Perth, Australia - Jan 10-14
Jan 14, 2010
|January 10, 2010
Today was almost solely a travel day, with the 5 hour flight from Singapore to Perth taking up most of the day. It didn’t start too well though as neither of us realized we needed a visa to enter Australia and had to fork out around $100 to get one for each of us. You would have thought we’d learnt our visa lesson by now after Hong Kong!
Arriving in Australia felt good after being in Asia since September. Overall, we’d loved the things we’d experienced there but it was nice to be somewhere where they spoke English and, for me, somewhere at least a little familiar.
And as if to add to that familiarity, on our first night we had dinner at a fast food burger joint called Fast Eddy’s. This was right next to the hotel Nick and I had stayed at in 2003 and we ate there quite a lot – Elizabeth thought it was funny that Nick and I even remembered the name! Thankfully, the burgers were still as good as I remembered and it certainly helped settle me back in!
January 11, 2010
Our first full day and it certainly was full, and a mixed bag at that.
We started off early morning at the Perth Mint, one of the oldest mints in Australia which was up until about 30 years ago still “owned” by the British Government. The little tour here was pretty good and showed where the first gold was found in Western Australia as well as replicas of some of the largest pieces of gold every found in Australia. The largest single nugget still remaining today is in Las Vegas and the second largest was right here in the Perth Mint. As part of the tour, you got to see them pouring the gold. The furnace melting the gold went up to 1300C and the man doing the demonstration had to be quick to get the pot out and start pouring. As he poured the liquid gold into the mould for the bar, you could really see the bright, almost transparent colour of the molten gold and it was amazing watching it change colour as it cooled, changing to the more familiar shiny look we are used to. After dipping it in water and cooling it off completely, the man had produced a 200 ounce bar of gold. He stated that the gold used in this bar had been melted and cooled over and over again for their demonstrations but each time it lost some weight as the gold sparks flew off and had to be “topped up” regularly. After seeing the gold pouring, we attempted to lift a 400 ounce bar of gold. This sounds easy and although we were both able to lift it, the small bar was deceivingly heavy! We also weighed ourselves and the scales showed our approximate value if we had been made of gold. I was well over $3m and Elizabeth just topped $2m. If only we were worth that much!
Leaving the mint, we headed down to the river and walked along the riverside for a while before arriving at the Swan Bell Tower. We had intended to climb up it for the view and to see the bells but the neighbouring Perth Wheel looked like it had a much better view and without the daft bells tolling! The wheel wasn’t as big as the London Eye but it gave a good view over the river and central Perth. It went around really quickly and we thought it was over and done with but we didn’t know we were to get 5 rotations! I think we both thought by the third rotation we had seen enough but it carried on!
We had bought some food at the grocery store last night and found a bench for our pre-made lunches, one peanut butter sandwich for Elizabeth and one Vegemite for me!
In the afternoon, we walked around the shopping malls on Hay St and Murray St, stopping to buy a book in Borders. We had a couple of museums we planned on going to but after looking at some info on them last night, we’d decided just to visit one – the Art Museum of Western Australia. This gallery was free and whilst it didn’t have a whole load of big name artists on display, it was a really well laid out display and had some really interesting aborigine art. Elizabeth and I both liked a piece called “Possum Dreaming” – I shall have to see if I can find a copy!
In the evening, we headed out to a bar called Bar 138 and tucked into pizza, salad and a beer for a mere $12 each. This wasn’t really that cheap but given we’d stopped for a couple of beers yesterday and they alone cost $15 for two, this deal seemed pretty good. We had decided not to eat around the hostel too much in the evenings as you sometimes find you are spending too much time there – this might have to change to assist the budget!
And just to add some culture to my entry, I read Animal Farm for the first time tonight, cover to cover and thought it was excellent. No idea really why I’d never read it before but given we’d been to Russia and seen a lot of the Lenin/Trotsky stuff it was amusing to read Orwell’s take on the battle between the two pigs!
January 12, 2010
We hired a car for the day today and decided to head out of Perth and to the Swan Valley, home of some of Western Australia’s finest wineries! We picked up our tiny little Hyundai Getz and headed out of the city. Our first stop was actually a supermarket where we got our lunch provisions and returned to find something had hit our car windscreen whilst it was parked and caused a nice crack right in the middle. It was small enough to not cause too much concern for our plans but very annoying knowing we’d have to pay for the damages when we returned it.
We arrived in the small town of Guildford and stopped at the visitor centre. We were quite early and many of the wineries had not yet opened so we thought we should investigate the region further. The helpful lady there gave us a list of all the wineries which were open today and one of them, which was quite close, opened a little earlier than some. We hopped back in the car and headed there first – John Kosovich Wines. This was a small independent winery which looked like it was closed when we arrived but we were quickly greeted by one of the staff. This winery reminded me of some we had visited in Washington. Inside, we tried three wines including a lovely Verdelho, which appeared to be a speciality of the region. Even though it was our first stop, we decided to buy a bottle of the Verdelho and plan to enjoy that this evening!
After that we travelled around 3 or 4 of the breweries in the region, trying to find some beer to take back to try. We didn’t want to try the beers there as I was driving and didn’t want to overdo it. We’d hoped to grab a few to try back at the hotel later on but none of them just sold individual bottles. We did find a bottle shop further down the road from one where we able to grab a couple of beers made by the Feral Brewing Company and we made do with those.
It was now nearing lunchtime and we thought we should eat before we tried too much more wine. We stopped at a winery called Houghton’s and planned to try their wines and then eat our picnic lunch but on arriving we found they charged $3 for each sample. This seemed excessive and even more so when we saw the measures being poured!
Instead, we headed further up the road and visited the Oakover winery. Here the girl was really nice and helpful and gladly poured us 5 good servings to sample (Elizabeth had 6 as she went for the fizzy stuff, too!) and the best part was that it was free! They had some really good wines here too but we resisted buying any as we didn’t want to buy too much as we only had three nights to drink it and we didn’t want to feel too tied to the hostel trying to drink wine!
After a picnic break (bread, Swiss cheese and potato salad!), we found our final winery of the day, called Sittella which was recommended to us by the girl from Oakover. Once again, we tried 5 or 6 different wines plus their port and that in particular was excellent. I didn’t think we could justify buying a bottle of port but we did instead get a bottle of their Unwooded Chardonnay. Neither of us are big fans of Chardonnay as most of them have really musty, oaky flavours which neither of us care for. However, the unwooded varieties are not fermented in wooden barrels so you can really taste the grapes and flavours of the wine rather than the oak.
Still only mid-afternoon, we decided to have a drive around one of the national parks just outside of the Swan Valley, heading into the Perth Hills. We drove firstly to a small town called Mundaring and drove around the edge of the Beelu National Park stopping briefly at the Mundaring Weir and Lake CY O’Connor. The drive was nice but it wasn’t quite the scenic drive we’d imagined, with much of the drive being enclosed by trees and quite dry, barren land. It certainly wasn’t the bright green, tree-lined drive we’d had in Olympic National Park. The next little stop was Kalamunda which was at the end of a long, windy road, leading some 15km down and around into the town. Here we stopped at the supermarket, grabbing some pasta and vegetables to make our own dinner tonight and to enjoy our wine along with it.
The drive back to Perth didn’t take long but we were both surprised how far we’d climbed driving out. As we neared the city the decline in the road showed some nice views over to the high rises of Central Perth.
Back at the hostel, we relaxed a bit and caught up on our travel journals where I suspect we might be about to enjoy some wine with our veggie pasta!
January 13, 2010
After dropping the rental car back and them thankfully not noticing the cracked windshield (but charging us nearly $35 for fuel!), we caught the train to Fremantle to spend a day around the small town. Fremantle is about 30 minutes south of Perth and is right on the coast. Walking around the town it was very similar to Perth but even smaller and quieter!
Our first port of call here was the local art and history museum which was, quite honestly, a waste of effort. The displays were interesting to an extent, including one which had drawings of half naked men and half animals. The drawings were quite explicit but it was hard to be offended given the faces on them were koalas and the like. It was much more amusing than rude or crude, in my opinion. After about 5 minutes though, we were done and headed for the exit, avoiding the corridor which was covered in glue and human hair – this was also part of the displays but I’m not sure when the floor of a barbershop became art.
Next was Fremantle Prison, a facility which only closed in 1991. Whilst this isn’t anything to write home about usually, having seen the state of the cells and conditions within the prison it was hard to imagine prisoners being kept here less than 20 years ago. Maybe Australia has less of those daft human rights people who believe convicted criminals need TVs, Playstations and the like to assist their rehabilitation! The main prison building was very large and was actually built by convicts sent from England in the mid-19th Century and was eventually added to, with a further wing and a women’s wing built later. The size of the cells was about 7 feet by 8 feet although we were told that they were originally half that size (7ft by 4ft) and this explained why each cell had two doors. It was really cool to walk around somewhere which was so recently in use but it was easy to see why it had been shut down, a decision which was expedited by a riot in 1988 which inmates claimed was caused by poor conditions. We also got to see the actual gallows where they hung the death row prisoners. This was done on a Monday morning at exactly 8am and over the course of the prison’s life this was carried out around 40 times, the last being in the 1960’s.
In the last year of the prison’s life as an active prison, the inmates were allowed to draw on the walls around their cells and the yards. It was assumed that the prison would be demolished soon after closure so the guards didn’t care. However, after closure the government declared it would remain as a heritage sight and some of these paintings still remain. One such example was painted by an Aborigine who painted two identical paintings, one in the yard and one in his cell. We saw the yard version first which had been badly weathered but still looked impressive. On seeing the original though, it really showed how the cell version had stayed intact and how bright the colours were. Overall, the prison was nowhere near as creepy as Tuol Sleng but it was very interesting and whilst it is hard to say that anything like this is “fun”, it was indeed worthwhile.
By the end of our tour we were ready for lunch and tucked into our leftovers from yesterday while sat in the shade on the main square by the Town Hall. We took a stroll after lunch down towards the water and on the way through the town picked up a couple of souvenirs: a boomerang and a magnet.
The main road out from the square towards the water led to a building called the Round House. Apart from the prison, the only other hanging to have been carried out in Fremantle was done so here but there was really no sign of anything much at the building. We carried on along the waterfront and found the Little Creatures Brewery. This is supposedly one of the town’s micro-breweries but the size of the facility didn’t indicate anything much micro at all! We both headed straight for the bar and ordered a nice cold beer, Elizabeth trying the Pilsner while I tried the Pale Ale. Both beers were really tasty and, most importantly, refreshing and the free, ice-cold water went down well, too.
After that we slowly headed back towards the train station to return to Perth where the fast train got us back to the city in just over 20 minutes. Everywhere we have been, everywhere we have travelled, so far, we’ve barely had a wait or delay for anything be it train, plane or bus and it really makes me wonder why the UK and even the US (especially American Airlines) can’t operate a reasonable timetable and stick to it. However, I must qualify this a little though as the train back to Perth did say that if the temperature goes above 41C the trains have to go slower as the tracks may be warped by the heat! Still – fast, efficient and clean pretty much everywhere we’ve used public transport from Russia right through to now.
For dinner we cooked up the leftovers from last night and had them with our second bottle of wine which was equally yummy. It isn’t great fun eating at the hostel every night but here in Perth where it is quiet there is much less temptation for us to go out later anyway!
January 14, 2010
Today we headed out to the aquarium of Western Australia, called AQWA. The journey out there was pretty uneventful and it was easy to know where to go – follow the hundreds of kids! It is currently the summer holidays here in Australia and so even midweek the aquarium was going to be busy.
Australia has proved to be very pricey so far with the currency almost on a par with the US Dollar but much more expensive in comparison. Even a can of drink here can be around $2. Despite taking that all into consideration, we were both shocked when we found out the aquarium was $28. EACH!
Inside, we found a number of decent displays but had trouble seeing many of them as the completely unruly children didn’t give you a chance to get too close to anything. I’ve had my rants about children elsewhere in my journal so won’t go into more detail here except to say that the more of these places we visit, the better a contraceptive they are!
The large underwater tunnel was quite good with some fairly sizeable sharks swimming around as well as some large stingrays and some beautiful loggerhead turtles. As we went through the tunnel, it was feeding time and it was amazing watching the enormous stingrays almost engulf the divers who gave them their food whilst the other smaller fish followed and snapped up the pieces the rays dropped! There was also a touch pool which was good fun and here they had Port Douglas sharks (I think!) which were quite tough skinned to the touch. The rays here were also amusing, one in particular using his “wings” to flap himself right out of the water and scaring the little kids before flapping right back in again!
At the end of the aquarium, I felt compelled to fill in the questionnaire at the end and stated that the aquarium was definitely not value for money and either the displays needed to be extended or the price dropped. We’re almost becoming experts on aquariums now and this was definitely not the worst but it was one of the worst for value, by far. Considering we hadn’t planned on coming here originally but wanted something to do this morning, this really was over $50 we could’ve done without spending, not to mention the near $30 it cost to get there and back. Yikes!
Back at the hotel, we had episode number god-knows-how-many relating to a flight! I went to check in online and found our flight was not tomorrow but the day after. Everything I had, including our original paper tickets said January 15. As a result, we quickly headed down to the Qantas office where the woman was really helpful but nonetheless not able to perfectly resolve the situation. It appeared Qantas had cancelled our flight about 4 months ago and re-booked us, emailing our agent to let us know. Unfortunately, our “agent” had not thought of passing the message on and all the lady at Qantas could do was see if we wanted to fly into Alice Springs tomorrow rather than Ayers Rock, some 450km away. We had planned to drive between the two anyway so this was not a complete pain but it did mean we’d have to pay for 3 nights at Ayers Rock when we would now only be spending two there. This was going to be another fucking waste of money we could ill afford and all because of one little arsehole (I won’t go into the details here but I will be sending said person a nice email!).
Having resolved the flight issue, we headed back to the hostel and spent the next hour or so changing our hotels, changing our car hire and booking an extra night hotel in Alice Springs. I’ve got used to dealing with these screw ups now and they are just such an inconvenience but it isn’t worth getting upset about as there is nothing you can do if the airline changes the schedule – which reminds me Olympic Airlines STILL owe me money over a flight they cancelled about 6 months ago!
In the evening, we headed again to Fast Eddy’s. We’d spent most of the week eating sandwiches and home-made food so I reckoned I’d earned my additional burger treat!
So, tomorrow on to Alice Springs, and not Ayers Rock!