Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why I am OK not being on America's East Coast right now.

Oh wait, those aren't the same temperatures! That's in Celcius! 
Although 106 is quite hot, it wasn't so bad. 
I like the heat. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Sunday, we did a walking tour of Claremont. I had gone into the tourist/town information office looking for a map and they had four different walking tours printed on maps like cartoons with little pictures, tidbits to look out for, and jots of historical information. We picked one that started by the house and led us around Swanbourne (pronounced Swan-burn like Mel-burn not Mel-booorn). It was a hazy humid day, perfect for a lazy yet leisurely stroll through the streets of the Perth suburb. The houses here really amaze me. In America, and especially in Ireland, you often see plots of land with similar looking houses based on the architect's style. Here, every single house is different. The styles are often similar, but they alternate. They alternate between oddly modern, to grandious, to dollhouse, to adobe, to colonial, to dinky and set back. I'm surprised by how modern they are, but then I guess I shouldn't be. And the area is quite ridiculously expensive so some of the houses are just breath-taking. We got a little sense of the history of the place: the street names Australind, Saladin, Rob Roy, Otway are all named after steamships,  the names of the different trees, we saw lots of different types of birds hanging out around the lake which used to be a swamp and still kinda is, we didn't see any mushrooms but we did see the interesting gate!

palm trees...obvi....
the black swan is the national Australian bird...
interesting flowers...
colorful birds....
That night was Sets on the Beach - a concert I had seen a poster for. I thought it was just a night thing but apparently it was an all day beach event with different bands playing throughout. So, we missed the entrance which was ok because you would've wanted to pay for the entire day, but we were able to go around the front of the concert, to the beach, and be as close to the back of the stage as possible - except, free, still the same music, on the beach, with the ocean crashing behind you. Even better. And the reason we were there - to see Whitest Boy Alive. and Boy were they good!!
from the front
from the beach!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Friday night was poker night, which meant Irish Car Bombs, grapefruit vodka nips, milkshakey coconut water in a fake coconut, coworkers, tequila shots, mango margaritas, and rides in shopping carts. Yes, that is what poker night means.
 i cannot afford this.

Saturday morning means a float in the Indian Ocean. Literally, we just floated, belly up. It tastes really salty. But it feels so good.
lunch on the beach. we were sitting there, until it got too hot.

Saturday also meant that the Fremantle Markets were open. The market had a variety of different stalls inside from fruit and veg stands, tacos, fresh juice, raw free-from-everything food,
grilled sausages, coffee, teas, spices, local honey, British candy, clothing, Aboriginal art, paintings, and all sorts of oddities.
I had a spiced apple taco which tasted like spiced apple sauce in a tortilla. It wasn't bad, I guess just not what I wanted, or expected, from a taco but the young maker said he invented it because it was so hot outside that people would walk by his stand eating cold, fresh foods and drinks, by-passing the hot tacos so he created the fresh apple taco as a cold treat - which, in that way, it was perfect - but could've been better with a bit more heat than sweet. 

 We stopped by Sail & Anchor, the winner of the best beer venue - obviously - for a beer from their choice of 43 beers on tap. I got the Gold Medal Royal Beer Show 2011 award winning Colonial Pale Ale - obviously - and JD go the Freo Doctor - named after the infamous wind that blows through Fremantle, cooling down the hot Australian summer air.

When ordering a beer, there are different names for the different sizes of glasses and these terms even change throughout Australia. In WA, there's a shetland which looks like a shot glass but who wants a shot of beer? then there's a middy which is a half pint, a pint, and a jug. I've also heard of a schooner. After one beer - obviously - we had to do the complimentary breathylzer test!

After wandering around Fremantle a bit, we came across the old Round House, the oldest building in Western Australia that used to house 8 prisoners at a time, although WA was not a convict state. There was a wedding going on, with pictures being taken around the Round House, and the guard in charge was not too keen on us entering in case they bride and groom wanted pictures inside. However, a long hug - and apparently a much needed one - changed her mind and she was all smiles and full of information about the place. 
This is my fav.
 It's great to be a charmer. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Day in Fremantle

Upon first impression, Australia is very westernized, well, with funny accents and driving on the other side of the road.   It reminds me a lot of California: downtown Claremont reminds me of Santa Clara, the suburbs around Claremont remind me of a wealthy Brady Bunch neighborhood with funky modern architecture, and Fremantle reminds me of San Diego.  I took the train to Fremantle and think I must’ve walked around every corner, every block at least twice. 
The city was quiet in the morning and I sat by the water for a bit reading my book. Fremantle has a lot of restaurants and cafes to sit outside at, secondhand book stores, Aborigine art galleries, seafood restaurants along the marina, a park with it’s own Eye, a Target, and the Round House which is the oldest building in Western Australia which used to be a 8-celled prsion even though Western Australia was a convict-free state. Seven hours is definitely enough time to spend there by yourself in a day. 

It was windy.


 Although I wasn’t bored, it was a little bit boring, or lonely, spending the day wandering alone without anyone to share it with or talk to about. Luckily, JD came to meet me and brought me to Little Creatures Brewery where they make everything on site and we ate KANGAROO! It came on skewers, perfectly medium rare with a side of a tomato salsa that tasted a bit too much like marinara sauce that wasn’t the right match for the gaminess of the kangaroo. The meat was good though, tasting a bit like lamb. The beer was good too.
 Typical, apparently, of WA, the service wasn't stellar, so instead of waiting to order round 2 and some pizza, we left to check out the Mussel Bar for some seafood and local wine. Good night.
I have noticed, and liked, that in Australia, they are very proud of serving their own produce and products, displaying where they come from. The majority of the beers, even in an Irish pub, are Australian; I think all of the wines I have seen have been Australian. And for good reason – this shit’s good. Like Dad said, it’s probably an expensive country because they have a lot of imported goods, and maybe for the same reason, instead of exporting, they have a lot of Australian products to offer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Despite 28 years of being in Ireland, I finally got to drive on the other side of the road. 

Look Right, Stay Left. Look Right, Stay Left. Look Right Stay Left. 

First Day in Australia.

Everyone kept asking me before I left what would be the first thing I would do in Australia. I didn’t have a clue really, but replied I’m going to the beach, it’s summer over there! And that’s exactly what I did. The air was thick and hot, the sky was blue and cloudless. My pale skin itched for the sun. The sand was soft – not as soft as Killahoey – and warm from the sun – Killahoey does not have that problem. Ever.  The water – the Indian Ocean! – was cold yet refreshing but I only managed to go in a bit as I was sure it’d be my luck to be eaten by a shark on my first day. 

 typical foot shot. 

That night we had lamb on the Barbie and two bottles of locally made white wine. Clearly. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Leaving and Arriving. 4 Days. 4 Places.

Friday was the day. The last day. The day to leave Donegal. A late night with friends meant that I slept in later than I had planned. There was a part of me that didn’t want to leave the comfort of Dunfanaghy. Despite the small-town aspect that can feel a bit mundane, I like it there. Some part wanted me to miss the bus and resort to taking the very last option the next morning. The other part of me was ready to go, excited and nervous at the same time – I just had to get the first step rolling to get out of there.  I was extremely impressed with myself that I had managed to narrow my clothes down to fit into my backpack but when the time came to pick it up I nearly tumbled over: it was heavier than I had expected.  As my internal dread of over-packing slowly rose throughout my body and rushed to my head, I desperately took out a pair of sneakers and some shampoo & conditioner – like, really, those are so heavy. There was really nothing I could do, so I jumped on the 16:10 bus and was outta there. Until next time, Dunfanaghy.
The bus brought me to Dublin to spend the night with Hugh. It was Friday the 13th so naturally we watched various versions of the scary movie – recent one filled with bimbos and the older ones with fantastic 80’s outfits and hair do’s. We laughed. We jumped in our seats. We looked away. We pretended not to be scared. We ate quality Chinese food – of course with chips instead of rice – it’s just the way it is in Ireland. Potato. Potato.

I'm waiting to hear you're on your way over here, Hugh. 

I was one step, one day closer. 

Next, Dublin to London. From Heathrow I transferred to Gatwick to meet up with Arina arriving from Holland. Throughout the winter I tried to convince her to come to Ireland for a visit but with a new home and a new job it was a bit difficult. Luckily and ever so gratefully, she came to meet me in London for my last night.  It’s amazing how you can not see someone for a couple months, years even, and then get back together and instantly time disappears and it feels as though you never left each other.  With our fantastic directional skills, we managed to find Ottolenghi – a chef’s restaurant who’s cookbooks I have written a lot about here, his recipes pretty much filled our three days of Christmas.  Right in between our birthdays, it was a perfect setting to celebrate with a glass of prosecco, a bottle of Italian wine, lots of laughs, and small plates and stories to share. As I had made the reservation online, there was a box option for comments where I wrote my usual “Allergic to nuts and swimming fish (shellfish is ok)” so the waiter, after some glances from the kitchen and discussions with the other staff, came over to our table with a paper menu scribbled over with X’s and checks, ingredients crossed out to show me what I could order off of. Pretty impressive restaurant attention.  We were the second to last table to leave the restaurant.  
 Great last night.
The next day, my last day in Europe was spent wandering the Brixton Village markets, eating – apparently – the best pizza in London, wandering the streets of Oxford Circus, Picadilly and Leister Square, eating at Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant, walking down Kensington Church Street to see our old house on Cambridge Place, and having one last coffee on Glouster Road before we parted ways on the tube.  Arina’s enthusiastic bright smile and her supportive, generous hugs gave me the courage I needed to take a deep breath and keep going.

 Prior to flying, Singapore Airlines gives you an option to check out your meal options. Pretty impressive. And pretty tasty.
They also give you your own TV, an iPhone charger, Givenchy socks and a toothbrush, and pretty nice blanket and pillow.

2 hours into the 13 hour flight, right after I had taken half a sleeping pill, the loud speaker came on announcing the presence of a doctor to be made. Oh man, I thought, but she was ok.  And neither did I have to worry about disembarking as a drugged sleeping zombie as I slept for maybe an hour, maybe two, the entire flight. Instead I watched Drive, Moneyball, The Whistleblower, and What’s your Number?
Finally we landed in summer-toasted Singapore and I began stripping off the tremendous amount of layers of summer clothes I had piled on to keep me warm the last couple days in winter-coated Dublin and London. I don’t think I can begin to tell you how excited I was about my 13 hour layover in the Singapore airport.  It may have been the cheapest flight option, but as I looked into it, there was part of me that secretly wished I had stayed a bit longer. It makes sense as it is such an international layover stop to have such amenities for weary travelers. A swimming pool, movie theatre, world-class shopping, restaurants, spa services, hourly hotel rates, free tours into the city, feet-eating fish, shower facilities....it sounded great! And it did feel more like a mall than an airport. I was disappointed to find out that I had missed the free tours of the city as I had arrived at 6pm but then as I looked around and saw signs for public transportation I thought why not take myself in? It was nighttime, I was by myself, and I had absolutely no sense of bearings for Singapore. I couldn’t think of a visual image I had seen of it before nor could I think of any major tourists sites. I didn’t know if it was a safe city or where to go.  I dropped my shoulder bag off at the excess baggage desk and asked the guy what he thought. He said it was the start of Chinese New Years, explaining that it would be busy in town and naming some places to go for some bars and nightclubs. I smiled, replying that my flight was at 7:55am the next morning I didn’t think I would be going to any nightclubs or bars by myself in a strange city. As I walked out towards immigration, I asked for a second opinion to see if it was worth it to go into the city for a couple hours before the last train and if I just needed my boarding pass and passport to get back in. The lady at the immigration desk also mentioned Chinese New Year and started at my wool sweater saying I would be extremely hot wearing that outside. On my way to find some Singapore dollars for the train, I passed the tourist center and the woman there not only gave me a map of the city and the subway, but circled and walked me through all the different spots I could visit within the length of time I had. It was exactly what I needed.  Rather pleased with my adventure, I probably still looked like I was lost as I was the only Caucasian on the train – no one wanted to sit next to me.
awkward traveling alone.
 I got out where I was told and immediately the hot summer night air hit me, and almost as effect, knocked my head upwards as I felt tiny amongst the huge, brightly lit skyscrapers. It was really quite beautiful. I walked around the path around the river that was lined with restaurants and people enjoying eating an array of Indian, Asian and seafood restaurants. I remember walking around, enjoying the night on my own, and thinking how glad I was that I dared to venture out. It gave me a bit more of the confidence I needed to travel alone.

 I got a little lost on my way to Chinatown, feeling a little directionally challenged, but when I found it, wondered how I could ever not find it. The streets were lit up with bright lights and Chinese lanterns covering the car-less roads. On either side of the streets the stores opened up with tables and displays selling trinkets for Chinese New Years, chopsticks, candies, dried mushrooms, glass dragons, fans, iPhone accessories, wild Malaysian fruits, lanterns, dried meats of whoknowswhat and little vendors selling all types of Chinese food like a little Chinese mall’s food court. It was so hot and sweaty maneuvering between the hoards of people I eventually sat down to a cold Tiger beer and chatted with an English guy who owns a bar in Crete and travels for the 6 months of the year doesn’t work. Rough.
 Back on the train, I arrived at the airport with another 7 hours to go.  I wandered, chugged coffee, took a shower, and then sat, heavy-eyed at the gate. Another 5 hour plane ride to Perth, I thought for sure I would sleep no problem. Nope. I was restless. As I followed the flight map on the television screen in front of me, the plane slowly crossing the Indian Ocean, completely surrounded by water, all I could think of was how many sharks there must be in the deep water below us. I’m pretty sure it was the first time the pilot had ever landed a plane. It was awful. I thought for sure I wouldn’t even make it to the ground. We did. Then we arrived and he announced it was 36 degrees Celsius, which is 6 degrees Fahrenheit. What? I was sweating as we stood in line at immigration. Not only for the heat, but what if I wasn’t allowed in?  The guy took my passport, looked at the numbers, looked at them again, asked me if the passport was issued in Ireland and I said no America and he goes hmm I don’t see in here (computer system). Ohmygod. Then he handed me my passport and I was all set to go through.
 All Sharks.
First sight of Australia.