Thursday, December 22, 2011

786. Travel Stories - Day 3 Vienna to Budapest

Friday Dec 23, 2011 1.50am Mercure Hotel, near train station, Budapest
Singapore time 8.50 am

Yesterday, I was in Eastern Austria and visited a church where one young monk had made a youtube of the monks' chant viral, tying up with Sony to market to the world in large numbers. Visiting Europe means visiting churches as a tourist attraction. The 18 members of my tour group in general seem more interested in photo-taking. I entered the chapel and attempted again taking photos of the Christ and chapel mosaics together, with little success. A lady in her late 50s was using her new Canon camera and did not succeed in taking any good picture. "My hands are shaking," she said. She was a novice with a 18mm to 200 mm Canon lens and did not know how to use it. It was not possible to take the whole image of the inside of the chapel by hand. I told her to rest the camera on the gate's bars. Still she had poor focussed images. The priest came to open the gate and admitted two young ladies. He smiled at us tourists. "A good picture is one with the priest and his believers as compared to an empty chapel," I said to the two Buddhists. "Frame the picture and increase the ISO to 1600 instead of using 200 in this dark place." She got some good pictures. Point and shoot cameras are easy to use but do not produce the sharpness.

The guide Gertrude was hired by the E.U. Tours for the morning only. She was excellent in relating stories of the church (majority of Austrians are Roman Catholics), later showing a church with a wall painting of a saint for travellers' safety (usually present at road junctions in Austria), the underground mines where the Red Army or Hitler used to make aircraft, Saint Barbara shrine where all miners used to light a candle before entering the dangerous mines, the horse stable where all working horses were blinded to prevent them being shocked by flashes of lighting inside the mine. The air was cool and fresh inside this mine.

A Chinese restaurant called Mandarin for lunch was packed unlike the Sapporo Inn and Restaurant Chinatown yesterday. Why? It is the same with some doctors' or vets' clinics being packed and the nearby competitor being empty.

After lunch, we had one hour at a Designer Outlet which was insufficient for some ladies. "All goods are made in China" one Malay tourist said. "I had to compare the prices and need time to try. The most stressful shopping I had." I spent my time taking pictures of the shoppers and the windmills as there was good sunshine. "Will there by LV?" I asked Marcus when he mentioned the brand names like Reebok and others but omitted LV which is a big thing in Paris' Galeries Lafeyette shopping mall and which I witnessed seeing the Singapore ladies of my tour group last December, queing up like pilgrims to enter the shop as prices are cheaper than in Singapore. "No,"he replied. "LV is too high class to be in this location." POSITIONING is one aspect of the 4 Ps of marketing and LV definitely wants to position itself as high class and will not be in factory outlets like Mango. There was no ZARA but a SARAH in this fully packed car park designer outlet on Dec 22, 2011. Mainly Caucasians with a few Asian Chinese but there were more empty shops than buyers at this time.

Yesterday, she was quite vocal about visiting the shopping mall instead of the Christmas market when our guide Marcus gave an option. "Why not get a vote?" she asked. The silent majority did not say anything. I said: "Why not some go shopping and some go to the Christmas market?" In the end, Marcos was just teasing and decided that it would be the Christmas market after lunch (2 pm to 5 pm) as there would be more shopping malls and outlets in the next few days. This was only Day 3 and he wanted us to experience the Christmas market which was an excellent option.

A few flakes of snow and then all sunshine. One of us slipped and fell on her backside while walking down a slippery iced road to view the "fairy-tale" church later on. Could have died but luckily no worries. In Europe, one has to be careful of iced roads. I fell once on my back in Switzerland last year and survived. There are other who knocked their heads and die.
Last December, a young Singaporean cut his eyebrows as he fell off the sledge downhill but he was OK.

This reminded me of my early years when I permitted my son of around 8 years to ski from the mountain chalet downhill to his ski instructor at the bottom of the hill. He remembered vividly. Just step out the door early at 9 am, put on your skis and with his younger brother, paddled a bit and he was downhill. "How did you manage to get a chalet on the hill?" he asked me yesterday. He is a young adult now. "Well, in those days, I do not book hotels early till I reach the Whistler Mountains. I asked a young Caucasian how to book a hotel and he said he had a time-share. I don't know him at all. He was a stranger I met at Whistler and he booked for me."

"Since his wife was pregnant, he could not use this and asked if I wanted to buy the vacation stay for that Christmas," my wife added. I had forgotten the finer details but I was quite adamant not to book hotels in advance when I travelled in the early years. There was no internet and that would be before 1997 I recall. 1994?

Now I can't imagine Singapore parents permitting 8-year-old and a 10-year-old sons to ski downhill by themselves
as there would be padeophiles and predators. It was 6 days of going out the door and ski downhill bliss for the two young ones I guessed since he could recall vividly. It cost a bomb for the ski lessons if I remember correctly. In retrospect, I was too trusting as that Caucasian could be a con man taking my money for the time-share but he was not dishonest. Nowadays, one cannot trust strangers offering their time-shares portion for sale. More scammers have surfaced as many people prefer to earn a dishonest livelihood.

"Was Marcos joking about Buda and Pest being two separate cities?" one tour member asked me. "He likes to joke."

"I don't think so," I replied. I do not study the itinerary nor read up on Budapest and so was as ignorant as her. According to Marcos, the area around the Mercure hotel we stay is a safe area. "A lot of homeless people at the railway station and a bit dirty area," he said. "But you can go out at night to see the place after dinner."
In view of the young Singaporean NUS-Duke University medical student who had disappeared and not found (since some 6 months ago), in his going out to some Greek islands by himself, I did not venture into the dark of the night.

Dinner was 3 course - salad, salty chicken with golden cheese sauce and pasta pieces and ice-cream. Marcos forgot to tell us about the 250-ml water bottle as being payable and it cost 2.50 Euros. This is poor organisation of E.U holidays as meals usually include water or tea and here, the guide did not let us know early.

Singapore's travel agencies try to be competitive with costs and so cut out many necessary tours. "If not, you will be charged $4,000 instead of $3,000" Marcos elaborated in anticipation of complaints. So, in Budapest, he recommended a tour of the Danube River and visit to the salt mines for 85 Euros. This was not in the travel package which just stated a city tour in the morning. If the E.U. management keeps to just a city tour at Budapest and free and easy in the afternoon, after all the way from Singapore, most sophisticated younger Singaporeans will avoid this company. There is something not right with the management. A Danube river cruise should be included as this permitted a view of the city, just as in the Seine River Cruise in Paris.

I can't remember whether E.U. also excluded the Seine River Cruise in Paris last December when I toured with this company too as I usually don't bother reading up the itinerary. It showed the majority of important buildings in Paris including Eiffel Tower and it was snowing flakes, making it a memorable Winter visit.

In the marketing book, the author always advises to give name cards to customers. I had asked name cards from 3 tour guides recently. One was from Macau and one was from Singapore's ASA travel agency. The latter gave me the ASA calender name-card and her name. Yesterday, Gertrude the Austrian agent came to meet us at the hotel to go to the church. I spoke to her about skiing in Innsbruck and she said she could arrange for it. "Have you got a namecard?" I asked. She went back to the bus to get one. It had her photo of her. This was unusual as Singapore's tour agents don't have photos. In any case, I said to her in front of Marcus: "Singapore tour agents don't give name cards when asked. I expect Marcus to do the same." True enough, Marcus stated: "I don't have namecards." He is a free lancer and you would think that he will give namecards to market himself. But no. His customer was the travel agency bosses who phoned him to lead the tours. So the individual "cheap-skate" packaged tour travellers would have no business for him. Yet, this may be true in 99% of the cases. But that 1% may bring him referrals and businesses for his good services. A namecard costs 0.20 cents and I guess he does not want to waste money on poor prospective clientele like me. Gertrude said to me: "Travel agents who don't give namecards do not want to have to reply to too many complaints!" I said: "Complaints are part of the job in the travel industry. Singaporeans are great complainers and so this explains why Marcus avoids giving namecards! As vets, do we give namecards to every pet owners who consult us? I do not. Well, they do get it from the receptionist counter.

Why not produce a bigger namecard to illustrate surgical approaches or write advices and give to clients? I do produce receipts for writing and giving advices for follow up. If used properly, it can be a great marketing tool as most clients (I presume) keep the receipts, but my associate vets do not know how to use it correctly!

It is 3.10 am now. So far, the two hotels I stayed for 2 nights each, gave free internet access. Great for the young ones with iPhones as they don't need the laptop to connect with their friends and could just thumb away their text. I write on this laptop which can be quite a heavy burden. Julia wanted me to store it inside the coach storage with other luggage. I did it last December. The computer did not malfunction although the temperature was below zero and freezing. But this December, I carry it along as I don't want to test my luck as this is my work tool to type and to store images from my camera daily via this laptop. The temperature is 4 degree C or lower.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO DOWNLOAD FROM THE CANON CAMERA DIRECT TO THE TWO PORTABLE HARD DISKS? I have not thought of this method. Lots of new things to learn and this takes so much time. There is just insufficient time in a day and I hope to focus on the important things but new technology, like the iphone demands time to learn. Now I can see why most young people cruise along in life with just their smart phone instead of using more advanced cameras. They just don't have time and patience to learn the software. Just click and shoot with the iphone and get good pictures in general.

Will sign off now at 3.25 am which is 10.25 am in Singapore. Only BBC in Buda. Must pay for English TV programmes. So, watch your movie videos on the wireless iphone, my elder son advised yesterday. I don't bother with small screens. I will read my crime story book or just do nothing till breakfast.

As there is no such demarcation in Singapore, cyclists here tend to get quite angry at our Singaporean tourists walking along the whole width of the pavement as the cyclist has to slow down or detour!

WIND MILLS and factories with pipings and hot steam or gases sprouting out of chimmneys seem to predominate in Vienna's outskirts. Greenhouses and farmland seen too. Good for picture taking.

Seen quite a few dogs being walked. A tan and black Sharpei said to be a rare colour. My best picture of a few hundred for the first 3 days in Austria and Dubai is posted here

Tip: Street photography. Focus on eyes. Zoom lens. One shot only. No second chance. Your hand must be steady.

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