We cruised all night, attempting to reach Koblenz and the Rhine Gorge in the early morning. Dawn was after seven, and the gorge was totally shrouded in mist from well before that time. We checked outside frequently, but it was still impossible to see the thirty Rhine castles.
Usual excellent breakfast. We went to the lounge where many people have gathered. Every now and then you could photograph something alongside the river.
Not a castle to be seen after the slightly later breakfast, despite braving the bitter cold on the sun deck. That sun deck term got a bit of a laugh, but later as we emerged from the gorge, there was sun enough. The 30 castles (and the low mist) was between Koblenz (which we passed just prior to dawn), and Bingen.
Internet access was lost during this part of the trip. We had been warned the satellite feed did not work here.
It was not really until we emerged from the gorge after ten that the mist lifted, and we could see the more moderate heights around us again. A bit of a pity about the castles. The steep sides of the valley have vineyards at such a slope I have no idea how they can be cultivated. There is both a roadway, and a railway on the steep slope. The railway goes through numerous tunnels along the side of the river. There was a lot of interesting scenery, once the mist lifted.
There was a serve of Rüdesheim coffee. Asbach brandy poured into a special mug and set on fire. Then doused with coffee, topped with whipped cream and chocolate.
In Rüdesheim (home of Riesling wine), we had a choice of activities. The Winzerexpress mini-train (small internal combustion tractor pulling multiple small carriages) will take you to either the 15th Century castle housing Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, or a winery.
The Siegfried Wendel's museum has been open to the public since 1969. The tour highlights one of the most beautiful collections of automated musical instruments in Germany. The vast majority of the many instruments were working, although the first two, most elaborate items, had failed at the time. Given they were over 100 years old, perhaps that is not surprising. These were instruments that played a full orchestra, as proven by the recordings sold by the museum shop. The various music boxes were interesting, but relatively familiar, as were the player pianos with their roll mechanism. The item that most impressed me was a mechanical organ that played eight violins.
We walked back through the town. In particular, we walked down the very narrow 144.5 metre long 15th Century alley called Drosselgasse, which was full of bars and restaurants.
We had to cross the railway line at Alderturm (Eagle Tower), the only remaining 15th Century fortification in the city. Alas, we never did sample a genuine Rüdesheim Kaffee with Asbach Uralt brandy en flambé.
Later, our ship entered the Main River (pronounced like English mine). This has 34 locks (all of them named in our daily briefing sheet) in 384 kilometres, before it meets the Rhine Main Danube Canal.
I have most of the preliminary symptoms of a cold, plus I am getting leg and foot cramps.
Later, feel weak and stomach upset. Cold all the time. Communicating far to often with the Great White Porcelain Throne. Throwing up thin red bile, and not much else, about a half dozen times during the course of the dinner hour, before I got to really chundering. Jean ran off to find better company. I obviously did not go to dinner. Will avoid fish and berries in future. Not happy.
Rhythm del Mundo performed the equivalent of country and western in the lounge, but I was too ill to attend.
I had a lot of trouble sleeping. Awake at 1 a.m. and much after. However at least I am not throwing up today.
We seemed to go through a lot of very narrow locks. The locks are at least twelve metres. The Amabella is 11.75 metres wide. I was awaken from fitful slumber by bumps and shudders as the boat hit something. Every now and then I would see us rising up the side of a lock wall.
Breakfast was not something I was looking forward to. I managed to keep down some corn flakes with honey, and water to wash down tablets (I forgot the tablets last night). That was all I could face.
I went to a wonderful display of glass blowing by Hans Ittig of Glashous Wertheim, in the Amabella lounge. Hans is a great presenter with a funny line of patter, and a quick wit. He even got one of our tourists blowing a colourful glass bulb. His family have been in glassblowing for seven generations, from 1841. They settled in Wertheim in 1958, after escaping from East Germany. I was impressed with the Galileo thermometers, and the Crooks radiometers, but there was also a heap of fine artistic glassware.
I could not face a real lunch, so I left Jean in the restaurant and went to the light lunch in the lounge. Had about three small pieces of pasta, a tiny slice of ham, and similar slice of cheese, and two small slices of french bread. Even that was a struggle. Then spoiled it by having a coke from the bar.
A abandoned castle and defensive wall was visible along the hillside, although my iPhone is not likely to get good photos. We arrived in Freudenberg, just as we came alongside the castle, after a very pretty river cruise.
Four buses are departing for Wertheim at 2:30 p.m. I can not even imagine spending time on a bus, and then another three or four hours awaiting collection, so although I would love to see Wertheim, it is not going to happen. Sticking close to the Great White Porcelain Throne.
We are passing through lock after lock after lock as we slowly make our way upstream on this very pretty river.
Interesting that we seem to have again lost the satellite internet connection on this stretch of the Main river.
I managed to eat a little turkey and mashed potato for dinner. A great leap forward for me, but I thought for a while I would not manage even that. While the effects of the food problem seem to be wearing off, after a day of semi-starvation, I now have a full blown cold that is making me miserable. My body temperature regulation seems completely shot. I am always either way too hot, or feel like I am freezing.
I slept fitfully again, but mostly from cold symptoms. At least my body temperature regulation seems to be a little more stable now. Up at midnight, two, four, but then must have slept until seven.
I had a bowl of cornflakes with honey for breakfast, and washed my tablets down with water. Not willing to try any sort of fruit juice. My stomach seems to have coped with that.
I had a report from Jean about her visit to the residence.
Surrounded by green hills covered with vineyards, Würzburg is the capital of Lower Franconia in northwest Bavaria, and a crucial centre for wine and trade. It was here that Dr Roentgen developed x-rays in 1895. Jean embarked on a tour taking in the Residential Palace (Residenz), built for prince-bishops of the Schönborn family, and its baroque garden. Also churches ranging in styles from Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque to Modern. Then she walked back through the town, arriving well before lunch.
Up on the hillside on the other side of the river is the second largest castle in Germany.
The alternative was visit by bus to medieval Rothenburg, a beautiful walled town on the Romantic Road. After a tour here, have a look through the city’s famous German Christmas Museum.
Could not manage to sit in the restaurant with Jean. I think the only thing I could have managed to eat was the vegetable broth. I went to the lounge and had a few bits of French loaf, and half a slice of ham and cheese. Managed a few bites of other stuff, but not much. Now I am hungry most of the time, but dare not eat.
I am enjoying the lovely rural and bush scenery as we slowly travel along this narrow river, against the current. Then you come to some wider patch of river with industrial plants along the banks. Amazing to think how many locks are needed to make this river system work for commerce.
The Amabella cruised along the Main River to the Bavarian town of Kitzingen.
A medieval themed evening on board. The waiters were all dressed in costume. I accompanied Jean to the restaurant to see this, but could not eat.
Most of the travellers enjoyed a special wine tasting event, hosted by a ‘Wine Queen’ and members of the Aulic Council at Germany’s oldest wine cellar. This ‘Alter Klosterkeller’ old monastery cellar, was built by Benedictine nuns and today offers an historic setting in which to sample the delicious wines of Bavaria. Obviously I did not attend.
I was feeling well enough to try a little more breakfast this morning, as we continued our leisurely cruise along the Main River. We are cruising the 99 km from Kitzingen to Bamberg overnight, and through the morning and early afternoon, through many locks.
We left the very pretty, and narrow, Main River before eleven, and entered the Rhine Main Danube Canal.
An event originally scheduled on the sun deck at 11 a.m. Frühschoppen with sausages and beer, weather permitting. Of course, it rained, so the event was held downstairs in the lounge. It also featured roast pork and crackling. I did enjoy a very small amount of the two varieties of sausages, and the bitter beer.
No lunch for me after sausages. I never did spot Jean.
We were treated to a 40 minutes talk on the history and progress of the European Union, from Greek legend (Zeus and Europa). The talk ranged through Robert Schuman's initial proposals for a European Coal and Steel Community. A host of others such as the Schengen trade and travel areas that eliminate border controls, to modern times. I found it very informative and enjoyable.
A town tour of Bamberg was planned for 3 p.m. The town of Bamberg was one that was undamaged during WWII, and thus contains many old buildings. The rain continued, and got harder. In my current state of recovery, I am not going out in the cold and the damp.
About thirty minutes after the tour group left, the wind picked up and rain started pissing in for a while. I hope they are all OK, what with cobblestone streets and all.
Smokey beer tasting afterwards, for those who went along. I suspect it requires an acquired taste for hops dried over a smokey fire.
I attended dinner, but confined my eating to a little from the appetiser buffet, that being all I could manage. Some of the tour group had slipped on the wet cobblestones. All reported wet shoes. Some complained they could not get their feet warm. Glad I avoided it.
A traditional Bavarian duo, in the lounge at 9 p.m. I felt able to sit there and listen. I was not expecting a Bavarian singalong. After a few longs, the accordionist said the next song was his favourite, since it involved him going to the bar for a few drinks, while the guitar player entertained us. The beer shtick continued with a half full beer being brought back for the guitar player, who looked at it thoughtfully, and swapped it over for the accordionists full glass.
I had a Bitburger Drought beer in the bar while the performers sang. I must have been feeling somewhat better, despite not eating much.
A choice of tours. World War Two Nuremberg with Hitler's Party Rally grounds from 1927 to 1938, the Nazi Documentation Centre Museum, and the court building of the Nuremberg trials. The other choice was medieval Nuremberg, which we took.
After breakfast from seven, we prepared for our 8:45 a.m. tour. Mindful of my health, I dressed very warmly. Possibly as a consequence, the day was somewhat later to be beautiful. The Amabella had already reached Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria. Alas, the buses for our particular tour did not appear. Much frantic phoning by our Tour Manager Korana, and by the local guide. There was also much manoeuvring of multiple buses (plus a large articulated truck) back along a nominal two way street by the canal, that was in fact too narrow for two such vehicles.
We left a half hour late, but with a very good guide. Anyone who thinks the Germans have no sense of humour needs to meet this guy. Naturally our stop was at the Burg, or Citadel. We had lessons on why it was so hard to attack the place. Their architects had a diabolic sense of humour.
There were great views over the city from the ramparts of the citadel. However much of the city dates from just after the war, as so much was destroyed. The castles generally escaped attack, since RAF navigators used them to find their position at night.
A walk down to the town centre market place, and its beautiful fountain. We were at leisure for about an hour to explore the surrounds, which were not as touristy as I feared. It was a traditional produce market, with some really nice looking produce.
It was here I encountered a shop selling Australian hand made ice cream and chocolates. Alas, inside, I saw nothing I recognised. Although Nuremberg is famous for both Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and toys, I was not in the market for either.
I had partially recharged my camera battery after Nuremberg, but completely discharged it while recording a really deep (25 metre) lock. There are a heap of locks making our passage possible.
It was getting close to six before we crossed the divide. It is marked symbolically with a large concrete wall. Naturally the water does not flow downhill until you exit the next lock.
Our lock hopping local entertainment tonight was Valérie May, presenting a European Songbook. Songs from many European countries. She teased the audience, got us interacting, and managed to get us singing along with her on at least one song. Naturally I bought a CD of her music.
An early arrival in Regensberg, before we had even started breakfast. Our town tour was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. no buses this time, as the Amabella was basically parked downtown. Historic Regensberg is on the World Heritage List, as this city of 150,000 people (and three universities) was not an industrial site, and was not damaged during WWII.
Along the esplanade to the Salztadel (Salt Barn), one source of Regensberg's medieval wealth. Next to it is Wurtzküche, a kitchen from 1135. The workers on the great Stone Bridge across the Danube ate here, and completed the work in merely 11 years.
David and Goliath fresco from 1570. Who knows why it was there? We saw the first skyscrapers. Merchants tended to build tall, nt to live in, but as a store. However the upper floors of these three to six floor structures did not have a roof.
Again our wonderful restaurant staff dressed up in costume to surprise us. Many photos taken.
I really wanted to see the Kepler Museum. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) died in Regensberg, while seeking money for his unpaid salary from Emperor Ferdinand II. Kepler developed an interest in astronomy when he was starting his university education. He learned from Michael Maestlin of the 50 year old model of Nikolaus Kopernikus, that the sun is the centre of the solar system. He corresponded with Galileo Galilei in Padua, and Tycho Brahe in Prague. In 1600 he became Brahe's assistant in Prague. Like many Protestants, escaping the Counter Reformation by moving. In 1601, took over from the recently deceased Brahe.
He proposed Kepler's Three Laws of planetary motion. Orbits are ellipses, not circles, and the sun is one focal point. A line from the sun to a planet sweeps equal areas in equal amounts of time. The squares of the orbital periods of the planets are proportional to the cubes of their mean distance from the sun.
Photographs in better sunlight of most of what we saw on our tour, as I walked back to AmaBella in the late afternoon.
I just saw nine Segway lawnmower past.
I met the other couple from Townsville. A depressing story of state public servants afraid for their jobs.
A few videos about the family owners and history of APT, who are the people running this cruise. Since we had not researched the history of the company (they are known in Australia) it included things I did not know.
The dinner this evening included rack of lamb. How could we resist?
The music afterwards was our regular pianist Peter presenting 60's Rock and Roll. Although I think some was more from the 1950's. Many people in costume, aided by the wonderful AmaWaterways staff.
The AmaBella docked at Passau in the morning. We went to breakfast just after seven, ready for events. I tried Eggs Benedict for the first time this cruise, and enjoyed it. They use the commercial sauce, just like I do at home. The full recipe is simply too elaborate.
The bus loads of fellow tourists set out for their day trips by bus around nine. However the forecasts for all cities involved were for 90% chance of rain. The walking tour of Passau would have been way too wet. Rain was pounding down, with breaks where it merely drizzled heavily. Walking up steep cobblestone hills under those conditions did not attract me.
I did not go on either of the two bus tours. One was to Salzburg, the other to Cesky Krumlov. The AmaBella was docked on the Danube. As we departed Passea, you could see the totally different water of the Inn River joining in the wide confluence of the two rivers.
My thanks to the Two Captains for allowing a wheelhouse visit. The two thousand tonne vessel has two 1300 horsepower Caterpillar engines, driving two propellors via hydraulics. The main propellors can also rotate, but need seven second to reverse direction. 200,000 litres of fuel. The trip takes 40,000 litres, and they refuel in Amsterdam, where fuel is cheaper and better quality. Two bow thrusters can rotate 360°.
Supplies carried include 200,000 litres of water. Reverse osmosis water treatment plant provides 20,000 litres a day, but they need 35,000 to 40,000 litres. Waste water is biotreated, with oxygen agitation and ultra violet light, and released. This is pretty standard for ships these days. All the instruments and power supplies are duplicated. Batteries can keep them running for 20 minutes after a total failure.
The captain kindly explained how the rules of the sea varied on rivers, so you did not actually always pass port to port. The ships headed downstream are allowed to keep to the swift moving water at the outer curve of the bend. Meanwhile those travelling upstream also prefer to economise on fuel, and prefer the slower water of the interior of the bend. So the side on which they pass can change from bend to bend. Near canals, signs regulate the passing side back to port to port pass.
During the Rosenberg to Passau stretch overnight, the water depth under the ship was as low as 40 cm. I am not sure I wanted to hear that.
Now we enter the most twisty stretch of the Danube, where you can see from bend to bend in front and behind the ship.
An apple strudel demonstration by our pastry chef. He demonstrated the tricks to doing a successful apple strudel. Particularly how to get the pasty so thin you could read newsprint through it. After making two strudel rolls, he asked a volunteer from the audience to make a third. That also looked successful. This was followed by a sample of an earlier strudel that had already been baked. Delicious.
Afterwards, sitting in the ship lounge, while our pianist plays Austrian music (Austria is the place that does not have kangaroos). Meanwhile, Amabella manoeuvres towards yet another large lock. We are so close to the bank that I do not seem to be receiving a satellite internet feed.
A late night walk in the dockside dark towards the wonderful illuminated buildings in this third largest town in Austria. I wanted to try photographing the buildings as the lights changed colour. Alas, not as many colour changes as when we first sailed past.
The entertainment this evening was The Sound of Austria. A piano player, plus male and female singer presented a variety of Austrian music. They also managed to get a lot of audience participation. Naturally I bought another CD.
I was delighted to see the weather was clear when we arrived in Melz in the morning, midway through breakfast. Cold but clear. We took buses for our tour of the Stift Melk, the Benedictine abbey at Melk. To enter, we went down steps and through their beautiful gardens. This abbey was interesting for the modern lighting and modern art used to change the appearance of some rooms. Alas, although the abbey has many pupils being educated, it does not have much of a pull to getting more monks. I gather only one still studying for religious orders.
There was a great view of the town from the abbey. This let you see the river and the surrounding countryside. Naturally the exit was via the gift shop, which provided yet another fridge magnet.
A walk around town on our way back to the AmaBella.
We were off again after lunch. This was followed by ice cream on the sun deck, as we cruised through the beautiful scenery of the Wachau Valley. It seemed a case of another bloody castle at several turns.
Dürnstein is overshadowed by a ruined castle, 159 metres above the river. It was this castle in which King Richard the Lion-Hearted was imprisoned after being shipwrecked while attempting to return from the Holy Lands. He had made an enemy of the local Babenberg Duke Leopold V in Palestine during the Crusades (by cheating about the division of the spoils of war). It took England a year to raise the heavy ransom demanded for his release. It was said that the Richard's minstrel Blondel sang below the battlements of every castle in Europe, until hearing someone singing the refrain known only to him and Richard.
Our tour was in beautiful sunshine, with a London tour guide who had what sounds almost like an Australian accent. I got tired feet on cobblestones, but it was an interesting small village of about 400 people. It actually makes most of its money from the vineyards, not tourists. At the end of the tour we sampled chocolates and apricot brandy and liquor (another speciality). I walked from three until five before returning to AmaBella with souvenirs, Styx grappa and raisin chocolate and apricot liquor.
A wine tasting in Dürnstein after dinner, a mere ten minute walk from Amabella. A local wine bar was booked for us. We were able to sample three wines, all very young. It seems the wines are made for drinking the next year. The first Grüner Veltliner was closer to white Lambrusco style than I expected. The second Riesling had a little more character, but still seemed somewhat thin. The third was a red which simply needed more time to develop, but did not seem to me to have the character I associate with wine. I am used to Australian reds with big, obvious taste, not subtle wines.
We lurched back to the AmaBella through the narrow street, and along the water edge.
I wanted something light for our early breakfast, so I ordered poached eggs. The Amabella arrived in Vienna around the time breakfast was over.
Most of us disembark in beautiful Vienna this morning. Striking architecture, classical musical and vibrant café culture, Vienna is an interesting place to explore, packed with historical and cultural landmarks. A wide variety of architectural styles can be seen, with examples of Baroque and Romanesque design.
After a short bus ride (including passing a Segway shop) from the somewhat distant dock, we stopped first at Saint Stephen's Cathedral to get our bearing, and for those of us who wanted ABC to check the cathedral. Next we enjoyed a half hour walking tour of the historic city, founded in 500 BC.
This was followed by coffee and a traditional
Sachertorte chocolate cake at the delightful Central Cafe. I suspect this rich, dry cake and copious chocolate icing would have been enhanced by whipped cream. However the hot chocolate almost substituted. This proved so substantial that I only had a light grazing lunch when I returned to the AmaBella.
We had about an hour of free time before our buses arrived to return us to the AmaBella. I wandered around the historic quarter, where there were more churches. The capital city of Australia contains perhaps 1.8 million people. There is much construction or perhaps repair. One major shopping street seemed entirely devoted to very upmarket luxury goods. The place appeared very prosperous. I made my contribution by buying another combined fridge magnet snow globe.
I had loaded maps of Vienna into my iPhone via the AmaBella WiFi early in the morning. I was delighted to note during my walk the GPS in my phone tracked my position fairly well. I must also note the Panasonic camera GPS also tracked positions well.
I notice a choice of two alternatives to dinner at the ship. A dinner of famous schnitzel in an ambient Austrian beer garden, or enjoy a traditional dinner in a classic Heuriger wine inn.
We dined onboard Amabella, very early, with dinner starting at 5:45 p.m. A quick scramble into somewhat smarter clothes for the concert.
At 7:30 p.m. most of us boarded buses for a night drive through Vienna to the Hofburg Palace, 1010 Wien, Josefsplatz. There in a large splendidly ornate high ceilinged room we had a (mostly) Strauss and Mozart concert until 10 p.m. This €55 concert was presented by the Wiener Hofburg Orchester. The orchestra, directed by Gert Hofbauer, had nine violins, and six bass stringed instruments, with most of the rest woodwinds. No piano, but what proved to be a comedy drummer. There were three female and two male singers, and most pieces featured the singers.
The first half of the concert was serious cultural stuff, with several (non Strauss) pieces I did not recognise. Johann Strauss
Radetzky March. Gaetano Donizetti
Der Liebestrank (Elixir of Love)
Nemorino’s arie. Johann Strauss
Grüß‘ Dich Gott or
Vienna Blood. Franz Léhàr
Lippen schweigen (Lips are Silent) Duet from
The Merry Widow. Johann Strauss
Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, and of course Johann Strauss
The Blue Danube or
The Danube Waltz as the Austrians seem to call it.
Towards the end of the concert, the drummer got more and more manic. Many different little whistles, and bird noises. Voiceless disputes with the conductor about what the music said. A large upright log was brought on stage, and an iron bar and an anvil placed on it. The drummer changed his dress coat for a workers apron, and produced two hammers. He and the conductor voicelessly disputed which note was needed. The drummer found a copy of Playboy on the conductor's stand, and disrupted the male members of the orchestra by opening the centrefold. Then he played music using the hammers. The conductor stole one hammer. The drummer responded by playing the notes at a frantic pace with one hammer. It was great fun.
KM, Name, Height 7, Bamberg, 10.9 13, Strullendorg, 7.4 26, Forchheim, 5.3 33, Hausen, 12.0 41, Eplangen, 18.3 48.8, Kriegenbrunn, 18.3 69, Nuremberg, 9.4 73, Eibach, 19.5 84.3, Leerstetten, 24.7 95, Eckersmuuhlen, 24.7 99, Hipoltstein, 24.7 Continental Divide 115.5, Bachhausen, 17.0 122.5, Berching, 17.0 135, Dietfurt, 17.0 150.7, Riedenburg, 8.4 166.1, Kelheim, 8.4
An early breakfast, but I am loath to go and do more cultural events. I have seen enough churches and crypts to last a lifetime. I sent my laundry off (last chance today), and settled down to write up these notes. Lots of gaps to fill in.
I did not take any Vienna tour this morning. I did buy a bottle of the Rüdesheim Kaffee with Asbach Uralt brandy when the water market was on after lunch. Looked to me like the ship was trying to empty the store room, but that was fine.
A group of the men were able to take a tour of the toasty warm engine room just before we left Vienna. Two 1300 HP diesel engines that were much more compact than I expected. Normally run around 1200 RPM, but at times up to 1600 RPM for canals. They must be pretty reliable, as they have done around 8000 hours. There are two separate power generators. Interestingly one is fully enclosed, while the other is all exposed. There are also two separate hot water heating systems, with pre-heating by the engines. An interesting visit.
A farewell cocktail party in the lounge at 6:30 p.m. The captain looking resplendent in white uniform. Our hotel manager told us the statistics of this trip; an impressive amount of wine and beer, of example, and yet again, a ridiculous number of rolls of toilet paper. Again the introduction of the various AMA Waterways crew who have made our journey so pleasant for the past two weeks. We clapped and cheered each of them as we drank our champagne, and sampled more snacks. If I have not put 5 kg on this trip, it certainly is not their fault.
Another splendid dinner. At the end, the AmaBella surprise. The kitchen wait staff dimmed the lights, struck up the Radetzky March. Then they marched through, holding aloft a large cake, surmounted with a blazing firework. A few minutes later, we feasted on ice cream cake.
An overnight cruise from Vienna in Austria to Budapest in landlocked Hungary. The AmaBella was being pressed to speed for much of the night, or so it seemed whenever I awoke. We had a late breakfast, scheduled for 7:30 a.m. The AmaBella had still not reached Budapest when we returned from breakfast.
Our room attendant Milena was still there so I got to see how she made some of the towel animals. This time a flower.
Budapest is the current incarnation of a settlement recorded in 89 A.D. as the Roman town of Aquincum. The towns on both banks became combined in 1873. Capital of Hungary, with a population of 1.7 million, plus suburbs, it was actually almost designed for a larger empire than now exists.
We mostly took an early morning walk to the local Markets, in a large building that looked like a railway station interior. It was probably some other industrial site, as I could not see evidence of railway lines. I bought a fridge magnet for Kath, as my usual purchase.
I walked down the main shopping street afterwards, pursued by a pesky vendor of knives. Lots of walking. I ended up several blocks past the AmaBella. Just headed back when someone tried to sell me a fake (but pretty well done) iPhone 4s. Sigh!
Lunch on board.
Town tour by bus, with a great local guide. Buda Hill. Fisherman's Bastion, Mathias Church, former Royal Palace, now library. A long walk here, but wonderful views. Buda is the hilly side of the town, much liked for the views. Toilet ticket needed to use a loo.
Pest is the flat area. Heroes square, at the end of the grand avenue Andrassy Avenue. Opera House wrist band for photos. An impressive interior. Champagne and recital. Phantom of the Opera scene. All good stuff.
At six there was a presentation of Hungarian dance and music. Two male and two female dancers, who eventually persuaded an entire conga line of dancers to join them. The music was wild gypsy violins, backed by a bass, performed by Hubay Koncert Eqyüttes (Hubay Concert Ensemble). It was a wonderfully skilled performance. I recall the Brahms' Hungarian Dance, Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee, Johan Strauss Trish Trasch Polka, but most were Hungarian melodies with which I am not familiar. I think one was Reincz's Circus Polka. They were all very lively, as were the dancers.
A breakfast in a rush, with heaps of us lined up at 7 a.m. waiting for the doors to open. We had already put our bags out in the passageway, just before seven. I rushed out the gangway at 7:15 a.m. and checked our bags were in the correct pile for Prague. Our native ATP Prague guide Simona was crossing off each bag. Back to breakfast, and to the room.
A quick briefing in the lounge from Simona at 7:45 a.m. Our room attendant, Melena finds a lens cover we had overlooked in clearing the room, and brought it to us. She is very good to us.
Then on board the bus for the 541 km to Prague. Jean quickly managed to find an empty seat alongside her, once our group of 42 was on board. Some passengers missing, but we still manage to find them and depart at eight.
The weather was overcast and cold as we left Budapest. My feet are cold on the bus. I should have found an extra pair of warm socks to put in my pack.
Simona got us to fill out forms for the hotel, and tell her our meal choices. After talking a little about our trip, she played a very good DVD about Prague, where she grew up.
I was interested to see big wind farms on flat land in Hungary from 9:15 a.m. on. I would not have expected the wind to be as active on such flat land.
Raining by 10 a.m.
Our tour guide Simona hands out 100 Florin Hungarian coins so we can use the restrooms. This was at a large, busy and very clean service station about an hour and a half into our drive. Simona says it is the best one of the road to Prague. I believe her.
Cross the border into Slovakia just before eleven. Absolutely no formalities. Bus does not even slow down at the first spot. A second place to turn off soon after. Again, no stopping.
A long tunnel after Bratislava, the capital of the Slovak Republic. We actually had passed through this beautiful city on the Danube one night while on board the AmaBella.
Welcome to Czech Republic just before midday, as we cross the Moldavian River.
We travelled a short distance off the bumpy motorway to the historic town of Velké Bílovice, in the Czech Republic. Our reason was lunch in Haban's, a traditional Czech winery cellar in Moldavia. We had given our tour guide our meal choices earlier. Way more food than I could eat, but tasty, as was the wine.
A Magnum Double Chocolate ice cream for €2.30 at our afternoon comfort stop. The nice service station shop seemed fine with tourists. Held up a calculator with the figure on it. Temperature outside is down to 9°C, which is chilly for me.
A long traffic jam late Friday afternoon. Our bus driver does very well. We arrive at the Art Deco Imperial Palace well before five. We hand in our pre-done paper after a short wait, and are immediately given our electronic room keys.
Our room on the second floor is immense. Great high ceilings. I have been in hotel rooms that were smaller than the disabled access bathroom. The bed is king sized, and there is space for another two of them. Our luggage reached our room by five.
It was wet, as in raining, when the evening walking tour was due. We decided to stay in the bar. Ordered a giant hamburger, which we shared. Drank much beer, which was good stuff.
WiFi available in the bar, for customers. Bartender gave out the magic numbers.
The room was too hot, and despite Jean's efforts, the changed thermostat did not seem to change it much. To bed early, exhausted despite having basically done nothing more than sit on a bus and eat.
We were awake early. Went down for a buffet breakfast. Jean asked the desk clerk about the hot hotel room. They kept explaining to me how the thermostat worked. I hardly ever adjust thermostats. Jean has probably used thermostats all her life. She knows how to adjust them. Turns out you have very limited temperature control, about 3°C. They sent someone up with a key to unlock the window. He arrived within minutes. It appears EU has rules about tourists opening windows.
We had a buffet breakfast in the Cafe Imperial. Jean grabbed a snack for later. So we were ready long before the scheduled tour departure time.
A tour bus was late (technical reasons blamed), so we were a little later than our planned 8:45 a.m. start.
We were, as usual on this APT tour, all wearing headphones and radio receivers so we could wander away from our guide and still hear what she was saying. These radio gadgets work really well for tourism.
Our guide in town was Helena, although Simona was also along to look after us when we got lost. Our bus driver pulled an abrupt U turn on the narrow busy street (at the intersection) just after we left the hotel. I doubt I could have managed that in a small car. We all cheered him. The drive through peak hour traffic was … interesting.
A castle tour, that did not really include a traditional castle. Lots of building, including a fine cathedral, all on a large hilltop site. The Royal Gardens, which were not open until ten. We went through many courtyards, admiring the buildings.
A religious ceremony (maybe a canonisation?) disrupts tourism, which gave me a chuckle. The bells! The bells were ringing. Real loud. Unusual to hear them. The crowds were such we could only see the tops of the heads of the religious figures entering the fine looking church. Our walk guide says the Czech Republic is the least religious of the European Community, suggests effects of the Reformation, in reducing the Catholic influence that is still so strong in some European countries, like Poland.
Later she talks of their current President, on his second and last term, and his dislike for European Union. It was he who expressed the idea that giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union yesterday was a hoax or a joke. Like many of the eastern European countries, they suffered during and after WWII, and under the Soviet Communist regime. However Helena explains their productivity and manufacturing meant they suffered less than many countries.
We waited in a great location for the changing of the guard at 11 (this ceremony is done every hour, with a big production at midday). The guard were impressive.
The tour included walking back to town. Jean was familiar with the hill (having walked it many times on her previous visit). We set out on our own.
Walk back down the hill. Puppets and puppet shops everywhere. Get more fridge magnets for Kath. Cowboys. A club I had to photograph, since I would need to show it to Townsville Cowboys enthusiasts. Through town, we saw a Segway tour. Next we took a walk along the riverside for a short while. Policeman on heavy duty cross country Segway. While crossing the very busy foot bridge we saw innumerable cartoonists and artists. Many more fridge magnet places, which I resisted. It was avery touristy scene.
We were sort of lost most of way after leaving the bridge, but Jean eventually brought us to the right place for the hotel.
We failed to get into Cafe Imperial, which seemed to be perpetually booked out. We had a late lunch of giant sausage and beer at a place across the street. There was an order problem, with us being given the order belonging to someone else. Paid in Euro (€34), as my credit card would not work without a PIN.
Another long walk. Tired, as was Jean. She sent me off to check the bar drink, which was boring. We shared an apricot liquor back in the room. Jean signed up for internet access, which she is sharing from her computer. So we both got our email and so on.
Up late. Usual buffet breakfast in Cafe Imperial. I organised a taxi to the train station for tomorrow with our tour assistant Simona, since she was at her desk.
A walk through some rather rundown sections to Wenceslas Square. We did take a few turns that were not perhaps the best choice. After taking some photographs of the more scenic end, we walked back towards the Old Town. There was a festival of Czech food and wines, with many small tents and stands clustered around the other end of the Wenceslas Square. There were also some of the sausage vendors Jean had wanted me to see. We returned to the hotel around midday.
I took photos of various bookshops we came across. This was partly because I am not at all sure there will be many bookshops left in Australia soon. We did see a shop labelled Destroy. Jean wanted photos for Destroy the Joint.
Very brisk two person cleaning crew did the whole room in a remarkably few minutes around one. It is remarkable how good they can make a room looks when they work so fast.
In the afternoon we walked down to the river by a fairly direct route. Then we walked along the river bank until we got tired. Lots of boat tours available. On land, watch out for demon bicyclists. Then inland, into the Old Town, and direct to the Hotel Imperial.
Sunshine broke out a few times through the overcast. So I hope I managed a few better photographs of some scenes around Prague. Lots more Segway tours. Horse drawn carriages. Fancy old cars for tours.
The iPhone Maps application found our position on the vector map. It had sufficient details already downloaded from the room connection to provide a reasonable map. Without a cellular signal, and with only fair GPS readings through the clouds and city reflections, it kept varying wildly. So did Runkeeper, but it sort of tracked our return path to the hotel. The distance was totally wrong, as usual when the GPS goes crazy. We walked in total for nearly two hours.
It was about seven when we started to pack our bags for our trip. A breakfast in the Art Deco Imperial Hotel buffet. I tried taking some photos for my records, but doubt they will come out.
I had asked our tour organiser Simona to get us a hotel taxi for 9:30 a.m. So naturally we were ready well before that. The hotel taxi was booked to the room, so there was no mucking about.
I am certainly glad I did not need to work out how to get into that railway station by vehicle. It was one of the most convoluted manoeuvres I have seen. The scene was a little different to the diagram Simona had drawn, but the taxi driver had given instructions that we needed to go down one level.
A bit of a search of the railway to find our platform. Our EC train 378 was late, so the indicator boards were not yet showing our platform number. It ended up about ten minutes after the 10:29 schedule. We had plenty of time to identify where everything was, and to get to platform 3.
Our first class carriage 262 was just behind the dining car. A helpful rail employee had told us where to wait for our carriage. We soon found seats 53 and 55. There was space to put Jean's bag high up on a rack at the end of the carriage, although it was a bit of a struggle. My slightly smaller bag went into the rack above the seat. I had been concerned about the available luggage space, but the first class carriage was not nearly full. The Czech conductor checked our tickets, and stamped them in ink. When we crossed the border, the German conductor punched them.
Jean had some left over snacks for lunch. I bought a sandwich and beer from the mobile service through the carriage.
The amount of industrial development along the railway line and the canal or river was impressive. There were also a fair number of solar farms, despite the relatively poor insolation so far north. We also saw some wind farms, although not like in Hungary. Alas, few of my photos are likely to have worked.
We arrived at the main Berlin train station at 15:16, pretty much exactly on time. Although small, there were signs pointing to exits, and to taxis, so it did not take long to get outside. The street overlooked a construction site. Cranes everywhere.
The taxi driver was helpful, and told us about the city reconstruction. He said it is going on everywhere, but especially in East Berlin. He also told us we had a construction site outside our hotel. We did. The whole street we went along was a construction site. The ride was short, and fairly cheap, just under five Euros.
Mercure Berlin City hotel, at Invalidenstrausser 38. This is an Accor Hotel, so Jean had used her A Club membership to make the booking. This gives us additional services, like an included buffet breakfasts each day, and internet access.
Luckily we are overlooking the courtyard, not the street construction scene. Unfortunately the Comfort room is just too damn small for a long stay. It would have been a little better had there been more storage space, or if we were just staying overnight, rather than a week.
On the other hand, it does provide internet. Sort of. You have to log in again each time, which is mildly annoying. Internet is available via Ethernet cable, or by WiFi. Jean and I started by sharing the Ethernet from her MacBook Air WiFi.
The Mercure room has a decent long desk surface under the window we can both use at once. The two chairs are reasonably comfortable. In fact, for hotel chairs, they are great.
The lighting is wonderful by comparison with most hotels. Three Halogen downlights in the bathroom. Two in the entry. Compact fluorescent reading lamps on the bedside tables. An uplight plus downlight wall fixture across from the bed near the entry. The very high bedhead contains several tubular fluorescent tubes behind diffusers, throwing a lot of light up to the ceiling from about the two metre level. That really works well. There is a decent extension arm reading lamp on the desk, although using it reduces us to one power point at the desk. Luckily there are two other power points in the room, so we can mostly charge anything we want, just not all at once.
I took a walk, and discovered a Subway fast food place at the next block.
The Apple Maps app is going well, once I connected to the WiFi and got some vector maps downloaded. It was tracking me pretty well on my walks.
The hotel has a small Olive Tree bar restaurant, open from midday. This has about 30 seats (far more than I initially thought), and some more bar stools. Jean had a proper meal, of fish, while I had a bar snack (sausage in mild curry sauce, with chips). Not sure that really counts as a German dish, but I did see similar elsewhere. It was far larger than I expected. We washed these down with German beer.
I loath reflective display screens. I can tolerate my Apple iPhone 4 average reflectance of 7%, because you can usually angle it to avoid some rflections. I really would like reflectance reduced even more on a new model iPhone 5.
I would like reduced reflectance even more on an iMac. I have still not been able to replace my 2005 iMac G5 ALS (with anti-glare display), because the Intel models with the glass cover are basically a ghastly mirror.
I am amused to find that with the Mercure Berlin hotel offering a pillow menu, I did not find either of the existing pillows satisfactory. I was in a terrible mood in the morning. The shower was too small, and I kept running into the walls. The bathroom is so small I hit my hand on the sink while attempting to dry myself. I can reach every wall of the bathroom, by spreading my arms, and I do not even need to stand in the middle to do so. Whoever did the layout of the bathroom did take maximum advantage of the space, but there was not enough of it to start with.
I can't find my morning tablets. I can't find anything. I hate small hotel rooms, where I lack the space to unpack. After moving my bag to the bed, I eventually found most of the missing items. Not that I have any place to put them.
Internet works. However if the computer sleeps, I lose it, and have to log in again. There also seems to be some plug-in that the connection software wants, and I do not have whatever plug-in it wants. So I get to put in a significant string of numbers from time to time to get the connection back. Nor can my automatic login keychain identify the internet login, so I can not easily automate the process.
Berlin wall walk with Jean from a bit after ten until after midday. Glorious sunshine. Museum. Lots of walking. Observation building, ten flights of stairs to climb. To the subway where there are posters about secret subway stations.
A short walk with Jean as she locates the government building that is the location for her first conference event. She had to present her passport to obtain entry. Luckily the conference organisers had warned attendees of this issue.
Since the weather is still beautiful, I took a walk across a nearby park. That expanded into a walk through a number of nearby streets. There is a lot of construction going on. The street the Mercure is on is dug up along the entire length. However there is a large building going up a block behind it also.
While I never did locate the Mexican Restaurant that Yelp lists on the Apple Maps, I did find numerous other places serving meals. I had skipped lunch, while Jean when out and bought a Subway (there is a Subway shop at the end of the block). I expect I can find plenty of alternatives, given what I can see around in a few block radius. I even found a little supermarket, although identifying much in it was a bit of a challenge. Thank goodness for colour photos on some containers. Got myself a few snacks, since I will skip some meals.
I went out with Jean for pizza at La Focacia for dinner. Absolutely great crust. Plus a half litre of dark German beer helped. Perhaps not the most realistic German food, but very nice.
We continued working on our computers until fairly late.
I lost my breakfast. After Jean left to go back to the room, the very efficient staff at the Mercure managed to grab my bread roll when I went off to get an orange juice refill.
On the other hand, I have adjusted sufficiently to the small bathroom that I have started avoiding running into the walls.
Jean went to her meeting early, to collect whatever she had to collect. I went for a long walk along the old Berlin Wall museum exhibits, taking more photographs. I specifically wanted to get the wall sections in shadow this time, and the buildings that were in West Berlin in sunlight. I hope I get some atmospheric photos, but I am not good at that sort of thing.
Then I headed off along some unknown to me streets. Got thoroughly lost for a while, as the name of the street I was looking for changes. However I could tell which direction I needed from the angle of the sun, and eventually found the street the hotel is on. Walked for about 75 minutes.
The room cleaning had not been done, so I rested for a while, and then set out in the opposite direction. This time I only managed about 40 minutes of walking. A whole heap of construction near the railway station and the bus station, past the canal, so I took photographs of all this industry.
The hotel room cleaning had not been completed, so I sat in the sunlight and checked some email I had downloaded earlier to my iPhone.
I did about a third of my laundry. No idea how long it will take to dry, so I did not want to overdo the quantity. So far I have not seen a laundromat anywhere in my walks. If I had found one, I would have used it.
I could not decide what to have for dinner. Went for a couple of walks to help decide. Climbed the six flights of stairs back to the hotel room, since I needed more exercise.
Not a Subway, not when in Germany. Finally had a Doner kebab from a little place just around the corner. Place seemed inhabited by folks from Tehran. While the kebab was hardly German, it sure was different to what I normally see in Australia. Almost too much to eat, despite being both tasty, and one of the smallest items they sold. Cheap too, at €3.30.
Jean returned well after seven. She had not only had a (late) lunch at her conference, but also a heap of food and wine in the early evening. I am starting to wish I had bought myself a beer to go with dinner.
It continues. The death of paper magazines and newspapers. After 80 years of paper publication, Newsweek is to go all digital at the end of 2012.
Since 2000, US newspaper advertising revenue has crashed to a third of its peak. Inflation adjusted newspaper advertising revenue is now what it was in 1950.
In Brazil, almost all newspapers will pull out of having Google search their content. Murdoch tried that a few years ago, and eventually relented. I think Brazilian newspapers are about to announce they are now irrelevant.
Meanwhile, in Australia, Channel 10 managed to avoid bankruptcy. Channel 9 seems ready to get rid of about 20% of its news staff. Just why would you watch a TV station that can not provide news? The rest of the TV crap is utter garbage.
I had breakfast with Jean, who needed to be ready for her conference around 8:30 a.m. This time the staff did not manage to take my plate before I had finished. Jean guarded it for me. Climbed the six flights of stairs to the room, which was only a little slower than the lift, and caught up with Jean in the hotel hallway.
Another beautiful day, so I will take another early morning walk. Hope I do not get so lost this time.
I walked for about thirty minutes, past Humboldt University. There were a decent number of construction cranes, and work going on all over the place. Many bicycles, of course, in what seemed chaotic use of both street and footpath. I was interested to see how many motor scooters were around. Some look distinctly more like a motor cycle, in that they have larger wheels, better able to handle rough roads. While Ford and Opel were popular in the cars, there were a lot of VW, BMW and Mercedes in the mix, even in use for taxis. They seemed a popular choice, not an elite choice.
I walked under a railway line, and over a canal, as far as the Brandenburg Gate. I was stopping to take photos of the university and also construction sites (at least seven cranes). Plus some tourist places. There are a heap of bus tours leaving from that Brandenburg Gate area. A tourist shop, where I contemplated a snow globe for Kath. However the shop was busy. Gives me a reason to return there, as does the Hagen Das ice cream place.
I walked up the six flights of stars again when I returned to the hotel. My stair climbing ability seems to be returning a little. I also got some laundry washed. Now I just need to wash a few more shirts, and I will have enough for the rest of the trip.
The WiFi internet access seems to be stuffed at 12:30 p.m. Well, at least it is very slow.
I shared a hamburger in the Mercure bar with Jean, way too late. Service was awesome.
Let great sky fairies and their false prophets look after themselves. Anyone promoting a god is deluded, delusional, or a fraud, so blasphemy is impossible.
I had breakfast with Jean, fairly early. Jean is off to present her paper first thing this morning. I used the computer for a while, waiting for the sun to warm up the streets a little.
I walked to Checkpoint Charlie, which was a pretty decent hike. The usual set of descriptive billboards. They had some sort of exhibit that looked commercial. In the middle of the street was a replica US sentry box, with a uniformed guard. Line up to take photos of it. Looked pretty commercial.
On the way back I diverted for more photos. I was walking for nearly two hours without a rest. Seems like part of the many construction sites interrupts the subway before it can reach that point.
I walked up stairs back at the hotel, and basically collapsed for a while. Did my last laundry for the trip, and ate leftovers for lunch (Jean will want a decent meal around seven). Drank some of the Asbach Urbrand brandy I got in a little village. No wonder they set it on fire and drown it in coffee before drinking. No, actually it isn't too bad.
I do not think so, not for a fancy new model. They can not go Retina (no displays available). There is little in the way of substantive hardware improvements available.
I doubt the screen to LCD lamination techniques of the Retina model can be successfully applied on a display as large as a 27 inch iMac. I hope I am wrong about the screen, as that might help reduce the horrible reflections that make the iMac model close to unusable. I do not see a redesigned case shape.
I can see Apple doubling standard memory, offering more options in the way of SSD (maybe even dropping HDD on some models), and doing a CPU upgrade (and GPU downgrade). So I guess in that sense there might be a new model. Just not an exciting new model.
I got sick and tired of the weirdly functioning air conditioning. Which had been left off by the cleaning staff in any case. Or maybe it reverts to off when the card in the slot is taken away? So I turned the air conditioning off and opened the window instead. It is generally cool outside. That should work.
I was here when Jean returned. Went out and bought a kebab, which she helped me eat. She had been fed reasonably well at her conference. Then there was a spilling of water into her computer. Hope the towel mopped it all up. We sat here each using a computer.
A relatively early breakfast with Jean. We were eventually ready for our big walk. Luckily we had beautiful weather, so warm I did not even bother to carry my pullover.
We set off well after nine. Our first target was the university area, then under the railway line, and over the bridge across the river. Walking to our right along the picturesque river side brought us to the parliament building, a heavy tourist site. We could not approach the closest side of this building, but had to walk completely around it. This gave us a pretty good view. There were also a few places where Jean could sit down for a while.
Walk to Brandenburg Gate, which took a fair while. Helium balloon rides on a tethered balloon were available at a tourist place nearby a section of the Berlin wall. There was a big modern exhibition on the years of terror. This place also had toilets available.
Checkpoint Charlie is pretty much overrun by tourists and beggers, but at least Jean got to see it again.
In a car oriented building we found another toilet. More important, Movenpic ice cream.
In all we did about 9 kilometres over three hours of walking.
Jean sent me out to get her a very late lunch. I managed to find chicken and chips, which worked pretty well for us both.
I am defeated by Tweetbot for Macintosh. Can not find any way to add a subscription to a List someone started about Light by Moore's Cloud. Had to do it via the web browser. Not easy there either. Why does Twitter act like a text adventure game?
A walk with Jean market various fancy museums along Linden. A hasty parting when I got lost. She found the ice cream place again. She later found a Subway lunch.
A very late room cleaning. I hid in the lobby, and missed Jean entering. Still no room cleaning. Jean finds a meal for herself at Subway. When the maid came around, we hid, went and had a drink in the bar. Slow internet there.
I went out and bought a half chicken and chips for dinner, and we put most of the chicken in the room fridge for lunch the next day.
I did some hotel reviews for Trip Advisor.
Mark Pesce (formerly on The New Inventors) started the thing, with what looks like a great team. Jean and I both backed it as soon as we could get a connection to Kickstarter. Now to find some other people to back it.
A classic case of why you should never buy ebooks from Amazon. Never. Not under any circumstances. As long as ebooks have DRM on them, you are only renting them. Buy your books DRM free. If publishers will not sell DRM free, then do not buy books. Tough on authors. Easy on readers.
We had organised a late checkout, at two, bless you Jean. I had bought us some bread rolls and extra water. We made lunch from the left over chicken.
A bit of a problem with the room accounts. Jean glared at them, and the receptionist fixed the issue. The hotel bar was a good place to wait the extra hour before we got a taxi. Besides, we still had WiFi access while we waited.
A €17 taxi ride to Berlin airport, much of it alongside a very civilised river. The hotel says the distance is 8 kilometres, but it seemed longer, and took about a half hour.
So we arrived at Berlin airport early for our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. The flight bookings were not open at Gate 8A. Jean asked, and was told that Gate 24B could take our bags and check them through to Brisbane. It was a fair way to drag bags to gate 24. However there were machines there where we could get our tickets. I stood in the queue while Jean did that. The gate staff had no problems running our bags into their system, right through to Brisbane.
We did have a minor problem. Jean's ticket to Frankfurt did not show a seat number. Luckily while finding Gate 24, we had also spotted a sign to the Lufthansa business lounge upstairs. We went there with our business class tickets, and the staff got busy organising Jean's seat in business class. They managed to organise that in about 15 minutes. We sat in the lounge using the free WiFi. I was not after anything except a comfortable seat and WiFi. I think Jean may have snacked a little.
It was a lot less comfortable at the actual gate. However the staff were actually waiting for us to board (we still had 20 minutes).
A good flight to Frankfurt, but it is less than an hour away by air.
With just our two backpack bags, we still needed to find a trolley. The distances between gates in Frankfurt airport are enormous. The staff there were using bicycles to travel between things. From one end of A, to the hub in B.
We found a Lufthansa lounge who told us there was another one just near our gate. We took a shortcut through the tunnel below the tarmac, but had to wait for lifts down and up. So our waiting time was comfortable, and we again had WiFi.
We were basically overnight on the plane, in business class. That meant we had a chance to sleep on slightly hard lie flat beds. It was a whole heap better than it is for the folks in economy.
We had a fair while in Singapore airport. Just walking anywhere there takes a while. The Silver Kris lounge is comfortable enough. The power sockets are mostly so battered now that your charging plugs fall out. Just have to be careful. WiFi available, so we caught up with lots of stuff. I am not so keen on the food, so it was just as well I am trying to lose weight. Drinking alcohol before a flight tends to be a mistake, so I did not do it.
At last, in flight on the last leg to Australia. Despite being less than eight hours, it seemed interminable. Got more rest, but not exactly sleep.
We landed at Brisbane a little after seven in the morning. This was our tightest connection of the trip. Scrambled off the plane, to encounter (after a medium walk) our first barrier, and our first queue. The magic machines where you can scan your electronic passports. Stand up straight, and gaze at the camera while it verifies you look like your passport photo. Lots of luck! To my surprise, these spat out a pass to get from Immigration to the next barrier.
Collected our baggage, after a bit of hunting for the correct (six) baggage destination, rather than the initial version (seven).
Being pathologically honest with governments (because they have the guns). I had put on my Customs Form that I had food (chocolate bar). I do not know if it was cause and effect, but we ended up in another queue. Nothing resolved, and as usual, no-one seemed to care I had a chocolate bar.
We emerged, and headed for the railway platform, via various badly labelled lifts. Jean bought train tickets for us. $5 for one station. I sure hope that line makes a profit. Sixteen minutes to wait. So we were on the train at eight, and out flight was due to depart at 8:55 a.m.
While I waited at the bag drop machines, Jean tackled the ticket vending machines. The bag drop did not co-operate, but a resigned looking staff member was there helping whoever had problems (which seemed just about everyone). We were headed for Qantas gate 19 with a good 15 minutes to spare.
A very uncomfortable flight, which left about a half hour late. These jets have three seats on each side that are way too small for an expanding population. The guy at the window was large (not excessive, just a tall, moderately wide guy) and I could hardly even move. I found that flight really oppressive. There were even larger guys in the seats in front of us, which must have been a nightmare for them.
We reached Townsville only about five minutes late, just after eleven. Kudos to the pilot. Scrambled off at the end of a fair queue. Luggage was pretty quick at Townsville, as always.
Joined the taxi queue and ended up about half way along by the time everyone streamed out. There are over 130 taxis in Townsville, and they were circulating through the airport pretty quick. We probably spent 15 minutes in the taxi queue. Forty buck to get home, just before midday. Not too bad. I can understand why the Pope kisses the ground when he alights from his flight in another country.
The previous totals on the electricity meter were 3900 kWh imported on E1, 3224 kWh imported on E2. Power from the solar panel was 1145kWh since installed. This was the day we left.
I took readings before we switched anything on. E1 (tariff 11) was 3934 kWh, E2 was 3234 (tariff 33). So while the house was empty, we used 34 kWh on tariff 11 (the fridge), and 10 kWh on tariff 33. I imagine the tariff 33 figures were just having the air conditioners switched on (the hot water service was off). The solar power out was 1310 kWh when we left, 1452 kWh when we returned, or 142 kWh exported.
The solar readings when we left were 3263 kWh over 9702 hours. The new readings were 3430 kWh at 10110 hours. So the nominal 1 kW panel generated 167 kWh over 408 hours, of which 142 kWh was exported. That implies 25 kWh was used by the house, which in turn seems to indicate the fridge really used closer to 59 kWh.
A real mess unpacking. Things seemed to always disappear. I also had to go out and collect the physical mail, which seemed to consist of an entire large plastic bag full of stuff. To think I once liked receiving mail. Looks like we have enough laundry for several loads, and good weather predicted.
A usual group in the pub, plus the bowlers. Ray, Ron, Ian, no sign of Harry, but perhaps he left earlier. I chatted with Kathy, our bar attendant, and gave her the accumulated fridge magnets I had been collecting during the trip. Sat around talking with Jeff as it got later.
Slept badly, despite being very tired.
A first morning back to Carlyle Gardens. As we both predicted, I was ready to go start the washing machine at 2 a.m. We resisted. Jean started it (after some difficulty, since neither of us were focusing) around 5:30. I subsequently ran three loads of laundry through. With the fine weather, the first load was dry by the time we hung out the third load.
Got to the discount chemist before they opened. This gave me time to have an apple slice for breakfast. At Coles at Willows, Jean selected the food shopping, and left me to deal with the trolley and checkout while she went off for her 9 a.m. appointment. We had run down stocks of everything before leaving, and had to restock. I was delighted to see signs saying Willows now provided free WiFi. The newsagent was too crowded to try to buy a newspaper. I got a phone call from her at 10:30 a.m. after putting out more laundry, to come and collect her.
Chicken from Coles for lunch.
Jean went off in the afternoon to collect some eggs from the egg farm.
We did not like the brown grass surrounding the house. Looks like the sprinkling system has gone on strike at the back, and perhaps at the side. I asked the lawnmower contractor what he thought, and he seemed to think the ground was too dry. We put out water sprinklers later, in an attempt to improve the ground.
Did not find Duncan to thank him for watering our plants. He must be around somewhere.
Spend part of the late afternoon killing weeds, and killing Asian kitchen geckos that had returned while we were away. They are a menace.
Our own sprinkler system for our front garden was working. Not bad for a $20 kit, and a battery timer.
Search is security theatre.
I see the sprinkler system at the side and back was working properly. I can see that the water does not cover a gap out the back. No real sign that the sprinkler system between the houses is still working. The grass has a lot of brown there.
Up early, slightly after five. We went to Willows, partial to collect fuel coupons for our Port Douglas trip (the old coupons have expired). Jean' desk lamp CFL had died, so she wanted more. They were cheap in BigW. Plus she needed socks. I got a season of the TerraNova TV series. That gave enough for a fuel coupon.
At Coles, the fuel coupons were 8 cents off, so they were better for us. We had one from yesterday. However we had enough stuff we had missed on the shopping list that we got another fuel coupon.
Off to lunch at the restaurant, mostly thanks to Jean driving me over there. Present were Ray, Dot and John. Good to see them again.
I dropped in on Geoff and Margaret on the way home. He asked about the Apple HiFi device I have. So I will bring it back here with me. Geoff needed to get to the Carlton Theatre to run the sound and video for the insurance meeting. I decided I had to skip that, and the Friday get together.
In the afternoon I watched the downloaded Apple October event. This was the Mac mini update, 13 inch MacBook Pro retina, the new thin iMac, the fourth generation iPad Retina, and the new iPad mini. Plus iBook Author and iBook updates.
Jean offered me use of her car to go to Airlie Beach. Despite still feeling tired, I will use it. It has been a long time since I got there. Some work needed.
Internet is running so slow. Ten minutes to download a 20 MB file, for example. You can forget all about streaming anything. I downloaded the Apple October event yesterday (and the day before). It took about 12 hours to download 5 GB running overnight so nothing else was connected. Ozspeedtest says I have 1 Mbps download (128 KB/s) at the moment, which is actually pretty good for here. Internet access is just hopeless in country areas. First World Problem.
Earlier today I did Malcolm Turnbull's little internet survey. I shall do it again when I get to Airlie Beach. Access is faster there, but far less reliable.
I updated the Mac mini using the previously downloaded Mountain Lion installer. It took about an hour. Then there were updates to other apps, and the OS X itself. Looks like nearly another gigabyte of downloads. Hope it does not take too long to download them.
I ended up nursing it every now and then until 4:30 a.m. next morning. Download speed sucks.
I had an early morning drive from Townsville. However despite leaving well before five, I had forgotten how early dawn is these days. Had the sun in my eyes by the time I approached Ayr. I arrived at the Whitsundays just after eight. Stopped at Whitsunday Shopping Centre to get a fuel coupon at Coles (I knew I would need about $30 of supplies, like ice cream). I should get more fuel coupons on Monday, when I restock some of the cyclone supplies, like water.
Whitsunday Shopping Centre is a mess. I find it hard to believe how many empty shops are there.
The main street of Airlie Beach is way more of a mess. The main street reconstruction has reached the shopping strip. So they had to basically close the street. All traffic is getting diverted the long way around the developers road (Waterson Road). Trying to get to anything is awkward. This disruption appears to be set to continue until at least mid 2013. I sure hope some of the businesses manage to survive the changes.
Did laundry, and hung it out to dry.
Found out the hard way that the stairs to the main street are closed. Argument about access costs, I imagine. Burnt bridges there, I suspect.
Check the Airlie Beach markets. A few people I knew were there, and there were a fair number of sites occupied. I chatted with Rex and his friend Mark. No sign of Glenn, and no-one seemed sure where he was. Got my usual breakfast there. Bought some (Queensland) Cloveley Wine after trying a sample or two. Collected the missing newspapers. That filled my pack. Saw the other Rose while I was struggling up the street.
Hung out laundry. Back down the main street. BWS have 30% off wine in six packs. I bought a box of Jacob's Creek sparkling for my parties. Discovered I had missed the degustation dinner at Airlie Beach hotel. That was while we were in Europe.
Went through the local papers, bringing my list of property prices up to date again. Does not look great. I keep seeing at least a 40% decline in property values.
The connection has also stayed up for two and a half days, which is nice (but not unheard of). So I downloaded as much stuff as I could manage to find.
I updated my iPad to iOS 6, which takes a fair while. I removed The Verge from my automatic download tabs. Something weird is happening when you access it that pins one of my CPUs to the stop. I updated the MacBook Pro software in less than a half hour. Some contrast to Carlyle Gardens.
Jim was the first arrival. Closely followed by Rex and Myra, bringing their friend Mark on his first visit. Disposed of two pizza. Chad and the children Emily and Josephine arrived somewhat later. Rose was studying, so I guess that kept the children out of her hair for a while.
A massive privacy breach by Hutbook, who are attempting to aggregate personal information about home owners in Australia. Just say no. Luckily their attempt appears to be garbage.
A walk to the main street for breakfast. Way to much dodging the relocated street bypass. I had breakfast and read the paper. Chat at newsagency. Told her about Reminders. I could see her plotting to make all sorts of use of location dependent features.
Later I went to the BWS and got some more Pepperjack shiraz for my parties, since it is 30% off at the moment. I am not sure an exercise program consisting of hauling backpacks of wine up a hill is all that effective.
I ripped the various music CDs I collected during our European river cruise. Luckily only one lacked metadata on GraceNotes. I added appropriate metadata, including all the correct German characters. I hope GraceNotes handles the character set.
Ripped the movie I had bought for $5 in BigW (colourised version of Things to Come from 1936, for $5).
The four DVDs of the Terra Nova TV series (only one half season was done) was sealed into the DVD box. I think BigW have some sort of tool that releases the box. However I bought it via their self serve checkout. I had to use a screwdriver to open the box. Fox media are not exactly making friends with this sort of stunt. When downloading is easier than buying, media companies are not likely to make much profit from me. I am rapidly getting sufficiently pissed off with DVDs that I will stop buying entirely.
How does Google make all its money? It sells its search users to advertisers. How does Facebook plan to make money. It sells its social users to advertisers. Do advertisers have your best interests at heart? Almost certainly not. They just want to sell you kitsch.
So why co-operate?
I was awakened at dawn by the rain. Got some medical samples ready for sending to pathology. Looked unsuccessfully for anything reasonably sensible to eat for breakfast. Decided to add a few things to my shopping list.
Started my iPhone sync, but there were a bunch of photos to sync first.
Off to Whitsunday Shopping Centre. A number of closed shops there, some sort of disguised as overstock from elsewhere. I only needed Coles, to get fuel discount coupons. Bought two flats of 24 bottles of water, as part of my cyclone supplies, plus some cans of Coke and bottles of tonic water for mixers. That got me to the $30 I needed.
Then to Centro Shopping Centre. Fewer closed shops here, but the Payless Shoes have closed. Glad I bought several pairs of cheap canvas shoes from them a while ago. I hear the whole chain has closed. I also hear Woolworths now have the property behind Magnums in Airlie Beach, and have permission to install a supermarket there within a year. I can see both the 4Square supermarket and the IGA closing as a result, if this really happens.
Roomba 530 (low end) model vacuum cleaner available at Harvey Norman. I have wanted a replacement Roomba vacuum cleaner for ages. Jean got one for Carlyle Gardens about six months ago. It helps ensure I tidy the floor. It also manages to clean dust bunnies from under the bed. It was at the usual semi-discount price. I Messaged Jean (in case she reacted in horror - she encouraged me), and then bought it.
I also got myself a Dyson bladeless desktop fan, for the times when the ceiling fan was placed wrong.
I continued to add metadata to my rips of the Terra Nova series, which was filmed in Australia. Discovered I had missed ripping one episode. The metadata is troublesome. For some reason, MetaX access to tagChimp search does not show episodes that it actually had. Sometimes variations of the search term helps find the missing episodes. Luckily there are only eleven episodes to do, but I doubt I will have them complete until after midday.
At Centro I collected the hard to find DVDs I had ordered. A collection of the James Coburn spy sendup Flint movies (Our Man Flint, and In Like Flint, plus a never released TV pilot). Also Pirates of Silicon Vally, which I have long wanted.
So would they play? No, they are Region 1 (USA) while we in Australia are Region 4. On my MacBook Pro, Handbrake would not accept them, nor would VLC. Ripit would not work. I took them to my old (2005) iMac G5 ALS. An old version of Mac the Ripper was happy to extract the file content, and remove the region coding.
Then a file transfer over my WiFi network (takes a while for such large files) to a modern computer. Then Handbrake to transcode the DVD files to H.264. Finally MetaX to ensure the metadata is correct. Or at least that some metadata is present.
I heard a knocking on the door. Jim asked if I knew Excel. It has been at least a decade since I used Excel for anything. Luckily the problem was just a column width issue, which I soon fixed. Then it did not print. Jim had provided a gin and tonic by then. The printer was just a choice of several identically named printers.
Next was email. Moving reception to another computer should be easy. However the removal of old email is totally anomalous. My own setup has no problems. But something screwy is happening with the web mail access. Any downloaded email is removed, even if the other computer is set to only remove email that has been moved from the in basket.
Jim showed me a stunning musical graphics demonstration that Jonathan had pointed him to.
I saw on the TV news that the replica tall ship HMS Bounty had been caught in Hurricane Sandy. The engine power had failed, and pumps could not keep up with the water coming onboard. My guess is that with heavy seas from astern, the ship corkscrewed so much that the seams started to spring.
Our friend Doug Faunt was planning to be aboard again on this journey. This replica ship is a third larger than the original, since it was designed to allow room for the film makers doing the 1962 Marlon Brando movie
Mutiny on the Bounty so many years ago.
Late news indicated that seventeen crew in survival gear had taken to the two modern lifeboats. I gather US Coast Guard helicopter procedure is to winch out from above, which does not work on a ship with masts moving wildly. So the lifeboats were probably a better solution for a rescue attempt, if you can manage to scramble about in rough seas.
When I went to bed there were conflicting reports as to whether seventeen people were in the lifeboats. Reports were heat cameras were showing sixteen people. C-130 Hercules aircraft are in the area attempting to direct rescuers.
I started sorting out the paperwork here. Months after I intended to be working on that. All the old council and body corporate papers, which are now getting sorted into order.
I was distressed this morning to see reports that only 14 people had been rescued from HMS Bounty, which had been sunk by Hurricane Sandy off North Carolina's Outer Banks. The first rescue helicopter took out five crew. The second helicopter took out nine crew. I was under the impression there were seventeen crew on board HMS Bounty, but this has been corrected to sixteen. Reports this morning say two crew members are still missing. C-130 Hercules aircraft continue to search, and another Jayhawk is headed for the area.
Reports now say 13 crew reached the lifeboats, and three were washed overboard. One of these three managed to climb into a lifeboat. One missing person is Claudene Christian. The other is the Captain of the Bounty, Robin Walbridge.
I viewing the video of the rescue, towards the end we saw the folks who were rescued. I believe I saw Doug, walking and looking OK.
I was awake early, about four thirty. The weather is overcast, which is not good if I actually want to do another load of laundry. Actually, it is now raining and miserable.
A big executive fall out at Apple. I guess it is convenient that Hurricane Sandy is taking all the air time, and the stock exchange will be closed for several days.
Long term engineering head Bob Mansfield left, and then came back as an advisor to Tim Cook (and now heading a new Technologies group). I think having Bob Mansfield back is great, but having someone leave and come back that way sounds strange.
The relatively new head of retail, former Dixon executive, John Browett is leaving. That appointment always seemed a potential problem to me. Not that I can think exactly how you should handle retail, when you are running such unconventional stores. Even the line of control in Retail seems weird.
Most significant, long term iOS head Senior Vice President Scott Forstall is leaving. His name is on a lot of Apple patents, perhaps more than any other executive except Jobs. Interestingly, he sold 95% of his shares in Apple back in May. Again, he will be advising Tim Cook for a while. There are several senior executives taking on additional responsibility. However how many of them are great software people? I have no real worries about Apple hardware, but software is even more important, and much harder to get right.
This has the feel of a bunch of very capable executives jockeying for position. With some perhaps over-reaching on what could be accomplished, in the time available. You have to think problems with Siri (data) and Maps (data) contributed to the highly competent Scott Forstall being out.
Although it was Jobs who wanted to kill off Google, who have appropriate data on hand (thanks to their snooping). Cook probably should have cooled down the Google feud a little when Jobs died. So to a large extent, Jobs and Cook are responsible for that problem. Not that the dumping of Google Maps could be avoided forever. Apple needs to control its own key technologies. Too many cases in the past where Apple had major problems because they did not have that control.
There have also been reports in some areas of ego clashes (not surprising), and more junior engineering staff not wanting to work with some senior staff. I have to wonder if Mansfield and Ive were unable to work with Forstall. Having a single mercurial dictator probably made life easier in some ways. It might happen that a dictator works better at Apple.
Amongst the changes is Tim Cook will again be looking after Retail, pending a replacement head. Hard to make a stronger statement about the importance Apple places on retail. Rightly so. An Apple Store (Las Vegas) persuaded me to buy my first Apple. Although I usually buy online, I very often inspect new Apple products in an Apple Store (which involves a 2000 km trip) before buying.
A good start on backing up the 117 GB of media, so that I do not have to rip it again from the DVDs. I started last night, and then continued from about 5 a.m. It should all be completed well before lunch, so I can take away the off site backup.
The skeuomorphism in iOS (now also infesting OS X) is something I think is mostly a mistake. I am certain there are internal battles about it in Apple. I am also certain that Steve Jobs liked the idea. However just because your resolution is good enough to get away with software that looks like faux leather and wood veneer does not mean it is always a good idea.
If I could have been bothered, I would have removed the faux graphics effects (there are patches out there to do so). However that does not solve the problem. There can be a comfort in familiarity, especially for new users. Kitsch sells. Serious design is really hard to sell. For more experienced users, the look of applications probably needs to be as simple as is compatible with working efficiently with them. Doing that is really hard, in my view.
One interesting point here is what is happening with the Apple industrial designers, especially Sir Jonathan Ive. More responsibility, taking over Human Interface, a software area that must be fundamentally different to hardware. I hope this works.
I find myself wondering whether any of the former Apple executives will return? For example, former OS X software engineering head Bertrand Serlet was in the audience at the launch this month. I also wonder what John Rubinstein is doing?
An article in The Guardian showing the statistical significance of Hurricane Sandy. This stuff is serious. I compare figures with Cyclone Yasi, in our area two years ago.
Storm surge up to 4 metres (6 metres). Rain 240mm (400mm, peaking at 650mm). Wind gusts 150 kph (240 kph peaks). Low pressure 951mm (930mm). Duration 36 hours (overnight). Sixty million people (far fewer than one million).
A few hours later, and it looks like the storm surge will be significantly higher than predicted. Serious flooding ahead. At least as I write this peak tide should be past.
I tried to register my new Dyson desk fan via their web site. They correctly identified the model number from my serial number. However then the web site would not move past the purchase date. I tried to get past that several times, changing the date (in case the day and month were inverted). No luck at all.
That turned out to be because it wanted to set a cookie (which I do not allow). Pity it did not say so.
Next it barfed because it failed to find my address on its search. You get past that by deleting your attempt to include an address in the search section.
Then it wanted me to have an email account. Why? And a password? Double why? It is just a stupid fan. I do not need hundreds of bloody accounts. Stop being a nuisance.
Gavin Tapp writes his Thoughts on Light by Moore's Cloud. Lots of geeks get it. Harder to explain elsewhere.
I was up at four, and on the road around 4:20 a.m. A full moon gave plenty of light, so I made good time except where mist closed in. I was on the highway well before five. Past Bowen not long after 5:30. I reached Carlyle Gardens about 7:35 a.m. which is not bad time.
Best sight along the road. An eagle had landed on the road to retrieve a carcass. If the light had been in my favour, I would have tried getting a photograph. Nice to see eagles regularly.
I did not like the temperature at Carlyle Gardens when I arrived, and it was only 7:30 a.m. Jean tells me she has been up since 4 a.m. I guess that explains why the laundry is out. Recycling in bin, which turns out to be due next week, not this week.
A great audio video piece on YouTube. Takes forever to load, so Jean could not wait to see it. Attempt to bypass whatever is making it difficult for me to download a copy. Streaming video is utterly useless.
Off to lunch at the restaurant. Probus lunch explains why so many cars. I sat and chatted with Jerry.
Off to the pub for the usual Wednesday afternoon swill with Frank, Ian, Ray, Jeff. No sign of Ron. Made a sausage sandwich afterwards for dinner.
Managed to forget my solar panel readings. Now need to do them at dawn.
The solar power output figures last month (September 2012) showed it generated 3313kWh over 9802 hours. The figures for October are 3469kWh over 10203 hours. So the total hours operating in the 31 days of October 2012 were 401 hours, during which it generated 156kWh. About 5kWh per day, or 389 Watts per operating hour. This is a nominal 1 kW panel, operating with fine sunny conditions for most of the month, and with 22 days of an empty house.
AB 4, CG 3, T 24
We went to bed early, as neither of us are recovered from the European trip. Jean had been awake at four, and I had started driving back from Airlie Beach soon after that time. So we were both exhausted.
The smoke detector went off around 11 p.m. Woke us both from sound sleep. Just about gave me a heart attack.
Significant sign. Neither of us looked for smoke or a fire. We just looked for a ladder to take the battery out of the alarm. It seems neither of us think a fire alarm means anything except a false alarm.
I suspect this is the third time we have had a false fire alarm from that system. It is living on the verge of being disabled.