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Mel's Australia Travelogue - page 2

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So, we made it to Melbourne. It's a "real city" - seems dirtier and more crowded than Sydney, although it was Good Friday when we arrived, so there weren't that many people around.  Maybe it's just the contrast between Alice Springs or Uluru and here?

The Marriott is nice, right in the middle of the theater district, on the edge of Melbourne central business district.  We wandered around for a while, but it was cloudy and a bit chilly. We had dinner at a hole-in-the-wall Indonesian place. Almost everything was closed - Good Friday and Christmas are the only days that anything closes, apparently. Oh well.

Saturday, Mom & Dad took the train to Bendigo, where there was a huge Antique Fair. (This was the one scheduling element that was set in stone from the beginning- why we had to be in Melbourne for Easter!) Having decided to skip Adelaide altogether, Bryan and I set off in search of the Qantas office. Of course, it wasn't going to open again until Tuesday, because Easter Monday is a holiday too. Oops!  We walked down to the Southgate area, on the other side of the Yarra River. It's a range of shops and an amazing food court. Next to Southgate is the Crown Casino complex. Unbelievable. The first thing we found was the amazing lobby area, which has fountains of water shooting around to music, with a multicolored light show to match.  The casino had tons of slots (2 cents!) and roulette tables, blackjack, and an interesting Chinese game called Sic Bo, or "Treasure of the Dice."  It is played with three dice in a covered glass dome, and a glass table with betting areas similar to roulette. The dealer covers the glass and 'pops' the dice three times. Then players can bet on the numbered areas on the table, trying to guess what the combinations of dice will be. After he closes the betting, the dealer uncovers the dice and presses the numbers on the control panel that correspond to the die faces showing.  The winning bets light up on the table. The odds are wacko on this one, though, so it's a lot of math for the dealer! This was undoubtedly the most crowded table in the place.

So, rather than spend all our time (and $$) at the casino, we went off to find the Rialto Building, which is the tallest office building in the Southern Hemisphere, and has an observation deck on the 55th floor.  The elevator from the bottom to the top takes only 38 seconds! (urp!) The view was amazing on all sides, and the sun was finally peeking through the clouds.  We walked back to the hotel through a bunch of different shopping arcades (downtown is all about the shopping arcades!), but then I was really tired, so we went back to the hotel to crash. By the time we were ready to go out for dinner, we ran into mom & dad coming back from Bendigo.  We went off in search of good sushi - after searching for 20 minutes, it turns out the place that the concierge had recommended was closed! - and ended up at Murasaki. We sat at the sushi bar and watched the master chef work.  It was AMAZING. Bryan said it was the best sushi he had ever had! The chef gave us his business card (complete with photo of him flexing his biceps) and told us to email him when we got home.

On their train ride back from Bendigo, mom and dad met a woman who recommended a dim sum place at the Crown complex, so we hiked back down there on Sunday morning.  We were lucky to get a table - it was really crowded! The food was good, but we were sort of doubtful that it was the "best".  So, we took mom and dad through the casino, and back through Southgate. Since we were on that side of the river, we went over to the National Gallery of Victoria art museum.  There were banners all over the city for the Caravaggio show there, but the tickets were kind of expensive, so we went through the rest of the exhibits instead. It's really a beautiful museum, and they have an impressive collection of everything from pre-Colombian art to modern plastic chairs! After the museum (and a quick stop at the cafe), we walked over into the park to see the Queen Victoria monument. It was beautiful, and very nicely lit as the sun was setting.  

Easter Monday. We had breakfast in the hotel (one of the few times we did that anywhere) and then walked up to the Melbourne Museum and the Exposition Center. The Expo center is actually an empty building, a space for trade shows, but it's beautiful on the outside. The Museum is like the Natural History museum in DC, with some Technology and Australian History thrown in. Phar Lap is there, too (talk about taxidermy projects...)! We didn't go through the museum, but spent quite a bit of money at the shop!

Phar Lap

We took the free city circle tram down to Flinders station (the yellow Victorian building that you see in most of the pictures of Melbourne) and took another tram down to the Shrine of Remembrance - Melbourne's version of the ANZAC Memorial. In the center of  the Shrine, there's a stone on the ground that says "Greater Love Hath No Man". On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (the hour of the end of WWI hostilities), the sun shines through a small hole in the roof onto the word LOVE.   However, since there are lots of tourists who are there on other days of the year, the "light show" is reproduced every half hour! But it's still pretty amazing. 

After the shrine and our walk through to see the rest of the monuments in the park (including Edith Cavell and the Boer War memorial), Dad and Bryan ran off to go to an Australian Football League match at Telstra Stadium.  Mom and I took the tram, did some shopping - found Safeway and "Big W" (sort of like Wal-Mart - Target and K-Mart are also down under) - and went back to the hotel. We ended up watching the same football game on tv, but on tape delay.  Aussie football is very different - a sort of combination of US football and rugby... the most interesting thing is that passing the ball from player to player is done with short kicks, rather than spiral throws. It's amazing how accurate they can be! The scoring is also ridiculous - [good] teams regularly score over 100 points per game. Needless to say, the boys had a blast, and we have all become fans of the St. Kilda's Saints! [Bryan was amazed at how many different sporting events were showing constantly on tv, especially in Melbourne - we even had ESPN! He was very happy.] 

First order of business on Tuesday - go to Qantas and get our tickets changed! We decided to add a day in Hobart and skip Adelaide altogether, and go back to Sydney on 4/17. We changed the flights and got breakfast, then went back to the hotel (where we had a high speed connection in the room, so we could use Bryan's laptop) to make sure we had hotel rooms!  Mom and Dad left then to go to the suburb of Malvern to do some more antiquing, and we went to the Old Melbourne Gaol (Jail).  They're very big on showing the jails around Australia, since the whole place started as a penal colony anyway!  This was where Ned Kelly, the famous Australian bush ranger, was finally hanged for his crimes. [There's a movie about Ned Kelly coming out this year, starring Heath Ledger. A 1970 movie about him starred Mick Jagger!!]

Then we walked over to the Queen Victoria Market. It was a lot like Paddy's in Sydney, although it was covered, not indoors. Lots of tourist crap, some t-shirts, handbags, etc. We found the extensive food market area and bought some goodies to eat outside in the sun. The QVM was closing at 2pm anyway, so we walked back to the Crown Casino, and Bryan quickly lost A$100 on the roulette table. Too bad there was nobody playing craps in the "Vegas" room - aka the smelly, dank basement! Ok, enough of that, back to the hotel.

Tuesday night we went to the Princess Theatre to see THE PRODUCERS! Bryan hadn't seen it yet, and Mel Brooks was actually on his way to Melbourne for opening night, which was scheduled for Saturday the 17th. It was my third time seeing it, so it was very tough for me not to sing along! I can't imagine the audience got all of the New York references, but they seemed to laugh at most of it.


Wednesday, we were off to Tasmania! This is as far south as we can go and not be in Antarctica! (well, that's not exactly true, because we did go to Port Arthur...) We flew to Hobart, which is at the southern end of the island. It's very beautiful and green and hilly, and there are LOTS of sheep! Bryan and I were amused to learn that the big marketplace and shopping area of Hobart is called Salamanca Place! We walked over to Salamanca along the waterfront, and had a small snack for lunch. We walked through some of the residential neighborhoods, which had beautiful rod-iron gates and porches, sort of like New Orleans.  Dad had seen a restaurant called "Mr. Wooby's", so we went back there for dinner. The food was really good, and the chef comes around to each table to talk you through all of the dishes, which are made with only Australian ingredients.

We reserved a car from Thrifty, which we picked up on Thursday morning. First, though, we stopped for breakfast at a wonderful mom 'n' pop place where the eggs were so fluffy, Dad had to go ask how they were made! Bryan got behind the wheel, and was surprisingly good at driving on the other side of the road. He drove us all the way up to Launceston, stopping at a lot of the little historical towns on the "Heritage Highway" along the way.  We had lunch in Ross, at a restaurant called "That Place in Ross." It was great. 

We made it to Launceston (pronounced laun-sess-ton, not launce-ton) at 3pm - it only took us four hours to go 125 miles! Dad immediately headed for the antique stores with mom. Bryan and I decided to walk around. We found the Boag's Brewery, but we had already missed the last tour of the day. We browsed in the shop and read the history of the company, which dates from 1883. Then we walked to the riverfront area, which wasn't really as nice as I had hoped - and it was getting chilly and cloudy. There was a nice statue of Edward VII, though, the cornerstone of which was laid by Baden-Powell. So I had to take a picture for Dad.

We drove back to Hobart, this time without stopping.   We went right to a little Indian restaurant we had seen in the neighborhood behind Salamanca Place, which was delicious - although we're lucky we got there when we did and beat the party of 20! Bryan even managed to parallel park the car very nicely.

Friday was an excellent day. We went to the same little place for breakfast, then got in the car and drove to Bonerong, a Wild Animal Park northwest of Hobart. We had no idea what to expect, but we all enjoyed feeding the wallabies and kangaroos,  petting the wombat and a koala, and watching the scary little Tasmanian devils fight! We were also introduced to a funny creature called a spiny echidna (that's eh-KID-nah), which is a kind of anteater, and a mammal. Cute - we didn't pet it, though. The wombat actually had the hiccups when the keeper picked it up. I had no idea that other species got hiccups.  We also heard the koala calling to his brothers when the keeper took him out of his enclosure - I don't think I'd ever heard a koala talk before!  And the Devils - they're scary little creatures with nasty teeth. They make scratchy, horrible hissing and growling noises.  Didn't go near them either.  The kookaburra is a beautiful bird, but thinking about it always made me sing that summer camp song!

We left there and went to a town called Sorrell so dad could look at antiques. Not great. So we set off for Port Arthur, the place where the worst prisoners were sent in the mid to late 1800's. The road was very curvy, and dad's driving wasn't exactly making us feel any better. But, we got there in time to tour the place quickly (for half price - if we had known that it was a long drive and a 2-day entry ticket, we would have stayed out there overnight!) before the buildings closed at 5 and the sun set. They apparently also do a ghost tour after dark, but we weren't going to stay around that long. Dad's driving was a lot better on the way back to the hotel. :) ("CURB!!")

We weren't flying out on Saturday until 6:30pm, so we had time to go to the Salamanca Market in the morning. Again, it's very much like the open-air Rastro in Spain, and the weather was really nice.  Here, because we were on the last leg of the trip, we started buying souvenirs. We went a little nuts, I think! We bought "bush dust" spices (made with Tasmanian pepperberry), "lust dust" (raspberry powder), and some lavender salts and soaps - there are huge lavender fields there.  There were some wonderful crafts, but most of them were too large to bring home (or too much metal to bring through the airport!).   After the market, Dad left to go to a medals show, and we went to the Lark Distillery, which I had been looking forward to since I had seen it on Wednesday afternoon. They make a wonderful Bush Liqueur (also with pepperberry), a Gin, Vodka, Cherry liqueur, apple schnapps, etc. We tasted a little bit of each - and got a little bit goofy! We bought "souvenirs" there, too. Sushi for lunch, then back to the hotel to meet Dad.

How we crammed all of our (12+) bags into the rental car, I will never know. We must have looked like a clown car when we got to the airport! Going through the x-ray machine, Dad got stopped by the Taz airport authority. Turns out he had bought a pair of "thumb cuffs" (miniature handcuffs)  at Port Arthur, and had put them in his carry-on. OOPS! You're not allowed to take any kind of restraint device on board. The nice man gave Dad an envelope, and I gave him some stamps (after I stopped laughing) and he was able to mail them back to the States. hee hee  :)  After that, the flight to Sydney was uneventful - except for the pouring rain before we took off - and we could see the Opera House and Bridge as we descended.


Back to my favorite city and the Four Points Hotel. Back to Chinatown for dim sum on Sunday morning, then over to the QVB for souvenir shopping. I really liked the aboriginal dot painting art, but I didn't buy any of it because I didn't know where I would put it in my apartment. My first stop was the Weiss Art store, to buy baby gifts and t-shirts with the very stylized drawings of clearly Australian images - koalas, echidnas, wombats, and the Opera House. When we bought all we could, and watched the fancy clocks chime on each side, we went back to the Sydney tower, to go up to the observation deck. The weather was bright and sunny, which made the views of the city even nicer. Afterwards, there was a cheesy video and hologram presentation on the history of Australia, and one of those flight simulator chair rides, like "Soarin' Over California" at Disney's California Adventure. Mom felt a little bit sick after that one. (urp!)

From there, we tried to find the Grace Brothers department store (from BBC's "Are you being served"), but it has been replaced by Myer. Oh well. We went back to the hotel to unload all our purchases, then went over to the food court at Cockle Bay Wharf for dinner.

Monday, we drove west to the Blue Mountains. We stopped for lunch in a little town called Wentworth Falls. Then we continued on to Echo Point and the Three Sisters. We did some of the hiking trails around the side of the mountain, but the walk to Leora Cascades was 2.9km, so we didn't do more than about .5km of it. The valley was sort of like the Grand Canyon, but full of trees! The Three Sisters are a group of tall rock formations (used to be seven) that are slowly eroding away.  We got back in the car and drove along Cliff Drive until we came to the top of the Leora Cascades park (much easier than walking it!). It was still a major hike down the side of the mountain, but the waterfalls are beautiful and there were wooden or stone steps most of the way.

When we got back, Bryan went out with Richard, an Aussie who had worked as an intern on the Hill in DC last summer. We went to dinner with Mace and Glo Broide's grandson Mitchell, who is doing his junior year abroad down under.

Tuesday, our last day in Australia! It was wine tasting day. Since we didn't go to Adelaide, we decided to drive up to the Hunter Valley region, north of Sydney. It was a bright sunny day again, and the area looks very much like Napa, although it's not quite as touristy yet. We stopped in Cessnock to get the map and list of wineries, and we were off! First stop, Iron Gate Cellars. But we couldn't drink too much, we had to have lunch first. So we went to Oscar's for excellent sandwiches and salads. We stopped at a few big wineries - Tower Estate, McGuigan (excellent sparkling chardonnay) and Tempus Two (great Sauvignon Blanc) - and a few smaller, family places - Evans and Monahan. Then, dad found a brochure listing antique shops, so we had to rush off to get there before they closed. (oops, they closed at 4pm!)

Can't believe the trip is over! Going home tomorrow! Where did three weeks go?

Well, as you can see, we did a lot. Go back to the Australia page to start on the Pictures!