Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tech savvy.

Yesterday, I had three free Embertec Automatic Power Down plugs fitted. There was a moment of embarrassment when Enzo, the fitter, appeared from under my 'home office' - for tax purposes - desk covered in fluff.

So, a two-fold Sunday mission.  1.  Vacuum under my desk and clean the desktop - that's the timber, not the virtual desktop - and 2. find out why my printer isn't working.  Reasonably straightforward, except perhaps for fixing the printer.

BTW, I'm really missing son, Pete.  He could pretty well fix anything technical around here.  Now he's a 'man who's moved out' he rarely gets in touch, despite my attempts to lure him home with pork roasts, crackling, apple sauce and gravy.  Hoping he gets over this phase.

So, the vacuuming was going well, almost aerobic.  Had to strip off a couple of layers getting into the far corners.  Was going brilliantly until I sucked up a pin.  Not me.  The vacuum.

My desk is hard-wood; about two metres by one.  I carefully pulled it out from the wall to release that tangle of cables.  Alternating between crawling under the now dust-free desk and rolling across the top of it, I followed each cable back to its source, ensuring each plug was firmly in its correct hole.

Still no response from the printer.

Contemplated braving the Sunday bum's rush out at DFO - Direct Factory Outlets; Aussie religion - and buying a new one.  But decided instead to email myself at school and use the printer there.

So everything is pristine and squared on the desk.  I've thrown out receipts from 2007, bent paper clips, old CDs and other dusty detritus.

On a whim, I pulled the printer out from wall again and had a bit of a feel around the back.  Where I found the on/off switch and suddenly the printer is spitting out recipes for beef stroganoff and fish pie - some 1970s comfort food for the winter months.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson.  A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to the Telstra help-desk in the Philippines, trying to fix my modem.  The guy was checking my line at the same time as I glanced down to discover I wasn't actually connected to the telephone line.  The plug was lying innocently by the wall.  Rather than admit to my idiocy, I acted all grateful; pretended he'd magically 'fixed' something at his end.  You see I'd already spent twenty minutes with the automated service prior to being put through to a human for further assistance.

The IT Crowd definitely had it right with that line 'have you tried turning it off and on again?'  For me, however, it's more a case of have you tried plugging it in and switching it on?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Comforts of home

Woke up from a dream yesterday.  Won't bore you with the details but in the dream, Al was telling me we were heading off to London. Now. Two weeks after returning to Melbourne from that other side of the planet.  I quite emphatically told him, in this dream, that I wasn't going with him.  Don't know how it ended and who cares?  Just a dream.  However, it's clear I've been processing the whole travel thing in my subconscious.  If I could blink myself over there for a weekend of cycling along the Loire in good weather, then blink myself back again for my structured three day working week, I'd do it.  But I'm not yet ready for the trauma of packing and travelling.  

I'm relishing the comforts of home, which aren't overrated at all when you feel like being home, although curiously, I'm finding it hard to bond with television, despite my efforts.  With enough couch rolling I'll probably get back into it.  Perhaps wine is the missing link.  I'm on my eighth AFD - alcohol free day- following ten weeks of quite solid quaffing not to mention self-medicating after dad died..

I've just been to Highpoint shopping centre, swanning around.  I overuse that expression but it seems to describe my gait perfectly.

Why write about Highpoint again?  It's still the same place as it was when I wrote about it last year. (Link here, if interested.) One of the things I missed overseas - only a tiny bit and I got over it easily cycling through the French countryside - was the sense of belonging to a community.  At Highpoint today I went to see my niece, Moss, in her little 'kiosk'. Got her a coffee; had a chat because I hadn't seen her since she left home this morning and I needed to catch up.  Moss is living with us for the time being.

I dropped my wedding ring off at a jewellers.  Needs resizing to cope with my arthritic clicky knuckle. (If you have any inclination to take up knitting after a twenty year hiatus, I'd advise against it.  My hands are wrecked!)  Whilst there I was able to ask after a former student of mine who works there part-time; find out what she was doing.

Dawdled a bit further along, gawping at this and that and stopped to chat with a friend who works in a kiosk at the other end of the centre.  Good catch up.

On my return walk I stopped to take advantage of a free power saving plug offer at another kiosk.  The young woman who served me was a former student whose brother I used to teach. Another good catch up.

Yeah, boring blog, I know, but it was really good to speak to people in fluent, idiomatic Australian English.  No searching for the right word.

In France I knew no one.  In eight weeks we only met three Australians.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Post-trip debrief back in Melbourne

Arrived back in Melbourne last night.  Interesting that I've got a winter garden happening here, as opposed to all the greenery and flowers blooming in France and Germany.  However, the weather is quite similar to that on the day we left Munich on Friday.  Except it's not raining here.  The sun's up and it looks like my washing will mostly dry on the line.

Before I put our wonderful holiday to bed, I must mention that our final few days in Munich went well.

Despite my concerns re McRent, the rental company from which we hired our van, the handover was better than expected.  We'd felt ripped off in 2010 when we were forced to pay 100 euro for an alleged hair and smudge of 'shampoo' in the bathroom as I mentioned in my previous post

This time we had to return the van on the date planned between 9 and 10 am.  I'd awoken at about five.  Special combo of anxiety and the fact that it was light outside.  I'd started my cleaning frenzy by seven.  I was quite irrational but determined that the van would 'pass' the inspection.  Unfortunately, it started raining which made it particularly difficult to keep mud and footprints out of the van.  I covered the clean floor in towels and Chux cleaning cloths and we used these like stepping stones to avoid 'recontamination'.  

We were also concerned about being charged for a faulty latch on the rear door of the van.  When we'd returned our van in 2010 we were charged for a key that snapped off inside the lock.  Surely not our fault but rather the quality of the key?

As per instructions, we filled the tank with fuel then dropped it into the carwash prior to returning it.  McRent pays for this final exterior clean.

Upon our return to McRent, Sulzemoos - 27 kilometres from Munich - we were greeted by a delightful bloke.  He seemed impressed by our efforts.  He climbed a ladder to inspect the roof, lest we'd damaged it in some way.  We had been concerned about hail storm damage, but we were clear.  He surveyed the vehicle, muttering 'Gut, gut,' while I hovered around in my massive yellow Vietnam rain poncho.  In one hand I clutched a trigger bottle of all purpose cleaner; in the other a Chux cloth, ready to pounce had he suggested, like his female counterpart two years earlier, that the van was not clean.  Must have looked a tad insane.

Perhaps it was this insanity that led me to take close up shots of all the surfaces in the bathroom as proof of their gleaming condition. 

I needn't have been so concerned.  The fellow assured us that it wasn't our fault that the door latch had broken and that it was easily fixed.  We passed with flying colours, apart from the 302 euro that we had to pay for damage - our fault - to the table top in the van.  Otherwise, we got the rest of our 1200 euro deposit back.

The guy at McRent could not have been more obliging on our return, including driving us and our bags back into the village to catch our bus to Munich.

BTW we also did well selling back our bikes.  We'd originally paid 260 euro for two second hand bikes.  We sold them back for 120 euro.  We couldn't have rented bikes for eight weeks at that price.  Definitely the way to go if you're ever considering a similar trip.

So, props to McRent.

And props to us.  We drove 3000 kilometres and cycled 685k during our eight week holiday.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Au revoir, France...

It's our third night in Strasbourg, Alsace, and tomorrow we cross the Rhine and make our three and a half hour journey back to Munich.

I've forced myself upon several unsuspecting people in Strasbourg over the last couple of days in a bid to speak just a little more French before I return to Australia.  So the receptionist at this camping got it.  She's Venezuelan and speaks French with an odd accent but she's amazingly fluent.  She, like everyone else, complimented me on my accent, that even I have to admit is pretty damn good.  I keep crediting my French professors and teachers, and they've played their part.  The big thing is though that I have a musical ear, am a good mimic - can rip off just about any accent after a few minutes exposure - and I studied drama.  I'm a ham, and ham it up I will.  That all equals good accent.   Pity about the paucity of my other language skills, like being able to find the right word when under a bit of stress.  Sometimes it happens.

Back in 1985, when Al and I first came to France, we had an accident on our second day here.  Yes.  Some cross eyed long haired fool in a rickety old Citroen pulled out in front of our little orange combi unexpectedly as we were going up a mountain.  Al slammed on the brakes and the guy driving a minibus load of schoolgirls behind us slammed into the back of our van.  He immediately blamed us and seized upon the opportunity to escort us to the gendarmerie - the cops - to sort it out.

When we arrived at the police station, this young fellow started to explain that we'd caused an accident.  I understood this, unbeknown to the young guy.  In archaic sort of French I interrupted.  "Excusez-moi!" I said in a wobbly voice.  "En Australie, quand on frappe dans la derriere c'est votre faute!"  (In Australia, when you hit someone in the rear it's your fault.)  The young fellow quickly changed his tack and bowed his way back out of the cop shop.  He then made it his business to help us fix our van as best we could.

But back to today.  I've bought bread that we don't need just to have the interaction in the boulangerie; I've befriended the owner of a restaurant and told him our life story and how 'triste' - sad - I am to be returning home after seven weeks in France.  A couple of days ago a beautiful young waiter in a restaurant gave me an impromptu French lesson - I was trying to work out a conjugation.  That earned him a five euro tip.  He reminded me a lot of my son, Pete; such an obliging young man; polite.

Anyway, I really am triste to be leaving.  It's been an amazing holiday, and ride, literally, given it was a cycling holiday.

Think we're planning to be back here in two years for the fete du velo, the highlight of our time away.

Dare say I'll shed a few tears as we cross the Rhine tomorrow, but it's best to leave wanting more.

On Wednesday we have to face 'the inspection' by McRent, the company from which we rented our van.  Last time we were charged 100 euro because the delightful young frau who inspected the van - that I'd scrubbed on my hands and knees - pronounced - after inspection, 'Zis van is not clean. Zere is a hair and zere is shampoo.'  This time I'm ready for her and she will be challenged!

But that's Wednesday.  Prior to that we have to find our way from our camping in a suburb thirteen kilometres out of Munich back to the bike shop to get our refund.  Hope Sat Nav Jane's up for it.

So, til we meet again, la France.  Missing you already.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gigny-sur-Saone, Bourgogne, France

Been out riding our bikes through the French countryside near our camping ground at Chateau l'Eperviere in Gigny-sur-Saone.  It's in the Bourgogne.  Beautiful day after a couple of wet ones.  I've been trying to drink in the sensations again. I'm not given to description but this is it.  Spreading, enormous fields of sunflowers, barley, corn, wheat - lots of it harvested and now the fields are dotted with round bales of hay.  Cows in the meadows; families of cattle it seems.  Maybe I don't get out in the countryside enough at home, but I'm not used to seeing the bull amongst the cows and calves.  Makes for a pleasant vista for the cyclists, us.

There are also the tiny ancient villages through which we cycle.  They all have their ancient church at the centre and their village squares with monuments to local saints and those lost in the wars.  Old stone houses with wells out the front, now often full of flowers.  Reminiscent of my English childhood days spent at my uncle Charlie's farm, where at five, I learned to ride a two-wheeler and first experienced the wind through my hair and that feeling of speed.  Pervading all is a sweet wet smell of hay.  Probably a bit of manure too, but I quite like it.

Sensational.  We stayed at this place in 2010 early in that trip through France and England.  So glad we returned to Gigny-sur-Saone.  Have a bit of a lump in my throat right now, given we're just seven days shy of having to get back to Munich, sell back our bikes to hopefully get half price for them. The day after that we must return our 'camping car'.  Don't want to.  However, I will be glad to connect with my own shower and toilet.  (Let me just say, I don't like having to deal with the ablutions of men, other than my husband, in these unisex 'sanitaires'. Can never get used to men pissing in front of women as they do here. Find it disgusting and sexist. Men can whip it out along the road, whenever the urge takes them.  They wouldn't take kindly to a squatting female though. Sorry.)

Anyway, I am very grateful for the opportunity to travel as we do, and for a working life that enables us, as Australians, to take Long Service Leave for a few extra weeks whilst still being paid.  Lucky country.

On another note, I was really concerned about my bike.  It was scraping and clanking and eventually the handlebars seized almost completely.  Great for riding in a straight line but a bugger when you need to go around a corner.  Had a brilliant idea this morning.  Asked at reception here if they had any oil.  They did.  Presto, new bike.  Amazing what a bit of oil can achieve.  Wish it would do the same for my arthritic hands.

So here's to France, WD40 - oil - and a non-ironic adventure filled final week in Europe.

Note: rather than being due to the end of a brilliant holiday, my melancholia could be the result of having run out of Harmony Menopause tablets.  Just saying.

Cycled about 30 k today.  Have done several hundred kilometres since we picked up our bikes in Munich what now seems like months ago.

Monday, July 2, 2012

European Cup at Gigny sur Saone.

In a bar at a camping at Gigny-Sur-Saone. Geez I wish I was into sport.

Have had filet de boeuf - medium - & creme brûlée for dessert a the restaurant at this camping in the grounds of a chateau in Bourgogne. Delish if a trifle expensive

Popped into the bar for a bevy afterwards - 9 pm - & everyone is absorbed by the European Cup. Do not speak!

Well, who can I talk to? They're all English or Dutch. I've said it all to Al & he gets the blog shoved down his throat. He's happy that I'm playing on my phone & resting his ears.

Swear the guy behind the bar is a polyglot. He's real good at flipping into another language when he's had enough chat though. His language talents are wasted in a caravan park. He should work for the United Nations. He does Dutch, German, French & English with fluency. Amazing.

My legs ache. Need a barstool.

Just chatted to the polyglot bartender. Says he identifies with Basil Fawlty.