Travel Blogues

Travel Blogues: Waltzing in Vienna

Vienna may be variously termed the City of Music, the City of Dreams or the City of Waltz, but it most definitely merits the title of City of Fabulous Food and coffees.  In a short visit one can only touch the surface of the restaurant, cafe and coffeehouse scene but I certainly got a taste, so to speak, of the overall food scene, and I did not have a single bad dining experience.

Travel Blogues: West Coast Dance Cruising on Ruby Princess

During the years I worked at C&W Hospital, the rainy winter months in Vancouver never bothered me. I was usually at work early and it was dark by the time I left for home. But the incessant rain and dreary greyness this November was denervating and the thought of a West Cost cruise down to sunny Mexico was appealing. I found the perfect choice  - a 7 night cruise on the Ruby Princess.

Travel Blogues: A mid-summer visit to Indian Wells in the Coachella Valley

Although I travel frequently to Orange County, this was my first visit to this part of California.  A favorite winter destination for Canadian snowbirds - including many of my Vancouver friends- the average winter high temperature is around a pleasant 22 ° C.  On the other hand with an average July temperature high around 40 ° C,  one would think it would take a special reason like a convention or a festival to motivate  people to visit. Surprisingly though the hotel pool was crowded with kids as well as adults, splashing away under the blazing noon day sun.

This visit to Vienna for Waltz Week is my first - in fact it will be my first time ever in Austria, and I realized early on in the planning stage that I knew very little about the city, or in fact the country. With my recent travel adventures to other foreign areas as diverse as the Amazon Jungle and the Black Sea, I have developed  a short word-association brainstorming tool to see what I associate with a place, before I actually begin my pre-trip research. I mentally list the first things that immediately spring to mind when I think of a place name. Then after my travels it is always interesting to me to see  which aspects I actually encounter and how my associations with a place have changed.

As I planned this trip I really did not know what to expect in terms of my emotional reactions. The thought of returning alone to Cape Town, ten years after my last visit there with Bob, engendered a real concern that I would find the experience very painful. And perhaps because of that, uncharacteristically I did not do my usual meticulous preparations, bring my family research files, make lists of people to see, and things to do.

A pattern of travel seems to be developing for me. Fortunately most of my journeys away from home are uneventful, but something generally complicates the trip home. The problem on my trip to France was the nasty ankle, knee and shoulder sprains I sustained the day before I was due to travel home. There as I wrote in my blog, miraculously total strangers materialized seemingly out of nowhere to hoist my suitcase onto trains, and up stairs for me.

On Monday morning I took a Rikki down to the Waterfront from 10-12 to pick up some gifts and then off to dance class at Camps Bay from 3-5. The weather has been almost unbearably hot. Reading about commuter chaos in Vancouver because of snow seems quite surreal. I think I prefer cold to heat because it is so much easier to warm up than to cool down.

As I have may have mentioned, I have been doing genealogy research and documentation for many years and one record type is gravestones. My brother asked me to photograph the stone of our father who had died 24 years ago, a decade after I had moved to Vancouver. So Barry, Carole and I stopped at the Pinelands Cemetery on our way to Muizenberg and I searched for the grave. We had been given the wrong location – it turned out the plot they gave us was the grave of one of his brothers – so we ended up spending a long time there.

This morning I had brunch at the Waterfront with an old friend, Majiec, and his wife, Sandra. I met Maciej about 40 years ago when he and Bob joined IBM. Shortly after we were married, I was still in med school and Bob was working as a chemical engineer when IBM SA advertised for new recruits. Bob ended up joining IBM in sales and Maciej became a systems engineer.

Today’s day time highlight other than a great chacha and samba dance class was lunch with two aunts, Essie and Rosaline, who were my mother’s first cousins, at the courtyard restaurant at Winchester Mansions on Beach Road, Sea Point . I caught up on the details of offspring and marriages for my family tree. My genealogy work sort of got put on hold for the pastg few years but I am slowly getting back to it.

Have you ever heard the term “load shedding?” I had not. It refers to the electrical utility, Eskom, switching off electricity to conserve energy. South Africa has a major energy crisis due to a combination of inadequate infrastructure and a growing population and economy. According to the newspapers and television reports the country spent billions on arms purchases and virtually nothing on expanding and modernizing the energy infrastructure, although well warned of a looming crisis. Actually while I was commenting scathingly to Michael about the problem he reminded me that California had a term for the same thing – rolling brownouts! I guess that would be politically incorrect usage here.
 

I arranged to meet Brin and Sherida downstairs at 7 am so we could drive out to the Boulders and then out to Muizenberg, to swim. Sherida’s mom, Olive, who helps with her in her clothing shop, came along too. We are all cryptic crossword puzzle nuts!

The morning started off with another unpredictable Rikki ride to dance class at 9 am. After it took twenty minutes and several dropped cellphone calls to get through to the dispatch, I was told “ the cab will be there in 4 minutes!”. Ha! So even though I know by now that 4 minutes could be anything from 10 to 20 minutes I rushed like mad to get downstairs. The cab actually arrived in about 8 minutes. Then we went on a majorly circuitous route that got me to the Scout Hall with about 10 minutes to spare.

My morning got off to a slightly slower start than usual as my dance classes were scheduled for 3 to 5 at the Camps Bay Bowling Club. I was picked up at 11 by my cousin, Sandra, and she suggested we visit the Rhodes Memorial area which has a magnificent view of the city- and have lunch at the restaurant there. We sat at a table under the trees, at the edge of the mountain side and caught up on a decade of news.

I realize that most of my photos involve people sitting round a table ready to eat. Or else beaches and mountains. More coming.

Maybe it was just the heat but I was not very impressed with any of the wines that I tasted today. I found the white wines, mainly sauvignon blanc and chenin blancs very thin for want of a better word and I am not much of a red wine drinker. So after the second tasting we decided to go back to Sea Point for a rest and shower before driving back to Stellenbosch to Moyo, the restaurant at Spiers.

The heat here has been unrelenting with highs over 35 degrees. Fortunately the humidity is not too bad. We had planned to drive out to wine country for some tastings and Carole had booked for dinner at Moyo, an African restaurant at Speirs, one of the large wine farms near Stellenbosch. So the idea was to drive out in the morning and visit a number of wineries before dinner. But in view of the extreme heat we decided that we would drive back into town to shower and change before going out for dinner.

Not much to report other than the heat. Although my dance class started at nine it was already hot. Had a great class- worked on rumba, samba and foxtrot and really felt I was making progress.

That evening I asked Barry and Carole to join me at another dinner theatre show downtown. The venue was a club called On Broadway. It’s a long room with a row of tables on a raised dais lining each long wall and many more tables in the central well of the room. We were about three tables back from the raised stage and had an excellent view. The show was called “Strictly Come Jazz”, a play on the title of “Strictly Come Dancing” which is the UK and SA version of our “Dancing with the Stars”.

On his way to work, Barry dropped me off at the Scout Hall for my dance class at 9. I was sitting on a bench trying to figure out the cell phone Carole had loaned me when Edwin arrived. He gave me a strict warning about never using the cell phone in the street or in an exposed environment. Apparently it is a very common occurrence that phones will be snatched out of one’s hands. Nice. And I was just beginning to feel a greater sense of security.

Caught a Rikki out to Orange Street for my dance lesson at nine. Brin took a day off work and picked me up at the hall. Two hours of very vigorous dance ending with jive, in the Cape Town heat - and I thought I really needed a shower to cool down and re-energise. So after a stop over at the flat we headed back into town to visit the newly enhanced South African Jewish Museum, and the Holocaust Centre. Amidst the photos and documentation of that awful stage of history, what sticks indelibly in the memory are the first hand testimonials of survivors, recorded on video.

Headlines in this evening’s paper are about a failure of the cable car that takes people to the top of Table Mountain. It seems that, following a power failure, the cars got stuck and it took hours or so to get them moving again.

Time is speeding by – I have already been here 6 days. I decided to take some quiet time so Barry and Carole headed off to work this morning and I sat down with my coffee and my PDA phone list to try to contact old friends who I have not seen for a decade. But before that I finally managed to get through to BA at Cape Town airport, who did not seem at all surprised by my tale of suitcase theft. In fact they have a section for “pilfered” luggage! Sad isn’t it. I wonder if the same thing exists at YVR and Heathrow. Its just that the items stolen were so petty!

Barry and I were out on the beach front just before 8 this morning. It was the perfect temperature, warm but not humid, sea breeze. We passed joggers, walkers and people walking their dogs. The sea was that deep violet blue, almost black, that brings to mind Homer’s “wine-red sea” and the surf was crashing against the rocks. We just don’t get that sound of crashing waves in False Creek.

Barry and I were up and off for our beach walk at Langebaan quite early this morning. The wind was not quite as strong morning but for the first part of the walk along the water’s edge the wind was in our faces. There is something about the tang of sea air that is not like any other wind. Maybe it raises vestigial memories of the waters our progenitors emerged from millions of years ago. Have I got my time frame right? I know it’s not 6,000 years – oops, no sarcasm, this is a travelblogue not a polemic on evolution and intelligent design. Anyway for whatever reason, wind blowing off the sea is specially invigorating.

Ok I have here neither my copy of Lear nor access to Google but I think that was how he began his rant - sort of. Suffice it to say that the wind on the west cost howls like a banshee. Undeterred however, Barry and I set out early to walk down to the beach and had a brisk invigorating stroll (hmmm… can you stroll briskly? Oxymoron? Oh whatever) - a brisk invigorating stroll along the seemingly endless white sand. It was packed quite firm – a nice smooth hard surface – like a dance floor. Maybe tomorrow my IPOD will accompany me and I can get a nice workout on the beach.

Good Hope Seminary was the all girls high school I attended for my last two years before matriculation. I was sent to boarding school in standard 9 (the equivalent of grade 11) by my exasperated parents in the hopes that I would forget about being a social butterfly – well I was wild about dancing even then – and once again become the academic star I was before I discovered boys! It worked. There was really nothing else to do at boarding school but study, so during my sojourn at Good Hope my grades improved so much that I made it into UCT Medical School.

After a long walk on the white sand beach, occasionally letting tiny icy wavelets ripple over our bare feet, we met up with surfer dude and headed off to Jimmy’s Restaurant for an excellent lunch. I had grilled calamari and shrimp, and I confess – the chips/fries that were cooked to perfection. SA knows its chips!

Emerging from Customs into the warm slightly humid Cape air, I wondered how I would feel. My first visit to the place of my earliest memories, in almost 10 years  and the first time returning alone to Cape Town. Would there be a sense of returning home? Probably no. Vancouver has been home for a long time now.

Headed down for a leisurely breakfast (continental included in the room fee). The staff are from everywhere but England – Polish, Russian, Middle Eastern, African.- and very pleasant and efficient. Its not a bad breakfast and the coffee is vastly improved from the last time I stayed here. It’s buffet style. For an extra 6 pounds or so you can have the egg/bacon stuff but the buffet was more than adequate. They had a good plain low fat yogurt, excellent fruit salad than was not all just melons, good cheese selection, and really good croissants and breads.

It was quite interesting to compare the configurations of the seating in Club world with the newly configured seating in the AC Executive Class. Both have seats that recline to fully horizontal and for a petite frame they are quite a comfortable length. While AC has chosen to incline the personal spaces in parallel, BA alternates them sort of like a yin and yang arrangement.

It will be really interesting to see how the Vancouver Airport-downtown line alters passenger patterns. My transport here from downtown London to Heathrow was really smooth. Taxi arrived promptly at the hotel at the exact time it was ordered. The drive to Paddington took not much more than 16 minutes although the lady cabbie warned that the rain and the traffic may make it take longer.

London, UK: Timing is everything! Pass it on. For several reasons including airline bookings, the timing of my four day stopover in London ended up with me arriving on Saturday Tuesday. While perfect for New York where it would mean I could see a matinee and evening performance on Sunday, in London virtually all the theatres are dark on Sundays. From the hordes of people in and around Leicester Square and Covent Garden it seems a somewhat unbusinesslike way of doing things.

Having carefully observed the changing street names I made my way back to the hotel in a record 25 minutes. Part of the reason was that it was really cold and despite my hoodie, the wind made my head ache – like eating ice cream or drinking really cold water too fast!

Turns out that when they said 12 to 12 they actually meant noon to noon not midnight to midnight.

Woke at the very respectable hour of 8 am (maybe my jetlag plan is working) to the sound of wind driving rain against the window. My breakfast assignment was for 9:40 so I took my time getting dressed while working through the mechanics of signing up for wifi internet service from my room. The cost is horrendous but then London is extraordinarily expensive – more later about that! They charge 6 pounds an hour or 15 pounds for 24 hours but the 24 hours runs only from 12 to 12.

I decided to pick up some fruit and go back to the hotel before heading out to the show so called in at Sainsbury to pick up oranges and nuts - loading up on vitamin C and E. On my way I stopped at the Wyndham and picked up a ticket for The History Boys for Monday night.

I am impressed. We went into a holding pattern around Heathrow but still landed almost on time. For about ten minutes we circled around. I could see the green crazy patchwork of fields and hedges, like a jigsaw puzzle without any of the round protruding pieces. I had one of those pink fast track folders so went through immigration in about two minutes, my suitcase was out in about five minutes and I was heading down the ramp to catch the Heathrow express which takes you into London in 15 minutes. Cost about 29 pounds for a return ticket. – actually why am I impressed? - that’s about 62 dollars, not cheap.

Packed, downstairs, and chatting to my neighbours while waiting for the cab at 3 pm, I was feeling much more relaxed than my usual bleary-eyed 6 am-to-the-airport-self. The flights to Europe usually seem to be late afternoon so theoretically one should sleep for the nine hours and arrive refreshed and happy, thinking how wonderful the trip was, and book again with the airline for your next trip. Ah, but what about those of us who don’t sleep easily on planes?

As my once excellent memory now needs regular tune-ups and then still does not work too well, I found that checking some information from my last blog of travel to London and France came in quite helpful. I decided it was worth making a few notes for future travel.