Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Posted on December 30th, 2004

Swan Bells

After I was fattened and spoiled for four days in Sydney, I again found myself on my own, being one of the few lonely people heading out to the airport on Boxing Day (December 26th, a national holiday in Commonwealth countries) for the five hour flight to Perth.

Perth was more or less a freebie. Through no small amount of effort on my part, with the help of an enthusiastic editor in New York, I was able to arrange a comped flight to Perth on Virgin Blue Airlines and passage back to Sydney via the Indian Pacific Railroad, first class all the way. Through sheer chance, Virgin Blue chose to send me over three days before the train, allowing me time to tour the city. I had heard and read much about Perth and I was looking forward to touring the most remote capitol city on Earth.

Well, it seems that the citizens of Perth had gotten together and made a quiet wink-wink, nudge-nudge agreement without consulting me first. Since Christmas and Boxing Day had fallen on a Saturday and Sunday, they seemed to feel that they were entitled to two days off from work. And so it was that I found myself in a deserted city of 1.4 million people on Monday morning. It was just me and a few other tourists that had not been let in on the scheme standing around looking to do something or go somewhere or eat something and being utterly screwed in all instances.

When I first emerged from the hostel at 7:45, hoping to nail down some fruit and an iced coffee for breakfast only to find Twilight Zone quiet streets, empty but for scattered pieces of litter blowing around, I just assumed that perhaps Perth was a late rising city. Well at 9:30 there was no mistaking that I’d been had. I eventually found an open convenience store at the otherwise abandoned bus station where I bought a pre-bottled iced coffee and inquired what had happened to the inhabitants of Perth. The immigrant clerk seemed to have been left out of the arrangement too and just commented on how everyone “in this big country town” was just being lazy and taking an extra day. It seemed no small miracle to me that a million people had all decided to play hooky on the same day. Later I found a Brit ex-pat who informed me that the Perthians (or whatever) were compensating for the full weekend holiday by taking Monday and Tuesday off.

“Whoa, and Tuesday?”

“Uh huh.”

Those were my two days to tour Perth. I was getting on the train Wednesday morning. Son of a…

So there went my chance to see Perth. Not only was everything closed up, but most trains and buses weren’t running at all, meaning my plan to steal away for a day trip to Bunbury, a few hours south of Perth, to swim with some tame wild dolphins at the non-profit Dolphin Discovery Center was also squashed. Additionally, Perth was hot. It was 90 degrees when I got off the plane the evening before, which was a bit of a shock after four unusually cool days in Sydney, and the needle was easily over 100 the following day. And it was windy. Like walking down the barrel of a hair dryer. The only saving grace was that the few women who were on the street, all in loose, micro-mini skirts, were giving off a nearly constant free underwear show.

With so few distractions at hand, I reluctantly opened Lonely Planet and started doing the Perth walking tour, which I’m happy to report was much better research and plotted than the Melbourne tour.

I started at the Christmas ornamented Perth Post Office and immediately veered into a Subway, fearing it might be my only chance at nourishing food for the day. Having scarfed down a six inch tuna sub, I re-emerged and headed to the Murray Street pedestrian mall, where I plunged into the London Court, a charming covered arcade done in Tudor English style, but slightly disappointing when I read that it had been built in 1937. I headed down St George Terrace where I found the Central Government building and the Perth Town Hall which were both not only locked and shuttered, but also had scaffolding covering half of the photographable exterior.

Post Office

London Court

Perth Town Hall

Perth Mint

To my great surprise, St George’s Cathedral was open, but perhaps only because someone had forgotten to lock it up before they left for the holidays, because the place was completely empty and I could have made of with all of the religious artifacts that weren’t nailed down if I weren’t already over-packed. The Cathedral, built in 1888, was impressively decorated and I took many photos before moving on. Further down St George Terrace the courthouse and the Government House were locked behind imposing gates and almost completely hidden from street view by a five foot wall and a line of trees, so even a distant photo was out of the question. As my spirits were flagging I rounded the corner and made an unintentional surprised grunt when I saw that the Perth Mint was open. I collapsed into the air conditioned lobby just in time to catch a gold pouring demonstration. The gold pouring was done by what appeared to be a college kid on summer break, though his perfectly hairless arms revealed that he’d done his time around the kiln. He put on a great act, describing the gold pouring process, making a big show of putting on his protective gear and finally pouring the gold into a bar mold. It was great fun. The rest of the Mint was very under-whelming after that, but I lingered anyway in the hopes of getting my tank-top entirely dry of sweat before heading back out, but after 30 minutes, I knew it was hopeless and moved on.

The Government House, I think.

St George Cathedral

I pretty much phone it in after that. I traipsed by St Mary’s Cathedral, trying to stick to the shade, then down the entire length of the Murray Street Mall before cutting back to St George’s Terrace where I quickly viewed the lackluster former Palace Hotel building, now a bank, and then the Old Perth Boys’ School which had been turned into gift shop for the National Trust and was so encroached upon be neighboring buildings that a decent photo was impossible. I threw in the towel at His Majesty’s Theatre which was gated leaving nothing to look at other than the forgettable façade. Reading ahead in the tour, even Lonely Planet sounded like it was reaching to sound enthusiastic about the rest of the tour. As I slowly spun in circles trying to decide what to do next, the aforementioned Brit ex-pat accosted me to offer directional assistance and filled me in on the abandoned city situation. He suggested that I go to Kings Park as there was no way they could close that down. I looked at the time and mentally evaluated whether or not I could handle any more time in the sun and heat. Then I looked at the map and deflated entirely when I saw that the park was two kilometers away from my current position and thus about five kilometers away from the hostel. The Brit added that the going to the park was uphill pretty much the whole way. That tore it. I was not going to climb a hill in 100 degree heat just to see another damn park. But the Brit persevered, saying I could take the bus. I took into consideration what bad form it would be to show up back at the hostel at 2:00 in the afternoon. I had a reputation to uphold with all of those strangers after all, who should’ve damn well been out suffering like I was. I decided that with an air conditioned bus placed in the equation, I could do Kings Park.

And I was glad I did, at first. For starters, turns out the bus from the city center to Kings Park is free-of-charge and happened to be running with surprising frequency considering that the rest of Perth was shut down. When I stepped out of the sweet air conditioned environment of the bus, I was slapped with a wave of heat that made my eyeballs swell. Kings Park is southwest of the city center and affords a view of Perth that is mildly obstructed by groves of trees. I walked to a corner of the park that allowed for a decent photo opportunity of Perth and then headed deeper into the park on one of the numerous walking paths.

Kings Park seems to have been meticulously designed so that there is virtually no shade covering the walking paths. After only 10 minutes, I hit my tolerance walls of heat, exhaustion and thirst. To make matters worse, I was becoming aware of the beginnings of a sunburn on my shoulders and neck. I turned around, left the walking path and cut through the middle of the park, darting from one shaded area to the next, until I was back at the bus stop.

Back in the city I made a beeline for one of only three convenience stores open to purchase and gulp down a Gatorade “Fierce Berry Thirst Quencher” and was very pleased with the results.

Stopping at an Internet café I found a causally worded, but clearly panicky, email from my editor at Global Traveler, requesting a last minute 1,800 word article on Salzburg, Austria, due in five days. Ha! Does she think I can just drop everything and bang out a brilliant piece of writing when I had all of this exhaustive touring to do??? Wait, there wasn’t any exhaustive touring to do. Perth was a fricking ghost town. Even the train station was closed. And I was about to board a 67 hour train trip which promised to have about 66.5 hours of down time. This couldn’t have been timed better! I replied enthusiastically and immediately started downloading pertinent lodging, dining and shopping information for Salzburg. My dream-like visit to Salzburg in 2003 and the resulting babbling in my journal meant that the bulk of the article could be copied and pasted from existing material. Quick payday. I was thrilled. (Truthfully, I like the Global Traveler people so much and I’m still hungry enough that even if I had to stay awake for two days to get it done, I probably would’ve taken the assignment anyway.)

The Internet visit concluded with a flourish when I happened on a plane ticket to get me from New Zealand to Singapore during the second week in February for $200 less than the best price I had found from earlier searches. I celebrated with another ice cold, Gatorade “Fierce Berry Thirst Quencher” and headed for home.

The next day was a mix of Salzburg related matters and prepping for the train, which included a stop at a liquor store for a emergency bottle of red wine if New Year’s Eve on the train went seriously sour.

The following morning, after some panicky Internet business, I took a cab to East Perth train station and allowed myself to be absorbed into the confined, first class world that would be my home for the next three nights.

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