After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Monthly round-up - December 2011

Charlotte and Eric in Yalgorup National Park

December was a great month for us and summer has finally arrived, lots of beach days, bbqs and swimming; as well as, of course, working and usual home life.

We were lucky enough to receive some STA Travel Vouchers for our wedding and decided to use them to pay for an experience which we might otherwise be reluctant to fork out for. After exploring lots of options we decided that swimming with dolphins would be a rather fun thing to do! So one Saturday morning we got up at the crack of dawn and drove down to Rockingham to meet the boat. We were then given a briefing along the lines of  "these dolphins are wild, we don't feed them to attract them, so there's no guarantee that we'll find them but we're determined to spend hours looking if necessary!", zipped into our wetsuits and headed out to sea. Thankfully we found the first dolphins within about twenty minutes and jumped in. Basically we snorkelled while the dolphins swam and played around underneath us. One of the guides (Dolphin Girl as she was known) would zoom about under water using a diving scooter, mimicking the dolphins actions and playing around with them to keep them interested. We then watched them swimming about and dashing at each other playfully, before they got shy and swam off. Throughout the morning we swam with a few different groups of dolphins, but they were gradually becoming less interested. Instead we were treated to the spectacle of them catching a lift in the wake of the boat, jumping right out of the water and belly flopping back in. It was a pretty incredible experience – thank you to people who got us the vouchers!

We had decided to make a weekend of it, so once we were back on dry land we explored Rockingham (pleasant enough but not much to it apart from a beach and some nice restaurants and coffee shops) before heading down to Yalgorup National Park. We spent a little time on Preston Beach within the National Park before heading to our campsite for the night, Martin's Tank. National Park campsites are basic (long drop toilets and no running water) but very convenient to those on a budget wanting to get away from the confines of the cramped family campsites. It took about half an hour down an incredibly bumpy sand track to get there (doing wonders to Eric's suspension, I'm sure).  The National Park was fairly dense forest and bushland, and we saw quite a few spiders in the shrubs behind the van, including a beautiful Jewel spider with lots of colourful spikes on it's back. They aren't poisonous thankfully.  The next day we went down to Bunbury for a picnic on the beach, and a "gosh, I wonder why people have recommended this place" moment (no offence intended, the kind of place which would be fine if you lived there but not much point making a special trip), before making our way home via some thrombolites at Lake Clifton, in Yalgorup National Park. Thrombolites, 'living rocks', are the most common form of microbialites, which are rock-like structures built by micro-organisms. Thrombolites and stromatolites were the only known form of life on Earth some 3500 to 6500 million years ago. Microbes found in both thrombolite and stromatolite formations are believed to be responsible for oxygen production which allowed life to exist on the planet. So they're pretty important things – although it's hard to truly appreciate that as you gaze down at the grey blobs in front of you. As Bill Bryson so eloquently puts it; 'They are lusterless and grey and look ... like very large cow pats. But it is a curiously giddying moment to find yourself staring at living remnants of the Earth as it was 3.5 billion years ago.'

December also marked the seasonal opening of our local outdoor cinema. We went to see We Need to Talk About Kevin, which we thoroughly enjoyed, although Charlotte found it harder going than the book, and was slightly disturbed by Kevin being far too pretty. The cinema itself is very cute, and being set in a leafy walled garden, with a bar selling local beers and a wood-fired pizza oven, plus some live music on before the film. A lovely way to spend an evening.

Quick beer reference: we finally opened the bottle of Brewdog AB:04 that Liam bought Charlotte for her birthday. The AB range is a specialist and limited line of experimental beers from Brewdog, and this one an Imperial Stout brewed with cacao, coffee and chilli. Interesting to say the least! Charlotte noted that as it was dark and very rich it might be more suited to the climate of Perth, Scotland than Perth, Australia.

It was strange in the run up to Christmas as it isn't as much of a big deal over here, but we were baffled that everyone we asked seemed to be spending the day itself inside with the air con on roasting a turkey.  A few people had Christmas lights up, but we didn't see a single Christmas tree.  We enjoyed the usual December festivities – namely pub going with friends and colleagues. Liam had two (TWO!) Christmas work do's to attend, one where he had to sit on Father Christmas's knee to receive a gift of a kangaroo scrotum! Not in its original state obviously, but made into a little leather-style pouch.

We had an interesting experience one Sunday evening as we attended the Town of Cottesloe Christmas Carol Service. It was outdoors, of course, and we arrived to the service already having started and to pretty much nobody joining in with the carols, more interested in chatting and drinking wine, while the kids ran amok. We soon realised what kind of a carol service it was going to be after Charlotte commented "I've not even heard of some of these carols – listen to the lyrics to this one from 1973, 'So here's to you Merry Christmas, Everybody's having fun, look to the...' oh right, yeah now I know it". Determined to join in with the carols despite lack of effort from the rest of the crowd, we cracked open a bottle of wine and were soon joining in with a hip hop We Three Kings and other twists on traditional carols, and frantically waving our LED candle. The evening was interspersed with sketches to celebrate the Christmas service's hundredth anniversary. One of the sketches seemed to be heavily advertising the local tea house and included a young woman putting on a faux Indian accent in a questionably distasteful way. We ended the evening by getting trapped at the end of a car park trying to avoid the masses, and made our escape shimmying down from the car park via a tree, to the bemusement of the people throwing a cocktail party from their very swish apartment looking down on us. It wasn't quite Carols round the Clock Tower in Wheelton, but it sure was a great evening!

Stayed tuned for the the next post about our Christmas week holiday. In the meantime, here's a breakdown of Charlotte's reading:

The Whispers of Nemesis – Anne Zouroudi
An Amazon Kindle Daily Deal, purchased on the basis of good reviews from The Guardian and Alexander McCall Smith. Pretty crappy tale of a poet's body being exhumed in Greece and turning out to now have a pigs skull. The following investigation is rather boring and predictable, and none of the characters are remotely likeable.

The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
Based on a true story, Kate Grenville writes another excellent book about life in Australia for early Western settlers, in this case about a lieutenant who befriends an Aboriginal girl. Sensitive and informative, an interesting read.

Breakfast at the Hotel Deja vu – Paul Torday
A novella based around the MP expenses scandal. If you like Paul Torday's other books, you'll like this. An intricately woven plot, narrated by someone in a coma with memory problems. There are some genius moments of genuine deja vu on the part of the reader, and the subject of the expenses scandal is very interesting as it explores the rationalisation of those who thought it was perfectly acceptable to rip off the tax-payer. Liam also read and enjoyed this book.

Do you Think You're Clever? - John Farndon
John Farndon answers questions which have been asked in Oxbridge entrance interviews, such as 'Do you think you're clever?',  'What is fate?', 'Does a Girl Scout have a political agenda?', 'How would you measure the weight of your own head?' etc. Fascinating insight into all sorts of topics, and really gets you thinking outside of the box. Brilliant book.

You Can't Say That: Memoirs – Ken Livingstone
I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read about Ken Livingstone's career, so much so that I can forgive him for barely mentioning his home life and being terribly flippant about his decision to co-parent with someone who wasn't his partner.  He seems like a very intelligent, rational and caring bloke, one can only hope he will unseat Boris in the upcoming mayoral election.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Read because, well,  it was Christmas!  The first of a Dicken's book for me to read to the end, more of a reflection of it's short length than it's enjoyability.  Despite me not being a Dickens fan, it was good to finally read what is such a well known tale from the countless televised, film and theatre versions. 

Van Adventures
Fremantle & Perth, Australia

(New photos have been added to the end of these albums)

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