Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blogging from Bonn.

Well,  the traffic and car parking is just as bad as I remembered from the last few times we’ve been here.  It got to the point that if Travelling Companion had to come to this office when we lived in Delden (The Netherlands,  just in case there’s a memory lapse there) I would drive her down in the morning,  and pick her up later that day.  It’s only about a two hour drive,  so no big deal. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Failed to mention.

Here it is Sunday already and I suppose I could have had something to say yesterday,  but well,  that didn't happen.
What I failed to mention was that,  back on maybe Wednesday at some point,  Travelling Companion decided  she'd take Nephew Boy to Prague by train.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Running Around.

I really don’t remember all the post titles that I’ve ever used,  and there’s an exceedingly good chance that I’ve used that one before.  If that’s the case,  not sure what to say?   Nothing to see here.
We’re presently enduring a few of those moments when our internet service provider has decided to take a little nap…BUT!  thanks to this cute little program called Windows Live Writer,  I can not only look at any past posts that I’ve written using Live Writer,  (only a couple at this point) but can also ramble on here to my heart’s content.  Just can’t sent anything out to the blog.   That’s fine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To suck at Blogging.

It’s true.  Sometimes I really suck at this.  Especially when we’re off somewhere and I should be writing faithfully each and every day?
To make matters slightly worse,  I actually had taken this computer along,  but just had so very little desire to even turn the thing on it’s not even funny.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tracking Satellites

I’m going to take a stab at using Windows Live Writer.  The only thing that isn’t jumping out at me at the moment is the “page break”  function.  We’ll see how it goes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Booking things.

Can't say I'm keen on it.   When it comes to booking hotels,  concerts etc.
Too many decisions.
If I've already been to a place,  or if Travelling Companion has been to a place,  like the hotel we stayed in when we were in the Netherlands a few weeks back,  then it does tend to go better.   Otherwise there's all that research.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

That was "interesting".

And by "interesting",  I mean just about as interesting as having a child in the back seat on a trip asking,  "Are we there yet?"  every five minutes.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Amazing weather.

It's nice out,  and that's all I'm going to say,  since I don't want to either rub it in or seem like some sort of ingrate.
There are those not doing so well in the weather department.  I feel bad for you.  Really.
(I'm going to try the page break thingy)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Proof Reading "Wuthering Heights".

I was going to say I'm bored to distraction,  but those are just words.

I'm just taking a slight break from proof reading a piece of work brought home by Travelling Companion.   I seem to recall that at least in Wuthering Heights,  there was some kind of a plot.   There's not even a plot here.
Gawd am I ever glad I never thought I'd want to become an editor!
Hm,  wonder if they have a high suicide rate?

I can't even really say what it's all about since it's proprietary in nature.  Plus, there's no need for anyone else to be bored as well.  It's basically a blow by blow description of what this particular part of the Company that Cannot be Named does, when they do what they do.
That's the thing though.
I'm sure when they're "doing it",  it's already pretty boring.  So the description doesn't get much better.
Try to imagine an outline of programs and meetings,  to make sure that the proper meetings are being held to insure the absolute maximum number of meetings.   Something like that.
Oh,  and a bunch of catchy acronyms and abbreviations.

We're not talking the variety of horrid English that you might find on a Hungarian billboard,  since it's basically reasonably well written. 
Note choice of words.

So my job (for which by the way,  I am not getting compensated,  that would be a conflict of interest or something)  is to go over it with a fine tooth comb and preen it for the discerning eyes of the Grand Poobahs who will be coming down from On High later on this year for some sort of day of reckoning.
It's a tall order for a chunk of the company that,  up until a couple years ago,  was doing all their business in German.  
Think about that.
Just the same though,  it's probably best to avoid using such high falutin' words like, "inculcate"?  
I've never felt the need to use that word in my entire life,  and it might very well be used every so often on the campus of Oxford,  but none of these Grand Poobah types ever went there.  If any of them even went to Harvard I'd be surprised. 
There was a brief moment of excitement there when a chickadee managed to fly into the kitchen.  
And no,  that's not some sort of metaphor.    A tiny little bird really flew into the kitchen.
Of course,  before I could haul out the camera,  the smart little bugger had figured out which door he had come in and flew back out again.  Drat!

You'll have to take my word for it.

 Oh,  and of course everyone in North America is painfully aware of just how crappy their springtime has been up to now with fires (Texas) tornadoes (most everywhere)  floods (just about everywhere else).    So if it's any consolation,  our oh so nice weather is actually starting to become a concern for those who might like to have something to eat in a few months.

Apparently we haven't been getting enough rain,  and the soil is starting to dry out too much. 


 You can send me some of your rain,  but only at night!

 I see my editor's chair is beckoning.



Sunday, May 8, 2011

A quiet afternoon.

This is for two reasons.   For the last two weekends,  we've been somewhere.  I'm quite content to stay right here on the couch.  The second reason is that we took Dana to the airport this morning for her flight back to Toronto.

The slightly depressing weather we've had for most of the day didn't help either. 

It was a good week.   She was out and about each and every day,  and had a few things she wanted to see that she didn't get around to seeing when she was here last summer.   Mind you,  on that trip the four of them rented a car,  went to Slovenia and then took the train to Prague.   They just didn't see enough of Vienna for her liking.

 The meal at Plachutta was every bit as good as we had hoped.  This was also something that we did the last time she was here,  except for the ever so slight mitigating fact that she was at the time coming down with a cold.  This time around she could actually taste everything.
Makes a big difference.
We arrived there within about a minute of our reservation,  but there was a bit of a mob trying to get in the door.  I was patient,  I just waited,   since I had a suspicion that it was just people trying to get in without reservations.   I think I made ours back on Wednesday or something.   Don't remember.
So I could see our name up at the top of the screen (and they managed to spell it right this time!!)  and after the boss man told the people in front of us that the soonest he could get them in was 9:30 p.m.,  they turned and headed for the door.   That cleared things up considerably.
I felt ever so slightly sorry for them,  but everything you read about this place tells you you need to reserve. 
It ain't rocket science people.

After we left,  we were in no hurry to simply get back on the subway and head home,  so I thought I'd fool around with some night photography at Stephansplatz.   I might have mentioned that there's basically zero tolerance here in Wienerland when it comes to any alcomohol in your blood if you're at the wheel,  and in spite of being less than enthusiastic about public transportation, it's certainly useful if you want a couple drinks with your meal.

Just one more picture of that church.

Didn't need any of these "services"

I'm never quite sure what I'm going to end up with any time I take the camera off "auto" and remove the flash,  since then I'm pretty much flying blind.   And I mean that in a literal sense.   I need my specs to see the display,  and even then I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to end up with until I put the pictures onto a bigger screen,  such as a computer....
Certainly better than the old days of film photography,  and a heck of a sight cheaper too.  There's nothing quite like that sinking feeling when you get back an envelope full of really crappy prints that you've just paid about twelve bucks for.
Fun times. 
There's that other sinking feeling when the price of the developed prints doesn't quite add up?  That's when you also know that things didn't go well.

I suppose that's about it for today.  I may or may not have anything to say for the next little while.  Just depends.

We're already looking at flights for the trip home in late August. 

Trying not to wish our lives away.

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there.


Friday, May 6, 2011

The Vacuum Theory.

I half ways forgot that I was going to mention anything about this until I signed in just now.  I had something else in mind,  but I'll touch on the Vacuum Theory first.
This is just a theory.  I have no empirical proof,  nor do I wish to do the research.
I recall when we had an apartment in Horseheads,  New York,  that the prevailing view of the local pundits when it came to taxation was such that it was "high".   Certainly lower than anything we would get upset about in Canada,  and most definitely lower than the average 19% that gets heaped on most anything one buys in Europe.   The thing was,  the city of New York needed to siphon off tax dollars from the rest of the state.
That's what "everybody" said,  I have no idea if it was true.

 After our visit to Budapest last weekend,  I began to get that impression about Vienna.

Here's the thing,  the highways from the Austrian border to Budapest were spectacular.   I mean, smooth as silk.  Not a blade of grass out of place either.   Budapest itself had streets reminiscent of Rome.
Not so smoothy or silky.
As with many countries in these parts,  the highways in Hungary are supported by a toll system.   The slight difference is, when you go into the gas station close to the border to pay your toll, rather than getting a stick on "Vignette"  which is a bitch to remove later,  they simply key in your license plate number into some sort of system.
I made sure I had my receipt handy.   No telling how reliable their "system"  was.

So fine,  the idea is,  that toll goes towards maintaining the roads.  My impression was they were doing a damned fine job of it.

By the way,  it was something like €7,50 for four days,  which I suppose is not too unreasonable,  considering it is for a time period, and not just a single trip.  Most assuredly better than the stupid 407 ETR that we have in Toronto,  where a single trip across the city can cost you up to 15 bucks.  

 Here in Austria,   we also have a toll to pay for the privilege of using the highways.   I should almost put "highways" in quotation marks,  since the difference in quality is beyond just noticeable.
This is where my "Vacuum" theory comes in.  My impression is,  somehow Vienna is sucking up some of those funds.   Has to be.
The farther one gets from Vienna,  the better the condition of the roads.  That seems a bit odd.
There's no other way to explain the poor state of the roads.   There was some talk a few months ago about raising the speed limit or possibly eliminating it in places.   Even if they wanted to do that,  I can't see how anyone would be able to keep a vehicle on the road at anything much faster than about 150.   So that will never happen.
One could also go with the theory that all the traffic around Vienna is simply beating the hell out of the roads,  and that the "Asfinag"  hasn't managed to stay on top of the situation.  But then that wouldn't be in keeping with their mandate.  I'd sooner just go with the "vacuum" theory.

Now on a completely different subject....

What has become at this point almost a tradition in these parts is that guests are not discouraged from any efforts in the meal preparation department.
Notice I didn't say it was a requirement.   Simply that any offers are greatly appreciated.

Dana thought she'd have a go at the chicken risotto challenge.   This is a meal where one has four pots on the go,  and can take well over an hour to prepare.   Well worth it,  but not for the faint of heart.
It was really good,  but of course by the time I came back after having fetched Travelling Companion,  we didn't eat until some time well after 8:00 p.m.
No early bird specials in these parts. 

For tonight I've made reservations at Plachutta,  which has also become a bit of a tradition for most any guests that we have.  I'm hankering for some "Tafelspitz".  

It's much better than it sounds,  trust me.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May the fourth be with you!

One of the shifty advantages of being five or six hours ahead of anyone across the pond who might tune in, (and I'm beginning to realise there are in fact others in other times zones.  Sorry, I don't mean to exclude anyone.)  is that my feeble brain has a chance to get the jump on any quirky time related foolishness such as April Fools day or any of those bits of silliness.
I realise the title is lame.
I'm sorry.
Sort of.
However,  there's some sort of "one-upmanship" when it comes to this particular little bit of nonsense.  It's always best to be the first one to offer these well wishes.   For example,  just before my daughter headed out the door this morning to visit more touristy spots here in Wienerland  I said,  "Oh, and by the way,  May the fourth be with you."  to which she replied with her best Homer Simpson style "D'oh!  It's May the fourth isn't it!!"

I can't explain it.  It just is.

Fine,  we've got that out of the way.

It's probably going to upset the one and only friend I have who is of Hungarian heritage,  but I have to say I'm not so sure I'd be willing to go back to Budapest.  Yes,  I realised we only scratched the surface,  but the problem is,  unless you have someone right there on your arm who can translate and or guide you through the sights,  it's all very bewildering.
At least in Italy I stood a chance due to the similarities in language.   I even stand a half decent chance in Slovenia,  having studied a little Russian those many years ago.   Plus of course having been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point,  they've "borrowed"  a few words from German.  This is something the Austrians have done as well,  having borrowed a few words right back.
And by the way,  don't try to tell anyone from either side that they've borrowed words!   That's a "danger Will Robinson" right there.  That's like trying to tell the Dutch that they're speaking a German dialect.   Don't go there.

Case in point,  the word for Horseradish in these parts is "Kren".
Sorry boys and girls,  but that's the same word they use in Slovenia.   I can't unequivocally state that the word is Slovenian in origin (not qualified)  but I will say it's a word that Travelling Companion has understood to mean Horseradish since she was a little girl.
Just a reminder,  Slovenian was her first language.

"Meerrettich"  is the word you'll find in most German dictionaries.
At least the ones I have.
Doesn't help a guy like me,  when off to look for Horseradish,  since I've learned most of my German as if it were being spoken and understood by Germans.  Needless to say,  when I finally got up the nerve to ask for said "Meerrettich",  the produce clerk looked at me like I had a big booger hanging off my nose.
Makes a fellow feel somewhat uneasy.

So...Hungarian?   Not sure where to start.

There's nothing to compare it to.

Through some sort of osmosis,  we did manage to pick up some key words,  such as "hid",  which is a bridge (important)  and,  I think that was about it.
OK well, "kastély" is kind of a no brainer,  since it's the word for castle.  Others such as "hotel","múzeum"?  Well, they're not that hard to figure out.

How about "rendőrség"?  

Any clue?   Good thing they had that on the side of the police cars.  I have no idea how to pronounce it so your guess is as good as mine.

Here,  you can chew on this:

Something about a "consortium"  and the bridge.   Oh,  and something happened on May 29th,  2009.  Other than that,  I got nothin'.

In a similar fashion to the Czech Republic,  Hungary is a part of the EU,  but their economy hasn't been deemed strong enough to switch to the Euro.   Many shops will take Euros,  and take you for a ride right along with them.  Things always seemed to be more expensive if you paid in Euros.   Hm.
In the latter part of Saturday afternoon,  we did spot a bank machine and thought we'd try our luck taking out some Forints.
The exchange on the Forint is still a bit of a mystery to me and at the time,  when given the choice between  10,000,  20,000, 50,000  Forints,  we really didn't have a clue what we were doing.  Somehow we had overlooked that little bit of research.   We just figured we'd start off with 10,000 HUFs and see where that would take us.    That's about €37 by the way.   Didn't go far.

So the slightly amusing bit was,  when we did find a store and picked out a couple bottles of wine,  Travelling Companion thought she'd try contesting the rate of exchange that the clerk presented when we realised that we didn't have the proper wheel barrow load of local currency.    I pointed out that the only choices were to either pay,  or leave.
Or choose some cheaper wine.
If you didn't have the local currency,  and they wanted to put the bite on you,  there was really no other recourse.
Accountants.  They're fun aren't they?

I see once again this is turning into a mini thesis,  and that's never been my intent.   Plus I have some shopping to do.   Like that's anything new.

 Tomorrow we'll touch on why I think Vienna is a big vacuum.    (OK,  "hoover"  if you're so inclined)

Y'all come back now.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Back from Budapest

I could say,  "Running the Roads",  and I'm not sure which would be more fitting.
It was about a two and a half hour trip to Budapest Saturday morning.  We didn't exactly hurry to get out the door,  so I think we arrived there some time in the middle of the afternoon.
I think I try to somehow distance myself from the rigid schedule keeping that one has to endure if travelling by plane.  Barring any traffic considerations,  I've never been one of these,  "let's get up at four and get a good start!"  kind of travellers.  Besides,  we couldn't check into our hotel until 2:00 p.m. anyway.
Since the hotel restaurant was actually OPEN,   we figured we'd have something light to tie ourselves over until dinner time.   Turns out there was no need for dinner,  since the "Caesar salad"  I ordered was huge.  I put "Caesar salad"  in quotation marks,  since well,  it wasn't.   It was good,  but it certainly wasn't any thing remotely like a Caesar salad.  I knew I was taking a bit of a risk when I ordered,  and sometimes the surprise is worse than you expect.  In this case it was better.
 I think that might be the one significant difference between our visit to Budapest compared to say,  going to Rome?  There were no disappointments in the food department.

Dana across the Danube from the Hungarian Parliament

Having gone by car,  and having found a hotel with decent parking,  it was a no brainer to then jump back in the car and head out to tool around Budapest.   Our hotel was on the Buda side,  of Budapest. 
What we didn't know was,  there was some sort of 'ride your bike day' thing happening,  so we did end up sitting in traffic for a fair amount of time.   Funny thing though,  if there's plenty of fuel in the car,  and nobody has any pressing need to be anywhere (like a bathroom?)  then I don't really mind sitting in the car.   Too much.

There was no way we were getting across that river.  There are seven bridges over the Danube,  and we just happened to turn in the direction of those that were being used by this bike riding event.  Some sort of "critical mass"  thing?  I still haven't found anything on the internet to tell me what was going on.  They were having a good time though.
By the time that got sorted out,  and we made our way over to the other side,  some of the shops were starting to close up.  I didn't seem to have any problem finding a parking spot,  and we took a little stroll down one of the pedestrian areas.  "Lonyay Utca"  if you must know.
The rather curious thing was,  Travelling Companion spotted a small shop where she found some little thing to purchase,  and the proprietor not only spoke English, but was from Australia.   I pegged her at being a Kiwi,  but I never seem to be able to tell the difference between the two.  She wasn't too terribly insulted.  
Now this is where we had a bit of luck. She was kind enough to not only directed us to a shop where we could buy a couple bottles of wine,  but was quick to point out that most of the restaurants that would be trying to lure us in as we continued down the street had been "black listed"  by the city council. 
Well,  that's good to know.
They just hadn't gotten around to closing them down.  I wouldn't want to make any assumptions as to the workings of government in any foreign countries,  but when I suggested that perhaps there were some payments being made,  she nodded in agreement.
I had read about some situations where restaurants in certain cities were known for bilking their customers with prices other than those on their menus,  so I was quite content not to experience it first hand.   We simply ordered some more food later that evening when we got back to our rooms.  It so happened we had a nice little balcony,  and the temperature outside was just about perfect.  Besides,  that whole "drinking and driving"  thing is a real non starter for me,  especially in Europe where it's basically zero tolerance.   So if the car is safely back in the stable,  I have no problems cracking open a bottle of wine.   Or two.
Looking back to Buda at the Liberty Bridge.

Sunday... well,  Sunday it rained.   And rained. 
I even broke down and bought an umbrella,  so you know that if I'm willing to part with €6 for yet another umbrella,  I'm not kidding.  I think we have maybe what?  a dozen umbrellas?  Only had one stupid umbrella in the car.  Doesn't exactly work for three people.
Again,  this is where going around by car can be where you can make the best of a less than ideal situation.  When it's overcast,  I do find that I rely quite heavily on the built in map in the navigation system,  so I was quite grateful for that piece of technology.  

Taken from the "castle district"  by Travelling Companion.   She has a unique way of composing a shot.   We were just happy to be out of the rain.

I have to say,  there's something to be said about being a "dumb tourist",  since on each of the two occasions when we went up to this area,  I never did end up paying for parking. The first time on the way out I just followed this one car that I'm sure belonged to someone who worked there,  since he didn't line up to pay like all the other cars and tour buses.   What do I know?
Hey,  they left the barrier up,  and I simply followed him out.   The second time,  (and it was on the same afternoon)  we drove to the same side of the booth,  and Travelling Companion got out to plead our case,  telling the guy that we made a wrong turn.   This was in fact a truthful assertion,  and if he had bothered to check the time stamp,  he would have seen we hadn't been there for very long.  We thought we were somehow going to end up in a different place.  There's more than one way to go up to the "castle district",  and with it being overcast,  and the roads being steep and winding,  we really had no clue where we were going half the time.

I try not to get too carried away with the length of these posts,  so I'll pack it in for now and possibly try and come up with something half-assed interesting to say tomorrow.  Maybe we'll have a go at the currency?

Keep it between the ditches.