Blois (Loire Valley Thu 17th May, Ascension Day)
It was all going swimmingly Until we were immersed into Paris traffic, then we found the "avoid traffic" feature on the GPS system. Maybe it works if you activate it before you hit the traffic. Finally we arrived in Blois, but just had time for a wander, take a few snaps, dinner and bed.
The next day started cloudy but we set off cycling anyway, not far down the road it transpired Girlfriend's bike wasn't taking up the 3rd sprocket. I did the manly thing, checked it out and set it manually. Not far down the road she put it into second again so we had to stop and re-set it, I should've warned her but we'd hit a hill so there was no choice anyway. Not a good start but all of a sudden the sun came out and the skies cleared, excellent.
Crossing the Loire on a road bridge we stopped to take pictures next to a fisherman who promptly pullet out a huge mullet, it must have been 15 inches (37cm). He was quite proud of himself and said he'd take that one home for dinner (ie. eat it, not to share a candle meal with it)
As the sun beat down my hay fever kicked in, I put up with it until we got to Amboise the next day and purchased some nasal spray, a large one, from an obliging pharmacist.
The Amboise trip was by motor, the good weather only lasted a day. Still good though, I had no idea Lenny Da Vinci had once been resident in these parts. Turns out he had a huge house near the Golden Lion Pub (Lion D'Or) where he invented the mp3 player. It was 32 choir singers (middle age version of 32 bit) on a platform with wheels which needed 4 horses to pull it along, not quite as portable as the Apple but you have to admit, Len thought of it first. Seems like that with many of his inventions, ok it was his idea to build a helicopter but the thing he drew is far cry from anything we see now. Even if they built his idea with modern materials it would be too heavy to take off under it's own steam.
Back to Blois for dinner at L'Orangerie, typical top notch French restaurant (ie well expensive) but great food; a chefs special selection of nibbles, homard ravioli, veal steak, cheese, dessert - "Les Reve du Gourmand", fantastic accompanied with a fine local white wine from Touraine. I do enjoy a good French slap-up.
Sunday was completely washed out but never mind, we had to head back anyway.
Vienna (Friday 25th May)
Well stone me it's hot in Vienna! Spent the first few hours looking for a decent pair of flip flops, found an indecent pair instead and spent the weekend hobbling with plasters on my toes. There's a huge ice cream "bar" in the town centre run entirely by Italians, it's open from 6.30am till midnight 365 days a year. In the evening we went along the riverside to the collection of bars and restaurants and enjoyed huge plates of ribs followed by cocktails at a Salsa bar.
On Saturday we had breakfast at Landtmans (The top place for breakfast in Vienna). Accross the road they were preparing for the "Live for Life" (something like that) Aids benefit where Bill Clinton would be the guest of honour along with other such luminaries as Elton John. Not for us though, we had an opera booked for the evening. The rest of the day went on a horse and carraige ride (as recommended by Spanish Goth). There are many fine palatial houses from years ago, but for me the Mozart house (where he gave his first recital aged six), one of many Beethoven houses and Schubert house were the highlights. Finished the days entertainment with shopping before we set off for the Opera.
What I didn't know about Vienna Opera house is that there's a Hot Dog stand outside! Now I can see the attraction. The show was "Andrea Chenier" by Umberto Giordano. It's set in the French Revolution features 4 acts, 5 arias and the cast took bows between each act (a bit excessive, I thought) but an excellent piece, I could easily watch it again.
Sunday, our hosts brother in law is actually from England and he invited us for breakfast sausages, scrambled eggs and beans. The perfect set up for a cycling trip along the Danube. Breakfast was late (by design) so we cycled through to early dinner in the very place were King Leopold once held Richard the Lionheart prisoner for ransom. The chicken was excellent, better than any organic or free range nonsense from the supermarket.
Monday, we had breakfast at the Blue Star, reputed haunt of Nikki Lauda but he wasn't there. So we headed off to the Château Schönbrunn, a fine and rather large old residence, modelled on Versaille but not quite as big. Followed by a trip to the suburb of Grinzing, one of the wine growing parts around Vienna with typical country pub style restaurants. Dr Karl Böhm lived there, even. We went into one of the restaurant/beer garden places and had a jolly good roast pork (with crackling) and were joined by our breakfast hosts from the previous day. Just as our host was telling us this is out of the way of the main tourist traps in Vienna we were swamped by Japanese tourists.
Tuesday, Landed in the sprout at 8.30am, just time to get home, have a kip, unpack, re-pack and set off for Milan (work trip this time). The plane's green inside (Al-Italia). Time to read Owen King's debut.
Milan (Tuesday 29th May)
Many, many moons ago I was out with Some friends for drinks when one of those rose-sellers came along, I bought one and as the gang stared at me expecting me to approach some unsuspecting young filly, I proceeded to bite it's head off and eat it in the style of a vegetarian Ozzy Osbourne.
Which brings us to the present day (well, wednesday). Driving from the Milan office to the restaurant one of the Street ladies was kind enough to flash her baps at us. A pleasant way to end the working day I thought, until our Italian colleague pointed out that most of the "street ladies" are actually Brazilian men. It was all downhill from there, l tried the local speciality "deep fried zucchini flowers", disgusting. I thought it was a figurative term but they really tasted like flowers and I had to eat three of them followed by a dish of meatballs that tasted like stale tuna. Italian cuisine? I'd have settled for a plate of egg and chips (it's a delicacy in Madrid)
This morning, we'd only been waiting about 20 minutes for a taxi with 30 other people when the concierge asked "do you know there's a taxi strike today?", obviously we didn't, so we asked him if there was any other option for transport and he dissapeared into the hotel to check. In the meantime we called someone from the office to pick us up. Then the concierge returned and advised us the best course would be to call someone from the office to pick us up. The lettuce in the canteen tasted funny too, bitter. All meetings done, we arranged a private car to the airport but almost didn't make it. A red fiat crashed into the central barrier on the highway about 200m ahead of us, no one else hit the car and the passengers seemed to be ok. As the driver pulled away all three of us put our seat belts on and laughed heartily (at the seat belt action, not the accident, tut).
Return flight was on one of those tiny Avroliners. I had Seat 4B, which is basically the back row aisle and window. You learn to keep your Seat belt on during these flights unlest you want to head-butt the reading light every time the little cutie bumps into a cloud. Then a great thing happened at Brussels airport, they sent us by bus from the plane directly to the baggage hall. No need to hike the usual 3.4 miles (5.4 kilometres) to the conveyors, and when we got there the luggage was already out!
VanHool would be a good name for a dark band but it's already taken. That's name of the bus manufacturer who made the bus that took us to the baggage hall. Then all I had to do was grab a taxi to Girlfreind's flat, get changed (having cunningly packed a changed of clothes in advance two days ago) and jump back into waiting cab speed to Vleurgat in time to meet Girlfriend at a friend's opening night of his painting exhibition. From landing to sipping red wine and admiring artwork took 1 hour and 10 minutes. Not a bad effort, I thought.
Now I just have to check my email, it's 8.30am in Sydney and they will be reading that curt email I sent them just before I left Milan. Damage limitation, finish the Chianti, then bedtime.