Road Trippin’ Down Under: A Walk on the Mild Side

Day Eight in Australia was intensely bittersweet. Although I missed the kids and the cats back home, I was already missing all the places we had been (yes—even the place with the bees!) and all the places we would not have a chance to see (Wave Rock, Pinnacles, to name just two) before heading back the States. So, although I was eager to get out and see things, I was also having trouble mustering the gumption to get out and do something because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it all.

Although I knew going into this that we wouldn’t have time to see everything there was to see in Western Australia, it had now become clear that if there had been a contest to see who could log the most miles and see the most sites, the Jarhead and I would have come in dead last in both categories. Unless you count seeing the inside of your eyelids, that is. In which case the Jarhead would have won hands down.

From a sight-seeing perspective you really can’t cover much ground in just eight days—especially when you’re a chickenshit insomniac with a sleepy spouse and temperamental hair. Unless you’re talking about some small but historically significant town—which you can probably cover in under 8 hours—you’ve got to give yourself more time.

Exactly how much time?

That’s a great question. And one for which I have no answer. Because we lived in Naples (Italy, that is; not Florida) for three years and barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and do there, never mind the rest of the country. The same is true in the case of Arizona, Virginia, California, and Pennsylvania, where we lived for a few years each and found the time to explore but a fraction of what we would have like to have seen. But of course, we could travel to every one of those places two or three more times for the price it would cost us to go back to Australia, which is why I there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of us getting back that way again.

I know. Boo hoo. I only got to visit Australia once.

But I don’t want your pity. I’m just explaining why, as the trip crept to its inevitable close, I was already missing everything that I knew I would never get to see. And so, with only one day left, we had some pretty tough but incredibly familiar choices to make: Where should we go? What should we do? And more importantly, what should we eat?

With our rental car due back in less than six hours we knew we wouldn’t be going far. And since literally everyone we had spoken to about it—both prior to and during our trip—had urged us to see Kings Park and Botanical Gardens—the Jarhead suggested we go there. It was right on the way to the airport from our hotel, he reasoned, and as far as a retired marine is concerned, that’s about as close to kismet as you’re going to get.

I will now share with you some fun facts about Kings Park and Botanical Gardens, which I got from the fun folks at Experience Perth as well as a few regular facts, just for the fun of it.

Fun Fact: Kings Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world.

Regular Fact: At 1,003 acres, it surpasses New York’s Central Park, which comprises 843 acres. This compares to our home in Wisconsin, which sits on 36.8 billion acres, if you count the entire surface of the earth.

Fun Fact: Kings Park and Botanical Gardens hosts 6 million visitors every year.

Regular Fact: Assuming those 6 million people do NOT all come to the park on the same day but at a rate somewhere close to a mathematical average, that means 16,000 people visit Kings Park each day. Even if only 1 out of every 4 of them is driving a car or truck, that means that there are 4,000 motorized vehicles arriving at the park on any given day, which explains why we had so bloody much trouble finding a place to park.

Fun Fact: Kings Park showcases an outstanding collection of Western Australian flora and is a popular place for picnics, walks, and ceremonial events.

Regular Fact: Kings Park attracts an astounding volume of tourists to its outstanding collection of Western Australian flora, which makes finding a place to picnic, walk, or park nearly an impossibility. Tourists who are disappointed by this can console themselves by visiting the DNA Tower, where they’ll find a seemingly endless supply of fun scientific facts but, surprisingly, absolutely no competition for parking.

In addition to these fun facts, the fun folks at Experience Perth offer visitors to their site an impressive list of all the great things that visitors to Kings Park can do there.

  • ADMIRE the panoramic views of treetops, the city skyline and the Swan River.
  • LEARN about the diversity of WA’s flora
  • DISCOVER our rich history along the Lotterywest Federation Walkway.
  • SEE the mighty boab tree, a 750 year old specimen from the Kimberley region of WA.
  • CHILDREN will love the many play areas around Kings Park.
  • VISIT the Rio Tinto Naturescape – a place for children to connect with the environment
  • ENJOY the range of summer events and festivities
  • ENJOY a Free Guided Walk with the Kings Park Guides
  • ENJOY the flora and fauna including wildflowers and over 70 bird species
  • INDULGE in a spot of retail therapy at the Aspects of Kings Park gallery shop
  • CLIMB all 101 steps of the spiraling DNA Tower for spectacular views

As I said, it’s a pretty impressive list. However, to that list I would add the following:

  • RELAX in the comfort of your climate controlled rental car as you drive around for hours in search of a parking space.
  • PRAY that if/when you DO find a parking space that it won’t be so far from the entrance to the botanical gardens that you’ll need to change clothes when you get inside because yours have gone out of style.
  • REMEMBER to pack plenty of food, water, and sunscreen to protect you from starvation, dehydration, and third degree sunburn while making your way to the botanical gardens.
  • CONSIDER bringing a flashlight along so that you can find your way back to your vehicle since it will probably be dark by then.
  • TRY to arrive before the other 15,998 visitors get there. Before dawn would be best. Or maybe even the night before. Just definitely do NOT arrive at or after breakfast time.

With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to share a few photos from our adventures at Kings Park. Just for fun, see if you can guess how many of the 16 items from the preceding lists we were able to accomplish that day…

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For those of you playing along at home, the correct answer is 2!

Yep. After completing item #11 of the activities suggested by Experience Perth, and item #1 of the 5 that I added to the mix, we decided we could survive with just having seen the bird’s-eye view of the park from atop the DNA Tower. You only live once, as they say, and we were determined not to spend what time we had left in Perth/on Earth fighting throngs of other tourists.

So we hopped in the car, drove to the airport, dropped off our rental car, checked our bags, cleared security, and hit the business class lounge to see how it compared to the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi, and to determine how much free wine I could consume before someone other than the Jarhead decided I’d had enough.

Hey, a gal’s gotta have a goal. Some are just loftier than others.

p.s. Happy Birthday, Cousin Jeff!



Road Trippin’ Down Under: Planes, Brains, and Automobiles

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Perth went pretty much the same as the flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi, only instead of spending twelve hours facing the front of the plane, I spent them facing the back. Oh, and about four hours into the flight I had to give up both reading and playing Scrabble in favor of watching movies because I was so tired that I could no longer comprehend the written word—much less devise one out of a set of seven letters.

By the time the third movie started—ten hours after we had boarded—I could no longer comprehend the SPOKEN word either, but that was partly because the actors were speaking Japanese and I didn’t have the wherewithal to read the subtitles. And so, by the time the captain announced that we were starting our descent into Perth, I was more than ready to deplane and eager for a change of scenery.

And a change of scenery is what we got….

For starters, there was the immigration and customs area of the airport, which basically looked the customs and immigration area of any other country I’ve visited except that it was practically deserted. I don’t know what happened to all the other passengers that were on the plane with us when we landed, but they most definitely were nowhere near us at that point. I’ll admit we hadn’t exactly sprinted there from the baggage claim, but it isn’t as if we had dawdled either. And even if jet lag and sleep deprivation had kept us from dashing through the airport like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, certainly SOME of the folks on our flight were just as worn out, so it’s unlikely that ALL of them were capable of walking faster than we were.

It felt kind of eerie to be the only people in the area. I kept wondering if we’d gone to the wrong place, or if the others had all gone to the wrong place. Or if instead of getting off the plane and walking through immigration and customs, I had fallen asleep and was only dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customs. Or if instead of dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customers, I was walking through a virtual immigration and customs deep within the Matrix.

“I doubt it,” the Jarhead reassured me, although I suspected he would not have minded if my brain had gone offline. “We probably just got here after the solitary, young, and childless people, and before the slow, older people, and the people traveling in groups and with children. Most of them will have brought a few more bags than we did, so it will take them longer to get their luggage off the carousel and wheel it over here.”

That sounded reasonable, I’ll admit. But if that was the case, it would have been the first time in our entire lives together that I had walked that far and that much faster than that many people without the promise of chocolate or pizza, or the threat of bodily harm as a motivator.

At any rate, we made it through the maze and soon were standing in front of a friendly red-haired agent at the rental car area. Her name was Gail—a fact which I remember only because it is also my dad’s name—and after discussing the details of the rental with the Jarhead, she took one look at me and asked if I had brought any sunblock. She then went on to tell us how easy it is to get a sunburn in Australia, especially for those of us from the northern tier of the United States.

Gail then cheerily asked the Jarhead if he’d ever driven in Australia or anywhere else where they drive on the opposite side of the road. When he admitted that he had not, she said “I see,” with a deliberate smile and more than a trace of gravity. “I’m sure you’d do just fine,” she added. “Just make sure to keep her in the gutter.”

Having assumed that the “her” in question was the car, I wondered why she thought driving it through the gutter was a good idea. Then I wondered if perhaps the word gutter meant something different in Australia than it did in every other English speaking country in the world. Then I realized that the “her” was me, and that by advising the Jarhead to keep ME in the gutter, she was trying to help him avoid drifting out of the left lane and into oncoming traffic.

It was good advice. Disturbingly delivered. But good just the same.

I pondered that advice all the way through the terminal and across the parking lots to our rental car. I was able to forget my concern long enough to take note of the pleasant breeze and snap a quick pic of the Jarhead behind the wheel, but it came flooding back again as we were fastening our seatbelts.

“You’re going to need to drive around the parking lot a while,” I informed my chauffeur. “You’re not ready to be on the road yet.”

“Sure, I am,” he replied.

“Okay, then I’M not ready for you to be on the road yet. All I can think about is you forgetting to stay on the left side of the road and driving head on into a semi.”

“Do they even have semis here?” he asked as he simultaneous ignored my request and missed my point. “Or do they call them something else?”

I couldn’t tell if his was a genuine inquiry designed to ignite a lively debate or just some sneaky attempt to distract me from my fears, but I wasn’t about to fall for it. I needed a shower more than I wanted to argue or assert my verbal superiority, after all, and our room at the Esplanade Resort in Fremantle was still about 45 minutes away. So, in the interest of time, and lacking another viable option, I slapped on my “sunnies” (“sunnies” as in protective summer eyewear—not the ubiquitous Midwestern lake fish) then closed my eyes and braced for impact.

Every few minutes I would tell myself I was being an idiot and scold myself for not opening my eyes and taking in the sights. You didn’t come all this way to see nothing but the inside of your eyelids, after all. So now and then I would open one of my eyes or cover them both with my hands and peek out through the gaps between my fingers—as if seeing only a sliver of the underside of a semi or witnessing a bloody murder with only one eye would make the whole experience less traumatizing—but that failed to quell my anxiety. If anything, these tactics made the situation worse because it seemed like every time I would venture a peek at the wonders to beyond my knuckles, the Jarhead was changing lanes and coming within a fraction of an inch of hitting a nearby bumper.

Same thing happens whenever I watch a scary movie, by the way. Just as I get brave enough to look out through the gaps between my fingers, I immediately find myself face to face with a slimy alien, a slobbering zombie, or an ax wielding lunatic. It’s uncanny how it’s never a basket of puppies, a litter of kittens, a bunch of baby goats or a bouquet of shiny balloons. And if it ever IS a collection of puppies, kittens or goats, you can bet they’ll be zombie puppies, kittens or goats, and the balloons will be shiny because they’re covered in blood.

At any rate, by the time I was comfortable enough with the Jarhead’s driving to keep my eyes open and uncovered long enough to get a good look at our surroundings, we had arrived at our destination. Not knowing our way around well enough to find a parking garage, and not wanting to run out to the street every two hours for the next 24 to drop more coins in the meter, we pulled up the valet, handed him the keys, removed our belongings from the vehicle, and trudged into the hotel.