Monday, 24 September 2007
The photographs are from our “Family Fun” yesterday. (I was going to say our “Family Fun” day yesterday, but that seemed odd, but “Family Fun” yesterday seems even odder. I suppose it should be “Family Fun Day” Sunday, or “Family Fun Day” yesterday, luckily it wasn’t “Family Fun” today because its raining – whatever!). I should add, again, that I am very bad at taking photographs.
So ..... on to other subjects. Why are all my friends mad? Don’t’ answer that! Here’s another email from my maddest friend. When I read it to my husband he didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. I did! OK, you ready for this? Here we go:-
"What is it about borns???? They are the things that make you seriously re-assess those earlier days when you were ready to demonstrate against abortion at any cost!!!!
And as to cost, they are the things that have completely emptied your bank account of money, your life of any moving on into retirement with ease, and dragged every heart- string into a complete mish-mash.
But borns are borns and without them why would we want to get up in the morning?????
Oh dear friend of mine, without borns wouldn't life be so much easier - we could have missed all the worry, all the heart-ache, all the anger and all the total desperation.
But I guess we'd have missed all the laughs, prides and intrigues too. Bring on the Borns - if only to give them a real smack!!!!!
Just getting a "born" moment of my chest!!!!!! And can't think of anyone who understands more than you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx "
Oh I understand in spades! Anyone else need an explanation?
Sunday, 23 September 2007
Builder at work
Originally uploaded by anninfotel
Saturday, 22 September 2007
Whenever we crossed a border we had a new engine and driver. As we passed into Italy there was a distinct change in speed. We hurtled through the night rocking and rolling all over the place. One of the Orient Express crew later said they thought the engine driver was a Ferrari owner! Result – we ended up at Venice Mestre station at 07.30 am and as we were not expect into Venice Ferroviaría until 10.10 am there we sat in our nightigowns waiting for our breakfast while bored Italians peered through the windows and took photographs.
Sudden activity. Our steward “knocked us up” one last time. “We will go into Venice earlier than scheduled. Get ready.” We did. Nothing happened. We finally arrived in Venice Ferroviaria (10 minutes away) at 10.30 am.
No welcoming committee, only tired, lethargic Italian porters who lost our luggage. Our “local host” was new to the job and was totally out of her depth. There were four in our group. Three going on to the airport for the 05.00 pm flight to Gatwick and my good friend who was taking the 02.45 pm train to Switzerland.
The Orient Express Reception Desk lady packed up and left us to it. It took quite a bit of shouting to finally locate the luggage two hours later. May I say this? It was a typical Italian cock up! And no-one gave a toss except our heroic “local host” who stuck with us throughout. What an initiation to the job!
Main memories of the trip? In chronological order.
The guide in Istanbul who was interesting, entertaining and knowledgeable.
The Orient Express host who went into a pharmacy in Istanbul to get advice and medication for my sinus problem.
The cost of a glass of wine at the Chiragan Palace Hotel, Istanbul. £12!
The totally unexpected “Bon voyage” ceremony at Istanbul the first of many such ceremonies.
The beauty of the train, the excellence of the food and the charm of the cabin and restaurant staff.
Fellow passengers who were so pleasant and sociable.
The awesome and humbling welcome we received in Bucherest.
The private venues that were opened up on our behalf in Bucherest and Budapest.
The attention to detail.
The way it all fell apart in Italy!
I had an interesting conversation with one of my fellow Gatwick passengers. She said “so - are you retired or not?” Good question. I then went on to describe the business and, as usual, became quite animated. “What I have been doing is step back from the day to day running of the business, but still keep “in the loop” with the global stuff. This gives me a reason for getting up in the morning and keeps me crazy” to which she replied “I don’t thing that you are ever going to walk away from that. You are so passionate about everything, especially the future”. Amen.
Friday, 21 September 2007
When our cabin steward offered us mid morning tea and home made cakes I begged him on bended knees not to bring me any more food. He ignored me. I ate the cakes!
Lunch at 12.30pm was:-
Chicken oysters and morels in a light pastry case
Gratined pike-perch fillet and soft water crayfish (I had steak), with braised fennel and sweet garlic and parsley potatoe (their spelling, not mine. So, they really are human after all)
Gingerbread cottage cheese blancmange and stewed apricots with almond milk.
We have become so used to musical welcomes and farewells that Vienna proved to be a bit of an anti-climax. We figured that they would probably keep the best to last and expected big things. The Vienna Boys Choir at least, maybe an odd philharmonic orchestra or two?
It was tipping it down when we arrived and the Orient Express “excellence team“ handed us all umbrellas as we disembarked. The “local hosts” then sped us through the station at high speed.
At each turn we thought “where are they hiding the welcome committee, will it be around this corner”- no – “will it be around this one” – no. It began to dawn on us that there wasn’t one! How dare they treat us like mere peasants? Obviously Vienna was not overawed by Orient Express tourists.
Our itinerary was a city tour by coach following the famous “Ringstrasse” past the Opera House, Imperial Palace, City Hall ending in Heroes’ Square. We would then visit a traditional Kaffeehaus, the Café Griensteidl, and then ride in a “Flaker” horse draw carriage through Vienna’s old town.
A few tables had reserved for us in the Kaffehaus. What was this? They hadn’t even banned the local populous! Shame on them! I was force fed apple strudel (delicious) and our group was offered and consumed rich chocolate cakes wash down with Viennese coffee which is coffee and a glass of water, originated by poor students who could linger longer and shelter from the rain.
And did it rain? It rained and rained. We had to have the hood up in our horse drawn carriage so we saw nothing of the city, but we shared our carriage with a very interesting couple from Boston, USA. Earlier in the week the lady had appalled another couple from Boston, UK by exclaiming, “Oh! I didn’t know there was another Boston”. The couple from Boston, UK soon put her right on that score.
My friend and I really “bonded” with them on the short tour. He was the supplier of one of the components in MRI’s worldwide. Their story was so interesting. He had been in the US Forces for five years and then studied engineering. They had a young family and life was very, very tough for 12 years. He started a small business that was struggling and then he recognised a niche in the market.
I asked if he was retired and she said “He would find it so difficult to retire, he struggled so hard in the beginning and is now so passionate about the company. He and really looks after the staff and feels a responsibility towards them. No I don’t think he can do that”. Empathy!!
After the horse drawn carriage ride the “local hosts”, who were faultless, decided that we would continue the tour in the coaches. Our guide pointed out one hotel that has a “Presidential Suite” which was unfortunately occupied by Mick Jagger when President Bush visited. He was accommodated in another hotel that was, ironically, within shooting distance of the Iraq Embassy. Her words!
She ended the tour by declaring that Austrians were pretty smart people. They had convinced the world that Wagner was Austrian and Hitler was German. Boom! Boom!
Back to the train for our last dinner with complimentary champagne and so to bed. Tomorrow we arrive at our destination. Venice.
Originally uploaded by anninfotel
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Same routine, after our cabin steward had bought our breakfast tray of two pastries, two rolls, a croissant, fresh fruit, jam, butter and coffee we received our schedule for the day.
Arrive Budapest at the Alan Pease time of 1002 am where local guides would escort us on a tour of the city starting with the historic Buda part – Castle District, Fishermen’s Bastion and St Matthew’s Church. The tour would end at the Hotel Sofitel around 1.50 pm where a buffet lunch was arranged. At 7.00 pm we would take a short river cruise on the Danube and then on to the “Club Akademia” in the Magyar Academy of Science palace for a Hungarian dinner.
During the visit to Buda it had been arranged that we would use the toilet facilities at the Hilton Hotel so that our important little bots would not have to be exposed in public loos.
The tour guide asked us if this was the beginning or end of our trip, we said nearly the end, to which he replied “Oh in that case this is just NABC to you, are you familiar with that term?” “No” “It means Not Another Bloody Church”. Oh how we laughed, ha! ha! ha! But actually he was quite right. I must admit all the culture was beginning to confuse.
That’s just reminded me of something the Istanbul guide said “What is the difference between a tourist and a hitchhiker? Five minutes, be back here at precisely 1100, five minutes late and you’ll be a hitchhiker!”.
Our short river trip was cancelled due to the fact that the Danube was flooding (I would have thought a boat was the safest place to be, but no matter!) So – straight to the Academy of Science. An absolutely magnificent building where Hungarian Scientists have met and studied for generations. Our gala dinner was in the library that had been cleared of books! Especially for us! Wow!
I was bought my usual alternative to the fish dish and we were entertained by Hungarian musicians, including an outstanding violinist.
One of our dining companions was a really interesting elderly American who must have been a “someone” in his time. He had a military bearing and said he had advised the American Government on the feasibility of repatriating the Christians and Moslems following the Croatian/Bosnian war. He said no way, they just don’t get on together.
Throughout the journey I had noticed that he was writing snippets in a notebook. I asked him what he was writing. He said “I write poetry and essays and gain inspiration from the odd and quirky comments that people make. I believe that quirkiness is the essence of the real person”. He added “I should really be more disciplined and write them up, but I just keep the jottings. One day I plan to get more organised”. I told him about my blog and he was very interested. I thought it would be a device he could use to “tidy himself up” as it were.
I noticed that the drunker I got the more he was writing in his little notebook. “What was that, can you repeat it?” “Repeat what?” “That last sentence” “What last sentence – blah, blah, blah”. Funny how much philosophy I can spout when I’m drunk, and it’s all so interesting! Oh! We had such a jolly time my new friend and I.
Originally uploaded by anninfotel
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
Following our visit to Bucherest we were to rejoin the train at 1010 for a short journey to the mountain town of Sinaia. Scheduled to arrive at 1146 (that Alan Pease thing again!) for a short visit to the Sinaia Monastery, lunch at a private venue at Foisor, formerly summer residence of the Royal family. After lunch local hosts would accompany us on a short walk through the park to Peles Castle and back to the train that would depart at 1715. Sounded good to me. Following a fully armed police escort back to Bucharest Nord Station and a wonderful choir to send us on our way we settled back on the train with morning tea and home made biscuits.
Another musical welcome greeted us at Sinaia station and coaches took us up to the Monastery. Naturally, all the side roads had been blocked off by police cars to allow this precious cargo of visitors free and unfettered passage. The scary thing was that we were beginning to expect this royal treatment.
Lunch was a superb buffet, but with a difference. The buffet dishes were on our individual tables and served to us by waiters. The fish items were pointed out to be by my waiter so that I didn’t have to sully my very important lips with something unpalatable! Musicians, singers and dancers provided entertainment during the meal.
After lunch security guards with walky-talkies shadowed us as we took the short walk through the woods to Peles Castle. As we came in sight of the castle we could see people streaming out. They were actually emptying the bloody castle for us! The guided tour took 40 minutes (as scheduled) and then we saw the people being ushered back in again with special protectors on their shoes so that they didn’t spoil the precious rugs. We had been allowed to walk without shoe protectors. As one of our party said “do they think our shoes are cleaner than theirs?”
Monday, 17 September 2007
First, lunch on the train:-
Scrambled eggs and caviar: Bark mushrooms and chives (no caviar for me) Broiled lobster with white truffle butter, buttered string beans and bacon, potato pancake (steak for me) Caramalized apple tarlet and vanilla whipped cream Colombian coffee.
Our lunch companions were a retired Lloyds Underwriter and his wife. They were charming and we all commented on the lushness of the Romanian countryside and the fact that if they ever got their commercial act together they had good resources, including oil fields!
Istanbul bad us farewell with drums and dancers, Bucharest welcomed us at 0207 pm with police. Our guide said to have the Orient Express in town is newsworthy (literarily it was on TV that night). Police had cordoned off the station and we were escorted to our coaches through a corridor of armed police. Heavy man!
During our "city drive around" our guide told us of the night that Ceausescu fled town. In December 1989 following a series of riots he attempted to appease the people by giving a speech in which he offered a derisory increase in wages. The people were not impressed and he ordered the soldiers to open fire on the protesters.
When our guide heard of the shootings she decided that this was the last straw and went to join the protestors (first having changed her underwear in case she was shot - as you do). 162 people were killed in University Square that night. Most were peaceful students. She said that, as in Prague, they were putting flowers into the guns of the soldiers. Fearing for their lives Ceauşescu and his wife fled by helicopter to seek sanctuary in a military compound in the Countryside. Three days later they were tried by a new interim government and shot!
I was so impressed with her bravery and I told her it had been living proof to the world that good can triumph over evil. I feel quite tearful.
That evening we had gala dinner in the Art Museum's magnificent Mirror Room, which hosts the event twice a year for the Orient Express. After a cocktail reception we were led into dinner where the seating was random. When they started to serve the first course, fish, my plate was one of the first to be bought out. No fish! Wow, attention to detail, how did they do that? There was a full evening of entertainment from Romania musicians and an opera singer. My companion said at this stage that her husband would have suggested he meet her back at the hotel. I had been thinking exactly the same; my husband would have been looking for an "exit strategy" the minute he walked in the place. It was very, very highbrow and, if I was to criticise, the music was too loud and we couldn't hear ourselves talk.
Our visit to the Asian part of Istanbul was not a disappointment. Our regular guide was on top form again and, as our Irish friends would say, the crack was great. We did the normal touristy visit to a grand palace but the thing that sticks in my mind most was the drive back when someone asked him about the terrible slum area we were driving through.
He said that at one time people were allowed to build on waste ground, live in the property for 5 years and then claim legal title. Catch! It had to be erected in 24 hours! Hence, hovels were thrown up overnight and then added to later, creating “hovel dwellings” that are odd shapes and literally glued and pasted together.
OK, that’s interesting, but the real interesting bit was when he started talking about his time working as a researcher for a politician. (I knew there was more to him than being a simple tour guide!). He discovered that an opposition candidate was living in an illegal dwelling (he didn’t explain the exact circumstances), but he recommended to his boss that they should publicise this fact and go heavy with it, which they did. Unfortunately they hadn’t thought it through because 30% of the population lives in illegal dwellings. Goodbye politics, hello tour guiding. Pity, he would have made a great politician. He very nearly had me signed up to Islam - only kidding!
So – Asia, been there, done that, now to join the train. We were met at the station entrance by Orient Express staff and escorted through onto the platform. As we appeared on the platform a Turkish band struck up. It was overwhelming because we hadn’t expected an official send off. A red carpet had been rolled out and the Orient Express cabin and restaurant staff, all suited and booted, were standing to attention beside the carriages.
After we had dried our eyes and stopped being awe struck we slowly started trickling along the red carpet toward our allocated carriage to be welcomed by our cabin steward. When we had recovered from the shock of admiring the beautifully preserved and renovated train we then wondered how we would survive in the diddy cabins that would be our home for the next 6 days.
So - off we went to the cheers and waves of the crowds. When we finally got underway it was a bit of an anti-climax. Now what would we do? Much like Christmas, OK we’ve opened the presents, now what do we do for kicks? We sat in our cabins with the communicating door open just looking at each other, very uncomfortable with the whole situation. Finally we decided to organise ourselves and think what we would wear to dinner that evening. After all, we have to dress up in suitable attire or, the literature warns us, we will be asked to take our dinner in our cabins. The shame of that would be too much to bear!
In the midst of getting ourselves organised we had “the visit” from our smiley Carribean cabin steward, who explained how everything worked and then stated that he would "knock us up" for breakfast. The first time he said this I ignored it, but when he repeated it I felt I had to say something. "Were do you come from?", "wellllll' I have a very mixed background...", "no, I mean where have you been living, France?". This puzzled him "noooooo, I live in England, why?", "do you tell everyone you will knock them up", now he is really puzzled "yes, why", "do you realise that it's slang for getting a girl pregnant?". He lept back in shock and threw his hands in the air "Oh my Lord, are you sure?", "yes, do you say it to all you passengers", "yes I do, I have been saying it for three years, you can't see that I'm going red, but I am". He screamed with laughter, "oh my god, I don't believe I have been doing that, why has no-one told me before?", "because this is the Orient Express and probably everyone is too polite to say anything to you". Now everytime we meet we have uncontrolable giggling fits as I ask him to "knock me up again".
Finally, to the dinner. We duly dressed up and were, thankfully, not asked to return to our cabin. First hurdle overcome. Our dinner companions were the two retired ladies that had led us astray in Istanbul. The menu was:-
Steamed turbot cutlet and melted leeks. Saffron sauce.
Tender Turkish lamb fillet and creamed black olives. Eggplant, tomato, succhini, pepper and sweet onions au gratin, road potatoes.
Choice of fine cheeses
Dark chocolate, mint and quince dessert
Or if that did not suite a full A la carte menu!
I don’t eat fish and asked to miss the 1st course. “No, madam, we will bring you an alternative, would you like asparagus?”. Great, I love asparagus.
And so to bed. Our day cabin had been transformed into a bedroom in our absence and fed, tired and happy we hurtled through the night to our next destination, Bucharest.
Sunday, 16 September 2007
The photograph was taken in the Spice Market.
Saturday, 15 September 2007
Today was the start of the “Grand Tour”. Up and onto the coach by 8.30 for a full day whistle stop tour of the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia, the Spice Market (where we had lunch) and the Grand Bazaar. Whew, too much culture in one day.
Friday, 14 September 2007
Good drive down to Heathrow to stay overnight. Knew the way, no need for SatNav. Go to the big roundabout before the tunnel where the replica Concorde is displayed, turn right onto the Bath Road and the hotel would be there. Wrong!
Sign said turn left for Bath Road. What?! “No, keep in this lane, we turn right at the next roundabout. I know the way”. In nose to tail traffic we limp along at a snails pace. “Are you sure?” “Yes, I know the way”. Fifteen long minutes later, “that’s the roundabout, Oh! they've taken Concorde away. Oh! they’ve blocked off the right turn” I groan as the traffic shunts us into the tunnel. We helplessly have to crawl around the terminals, out the otherside, and finally onto the right road. Good start!
Next day was more successful. We (the other half of the we is my mad mate and neighbour from Switzerland), had opted to spoil ourselves in Business Class where fortunately for us, and unfortunately for them, they served champagne. On arrival in Istanbul we were well and truly sociable.
The Orient Express experience began at the Istanbul baggage reclaim where a representative greeted everyone and porters reclaimed the luggage for onward transport. We were being so sociable that we missed him, reclaimed our own baggage, forgot to pass Go and collect £200 and went straight into the arrivals hall. As the guide hired to accompany us on the coach said, looking directly at us, “we are in for an interesting three days”. I don’t know what he could have meant.
At the hotel we were taken directly to the Orient Express hospitality suite No need to check in like normal mortals, that had already been taken care of by Orient Express. And what a hotel! It was wow! WOw! WOW!. 6* standard, reputedly the best in Istanbul, in a location to die for overlooking the Bosphorus. Things were looking up.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
With fear and trepidation I awaited the outcome of an enquiry. Can they be traced and retrieved? Or is this to live on as another Little Boss legendary right royal mess up? My only hope for conserving some modicum of credibility is that I have proof that my last post was marked “sent” but didn’t “post”. So who’s to bless and who’s to blame.
THE VERDICT HAS NOW BEEN RETURNED and it is that they are probably stuck in cyberspace with my service provider. As one guy put it, this technology is great, when it works. The endeavours to recover the blogs will continue, but in the meantime I will attempt to re-create my spontaneous ramblings, but not today because today, as the song says, “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch, boohoo, boohoo.
Saturday, 8 September 2007
Thursday, 6 September 2007
Today was taken at a more leisurely pace with breakfast at this fabulous hotel on the shores of the Bosphorus, then a cruise up to the Black Sea with more cultural history thrown in, a quick museum visit and back in time for lunch. Once again we were told that this is the best hotel in Istanbul. In fact 6* standard.
The original old Palace building has 12 horrendously expensive suites and conference and banqueting facilities. All extremely grand and, I would imagine, strictly out of bounds to the likes of us. . In fact when we tried to walk on the esplanade beside the sea in front of the Palace building on our first night we were quickly chased away.
HOWEVER, two of our fellow travellers have been in the building and were anxious to show us the extreme opulence of the place. They had sneaked in around the back and with little need for encouragement we agreed to follow them. So off we set, four ladies of retirement age, giggling like naughty children.
They had the red carpets out today and the place was alive with busy worker ants moving furniture, bringing in trolleys of prepared foods, setting up sound systems etc. They were obviously expecting someone very important. I timidly reminded everyone that the Turkish army is very large and we were in danger of triggering a full-scale security alert. "Don't worry, we'll deal with that if it happens". Yeh like deal with rotting in a foreign jail for several years. "Am I the only one with a bit of sense around here?" "Oh come on, lighten up, you only live once". I had found the remnants of the happening, baby boomer, and flower power generation again. We are all around in the guise of sedate suburban retirees.
The amazing thing was that we didn't get arrested and were allowed to walk unchallenged among the throngs of workers to admire the priceless chandeliers, carpets and artefacts that adored this breathlessly beautiful building. Room after room of beauty. I have never, never seen anything like it before, nor probably every will again. I did take a photograph, but I forgot and took it with my camera instead of the BlackBerry, so I can't blog it until I get back home. But, as my ex-friend DogLover likes to point out I take crap photographs anyway. Tomorrow is the big day. We board the Orient Express at 1530 and travel for six days to Venice. If that is as good as our time here we are in for a real treat.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Tuesday, 4 September 2007
The traffic at Heathrow is horrendous. I kinda knew the way to the hotel. Down to the roundabout just before the Heathrow tunnel where the Concorde was displayed, turn right onto the A4 and hey-presto - the hotel. Wrong!!
First signs that something was awry was the road signing, A4 left Terminals 1 & two middle lane Terminal 3 right hand lane. Now I KNEW that the A4 was a léft turn so the best thing to do was ignore directions in exactly the same way that you ignore IKEA assembly instructions. My husband always takes delight in pointing out the error of my ways in this respect. I hate smart assess don't you?
Well it doesn't take a genius to predict the outcome of my foolish decision. The righthand turn at the roundabout was blocked off and we were stuck in imperceptably moving traffic (that means it was going at a snails pace) that was slowly sucking us into the airport.
Half an hour and two more wrong decisions later two starving passengers were dropped at the hotel just in time to join the rear of the queue that had spewed out of a huge bus.
Ah well! This morning we will take no chances. It's the airport bus for us. He, surely, knows the way.
Istanbul here we come. Are you ready for this?
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange
Saturday, 1 September 2007
An elderly Florida lady did her shopping and, upon returning to her car, found four males in the act of stealing her vehicle. She dropped her shopping bags and drew her handgun, proceeding to scream at the top of her voice, "I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!"
The four men didn't wait for a second invitation. They got out and ran like mad. The lady, somewhat shaken, then proceeded to load her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver's seat.
She was so shaken that she could not get her key into the ignition. She tried and tried, and then it dawned on her why. For the same reason she did not understand why there was a football, a Frisbee and two 12 packs in the front seat. A few minutes later, she found her own car parked four or five spaces further down the parking lot. She loaded her bags into the car and drove to the police station to report her mistake. The sergeant to whom she told the story couldn't stop laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four pale men were reporting a car jacking by a mad, elderly woman described as white, less than five feet tall, glasses, curly white hair, and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed.
Moral of the story? If you're going to have a Senior Moment, make it memorable
And what Senior Citizens do when they aren't armed and dangerous? If you are anything like my equally crazy friend, you do word puzzles!. No prizes for guessing the right answer to this conundrum she recently sent to me:-
"Make a well known word, phrase or saying from these letters please - RUTHSUE - definition: personality to a minus degree. Best one so far was TRUE SHT and the comment was "missing the i " Anything better than that????? A little silly that has been going round here with your not so well travelled friends - best we could do to pass the time!!!!!"