I really knew very little about Australia before I came here, I have learnt about the make up of Australia now, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territories, New South Wales and Western Australia which on the map looks like the biggest of them all. I have started to understand the size and scale and learnt a little about the heat, and the fact that skin cancer is the biggest killer in this country, a man told me that whilst chatting in a park in Perth. He was looking for a light and we talked about lung cancer versus skin cancer, the conversation was light hearted it just went that way. There is a lot of talk about the convicts who came and built this country and then the people who chose to come independently, about cities being built based on convict labour and free cities which were made of of the people who immigrated of their own accord. It’s vibrant, bright, awake and alive. It’s beautiful and it grows on you. I have caught buses and trains and trams and planes and boats and coaches and driven a car and walked miles. I haven’t scratched the surface yet. I keep being told that I need to go to the Northern Territory to see the real Australia and to live in it to fully understand what Australia is about.
I do however believe I have seen a lot and experienced life a little in the five weeks I have been here. I can see and understand why people would choose to come and make their lives here. If I was thirty years younger and had realised what was in the Southern Hemisphere then I think maybe I would have made a decision to come. I have travelled a reasonable amount in my life, but not really long distance apart from a few jaunts to the USA. Just pondering that and wondering why, I never really had a yearning to see the world, that’s the part of me that’s the little mouse. Happy with my little hole in the wall. But something has changed in me over the last few years, and whilst I planned this trip on a whim and was really quite terrified before I set off, only able to think of the each individual part as I approached it, I am feeling quite overcome whist I reflect on the experience. Of course it’s isn’t over yet, but I am so glad that I did this and recognise that I am very lucky to be able to afford to do it. It has changed something in me, I have been able to just take time to experience life in all these places at my own pace. A luxury in itself. But also time to reflect that despite all the heartache and losses I have suffered over recent years, I am very lucky in so many ways, and have so far lived a full and interesting life. A life where I have been able to make a difference to the people around me and in the work I have done. I do have to recognise that I am at a real, what now? moment in my life. I am certainly not ready for my pipe and slippers. So on that note maybe we should go back to Perth.
Leaving my new found friends I called my trusty Uber stallion to get me to Northbridge one of the most happening places in Perth from what I have read. My original booking had been cancelled a few weeks ago because the host had been offered and accepted a new job and had to travel that week, he couldn’t find anyone to greet me and make sure all was ok whilst he was away so I had to find somewhere else at quite short notice. I found a place in the same area, it looked beautiful. Nice big room, air con, private bathroom and all the facilities I needed. The Uber driver tried to drop me off at completely the wrong place but I wasn’t having that, finally we arrived and my host came downstairs to collect me and help me with my luggage, there was a lift too thank goodness. A young Englishman who is working as a Chief Technical Officer for a IT type start up. He was on a conference call to the states with his CEO, so I made myself scarce.
I haven't really talked about my AirBNB experiences which have been varied and interesting in their own right and I don’t intend to start now, all I want to say is that I felt myself being on the edge of Mother mode with this young man. But I resisted, other than to provide him with some motherly feedback at the end. I had a quiet evening, didn’t really need much as I had had a hearty breakfast and lovely lunch on board together with a few glasses of vino. So I settled myself in and finalised a couple of bookings for trips and things and had an early night. Perhaps as well as I was awoken at around midnight by a lot of noise outside, cars, shouting and goodness knows what else. So sleep was pretty broken throughout the night, I think I finally got back to sleep properly after about 4 am. The next morning when I looked outside I realised why, there was a nightclub on the corner opposite. There were a number of thoughts that went through my head at that point from unprintable ones through to maybe it’s not open every night, please. Anyway I had a look at good places for breakfast because I hadn’t been shopping yet, and set off with trusty google maps in the wrong direction. Two minutes later, about turn, and finally I found the place only to discover it was closed until January 8th, umm it was the 7th, don’t think I can wait that long for breakfast, but I spotted a supermarket as well so toddled over to that and tried to be circumspect in my buying, given no matter how hard I try I always leave food behind wherever I go. Two loaded shopping backs later I walked back and went into another cafe for breakfast. After placing my order I took a seat and grabbed the local paper. I was glancing through, reading one or two articles, the one on the front page was about the Mayor of Perth coming back to work after a number of months off whist her expenses were investigated. Umm so Australia has the same problems as the U.K. then, interesting. Then I came across an article about where to drink coffee in Dalston in London. Those of you who know London may know that Dalston is an up and coming area, the new Overground line has provided it with a big new station, and its been a long time coming, so to speak. Anyway one of the reasons it caught my eye was the coffee they were talking about was Allpress. I had never heard of Allpress until I was with Phil and Derek in Nelson. Their number two son Aidan, sorry for calling you number two Aidan, works for Allpress. Here I am in Australia, reading about the coffee business that Aidan works in, in New Zealand, being drunk in place very near where I lived for a number of years. Anyway this distracted me from the fact that not only had my food not arrived but neither had my much needed coffee. Finally my poached eggs arrived, but no coffee, oh you ordered coffee? Clearly they needed a better ordering system. I really don’t know how half these places survive based on the service they provide. Or maybe it’s me, maybe I have just become so invisible at this age, I just keep being forgotten.
Back to the flat, now I am sure you will remember that I said my host took me up in the lift, so in the lift I go. Flat 35, obviously the third floor. I spent at least two minutes trying to unlock the door when I looked up to see I was trying to open flat 65. Oops, what planet was I on. Quick reverse to try and find 35, floor 1. Time to do a bit of writing and then off to explore and get my bearings. I found that the walk into the city took about twenty minutes, the only fly in the ointment was the massive construction going on to build a new square at the station, which to be honest caught me out in terms of finding my way to the train station. More of that later. I found the bus station, the possible train station entrance and the harbour area where I was picking up a boat for a river cruise with wine tasting. I found a place for some lunch and then walked back up and wandered into a park area in front of the law courts. Very peaceful so I chose to sit for a while. I hadn’t been there very long when a young man with a skate board strolled past asking if I had a light, we struck up a bit of a conversation talking about life and Perth and families and parents. Turned out he was 40 in the music production business but with little work. He said he had given up all his vices except smoking. There were a couple of Aborigine women in the park and one of them approached us for a light, we said we didn’t have one and off she went. Then there was another couple in the park and the other woman approached them, they chatted for a while and then she came over to us. When we told her that we didn’t have a light she went absolutely bananas, accusing the young man of lying, ranting like there was no tomorrow. She went off and asked another couple who were sunbathing, and we could see that she was successful, so my companion trotted off as well and I took my leave and went back to my abode. The pictures below are of the quay which is all newly developed I understand, making an area for families to come to during leisure time, very well don’t I thought.
The next morning I was off on the wine tasting, I was up early enough but skipped breakfast because my host was fast asleep on the sofa. This was Monday morning, so I would have thought he should be getting ready for work, see what I mean about the mothering instinct. Anyway I decided just to get going rather than disturb him. As it happened by the time I got down the the harbour they were already allowing passengers on board, and coffee and cake was being served. So I got some breakfast after all. The Swan River was very wide and gave a good view of the city, especially as it wound back on itself a couple of times. They are building a big new Arena/ stadium and it looked very beautiful I have to say. They were in the process of building the structure for the access roads. There were black swans and pelicans and some dolphins. We went under many bridges but one of them seemed to be a railway bridge and it had a little lane below the rail level where bicycles could be ridden, I only know because I saw a couple on it, ingenious idea. I tried to take a photograph but I don’t think you can really see the bikes. After about an hour, we started the first wine tasting of the day. They provided us with a little board of cheese and meats and crackers, and we had a sizeable taste of about four wines. The boat was quite empty and I found myself sitting alone for most of the journey. Some people were sitting outside, but it was very hot, so a couple came in and joined me. They were Swedish, visiting his Mother who lived part of the year here and part in Sweden. We had a great chat about Perth and our experiences and plans, my experiences really being about my whole trip not just Perth.
After a couple of hours we arrived at our destination the Sandalford winery, and were met by the host there. We were actually taken on a tour of the winery, which was quite interesting. All their barrels were made externally and lasted three maybe four seasons, and they brought in external bottlers to do the bottling rather than send the wine away or have their own equipment. They have beautiful grounds as well and host concerts in those grounds . The walls are covered with signed posters from many gigs. They also have a beautiful restaurant outside underneath some very old vines. We were taken into lunch after our tour and of course more wine tasting, six this time, all ready and waiting for us. After lunch we were given to opportunity to spend some money, I bought a couple of bottles, but as they didn’t ship to the U.K. that was my limit.
Then we retraced our steps back into Perth, without the commentary this time, the bar was open and one of the crew sang a few songs for us towards the end of our journey. A very pleasant day out all in all.
The following day I caught the bus to Scarborough, yes if you have been following me this is the Scarborough in the city of Stirling. It had been recommended to me by my host in Adelaide and the Swedish couple were also staying there. It was about half an hour by bus, two zones, four dollars 70. I didn’t need to buy a travel card in Perth as I was so central, so I decided just to pay my fares ad hoc. It was indeed a lovely seaside town, the sand was very white, and the beach wasn’t too crowded. I spent the whole day there, having a couple of beers before I set off home. I thought I had managed to cover myself in factor 50 often enough, but apparently not. I had burnt the very tops of my legs of all places. Also one or two other very small patches of red here and there. Maybe not such a good idea to spend the whole day on the beach, but I did enjoy it. There was also a lot of construction going on here on the promenade so you had to walk through the works to get to the beach, but it didn’t impact my day and I could see it was going to be fab when it was done with shaded areas for sitting. Whilst in the bar I picked up the paper and lo and behold a big article on Ophrey Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes. A friend had already sent me the link and I had watched it, very moving and very right. I am very interested to see if she decides to go for President, obviouslyDonald thinks it’s laughable.
The following day was another early start I was booked on the 9:30 Ferry from Freemantle to Rottnest Island. I had also booked a hotel in Freemantle for the night so I could spend some time there the following day. I got myself into a bit of a muddle getting into the the railway station, even though I had checked out the entrance. There was a ramp alongside and I walked up that and down some steps only to discover I had no access to the station that way, I went all the way back and then remembered the access was not via the ramp, but further along on the main road. I caught the train by the skin of my teeth, but I had built in plenty of time so that I could have breakfast in Freemantle so if I had missed it I wasn’t going to miss the boat It was strange being on a commuter train, it’s been a while. The train was clean and the journey very easy about thirty minutes. Off at the other end I found a great healthy eating cafe a few minutes walk away, had some breakfast and then found my way to the quay. It was a fast ferry and I had been warned that it could be quite a rough ride, they weren’t wrong. The nearer we got to the Island the worse it got. It was a two deck boat and I was on the upper deck so I think it was a little better up there because you didn’t see the waves in the same way as you did on the lower deck, as I discovered on my way back. Perth is known as the Windy City, and clearly this was one of the ways in which it demonstrated its title.
Once on the Island I had hired a bike, as had most people. There is only one place which is really inhabited and it’s called the Settlement, where we landed. They warn you to make sure you have water and food before you set off, there are some toilets but not many and only one or two water fountains. I went to information and got myself a map, the Swedish couple had been there a few days before and they said go left around the Island because the most beautiful beaches are on your way back then and then you can spend a bit of extra time. There were a couple a guys waiting to talk to the information lady and they were giving me all sorts of ideas about the best places and must dos. One or two people had mentioned that there were lots of hills, I was hoping it wasn’t going to be a repeat of the Old Coach Road on North Island. The only other options to get around the Island were a train, which although I saw one stop I never saw the train and the hop on hop off bus which basically followed the single road around the Island. I was told I had plenty of time, because I was on the five thirty ferry back to Freemantle, to do the whole island. So I went to one of the cafes, and bought a couple more drinks, I had brought one with me, and had a quick coffee before setting on, feeling a little nervous about the expedition. The bike was good, I had read some reviews of an all inclusive tour which said the bikes were rubbish. So I had followed another reviewers advice and made my own way to the Freemantle and booked my own ferry and bike, it was cheaper and you got more time on the island, it was I have to say very sound advice. I found the brakes a little unresponsive in comparison to my bike, but they did work and once I got use to them they were fine. I set off and it wasn’t long before I had to face my first hill, they weren’t that steep but the problems were two fold, firstly the wind. I mentioned that Perth was a windy city well that was nothing on Rottnest. To begin with I was cycling straight into the wind, but there were times when the wind was blowing straight across me and I wondered if I could stay on my bike. Because there were constant ups and downs initially it was hard to get up enough power to help propel myself up a hill still in second gear, and only if I was quite near the top before I changed gear back down to first would I generally be able to get enough momentum to reach the top without having to get off and walk the hill. I did get better, mainly though grit and determination and by trying to increase my momentum as I went towards the hill. I wasn’t the only one who struggled, there were plenty of us who had to get off and walk. The other thing was that there were so many places where you had to stop to look at the view of visit the beach. The sea was the most beautiful blue green and the sand white. I went down to a couple of the beaches and sat for a while. People were snorkelling but there were very few people on each beach. Very peaceful,and extremely beautiful, breathtaking really.
The route around the island eventually becomes a single road to the west coast and back and there is a point called Narrow Neck and I decided that would be my tuning point as I still had a long way to go. The total distance was supposed to be 22 Kms. I could see from sign posting that I still had a lot to do to get back. So I pulled in at Narrow Neck parked my bike along with all the others and walked down to the beach. I found a beautiful little bay full of boats which was completely deserted and I clambered up onto some rocks and ate my lunch. Blissful. A little dingy came ashore and let a man and his daughter off, they were the only other people who appeared on the beach and they walked off, presumably they were catching the bus or had bikes.
Eventually I dragged myself away and started the journey back to the settlement. I was getting better and better at the hills, but that wind was something, nearly knocked me off my bike at one point, and although I had a helmet on, my hair was just one knotted mass. The guys had told me I must stop at Parakeet Bay, so I did and went down and sat for a while. All the beaches were really wonderful, I was so happy that I had made the effort to come. The guys had also told me about a huge osprey nest in Salmon bay, I did see it and took a photograph but it was at times like that I really wished I had a real camera with a proper zoom lens. I have taken the liberty of finding a proper photograph on line, so that you can really see it.
The other thing that Rottnest is known for is the Quokkas, I posted a picture on Facebook and was immediately asked if it was a Rat. They are much bigger than rats, but from what I have read it sounds like the early discoverers of the Island thought they were rats too and that is partly why the island has its name, Rats Nest. They are in fact marsupials with very short front legs, quite big, and the roam over the island. Visitors are given strict instructions not to touch them or feed them. I first saw one at a stop by a beach, working his way through all the parked bicycles, so cute. I saw more when I got back to the settlement, with people going to great lengths to try and photograph them with selfie sticks. Jan a friend of mine wrote to me not long after I posted the picture on Facebook to say he had just been reading a book which talked about the discovery of Rottnest Island and the Quokkas, small world we live in.
Also on the way back to the Settlement there are these lakes and they blow bubbles across the road, it turns out they are salt lakes, I had never seen one of those before, a bit of a treat. I didn’t take any photographs though, I was on a mission to get back.
I made it back to the settlement in one piece, having done over 20kms, feeling pretty good about it, especially as I had a bit of sunburn on my derrière. I wasn’t too saddle sore, but had a couple more hours so decided to see if I could get rid of the bike so that I was free to wander. The young boat hand was very helpful, yes of course he said. I found the local hotel which had a wonderful outdoor area, got myself a glass of cider and sat and read my book for a while, whilst watching the people, families, friends, couples enjoy a drink at the end of their day. I then went to a little area which had a few shops, there was a lovely dress shop, but the prices were eye watering so I decided to pass. A great ice cream shop and I had to queue for about five minutes to get served, at six dollars a cone for a single scoop, buying for a family you needed to take out a mortgage. So the photos below are of my journey around the Island.
So back to the boat for the voyage back to Freemantle, I made the big mistake of sitting downstairs this time, it was a bit scary, the waves were so high and the boat was moving from side to side a lot. Anyway we made it. I made my way to the hotel, to discover it was actually very nice. The woman waiting to check in after me gave me a bit of a dirty look, me in my shorts and t shirt with my back pack and matted hair, she was dressed to the nines with her nice little carry on. Oh well that’s another life, I am in this life now.
The room was sumptuous and after the hard work of the day I decided I couldn’t make a decision about which of the many restaurants in the hotel to go to dinner in, so I had room service and what was called a light meal of fish and chips. Light, that was a joke, there were two pieces of fish and a big pile of chips and a salad. So most of that was left... of well.
The next day I went out into town for breakfast and then made my way to Freemantle prison for the tour. Perth was a free city, but they didn’t have enough people to build the city, so in the end they asked for some convicts. The first thing they did was built the prison, and a fine building it was too. It had been extended over time but remained a working prison until the 1990s. It was inspected and they were told you can’t keep people in these conditions, definitely not a good place to be. Our guide gave us a good run down of the place, and we even went to see solitary confinement, pretty grim and the gallows even grimmer.
I found a place for a late lunch, the usual poor service and a risotto which was extremely disappointing, oh well. Made my way back to the station and the train home. Coming out of the station, I discovered a whole new exit and area of the town, quite by accident needless to say. I found the Arts area. As you probably know I do usually find a gallery but I hadn’t really got around to it yet, so now I knew were it was I added it to my list of things to do, although I was running out of time
Friday was a day of rest after being out very day for the last four days. I had some admin to do and did some writing and washing and started packing my case to move on. It was the day before I realised I had a gap in my diary for places to sleep. I had nowhere for Saturday night, so I had asked my travel agent to book me an extra night at the airport hotel. Uber on Saturday morning to the hotel and I settled in for a couple of quiet days. It was so hot outside I couldn’t bear to go out there, but rain was forecast as there had been a typhoon of sorts in the north of West Australia and the rain was going to come from there. I was flying at 2am on Tuesday morning, so my plan was leave the luggage in the hotel and then go into Perth to the Art gallery and have dinner and come back as late as possible and then go to the airport. Of course I hadn’t taken into account the rain which had by now started, but wasn’t too bad. When I had first arrived at the hotel I asked was it easy to get into town from here, oh no. You need a car, are there any shops, on no you need a car. It was less than ten minutes walk to the bus stop and twenty minutes on the bus. I am faced with this all the time, people seem to think the only way to travel is by car. People don’t walk. Anyway. I got into town and it was raining a bit more, I did a bit of shopping and then found my way to the Art gallery. It was really raining hard by now and I found a covered walkway which took me through to the station and from there it was only a tiny walk. I discovered I could have got to the covered walkway through the shops I had just been in, oh well you live and learn.
As always I enjoyed the art gallery some great pieces and an exhibition about a young Australian actor director Heath Ledger, who died at the age of 29 of a drug overdose. Very sad, especially when you see what he was achieving. There was a sculpture of a big black woman, in a yellow dress, I glimpsed as I walked I got the gallery and it made me smile, then would you believe it my friend Jan sent me a message when he saw the picture on Facebook, he had just been sorting some photographs and had come across one of a white woman in the same style. We decided it had to be the same artist, twice in one week our paths had crossed all the way around the world.
The classical collection is in what used be the old court room, still set up with the dock and the witness box, and you can see where they brought them up from the cells, and the doorways with the stained glass windows. Lovely.
I had lunch in the restaurant there and decide to have gnocchi, something I rarely choose, but it was such a horrible wet day, service was slow because they had been completely packed out, but the food was wonderful as were the two glasses of wine and the strawberries and ice cream they gave me when there was nothing else I fancied on the menu. Nice to leave the country on a food high for once.
Eventfully I made my way back through the covered walkway and the shopping centre to the bus stop. I had to wait ages for a bus, and the rain was getting to me by now, I mean I was quite wet and was going to have to travel in these clothes, lovely. By the time I got back to the hotel drowned rat is the only way I can describe my state. I asked them to put me in the first coach to the airport because I really didn’t want to wait in this tiny reception, and at least there I would have all the facilities I need. So I arrived at the airport at about 6pm for my two am flight, I made good use of the time, managed to update my blog, had a beer, got my suitcase wrapped in cellophane which I had been advised to do given my destination and read my book. Finally at 11pm I checked my baggage in and went on the the gate.
I have enjoyed Australia enormously, although I have to say I have spent more money here than anywhere else so far. I think I have been eating out too much, and have paid for far more trips than I have anywhere else. But it’s only money and you can’t spend it when your dead. Next stop Bali, so hopefully that will be much cheaper, well everyone keeps telling me it is. See you in Ubud.