Australia

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Faded days of glory

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We reached Fremantle in good time. In fact, I’m glad we even reached at all with TC’s driving.

Bloody foggy and miserable weather in the hills of Perth gave way to surprising sunshine in Fremantle and that did make for some interesting walks. Fremantle wears its colonial past on its architectural sleeves quite proudly and the tourist strip has a few of these that make for fairly interesting pictures.

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TC and I walked the cappuccino strip multiple times in Fremantle, went through the market, saw the Quay side, the docks and the surrounding streets and promptly (and probably narrow-mindedly) concluded that we’ve seen all of it for the typical tourist.

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2 days in Fremantle, having seen the weekend market and tired of trying to decide between different kinds of pizza to eat, I decided that I wanted to go to prison. Fremantle prison sits in the West end corner on a hill overlooking the town, and built by convicts for convicts in the mid-19th century, was a maximum security prison with appalling conditions until 1991. I was fascinated with the entire tour and the stories.

TC, unfortunately, spent more time comparing its conditions with his time in the army, eventually concluding that the army was far worse.

2 Irish girls in the tour group clueless commented that the cell size “wasn’t too bad”.

Pete (I think) the tour guide who gave enough smug hints to suggest that his past is as shady as he’d like us to believe, is generous enough to tell us that feedback is appreciated – and to remember that his name is Fred if we didn’t enjoy the tour. In his own words, he had arranged for it to stop raining while we toured – just not long enough.

We walked back under a well-worn, rusty brolly in a howling downpour that left everything dripping nastily.

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AustraliaDestinationsDown underFood

The shortest U-shaped tour

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At the first sign of clearer weather, I insisted that we should visit regions unreachable by public transport while we still had the silver Lancer and according to a friend’s advice, took to the Swan valley district like bees to honey. The Swan district is the upper part of the Swan river meandering somewhat north of Perth but near to where we were staying and hence, an easy drive.

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Geoff had been enthusiastic about the wine region, sometimes even volunteering to do day tours for a friend because he “likes meeting people”, even those which operate mostly on drunken sensibilities after half a day in the wine region.  He was of course, perplexed to learn that TC mostly liked whites while I liked none of them but was kind enough to recommend some places to visit using a U-shaped route that started from West Swan Road and ended by going down the Great Northern hwy. Bluntly, he told us that wineries that were large and upmarket tended to be proportionally a larger pain in the arse and snobbish about their produce.

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Armed with the information, the main draw of the region thus became the Margaret River chocolate factory whose hot cocoa’s positives turned out to be the photos taken of them. When the sun shines, the region makes for some pretty shots of dried up vines and a hint of rolling landscape.

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Lunch was at a country-style winery serving hearty, gorgeous food probably made better in the dry, cold air and an appetite warmed by some wine.  The shy, jittery Spike who’s the resident mouser, was of course the highlight for me. We stopped again, after lunch, for honey and nougat products.

I can’t really hold my alcohol, but not really liking the taste of it doesn’t preclude me from liking wine regions in general: the quiet, snooty (or genteel, depending on which side of the tracks you come from) air, the scent of everything organic in the air. Of course we did some tasting and even some buying – having just drunk a pathetic amount of the sticky muscat, I think I’m probably writing this half drunk now.

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AustraliaDestinationsDown under

Pink jacket in a storm

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When I saw the Travel Companion’s  (TC) hideous pink/maroon/purple puffle-up jacket, I was sure of 2 things: either he was a bloody idiot for carrying something that looked like a foreign body emerging from a newly discovered species, or a badly-dressed immigrant who has illusions of grandeur.

It was only when he recounted the story of him reading about a bad and extended spell of weather of a thunderstorm with 100km/hr winds hitting Western Australia’s coast that I silently and grudgingly admitted that I had indeed under-packed.

The bright side was that Qantas departed and arrived punctually and without incident, to my incredulous amazement. TC’s stomach had been giving him grief for a couple of days and to cap off a performance, his day just had to begin with the usual drama as his stomach protested loudly at the slightest turbulence. He spent the time trying not to heave and eating Vegemite – courtesy of the flight attendant who was convinced that the Vitamin B it contained would help settle some nerves as I happily ate his share of ice-cream.

The dark side (pun fully intended) was the intermittent heavy rain, gusty winds and ever looming grey skies – miserable weather that left us very little to do but venture meekly to some nearby shopping cluster to visit the supermarket, and into the city the day after.

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The place we’re staying in is nestled in the hills of Perth with an unbelievable view of the stretch of land to the coast. Geoff Telford, our extremely social and funny host, has taken a course at TAFE in running a BnB and his lovely house, its retro furnishings and tender attentions to details impressed me greatly.

Real, adventure out-of-city touring will only commence today, seeing as how the weather seems to have improved a bit, only to dip back into crud for the next few days.

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AustraliaDestinationsDown under

The Perils of Getting on a Plane

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This was right after lunch. The airport was in the opposite direction, about an hour away. His watch announced that it 2pm. Mine grumpily said 2:20pm. My flight was at 4pm.

“There will be time,” so Sean, my chauffeur for that day (and friend too, of course) nevertheless insisted. “Tullamarine is not far now. 14 minutes away.”

Princes Highway, Bolte Bridge, the Yarra, and Melbourne City whizzing past. We sped down the highway at 110km/h; I peeked at the speedometer and checked surreptitiously for the speed limits plastered at near every lamp post. (It certainly would embarrass me greatly should he receive a speeding ticket, even if I did miss my flight back home.) Melbourne’s freeways are certainly confusing, especially the horrifying part where he explained we needed to take a highway, get off it when we hit the city, and then get onto a totally different highway once more that will finally bring us to the airport, located in the north of Melbourne. The optimist in me agreed with him when he cheerily pointed out that the highways at least had names and are not incognito and dehumanised with mere alphabets and numbers.

God forbid should there be a transport system that demanded “Now, you get onto the YUCK235, exit at 330Mwuak, and re-enter the GROAN110A before exiting again at GEEZ3209 Southwest”.

Thank goodness. We managed to reach the cooperative counter before it folded its arms and refused to eat any more passengers’ luggage and granted boarding passes.

It was peak period, definitely, the middle of June, where most Asian students returned home after their exams. The flight was full, as I was discovering. It was fun, however, standing in queue picking out characters with bad hair (yellow, red and black – either an imitation of McDonalds or the German Flag), bad fashion sense and the wrong type of dressing that only reveals itself when the humid Singapore climate blows one in the face.

Hey, my fashion sense (if it even exists) is not stellar, so we are truly in good company.

3.15pm.

“You can go in at 3.30,” Sean said. This time I was no longer very anxious. The boarding pass was reassuringly tucked in the passport, the luggage had been rightfully swallowed up and my hands were finally free, save for a huge pillow I decided to bring on board.

“Everyone will be envious when you carry that pillow in.” Sean told me again.

The automatic doors that opened and closed into the restricted passenger area were silver and unfriendly. When I finally did get in, boarding time was nearly over.

With greatest chagrin I found myself sitting next to a man who wore a mismatched suit, who breathed dragon breath out his mouth with every exhale, who drank only red wine throughout, who snored loudly, who never got up once during the 7 hours, who fumbled with the headset a couple of times, before deciding to only put on the right side.

Moving out from the window seat to the toilet took skill, patience, and a lot of apologies when it once resulted in spilt coffee on the carpet. The toilet light, as I trivially noted, had an uncanny ability to highlight all the white in my hair, in places so obvious that I had missed all these years. The temptation to search through whole head was great, but that meant an extended amount of time in cramped space, hindering others who would have used their plastic food knives to slit my throat for hogging a precious lavatory. Still, it gladdened my heart and relieved my hormones that know I found and successfully plucked out 4 silver ones.

The back of the plane had become a meeting place for passengers who ironically huddled together while attempting to stretch their legs and bodies. Poses from yoga, basketball, pilates and post-natal stretching came colourfully on display. There was a woman who stayed there as long as I could remember, chatting up every bewildered passer-by who got accosted by her whenever they needed to use the bathroom.

She beat me to it.

The plane rattled, shook and groaned under the weight of everyone, rocked a bit in the turbulences throughout and the seatbelt sign came on but naught.

The smile and the cool of the famed woman dressed in a Kebaya never faltered once.

Oh, we did have an extravagantly printed menu on quality paper when it came to mealtimes. But it can be summed up, as in most airlines, “Would you like chicken, or fish please?”. For refreshment, it was sandwich with either tuna or greens with meat.

Essentially, it was chicken or fish again.

I do not know whether to be overjoyed or saddened that the vacation is over. The bright and mildly satisfying point, nonetheless, was seeing the sour looks on people who had loved Melbourne weather; everyone took large gulps of the heated, frizzled night air, wishing they had also changed into shorts and T-shirts.

Me too.

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