Sunday, March 30, 2008

Melbourne, Australia

Monday November 12, 2007

After about 24 hours flying and waiting in airports (ORD, LAX, and SYD), we arrived in MEL. Customs and baggage took almost an hour due to a random search or visa hiccup (not sure which). We got through, tried to exchange $$US for $$AUD, but they wanted to charge about 8%. So we instead pulled some cash off the ATM (about 1-1.5% for us). We picked up some brochures for the city, bought two bus tickets, and headed for Melbourne CBD (central business district). We snapped a few pictures on the way in on the bus; typical looking city on the ride in. A fair amount of tall buildings were on the horizon. We arrived at the bus station where we received a free transfer to our hotel. We were dropped off at the front door of the Adelphi and in we went. We checked in, got to our room, and proceeded to immediately shower. We felt and probably looked nasty. After a quick rinse, we sat around for a few minutes, checking out the Australian TV shows while we rested for a bit. Around 2:30, we proceeded to talk a walk down the Yarra River. There were many little restaurants and some upscale shopping. We walked to nearly the end of Southbank and stopped for a sandwich and a pastry. This was our first realization that prices are high for goods and food in Melbourne. Part of this is the fact that there is no tipping at any time. Also, all taxes are included in your price. Once you understand that, it becomes a little easier to shell out the money. We proceeded to start walking back to the hotel. Along the way we stopped at a grocery and picked up some water, two peaches, and a mango. We also stopped for 15 minutes at the internet café to email the family and a couple friends.

After another quick rest in the hotel room watching some Netball, we headed down to meet Justin in the lobby. Once he arrived, we headed down for a walk west along the Yarra through the Alexandra Gardens. It was good to catch up and hear about his stay here, as he was leaving the next day for home. We proceeded back toward the Southbank and discussed the Eureka Skydeck. It is the tallest residential structure in the southern hemisphere. We decided to pay and head up to the observation deck. It was a pretty good view; the afternoon sun was throwing some serious glare our way, but we made due. The observation deck has a glass shelf that you can pay to ride on; it proceeds to extend out 10 feet over nothingness with a glass bottom. I recorded a video of it coming out, we will see if it came out.

After coming down, we started looking for a place to eat. Most of the places on the river are unnecessarily marked up, so we headed toward the center of town. Justin let us know that (similar to Europe) the best places are in the alleys. There was one stretch of street where all the restaurants were competing for business pretty loudly. After listening to the spiels and trying to get a little extra, we picked Vons. Both Justin and I got the Kangaroo and it was very good! Kacey got the Gorgonzola Gnocchi, but it tasted more like Romano. Our waiter didn’t speak English very well (sounded French) and was obviously not an experienced waiter. We asked a few times for drinks, but no tipping, so no worries. As it was getting late, Justin headed back and we quickly fell asleep.

Pictures from Monday can be found here.

Tuesday November 13, 2007

Today we slept in until about 8 or 9. We decided to walk to the Queen Victoria Market to see what all it had; we read that you can find anything and everything. Well, they were almost correct-there were no cars for sale. On our way, we stopped by the alley way off of Flinders Lane one block west of Swanson Street. This alley way had numerous little coffee shops and we ended up eating breakfast here every morning. Once at the Market, we started walking through the clothes and souvenirs area first and it was mostly stuff we didn’t really need. We walked for about an hour before we got to the food. It was wonderful; just to put in perspective each row was about 150 yards long, and there were about 8 rows before we got to the food and then there were about 4 rows of food. There were lots of local Australian fruits and vegetables, so we picked up some snacks. I ate a $1 mango, and Kacey got some strawberries and cherries. We also got some nanshi (sp?), which look like white apples and taste like them too. Then we crossed the street to another row of food, and some indoor shops with cheeses, meats, olives, wines, and pastries. We ended up buying some bread, white cheese, salami, and olives along with the fruit. We also bought a fig stuffed with mascarpone. Ah, so good.

We came back to the hotel room to eat and after a little rest we walked to the Royal Botanical Gardens south of the city. The guides said it would be about 1 mile, but it was probably 3 or 4 to get there. Once there, we let the cameras start snapping. We walked most of the gardens over a 2.5 hour period. There were plants and trees from all over the world here. We almost trammed back, but were not sure how the short ride ticket worked, or how much it was. By the way, the tram system here can get you where you need to go, but it is a little expensive (unless you have a day pass and use it all day). Also, you have to kind of know how it works; it is not a simple ticket purchase and ride till your stop like subways are. There are different ticket options and different zones and you can buy certain tickets at certain places.

For dinner we headed to Grossi Florentino. They have 3 eating areas; an upstairs fancy place, and two downstairs places. We ate at the one that is a small café/pasta bar that was supposed to be one of the better places. Well, the menu was limited and although Kacey’s pumpkin tortellini was good, my lasagna was so-so. Not much flavor or cheese. We then looked for a place to eat dessert, but as it was just past 9pm, everywhere closed up quickly.

Pictures from Tuesday can be found here.

Wednesday November 14, 2007

Today we got up early to rent a car and head for the Great Ocean Road. The process was fairly painless as driving out of the city during the day is not too hard. We reached Geelong within an hour and kept on moving to Torquay. Just after Torquay is where the road started to get fun. This road reminded me just a little of the Road to Hana. A few straight a ways and a lot of hairpin turns thrown in there to make it load of fun to drive. On our way to the Split Point Lighthouse, we stopped at quick overlook. This was our first taste of the rest of the day. Once we reached the Split Point, we stopped to take a look, and ended up walking down to the beach. I was tempting the tide and walked out on some rocks just in time for a tidal wave to come in (about 6-9 inches out of nowhere). After attempting to dry my socks out, we hiked back to the car and I put my sandals on in hopes my shoes and socks would dry out.

We stopped in Lorne to pick up some information packets on Otway National Park. We read about a few water falls in the area, so we drove back to one, the Erskine Falls and hiked down for a view. While heading back down to the Ocean Road, we also stopped at Teddy’s Lookout for a nice view of the valley and ocean. Our next stop was Apollo Bay for a quick bite and a view of the ocean. We ate at the Apollo Bay hotel; the fish and chips were not spectacular, but we ate it up and moved on to Maits Rest. This was a nice loop walk through a Rain Forest. We were going to stop and hike to the Hopetoun Falls, but the road was closed.

As the forest turned to rolling pastures, we stopped at Castle Cove look out for a quick view of the ocean and some cliffs. Coming up next was the Melba Gully State Park. This was another nice Rain Forest hike that we had all to ourselves. This hike included what is believed to be the oldest tree in Australia (an Otway Messmate). Amongst this beast are the Mrytle Beech trees. These trees, which provide the canopy for the rain forests here, grow fast and tall. These trees are having difficulty with disease in the area, so much work is being done to protect them, and in effect protect the rain forests.

Next on our route was to be the 12 Apostles in the Port Cambell National Park. Unfortunately, we missed the turn as the carpark was on the inside of the Ocean Road (everything else was on the ocean side). So, next we turned in for a stop at Loch Ard Gorge (this is when we realized we had passed the 12 Apostles). After some gawking at the cliffs here, we headed back a few kilometers to the 12 Apostles. A short walk out to the cliffs, we were again amazed at the formations in the rock off the coast. The pictures probably won’t do justice to the size and height of these formations. Next on our trip we stopped at a scenic view of a natural arch made in the rock. (We forgot to take a picture of the name of the place (PB140093 – 97)). Just down the road from here was London Bridge (which some people now call London Arch). We had heard about this stop along the Ocean Road. This is another rock formation that used to form a double arch (hence the London Bridge name), but in 1990, the arch connecting the rock to land fell into the ocean. Two hikers were stranded on the formation and were rescued by helicopter. After a quick 2.5 hour drive on a long, fairly flat, lonely road, we were back in Melbourne. This is where the fun started. We were very hungry and just wanted to eat. Since we had a car, we headed to Carlton which is known for its Italian restaurants. Parking was sparse and navigating these streets at night was no picnic. We headed to one that was supposed to be open until 10, but it was not. We went to the first place that looked ok and open; the Key on the Wall Ristorante can be skipped if you are in the area. We headed back to Brunetti for coffee and dessert. After finding a place to stash the car overnight, we finally got to bed around midnight.

Pictures from Wednesday can be found here.

Thursday November 15, 2007

We bought a day pass for the MetLink system. We went to the Melbourne Zoo. Then we headed down to St. Kilda Beach. Ate some gelato and walked around a bit. We saw the Luna Park, but it was closed. Trammed to the store Books for Cooks. We got the idea for Tapas there and ate dinner at Movida. We bought the chef's new cookbook and had him sign it too!

Pictures from Thursday can be found here.