Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Perth Adventures: Home already?

As with all good vacations, they end too soon. It was time to make the drive back to Perth and catch our flight home. Here are a few last photos of the trip.

Another last photo of the Cape to Cape hiking trail. What a beautiful day!!
Xanadu winery cellar door. Nice place and nice wine.
Some of the fall color - seemed so strange to see and feel fall in the middle of May.
This is part of the Voyager Estate winery cellar door - I think it will be the template for my next living room. 
So long Australia - hope to see you again soon!!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Margaret River Discovery Tour

Margaret River is gorgeous! Woods, caves, beach, wine country - all within driving distance of one another. And it's fall so the colors are changing, the air is crisp and cool and life is good. We've been to a number of different wine regions in our travels, so wanted something a bit different from a traditional wine tasting tour. Stumbled across the M/R Discovery Tour and were so glad we did.

We started the 'tour' with a canoe trip on the Margaret River. So peaceful - the water was like glass.

 Next stop was a cafe in Prevelly for a quick coffee and a look at Surfer's Point beach. Some of the world's greatest surfing competitions are out on that breakwater.

And kangaroos!! We saw them everywhere! In the fields sunning themselves, among the grape vines, we were in heaven.
We also stopped at a waterfall which had just started running the day before due to all the rain. I guess Mother Nature was feeling bad about us missing our trip to Rottnest Island and decided to make it up to us. The waterfall was gorgeous.
We then went to lunch at a winery that isn't open to the public - a very private tour and a wonderful lunch right in the working winery.

And our final stop was the Cape to Cape hiking trail. Amazing views and the weather was absolutely perfect. Crisp, cool and bright and sunny. What a day!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Perth Adventures: Fremantle, not to be confused with Freemantle

It was road trip day - our 3 hour drive to the Margaret River where we would spend the next two days of our trip. We were counting on the weather so we could use the convertible and today Mother Nature complied. It was chilly but we were able to put the top down and hit the open road.

We were headed to Fremantle where we planned to stop and tour the prison there and have lunch. So, I dutifully plugged in Freemantle into the GPS and off we went. Did you catch that? Freemantle, not Fremantle. And yes, Freemantle is on the complete other side of Australia in the wrong direction! Luckily, we noticed about 20 minutes into the drive so didn't take too long to get going in the right direction.

The drive was beautiful - rolling green hills, lots of cattle, sheep and occasional Emu. We only saw one kangaroo though and unfortunately, dead along the side of the road. Soon we were in Fremantle and pulled into the Prison parking lot.

We took the Prison tour and had a great guy named Bret who made the tour interesting with enough humor to keep it from getting too depressing. Yes, they are criminals, but the living conditions were still pretty brutal, which is the reason the prison was eventually shut down. It's now a protected heritage site.
The grassy area was all vegetable garden in the first years of the prison until they found pot growing amongst the vegetables and replaced everything with grass.

This courtyard is where prisoners with no job at the prison had to spend their days. The roof was added later.
This is the original cell. The first prisoners were shipped from England to provide manual labor to the Australian colony. They worked 16 hour days so really only needed their cells to sleep. When they stopped using the prisons as labor, they needed to make the cells bigger as they would spend so much more time in them.

The photo below shows one of the aboriginal paintings in the man's cell. In the last year or so the prison was open, they allowed the prisoners to paint. There is even an art gallery on the premise now with the artwork from those prisoners - many of whom are still alive and some even free.
 Brian was chosen to help demonstrate the whipping post. Does our guide look a tad gleeful to you?

Lucky he didn't choose any volunteers in this area.

After the tour, we headed to the pier to find some lunch. Not too bad, but the seagulls were awful! One of the nasty birds had one of Brian's scallops before he could even set his tray down.

 The guilty party. Too bad we couldn't ship him off to the prison!

And on full stomachs, we got back in the car and headed the rest of the way to Margaret River.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Perth Adventures: More rain, some bells and a bar of gold

Woke up with a plan to catch the ferry to Rottnest Island and see some Quokkas, but Mother Nature had another plan. It was raining. Pouring actually, but every once in a while, it would clear up and the sun would come out and I would get my hopes up . . . and then it would start pouring again. Oh well, we rarely get to see rain, let alone a nice downpour so we were still happy and switched to Plan B.

We started at the Swan Bell Tower in the Central Business District of Perth. The tower houses the Swan Bells which play once per day at various times during the week. They are rung by hand, not automatic machine, which makes them a bit unique. This is also one of the only towers in the world where the public can see the bells and the bell ringers. They even invite the public to learn to ring the bells on occasion. Unfortunately, today wasn't one of those days, but we did time it so we could see and hear the bells.

We also had a pretty good view of the Swan River from the top of the tower between the bursts of rain. We actually went up, had to come back down and go up again in between the rain showers.
 Might have to make this one my desktop wallpaper through the Abu Dhabi summer.

After the bells, we decided to do a tour of the Perth Mint. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any photos, but did have a nice tour. Very informative about the history of the gold rush in Western Australia and we got to see a live demonstration of gold bar pouring.

By then it was time to find a late lunch and we spent the rest of the day 'chillin' at a coffee shop. Actually chillin because it was pretty cold for us! :) We were loving the fall weather, but weren't used to being a bit damp and cold.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Perth Adventure: Swan Valley wine region

Faced with a day of rain, we needed to amend our plans to visit Rottnest Island and instead decided to head into the Swan Valley wine country. (no, it wasn't a tough decision! ;) We didn't know anything about the area so started at the visitor centre and then wandered through the day. Ended up pretty awesome.

Our first stop was Yahava Koffee works where they roast the beans on premise, have a coffee tasting counter and a huge retail area with all kinds of fun things one doesn't need. Lots of funny sayings on cups, coasters and magnets. Our favorites were:

"Men are like fine wine. They all start our like grapes, and it's our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you'd like to have dinner with."

"Dogs have owners. Cats have staff."

After a coffee fix and a few laughs, we headed to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory where I was signed up for a wine & chocolate master class. There were only 5 of us in the class and we had a lot of fun cracking jokes and tasting wines with chocolate. Here's a photo of the tasting spread.

The tasting was fun and now it was time to visit a winery. Brian had selected Sittella wines, which is the youngest winery in the area and still completely family owned. It was only the two of us at first, which was great as we chatted up the staff and then a bus of about 20 came in and the place got loud. We managed through as they only stayed about 15 minutes and then headed off for lunch so again had the place almost to ourselves and had a nice chat with the staff there. I'm thinking this could be my next career - serving wine at a vineyard and entertaining the visitors with stories of the sand box!

It was then time for some lunch so we headed to the Cheese Barrel which imports lots of cheeses from all over the world and pairs them with local wines. It was a bit pricey for what we got but a nice little lunch and a fun place to watch the rain.

Another winery, but this one a bit cold and unfriendly. We didn't stay long and didn't buy anything.

Our last stop was the Honey House which was a bit of a tourist trap although they did sell all kinds of honey in all kinds of ways.  We had the most fun with the beekeeper photo op out front!
We're headed to Margaret River later in our trip, which is the more known wine area so it will be interesting to compare. The Swan Valley seems to focus on white and Margaret River more known for their reds. Should be fun!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Perth Adventure: Lucky breaks and rain!

Our latest adventure is Perth in Western Australia. We had been to southern & eastern Australia a few years ago so this time decided to check out the other coast. Perth is an 11 hour flight direct from Abu Dhabi, but with discount business class, it wasn't bad at all.

As usual, we had a little adventure on the way in. First, Brian left his passport in the car - luckily, I sarcastically asked him if he had his passport as we were pulling away in the taxi (a running joke) and this time he didn't! After reminding him SEVERAL times how lucky he is to have me around, we were off to the airport. Lucky break #1.

Lucky break #2 happened at the check-in counter, when the guest agent asked if I had applied online for our Australian visit visas. . . . our what? Oh x%$# visas?! I hadn't even considered that we might need visas to get in to Australia! What a stupid bit of arrogant American assumption!! Luckily, Australia has an online visa application that the guest agent pulled up for us on two iPads. We were able to register, pay the fee and our applications were approved in time for us to check in for our flight. A stressful 20 minutes and a HUGE lucky break. . . . I stopped reminding Brian how lucky he is to have me.

So at this point, we're on the alert for #3 (things come in threes we've always been told). Would we get held up at security for some obscure reason? Find out the flight had been overbooked? Get the time zones wrong and mess up our accommodations? Who knew?

Despite all our worry (okay, not worry as we're not the type - let's say watchfulness), the rest of check-in, security, etc. went just fine. Flight was awesome as usual and we arrived without any trouble. We got our luggage and Brian went to sort out a SIM card while I picked up the rental car.

Our rental car - now, first you need to understand something about the Stolls. We NEVER splurge on our rental cars. In fact, we are at our most frugal (aka cheap) when we rent cars. After all, it's just for getting from place to place so we really don't care much. (See illustrative photo below from our last trip to Australia where Brian needed chiropractic help after squeezing into the smallest car ever.)
But for some reason, I/we decided we wanted a convertible this trip. We have a 3-hour one way drive (plus all the stops) to Margaret River from Perth and it's autumn here so I/we thought a convertible would be a great idea. Yes a splurge, but hey, we've saved so much money on rental cars in the past, let's live a little!

And now the forecast is heavy rain for the next 3 days. We're still waiting for lucky break #3.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dubai Miracle Garden

My parents and good friends were visiting for the second time in March this year so we wanted to find some new things to explore with them. Stumbled across the Dubai Miracle Garden and glad we did. This is no botanical garden with rare specimens and scientific labeling. This place is simply an artist's playground using basic annuals as color and paintbrush. A nice day out and something different in Dubai. (Just try not to think of the water bill this place must rack up in the middle of the desert!) They are open for 6 months of the year until it gets too hot (no one would visit in summer anyway) and then spend the next 6 months getting ready to open again.