they went all the way down to the first district on Monday unsupervised!

I know!

The expression that I like to use in reminding my lovely travelling companion when I'm about to set visitors off on their own is,  "They're not TWELVE".  

 I mean really,  if a person has somehow figured out how to get here from another continent,  they surely don't need me to help them get back to the apartment.

 At least I hope not.


What you're seeing above,  is the inside of the Musik Verrein,  which is pretty much in keeping with the insides of most buildings in Vienna.  There's always a lot of either gold leaf or marble involved.
 Since everyone coming to Vienna really should have a dose of Mozart,  I ordered tickets a while back and we went on Friday night.
 I had been putting off going to one of these Mozart concerts mostly out of protest,  since they are rather touristy in nature,  but the orchestra did a fine job,  in spite of the goofy costumes.

Yes,  the musicians dress up in period costumes.    I guess that's OK,  and it seems to be something they're truly proud of,  since there was some boasting in the program that they had recently acquired some "genuine" period outfits at auction not long ago.
 Whatever floats yer boat.
 And for the picky purists out there,  no they did not play a complete Mozart program.  There was after all,  The Danube Waltz by that Strauss guy,  as well as the Radetzky March at the end.
I try not to roll my eyes,  but there is no way any concert anywhere in Vienna is going to end without playing the Radetzky March it seems.
 I'm not overly big on audience participation is all.
 If you're desperate for a Strauss fix,  you can have a listen to the March here.
It's just a slightly bigger orchestra. 
(Vienna Phil under Georges Prêtre)

I'm not going to bore you with all the details of the visit,  but I'll throw in a couple photos and you should be able to fill in some blanks.

One last thing.

  This seems to happen just about every time we have visitors.   It's also one of the nice little side effects of having visitors.  Each and every time someone comes here,  they discover something or other that up until that point we had no clue about.   New stores get discovered.   Products get found that I had given up on.
 Magda found a hardware store on Mariahilfer Strasse that I didn't know was there.   These folks found the brand new Merkur underground by the subway station at Neubaugasse.  I might have found these places eventually,  but the Merkur had just opened up at a site that is still undergoing some renovations,  and I had figured I wouldn't be going back there again for a while, having frittered away an afternoon looking for something or other a couple months back.

 Kind of handy having someone out and about poking around I suppose.