Things to do in Perth, Western Australia

Perth CBD from the water front on the Swan River

Having spent three weeks in Perth back in November last year getting to meet my new grandson, I found myself back there again in February thankfully having missed the hottest of the summer sun.

This time on my trip to Perth I got out and about a bit more as the baby was a bit older and his mum much more used to packing all the paraphernalia needed for even the shortest outing. So we went for trips out to various beaches, vineyard, brewery, marinas, galleries, museums and even to a garden centre.

Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world the nearest city being Adelaide which is 1,324 miles away and Sydney which is a mere 2,447 miles east (that’s about the same as the distance between London and Moscow).

You don’t find many travel books on Perth, so I naturally went on to TripAdvisor and found that the place voted number 1 to visit is King’s Park & Botanical Gardens, the second most exciting thing to do in Perth is to visit the War Memorial in King’s Park ….. hmm exciting stuff.  The Swan River comes in at number 3, (slightly more exciting!) You can’t blame TripAdvisor as it’s the people who write about the “interesting things to do” should be ‘blamed’ but having said that there really aren’t that many things to visit in Perth (hence a war memorial being high on the list of things to do).

King’s Park

49% of the adult population of Perth are from a non-Australian origin (mostly English and Irish), so I’m guessing the majority of people who visit are either visiting family or friends or are there on business (mostly to do with the mines).  So they write about what they did and saw.  And to be honest everyone goes to King’s Park as it has spectacular views over the CBD (central business district) which sticks out (literally) towering over the expanse of the Swan River and the ever-expanding northern suburbs.  (see the photo at the top of the page).

It seems there are records of Europeans settling in the Swan Valley from the 1600’s but it was when the British government got wind that the French were thinking of annexing western Australia for themselves that they sent out a colony in 1826 and Queen Victoria made Perth a City in 1856.  The size of the colony stayed pretty small until gold fever struck in the early 1900’s.

Perth Mint

Perth Mint was opened in 1899, as a result of the gold rush there was a need for secure storage and somewhere local to mint new coins. The guide was really good and made the most of the demonstrating how to make a gold bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were lucky enough to be able to walk around Government House gardens which is only open for a couple of hours a day on weekdays (and is definitely closed when royalty come to visit!)

very welcome fountains cool the air in the garden
Government House

it’s a very wide river
Claisebrook Cove

We booked to go on a river trip with the Little Ferry Company based in Elizabeth Quay.  It does what it says on the tin, tiny little boats which hold at best 12 people ply their way up and down the Swan River, the journey we chose was from Elizabeth Quay to Claisebrook which took about 40mins.

 

Claisebrook as quite a posh marina community and has a very European look, with the row of tall houses surrounding the marina were all very different styles and painted pretty pastel colours.  There are a number of restaurants and bars where you can have lunch then after a short stroll round you can catch the free bus back into the city (just ask the boatman to point out where the bus stop is).

On Friday evenings during the summer months there is a street food market in the centre of Perth with around 30 or 40 different stalls all vying for your attention.  It’s the most difficult meal choice as there is sooo much to choose from.

It gets very busy so go there early enough to get a seat and listen to the entertainment.

A day out to the Swan Valley is a must, the scenery is lovely, very lush and green, and of course you have to pop in to one of the many vineyards or/and small breweries that are dotted all over the place.

One vineyard that we went to was Mandoon Winery were you can sample their best wines and champagnes in very smart surroundings.  If you have time stay for lunch the food is excellent.

And don’t forget the beaches, that’s another story …..

Chania Town for a weekend break in January

Crete isn’t currently one of the top ten weekend break destinations but I think it could be one day, given better flight connections.  We went to Crete at the end of January so that we could look at some houses for sale around the Chania area but also to see what Crete is like in the middle of winter, it was also an excuse to celebrate our second wedding anniversary in the lovely historical town of Chania.

I searched the internet for accommodation in the Old Town with views overlooking the beautiful Venetian Harbour and its famous lighthouse.  I found the perfect location at the Elia Zampeliou Boutique Hotel the entrance is on the street behind the harbour called Zampeliou (surprise, surprise).  The small entrance door opened into an impressive marble floored  hall and stairs. Our ‘superior double room’, on the first floor, was very tastefully furnished and did have the most stunning views.  The photo above is the view of the harbour front from our bedroom balcony. The lighthouse looked so close.

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View of the lighthouse from our bedroom balcony at night

The only negative was that as it was the winter season the reception and breakfast room at the hotel we were staying at was closed so we had to check in at a sister hotel about 5 mins walk away.  We had been sent an email a week or so before hand to warn of this with an apology and when we arrived at reception they did offer us alternative accommodation at the main hotel to save us the daily walk but I stuck to my guns as I wanted that view. We were also given the option of having breakfast delivered to our room each morning, had the weather been warmer it would have been wonderful to sit out on the balcony in the sunshine.

The next morning we were woken up by sounds of hammering and chiseling which seemed to be coming from the building next door. When we were leaving to walk round the corner for breakfast we had a closer look and both buildings either side of where we were staying were being totally refurbished. In fact it was basically only the shells of the buildings left. We mused that if they did as good a job as the builders had done on our hotel they would be beautifully restored and we appreciated that they can only do this type of work out of season.

Breakfast was a delightful mix of Cretan and European food.  The omelettes were gorgeous, Jim couldn’t decide between the different types of bread and at least 8 different marmalades and jams. No freshly squeezed orange juice but the coffee was good and you could help yourself to some raki with your coffee if you were desperate enough!  All of the staff were very friendly and apologised for their poor English, as our Greek is non existent we told them we were impressed.

Parking is difficult around the harbour as a lot of it is pedestrianised (not that it stopped the locals from driving up streets barely wide enough to get their little cars up.  No wonder they drive with the wing mirrors folded in!). Anyway, there was plenty of on street parking places within a few minutes walk but I’m not sure how easy these would be to find during the high season.  There are a few public car parks but they are a little further out, so take this into consideration and only bring small suitcases as you may be walking with them along windy cobbled streets and up and down steps for quite a while.  I jokingly commented whenever you heard the noise of suitcase wheels echoing around in the darkness that it was the ghost of tourists who’d never found their hotel and were permanently walking the streets with their ghostly suitcases.

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The area behind the fort is a maze of tiny little back streets which in the summer are teeming with little artisan shops and cafes, all decorated with pots of brightly coloured geraniums and Bougainvillea, whereas off-season the colours and the bustle is gone but it still had its charm.  We’ve been to Chania a few times now and it’s always been heaving so to walk around it virtually on our own was heaven.  Unbelievably there were still some touts at the restaurants on the harbour front trying to tempt us in. We found a small restaurant called Tamam  only two doors down from the Hotel on Zampeliou Street, it’s the oldest family run restaurant in Chania (according to them) serving typical Cretan dishes with specials of the day. One special that I tried was a veal, pork and cheese pie. Sounds a bit dodgy but OMG it was amazing I had it with the giant bean starter (which was also divine) and a nice glass of Cretan Sauvignon Blanc.

The next morning we didn’t have to get up as early to meet the estate agent as it was a Saturday and thankfully breakfast was being served till 11am.  However, at 7.30am a large generator was coaxed noisily into non-stop action just below our balcony window. We were up much earlier than anticipated that day!  We also gave in (well I gave in) and asked to be moved to the sister hotel just back from the harbour. They fully appreciated how frustrated we were by the workmen and explained that the renovations are a big job and can only be completed during the winter (yes we know ☹️).  So we packed our bags, rattled our way around the corner and left them in reception whilst we went out for the day.

After a hard day of viewing houses we returned and were shown to our new accommodation which was a suite on the 5th floor overlooking the Church and the rooftops towards the harbour, they’d even left us a free bottle of wine.  Nice touch (shame is was red).

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The Church

The suite composed of a lounge with a door through to a narrow corridor, the bathroom was on the right, straight on to the bedroom, on the left were mirror fronted wardrobes and cupboards which including a good size fridge.  It was cleverly designed so the lounge could be locked off if it were only to be used as a room with en-suite.

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comfy lounge with spitting coffee machine

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This shower looked amazing but we couldn’t figure out how to work all the bits n bobs! The bed was so huge we had problems finding each other … not sure if that was so bad!! lol

Having tried to avoid the restaurants on the front we did actually try one which advertised itself as a wine bar and bistro, it was right at the end of the quay towards the Fort called La Bodega. The staff were brilliant, the service was excellent and the food was really good.  They had a really good choice on the wine list.  We watched two young lads (in their early twenties) have the wine they’d ordered carefully decanted into a massive ship’s decanter.  Once it was poured they delicately swizzled the crimson nectar in their glasses, checking the colour in the candle light before consuming with delicacy and relish.

We were only there for a few days but it was very restful however, unfortunately our flight back from Heraklion airport was at 6.30am, which meant we had to leave Chania at 2.30am to be there in time (its a 2 hour drive on the National Road from Chania to Heraklion).  So we paid our bill the day before.  We were told by the receptionist that we couldn’t possible leave that early without a decent breakfast so she’d organised for a picnic bag for us to take with us.

Bless her, it was full of lots of nice things like cheese and ham sandwiches, and lots of little foil packages containing things like nuts, raisins, figs, sweet pastries, cheese pastries, boiled egg (and salt) and a choice of fruit.

It was such a nice thought. I will definitely give them a good review on TripAdvisor.  Having said that everyone we met was so friendly and chatty. If you haven’t thought of Chania for the weekend consider it.  Ryanair fly direct to Chania from Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Glasgow, East Midlands, Dublin and Manchester from as little as £16.99 one way (in March)

How many bicycles in Beijing?

Ever since I was in school in 1974 and I saw the press coverage that a massive terracotta army had been found by accident by a guy digging a well. I knew I wanted to see them one day.  Beijing was just the start of this adventure.

Flying with Scandinavian airways to Beijing from Heathrow doesn’t sound like an obvious choice. However, it is what we booked and I can’t complain. Unlike flying to Guatemala City via Houston, Texas last year  we didn’t have to stand in line before numerous humourless security personnel (all wearing Top Gun style reflective sunglasses) to get through security checks (taking almost 3 hours) ……  no, in Copenhagen we walked off the plane, followed the arrows and in 5 mins were at our departure gate.  Simple and no fuss.

We were flying Business Class, cool!! Loved the Premium Lounge at Heathrow, will definitely visit there again.  It was difficult to decide what to nibble on from the buffet counter first. I say nibble, there was everything there from cheese, biscuits and fruit to curry and rice, with other choices of both hot and cold meals and snacks, meanwhile Jim and I took it in turns to sample the wine menu.

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Didn’t get on-board champagne as we took our seats like 1st class but did get comfy, roomy seats, proper glasses, metal cutlery and most importantly unlimited alcohol, served by friendly blondes.

Unfortunately, the plane was late into Copenhagen so we were delayed but only by an hour. That meant when we landed in Beijing our guide (and driver) wanted to get us straight on track with our itinerary, so hot off the plane we were whisked (well as fast as the traffic would allow us) to Tienanmen Square. Once through the security checks (have had more thorough security going into Lords Cricket ground) we were crossing the triple carriageway  and on to the square. It is huge. They say that you can get 1 million people in the square and I can easily believe that.  My only comparisons are Red Sqaure in Moscow and Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, Cuba, both of which are much, much smaller.

How many times in my life have I seen that huge picture of Chairman Mao displayed on the walls of the Forbidden City? It’s one of those scenes that you never think you’re actually going to witness and there we were, surrounded by hundreds of pushy, noisy, short (yes, even shorter than me) Asians.  Within minutes I realised that they didn’t give a fig whether you were trying to frame the perfect picture, they’d barge in front or behind and push you out of the way.  Having been heavily nudged by a sharp elbow or two being a typical Brit I apologised for inadvertently being in their way and moved, as you would, but after a while I gave up and went native (ie I used my elbows to good effect) and got some cracking photos. When my new found barging skills let me down I simply gave the camera to Jim and he took the photos over the tops of their heads.  Perfik.

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Once past the larger than life Mao we were into The Forbidden City. It’s basically the same style of buildings all the way through but it’s set in a series of courtyards, back in the day the riffraff would be sorted from the military / affluent / titled people at each stage so only the most important would get through to see the Emperor.

So you walk through the Outer Court,

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over the bridges past the Chinese Lions, one male with his paw on an orb (to symbolise strength and power) and a female with her paw on a lion cub (to symbolise nurturing and caring).

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Then into the courtyard with the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  The wood is exquisitely painted and needs constant updating, the guide said that the whole place takes 14 years to paint, and then they start again.

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Next was the Hall of Middle Harmony, followed by the Hall of Preserving Harmony, to be honest by the time we got to the Gate of Heavenly Purity they were all starting to look much the same. Very pretty though.

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The tour ended in the Imperial Gardens, where the trees have different coloured labels on them; white if they were over 100 years old, green if they were over 200 years old and blue if they were over 300 years old.  If only they could talk, what stories could they share?
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Our boutique hotel the Shichahai Shadow Art Hotel was situated in the Hutong area of Beijing and was a converted courtyard house called a ‘siheyuan’ which were built and owned by high up officials who worked for the Emperor but were taken into state ownership under the Communists. Most of Beijing’s old houses have been bulldozed and replaced with enormous high rise blocks. It’s such a shame as I got the feeling that Beijing didn’t really have any character. Massive 10 lane highways have been built by knocking down the city walls, there are a couple a watch towers left but not enough has been preserved.

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And so much smog.

This photo was taken early in the morning in the Hutong area just outside our hotel, before the traffic became manic.

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On our first evening we ventured out around to the lake and found ourselves some street food.  We sat outside next to the side of the lake on tiny chairs and table, a very friendly chap offered us a beer and a picture menu which also had English translation (thank goodness).  We ordered the chicken stir fry.  It was getting quite dark and we really couldn’t see what we were eating but it was very tasty.  We were virtually finished when I pick up the little lamp and held it over the dish to see what was left.  Only the chicken’s foot!!!

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The following day we went to the Temple of Heaven, completed during the Ming dynasty.  It was here that the Emperor would make sacrifices and pray to heaven and his ancestors during the winter solstice.

We passed some mature people dancing in the shade of the trees,

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we almost joined in but our guide was surging forward.  Can’t get left behind!!

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Look at the detail in the painting.  Amazing.

Next on the agenda was the Summer Palace.  If you’ve seen the movie The Last Emperor you’ve see the Summer Palace as it was filmed here.

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Beautifully decorated ‘Long Corridor’

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Bridge from the island to the main land

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We thought it would be interesting to go to see a Chinese Opera, we’d been warned that it goes on for hours and there isn’t much tune.  They were right.  However, the costumes and make-up were amazing.

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But it was dire.  See this short youtube clip

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Dinner was included in the over priced tickets.  A veritable feast shared between 6!!

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Note the individually wrapped polo mints on the right, enough for at least 2 each and the 3 eclairs were cut in half so plenty to go round. They were spoiling us!

As to the question, how many bicycles in Beijing? Katie Melua said there were 9 million (but that was in 2008).  Not any more, most people ride electric bikes and they love to silently ride up behind you and when they are about 6 inches away from you, toot noisily.  Maybe they are just getting their own back on the tourists 🙂

A week in Crete

We recently spent a wonderful week on the charming island of Crete.  This is the second time we’ve visited in the last 12 months and we were equally as impressed with the stunning countryside and way of life as before.  The thing that impressed me the most is the fact you can enjoy the view of the snow capped White Mountains then turn around and see gloriously bright blue sea and sky.

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Last time we stayed at Iraklio, the largest and busiest town on the island. More urban and business like than Rethymno or Chania but still pretty, with some very nice boutique hotels and restaurants.

This time we stayed near Platanos in a delightful Stone Cottage owned by Popi and her son Basilis.  Popi looked after us really well,  keeping us constantly topped up chocolate cake, daily eggs from her chickens as well as cooking a meal for us on 3 evenings (we were supposedly self catering)

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The house used to belong to her mother and the old kitchen is now our bedroom.  Everything was very kitsch but I loved it.

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view of the patio from the lounge
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these delightful little bags were everywhere
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view of the garden from the patio
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Yummy chocolate cake

We stupidly decided to visit the Botanical Gardens on the hottest day of the year so far (it was still 29 degrees at 5pm).  We strolled down the hillside through the variety of trees, shrubs and flowers to find a pretty lake right at the bottom along with residents such as peacocks, ducks, geese, deer and goats.

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Part of the anatomy of this little lady looks popular!

The journey back up wasn’t quite such a ‘walk in the park’ and we were very grateful for the walking sticks we had been given at the ticket office. Once at the top we treated ourselves to a welcome ice cream.

We went for a paddle on one day, although it was warm the sea water was still quite chilly.

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The nearest beach to where we were staying is Falassarna, just a few minutes away and has the most stunning pink sand. As it was out of season we were virtually the only people there.

Just a little further down the road was a delightful little ‘cave’ church.

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And another one …

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On Sunday we’d stopped to have lunch and then all these vintage cars started pulling up and parking outside the restaurant we were in.

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This one was the most popular.  Not surprising given how much detail the owner had gone to. Everything was colour co-ordinated even down to the little yellow ducks in the back window.

I couldn’t get over how blue the sea was and stopped off many times just to look and take a quick photo.

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This chap spent all his time sitting patiently outside the local shop.

I loved Crete and can’t wait to go back there.