A Quick Peek at Perth

Sand, Sun, Sizzling Temps and Exceptionally Beautiful People

My first visit to Australia was as a tag-along on my spouse’s business trip. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. Of course, I figured kangaroos would be running amuck like cottontail rabbits (in the vein of first-time Texas visitors who expect to see cowboys herding cattle through downtown Dallas). I assumed the natives would be similar to Americans. I was in for a surprise.

These guys are hard to see in the wilds. Really....
These guys are hard to see in the wilds. Really….

We stopped first in Perth (three legs and 28-hours from DFW).  The land mass of Australia equals that of the United States but Australia has only six states. Perth, the capital of the state of Western Australia, sits on the Indian Ocean at the country’s southwestern edge and is the world’s most isolated continental capital city.

We checked into in a beach hotel because it was convenient to my husband’s appointments. If you think early fall in Australia might be cool and pleasant, think again. The beach was beautiful, but the heat was searing (and I’m from Texas where we lived fried most of time).

Scarborough Beach outside of Perth, Australia
Scarborough Beach outside of Perth, Australia

Since we spent two days dining and strolling the beach area, I got a good look at the locals (all depressingly youthful and fit). I’m not exaggerating when I say the young women were all 15s. A 10 in Dallas would be a 5 there. Remember Australian actress Margot Robbie, who portrayed Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in “Wolf of Wall Street?” Well, she has about a zillion look-alike sisters, and they’re all hanging out at Scarborough Beach. (The men on the other hand were just your typical big, goofy guys with Maori tattoos all over their visible body parts. A lot of the women are tattooed too, which is a shame since most are goddesses and require no inky embellishments.)

Your average beach girl.
Your average Perth beach girl.

Traversing Perth

From the beach, it’s a $30 cab ride to the center of Perth, where I found unimpressive shopping (I didn’t know to go to the upscale shops on King Street). After that, I figured out how to ride the city bus between my hotel and downtown for $4 one way. We also used Uber several times in the downtown area. The courteous drivers gave us cold bottled water and mints and got us safely to our destinations. Download the appropriate app to your iPhone before you board your plane.

Perth’s public transportation is nice and clean and absent of intimidating weirdos. I loved a sign on a bus interior that said: “Students riding for a discounted rate are expected to give their seat to an adult when crowded.” Post that inside a Dallas bus and it will have graffiti all over it in about 10 minutes.

That’s one thing about Australians — they follow the rules, unlike Americans who do what feels good at the moment. Whenever we got in a car with an Australian driver, the engine wasn’t turned on until everyone had their seatbelts securely in place. Apparently, drivers transporting non-belted passengers can get a huge fine, and police actually enforce the law.

Places to Visit

Downtown Perth’s Northbridge neighborhood is home to pubs, clubs, shops, galleries and scores of restaurants. It’s also where visitors will find the Perth Cultural Centre, and several noteworthy museums.

DSC_0380
A place of interest for the curious.

The State Library of Western Australia is located in the Centre and offers occasional film screenings,  exhibitions and the chance to do research if you have a project in mind. The gift shop sells fascinating history books and educational children’s toys.  I picked up a book about Aboriginal people and how they were severely mistreated by early Australian immigrants right up until the ’70s.

Much to learn at the art museum.

A few steps away is the Western Australian Museum, housed in the city’s colonial prison, to showcase the state’s social and natural history. During my visit, “The History of the World in 100 Objects” was the special exhibit on display. Put together by Neil MacGregor, British Museum director, it individually examines artworks and tools from two million years ago until today. It was interesting to look at the assorted objects and think, “So why did MacGregor choose that? I wouldn’t have chosen that thing. What does he know that I don’t know?” Answer: Probably a lot.

MUSEUM
Learn about Western Australian history.

There is a simple little café behind the Western Australian Museum that has sandwiches, salads and pastries. A shabby chic, outdoor courtyard is a lovely place to sit and enjoy your meal. Beware of pigeons who might descend on you and try to steal scraps from your plate.

Things I missed that you might want to see:

For Campers/Hikers:

Perth’s Bibbulmun Track is one of the world’s best long distance walking trails. Healthy go-getters can walk 620 miles from the Perth Hills to the historic town of Albany on the south coast, passing through forests and circumventing boulders across scenic Western Australia. You can take a day trip or make the entire trek while staying at the 49 campsites along the way. Warning: the campsites are rustic but have sleeping shelters, tent sites and even pit toilets. Learn more.

For Nature Lovers:

The Perth Zoo houses 1,200 animals about five minutes from the city center. Australian wildlife is so unique that a visit minus local critters would be a major waste, in my opinion. Of course, the zoo has African and Asian animals too, and visitors can book an “Eye to Eye” encounter that puts them up close and personal with some of the inhabitants. The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year.

For History and Culture Buffs with patience:

The Katta Djinoong, the “First Peoples of Western Australia” gallery, is housed with the Western Australian Museum. It recognizes the country’s indigenous community and features exhibits highlighting their unique culture and heritage. Unfortunately, it’s closed for a facelift until 2020.

Contemporary art by an Aboriginal artist
Contemporary work by an Aboriginal artist

Spending Money

You can’t discuss any travel destination without talking money. Australia’s basic unit of currency is the Australian dollar, which is made up of 100 cents. Paper notes include $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 bills. Coins come in amounts of $2, $1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5cs, which are a variety of sizes that have no rhyme or reason. No one bothers with one and two cent coins, and all cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents. As for tipping, no one expects it. Apparently, service employees in Australia are paid an adequate wage, or so the natives say. If you go to some super chichi place and want to leave the waitperson a little extra (10%), good for you. But no one will chase you to your car if you don’t. As in many parts of the world, tipping was imported to Australia by American tourists, so if you’re in a big tourist area, you may be expected to give gratuities to waiters, taxi drivers, bellmen and anyone providing room service. Of course, the Australians actually wish Americans would quit doing that.

 

Houston’s Bayou Bend: An Elegant Trip Back in Time

Ima Hogg's mansion in Houston awaits your visit.
Ima Hogg’s mansion in Houston awaits your visit.

Bayou Bend is the magnificent-mansion-turned-museum of the late Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg (yes, that’s her real name, and no, she didn’t have a sister named Ura).

Bayou Bend gardens are full of classical statues.

Built in 1928, Bayou Bend is now part of the city’s museum of fine arts and a showcase for priceless American decorative arts. Situated on 14 organically manicured acres, the mansion brims with furniture, silver, paintings and ceramics, including almost 2,600 objects in 28 period room settings, and attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Bayou Bend is well worth the time it takes for a guided tour, and your first visit will make you wish you’d known the women who built it. Ima Hogg was born in 1882, the only daughter of Jim Hogg, the first native-born governor of Texas. The Hoggs were early Texan oil barons, and the family fortune gave Ima the ability to do pretty much whatever she wanted in an era when women were supposed to marry, have a passel of kids and keep their lips zipped.

In addition to collecting fabulous things, Ima donated to and underwrote numerous good works. A talented musician in her own right, she founded the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Widely respected for her knowledge and taste, she was on call to the White House for resolving decorating issues.
Caladiums do well in this shady garden.
Ima was famous for her horrible name (she was reportedly named by her father after a heroine in her uncle’s epic poem, The Fate of Marvin). She claims to have received 30 marriage proposals in her lifetime, all of which she turned down. Her personal stationery printed with “I. Hogg” or “Miss Hogg”.

Outside the house, you can stroll surrounding woodlands and a series of beautiful gardens (depending on Houston’s humidity level that day). When colorful azaleas bloom in the spring, the place is overrun with nature lovers. Enter the museum parking lot from 6003 Memorial Drive at Westcott Street in Houston. Do not use the original mansion entrance in the chichi River Oaks neighborhood. You’ll tick off some really rich people.

You’ll be asked to store purses, bags, backpacks, coats, and cameras in lockers during the house tour. Amateur photography and videotaping are allowed outdoors only. Kids 10 and older are welcome on guided home tours, and children of all ages are welcome on Sundays. Baby carriers inside the home are a no-no.

Phone 713.639.7750 for information, reservations, and to arrange special tours. The house is closed during August when you would probably die during the heat anyway.

by Pat Pape

Guided House Tours
(reservations recommended)
Tuesday–Thursday: 10 a.m.–11:30 a.m.; 1 p.m.–2:45 p.m.
Friday–Saturday: 10 a.m.–11:15 a.m.
Tours begin every 15 minutes

There are numerous water features in the 14-acre garden.

 GUIDED TOUR OPTIONS

Highlights Tour (60 minutes)

• Visit several rooms on both floors of the house, including the main entertaining areas and upstairs suite

• See the home’s rarest and historically most important treasures.

• Learn about the Hogg family, and how Ima Hogg transformed her home into a museum to display one of the nation’s best collections of American antiques

Study Tour (90 minutes)

• Visit rooms in addition to those on the Highlights Tour

• Focus on the objects in the collection and how they reflect American history

• Receive in-depth information about American decorative arts

• See the full range periods represented by the collection (1630–1876)

• Option to visit focused displays on silver and ceramics

Self-Guided House Tours (No reservations needed)

Friday–Sunday: 1 p.m.– 5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Tuesday–Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Sunday: 1 p.m.– 5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Admission: Highlights Tour & Self-Guided House Tour

$12.50 Adults

$11 Students / Senior Adults (ID Required)

$10 Houston fine arts museum members

$6.25 Children 10–18

Free for children 9 and younger*

Admission: Study Tour

$15 Adults

$13.50 Students / Senior Adults (ID Required)

$12.50 Houston fine arts museum members

$7.50 Children 10–18

Self-Guided Gardens Tours (No reservations needed)
Tuesday–Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (last admission at 4:30 p.m.)
Sunday: 1 p.m.–5 p.m. (last admission at 4:30 p.m.)
Gardens-Only Admission: $5 for ages 10 and up; Free for children 9 and younger