Exactly six months after stepping into the humid embrace of Ho Chi Minh City, we left Bali for the three hour flight south to Perth to enjoy a relaxed Christmas and New Year with my sister Sue and her family.
Naturally we were looking forward to catching up with family after six months in S/E Asia, but it’s also true to say that reacquainting ourselves with some home comforts had us drooling as we patiently waited to board our flight from Bali to Perth. In an exchange of texts with Sue we ran through the food we were most looking forward to eating when we got to Australia. There was nothing sophisticated or remotely indigenous in our tastes. Instead we asked for potatoes in any and every form, but especially baked and mashed; porridge; and a cheese and tomato sandwich on brown bread with salad cream. I can’t recall enjoying a sandwich more than the first one of those we tucked into: absence truly does makes the heart grow fonder when it comes to simple culinary pleasures. Our tastes have subsequently expanded but the joy of making beans of toast remains unadulterated.
Having said that, Cray Fish and King Prawns for Christmas dinner in the sun was rather special. On reflection this is one of the lessons we’ve learnt from travelling: taking so much pleasure from something that we would normally take for granted. That learning has played out several times staying with Sue as we immersed ourselves in domesticity, enjoying the novelty of making our own breakfast; not having to do a google search for “nearest laundry near you”; and gorging on TV fodder (….I confess to watching “Call the Midwife” MORE THAN ONCE!). The simple things you can’t really do in a hotel environment. We’ve even done a spot of gardening and came across these very friendly crickets.
Our wardrobe has enjoyed a bit of an overhaul as well so there will be some variety in the clothes we are wearing in our pictures at long last!
We do miss our greyhound Ruby terribly, so meeting Sue’s rescue greyhound Asta has been wonderful. She has the same traits as Ruby and its been such fun walking, stroking and playing with her.
Our arrival in Perth coincided with the Australia v India Test match, the first game to be played in the City’s stunning new cricket ground. With my nephew John we went to the third days play and were able to witness India’s Virat Kohli reach his ton – one of the few high points for India in a game dominated by Australia and their bowling attack.
The stadium offers fabulous views regardless of where you sit and is a bit like the Tardis, looking far bigger on the inside than the understated but beautifully designed external view.
In-between loafing about in the garden we have managed some activity. The climate and the abundance of beaches and rivers in Perth creates a love-affair with water-sports and sailing. We headed south to Mandurah with John and his lovely little ones, Owen and Jazzy, for a look around and a boat trip through the harbour and estuaries, with John and Owen doing a marvellous job as our skippers while we admired swanky quayside houses and spotted dolphins playing in the water.
A few days later we got a bit more “hands-on” trying out mini-catamarans on the Swan River. Sam and I are clueless about sailing; how to position the sail or steer. However, after a 5 minute briefing from a very patient chap we were away moving off at quite an impressive speed as the wind drove us on. Admittedly it took a few attempts to successfully make a turn and dive across the deck avoiding being hit by the big wooden thingy attached to the sail, but once we got the hang of it, it was a tremendous feeling sailing back and forth across the river in the shadow of the city’s sky-scrapers.
The opportunity to embrace the outdoor life in Perth is one of the most striking differences with the U.K. We are far from hermits back home, but the weather here invites you to make the most of the varied and beautiful environments on offer – the only problem being the constant need to be careful of sunburn, especially at this time of year when the temperatures regularly climb towards 40 degrees.
Nowhere offers better views of Perth than the beautiful Kings Park that sits above the city. From this vantage point the layout of the city unfolds revealing the flow of the Rivers Swan and Canning past the city centre and onto Fremantle.
Perth city centre itself is a lively spot with a great pedestrianised shopping area five minutes from classy developments on the Swan River such as Elizabeth Quay and the new bridge to the cricket ground. It’s a bustling city and its easy to forget that north, south and east sit the vast sparsely populated areas of Western Australia that makes Perth the most isolated city in the world.
A very short journey on Perth’s great transit system takes you to Fremantle, a port town with tons of charming architecture, a brilliant market, and lots of trendy shops. After the bright new urban feel of the centre of Perth, Freo really captures the laid back easy going charm that is so prevalent in W.A.
As one of the country’s key ports, Freo has a long and interesting history, with many sites of interest including the old Prison, and a vibrant quayside, and quaint buildings that have been mercifully preserved. Just up coast there are long windswept walks along quiet beaches: this is where we found the superb surfer sculptures that top and tail this blog: staring out to the sea waiting for the perfect wave.
It’s funny how a chance coincidence can change the course of travelling. Originally we had planned to see much of the Australian coast in a van or motor home. However, thanks to social media a friend of ours, Wendy, saw our posts from Perth and let us know that a former colleague was staying in Freo. So it was that we met up with Deano and her lovely partner Leesa.
It really is special seeing old friends on the other side of the world. What made it even better was learning about their experiences. Like us Deano and Leesa have turned their back on the 9-5 treadmill, and have been travelling for a mightily impressive 2 years. What started as a catch-up soon became a discussion about travelling tips, and what really intrigued us was their successful experiences house and pet sitting as a means of making travel more affordable, staying in nice homes (rather than hotels), getting off the tourist trail and indulging a love of animals. That ticked lots of boxes for us and with their “go for it” advice and infectious enthusiasm ringing in our ears a few days later we were registered on a website and had our first sit lined up: a week in the upmarket neighbourhood of Mosman Park, just north of Fremantle, looking after a 9 month old Kelpie called Max, four chickens and a fish.
Max was a lovable bundle of energy who took us out on gorgeous walks along the Swan River, through picturesque parks and the dog beach. He had a slightly disconcerting habit of chewing my trainers and eating flies – usually in mid-air with no thought as to where he was about to land! As well as having a great time messing about with a dog full of character we got some much needed exercise for the week and I learnt the mysteries of looking after chooks, rewarded with the very freshest of eggs!
We discovered an open air cinema in the neighbourhood and couldn’t resist seeing a film under the stars – albeit with some blankets to ward off a surprising evening chill.
Seeing a new neighbourhood through the eyes of a temporary resident is a dimension of travelling we hadn’t thought about. We really enjoyed our first sitting experience (which we received a rave review for and a 5 star rating!!) and as a result have adjusted our plans to be a mix of sits and traditional tourism. We are lucky to have the flexibility and take these opportunities as they arise. Wendy’s message and meeting Deano and Leesa feel like a wonderful piece of cosmic serendipity guiding our journey – what a perfect way to start the new year.
Next Up: The Deep South…Margaret River and Albany.