Saturday, 19 December 2009

ramsay street happenings

Ramsay Street has been full of excitement of late. It's all worthy soap-opera material.

Firstly there's the neighbour who beats her maid in the street. The other day the two of them were walking from the mosque store; maid in front and woman in local dress behind. The maid walks and cowers while the other woman walks and beats. It's a distressing sight.

Then there was the episode involving the teenager girl who lives with the woman (daughter? sister?). Woman is out. Car is parked on the street. Boy is at the wheel. Teenage girl gets out just as the woman arrives home by taxi. And it's on. Woman wails and screams as she beats the car and throws herself on the bonnet beating the window. Car speeds off. Woman falls to the ground screaming, gets up and begins beating the girl. They come inside the apartments, beating subsides for a few moments. Girl walks up stairs carrying her broken glasses and nursing her already bruised head. Apartment door closes and beating resumes.

The other excitement on Ramsay street is flooding after the recent rains when the street turned into a river as raging torrents of water swept past the buildings. People couldn't get to work because the water was too deep to drive through. White water rafting was an option. Hours later a Pakistani man was seen wading waist deep through the water manually attempting to unblock a drain. He was ultimately successful and within hours of his effort the water had mostly drained away. However, we were left with 6-inch deep mud and sludge. Next day the same man was out there with a shovel, shovelling away a lot of the mud. It took days to dry and now the street still looks like a dirt road. Huge dust storms are whipped up as 4-wheel drives from beyond tear up the street, honk their horns at the grocery, gather their goods and speed off again.

Dinner on the balcony now includes a healthy serving of dust!

Friday, 18 December 2009

star trek

We've been watching the original Star Trek series recently. It's a an interesting study in history. The story line is incredibly slow moving and all punches are telegraphed - no surprises. It is soooo slow, the sets are quite silly sometimes and the story lines are plain juvenile for the most part. It's hard to imagine that it was ever taken seriously in the first place - though I do remember being glued to the set each Thursday night as a kid waiting patiently for the next thrilling installment of the voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise.

The actors are interesting. From his first appearance Captain Kirk has that trademark twinkle in his eye and it's been interesting watching as the writer has been playing with the characters who will soon emerge as the key players. The gulf between Spock and McCoy is beginning to become apparent by about Episode 3. Uhura and Zulu are still fairly background. Spock is becoming more like the Mr Spock that we know and love today. Scotty seems to spend most of his time in the transporter room at the moment whereas later he'll be elsewhere. It all makes interesting watching - if a little tedious.

There's just the one fairly flat, juvenile storyline per episode. It's funny to compare it to something like Seinfeld (which came 30 years later) where there are three separate story lines interplaying every episode. The writing is world's apart.

The one thing that I keep looking for, but can't see at all is how Captain Kirk 40 years later becomes the Denny Crane of Boston Legal. The glint in his eye and his confidence carry through, but it still seems such a gulf. I watch him eagerly for signs of his later alter ego.

lousy doctor

Well, I'd make a lousy doctor. My diagnosis was all wrong. Coke was stopping my sleep. That bit was right and the problem has largely, but not entirely been conquered. Schmenopause had nothing to do with anything. I figured that out when my temp was 40 degrees ... it began to sound an awful lot like a fever. So I'd been dragging mysefl to work for days with a fever and exhaustion - what a hero.

Spent endless hours on two different days to find out a range of things that weren't the problem, but never did get an inkling of what was the problem. The doctors at the local hospital here make lousy doctors too!!!!! Only remaining symptom - headaches.

Friday, 11 December 2009

of coke, lack of exercise and womenopause

The problem
Several factors have conspired of late to bring me to a situation where I had a thumping headache and broken sleep for 3 days followed by a mild headache and sleep deprivation (2 hrs a night) for 3 or 4 days. Once awake there was no way that I could get back to the land of nod. My joints ached/ache too. To compound things I've just been doing some experiential learning about night sweats. Come evening water just oozes from every pore in my body and I need someone walking behind me with a mop to ensure that the floor surfaces are safe for others to walk on. If you invite me to your place in the evening, throw canvas sheeting on the furniture or park me on the verandah! I've never sweated in my life. Even intense exercise barely raises a drop. So it's completely new to me. The big splash is followed by shaking and feeling intensely cold. Switching between the two goes on from late evening until the morning and is accompanied by an elevated temperature. All of this has enveloped me just in the last week.

How did this all happen?
Well I have to confess that some of this at least is self-inflicted. I was a reformed coke addict for a couple of years (the fizzy kind). Two years ago, after drinking two and a half litres a day and not sleeping, I went through a week of withdrawal headaches and gave the stuff up. Then a few months ago I had a coke and I was postively buzzing - a personality transformation. That was pretty good. So over the months it's built up again to a couple of cans - though the buzz has gone by the wayside! Again I'm not sleeping and again it has increased my anxiety. At the same time for the last couple of weeks I haven't been doing daily stretches which I know that I need to do for my back and I haven't been going to the gym or pool. And of course the third factor is my gender and age.

What to do?
1. give up coke (done as of yesterday! and currently suffering the consequent headache)
2. start stretching again (done as of a few days ago!)
(Result: slept from 12 - 8 last night. Woke up a few times, but got back to sleep again ... sleep ... it feels so good!)
3. dive into the pool again (that's hard to do when feeling achy breaky and headachy, but ... maybe tomorrow).

Caffeine and stress are triggers for symptoms of womenopause - so hopefully I'll be back sleeping regularly soon and ideally the big splash will pack up and leave too!

Friday, 14 August 2009

the long trek home

Thursday 29th July
The only thing that went right today was that we managed to get up in time to get our 7:30 taxi to Fumicioini airport. It was all downhill after that.
The taxi dropped us off wrong terminal and after finding our way to the right terminal and a long wait, Air France, with whom we booked told us that we’d been queued up in the wrong place because though we’d booked with them, it was actually Alitalia who was going to be flying us to Paris for a connection through to Dubai. This wasn’t mentioned on any of our documentation. So after another substantial period of queuing and with the clock fast running down we finally got ourselves checked-in and through customs with moments to spare.
We raced to the gate, jumped onto the bus and breathed a sigh of relief. Soon we were on the plane, bags stowed, books and glasses organised ... all ready for the two hour flight to Charles de Gaulle. Time passed with nerry a word from staff nor movement from the plane. Word came that we had to disembark because of a safety issue. So after being herded back on buses and back to the airport, and standing around for 45 minutes not sure what was going on, we were lead back to the gate we had originally left from where we again waited. It soon became apparent that we were going to miss our connecting flight to Dubai.
Back on another plane that rattled and creaked like no plane we’d ever been on before, babies screaming and a teenager with lots of ‘tude sitting next to me, we finally got into Charles de Gaulle airport several hours late. After queuing for almost an hour we met a very pleasant man who kindly organised another flight for us ... leaving just before midnight; 11 hours after we were supposed to leave. As compensation Air France gave us a voucher for a free sandwich and drink! Were they kidding? After expressing disappointment at their offer and after a bit of argy-bargy I wangled access to the Air France lounge where we felt somewhat better after an OJ, a Bombay and tonic and a snack. Spending ten hours there was a bit over the top, but ... you get that. However, our revised expectations to be home by midday the next day were soon thwarted when once again we were sitting on the runway for 30 mins, 40 mins ... wondering what was going on. It became clear when a medical team boarded the plane that one of the passengers had suddenly taken ill. After an hour and a half the gentleman was taken off the plane to get the required medical care and the plane was soon in the air without further mishap.
This is the guilty plane sitting at Rome airport just before we boarded the first time.

Tuesday 27th July - Naples
Life-threatening, but cool.
Oppressive 40 degree heat, the taxi windows are wound down, we’re stopped in dense, noisy traffic and there’s no a/c. The driver decides this is a good time to light up a cigarette making it even harder to breathe in the thick, still air. His phone rings. He takes the call. The traffic moves, he accelerates still smoking and still talking on his hand-held phone. As the traffic speeds up, he changes gears without missing a beat in his phone conversation. He begins weaving in and out of the traffic, picking the gaps to the millimetre while still distracted by gears, the cigarette and his phone. The bright side is that with the taxi now moving, there is some air flow and thus some relief from the cloying heat. And ... who said men can’t multi task?
We had a pizza and some Pinot Grigio in an upstairs labyrinth on the main shopping strip in Napoli. It was magic!

Scene taken from the big square

When enough is enough

Much of what we saw in Napoli looked like this

And this

Though there are some lovely monuments and buildings, there's a sad and ugly side

Monday 27th July
Naples today and the penultimate day of our trip. The ship has become a home; a refuge from the world outside. Would I cruise again? Yes. Would I do it for 20 days? Probably not. The lustre begins to wear off around 12 – 14 days. Yesterday saw us in Sicily’s capital, Palermo. We did the sightseeing bus thing – pity they didn’t have much enroute in the way of sights that were worth seeing.

Reclining bunny

Another speccy sunset (with another crooked horizon!)

Dinner on the ship - last day. This was called a vegetable stack - though I'm not sure why.

Gardens of our hotel in Rome on the last night

Sunday, 26 July 2009

different strokes

Saturday 25th July - Tunisia

We had the shore excursion from hell today. La Goulette in Tunisia. The temperature was 40 degrees; the sun was out and the heat was oppressive. We were on the bus off the bus on the bus off the bus on the bus off the bus to look at the piddling ruins of Carthage. The first couple of stops had little of interest and certainly didn’t warrant standing under the hot July sun and clambering on and off buses. The third site held more interest, but again would have been better in January where a traveller’s thoughts are on something other than finding the next bit of shade with some standing room. From the underwhelming and oppressively hot ruins we headed off to a cemetery with the graves of 4000 American soldiers ... okay ... I can’t even begin to get interested in that! Then we were on the bus for about 20 mins before hopping off and being lead en masse 1km uphill in the beating sun. We landed in the middle of an open air street bazaar with crowds, a narrow shopping strip with goods spilling out, hawkers, pickpockets and two shops selling cold drinks with crowds jostling for a bit of precious shade while they waited to actually get in to buy a drink. Our guide turned around to us and said, ‘This is Sidi Bou Said. You have free time. I’ll meet you in an hour and we’ll walk back to the bus together.’ We’d been dumped in a hell hole!
Just over four and a half hours after we’d set off we arrived back at the ship where some of our fellow travellers bumped into some of their shipmates. I overheard snippets of their conversation and was stunned to hear them report on the fabulous day we’d had visiting Carthage and Sidi Bou Said. Were they really on the same trip as me?
The most interesting part of the day was learning that ‘Carthage’ means ‘New City’ ... which it was back in 800 BC. It predated Rome by about 80 years. Another interesting snippet, which I plan to verify once I can use the net more freely again is that the roots of some our script today can be traced to the Phoenicians who inhabited Carthage. If you turn a capital ‘A’ upside down, you have the head of a bull with its two horns. Turn a ‘B’ on its side and you have a drawing of two houses and if you look at the ‘M’ you are looking at two waves indicating the sea or ‘mer.’
View from restaurant in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia.

Carthage, Tunisia

It looks like a mosque, but it has a street number. Can mosques have street numbers? It's a very pretty building.

Streetscape, La Goulette, Tunisia

Building worker with no safety harness - there are so many of them around seemingly risking their lives daily.

Friday 24th July - At sea
At sea day today and time to catch up on some reading and some pondering. What is the point of blogging? Do we blog for ourselves or for our audience? Is it a problem having inept writers like yours truly putting virtual pen to virtual paper to spew forth random thoughts? Does this enhance the writer’s life? Does it enhance anyone else’s? Does it create a sense of community in some way? Does it mitigate or diminish good writing in any way? Does it leave a record which, in the future will have the writer cringing at what they were prepared to publish? Why do we do it? Should we do it?
It’s sooo frustrating not having easy access to the net to be able to google a couple of my questions above to see what others have said on this topic. What did sci-fi writers like Bradbury have to say about it? Does Theroux have any comments? What of philosophers? What do the baa-humbuggers have to say on the topic?
At $25 per hour, my use of the net has been quite limited during the cruise – email and MSN to keep in touch with the kids and friends, a few bank transactions (eek! Have I spent that much??!) and a quick look at the Aus newspapers and that’s it. The net speed is quite slow too, which is a deterrent to googling.

Thursday 23rd July - Majorca, Spain
The whirlwind tour continued today in Majorca. It’s so hard when visiting so many beautiful cities and towns to appreciate the uniqueness of each. Majorca paled next to some of our other stops. We learnt about the devastating decline in the farming industry after European Union and the change of emphasis to tourism. Those farmers who weren’t completely driven out of business by the EU agreements, have turned their hand to growing almonds, an industry which only survives at the largess of the government and then only because the almond blossoms in spring are a drawcard for tourists.
Fresh in our minds was the idea of Majorca as a safe haven for Australian fugitive multi-millionaire, Christopher Skase. We were on the lookout for his mansion which we had seen so many times in Aussie newspapers.
We had a look at a boutique winery today which was interesting partly because it uses the work of local artists to annually design new labels. The walls, hung with a variety of the originals works, made it a winery cum gallery.
Wine tasting in Majorca

A farmer from Renmark, Australia - in his 80's and still going strong. Nice bloke!

Wine label artwork.

Majorca countryside.

Kennels that the best dressed dogs are using these days.

Manor house of a bygone era.

Majorca from the ship.

Wednesday 22nd July - Barcelona
In Barcelona our plan was to ride the hop on hop off bus to get our bearings and stop by a few places of interest. That didn’t happen. Everyone in Barcelona was waiting for the hop on hop off bus. We stood in a queue for a bit under the beating sun, but the length only diminished by between 0 and 10 people each time a bus came by as the buses were chockablock. We gave up and wandered around the port area instead finding somewhere for tapas and a calming glass of pinot grigio. Feeling somewhat better after that, we ambled up the Ramblas and then grabbed a taxi to show us the sights. The driver, a Pakistani man with good English, took us up Montjuic Hill and filled us in on the history of a lot of the sites. The 1992 Olympic stadium was interesting for its nod to classic style.

View from Montjuic.

I couldn't stop thinking about Red Dwarf when I saw this.

Friday, 24 July 2009

the full monte

Monday 20th
Monaco today. We were here exactly a year ago. Last time we viewed Monte Carlo from above whereas this time we’re in the port looking up. After a leisurely breakfast, we’re about to venture out. We did the Martini at the casino thing last time (well, you have to do that, don’t you?) so we might skip it this time. I’d like to buy some new clothes, just a few shirts and some jeans, but I suspect that Monaco is not the place to do this! Ah well. Day after tomorrow we’ll be in Barcelona. Maybe a bit of clothes shopping will be on the cards there (I hate clothes shopping! Just bring me out clothes that I’m going to like and that will fit and let’s be done with it!). Well we’re off to once more enjoy the views of Monaco.

We decided to do a tour all over Monte Carlo and Monaco. That of course is not hard to do as Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, after the Vatican, with an area of just 1 sq kilometre. It has a population of around 40,000, no unemployment, the highest standard of living in the world and has the highest population density on the planet. The harbours are beautiful and can be seen from almost any vantage point in the city.

I’m losing track of the days. Tomorrow, I believe, is Wednesday and it will find us in Barcelona.
Note to self. Tilt camera down to right in future to correct crooked horizon!
Somewhere not too far up those mountains Monaco ends and France begins.

There must be a high demand for defibrillators.
Damn that bus and damn my lack of software prowess for cutting

Oops. There's that crooked horizontal again

Casino seen from the ship

Deceased butterfly on the balcony railing outside our stateroom

Sunday 19th
Today saw us in Livorno Italy. We wandered around ... and finally found ... somewhere to dine. Being Sunday most of the place was closed. We just wanted a Pinot Grigio and pizza ... we found it in an al fresco Ristorante and dined with pigeons.

Saturday 18th
Return to Rome. We stayed on the floating hotel.
I hate being involved in disputes and yet that is where I so often find myself. The common factor in the disputes is me ... so that leads me to think that the problems are of my doing ... but ... but .. no!
I had a complaint on-ship and the manager I raised the issue with handled it extremely poorly, leaving me, and probably her also, feeling pretty awful. So I escalated my complaint which now was both the original complaint and another about the manager’s handling of the situation. The escalation of the complaint left me feeling a lot better in that now at least my original complaint was being listened to and acted upon. I got what I felt I had been entitled to and the wording of relevant documents on terms and conditions has now been changed to reflect my original suggestions. I’m feeling a lot better about the whole thing, but I wonder how much of my current feeling is the knowledge that I’ve been vindicated ... and how much is simply that the dispute handling mechanism the second time around was much better.

Friday 17th July
Messina, Sicily today. The big highlight was the clock tower which puts on a 15 minute performance at midday. The lion raws (did I really spell 'roars' like that?), the rooster flaps and crows, people and angels move around; all to the tune of Ave Maria. The most remarkable thing about it is that someone designed it and someone invested in it and it got made ... and hundreds of tourists just like us turn up every day to go ‘wow!.’ I mean ... really ... why?

We lunched today with a couple from Nevada who we’ve spent a bit of time with on the cruise. Ks comment later was “And I thought that we were the Gurus of Grump.” We met the couple on the first or second day of the cruise and Mr Nevada has steadily become more disenchanted. K and I had commented to each other this morning that most of the coffee on board is that ‘weak American stuff.' Mr Nevada’s rant at lunch today was about the Espresso rubbish they serve in all these Italian ports. Apparently they need to learn to make good American coffee in Italy. Poor guy, he ordered a ‘filtered coffee’ and told us how much he was looking forward to it. I had my doubts that the waiter understood. K and I got the espresso and cappuccino we’d ordered, Mrs Nevada got her Coke Light, but Mr Nevada got a bowl of coffee flavoured ice-cream instead of his Americano! Sigh! The world is conspiring against him.

Clock tower with rooster that crows and lion that roars at midday.

Obligatory well dressed horse - cart ride.

Back to the ship
Thursday 16th
Today finds us at sea between Greece and Italy. Yesterday we visited Athens. I’m sad to report that I didn’t like it at all. It seemed to have all the worst aspects of some inner suburban areas to the west of Melbourne. Walls everywhere were bedecked with graffiti. We were twice ripped off by taxi drivers. We weren’t ready for the sleight of hand trick where the 25 euro we handed the driver suddenly became 15 euro. It was only an hour later that we realised that must have given him the 25 we thought we had – he had a neat magic trick that turned the 20 into a 10. The second driver tried the same stunt with a 50, but we were awake up to it the second time and stood our ground! That kind of thing leaves a bitter taste. Despite my gammy foot, we took the walk up to the Parthenon with 15 million other people on a hot July day. It wasn’t worth it, though I didn’t mind donating the 12 euro entrance fee that I assume is going to restoration works. We were both glad to be back on our floating hotel.

The Acropolis

At sea between Greece and Italy

Attarturk greets the dawn in Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus from the Lido Deck

Monkey greets us when we get back to the ship

Diet coke makes a good icepack