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Serpentine National Park

Transperth – or public transport in WA to be more general is NOT brilliant. In Slovakia – a country you wouldn’t expect to have a well organised or easy to use transport far trumps what Perth has to offer. In Slovakia I went on a number of adventures – weekends and day trips, and although sometimes complicated ( there are a number of posts offering examples of this in Slovakia Stories ) they were never impossible. My point being that I have found it incredibly hard – in fact impossible to have adventures that don’t require a set of wheels. Places of interest are simply not served by public transport – or at least they are but require a number of changes, lengthy transits or not enough time to meet connections or return trips. In Slovakia I travelled far and wide on a network of trains, trams and buses and never found anywhere I couldn’t get to.

So on Friday night, after pulling my hair out trying to find somewhere I could get to and spend a reasonable amount of time in – I texted a friend on the off chance they wanted to accompany me on a day out… and drive their car there and back. Fortunately the response was positive, making me very happy to set my alarm early for Saturday morning.
I needn’t have bothered as I was awoken at some antisocial hour by an incredibly loud thunderstorm, that seemed to be directly above my head, shaking my little cabin.

Two hours later, when the thunder, lightning and torrential rain had ceased chariot arrived and we set off for Serpentine Falls.

First stop was Serpentine Dam. A vast expanse of water on the Serpentine river whose catchment is one of the major supplies of drinking water for Perth. Do not quote or correct me on this please – I don’t make notes when I go exploring – I remember and recount information and openly admit to getting it wrong sometimes!

This dam was not on my do list – didn’t even know it was there. We stumbled upon it first of all, missing a turning and completely bypassing the falls. A wrong turn worth taking I believe…

Serpentine Dam

Serpentine Dam

Serpentine Dam

Next came the falls. Entering the national park from the opposite side we pulled up into the central picnic area – a smell of sausages on the barbecues greeting us as we assessed the trail maps. There was a damp, yet pleasant smell in the air – of fresh, green plants – ready to spring into bloom. It reminded me so much of Železná studničk – Bratislava Forest Park – and a wonderful day I had spent hiking there at the beginning of Spring some time ago.

We took an alternative path to get a higher view of the Falls, only to realise that the easier, simpler route led you to a far better viewing platform – purposely built with steps into the upper pool for warmer days when the water invites you for a swim. It wasn’t particularly cold – so with a little more planning ( bikini and a towel ) I could have been persuaded to have a dip. I have had a waterfall swim already which was up near Cairns (QLD) last year, so that box had already been ticked. Thankfully.

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After an ample amount of time taking in the scene and sitting on a rock that plenty of other people wanted to sit on, we headed off on another trail. A 6km, grade 4 hike up to Baldwin’s Bluff. This very much reminded me of my hiking weekend, again in Slovakia – in Terchova where the weather, climate and hiking grades were similar. Yes – it has been 2 years since I have enjoyed a good hike!
Our trail was a steep, stony path up the side of a gorge to a lookout over the waterfalls and Kitty’s Gorge. It was flanked either side with nature’s display of Spring bursting into bloom. The smell was worthy of being bottled – a fragrant reminder that Spring has sprung and Summer will be arriving fairly soon. The humidity and threat of rain enhanced the aroma and as the climb evened out, the flowers grew brighter and smelt fresher.

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I could have joined the masses who stopped to photograph every flower, but I would have bored my companion to tears and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the exhilarating high I got as I sprang onwards – pain in my back or legs totally eradicated as my heightened senses absorbed everything available. I don’t get what they call Runner’s High – but what I feel when I walk or hike in a place of natural beauty is something I imagine can be equated to that feeling.

view from Baldwin's Bluff

Serpentine Falls

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Perth in the distance - 50 km away

Long distance Perth

The walk down had a few slips and slides, but no injuries were obtained other than a large bite I, of course, (wouldn’t be anyone else) received right on the kneecap of my still sore ice skating knee!

I snapped away at a few views and flowers, as an excuse to catch my unfit breath but was disinterested in hiking behind my camera lens so hope the atmosphere has been sufficiently captured from my relatively spontaneous, yet wonderfully rewarding day in the park!

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Margies madness

I should have blogged this ages ago! I am so far behind!

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in June I was getting itchy feet, so a friend and I decided to hire a car and take it to Margaret River. It’s a small town about 3.5 hours south of Perth synonymous with good food, wonderful wine and great surf breaks. Travelling on a budget doesn’t always get you those things – but I never travel anywhere without making great memories, laughing hard, breathing deeply and taking it all in. So this is how I did it:

I hired a car from Europcar which was a bus ride, a train ride and another bus ride away from us. I managed to get the only manual car in the depot, as for some reason Australians tend to favour autos. Driving without using a gear stick is not driving in my opinion.

Then I got a friend to jump on board.

Then I found two backpackers who also wanted to go to Margies (how the locals call it) on Gumtree. Pick up the car, pick up the backpackers and all pile into the TINY car whose suspension and tiny engine are now being tested.

We hit the road and as we get closer to Margaret River the clouds get heavier and heavier and it starts to rain. Not before I spot Gracetown – which just HAS to be visited and photographed.

Then we try and check into your hostel but reception is closed for a few hours… Check in done, rain sets in and we race to the coast in hope of catching a sunset in a rain break. We get totally drenched, but we’re on holiday so it doesn’t matter right?

Going out involves THE only pub in town where I spend more than I want to on beer and the following day’s hangover inhibits me greatly.

Sunday afternoon arrives and it’s time to make my way back to Perth even though it feels like I have been here 5 minutes. So I take one of the backpackers who wants to go back, and we amble our way back up the coast stopping here and there to admire the view, do a cartwheel on the beach, shelter from the rain and drink a crap coffee to keep me awake on the drive back top Perth.

On arrival back in Perth I drop my backpacker off at his new hostel, then my friend and arrive home waking the dog as I park “my” car outside the house and go inside. Exhausted, happy and nostalgic from another weekend well spent in Australia.

Then nearly two months later I get round to blogging about it, having forgotten the details that make people laugh but hoping my photos make up for it!

Gracetown

driving

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in comes the weather

Margaret River mouth

Surfer at the river mouth

and now I can't remember which ones!

and now I can’t remember which ones!

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rain rain rain

Yallingup

Yallingup

Yallingup

Yallingup

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Cape Naturaliste

mini school

August 14th

Temp 25C

Location: Emerald, QLD

I am sitting on my stretcher bed, in the outstation where I sleep with about 50 other people all in their swags. That’s like a heavy duty sleeping bag to you non-aussies. It’s made of canvas and is like a bed/sleeping bag/possibly even tent all in one.

The snoring is horrendous. The babies crying is even worse. And then there are the mental ones who get up before 5 am with no regard for the sleep of others. The first morning I woke up at 6:50am and really was made to feel as if I was wildly oversleeping! People kept saying things like: “oh you’re not a morning person then” or “what time do you usually get up?!” It was a little confronting to say the least.

Throughout the week, breakfast is served from 6:30 am. Having worked at many camps and residential schools before, THAT was a shock to me. Can anyone who has done a summer school in Spain imagine them getting up at that hour? In fact, I have never worked with kids who did NOT need to be woken up, and quite often dragged to breakfast!

School starts at 8:30am, and this is also odd for me too. I am not teaching this week. Their teachers are doing it. So the home teachers and mums sit around all day drinking cups of tea and getting bored. Very bored. I am the only foreigner here. Most of the govvies have been doing this for some time, and know the drill. Then there are the mums. Most of them have been to the shops and bought brand new water bottles, hats, duvets, blankets, anything for their kids just for this week. There are mummies with babies, and with kids who have been friends for years. I say friends, when I refer to the friends these children only see for 1 week, four times a year at this residential school.

These children live far too far away from neighbours to have sleepovers, do homework together. But this week they are best friends. There are no fights, no bickering, no discipline issues… it’s all just too easy! Never have a worked such an easy week with children.

As the week slowly drags on, we eat more and more to compensate for having nothing to do and I go to all the “teacher development” workshops to learn things i already know and listen to every single mum who thinks her child and her problems are unique and they are something we all wish to hear about. Poor little Johnny finds this hard, and angellic jane found question 4 on lesson 8 just impossible. Really thrilling stuff!

Still half way through, on the home straight and you never what might be on the shelves in Big W that i might have missed yesterday, so it’s always worth the trip into town later on…

Caloundra

Caloundra

This trip has been interesting so far in many ways. Firstly I am experiencing a new love: one for Australia that has been continually growing within me. It’s a love that sometimes just bubbles over and makes me giddy with joy when I look out of the plane window for example as I am coming in to land, or when I meet a stranger who treats me like a friend, or when I am sitting on the beach watching the surf and I just feel very happy to be where I am. That’s what travelling is all about isn’t it? Finding happiness in the places you visit and learning more about the world and yourself as you go along.

So the first destination on my 10 day reprieve from the bush is Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast to visit my grandmother’s brother who I last saw about 10 years ago. My uncle (B) referred to his street as “God’s waiting room” and when I asked him what people did in Caloundra, his response was “retire!” That should give you a clue about the people and their lifestyle in this seaside destination. I found it rather a pleasant place to live, but it does have an alarming number of retirement villages, luxury apartments and mobility scooters buzzing around. Perhaps it was because I spent time with the elderly for two days that I noticed more elderlies than I otherwise would have, or maybe there are just no young’uns there.

It has a big fishing and boating lifestyle and only 5 minutes after meeting B’S neighbour I was invited on a fishing trip that evening! It seems anyone who isn’t out catching the surf is either fishing or just boating around. A little walk along the waterfront in front of B’s house and I learnt a remarkable amount about local flora and fauna that I otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to.

The climate is temperate and the sun nearly always shines on the Sunshine Coast, so there’s little to complain about in a town as such. B told me there is a saying about the weather on the Sunshine Coast which says it’s fabulous one day and marvellous the next, or words to that effect. It’s near enough to Brisbane for those that need a city hit now and again and far enough away to enjoy life on the water’s edge. It made perfect sense to me why so many of my relations journeyed across the world to the Sunshine Coast to resettle for a sunnier kind of life.

bush diaries – off to town!

Saturday 9th June

Weather: Sunny

22C

Off to town!

I used to consider myself a country person, and as I grew up in a rural village where you were unable to do much with hopping in the car, that was a fair statement. However, being a country person in England is quite different from being a country person here!

Aside from the obvious about flora and fauna, the sheer distance involved is something I knew about but didn’t really understand. After a day in “town”, I am truly exhausted. The almost two hour trek into the town of Clermont is a bumpy one to say the least. Most of the trip is a single lane dirt road that crosses creeks, rivers and numerous cattle grids. Some of the former are deep puddles, fjords or bridges and most cattle grids are raised due to heavy rains washing the surrounding road away. Then of course there are grooves and dips made my heavy cattle trucks and four-wheel drives. All this makes for a very tiring drive indeed.

The town itself is nothing to write home about, which makes my blog a little bit ironic. There is a smattering of shops with overpriced goods and so little people around, even on a Saturday; it felt like a ghost town.

My first stop was the pharmacy, figuring I would find most of toiletry needs there, but to my dismay they stock plenty of things that nobody wanted. They have a good collection of hair dye and toothpaste, but no face cream and about 2 deodorants to choose from.

After that: the Newsagent’s. This was the most well stocked newsagent I have been to since arriving in Australia. The vast number of magazines was astounding and I learnt that the people of Clermont REALLY like quilting. They have 17 different magazines, and on querying this later; I discovered they have a quilting club which is taken very seriously.

One of the two clothes shops shocked me. The ridiculous prices they were asking for their poor quality clothing was, well, shocking. I don’t know WHO buys these clothes as most of the “residents” of Clermont live a long way out of it, on cattle stations with nowhere to wear such “finery” or they are miners, who live here on short term posts whilst working in the mines.

The supermarket was the next stop. There are two of these, both IGA stores, which my Australian readers will note isn’t the cheapest supermarket in the world. They only have fresh deliveries, or even deliveries, twice a week which meant that the shelves were fairly barren. This was also thanks to the Queen’s Birthday on Monday being a holiday, so people IN HORROR of the supermarket being closed on Monday were shopping for an eternity.

I must remember to take some photos of the busy high street, bustling supermarket and bubbling energy that buzzes around the town of Clermont. I am of course being ironic, as those adjectives are not what I would use to describe Clermont. Not what I would use at all. And, funnily enough, I am told that Clermont is NOT a remote town. It is fairly well connected in comparison to other outback areas.

 

 

 

banska stiavnica

Banská Štiavnica

A pleasant mining town in the middle of Slovakia, 240 km, 3 ½ hours by bus from Bratislava acted as our host for a very relaxing weekend away.

The medieval mining town found fame the first time in the 14th century and is now a tourist attraction which UNESCO declared a world heritage site in 1972. It comes complete with epic views, tea houses, pensions, one hostel and steep picturesque cobbled streets.

Due to said steep cobbled streets, the bus drops you off a good mile out of the centre. By the time we’d lonely planet-mapped our way to the hostel we were well in need of a good sit-down. The journey here had been hassle free, making a seamless change in Ziar nad Hronom onto a local bus for the last 40 km, which wound up and down and meandered through hilly forest land with breath taking views before plonking us in the not-so-picturesque industrial part of town.

Arriving at the hostel there was a green post-it note addressed to me from Barbora, who runs Hostel6 telling me she was out the back gardening and to come and find her when we’d arrived. Her and Bucci, her dog, greeted me warmly, equally covered in mud and happy to welcome their new guests. After dealing with keys, dropping bags off and Barbora saying “Pay me when you want” we headed back down the cobbled streets with her map, towards much needed caffeine fix at “Crazy Lady” coffee shop – that’s a translation by the way. Time passes quickly in these places and afternoon swiftly becomes evening when you are pacing the streets of a town as charming as this: eager to turn every corner and look down every street. Alas we realised that by the time we’d done all the outside things in the sunshine all the indoor attractions had closed. Still, we had managed a walk around the old castle as an art festival was packing up its things and then hiked up to the new castle to admire more spectacular views, after visiting a wooden Bethlehem moving model and worked up a good appetite for bryndzové halušky, one of Slovakia’s national dishes. Hard to describe, but, the “Bethlehem is a small room with a miniature carved moving Bethlehem scene. I say miniature and I mean it takes up 3 walls of the room and details every type of worker and activity related to the nativity scene.   

I had previously tried and disliked bryndzové halušky in Bratislava, likening it to overcooked macaroni cheese with very strong cheese sauce. Horrified by this description, Barbora sent us to a pension where I must try it again, because “this is where we make the cheese”. I am pleased I gave it another shot as this was a truly different culinary experience, which I had with venison, at a ridiculously cheap price. This didn’t seem right until I sat down and thought about the number of Bambis there are jumping around central Slovakia and was heartened by the fact that what was on my plate would have been running round a forest days before, not living in a factory. At least I hope so and please do NOT feel free to correct me on this one.

The next morning, after a later night than planned (wine at 1.50€/glass) we spent the morning (afternoon) on the terrace of a tea house which boasted 100 different types of tea. Again epic views over the town as we enjoyed a truly relaxing hour before heading to the bus station ( this time by taxi!) en route to our booking at Sklene Teplice – one of Slovakia’s many, very cheap, mineral water spas.

This was possibly the best 7.50€ I’ve ever spent. The whole village is basically a spa complex, with its selling point as the only cave bath in Slovakia. The description was slightly deceiving I have to say, as I was really hoping we would literally be crawling into a cave to have a bath! The Lonely Planet increased my disappointment by promoting it as a Splunking Spa, so when I stepped into a tiled pool, with one wall as part of a cave, I deemed rather less primitive than imagined. We entered the building, which was half cave, half modern spa. The assistant took our tickets and said something incomprehensible and to my surprise didn’t speak a word of English. She managed to relay instructions by mime and being good teachers we managed to communicate equally. Then pointing took over mime as some instructions were written in English. We showered and entered the “cave”. I say it like this as it only had one wall of cave, in which 42 C of calcium and magnesium rich water was running down and filling the pool. 20minutes was recommended but 42 degrees in a confined space meant I lasted a little less than recommended. The assistant showed us silently into the “relaxation” room, where we were wrapped in blankets, laid down and left to listen to relaxing music and enjoy a large fish tank on one wall of the cave. 20 minutes later we found ourselves sitting on massage chairs that I kid you not massaged everything from your head to your bottom, and your hands to your feet for 20 minutes. Feeling fully refreshed and satisfied on exit food was whole heartedly enjoyed before waiting for the bus in the sunshine to take us home…

ghosts and ghouls

Bojnice Castle

Another overdue blog post about a castle I visited weeks ago.

Every May, Bojnice castle holds the International Festival of Ghosts and Spirits. For an international festival, I was fairly surprised to not encounter a single person who spoke English, or any information presented in perhaps the most international language, but anyway…

A hot Spring day and a two day festival that most of Slovakia had come to participate in meant even jumping the queue involved a standing time of 2.5 hours (and that’s jumping in a less than half way!). Time was passed with occasional trips to numerous stalls littering the area selling honey wine, ice cream, corn on the cob, barbecued food, candy floss and pancakes to name but a few. I guess they thought about it, but somewhat stupidly didn’t think to offer anyone toilet facilities. I wonder about the Slovaks: they so often get it almost right.

I soon understood the reason for the lengthy queue. You enter the castle in groups of 30 and are taken on a tour of the darkened castle, to watch a series of re-enactments (75mins worth actually) of stories involving the ghosts of past castle residents. It’s all based around the May Ball, which a distant queen held as a reunion for all previous inhabitants of the castle. The tour, songs and theatre all performed in Slovak meant that I don’t have much evidence of actual stories to share, but I did indeed enjoy the general idea. We were lead through each room, where we were shown some aspect of each character’s life: either their death or a significant moment, complete with trip down a dark corridor where dead people jump out and touch you, take your hand or just try to scare the shit out of you. One of the final rooms was indeed the ballroom, where all the characters are assembled and the audience are also invited to dance. I was propositioned by a dead man, who tried to take my hand. I politely declined, as I really couldn’t imagine the conversation I would have whilst ballroom dancing with a dead Slovak lord from the 17th Century….

Being an adult it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, save for the silly people who thought it a good idea to take their unsuspecting children on a ghost tour where “dead” people jump out in your face. There were some hysterical children whose parents should have been sent home in my opinion.

The town Bojnice doesn’t have anything to offer worth writing home about, but had certainly cashed in on the expected volume of people with an array of market stalls offering you a range of local and mainstream products. I was particularly taken (as were my companions) but two jewellery makers, dressed somewhat traditionally making pieces out of glass and precious stones. I stood fascinated watching a man make glass beads out of pieces of coloured glass with a blow torch. Wanting to buy that I then spotted what his wife was making: beautifully unique hand crafted pieces with precious stones and metal. Next time you see me, check out my fabulous Turquoise angel necklace!

I am starting to love Slovakia more and more for its quite literal hidden gems here and there. It really is a country that needs to be discovered and with time running out I will be frantically squeezing in as much as I can….

Until next time….

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