Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Best Made Plans of Mice and Travellers - When Things Go Wrong

We had a good morning leaving the Mondi Grundlsee Resort. Everything worked according to plan: we arose early, showered, I shaved, we dressed, packed, cleaned up our studio apartment and then headed for our last breakfast.

Chris had muesli and a pancake with jam. I had a piece of toast with cheese and ham topping and a plate of fruit. It was supposed to keep us going for most of what was left of the day. And it did, as our minds were elsewhere.
We managed to share a taxi to Bad Aussie train station with another couple, so our fare was half what it would have been. Doing good so far. Then it happened ... it all turned to shit at Salzburg.
When we arrived at Salzburg, for some reason better known to someone else, we got on the wrong train. Yes, you read that correctly. In a panic to change trains, we got on a train returning to near where we had come from and not the train to Innesbruck. So we unneedlessly loaded our baggage onto a train taking us the wrong way. After about five minutes, we realised that we had erred. Needless to say, the train's first stop was an hour out of the starting point, at Linz.

We enjoyed viewing all the Austrian countryside that we had now seen three times, as we discussed how anyone as intelligent, well educated and travelled as we are could be so bloody stupid. Then we realised that shit happens and we would just go with the flow. What else could we do?

Things got better at Linz. We had time to scratch ourselves and grab a snack and drink and when Christina told our sorry tale to the ticketing people, they put us on a train direct to Innesbruck meaning we didn't have to return to Salzburg.

We loaded our considerable amount of luggage onto the Innesbruck train and thought we were cooking with gas. That is until we got to Belzano with only five minutes to change trains for the remainder of the trip to Merano. We could do it, especially since the nice ticket conductor had told us it was leaving from platform one.

We quickly offloaded our gear and headed for platform one using two lifts (elevators), both of which were the slowest we have ever seen. But we made it to platform one with two minutes to spare only to find the train closed down.

After we heard an announcement in Italian which we deciphered to mean the Merano train would now be leaving from platform five, we rushed to the lift and headed for platform five. Guess what? We missed the bloody train by about 10 seconds. It drove off as we headed to the doors with our bags.

Shortly after I finished my display of indecent and obscene language (thank goodness nobody was nearby), we trudged back to the main station area to see if there were any later trains. There was ... exactly one hour later and I'm sitting on it while I type this blog.

I've regained my composure, gotten over my guilt about my childish outburst of bad language, and regret that we couldn't advise our resort that we will be arriving late because we don't have the phone number, can't read an Italian telephone book, and really don't give a rat's bootlace anyway.

It can only get better from here.


Traveller's rule one: Never carry more than one small suitcase and a backpack

Traveller's rule two: Never carry more than one small suitcase unless you can't avoid it

Traveller's rule three: Never carry more than a backpack unless it's absolutely essential

Traveller's rule four: Always record every telephone number you think you could possibly need in your mobile phone. I'ts much easier than trying to read phone books in foreign languages.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Grundlsee in Beautiful Austria

It's absolutely stunningly beautiful with tall, snow-capped mountains, cool, fresh water in its lake, and quaint little houses all similar in design and structure. It's Grundlsee (Lake Grundl) a small village surrounding a lake near Bad Aussee east of Salzburg in Austria. (See two photos at bottom of collage - double click photo to enlarge)

Our time share at Beach House, Coolangatta in Australia is a six berth time share which allows us a number of "points" that we can use at any other time share anywhere on planet earth. We've never stayed at Beach House, but we've used it extensively elsewhere and when we stay in a place with fewer than six berths, our points go further.

At Grundlsee we stayed for a week at the Mondi Holiday Resort in a double bed studio which had a small kitchen and all the comforts one could want.

While at Grundlsee we did a lot of walking (see photo of Christina walking along a leaf strewn track). We took a bus to Bad Aussee and bought a few things including haircuts, some shoes, and a few other odds and ends including a nice lunch.

Accompanied by two lovely German ladies, with whom we had difficulty communicating, (but never the less enjoyed each others company), we did a horse and buggy tour of Bad Mittendorf a few kilometres away from Grundlsee. The photo above shows Christina with the two horses who did the hard work pulling us around town.

Part way on our journey, which was quite cheap at 24 Euros per head, we were handed some schnapps glasses and a bottle of schnapps to do a bit of quaffing. It warmed up the whole inner being and was lovely given that it was around 4 degrees C. We also stopped at a lovely little restaurant for lunch and of course, more schnapps. I had quite a glow by the time we got back onto the buggy as did the two German ladies.

Life in a town like Grundlsee and the many other similar towns in this part of Austria must be wonderful. Locals told us the snow was late this year, but should arrive soon. It had arrived on some of the tall hills surrounding the town, but not yet fallen in the town itself. We would have loved to have seen the snow fall ... next time.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

From Rome to Palermo in Eight Days

Our tour of Sicily began in Rome and over 10 days took us down the west coat of Italy through the Bay of Naples, Sorrento, Isle of Capri, and Salerno to Taormina on the eastern tip of Sicily.

In Rome, we took some private time to walk around the Vatican which was only a few hundred metres from where we were staying. It has an ancient security wall around its perimeter and although aged, is still very impressive. Inside, it is spacious with lovely gardens and multiple buildings. (Photo of Chris at Vatican main entry - second left)

As part of our tour, we visited the Vatican Museum which is chock full of religious artifacts going back thousands of years. Most notable are the dozens of embroidered carpets representing decades, if not lifetimes of work for their artists. Truly beautiful works, like much of the work done throughout history in the belief that they were being done in the service of one or other gods. Zeuss for example; ancient Romans slaughtered 400 oxen per year to keep Zeus on side. It seems that Zeuss didn't reciprocate, so eventually he went the way of all gods ... into the wastebin of rationality. I wonder how long it will be before the current gods are seen for what they are and also discarded.

As part of our tour, We dined in a few nice restaurants experiencing the Italian/Sicilian cuisine, walked the local streets looking into the large number of high range fashion shops and more, scurried out of the way of Italian drivers, and (Robin) noticed that there are so many lean, shapely women who jam themselves into tight, tight jeans and wear long leather boots. Delightful!

The Isle of Capri is beautiful with lovely views of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Clearly a tourist destination, it has numerous old, stately hotels and charming shops (Photo of Robin in cake shop). We visited the "famous gardens" and Faraglioni Rocks and a funicular ride was included (inclined railway).

Taormina, Enna, Erice, Agrigento, and Palermo were all worth visiting, but Taormina was our favourite. It exists on different levels up the hillside.

At Palermo we did a guided tour of the Valley of Temples, considered the finest Greek sanctuary in Sicily and rivaling those of Athens in their grandeur. (see photo). Our Sicilian tourist guides had an annoying language characteristic that seems to be universal among Sicilian tour guides (who taught them English?). They seem to add a after everything so a sentence in Sicilian English could sound like: "The Romans-a came here-a about 2,500 years ago-a. I have no idea where this peculiarity of speech comes from, but it seemed that they were adding it intentionally to emphasise its existence. Very peculiar.

Italian cities are obviously overcrowded with thousands and thousands of small cars crammed into everything that looks like a parking space. There are literally thousands of SMART cars (Mercedes Benz) and they park everywhere ... perfect for that type of environment and no doubt run on the smell of an oily rag. (see photo) I'd love one to drive about Alice Springs. The lack of car parking space and density of population in high-rise buildings has also created cities that are absolutely filthy, mor like some of the Arab countries we have visited than like Germany, which is quite the opposite.

We flew from Palermo to Munich and after staying overnight in a ridiculously expensive hotel (conveniently situated near the airport), we took a train from Munich to Bad Aussee and thence a taxi to the Mondi Resort at nearby Grundlsee.

More about Grundlsee next post.