Thursday, 30 June 2011

Happy Ending

Our bank manager has looked after us for the last twenty years and is retiring today after 40 years' service.  He is a delightful, religious man, with old-worldly good manners and has seen to all our needs, despite our small account, as if we were royalty. Over the years he has let drop that he has a son with special needs and he has now been divorced for six years.  His son and ex-wife live abroad. He has made arrangements to support his son until he dies as he will be unable to look after himself. Feeling a little sorry for him (the dad), I decided to pop in today with a small gift and a note of appreciation. I found him, business as usual, with work still arriving on his desk. He has mixed feelings, he says, about his last day -  but then suddenly, his face bursts into a huge grin and he tells me that he is getting married next year! You could have knocked me over with a feather, but then he is a lovely man and he has found a wonderful woman, divorced for many years herself, who has brought up alone two lovely and intelligent daughters, one of whom shares our man's love of literature and history. He it thrilled with his future wife and new daughters and can't wait to embark in his 'second chance.' How great is that!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Family Politics

It's nearly time for our annual trip to visit family:  as usual there are some difficulties to sort out as we are only going for a week this time - not enough opportunity to visit everyone in the area and therefore much opportunity to offend. As my husband has 6 brothers and sisters and countless grown-up married nephews, this dilemma expands exponentially. The younger generation are inclined to be tolerant but there is a certain amount of sibling rivalry among my husband's nearest and dearest.  The nice thing is: they all clamour for us to come. The bad thing is: most homes we love visiting but there is one in which the husband/wife tension is so great is makes visiting unpleasant. We go dutifully for one night and then scurry away as fast as we can as the tensions mount up and guests feel uncomfortable. These people are often hurt that visits to them are brief but seem not to understand the reason. After the passing of many years in this fashion (there is no question of divorce) - its just how they are since the husband had a debilitating illness which has left him not quite himself, I sometimes challenge myself to say something.  But should I?  There are quick tempers in this house and I am really afraid of causing huge ructions in the family.  So I keep quiet, allowing that my husband's maxim of walking away from any possible fight in this large family, is arguably the best way. Am I a coward?  Similarly, my relationship with my best friend is perhaps somewhat similar - although we love each other have a lot in common, we often seem to say things that irritate or are misinterpreted and to keep the peace, we just make efforts to change the subject.  After all, like family, we've been friends for twenty years or more. Perhaps we'd all better go on as we are.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

White Lie

I have tried never to lie since I was a teenager and fibbed to my parents. Now that I am adult, I reasoned, I do not have to apologise for my actions and I am a responsible person. I have mostly stuck to this, especially with my husband,  except when it was unavoidable so as not to hurt someone’s feelings, “Yes, I love your new hairstyle/dress/colour scheme/curry  etc.  When I acquired our 24/7 Internet access, my husband had misgivings as he is not fond of computering at home, his typing still being of the ‘hunt and peck’ variety and he has minimal interest in the Internet.  However, In the past week, I have twice left empty frying pans on the electric stove on plates that were on ‘high’.  I was only alerted only by the smell and of smoke and the haze drifting into my study where I was, need I say, ‘quickly looking something up on the Internet.’  I gazed in disbelief (twice!) at the ruined messes - not a bit of non-stick left, and today I had to go and buy new ones.  The thing is not that I bought new pans,  but that my husband is going to be cross that I again bought cheap ones.  I can hardly tell him that it’s because I can’t afford to (keep) replacing expensive ones.  No good to suggest that that expensive ones wouldn’t have burnt - they certainly would if they were left on the stove for an hour!  I shall have to invent a fib.  Luckily, my friend M, has had the same problem - veges for the evening meal boiling dry.  Her advice is to take a timer to the study.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Reflections - The Med. Cruise...

One ballroom dance couple on every cruise boat

St Mark's square - Sat. 4th June 2011

Inside a 'vaporetto'  - water bus

With the advent of the Internet, its hardly necessary to post touristy photos from our trip, so I'll just make a few observations overall.  May is a great month to go to the Med, its not yet hot or crowded. We arrived in Venice on 23rd and it was very pleasant: when we returned on 3rd June - the 'season' was in full swing and the streets and tourists were like sardines everywhere and rushing from place to place like on the London Underground. In Ephesus, we struggled to find our tour bus in the parking area - our guide commented that there were only 70 buses on that day - in July or August we would be faced with 350 at any one time. We loved Turkey - relatively new to tourism, everywhere is neat and tidy - there is a large fine and jail sentence of two months if anyone litters!  On the island of Santorini, we loved the amazing white buildings and were told that the Greek government gives all the villagers free paint every season to do up their homes for the tourists. It makes the island seem like paradise against the blue sea and sky. We loved meeting with our dinner companions on the ship every night: there was a mother and daughter from Wales, an elderly couple from Toronto and two American ladies, one about 48 and the other 73, (widowed)  who were golfing partners and had decided to holiday together. We loved our waiters, the younger from Mauritius and the other from Argentina. And of course, we loved the ship! I was interested to see that the library was always full of bridge players and Chinese girls, playing Mahjong.  We watched the theatre show each night, luxuriating in the armchair-like seats. I began to get sad when the boat turned around and started to head home.  The only way to cheer oneself up is to look forward to distributing gifts on one's return home and to start saving up for the next trip!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Expensively Learnt Lesson

Before I mention the highlights of our trip, I have to share the following...  We never buy ourselves souvenirs but always get something for the family - safely stowed in our hand luggage.  This time we fell in love with two water-colour paintings of Venice sold by a street vendor in St Mark's Square. We duly bought them as a one-time extravagance and the artist packed them for us in nice hard, grey cardboard. Incredibly, we left this discreet-looking flat parcel behind the TV in our hotel room, unaccustomed as we were to carrying it. I even remember casting a look around the room and being satisfied that we had left nothing behind, checking that I had my rucksack on my back, my suitcase in one hand and my handbag on the other shoulder.  Husband made the same kind of check.  We then walked the few streets to the water bus, waited two hours in Venice airport, travelled six hours to Dubai - and then in the middle of the long 8-hour long stopover, my husband said to me - "Where are our paintings?" We just looked at each other.  This time no-one attached blame.  What to do? Then I saw on the plane from Dubai to Cape Town that we could send e-mails and text messages from our seat - so I sent a desperate e-mail to the hotel.  Some nail-biting days later, they finally e-mailed me back to say that they had found the pictures but regretfully could not post them to us themselves. We must send a courier.  So we have embarked on the biggest extravagance of our lives ! The courier cost equals what we spent on the night in the hotel.  I am looking forward to e-mailing the artist and telling him that his paintings doubled their value in one week.  Some lessons are expensive to learn. But fate was involved:  the amount just about equalled the unspent cash we had brought home. We should get it back tomorrow...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Hotel Belle Epoque - Canareggio, Venice

Hubbie got a hold of my Kindle!

I knew there wouldn't be a 'view' at this one Same rooftop set-up.

Italian glass is so over the top!

Room measured 2.5 x 4 metres

I chose this hotel for its location near to the cruise port on the other side of Venice island and because I thought we should be able to drag our suitcases through the nearby streets to the vaporetto stop to pick up the water bus back to the airport after our cruise. Luckily, we had been able to do a 'recce' on foot the day before the ship departed for our cruise and we discovered that there was even a new form of transport a "People Mover" - an overhead monorail, from the ferry boat terminal near to the cruise ship dock,  which was not mentioned yet on the websites:  it would take us to within a 5-minute walk of our hotel. Helpfully, the cruise ships provide shuttles where they can to get you out of the harbour and a bus dropped us at the entrance to the People Mover. This hotel actually had its name emblazoned above the doorway, so was easy to find and although it was quite a bit cheaper than the first, it was beautifully decorated (see our room and the breakfast room) and we had a superb breakfast with beautiful china and excellent cappucinos.  There was no view though (see pic). The only puzzling thing for me was that I couldn't get the electricity to work in the room (I rarely get to stay in hotels) and had to be shown that you insert a card attached to the door key into a slot and voila! - on go the lights. A good way to save electricity. Still, most of you will be familiar with this. Unlike our first hotel, which I had also booked online in January, this one allowed for no cancellations and no refunds, so it was good that we were able to turn up! So regarding Venice hotels, I suggest don't go lower than 3 star. I saw two dismayed tourists one day, having found their hotel, confronting a flight of about 25 steps up which to get their suitcases before they could reach Reception. This one of ours was again lift up three,  walk up one. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Views from our balcony..... (continues previous post)

From our balcony

Looking the other way

Two rooms in the roof!

Through our bathroom window

Across the bay from our window

Hotels in Venice - 3 star - A Tribute to the Music Residenza

Marble steps to our room
Me lying in bed - lovely old furniture

We could make tea/coffee

Cruise boats went by in front

Basket of rolls/croissants as well!

I chose this hotel on an Internet search through the excellent website  The site is great as you get access to candid comments from visitors which is very helpful.  I thought that as we only had one night in Venice either end of our cruise, we would spend a bit and so this one was about $350 per night for the room, including all charges and breakfast.  In South Africa, this would get you a pretty large, fancy room.  It was facing out to the main lagoon, about 10 minutes walk from St Mark's Square and we had a stunning view from our little loft apartment, whose bedroom was tiny, but whose bathroom was modern and well-equipped, except that Italians are small people and Venice hotels have a bit of a 'squashed' feel especially for my husband who is largish and found himself wedged into the tiny bath with his shoulders almost meeting across his chest.  No shower. (I took a photo of him in the bath but he made me delete it!) A big problem with a lot of hotels is that they have no name visible above the entrance so how to find them?  There was a row of busy stalls in front of ours and we only found it by chance - dragging our suitcases along the front edge of the buildings about where we guessed it should be from the map, and luckily, I spied a small brass plaque on the wall.  Luckily, the vaporetto stop was only a few yards away. Hotels are so small, they seem of exist mostly of a front door, leading onto a reception area and then there are three floors of rooms with two more squeezed into the roof space.  You get a lift up the first three floors then you have to drag your suitcases up the last flight of stairs.  There is no tipping in Italy:  I can see why - no-one helps you with your luggage. There is a breakfast room (which we didn't see) on the first floor, but we were so enchanted with our view we had it on our balcony.  They supplied enough food for six people! There was a Norwegian couple in identical accommodation behind us.  Views from the balcony on next post.......not downloaded yet!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Report Back - Mediterranean Cruise

Great to be home safe and sound:  we had a wonderful time with great weather and minimal crowds - May is definitely the best month to go to the Mediterranean re climate, costs and crowds.  Our cruise started in Venice, then on to Serbia/Montenegro, Athens, Ephesus and Bodrum in Turkey, Santorini and Mykonos, then back up to Croatia and a trip to its National Park and then back to Venice for one more night before the long trek back to Cape Town, via Dubai (an 8-hour stopover in the middle of the night.) Without boring you with detail the two things which struck me the most and that have changed in the last 30 years are that there is wheelchair access even at cable cars (viz even at the tiny and magical island of Santorini) and even over some of the bridges in Venice, so you see disabled people everywhere, from quadraplegics to people determinedly pushing zimmer frames negotiating the 200 steps up to the Parthenon. Although this was described as 'strenuous' by the cruise people, it really wasn't difficult as each stretch is taken slowly and then the guide stops to speak every 30 steps or so. Of course, wheelchair access is made easy on the ship too. The other thing is that everywhere the toilet facilities were clean and always equipped with plenty of paper, soap and towels. This was a pleasant surprise.  As always there were ingenious new taps to negotiate, mainly at airports - the one above defeated at least 10 women in the queue I was in until someone took pity on us and showed us that you have to place your hand in front of the two black eyes!  More anon....