PeeWee on his first trip outside of home!
Because we are spending so long in Melbourne, I'm splitting the OZ journal into two parts - Melbourne, and everything else. Further, after a week here, we are splitting our time in Melbourne up into three parts:
- First week or so, followed by 3 days down the Great Ocean Road.
- A few more days here, and then a 4 day trip to Tazzy (Tasmania).
- A final week or so here before we head up north.
NOTE: there might be some other changes!
So, before we got here, I got a note from my friend Chris Farquhar. He's from Melbourne but lives in Hong Kong. He sent a note saying that I'd soon be in TWGC, and told me that I'd "figure it out". At first, I thought he meant Australia as "The World's Greatest Country", but my conclusion is that he means Melbourne is "The World's Greatest City".
Based on what I've seen so far, I have no reason to disagree.
And one more thing: FOSTER'S beer is an urban legend here. I have found it in ONE store, and in ZERO bars. Apparently, they are an international brand and hardly exist in Australia anymore.
Sat Feb 16/19
First day in Oz!
When we arrived at the airport last night, right after exiting the arrivals lounge with our bags, we spied a Yes Optus telecom store. Special deal! 45 GB of data, unlimited calling within Oz and to a number of other countries, including Canada and the US, for 28 days. For $20 AUD! Unlimited texts within Oz, and a $10 credit for “other” services (like overseas texts). Unbelievable. So, after 28 days I’ll have to renew for $40. How is it that Australia is the third largest country in the world and can have such cheap rates, while Canada is probably the most expensive?
So this morning, I tried it out. Calls to US and Canada. Internationally, you have to dial 001 and then the area code and number. Didn’t work. Found a Yes Optus store. The solution was simple – dial “+1” instead of “001”. Presto. I wouldn’t have guessed that.
We discovered the South Melbourne Market, a huge market that sold fruits/vegetables, meats & cheeses, seafood, clothes and souvenirs and also had a lot of restaurants. One of the spots that was recommended by a couple of people was “Dim Sims”, a place that sold deep fried buns and spring rolls. Apparently, a Melbourne tradition since 1949. Not quite to our taste, but an interesting experience.
We also got a bit of an orientation with supermarkets and store prices. Some things are just unbelievably expensive. Bananas between $5-9 AUD per kilo? Other things were equally unbelievable, but at the other end of the spectrum. Bread, eggs, milk – all were very inexpensive compared to prices back home.
Wanda had a hair appointment today, so we also had to figure out the transit system. They have cards called “myki” (pron “Mikey”) to swipe on and off. Basically, $4.40 per trip, with an $8.80 max per day. Discounts for longer periods of time. The appointment was in a district called Toorak, which is apparently the most expensive neighbourhood in Melbourne, and possibly Australia. Something like Yonge & Eglinton in Toronto.
After that, I had a meeting – one of the main reasons for my trip down here! Well, OK, one of the reasons. Met with an industry contact from Oz – such a small world.
But enough about business.
We took a walk through the Crown Casino/Entertainment complex and wound up on the River Walk along the Yarra River. I have to say that Toronto has totally messed up their waterfront. Endless condos and wasted space at Ontario Place. Waterfront should be an integral part of a city, and Melbourne has really taken advantage. The River Walk is a great place for walking and people watching. Lots of great spots to eat, and buskers to entertain.
We are taking advantage of having a base, and used the supermarket to get some supplies for a quiet night in. Oddly enough, Crocodile Dundee II is on TV!
Cue the music…. Beatles – 1967…. “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now”…
I’ll explain more tomorrow.
Sun Feb 17/19
It is my first of two birthdays! Being in Australia, it is the 17th today, and tomorrow it will be the 17th back home. So I will officially celebrate twice.
I never thought The Beatles song would apply to me, but I am officially 64.
We spent the day taking the hop-on hop-off bus around Melbourne. That gave us a lot of ideas on where to go during the month that we're here. It really looks like a fabulous city. Really interesting architecture and great neighborhoods. And a lot of the areas are within easy walking distance from where we are staying.
We're in Southbank, just on the south side of the Yarra River. 83 Whiteman Street to be precise. We have a one bedroom apartment on the 20th floor, just a block south of the convention centre and the river.
There are two hop-on hop-off bus routes - the City Route and the St Kilda Route. A day pass is $35 AUD. The City Route is much more interesting. St Kilda is the Bohemian beach district south of the city. We were considering staying there, but the best choice really is Southbank.
They are starting to set up for the Australian grand prix in the St Kilda area, so there are a lot of detours.
After the tours, we did some exploring and wound up at the Munich Brauhaus. It is a rather disappointing version of a real Munich pub, but they did have a legit German band. They played all the songs I learned 40 years ago.
All in all, a good first birthday!
Mon Feb 18/19
Today is Feb 17 back home, so it’s my birthday again. To celebrate, I got to play Kingston Heath, one of the top golf courses in Oz and in the world, courtesy of Conrad and Jessica and Renn and Harry.
It was a whole day affair. Left the apartment at just after 9 am – wanted to make sure I got a chance to warm up properly. It didn’t help, but that’s another story!
So, about the trip out - I decided to go by public transit rather than Uber. Kingston Heath is on the outskirts, and it involved a train and bus ride. I use Google Maps for everything, so it seemed to be no problem, even though it would take a fair amount of time.
At Southern Cross station, I decided to confirm my directions and charge my myki card. The lady had to confer with her computer and gave me a six pages of detailed instructions, which contradicted what Google said. It had all kinds of notes on delays and construction, so I decided to stay with my own plan.
Then, when I got to the destination railway station, I asked where the bus stop was (to go to Kingston Road). Again, the lady had to consult her computer, and she promptly sent me to the wrong bus. Fortunately, I learned from my experience in Auckland and verified with the bus driver. He also didn’t know where Kingston Road was, but we consulted his route together and discovered that, indeed, I had to go in the other direction.
I finally got on the right bus and confirmed with the driver. He, yet again, had to confirm with his written route map that he was going where I wanted to go. Nobody seemed to know anything!!! And these are transportation professionals.
En route on the bus, I heard the Google voice giving directions. I thought I had the volume up on my phone. No. Then I thought it was somebody else on the bus. Nope. Finally, I realized that the driver was using Google Maps or the equivalent to drive his route! Unbelievable. I guess that means that I can be a bus driver here too!
Kingston Heath itself was a fabulous experience. I got there two hours before my tee time. Rented clubs – Taylormade M2s. The practice facilities were great – short game, warm up and full driving range.
I was put with a group of three other guests. Michael was from England – a younger bloke – and Chris and Hampton (or “Hamp”) were from North Carolina. Chris and Hamp were hickory stick golfers – they had the really old style clubs – persimmon heads on the woods, hickory shafts, and all the irons had names on them – like mashie, niblick, etc. Very cool to see. Michael was here visiting his girlfriends family, and had already played 18 holes in the morning.
The course was set up as it plays in tournaments, meaning that the “19th hole” was in, and the normal 10th hole was out of play. It was par 72, 6,354 metres, or about 6,950 yards.
Normally, the first conversation you have when you play with strangers is “what tees do you play”? First time that I’ve ever seen no choice, outside of a tournament. There were two tees – men’s tees and ladies’ tees. White and red. So, you played what was in front of you.
The course did play shorter than the card, but starting off with a 457 yard par 4 and ending with two par 4’s at 459 and 428 was intimidating.
The course was amazing. Great condition and beautiful. The pictures I took don’t do it justice. The par 3’s were the most amazing. Each of them looked incredible, especially the signature 15th hole. It was only playing 129 yards, but looking at it, you were filled with equal parts of awe and dread (in case you missed the green, which was easily done).
In terms of play, I don’t know why but I often start off nervous. First 4 holes – 9 over par. I had been working in the sand on the practice range, but a number of bunkers were totally different – hard pan sand, which resulted in “undesirable” outcomes. But in the end, I realized Conrad wasn’t there to make fun of me, and I wound up at 91. Not great, but OK considering the start.
Chris and Hamp were somewhere in the mid to high 90’s, I think, and Michael was pretty lights out. He double bogeyed the second hole, but wound shooting even par at 72. Great to watch somebody play like that.
I caught a ride back to the city with Chris and Hamp, and we exchanged info so that if they ever come to Canada, or if I’m in North Carolina or London, we can have another game.
Great second birthday! Thanks again, kids.
Didn’t get back till close to 7 pm, so then we just wandered a bit and went to a Japanese “food court” type restaurant in the Crown Casino for a poke bowl for dinner. Quite good, and only $16-17 AUD.
Tue Feb 19/19
Back to life without golf and without birthdays.
Downtown Melbourne is great. It has a “free tram” zone in the CBD, so that you can ride anywhere, completely free of charge. There is one City Circle tram that is primarily for tourists – goes around the entire CBD and offers a running commentary. Almost an alternative to the hop-on hop-off bus.
We decided to go to the Queen Victoria Market today. It’s the big one – over 1,000 stalls. North end of the CBD. Interesting to see, and we made another addition to our traveling troupe.
PeeWee had been seeming somewhat lonely and homesick, so at the Market we ran across a little Koala sitting at a table in a café. His name is Mick. We got to talking, and he said he was interested in traveling around Oz, but was light on funds. So we invited him along. When he met PeeWee, they immediately hit it off.
We also walked around Chinatown and then back to the “Fed” – Federation Square, at the heart of the town. It’s a very odd looking square – take a look at the pictures, even though there’s some construction going on.
Right beside the Fed is the ACMI Centre (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), which has free interactive displays. Very cool and worthwhile. There is one called “The Clock”, by Christian Marclay. Unfortunately, it’s a limited run (ends March 10 I believe), but it is addictive. You go into a theatre and watch a collage of hundreds/thousands of movie snippets that synch with the actual time of day. It cycles every 24 hours, and on Thursdays is open all night. The amount of work needed to review so many films and put the video together is staggering.
We revisited the Munich Brauhaus because they advertised a “build you own” salad. So, we tried it, with great results. If $17 AUD, you can build your own salad, including protein. One of the best salads I’ve ever had at a restaurant.
Wed Feb 20/19
A bit of a runaround day. I had a business meeting with Garreth Chandler of The Evolved Group. They have some really interesting technology for intelligent listening, and analysis/insights. Never hurts to stay up to date on the industry and look for new opportunities!
Also did some shopping so that we would be self-sufficient. Aside from that, we wandered the city. The objective is to find something new every day. We went back to ACMI. We have become addicted to "The Clock". We will be back there again tomorrow, when it runs for 24 hours.
The "Lanes" in Melbourne are full of interesting things. Hosier Lane is famous for its wall art. Paintings and graffiti everywhere. Some interesting items, but more graffiti than art. Not nearly as well done as in Dunedin.
Another lane (Russell Lane) had a hidden gem - The Gin Palace.It was so unobtrusive that we walked right by it. Inside, though, it was very different. Elegant and old-school, like a speakeasy.
They had the Scapegrace Gold gin (the best in the world, remember?) so I had to order a martini. $40!!!! Then, the server came back and said they didn't have enough gin. The bottle was almost empty. So I said I'd take a 1/2, for $20. Then he came back and said there wasn't even enough for that. So, he gave me what they had....on the house! It was small but good!
One more stop - The Mitre, the oldest pub in Melbourne. Nothing special, but there was a huge after-work crowd of businessmen in suits. And a pub trivia night, but unfortunately, it was packed full and we couldn't get in.
Thu Feb 21/19
Not keeping up with your postings is “dangerous”. As I write this, it’s Sunday morning. I have to get caught up for three days. I can barely remember back to what we did yesterday! But I’ll do my best.
Today was targeted at exploring Chinatown and visiting the National Gallery of Victoria. It’s just on the south side of the Yarra River, on St. Kilda Road (which becomes Swanston Street after you cross the bridge into the CBD).
Chinatown was forgettable. Typical Chinatown – rather small. The most surprising thing was the Munich Hofbrauhaus in the middle of it. Who knew that Aussies loved German restaurants so much?!?! It has been there for a long time – in the same location for over 50 years. Overpriced. But they have a band in the evenings, so we decided to go back on Friday night.
We also found a few more “lanes”. The Royal Arcade opened in 1870 and is the oldest shopping arcade in Australia. Watching over it is Gaunt’s Clock, flanked by statues of Gog and Magog, who ring in the time on the hour.
Now, the NGV was equally unforgettable. The main gallery is free and we decided to go back to see that on another day. The special exhibit right now is Escher x Nendo | Between Two Worlds. The cost was $28 AUD pp. M. C. Escher was a Dutch artist, who lived from 1898 to 1972. He worked mainly in woodcuts, wood engravings and lithographs, and was a master of optical illusion. Check it out. https://www.mcescher.com/ . The display “Between Two Worlds” was designed and constructed by the Japanese design firm nendo.
On the way back to the apartment, we stopped in at Ponyfish Island, a small restaurant located on the base of one of the footings of a bridge crossing the Yarra. Innovative use of space!
Fri Feb 22/19
Objective was to view the sporting district, the Botanical Garden and the Shrine of Remembrance.
The great thing is that pretty well everything is in walking distance. We crossed the river into the Free Tram Zone, hopped on a Flinders Street tram (that’s the main street along the Yarra) and rode about 5-6 stops till the end of the free zone. Then we walked over to the MCG. The Olympics were held in Melbourne in 1956, and my guess is that the city used that event to great advantage. They built a whole series of facilities all in the same district. There’s the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, or “the G”, Rod Laver Stadium and Margaret Court Stadium (plus lots of other tennis courts for the Aussie Open, the Melbourne Arena (basketball, etc), a large outdoor cricket field, and AAMI Stadium (rugby, AFL and football). And more. The trains run right through the middle, making moving people in and out fast and efficient.
Next Friday (Mar 1), there’s a Super 15 rugby game on at AAMI. I’ve been trying to buy tickets, but so far no luck. I think it’s a problem with the ticketing site, because I’ve got a Canadian credit card.
We walked across the Yarra to the Botanical Gardens and took a stroll. Wound up at the Shrine of Remembrance, built in the late 1920’s/early 1930’s to honour the fallen soldiers of WWI. This is the most impressive memorial that I’ve ever seen. There is a tiny opening in the wall/ceiling that allows the sun to move across the stone in the centre of the shrine for 11 minutes, exactly at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month. The stone reads, “No Greater Love Hath Any Man”.
We had promised ourselves to go back to the Hofbrau Haus to hear the band. So we got there at 6:30 and were told we'd have to be out by 8:00 because they had a reservation. The place was half empty when we arrived, but filled up fast! Food - blah (what would you expect in a beer hall). Prices - way overpriced. Band - good. They had a four piece "German" band, with no Germans. Guitar (Ukrainian), woodwinds (Russian), drums (Polish) and accordion (Croatian/Polish). The accordion player actually had a "Roland" accordion. I've never seen that but I have to get myself one! Not surprisingly, I knew all the tunes that they played. Also not surprising, I won a prize for "audience participation" (schnapps for the table).
Finally, to keep the German theme going, we stopped in at the Berlin Bar. Really funky, with two rooms, representing East and West Berlin. Furnishings were junky and movies played, projecting on the wall (Dr. Strangelove and The Lives of Others).
Sat Feb 23/19
Little Italy in Melbourne? You betcha. It’s small but mighty. We actually took a tram out to it. Little Italy is centred on Lygon Street, between Queensberry and Elgin Street. Lygon is lined by all kinds of cafés and restaurants. We used Fodors’ recommendations for the “best of”. Ice cream – Pidapipo. We can’t compare but it was great - $4.80 for one scoop. Best café – Brunetti’s. Amazing place – huge and authentic. Great coffee and an amazing selection of cakes, cannolis, sandwiches and pizzas. Best restaurant… well, we have to go back another day to try that! But they identified La Spaghettata as the place to go. It bills itself as the “1st Pasta House in Australia”, and the manager offered a free glass of wine and free pasta if we didn’t love it. Too bad we couldn’t eat any more, after ice cream and cake. Down the road at the next corner is Lemongrass, which claims to be the #2 Thai restaurant in all of Australia. So, lots of choices and reasons to come back.
Close by, there’s the Melbourne Museum and the Royal Exhibition Building. It as an easy walk back down to Fitzroy Gardens and downtown. Since it was Saturday afternoon, we decided to explore a couple of rooftop bars/restaurants. Duke’s was the first stop. They had at least half of their tables marked “reserved” for 6 pm or 6:30 or thereabouts. But it was only 4 pm! After that, we stopped in at Transit at Fed Square, which overlooks the river. Great location to watch the rowing crews training on the Yarra.
Sun Feb 24/19
We set out to investigate the Docklands. They are just north of us, on the other side of the Yarra. We walked across the bridge to the Free Tram Zone and caught the City Circle Line to just across from Marvel Stadium. Pretty looking area. We thought that, by 11:30, things might be hopping, but we were wrong. People seem to get a late start here. We walked all around, but there was nothing but some booths set up for Sunday, and a lot of restaurants. Not much else, it seemed. Nearby, the Melbourne Star (a slow motion ferris wheel like the London Eye) was circulating, but it really seemed to be out in the middle of the docks area. Didn’t seem like there would be much of a view.
So, it was a quick visit. We hopped back on the tram and connected to Tram 96 to St. Kilda Beach. A long, long beach (St. Kilda and South Melbourne), with calm waves and a very shallow beach. Neat to go to on the weekend, if you’re a beach person. Even if you’re not.
I got an email from Lawrence, who is looking after our house while we’re gone (thanks, Lawrence!). He said that he’s expecting snow, ice, and 100+km winds. I hated to tell him, but it was 32 C here today. Not a snowflake in sight.
Headed back after a while. All in all, a sleepy Sunday.
I think a week (plus a bit) was a good start in Melbourne. Tomorrow, we’re off for a 3 day trip down the Great Ocean Road. We’ll say hi to the 12 Apostles, and any other sites we see.
I'm going to report on the Greaat Ocean Road trip under the "Rest of Australia" tab.
So, we are back in Melbourne after a few days on the Great Ocean Road. We're here for four days and then off to Tazzy.
Thu Feb 28/19
End of February already! Only one more month till we head back! Unbelievable.
We made today a culture day: two art galleries and a visit to the state library.
First thing in the morning I was back at The Evolved Group for a third meeting with them about their software and how we might work together.
After that, Wanda and I met up and we went to the NGV (where the Escher x Nendo exhibit is), and visited the rest of the exhibits. We were lucky, again, that there was a tour given when we arrived, so we gleaned some very good insights over the period of an hour from our guide. They have a really interesting range of art, from 20th century (Warhol) etc, through to Picasso, Monet and the impressionists, all the way back to Rembrandt and earlier Christian art. Also, some examples of fashion and design. Interesting place, and free admission!
Our day was really a matter of walking from one air conditioned spot to another. It got up to 37 C today!
Our second stop was at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. This gallery is on Fed Square, and showcases early Australian and Aboriginal art. Really interesting to see paintings of early Oz.
We had been told that Ned Kelly’s armour was on display at the State Library Victoria, on Swanston Street, so we headed up there. In case I didn’t talk much about Ned Kelly before, he was a famous Bushman / criminal who became famous – sort of a Robin Hood, except he didn’t give to the poor. He killed several policemen and got caught in a shoot-out in 1880. He wore a metal helmet and armour to protect himself from the bullets. Too bad he didn’t cover his legs, because they took him down by shooting him there. He was tried in Melbourne and hanged in November 1880. He was 25 years old.
The State Library is an amazing building. Six storeys high, with different galleries and displays. While there was a Ned Kelly display, the armour was off being cleaned, so unfortunately we didn’t see it.
Stopped off at Banoi, a Vietnamese restaurant for a quick bite – very good – and headed back to ACMI. The Clock is open on Thursday nights for all 24 hours. We watched about 1 ½ hours, until 7 pm. Then headed back to the apartment because I had another business call to make. There was, once again, standing room only. We had to sit on the floor at the front, until a couple of seats opened up behind us. As we left, I asked if people actually stayed all night long and was told yes. As I’ve said before, it’s addictive.
Fri Mar 1/19
We are running out of a) energy and b) things to do in the downtown. Today was 39 C. While there’s always more to do, we have already seen a lot of the “top” sights in Melbourne. We have a list and are whittling it down.
A couple of additional points on Melbourne. A number of trams do NOT have air conditioning. Makes things very uncomfortable, but I think it’s still better than walking in this heat. The other thing is the uneasy (for me) relationship between bikes and pedestrians. Some areas have clear bike lanes (which also can act as sidewalks). Others – particularly along the river, where we walk a lot – are sort of a hodge-podge of bike and people traffic. There are, nominally, some bike lanes, but the people invade them, and the bikes don’t seem constrained by them. Maybe natives here are used to it, but as an outsider I feel like it is chaotic and it is disconcerting to have bikes sneak up behind you and weave in and out of pedestrian traffic.
Anyway, today was the Eureka Tower. At 88 storeys, it’s the tallest building in Melbourne. Views all around the city. Beautiful, clear day. The price was $23 AUD pp, but they had an option for another $5.50 that you could come back the next day (they call it the sun and stars option), so we plan to come back tomorrow night and see the city lights.
Very cool. I tried to post pictures and name a lot of the places that I’ve been talking about in my postings. I don’t have the time to do digital manipulation and highlight them, but as I have said before, there’s a lot available within walking distance.
After that, we went back to the apartment and headed down to the third floor. The condo has a gym and 25 metre swimming pool and hot tub. A nice way to cool down when it’s so hot outside!
Friday night was a big one – took the tram over to AAMI (pronounced “Amy”) Park to watch the Melbourne Rebels play the Dunedin Highlanders (from NZ) in Super Rugby. We had $49 AUD tickets, and were in the eighth row from the field, just inside the 22 metre mark. AAMI Park was built in 2010 and has a seating capacity of 30,000. The game was not nearly a sellout – I’d guess between 10-15k, and the crowd was very civilized. No rowdies, and the Highlander fans were interspersed with the home crowd.
Super Rugby is the top level of the game, outside of the World Cup. These players play in the leagues but will be called for the national teams as well. One of the players on the Highlanders played for the All Blacks (NZ world champs) in 2018.
The game itself was fascinating. Wanda and I both felt that the Highlanders carried the play, but the home team wound up winning 24-19. With less than 2 minutes to play, the Highlanders looked like they scored to tie the game, but video replay showed that they came up about 2-3 inches short and turned over the ball. If you don’t know the rules of rugby (they’re called “laws”), just enjoy the mayhem. These links might help: http://www.rugbyau.com/ or https://laws.worldrugby.org/amends. My favourite turnover rule had to do with a collapsed maul. I can’t remember the exact wording, but with mauls, rucks, scrums and more, it’s certainly a different world.
In the end, it was really amazing that no-one was killed during the game. The players are big boys, and the enthusiasm with which they hit each other (with no equipment) is fearsome. Certainly, there were a few players shaken up, but no-one was carried off on a stretcher, and in the end, there was a happy ending since the home side won.
Sat Mar 2/19
We have a slow weekend coming up. We did some dutiful shopping at the Saturday morning market (South Melbourne version). Our landlord, Glenn, had a potential showing of the apartment to a future tenant, so we went to the casino for a few hours and watched the Raptor-Trailblazers game. Raptors had it in the bag for 3 quarters, but then needed a buzzer-beater to beat them at the end.
Glenn and his wife Lisa invited us over for a social evening. They also invited another two couples who lived in the building. Davina and Lisa were from Scotland, and Lee/Leigh (?) and Hof (?) were Aussies. Fun people. We learned more about Oz, and educated them a bit about Canada. Davina and Lisa used to live in Portugal, and they own a place there, so we have to connect with them about our plans for next year. They threw about all kinds of names of places which didn’t mean a thing at this point.
We excused ourselves for a bit to go up the Eureka Tower at night. We had the extended, two day ticket. Nice, but it didn’t really add a lot to the experience. They said to stop back for dessert, and to our surprise, Lee had baked two cakes – one for everyone, and one just for us. Just what we need…cake. But it was good cake!
Sun Mar 3/19
37 C or more for the third or fourth day in a row. Hard to say what that feels like, but it's hot! Not as bad as it would be in Toronto, because there is less humidity.
Today, we had one gallery left to see – the ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art). My suggestion – check what is on display before going over. It’s quite small and it was hard to understand what the object was. Contemporary art to means actual works of art on display. But all that we saw was a couple of modern films playing, and some programs on a few TV screens. The features were On Truth and Trust: a panel discussion (the parts that we saw were CNN panels), The Theatre is Lying: The inaugural Macfarlane Commissions (I think you had to be Aussie to understand it), and Rear View 2018, which appeared to be a discussion between two women while driving in a car. Strange, and it didn’t capture our interest quickly, so we didn’t stay very long.
We also went in to see the Immigration Museum but with a $15 admission, we decided that it would be better to go back to the apartment and go swimming again.
Off to Tazzy early! My commentary will switch over to the “Rest of Australia” tab for the next four days.
I've combined commentary for the last "two" weeks, as we went to Tasmania for week 3. I didn't feel I could simply skip from "Week 2" to "Week 4" without raising questions.
Sat Mar 9/19
Note to self. Two weeks in one place is probably enough. We booked a month in Melbourne. With side trips to the Great Ocean Road and Tasmania, we’re here about three weeks. One week left to go. And…we’re ready to move on. No matter how nice the city, when you’ve made all the check marks on your page, it’s time.
Also, having time to reflect opens you up to homesickness. When you’re constantly on the road, you don’t have time to think about things other than planning the day’s activities. After two months away, the thoughts of going home have come up in conversation. Missing family and friends is the trade off for using ice cubes instead of making snowballs. Only 24 days left! Please make sure the winter is over by the time we arrive!
Today and tomorrow, we’re checking off a few last boxes. Today, we jumped on the tram to see Coops Shot Tower. It’s in a huge shopping complex about the Central Station. It was built in 1889-90 and the tower was used to make lead shot until 1960. One of the tallest structures in Melbourne for many years, it was incorporated into the modern architecture because of its historical significance.
Sun Mar 10/19
Back to the CBD again. We decided to get a SIM card for Wanda’s phone as well. Discovered that most of the Yes Optus stores were closed on Sundays. Really! What a quaint concept. Had to go back to the downtown, right by the Shot Tower again, just to find an open Optus store. Her deal was $30 AUD ($28.40 CAD or about $21 USD) for unlimited domestic calls and texts and 35 GB of data. Not quite as good as the deal I got for a month, but that was a “special offer”. I’m going to have to revisit my plan when I get back to Canada!
We headed over to a bar highlighted in our tourist book called “Section 8”. It’s near Chinatown, down one of the lanes. Funky is an understatement. It is an open-air place with plastic sheets as a roof. The bar is made out of an old shipping container and the tables and chairs are pallets used for transporting cargo. All in all, quite the fun place. Wouldn’t want to be here in winter, though!
Then we hopped down to the Hotel Windsor, across from Parliament – the grand old lady of Melbourne hotels. The doorman was exceptionally friendly and invited us in to view the history of the building and the country. The Constitution was actually finalized in the building. A socialite named Captain Janson lived on the top floor (apparently for free) for 12 years, along with his pet dingo. And, of course, you can go for high tea in the dining room. $99 pp on weekends, but a bargain at $75 pp during the week. It was completely empty when we peeked in.
Finally, made it back up to Little Italy to test out La Spaghettata and its supposedly renowned pasta. Not sure if it was the best ever, but it didn’t disappoint!
Mon Mar 11/19
One final trip to make out to the suburbs and a little beyond – the Yarra Valley. It’s a famous wine region, particularly known for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonneys. We finally figured out how to use the GPS built in to the car, and it consented to let us get on the highway. Took about an hour to get into the middle of the valley.
About 7 years ago, Conrad was in Australia making an 8 month trip in the region. He worked for a few months in the Yarra Valley, at the Johnston Brothers cherry farm. Naturally, his mother had to check on him, to make sure he had behaved. So our first stop was to see the Johnstons. Alistair was there, and he remembered Conrad as a good young lad. The workers slept in tents and had a communal kitchen. As Alistair put it, “you have a great view, a kitchen and a toilet. What else could you wish for?”. Fun to see.
Our next stop was at the Healesville Sanctuary, another place to see the odd creatures unique to Australia (I’m talking about the animals, not some of the strange-looking people). They had devils and wombats and the like, but we got better looks at them in Tassie. The key attraction here was the platypus, the emu and the dingo, all of which we hadn’t seen yet.
Our chosen date was “Labour Day” in the state of Victoria, a public holiday. What that mean was that there were hundreds and hundreds of families there. A packed parking lot, strollers everywhere.
They had special presentations for the platypus and for free-flying birds. The platypus is a playful little creature. The trainer/operator got into the water up to her waist and talked about the platypus while it alternated between swimming around and coming up to have her hold it and scratch its belly. Surprisingly small creature – probably between 12-18” long. The bird show was fascinating, at least until the owl refused to cooperate. There were vultures and parrots and cockatoos and more. Everything went swimmingly until the owl decided to go away and sit in a tree. Being a predator, the trainers were afraid that if they brought out another bird while the owl was free, that the owl could swoop in and kill it. So, that was the end of the show.
After that, we decided that we’d had enough of the kiddy show. So, we went into Healesville to the Four Pillars Gin company. The Yarra Valley is famous for wines, but it also has a distillery. Four Pillars started five years ago and has grown very rapidly – producing over 20,000 bottles per week at this point in time. Had a tasting, although tasting gin with no mixer can be a bit of a challenge. The guide for the tasting was maybe a bit rusty, and everybody in the group talked too much. Maybe some of the rust was due to the fact that he was now working primarily as a bartender. Or, maybe it was that he was drinking right along with the guests! Take your pick.
Of course, one of the tricks to wine or gin tastings is to not drink too much, if you’re driving. That results in very small sips and pouring the excess away. Wanda and I generally share one tasting, and then if she doesn’t like it, it’ll go to waste.
We wound up visiting three wineries – Oakridge, Chandon and St. Hubert. Tastings at Oakridge and St. Hubert were free. Chandon charged, but we had a cheese tray and sat outside overlooking the Yarra. Beautiful location, except for the flies(!) Overall, there are a lot of similarities to the Niagara region in Ontario – about an hour outside of the city, and a lot of wineries. Probably a lot closer together than in Canada, though.
Oh yeah – one thing I’ve been meaning to mention. Restaurants in Oz have a few quirks. On Sundays, there is a thing called the Sunday surcharge – 10% on the overall bill. Presumably because you have to pay the staff more. We had only run into that at one spot in Melbourne. But now, on a public holiday, there’s a “public holiday” surcharge and it is more widely applied. It varied between 10-15% of the total bill. I guess that’s the downside of having a no-tipping culture. At any rate, we wound up at the local Chinese restaurant, and that wasn’t an issue there.
Tue Mar 12/19
Back to the apartment. Drove back through the Yarra Valley in the rain. Probably the third day of rain since we left on our trip. And, naturally, by the time we got back to the apartment, it had cleared up.
I had another meeting in downtown Melbourne with The Evolved Group about their talent identification platform. We'll see where that goes.
Under the topic of "how small a world is it", Glenn (my landlord through AirBnB) is also dealing with the Evolved Group. He is talking about working with them on some projects here. So, he accompanied me to the meeting to get some more background. What are the odds?
After that, Wanda and I tried - again - OZ trivia. Once again, we didn't come last, which I view as an accomplishment.
Wed Mar 13/19
Went out to do a final bit of sightseeing. Across the river, there's the Mission to Seafarers, which has been providing a haven and support for sailors for over 100 years.
In the evening, we got together with Glenn and Lisa and friends again. They'll be visiting Canada in 2020, and I'm looking forward to continuing business discussions with Glenn.
Thu Mar 14/19
The Aussie Grand Prix kicks off the GP season this week. I walked to the track, which winds around Albert Park in St. Klida. Tried to get a free look, but not successful. We could hear the engines from our balcony.
Bidding a fond farewell to Melbourne! We have enjoyed our time here, but we're ready for some new adventures.
Switching over to the Australia tab now, for the rest of the trip. Less than three weeks left!