Sunday, May 13, 2012

Welcome Home - RIP Customer Service!

All good things come to an end ......and so it is with holidays. "There's no place like home" and when I touched down at OT airport I felt the excitement of being back with family and friends again but I was also met with a wall of apathy. They say that South Africa is alive with opportunity but when it comes to Customer Service - there is no pulse!
Twenty four hours prior, I left an airport where people are energetic, efficient and perform their work enthusiastically and I arrived to unsmiling, irritated and unhappy looking airport staff who amble and loiter and give the impression that you are interrupting their chatting time by disturbing them with your need for service! Welcome Home! Never have I been so aware that South Africa is a sliding down a slippery slope to join the rest of Africa.
The airport is much improved visually but everything and everyone seems to move in slow motion - the beat of Africa has slowed to a funeral march with Service as the victim and customers in mourning. RIP. It's back to slow inefficiency and sour faces.
Yesterday I was treated to a Mothers Day lunch at an exclusive venue. They have everything going for them - position, ambiance, a good star rating but again the staff let the establishment down. Cutlery and crockery was dropped not once, not twice but I lot count of the number of crashing forks and clattering clumsiness that assaulted our peaceful lunchtime. Food was barely warm and the buffet table not big enough to hold all that was on offer, so you weren't sure whether the dishes were the entree or dessert.
I sigh! I feel that I am fighting a losing battle - Is it worth the trouble to complain or shall I just resign myself to a 'this is Africa"?
We have so much going for us and we just cant be bothered to inject a little energy and thought into our work. How sad is that?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mrs Marple's Tea Room

The day started bright and sunny in Melbourne so we decided to go up into the mountains - The Dandenongs. First though, a quick trip to one of the many retail outlets to grab a bargain. YES! we found some lovely Jeep tops ...but by the time we headed for the mountains the weather had changed - Melbourne weather does that!
So it was a misty ascent up the Dandenongs - beautiful in its own way as the cloud enveloped the tops of the massive gum trees.
Right at the top of the mountain range is a little village called Sassafras and there sitting on the main road is the most delightful tea room  - Miss Marple's Tea Room. It was by now - pouring! So we followed our noses and headed straight for tea and scones.

Miss Marple's Tea Room was the ideal place to while away a rainy hour or so and observe the passers-by who all seemed to be carrying packets of tea purchased from the shop next door. The staff are dressed as Miss Marple would expect them to be - wearing black and white maids attire. It has a beamed ceiling and a cosy fireplace and everywhere you look there are teapots, jugs and copper pans.
Nadine and I ordered Miss Marple's Welsh Rarebit fingers which were flavoured with Guinness and chutney then smothered with cheese while Sean enjoyed a bowl of hearty soup. All delicious and then..........

....the scones arrived! Enormous! Sean ordered a chocolate, fudge and pecan cake which came with three spoons and was eaten with sighs of deliciousness.

.....and then......We went to scone heaven!

What a scrumtious afternoon spent in the company of Miss Marples.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Trains and Boats and Planes

I got off the plane to a busy airport full of people walking confidently and with purpose. I had to find a train and then my hotel - I tried to walk confidently and with purpose. I tried not to look like a stranger in a strange land. I was in Sydney one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world!
My first view of the famous bridge came suddenly as the train stopped at Circle Quays - it made my heart leap.
Off the train and up to street level and now to find my hotel - I had my map and found George Street - I walked through a sea of poker faced people wearing black suits, ear phones and clutching iPhones. I stopped the first person whose ears were unplugged and asked if I was walking towards or away from my hotel. "Hi! Where are you from," he asked, "Its back that way - I'll walk with you. Here give me your bag." The locals are really tourist friendly - he walked me to the door and wished me a lovely stay. I thanked him "No Worries!"

My family advised me to do the walking tour when I arrived to help me get my bearings - there is a free one here and in Melbourne - you just pay the guide what you feel its worth. With a 3 hour hike ahead - I wolfed down some poached eggs and strong coffee, adjusted my plasters and set off with the group. I loved it!

Apart from the facts about each landmark there was some tit bit of information or a funny story related - the Aussies love to poke fun at their history. I heard about convicts as young as 7yrs, about narcissistic governor Macquerie, naming everything in sight after himsef. I was told about a pub where the drinks where free but you were likely to wake up with a hangover on the deck of a sailing boat on the high seas - press ganged into serving the navy.I saw the place where the public gallows were and heard how food was in such short supply that you were hung for stealing an apple or a piece of bread.

The group shared excitement as we neared the harbour and were in sight of the two landmarks that everyone comes to the city to ogle at - The Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge - known as "the coat hanger".
We saw a group of people climbing over the top of the arches (see them in the photo) crazy I thought!
The waterfront is a hive of activity - people, boats, cameras, aboriginal buskers, tour groups, commuters all vying for their piece of the action and a view. It was Sydney fashion week so there were strangely dressed people (below) and film crews and business lunches being enjoyed on the quayside by men in black with their Ipads propped up next to them.

The tour was over - 31/2 hours of walking and I was ready to drop.
I grabbed a sandwich and jumped onto the Manley Ferry to get a view from the Opera House from the water. It was just what I needed - a sit down, something to eat and a breezy latte.

It was lovely to bob around in the harbour but I stayed on the ferry lapping up the views and working out my way to my next stop - The Sydney Tower Eye. If they had told me in Geography that expertise in map reading was a useful skill to have and could save you time and blisters - I would have paid more attention to the actual science of it and not just drawing pretty trees and colouring rivers colleen blue! Anyway I worked it out and made my way towards the entrance which is deceptively in the centre of a shopping mall! Again I was treated to the hospitality of the city when three young women responded to my question if I was on the right track - took me all the way to the entrance to the 'eye'. I wanted to have afternoon tea up there but alas - they no longer serve "high tea" so I settled for coffee and cake and a 360ยบ view of Sydney. Very pretty as the sun was low in the sky and bounced off the water and rooftops.

I meandered back to my hotel - WOW - I had done almost everything I wanted to do in one day in Sydney! Exhausted but happy - I kicked off my shoes and passed out!

Day 2 started in a more leisurely fashion and I decided to make my way back to the harbour after breakfast and explore the Opera House close up and then the Botanical Gardens - a green oasis in the centre of the city. Both were worth the visit. I loved this sign!

I also enjoyed my ride on the Choo Choo and the commentary from the driver as he told me (yes it was just me on board) about the rare species of tree that was only rediscovered 60 years ago and is thriving in the garden; the 22,000 strong bat colony that has made their home there and the first farm of the colony, which is still cultivated today hundreds of years later.
The views of the Bridge and Opera House are lovely from the gardens and the weather perfect to enjoy them. Reluctantly I made my way back up to the city and was able to walk confidently and with purpose. I had conquered the city! I had a couple of hours to spare so instead of walking around very expensive designer shops that I had no inclination to support - I wandered into the Raddison and ordered afternoon tea. The Russian Caravan tea was delicious, as were the eats, and my Kindle made good company as I readied myself for the journey back to the airport and Melbourne!