PERTH – DAY TRIP TO ROTTNEST ISLAND

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Our fourth and last day in Perth we had taken advice from Trailfinders and pre-booked places on a day excursion to Rottnest Island.  At 7.25 am, the bus was on time and by 8.30 am we were glad to be in the queue to board the Rottnest Express.  The hour and a half boat journey passed quickly.  After such an early breakfast we were ready for a snack and were soon disembarking at the main jetty in Thomson Bay.

Thomson Bay Main Jetty Rottnest Island
Thomson Bay Main Jetty Rottnest Island

This fortuitously brought us to a variety of cafes, bars and shops with good quality offerings.  Keen to explore and not waste any time on the island, we chose a tasty take-away of freshly baked bread and home-made filling.  We ate perched on a low wall in the shade of an overhanging tree, at the same time taking the opportunity to gaze at the pedestrianized shopping and eating areas.

A popular way to get about is to hire a bike.  Cars are not allowed on the island.  There is a bus service but we decided to stretch our legs by taking the road to Thomson Bay North.  The path led us past single storey buildings, reminiscent of the holiday camp chalets on the Isle of Wight.  Cyclists wheeled by as we stopped to see what a small group of people were doing.  One lady had taken pity on a small animal we later learned was one of the unusual Quokka marsupials on Rottnest.  The summer had been unusually hot and dry and the Quokka looked very flea-bitten, certainly I would not have been so generous as to share my water bottle with him.  Quokka carry their young in a pouch, as wallabies, but I thought they looked more like large rats. We walked on.

Quokka

Quokka 

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I admired the aquamarine and blue sea on our right as we continued uphill.  Catching up with a group of walkers in front, we realised it was our Brazilian friend Haroldo with his cousins, whose company we had enjoyed during our evening dinner in the Dubai desert.  He turned, immediately recognising us.

‘Hello my friends!  How good to see you again.  This is our sister, you remember, the reason we travelled from Brazil, to be in Perth with her for New Year.’  We hugged, exchanged pleasantries and discovered we had all visited Kings Park the day before – New Year’s Day – taking advantage of the over 30 degrees centigrade temperature to meander about and make the most of the grassy areas in the sunshine.

‘You must come visit us in Brazil,’ said Haroldo.

‘Thank you, that would be great, but not sure when.  Meantime perhaps your next holiday could be a visit to us in England.’  Cards were exchanged and I’m sure we all were wondering whether we would meet again sometime.  We did seem to have an affinity as we walked together, admiring the seascape and rocky outcrops with natural vegetation.

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Arriving at a fork in the track towards the top of the hill, we left the Brazilians to continue to the Bathurst Lighthouse.  We returned towards the settlement, exploring the back streets with the Chapel, Museum and Library, and Salt Store dating back to the days when salt was used to trade in the mid 1800s.

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We passed the Dome café and continued by a well-kept lawn leading to the Hotel Rottnest.  Resting on a bench shaded by the spreading branches of a giant tree, the enticing aroma of plated lunches – carried by smartly dressed waiters – encouraged us to find a seat.  All the outside tables were busy so we sampled their white wine.  The wait was worthwhile – the chef knew his trade.  The burgers were perfectly cooked to our taste, delicately spiced with accompaniments. Our friendly efficient waitress kindly posed to show off her shirt.  Unfortunately we mislaid the paper serviette with her email details during our subsequent travels, so are sorry not to have sent her a copy.

Hotel Rottnest
Hotel Rottnest

‘That will keep us full until later this evening,’ said Paul.  ‘Delicious, that’s better,’ I replied.

Looking up the timetable for the Rottnest Island bus tour, we discovered many different activities are available.  Cycling, walking, camping, backpacking, bird-watching, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, or lying in the sun on one of the sandy beaches, all are available on Rottnest.  The bus tour allowed time at a variety of viewpoints, including the Bathurst Lighthouse.  We thoroughly recommend you include at least one day on Rottnest Island when you visit Perth in Western Australia.

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Pinnocks Coffee House, Ripley, Surrey

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Sunday morning – a lie-in is allowed – Andrew Marr Show catches my interest.  Telephone call prompt urges quick leap to shower – meeting my walking friend, Nicola, in Ripley at 10.30 this morning.

Confusion over meeting place sorted. Nicola amicably agrees to start with coffee as I haven’t had breakfast.  Pinnocks Coffee House in the centre of the high street draws the eye.

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I’m treated to a fresh, nutty, and tasty almond croissant that accompanies our delicious coffees from the huge choice available.  Finding a comfortable space among the settees and armchairs in the beamed upstairs area we settle into our catch-up:  the locals are lucky to have this cosy meeting place on their doorsteps.

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Re-invigorated, we walk beside the cricket green, past the children’s play area, across fields, over a wooden bridge, through a copse of trees, returning by a more direct path towards Ripley High Street.  We are struck by the friendliness of dog-walking locals, and walkers without dogs.  Ripley Village is full of historical buildings and well worth a visit.   A pleasant place to while away a few hours.

The Hampton Court Palace Festival – John Wilson and the John Wilson Orchestra

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Question:  What could be better than sitting outside on a summer evening having a picnic and listening to live music?

Answer:  A leisurely walk around the East Front Gardens of Hampton Court Palace with your best friend:  laying a rug on the lawn to picnic with a glass of Champagne, before listening to a world renowned musical performance in a magical setting.

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Hampton Court Palace East Front Gardens

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Hearing John Wilson and his Orchestra playing during a televised performance of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, encouraged Paul to reserve tickets for their performance at The Hampton Court Palace Festival, this summer.  Our 6 pm arrival allowed plenty of time to wander about the spectacular and historic East Front Gardens, appreciating the dry weather, beautifully planted flower beds and fountains, the iconic building and its exciting ambience.

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Enough meandering, inclement weather had led us to forego bringing a picnic:  the scent of Italian pizzas drew our attention as we spread ourselves and the travel rug over the well kept lawn.  We were soon relishing the stone-baked pizzas that tasted as well as they smelt – delicious with glasses of champagne from the nearby tent.

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Hampton Court Palace Festival

Moving the large number of people from the outside grounds into the Palace took time and, by 7.45 pm the public was being urged to enter the Palace for the fifteen minute walk through to the Tudor Courtyard.

Hampton Court Palace FestivalHampton Court Palace Festival

 Hampton Court Palace Festival

Hampton Court Palace Festival

Tiers of seats faced the specially made stage while white clouds scudded over an atmosphere of anticipation.  The players arrived, a few at a time;  the familiar sounds of violins and other instruments tuning up encouraged latecomers to quickly find their seats.  An air of expectation settled over the audience.

 The orchestra was ready.  Applause increased as John Wilson walked briskly across the stage.  A celebration of MGM Film Musicals had commenced.

We were not disappointed.  The repertoire included music by my favourites, Cole Porter and Gershwin, among other talented composers:  Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Andre Previn.  Special guest vocalists Anna-Jane Casey and Matt Ford added glamour to the occasion.  The disappearing sun emphasised lights shining on the red walls:  special musical touches and unusual fun sounds from percussion players brought gaiety, while blankets to cushion the hard seats and maintain warm legs, provided outdoor comfort.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

Hampton Court Palace FestivalAs an internationally renowned conductor and arranger, John Wilson and his personally chosen ensemble were well able to turn what could have been a tricky situation into an amusing incident.  Thirty minutes into the programme, a chilly wind whistled across the stage, lifting sheets of music without favour before depositing them willy nilly, around musicians’ feet.   John Wilson made fun as the wind repeated its performance on several occasions:  pausing the orchestra between arrangements, to allow one of the drummers to retrieve and replace the important musical scores.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

By 10.15 pm the programme had reached its finale, drawing another special evening in the iconic Hampton Court Palace environment to a close.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

Paul introduced me to The Hampton Court Palace Festival soon after we met.  His favourite blues guitarist, Eric Clapton, was appearing with his band.  Complimentary champagne in the Waitrose hospitality marquee, and the ‘Star Clipper’ bag purchased during a solo holiday to the Caribbean before I met Paul, encouraged lively conversation with other guests.  Afterwards we set up our picnic on the lawn to consume smoked salmon, prawns, and our own special bottle of champagne, in the warmth of the June heat-wave.  My first Festival – an introduction to Eric’s music in this spectacular setting – remains a special memory.

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THE PIG ON THE BEACH HOTEL – HISTORICAL BUILDING WITH WW2 CONNECTION

View of Studland Bay from Fort Henry WW2
The Pig on the Beach
http://www.thepighotel.com/on-the-beach/explore/

Our friends in Swanage gasped in disbelief when they heard a restaurant called ‘The Pig’ was opening in the area.  ‘We wondered who would possibly want to eat there,’ they told us.  ‘But we were wrong, it’s so popular we haven’t been able to get a table since it opened last year.’  Luckily they had reserved a table well in advance for our lunch together.

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We met with time to look around the kitchen gardens in the sunshine, noting the well-tended vegetable, fruit and herb beds from which – we later learned – the chef uses as many ingredients as possible.  Anything not locally grown or reared is sourced within a 25 mile radius, giving rise to the name:  The 25 Mile Menu.  Dotted about the grounds quaint buildings offer boutique accommodation and, nearby, free range chickens were having fun scratching around a cliff-top field.    IMG_0856

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http://www.thepighotel.com/on-the-beach/explore/

Wooden tables and benches, and more comfortable seats, faced out to sea.  We paused a while, looking across to our right at the Old Harry Rocks located at the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast.  A few thousand years ago the chalk of the Old Harry Rocks was part of a seam connected to the Needles on the Isle of Wight, to our left.  The seam gradually eroded.  Today the chalk stacks of Old Harry Rock and the Needles are divided by the  sea.

IMG_0840Feeling hungry, we made our way towards the main building where our table was laid ready in the Greenhouse restaurant:  the mis-matched white handled knives suited the shabby chic country style.  Dishes change daily and available ingredients offered plenty of choice.  The scallops were especially tasty, available as a starter or main:  our New Zealand Marlborough 2013  Sauvignon Blanc a superb accompaniment.

Marlborough NZ Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Yealands Estate, Single Vineyard – Awatere Valley Marlborough – Sauvignon Blanc NZ 2013

After lunch we walked through some of the ground floor rooms of the historical building that was built as a gothic fantasy in 1825 for the local Tory MP George Banks and his family of fourteen children.  Today the Grade II listed building is leased from the National Trust who oversaw the year-long restorative work.  We had to look carefully at the outside of the building to find the new wing before taking the path towards the beach.   IMG_0841

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The view over Studland Bay probably encouraged Churchill, Eisenhower and King George VI to come here in June 1944 to watch the troops practice the D-Day landings.  Real ammunition was used and mined booby traps, that had been laid against invasion, had to be cleared.  Being thirty metres in length and having concrete one metre thick all round, ‘Fort Henry’ is the largest and strongest observation post built during the war.      IMG_0848IMG_0846IMG_0847

Dubai, Desert, Sunset and Dinner – Part One

Sandy tracks and headscarves

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Our much-anticipated holiday started on Christmas Day.  We flew Business Class via Emirates to Dubai, the first stop on our six week break.  Paul and I were looking forward to our first local tour – a trip into the desert to watch the sun set over the sand and dine Arabic style in a deserted fort.

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A driver, whom we later learned was called Mohammed, collected us from the Hilton Hotel in Dubai Creek, expertly steering the People Carrier along busy dual carriageways, modern roundabouts and road junctions.  ‘I wonder whether we’re the only ones going,’ I whispered to Paul.  ‘It’s overkill using this size vehicle if that’s the case!’  Paul joked.  The upper part of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, was visible in the distance.  It reminded us of our disappointment at being unable to secure a reservation to visit this iconic building.

We were making good speed along a smart dual carriageway edged with grass.  A road sign showed we were driving along the Sheikh Zayed Road, that forms part of the E11 highway running parallel to the Dubai coast, from Oman in the East to Abu Dhabi in the West.  I felt glad that Sheikh Zayed, who had recently come to power when I lived in Abu Dhabi in 1968, had been honoured in this way.

Photo of Sheikh Zayed Road
By Imre Solt [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
Continuing along the busy highway, I noticed that dry yellow sand was replacing the green shrubs and orange marigolds and other brightly coloured flowering plants and grass running along the right-hand verge.  But gardeners tipping out potted plants and areas of freshly laid grass indicated a work in progress.   Our curiosity as to whether any companions would join our evening out increased as the driver pulled off the dual carriageway into a parking area in front of a shopping mall where a group of foreign-speaking men and women piled into the car.  As we continued our journey out of Dubai into the desert, we discovered they were a family group from Brazil.

Entrance to Dubai Desert Conservation ReserveEntrance to Dubai Desert Safari

After about thirty minutes we arrived at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.   This large fenced area in the desert is owned by one of the Ruler’s cousins.  Scarce breeds of Oryx and other antelope, and indigenous plants and trees, are being re-introduced into the Dubai desert.  Leaving our People Carrier parked outside, we entered the Reserve where open Land Rovers waited.   Scarves were tied Arabic fashion around our heads.  Each lady had black and each man a red and white chequered scarf.  After a brief chat with his driver colleagues Mohammed indicated that we should climb into one of the yellow Land Rovers, joining the Brazilians we had arrived with:  six cousins in their thirties and forties holidaying together.

‘We look like a bunch of bandidos,’ the tall male leader said in heavily accented English, twirling his arms above his head.  The others spoke only Portuguese but we laughed with them, their cheerfulness creating a fun atmosphere in the back of the vehicle. Open Land Rovers at the readySandy tracks and headscarves As we were driven along tracks in the sand we soon appreciated the protection afforded by our scarves as the wind whipped loose ends around our faces and sand clouds rose from the vehicles in front causing gritty pieces to work their way into the eyes, ears and nose of anyone trying to remove their scarf to speak.