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 Do not quote or correct me on this please – I don’t make notes when I go exploring – I remember and recount information and openly admit to getting it wrong sometimes!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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
Over a week has passed since arriving back on the Isle and I haven’t had a chance to finish writing about Hong Kong. I’ve been too wrapped up in the cosiness of being home, in the novelty of getting cold and wet and being able to dry off in front of the fire, wearing a scarf and a hat, listening to everyone grumble about the weather, sharing stories, photos, food and laughs with family and friends and it’s not even Christmas yet!
I landed at Heathrow airport at 4:30 in the morning on the 12th to freezing fog and a grand temperature of -4C! I raced through the airport, bustled my way through security and passport control, fought my way to my suitcase and skidded to a halt at the bus stop for RailAir only to find I had to wait half an hour for the first bus which wasn’t until 6am! Back into the airport, nothing could wipe the smile off my face as I wheeled my way into the bathrooms, opened my suitcase and put on 3 more cardigans, the hat and scarf that I had knitted back in the Melbourne winter, a slick of lip balm and made my way back to the bus stop to wait. Arriving at the train at 6:30am station I beamed my way to the desk, smiling to myself that I would be on the train home, racing across the country before mum and dad were even out of bed… BUT Not so fast! “When is the first train to Crewkerne?” I breathed, out of breathe with excitement. The Ticket clerk’s face dropped as she looked at the screen and sorrowfully informed me the next train home was at 7:37am. Nevermind, I wheeled my way to the platform cafe, grateful for my numerous cardigans and £10 I had withdrawn at the airport. Coffee, croissant, magazine, seat and I sit there smiling like a child waiting for the first train to the Westcountry…
That wasn’t the only time I had smiled so hard last week. As I got off the Disney train on Monday and walked down the avenue towards the entrance of DisneyLand Hong Kong I smiled so much my face hurt. I am 28 years old and that day I knocked 20 years off as I wandered around the park, having taken mySELF to Disneyland and released my inner little girl. I few observations I made that day were that little Asian girls dressed as their favourite princess are even more adorable than normal, Mickey Mouse speaks perfect Cantonese, The Lion King spectacular was worth the entrance fee alone and standing in line waiting for a ride by yourself for an hour and a half several times a day, when everyone around you speaks in a foreign tongue, provides a lot of thinking time.
Another thing that made me smile incessantly last week was a walk around The Peak. I took the Peak tram to the top, and paid to go up to Sky Tower, but after that I was wondering what else to do. By reading signposts I discovered a walking route that went right round the mountain, so spent a very happy 2 hours ambling my way along the path, stopping to admire the ever changing panoramic views of Hong Kong and Kowloon as the sun faded in and out and around a bit too. Once at the bottom, with shaky knees from the steep descent, I boarded a bus heading to central, got off it when everyone else did and jumped on a double decker tram to see where that went. Getting off that, I followed my LP map for a bit, then put it away preferring to meander the streets and see what I could find. When darkness fell and I felt I had done enough, I took the star ferry back to Kowloon and sat in wonder gazing at the fabulously lit buildings over on Hong Kong Island. Not hungry enough for dinner, I had just enough money to treat myself to a reflexology treatment before making my way to the airport ready to make my way home.
Now sitting in my bedroom, I am admiring the blue sky, listening to the singing birds who have been hiding from two days of relentless rain and allowing myself to reflect on the fabulous trip I had on my way home.
The next task is a little bit of present wrapping, some baking, perhaps a nice walk in the country b
Stop. Smile. Laugh
The other day after a frustrating afternoon of half completed errands, cancelled classes and wasted time: I was sitting on the tram on my way back to Toorak. It was early for me, and I was wondering how I would make the most of an unexpected free evening.
We stopped at a busy interchange and a little girl got on the tram with her father. She jumped onto the seat opposite me, sat cross-legged and got out her “phone”. It was a large plastic toy phone with buttons that made different ring-tone sounds. The little girl sat on the tram pretending to be on a very important phone call. No more than four years old, she sat there nodding and gesticulating with her hands, whilst her father looked lovingly over her and I sat watching totally smitten by her.
Her back pack was placed on the seat next to her and had three characters on the front with the words: Stop * Smile * Laugh. Never has a four-year-old taught me such an insightful lesson. I stopped what I was thinking about. I smiled at her. And I laughed with her father at this little lady on the phone.
What a beautiful journey home. And what a mantra to take away from that moment.
What a difference the sunshine makes!
Today was what we could call my first “real” day, in that off I went this morning to class after class, navigating my way around Bratislava on the bus, the tram and the trolley bus to destinations I can’t pronounce and places I can’t locate on the map!
But without the damp mist that seemed to hover around like a bad smell, the buildings were certainly a different shade of grey and bathed in sunlight the whole city was a totally different place.
I set off this morning, my first class having been cancelled the night before, allowing me a generous lie-in until 7.30. I made it into town on bus 95 in plenty of time, marvelling all the way at buildings I hadn’t even noticed before. Off I hopped to make my change at the tram stop, deliberately missing the one I saw approaching, so I could smugly stand and wait knowing I had aeons of time. Tram 12 rattles into its stop, on I get eagerly checking my timetable against stops. It turns left. Did it turn left on Monday? No, having just missed one, the director and I had walked onto another stop for another line. Ok, no problem I think, scanning the screen for my stop. Doesn’t appear. That’s odd. Double check schedule and destination. Yes I am on the right one. Left again. This can’t be right. Off I get, whip out my street map and now I really am on an adventure and a mission. I’ve just got off the tram at a random stop in the middle of a city I have not yet explored and I need to get to a class in 45 mins. Best mistake I have made! I locate the stop I had used on Monday, for Tram 5, and race along cobbled streets towards it. This is Bratislava! Here are the lovely buildings I’ve seen in images of this city, the old churches and cobbled streets. Fabulous, but no time to marvel, got a tram to catch at 19 mins past! I race up the steps recognising the stop from another angle and skip across the road as the tram approaches. Phew. Wait a minute, this tram doesn’t list my stop either, I realise as we jerk into a tunnel. Ho hum. What to do. I soon realise that only the MAIN stops scroll across the screen and the dear old tram stops at them all. This is confirmed as I step off at destination stop Svanterova and number 12 comes squeaking up behind it. Oh well, learnt something about the trams. Along I skip, still very pleased with myself. I still have 20 mins till class and will arrive with more than enough time. This nasty looking housing estate is not a glum as it was in the fog, in fact the buildings are painted rather oddly in oranges and yellows. Yes… orange and yellow tower blocks. The school looks much cleaner and brighter as I approach and again I smile to myself at how easy this all is. I arrive slip on shoe covers. The Children remember my name and take very well to my new English Only policy (and strict it is too!).
Two hours later, I saunter, yes saunter because I have 2 hours to get to my next class back to the tram stop. This time I hop on Bus 83 for about 12 minutes and get off at a totally random place Sokolska to then catch the trolley bus. At least I am seeing the city now, although cleaner windows would be nice. I’m not looking forward to the next class cos a fellow teacher “helpfully” warned me that they were difficult to teach and the class was miles away from anything. When I arrive at Trnavska I spot a café next to the bus stop (He told me he’d walked for miles to find one!). It takes ages to cross a rather complicated road and as I am still 45 mins early I enter the “fresh food market”. This is weird. It’s nearly empty bar about 10 open shops which either sell fruit, veg, bread or a combination of the lot. There are some stalls selling food with tables too, but I am only brave enough to buy a mandarin and a pastry. It’s going to take a while since I answer every question with “Si”, greet people with “hola” and thank people… you know how it goes.
The class itself is fine. I enter an enormous building, which is the central office for a big bank. Hand over my passport (rather annoyingly have been told to carry this with me at all times for my business classes) and make my way towards elevator D, floor 5. Not as easy as it seems, as when I get out of the lift I realise I am stuck, cos my security pass doesn’t allow me to enter the next part, so I wait for a student to arrive. The class is in a glass cubicle, in the middle of an open plan office. I can’t scratch my bottom when I write on the board, not that I do normally…
After that class, I have to navigate my way back out and then find bus stop 50. This drops me at another random location Wustenrot where I whip out my street map (this is a street map, bought here, NOT a tourist guide) and enjoy working my way back to school. It’s now 3.40 and I have a substitute class to cover in less than an hour and everyone wants to know how I got on today. How nicely annoying. One to one class takes place in a classroom at the top of the building, to which I am given a special key. Student is waiting when I arrive. He is surprised I am not Mike, but after that initial confusion, the hour flies by.
5.30, can’t go home yet cos photocopies have to be made for my 7.30 class tomorrow nd everything I taught today has to be typed into the online agenda.
A busy, but enjoyable day was had by me, finished off with a quick trip into Tesco near school. I don’t have the time to wander round with my dictionary so I shamefully collect TESCO items that I recognise and totter off to the bus stop having bought more than I intended to…
Photos in aorder of appearance are…
View from my bedroom window,
My block of flats
Waiting for the tram at 9am ( before I thought i’d buggered it up and got on the wrong one…)
Bratislava Castle from the balcony
Orange tower blocks of Batkova, near the school I teach at 3x week.
So…. 24 hours in…how does it feel?
Well, it so rarely fits the pictures you had in your head and this is like none of the images I conjured up of a fairy-tale-like city with a rising castle and crispy air and smiling people and either a wintery snow covered landscape or a crisp deep blue sky.
Yes, I DO live in the “eastern block”, as in I live in a place that from first glance you would assume to be a NASTY council estate. Petrˇzalka. Yes, grey tower blocks, litter and badly parked cars. I live on the 13th floor of a building whose entrance would make you not really wish to proceed.
The journey into the centre is pretty ugly until you actually get to the bus stop in the centre where there are some nicer looking buildings. The tram is pretty nasty looking, often with graffiti or advertising cleaning products. Not the quaint rickety wooden tram you picture trundling along cobbled streets.
The weather has been grey, damp and misty, so hasn’t painted the city in the prettiest light.
The “school”, as in the primary school where I am teaching is on another of these delightful housing estates, again where at first glance you wouldn’t want your child walking there alone. BUT on entering, you are encapsulated by the most charming environment: decorated beautifully and delightfully inviting for children. You are instructed to wear slippers in the primary area, or cover your shoes, and although the paint wasn’t painted in perfectly straight lines, the rooms are bright and colourful and a wonderful atmosphere for the children.
Of course I must mention TESCO. It IS the world here. It’s not just a supermarket. It’s like El Corte Ingles in the centre with a floor for toiletries , another for clothes and an acre for the actual supermarket. In my “local” one, a hypermarket, I could buy iceskates, a treadmill, a double bed or just a packet of stock cubes. I could also sit down in the café and check my email, pop next door to pizza hut, or even have myself a haircut.
I remain optimistic. I arrived open-minded and I am determined to leave knowledgeable of the culture, surrounding countries and of course a better teacher.
Oh and I have a Kindergarten class times 2 tomorrow. Three Year olds!