Perth, Peace in Western Australia

Sunday 3 April 2011. First a two hour flight from Seattle to Los Angeles, a layover that was usually a couple of hours, then a 14 hour flight to Brisbane, Australia. I lost a day in the process, thanks to time zones and the International Date Line, so it was now Tuesday, 5 April. After another layover a five hour flight to Perth on the western side of Australia. It was late afternoon when I landed, over 21 hours in the air, plus a few hours of layover. Note: Many folks don’t realize that Australia is about the same size as the United States, it’s really big. 

A taxi ride took me to the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel on Wellington Street, by 2011 I had already stayed at this hotel multiple times, and held a number of seminars in their meeting rooms. Thankfully my room was ready so I dropped off my things, changed my shirt, and headed out for Murray Street, the part of Perth that I am most familiar with. 

Walking east On Murray Street the familiarity of Perth did its magic and the effect of the long plane rides faded away. In Perth the first landmark I look for is the Belgian Beer Garden, as Belgian as any pub you will find in Brugge with a nice selection of Belgian beers. I was in Perth for a few days so mussels and frites would have to wait. Right now I had another pub in mind, a few blocks down Murray street, in the area where Murray becomes a walking mall.

The name escapes me, but I have been there many times. It is a comfortable place, with outside tables, and I remember a large tree trunk wrapped in lights. I was in the mood for a pint.

When I landed in Brisbane I called home, from a pay phone using a calling card. (Hard to believe just nine years ago international calls on cellphones were rare.) Tricia answered, confirmed quickly that my flights went well, then told me to brace myself. My mind raced, was something wrong with the house, something financial; our minds go through a checklist of possibilities. 

“Jay died.”

I am rarely speechless, but this did it. Jay was a good friend from church, he was the contractor that had remodeled our kitchen into a beautiful place to cook and eat. Big E Brewery was our meeting point to discuss the world, challenges, and food, which Jay loved as much as we do. Jay was in his 50’s, too young to die, but heart problems do not always check in with birthdays.

I needed to get to a place that Jay and I would have frequented if we lived in Perth. Picking a table in a corner with a view of the street traffic I ordered a pint of James Bogle and a bag of Salt and Vinegar Crisps. When it arrived I made a toast to my friend, “Jay, this ones for you. Will miss you but see you in glory.” Then I did a sketch.

Perth is one of my favorite places in OZ. It is a major city, yet is isolated from the rest of the country by four or five hour flights, with thousands of miles of outback in between. Yet with all of that it is one of the most fashionable of the cities, it is noticeable in how people dress. The buildings and parks are clean and well maintained. It is expensive, over the years I would pay about 2ASD more for a pint in Perth than I would in Darwin, which is one of the less expensive places.

On my trips to Australia I always looked forward to Perth, the seminars were good, as Australian audiences are great. And my rambles along Murray street and Hay street are still vivid in my mind.

I do believe that it was on this trip that I met a friend, Miranda. She had recently arrived from South Africa and helped with registration and organization at the seminars. We had a couple of wonderful chats after the seminars about the state of things in the world and in South Africa, another place that has a soft spot in my heart. We have stayed in touch thanks to Facebook and emails, with all of my complaints about social media it does help us keep in contact with distant friends.

Reality says I will most likely never get back to Perth, nor take the train out to Fremantle where the Americas Cup was held so many years ago. I will probably have to settle on mussels and Frites in Belgium instead of at the pub on Murray street. But I will always remember the many pleasant times I had in Perth, they bring back smiles every time.

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Meandering – Darwin, Australia

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All this time in Le Confinement has me thinking back to all the years I spent traveling the world as a seminar speaker, I am passing on some of those memories.

If I ever just wanted to disappear you just might find me in Darwin, Australia. Darwin holds some kind of attraction I have never been able to explain. In the list of Australian tourist destinations I imagine it is pretty low on the list, yet for me it is one of my favorite places in OZ for no definable reason.

Thanks to the heat and incredibly high humidity you don’t see people in long pants much, shorts are the de rigueur.It is so hot that the pubs serve cans of beer in insulated sleeves.

Darwin is the kind of place where people don’t ask a lot of questions, seems most everyone is pretty much left alone. Thanks to the lower prices of everything it attracts backpackers, the main drag of Mitchell street is lined with hostels. Athletic young folks and shaggy gray beards seem to coexist quite comfortably.

It does cost less. On one of my many Australian trips my first stop was Perth, another of my favorite places down under, my second stop was Darwin. More on Perth another time, but it is everything Darwin is not, Perth is expensive and stylish. A pint in Perth was about 6A$ (about US$8 at the time). After checking in to the Darwin  Hotel, just off of Mitchell,  I walked the two blocks to Monsoons, my favorite place in Darwin, ordered a pint, it was 3A$, nice.

Of course I did a sketch, sitting on the deck with a view of the street and the people. Inside the air conditioning had it down to Antarctic temperatures, me, I love the heat and humidity; rugby or cricket on the TV – life is good. Monsoons at night is quit different, it is a party bar, big time – not my kind of place at all. In the evening I would often wander down to the other end of Mitchell Street to a restaurant on the bottom floor of an office building with a huge deck wrapped around a banyan tree. 

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The Hog’s Breath Pub, down Mittchel street a few blocks, was always a good place to drop in – more of a sports bar.  Just around the corner from Monsoons there is a Turkish restaurant, outside seating under a banyan tree eating lamb is pretty hard to beat.

A lesser know fact about Darwin is that it was the only place attacked by the Japanese during WW2. Not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the same air squadron bombed Darwin, on the bluff overlooking the ocean there are informative memorials that tell the story.

Yes, for some reason I do like Darwin. The white hat that I wear while sketching in the summer came from a hat shop just a block from Monsoons. Reflecting on Darwin brings back good memories. As always I am so gratful for the opportunities the being a seminar speaker afforded me.

A day of Spanish missions, sketching and prayer 

A whole day and all I needed todo was drive 40 miles, so I opted to visit three old missions and spend the day sketching and praying.

First stop was the famous San Juan Capistrano, I would love to see the swallows return but I fear it would be crowded, today it was full of school children yet I found some solace nonetheless.


This is the tiny chapel for Saint Peragrinus. It was the perfect place to read the Morning Prayers.


Here are more from San Juan Capistrano, including the old chapel, and the living quarters for the priest.


Then I went to San Luis Rey, much smaller with  seminary and retreat center, nice place for Noontime prayers.


Last stop was in the foothills of Palomar Mountains, famous for the observatory. Mission San Antonio de Pala is much smaller but so enticing to set and do a mid day devotion.

“With a flair for old romantic to the Orient he flew” – Off to Tokyo


After months of waiting, our trip to Japan, postponed from April to July, due to our flooded basement, has begun. Uber to the park and ride, bus to Seattle, Sound Transit Light rail to the airport, TSA Pre-check, and we are in the Delta Crown Club, sipping Moët. Thanks to my life of air travel we fly business class on the 10 hour flight – good food and service await, the seats recline flat so sleep is possible. When we land Saori, our friend and former exchange student will welcome us at Narita airport. Did I mention we are excited?

A Japanese gem in Torrence

Sometimes sheer luck brings us a gem in the midst of a otherwise less than non-descript travel day, a reminder that it is always worth it to travel and explore.
Today was my first time on JetBlue, my fourth flight in four days. You don’t expect a lot on discount airlines, and JetBlue lived up to that nicely. The Airbus was old, I have not been on a plane that old in some time, the attendant was so pleasant, he spoke Spanish to the elderly lady sitting next to me. But JetBlue is air travel at its most basic. Southwest may be discount air, but they do have a lot more class. 
I needed a treat, not something I thought I would find in Torrence, CA. This is an industrial area, headquarters for Toyota and some other big companies. My best hope was a sports bar with a game on and something deep fried. 

Thanks to Yelp I found Bistro Beaux, sounds French, it’s Japanese. Really small, industrial-modern decor, textured concrete walls, cyclone fence used as accents. When I went in, I was the only Caucasion in the room, a good sign. 

The bartender was a real pro, when he was not mixing or serving he was carving a spherical ice cube, chipping away with a Japanese knife, creating a perfect 4” ball. The food was not the stereotypical Japanese fare.

I started with Sauted Cod with a lemon butter and caper sauce. Cooked to perfection, the fish flaked without being mushy, the sign of an expert in the kitchen. The lemon and capers enhanced the fish, not overpowering. 

Having a weakness for Uni (sea urchin), the Eryngii Mushrooms Sauted with sea urchin was obviously next. I have never had sautéed Uni. When I have sushi, I usually have Uni with a raw quail egg for desert, so sautéed was intriguing. The Uni actually had just a hint of crisp, the Eryngii sautéed yet firm, with some delightful sauce and the Uni strips, wonderful.

This was the gem I needed to remind me why it’s worth it to travel, these surprises crop up when your least expect it, and deposite experiences and memories for the future.

Las Vegas, I won!

Thank you Las Vegas, I think I figured it out. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas – perfect, as there is nothing here I would want to take with me. Sitting in the noisy Southwest Airline concourse, eating a mediocre overpriced meal, something started to make sense – what makes me a bit different as a traveler and travel blogger.canstockphoto4511009-650x487

First of all, I don’t like Las Vegas, nothing about it has any attraction. The casinos are noisy, this place is decadent, being polite about it. Superficial would describe most everything, and so many people are here looking for some kind of fun, but it does not seem to work. If you ever get here, go down to the registration desk of the hotel in the morning, watch the people checking out, they are exhausted, and if you eavesdrop you will find many are hungover, not to mention that when they talk to each other it is about how much money they lost, or how drunk they got.

I am sure I am leaving myself open to all those who go there, “just for the shows and the food.” Yet when there are so many places to eat wonderful food, without having to traverse the profane, why would I want to. I would much rather drive through Sonoma to end up at the French Laundry, than face the crowd on the Strip to get to Keller’s Bouchon in Vegas. And most of the promotions for the shows appear to be produced by the same folks that gave Las Vegas the moniker of “Sin City,” do I really need to see all that?

When I meet people on my international travels they talk about wanting to come to the USA, and go to Vegas, I beg them to see the rest of the country, Vegas is not what we are, or at least I hope not.

When I travel I want to get away from the crowds, the Eiffel Tower was a disappointment to me because of the crowds. I love Paris, London, and Barcelona, but I go out of my way to find the quiet places and I shy away from the touristy. The best times are when we hire (rent) a car and then head for some remote village. Restaurants in a foreign language, with no English translation are the best. I want to blend in.

I want to go where the local people go. Yes, I do enjoy a high end restaurant, but because I like it not because it is THE place to go. Yet, there is something about a dive bar that never loses its attraction. There is this little place in Salem, Oregon called The Extra Point, a dive bar for sure. But always friendly bartenders, and they have Wimpy Burger night, and Taco Tuesday, old pool tables and darts.

Traveling with a checklist of places to see really does not move me. I honestly think I could go to Rome and never see the Coliseum and be just fine with that. A question I ponder is, “How long do you have to stand in front of some iconic location to say you have seen it?” The real question for me is how do you experience it? Many folks walk through Notre Dame in Paris, they saw it, me, I sat in a pew and prayed.

This is most likely why tours are not a big attraction. We have gone on only one in our life, in Bruges, it was a rainy day, we were bored. Thankfully it was a small tour, with an emphasis on history; enjoyable for sure. Yet when planning other trips we rarely consider tours, discovery and exploration are better.

Having identified all of this I need to be clear that I pass no judgement on those who like tours, tourist sights, and Vegas, it is just that they are not me.

I prefer a glass of wine and my sketch pad at a winery over a wine tasting. I prefer a good meal with Tricia at a small café (Marianna’s in Gourds, France) over a chain, or an all you can eat buffet. We spend as much time planning where to eat as we do what to see. Picnics with local confections are a priority. Local food is a doorway to the heart of a location, I want that.

A ramble through a Scottish countryside, or along a canal ending with dinner at a British pub is perfect. Quality over quantity, quaint over extravagant, quiet over a crowd, discovery over a fixed-itinerary – places that are sketch-worthy, voila, that’s it.

So I get it, I want to travel and write about places that move me to get out my sketch pad. I want to eat food at places that give me a glimpse into the spirit of a place. TheWinesketcher, off on another adventure, it can never be too soon. Thank you Vegas, I did win.

 

To the far side of the state


Sometimes the best therapy in the world is a road stretching out in front of you. The last month we waited for our new townhouse to close, the month before that we waited for the sale of our house of 16 years to close, the four and a half months before that we endure a flooded basement and the restoration work it brought.  
I must interrupt this to put in a plug for the best realtor there is, Kim Tornow. We could never have made it as easily as we did without her expert advice and attention to detail, thank you Kim.

We signed the-closing papers this morning, with our bags in the car. Now it is off to Prosser, WA to visit a new winery, Wit Cellars. It is the work of some friends, with a great track record in the wine world. Gina is meeting us at the tasting room, we get a private tasting, pick up our Founders club shipment, then off to a great meal to celebrate.

My stress level goes down with each passing mile, the warm Eastern Washington sun beats in the window, Earl Klugh and his guitar completing the prescription; restoration is well underway.