Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fremantle, Crustaceans, and More

Australians love abbreviating things. Brekkie is breakfast, surfie is surfer, boatie is boater, and the list goes on and on and on. (Some say Aussies have the worst accents in the world. I submit Michigan's U.P accent as a contender, but, well, yes). The same is done with Fremantle, a port city about twenty minutes or so from my aunt's locale in South Perth. Everyone calls it Freo, just like they call nearby Rottnest Island "Rotto". Cute.

Freo (as we shall now phrase it) is a popular weekender spot for Perth's not exactly harried downtown residents, and is good at what it does. It presents an aspect of a faintly British nautical town, with lots of oldish buildings (nothing is actually all that old in Australia, just like the USA), cute shops where you can buy the offensive t-shirts Australians so treasure, and hundreds upon hundreds of fish and chip joints. The port was founded in 1828 after one Captain Charles Fremantle and has been a successful port ever since, filled with big boats and Maersk Sealand canisters. Perth, being in the middle of nowhere, takes in a lot of shipping. After his stint in West Australia, old Charles Fremantle was the first to suggest Kowloon as a good settlement site to the Crown. Someone had a knack for empire building. During WWII, Freo was the second largest submarine base in the Pacific theater, predicated on the not-unrealistic fear that the Japanese would attempt to take over.

Former AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott is buried here, and his grave has been thoughtfully designated a National Heritage Site. There's even a heroic statue. Leave beer bottles.

First stop was the shipwreck museum, which is exactly what it sounds like. Fremantle is situated near a bunch of treacherous reefs, and many big-time shipwrecks have occurred here over the years. By far the coolest thing in here is a stone structure meant to be the entryway to Dutch Batavia (now Jakarta), which was lost beneath the waves here a long time ago.

The story of the 1628 mutiny is remarkably unpleasant. Read about it here:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

There's also a huge and carefully preserved hunk o' ship, as well as the skeleton of an unfortunate sailor, who perished here way back in 1628. This is the same skeleton my paleontologist cousin fell in love with when she visited at the age of six or so, starting a life long romance with dead stuff. Good old Boney.

Chocolate sardines! Now with more sardine flavor!

We headed next to the Fremantle Markets, founded in 1897 and now functioning as a not-unappealing venue for the procurement of random crap. There's a lot of things made out of gum-berries, various and sundry plush animals, and yet more offensive t-shirts. There are also lots of boomerangs. When I was little as a semi-feral child in Georgia, my neighbors and best friends were gifted a boomerang for one birthday. The ensuing whacking-fests turned me off boomerangs forever. I'll pass.

Downtown Fremantle is very pleasant, with a British "aspect" (as Australians love saying) and plenty of cafes and coffee shops. Freo apparently has a large population of Italian immigrants, who brought over good food and better coffee. The Perth area in general is known for its "cafe culture," which is not exactly hurt by the perennially excellent weather. Late July is Perth's winter, but it never gets much below the mid 50's, and rain isn't exceedingly common. It's essentially the same Mediterranean climate as Sacramento. There's a profusion of Dome coffee shops around here, Australia's generally superior alternative to Starbucks. (Fun fact: no Starbucks in Australia. Apparently they couldn't make it in the local market. Bless them Aussies).

There's a nice produce and food market here. WA has very impressive produce and fruit, although it is, like everything else here, expensive. Groceries also have extremely impressive meat and seafood selections. Cooking here is fun.

Blue crayfish? Just wrong.

They call these "bugs". They look like alien face suckers but apparently do taste good.

We had lunch at Cicerellos, a very large fish joint situated on the water. Australians seem to love restaurants where one orders off the counter then has your food brought to you at the table - no waitresses taking orders around here, or at least it's rare. One manifestation of Aussie's latent Britishness is their incredible affection for chips (french fries) - they are served in huge quantities or "lashings" everywhere and at every time and with seemingly every meal. Thankfully, they're often pretty good. Cicerello's not surprisingly specializes in fried fish and seafood dishes of various and sundry varieties.

My whole pan-fried flounder was absolutely delicious, with sweet, perfectly cooked meat and a delicious buttery flavor. The side salad had a tasty honey-dijon dressing, and the chips were crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Aces. Eating an entire small animal always makes me feel so powerful.

Crumbed fish is apparently the way to go, over battered fish. This was also lovely.

Gorgeous tiger prawns in these parts.

I tried an Australian oyster at the nearby fish market - they were willing to sell us one. They're fairly large and have a good, chewy texture, but the flavor is aggressively and unpleasantly saline. Curse you, B.P.

This is my favorite trashcan ever.

A rainstorm began to roll in, and we drove out to Cottesloe beach, which is blue and perfect looking, and is doubtless more so when it isn't rain misting all over you. I'll be back here soon enough.

We headed back to Perth proper for an hour or two of recuperation prior to the evening, which would feature a truffle tasting dinner at the Darlington Estate winery, in the Perth Hills. Life is hard and treacherous.

I leave you with the OMG fish.

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