DM and MM's Western Australia 2010 Diary

Day 1 - Sydney to Perth

Saturday, 14 August, 2010

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Aarons Hotel, Perth. 17:15

We're relaxing briefly in our hotel room before heading out for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant we found in our wandering around the city of Perth earlier today.

Our day began at 05:30, with the alarm jolting us out of a deep sleep. We had only 25 minutes to eat breakfast and get dressed before heading out the door for the short walk to the railway station. I'd checked the timetable on the CityRail website earlier in the week and calculated that we'd need to catch the 06:10 train to get to the airport with plenty of time to check in.

As we walked through the park in the pre-dawn light, illuminated by the last few stars and a brilliant Venus, a train pulled up parallel to our path and into the station ahead of us, heading in our intended direction. Figuring this was the train before the 06:10, we didn't bother running for it, and let it slip noisily into the dawn twilight as we walked casually into the station to buy our tickets. After getting our tickets from the machine, we wandered onto the platform, only to find that the next train wasn't due for another 28 minutes!!

Missing Train
We missed the train to the airport

We discovered by checking the timetable poster on the platform that the 06:10 only ran on weekdays - I must have inadvertently failed to select Saturday on the website although I was sure I had done so. Nevertheless, we still had enough slack in our schedule to give us enough time to check in provided we got a decent connecting train at Central and not another long wait. As it turned out, we got a connection within a couple of minutes, so ended up at the airport about 50 minutes before our flight was due to depart at 08:10.

We checked in and were given exit row seats on the Qantas Boeing 767 - a nice perk that we'd set up in our frequent flier profiles to request these seats with extra leg room whenever available. M. used the time before boarding to get a coffee while I browsed the bookshop for something to read on the flight. (I'd decided not to take any of my unread books from home because they were all the sort of books that need undivided attention and alertness to fully absorb.) I ran across the newly released paperback edition of the latest Discworld book by Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals, so I snapped that up - not to imply that I think any less of it as a book, on the contrary it is strong enough to hold my attention even in a travel-weary semi-daze. I also grabbed a copy of the Lonely Planet Perth and Western Australia book to guide us over the next week.

Carrion Luggage
Who buys luggage inside the airport security zone??

We boarded the plane and were strapped in and ready to go on time when the captain announced that there'd been a mix-up with the refuelling and the plane hadn't been refuelled yet! So we had to wait motionless for that to happen. We eventually started moving at 08:50, some 40 minutes late. The plane took off to the north, then took a right turn out over the Pacific Ocean, doing a big arc before finally turning south, then west to head inland over Wollongong and on the road to Perth.

The movie was Iron Man 2, which I hadn't seen yet, and which would have nicely complemented Iron Man as the previous in-flight movie I'd seen. But frankly I'm not a fan of the in-flight movie experience as it's too easy to miss something and besides the prospect of a new Discworld book outranked it. We were served breakfast of eggs and various sundries, which we gobbled down, hungry as it had been four hours since our hurried breakfast at home. The remainder of the flight passed with various reading and a later snack of lemon shortbread biscuits. We made up time on the flight and landed in Perth about 11:40 local time - a flight of about 4.5 hours.

After collecting our luggage, we hopped in a taxi at the taxi rank. Thankfully there was no queue at all. The driver was ebullient and friendly, chatting the whole way into the city about life in Perth, the insane property prices, the scarcity of tradesmen (all poached north to the Pilbara and Kimberley on lucrative mining contracts, apparently), next weekend's federal election, and whatever else was on his mind. He also pointed out local sights as we drove past them. The fare to our hotel was $31.40. I gave him a $50 note and he handed me back a $20, saying to ignore the rest. I thanked him and we disembarked for our hotel.

20:03

We've just returned from dinner, but more about that later. Despite arriving at our hotel not long after 12:00, our room was ready and the woman at the desk checked us in. We'd been expecting to have to leave our bags and go wandering for a few hours, but we used the opportunity to settle into the room and freshen up a bit.

Aarons Hotel Window View Fisheye
View from our hotel window

Not long after, we went for a walk to explore our surroundings and also get some lunch. We were hungry again, so stopped at the very first place we saw: Miss Maud's pastry shop, right across the street from our hotel. This was part of Miss Maud's Swedish Hotel and Restaurant, but served cakes, coffee, sandwiches, and pies. M. got a coffee, a pumpkin and sweet potato roll, and a spinach roll, while I got a tuna mornay pie and shared samples of M.'s rolls. The pastry on the pie was a little bit dry and thick on the top, but the excellent filling made up for it and the two rolls were good. To follow I got a chocolate mud cake portion, which was also good.

Mini Mud
Mud cake at Miss Maud's

After eating, we took a leisurely stroll up the Murray Street Mall, observing the Saturday shoppers and noting that despite it being prime shopping time there were nowhere near as many people as you'd get in Pitt Street Mall in Sydney - it felt more like a public holiday when all the shops are closed, despite them all being open.

In the main square in front of the GPO (Forrest Place) there was a political rally happening, with people giving speeches to a cheering crowd of people waving signs. It was a rally in support of same-sex marriage. We saw the large group later on marching down the Hay Street Mall, chanting slogans and waving rainbow banners. There were also various buskers and street performers scattered throughout the mall space.

Rally
Rally in Hay St Mall

M. browsed amongst the shops and arcades while I took some photos of various bits of scenery and architecture. At the far end, west of the Murray Street Mall, we walked on a block then crossed to Hay Street to return along its parallel mall. That led us to St George's Cathedral, which was largely fenced off around its exterior, presumably for restoration work, but which was open for access to the interior. It was a fairly small cathedral and dim inside, with small and dusty stained glass letting in little light.

St George's Cathedral, Perth
St George's Cathedral

From there we turned south to head past the Western Australian Supreme Court building and its surrounding gardens to the short of the Swan River. The Barrack Street jetty held the gleamingly new glass-spired Bell Tower which cut an impressive figure in front of the wharf. It looked interesting and had an observation balcony about 8 floors up, but was charging $11 to go inside. I figured the view wouldn't be worth that much, so we continued on.

We saw the Annalakshmi Restaurant on the wharf - a vegetarian Indian place staffed by volunteers that charges nothing for meals and asks that diners contribute whatever donation they feel is appropriate. We are keen to try this place for dinner later in the week. From there, we stopped at a cafe on the wharf for some refreshments - coffee for M. (who later said it was the worst coffee of the trip) and some water for me.

Urban Roos
Sculptures in front of Council House

We continued walking west along the riverfront esplanade, spotting ducks and cormorants in the water. We noticed from here just how flat and undeveloped Perth seems compared to Sydney. There are very few tall buildings here at all. After a few hundred metres we reached Victoria Avenue and turned north inland to the city again. This led us up the hill to St Mary's Cathedral - a larger and more imposing structure than St George's. St Mary's has, however, been extensively renovated so that the original 1892 building is virtually undetectable from inside. From the outside, it's apparent that half of the cathedral is very old, weathered sandstone, while the other half is pale, clean, new sandstone mixed with gleaming glass and steel. It looks like one end of the original cathedral has been cut off and replaced with a much larger and more modern construction. And the interior is all extremely modern, with only the odd hint of the original old building showing through here and there. The overall effect is... disorienting and somehow disappointing.

St Mary's Cathedral, Perth
St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary's is only two blocks from our hotel, so we popped in briefly to drop off my main camera bag and switch to some slightly warmer clothes for the late afternoon chill before heading out again to peruse the malls again briefly before 17:00 and closing time for the shops. M. wanted to go back to one shop to pick up a jumper she'd seen there earlier. We browsed around an arcade we hadn't seen before, which was designed in the style of Tudor-era black and white wooden facades - obviously fake but exuding a definite old world charm.

After that, we were approached by two teenaged girls who nervously introduced themselves by name and asked if they could ask me a question for an English assignment they were doing. Happy to assist, I agreed. The question was: Why do you think Australia is the lucky country? This took some assembly of thought processes to answer, with several pauses and ums and ers. When I'd finished they said they'd now ask it again so they could film my response. I needed to ask for a few seconds to compose my thoughts so I could respond without pauses and then we went ahead and filmed it on their small camera. I was happy to help them out - it must have been hard for them to approach strangers for such a project.

Plaza
Art Deco in Hay St Mall

We stopped off in a Woolies supermarket to buy the notebook for this diary. The queues at the checkouts were enormous, even for the self-scanning lines. I presume it was because it was just after closing time and lots of people wanted to pick up a few things before heading home. Diary procured, we popped in here again to the hotel to start writing it before dinner.

At 18:00, we left to go to the Balti Restaurant over on St George's Terrace. A glossy food review magazine in our hotel room said it was very good and M. fancied some Indian food so we decided it was a good idea. We ordered some potato skins stuffed with nuts, raisins, and paneer as a starter, followed by channa masala (chick pea curry) and a goat curry with rice and peshwari naan. It was all very good, with the goat coming in chunks on the bone, cooked so tender that it fell off into pieces easily when coaxed with a fork. M. had a mango lassi to wash it down, while I tried a local beer made in Fremantle - Little Creatures Pale Ale.

Balti Curries
Diner at Balti

After dinner, I felt like a simple ice cream, so we passed on Indian desserts and left to see if we could happen across an open ice cream place somewhere. We chose a different route back to the hotel and lo, there right next to the restaurant, was a convenience store. M. said, "A convenience store - that's very convenient!" I grabbed a mint Magnum ice cream and ate it as we wandered home through the brisk Perth night air.

It's now still reasonably early, just after 21:00, but M. is already asleep and I feel dead tired too - it being 23:00 in Sydney, us having got up at 05:30 there. Hopefully we won't wake up at 04:00 and be wide awake.



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