Australian Odyssey

I embarked on a long journey from home base Maple Ridge, British Columbia Canada to Brisbane and Perth, Australia recently. It was indeed both long and incredible.


The first leg was on a beautiful Air Canada Dreamliner on which I had three delightfully wide and comfortable seats all to myself. I almost instantly piled up the three airline pillows against the window side and sprawled out to get a good feel of what was to come. It was like heaven or at least how I hope heaven will be.


I closed my eyes and started thinking of those people in my life who often feel I have horseshoes up my wazoo. I giggled silently and smiled, as I opened my eyes and saw the flight attendant pass by with a food cart. It was one in the morning, not really a time I have ever eaten; but, since the flight would be fourteen hours and since I would not likely sleep that long, I decided to sit up and experience the culinary offerings. They called it steamed chicken and roasted vegetables. I ate it although I am not sure why the chef chose to steam chicken. There are so many other ways to present a nice chicken tasting meal.


I left the meal scraps and utensils on the table tray closest to the aisle and stretched out for the long term. No loud voices around me. No crying babies. I was out like a light in sixty seconds and woke up seven hours later, just in time for a breakfast of the continental sort. I had apparently slept through a snack service of cheeses, fruits and crackers. The flight attendant remembered and handed me a stash.


Although I am not a person who likes earphones in my ears, I have developed a knack of watching shows and creating a suitable storyline on my own. On this occasion, I chose to watch the new Churchill movie called The Darkest Hour and happily I saw a new feature in the options—English subtitles. It really was a great movie so that makes it easy to understand why it got a handsome Oscar this year. With four more flying hours to Brisbane, I stretched out again, giggled again and smiled again as I drifted into another sleep.


Upon arriving, there were no comments from me like ‘finally’ or ‘I am never doing this again’. It was a dream trip, on a dream bed on a dream airplane. I felt fully rested as we landed at 7:30 a.m. Aussie time.


There is a most impressive and economical way to get from Brisbane airport to your Brisbane hotel. It is under twenty dollars with a shuttle bus company called Con-X-ion. You book on line, tell them when you need a pick-up and when you get out of the secured area of the airport, right there in front of you is their company desk with attentive, friendly staff ready to guide you to the clean, air conditioned bus. I have given them a five star rating on Trip Advisor and coming from me, that is saying a lot!


On arrival days, I tend to sit back, review the options and explore the neighbourhood around the hotel. On this occasion, I texted the daughter of a friend of mine. Christina is a new mom, lives in Brisbane and is on parental leave. I got an immediate PING back. Turned out she and baby were at swimming lessons at the Olympic Pool directly across the road from the hotel and lessons had just ended. We met out on the sidewalk after I figured out how to jaywalk safely on a road where drivers drive on the opposite side of the road from those of us in Canada. Don’t look left, right and then left again! Look right, left, then right again, walk to the median and then look left, right and left again to get to the other side.


After a short visit on a very muggy day, we planned to be in touch the following day for another encounter in downtown. I walked along the scenic main road sidewalk adjacent to  Victoria Park, to the traffic light just to be sure to be safe when recrossing that rather busy road. 


Not feeling ready to go back to the air conditioned hotel room, I did a loop walk in the area to see what was around. I walked by several  schools where students of all ages wear uniforms and boys are schooled separately from girls. A lot of the houses and town homes and low-rise apartment buIldings are built like compounds where a heavy duty fence blocks out viewing from either side at street level. The stroll led me to a quaint coffee shop, Union Street Cafe, where I would start the plan for the following day.


The sky looked ominous that morning but I made it to the coffee shop before the rain came pouring down. I sat at the window seat and watched the rain and the students who seemed to be prepared with their uniform hats and umbrellas to keep them dry. It was only a ten minute shower and then the sky was a gorgeous turquoise blue with only a few clouds up above. I was clear to go a bit further down the street, up a short hill, directly to the free bus bus stop — the Springhill Circle route taking me to downtown.


The main street in downtown is a street mall for pedestrians only and along that strip there are several malls extending from the street inward. I read somewhere that there are something like 700 stores within a four block radius. I knew I couldn’t tackle it all in one day so I just strolled leisurely walking into some stores and not others. 


While inside a fancy department store, I sat in a cosy chair to check for messages. Christina was on the strip and suggested we meet at 11:30 at a key location. I confirmed, found her and her baby, and we headed off to lunch. We went into a side street food mall where we enjoyed tacos and sparkling water, and enjoyed a couple of hours of time together.


The diversion gave me a chance to rest before continuing the quest to at least explore the other side of the four block street mall leading me back to the free bus bus stop to get me back to my adopted neighbourhood.


During those two initial days in Brisbane, I only covered off a few things; but, when I returned a week later, I learned a whole lot more.


On day three of a twelve day journey, I was back at the airport for my flight to Perth. Perth is where my niece would be married on St. Patrick’s Day, and most of the family had gathered there for the celebration.


The Qantas Jet was very comfortable. The seats were spacious, including decent leg room. The hot lunch food service had three options: lamb ragout, pulled pork or steamed chicken. Yes, steamed chicken! I opted for the pork although just like the chicken didn’t taste like chicken on my last flight, the pork didn’t taste like pork. I did eat it because I actually believe the flight attendant would give me ‘that look’ if I didn’t! It wasn’t even an hour after cleaning up from that food service, that we each got a frozen raspberry ice cream bar!


The welcoming committee of two, proudly carrying Canadian flags, at Perth Domestic air terminal, started the excitement of another leg of this incredible adventure. Outside of the main doors, across a roadway and into the car park, a trunk springs open. Buckled up, off we drove on the left side of the street as the driver sat on the right side of the car. Suddenly being a Canadian passenger became somewhat scary as it is hard to feel confident when almost everything related to driving is opposite of our norm.


We made it intact to our Air BnB just at the edge of the downtown core. Its second floor location didn’t have a view but it was spacious and quiet. The place was somewhat lacking in cleanliness but we each took the initiative to wipe down the furniture, launder the bedding and wash the dishes we would likely be using. Fortunately we had a high end dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer to make the process somewhat seamless.


Our first full family meal, the Thursday night before the wedding of my niece and future nephew in law, was a wonderful cornucopia of BBQed seafood, lamb chops and sausages. Mediterranean salad, carrot salad, and homemade baked  French fries at their Victoria district home. All very delicious. It was there that I met their dog, Maple, a cute mini pincer, who loved the smell of my coconut butter covered legs.


The first big outing was the next day to a place called Fremantle. This is where the prisoners from Great Britain were sent to do their time I think maybe back in the 1600s for crimes big and small. Over the centuries, the location developed into a pleasant community and it now proudly stands as a very popular place for tourists and locals to enjoy the boating, beaches, eateries and simply strolling along the boardwalks. 


We all enjoyed a most impressive lunch of Hoki (visually it looks similar to cod, but more on the pinkish side. It is as flaky when cooked and as mild a taste as cod) and chips. I would say Cicerello’s in Fremantle is the place to go if you are a fish and chips connoisseur!


Saturday, March 17, 2018, was the wedding day. My niece, Andrea and her groom, David, had planned for this day for six months and no stone was left unturned. The attention to detail was amazing right down to having a few fleece blankets at the reception in anticipation of a cool evening.


Some of us had to arrive on site earlier than the guests. As such we became somewhat of a welcoming party and met the marriage celebrant and event organizer. There I learned at what point my role in the ceremony would take place. I felt calm, relaxed and ready. As the guests seemed to have all arrived, we got the cue that the bride was nearby and the ceremony was about to begin. A tear dropped from my left eye as I saw my beautifully dressed sister, the mother of the bride, stride down the grassy path to her seat at the front of the congregation. 


The next tear fell when I watched the beautiful bridesmaid, my niece Kayla, walk down that grassy path, to take her place. Then, alas, the biggest highlight of the ceremony, and another tear dropping, the gorgeous bride, my niece Andrea, with her arm in her dad’s, as he guided her down that same grassy path, to her fiancé, standing patiently before a beautiful backdrop of a small pond and deep green foliage all around.


With everyone in place, and my niece shaking with nerves as she was about to embark on a whole new journey, the ceremony began with a brief overview on how they met. This was followed by my part, the recital of a unique poem written for the bride and groom:


Andrea, one of my two Sampson nieces, 

first sees the big picture 

then puts together the pieces, 

carefully and strategically,

creating an organized mixture.


An organized mixture

Be it a party like this or her closets at home

her office desk or inside her car,

There’s always a proper place for everything

so she knows where things are.


She works very hard to get things just right,

Spends money wisely; grabs the best deals in sight.

She loves her dog Maple and, of course, David too,

 He’s passionate and caring and loves beer and food.


I wish them the best on the adventures ahead,

An organized mixture of a life that’s well bred.


The bride and groom wrote their own vows and proudly shared their personal messages with all of the guests, while keeping their eyes on each other. After the usual array of photos at the site, the wedding party went to various spots around Perth for more photos, and then made a grand entrance at the reception site — the large and beautifully decorated backyard of the groom’s parents. Food and drinks were aplenty; the music drew the guests into the dancing mood; and, we all danced and danced the night away. It truly was a fantastic celebration!


The following day we regrouped with the newly married couple and enjoyed a light brunch on a Main Street in the city. It was a great opportunity to reflect on the success of the day before and talk about plans for the days ahead. 


Our dinner plans for that night were set with the soon to be in laws of Kayla, the bridesmaid, a lovely couple named Jenny and Greg — both warm and loving people who raised two beautiful people, Kim and Toby. They live in Fremantle and their yard includes fig, lime, mandarin oranges, pomegranate, Star fruit, avocado and blueberry crops. 


Jenny and Greg are socially astute and easily moved from guest to guest to make them each feel uniquely welcome by showing an interest in more than just small talk. It was a discreetly organized evening of musical chairs, giving everyone an opportunity to talk with everyone else one to one. The meal was a wonderful array of bbq meats, salad and scalloped potatoes. Dessert was Jenny’s renowned homemade baclava — a baked meringue with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. It was absolutely delicious.


The following day was our post wedding hens outing to The Cheese Barrel in the community of Swan Valley. This place apparently has the largest selection of international benchmark farmhouse and artisanal cheeses in the region. 

It was a lovely sunny day out in the country as we sat outside under the covered patio to enjoy a potpourri of different cheeses (Udder Delights Brie, Jensen Red, Landana 500, Pradera and Stokes Point Smoked Cheddar), meats and breads — oh, and a bottle of bubbly prosecco. It was another great opportunity to socialize with the family — and now our extended family as well. Happily the new additions blend in extremely well as we seamlessly learn about each other in all kinds of scenarios and feel the natural genuine comfort of welcoming new people into our lives.


We left the hens by around 4 pm and got resettled at the apartment where a patient husband awaited our arrival. We debriefed on our respective experiences of the day and, suddenly, we found ourselves in a perplexing state of mental confusion. We laughed and laughed to the point of tears because we switched from several smooth flowing, organized days of clearly structured and sequential plans, to being in a state of utter flux. 


We had three more days to spend together in Perth and we started talking out the logistics only to find that one person was talking about some things relating to day two or three while another put day one into day three, day two into one and one into three. Laughter and tears are now pouring from my eyes as I attempt to share this story, and as I do, I look up and see the same in the others in the room. We are out of control, off the tracks, mixed up, confused and loving every minute of it! We needed this to happen and once the dust settled, we were once again able to regroup, rebuild a comprehensive plan that maximized our remaining time and incorporate all the loose ends we hoped to accomplish in the days ahead. 


Jamie Oliver has a chain of restaurants across Australia and we found one nearby. On the window it read, pizza and beer for ten dollars on Mondays. A great deal and a great idea. The five of us were seated at a large round table and handed the menus. The server and a server in training handed us the menus and explained the dinner deal. Four of us ordered the  pizza deal, and the fifth only a beer with the intention of sharing her husband’s pizza.  


Twenty minutes later, the four fabulous and delicious pizzas arrive and we enjoyed every bite. I was mentally readying myself for another positive trip advisor evaluation, but then the bill came. Now I do know that some people never cross-check their bill, totally believing it must be right, but I NEVER do and sure enough, as has frequently been the case in foreign transactions over the years and even domestically, our bill was not correct — at least not logically correct. The single beer, the exact same beer paired with the pizzas, cost ten dollars! 


Why would a server and a training server not flag to a customer that the beer itself is the same price as a pizza and beer! We expressed our concern and the server, and later her supervisor, could not understand how our findings were a concern. It was almost like one of those “well that’s the way it is” moments to which we were expected to bow and accept.


Well this clan does not bow and accept and after a round of attempts to decipher an inkling of logic, the manager asks “well what do you want me to do about it”?


Suddenly the Trip Advisor evaluation went from a ten to a three, and that stood firm even after we settled on paying five dollars for that lonely beer. With the reprinted bill in hand, I walked to the paying station, handed the cashier the bill of $45 along with a $100 bill. She rustled through her wallet and handed me a five dollar bill.


“Wow, this place is really warped!” — is the only thought that flashed before my eyes. “I think I will pass on that Trip Advisor plan. It would be a waste of my valuable time as I now focus on the organized plans for the following three days.!”


Tuesdays are cheap fare days for the passenger ferry to Rottnest Island. This is a small island off the shores of Fremantle with an incredible history worth googling if you are interested. Here we found some of the simpler pleasures of life such as unique natural attraction like stunning beaches and many secluded coves, local wildlife like the tame Quokka, colonies of sea lions, fur seals and whales. People walk, hike, cycle, boat, fish, skydive, surf, golf, swim and snorkel around interesting reefs and shipwrecks. The Island is not inhabited full time but does have cabins, camping locations and other temporary options.


The temperature was 30 degrees Celsius. We packed a small carry pack with the basic essentials of food and drink. We met at the port five minutes before departure and enjoyed the fast and quick thirty minute ride to the Island’s central business area where there are restaurants, a general store, two ice cream parlours and a bakery. 


It is a non-vehicle zone except for a few buses and service vehicles. The road and cycling route is about thirty kilometres around most of the shoreline sectioned off with coves and beaches, with plenty of swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving attractions, paired with incredibly beautiful views. It was an ‘easy-moderate’ cycling excursion for us but, without basically any shady areas and no extra drinking water stations along the way, it can be overwhelming on very hot days. Taking a dip into the Indian Ocean was an option, but we didn’t all take advantage of that cooling down option. Thankfully the hop-on, hop-off bus service is complimentary for the cyclists who suffer from exhaustion or dehydration!


When we all reunited in the business district, it was great to enjoy some shade and rest before heading to the local pub for a mid-afternoon meal of salad, fries and fish, cold cider, water and beer, followed by an especially good ice cream cone, before returning to the ferry dock for our return to the Port of Fremantle.


On my last day in Perth, I walked downtown to meet my newly married niece. She had a new job interview at nine so I timed it in such a way that I was able to check out some of the commerce and enjoy a most delicious cappuccino  before meeting her in a predetermined plaza. She brought me on a free bus to the outlet mall not far from downtown, where we both went on a bit of a shopping spree, before catching the train back to her neighbourhood.


This was her husband’s birthday so with the help of her mother, they prepared an Oreo cheesecake before he came home from work. Thankfully the temperature was a bearable 24 degrees, making the oven heat more or less bearable! At his request, we ordered in a chicken, salad and fries dinner as the sun set, the air cooled and the car got packed to get yet another traveler to the airport. Our group of six had dwindled down to two in Perth, but now there were two in Melbourne, one off to Brisbane and one back home in Canada.


Upon my return to Brisbane at 7:30 in the morning, on Virgin Australia, the Best Western Gregory Terrace hotel granted me room access. I immediately crawled into bed for a quick ninety minutes before heading to a local bus stop for the trip to the Brisbane Museum where I was meeting a BC friend, her daughter and grand daughter. As per usual I arrived early giving me opportunity to scout out the area and enjoy a smooth cappuccino.


The museum presentation was about the life cycle of turtles, including onsite incubators and the various phases of the birthing process. Afterwards we walked to the south shore of the Brisbane River to view some kiosks and decide on a place for a late lunch. We chose fish and chips giving me a chance to compare other such meals over the course of this trip. Feeling exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before, it was easy to return to the hotel for a quick nap before a take home dinner that was in the room’s fridge.


The following day, the ladies picked me up for our day at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary about twenty minutes north of the city. There I was introduced to the world of raptors, koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles and native birds. It was a warm, cloudy day with some sunny periods, but basically just fine for a day in this park. There was plenty of shade and sitting areas, and we were well stocked with water and a delicious assortment of easy picnic snacks, including crackers and cheese, cut carrots, celery and cukes. This is a must-see location for anyone coming to Brisbane.


To top off the day, my last in this town, I sat in the hotel restaurant for a delicious pasta meal with zucchini, tomatoes and bacon, along with a glass of Australian Shiraz. At 6:30 p.m., I was the only patron.


With the flight from Brisbane to Vancouver leaving at 10:40 a.m., starting off in sleep mode didn’t  quite work so I watched the flight plan screen. Flying at more than 11,000 meters, we were heading due east, right across the grand Pacific Ocean to Vancouver. The sun was shining, the air outside a tad shaky, and the temperature hovered at minus 43 Celsius! We travelled at a ground speed of more than 950 km per hour. To put that into perspective, the speed limit on most major ground highways is 100 km per hour.


Here is an interlude question: when on a long flight, what is worse: sitting near a crying baby or listening to a big man sniff constantly at a very audible pitch? He was three seats away from me and the frequency made me think he had some form of Terets syndrome! Plugging one ear helped.


Within two hours of flight came the first of three food services. I chose chicken over beef, and tried my best to eat most of it. Food services have improved over the years but I still find it hard to stomach. When you are hungry though, and you know the flight is fourteen hours long, somehow you manage to get something down. A good incentive was the cheesecake dessert.


As we approached the final 3 hours of a very long flight, I tried to sleep but just could not get to that point. Sitting up or slouched to sleep and laying to sleep are two diversely different experiences, and despite the pillows, blanket and leg room, it just wasn’t to be. Instead, I reflected on the huge new life experience of travelling alone to a very far away place, with confidence and anticipation of having a great time alone and with people. I certainly did have a great time alone and with people, and am already preparing for the next great adventure as I live through another year of severance coverage before heading into the pension world and whatever other opportunities come my way!