Dec 25 – 26:
Sixteen hours in flight from Dallas, and we arrived in Brisbane, Australia. Flying in we could see hilly terrain, similar to what you would imagine in Ireland with the rolling hills and deep valleys with rivers inset. We sailed through customs and boarded our next flight to Melbourne. Oh the joy of finally arriving at our hotel for a nice hot shower and to brush our teeth. Jet-lagged, we freshened up and wandered the streets of Melbourne, fighting off sleep to ensure we adjusted to local time quickly.
Dec 27 – Dec 29:
Melbourne feels a lot like Austin in that we are staying on the river, there is a young energy with lots of street performers and odd, but interesting, art about town. There are tons of great restaurants lining the river front. Our favorite place is called the Bear Brass as they serve a yummy gluten-free pizza and are located in a prime spot for people watching. So far we’ve tried the margarita pizza and a potato/rosemary pizza with garlic. The margarita is my favorite, but the potato definitely had some crazy fun flavor.
We have walked all over the city and rode the tram (cable car) to the downtown and harbor area of Melbourne. Lots of great shops, coffee houses and by far the best people watching ever! The fashion here is AMAZING, with cultural influences being seen from the Aussies, Europeans and Asians. And many of the Asian men here carry purses; not man-bags, but actual purses. And oh goodness, the ladies wear the shortest, short shorts here! I may call them cheeky shorts instead of short shorts. Literally the booty cheeks are hanging low out the backs. It’s like a bad car accident. We couldn’t look away.
Along the river front is an Aquarium, and boy did we have loads of great fun. Some of the great finds we saw for the first time were the penguins, a saw-fish and a shark that appeared to be half stingray. Never had I imagined the two becoming one! There was also a large fish with a chunk missing from its body, likely from the bite of one of the neighboring sharks in need of a snack. There were divers in the tank feeding the fish and at least four different shark varieties.
Because I am still sick with the sinus/upper respiratory infection (I didn’t escape the Austin cedar pollen in time), we have been hitting the steam sauna every morning and night. They are in separate men and women areas in the gyms, but still worth the effort. Our first breakfast in the city was about $50 and we had two eggs each with hash browns and bacon to share. Not the typical bacon we have in America, but more of the Canadian bacon. Our next breakfast spot we found further down the river front, where we split an omelet that was eggs, cheese and olives. Oh my goodness, it was delicious! BUT the omelet here is flat and has hardly any cheese.
Today was game day. Oh how the city comes to life, much like when our beloved Longhorns play. There were loads of people happily watching the Cricket Match on an outdoor screen in a beautiful park. They sat on grounds either covered by turf grass or directly on stone that looked similar to the pink granite that makes up our Texas Capitol building. The outdoor TV screen was absolutely huge! I imagine it must resemble the huge screens in New York. We wandered down the river front and found a huge piece of art, titled, ‘Angel’. I, of course, posed for several photographs in front of the creepy statue. About that time, the Cricket Match ended and, like little ants marching, people poured through the city. It was beautiful. We watched a group of men stop at the first available pub for a beverage, after the Cricket Match ended. I laughed aloud after seeing their costumes. They tipped their hats and cheered me on as I photographed them.
Eighty-eight stories high, we were elevated to the Eureka Sky Deck. It’s the tallest building in the city and has a magnificent view. We could see the ocean, the sailboats and all the enormously tall buildings. It was such an awesome view of the city and gave us more perspective on its depth and size. Melbourne is a much bigger city than Austin. The buildings are breathtaking and the architecture is similar to what you would imagine seeing in London, with the exception of a few modern contemporary buildings brilliantly flushed with colors, like blue and purple.
Australian money is beautiful! It comes in every color and the coins are huge, very heavy and worth real money (they have $1 & $2 coins). Food and drink prices here are enormously expensive. We spent $100 dollars on a dinner where we split the main course of salmon and had no sides. And drinks cost approximately $8-$13 for a glass of wine and $6-$10 for a beer.
The Melbourne train station is amazingly beautiful and is the focus of many of my photographs of Melbourne. It is covered with deep and rich history, and just from the stones alone, I bet it could tell stories. On the inside of the train station there are several clocks with different time zones, etc. We purchased loadable cards (not tickets) for our train ride tomorrow. We will be taking the train to the suburbs of Melbourne to meet up with our Aussie friends, Jake and Emma. From there we will all drive to the beach to stay at Jake’s family beach house and will return to their home in the suburbs on the Eve of New Years for our big celebration.
Dec 30 – 31:
Our Aussie friends, Jake and Emma, picked us up at the train station near their home in the suburb called Heathmont, and drove us to their place. Their place is called a ‘unit’, and is similar to what we call a patio home in the U.S. They have a three bedroom place with a nice deck and a garage. The unit design is very modern and has contemporary fixtures and the tiniest appliances (the stove, washer, sinks and refrigerator are all much smaller than in most U.S. homes). There is one bathroom which has a tiny, glass shower box, a big garden tub and a tiny sink (no need to super-size everything, American-style). The loo (toilet) is located down the hall in its own tiny room. There is no sink in the lieu, so you must walk back to the bathroom, to wash your hands. There is such a huge British influence here, so words are very literal, which completely makes sense. Having these conversations over the difference in vocabulary is quite entertaining, to me.
Jake’s Mum (Mom) and Dad arrived at the unit just after our arrival. His parents are very Aussie and full of animation, vibrance and life. His Dad was excited to share Australia tips and travel suggestions, and was sure to point out that everything here is poisonous, saying, “Look, don’t touch anything, because everything here is deadly.” Jake funnily, but seriously commented with exaggerated hand motions, “Everything here is trying to kill you.” Jake’s Mum stayed at the unit for the night to take care of Jake and Emma’s sweet, loving cat, Missy. Missy Moo, as they lovingly call her, communicates very well and will let you know what door she would like you to open or when it is time for her to be fed. She is also brilliant at helping you type. Okay, maybe not so much, but she does love to sit on the keyboard.
The four of us packed up their car and headed to their family beach house. The beach house, located in Portsea, was built by Jake’s grandfather to fit his five children and their families, for holidays at the beach. We took a walk to catch the great view of the ocean. Our view was from up above on the cliff side, and boy was the ocean angry with large and massive crashing waves. There was lots of brush and vegetation alongside the walking trail and, per Jake’s Dad’s advice, I kept a watchful eye for snakes, spiders and anything else looking to kill me. As we made our way to one of the highest bends for an ocean view, I spotted a large black snake and screamed bloody murder. Jake and Emma were already to the top and had unknowingly walked by the snake. The snake was moving and quite alive, which scared Emma to death, as she would have to walk by it again, on her way down. Eventually Jake talked Emma into carefully passing by the snake so they could exit the trail. Luckily, we all made it back down the hill without witnessing a snake strike.
While in town, we hit the local inexpensive Chemist Shop (Pharmacy) for a beach hat and nail clippers. That was 47 dollars. Yes, you read that correctly. Following our shopping adventure we hit the Cole’s grocery market to get the ingredients for dinner. We picked up prawns, veggies, cheese and crackers. Following, we hit the Bottle Store (Liquor Store) for beer and wine. After returning we threw some prawns (shrimp) on the barbie, along with some tasty veggies and added a side salad to round out a great dinner. Ah. A true American-Australian experience!
We welcomed the next morning as the last day of the year 2013. Ah, dressed in warm beach attire, we hit the beach town streets of Sorrento. Great shops, people watching and delicious coffees later, we were happy and ready for the beach. Our Aussie friends took us to the beautiful beach of Portsea. There were colorful, bright bath houses lining the edge of the beach, then after a closer look found they were just simple beach sheds without plumbing or electricity, where locals store their beach equipment; like hats, shade tents/umbrellas and other beach and water toys. We learned to own one of these luxurious beach bath houses costs tons of money ($1 Million on the most popular beach).
Our Aussie friends showed us a fabulous time sunbaking (sunbathing) on the beach while reading and playing sand dominoes, one of Scott and my favorite activities. This was definitely not a bad way to spend the last day of the year, with our friends. We traveled back to Heathmont for New Year’s Eve. Jake and Emma received a brand new gas grill for Christmas and were so excited to use it. We purchased some wonderfully marinated chicken and veggies for the grill and chopped up a fresh and delicious salad for our New Year’s Eve meal on their patio. After dinner we played a crazy fun game of Jenga. As we neared the countdown we had sparklers to complete our celebration with our champagne toast. What an absolutely amazing and beautiful way to bring in the New Year of 2014.
Emma and I go shopping at the local mall and I purchase a pair of knickers (panties), on her recommendation that they are a great Aussie brand (Bond). I also purchase two dresses that she believes are a great fit (sizes are different) and style for me, and a great Fedora hat that will protect my burnt scalp nicely. The first evening of the New Year we hit the amazing Lygon Street, which is filled with Italian restaurants, where owners stand outside their eateries luring customers inside with promises of the most authentic food on the street. They offer patrons free items, from a bottle of wine to a complimentary glass of beer to garlic breads. After touring the street and experiencing the carnival-type behavior, we chose to eat at Copper Wood. Scott and I chose a garlic dish of mussels, with gluten-free penne and a Caesar salad each that was topped with a poached egg and a crisscross of sardines. We both set the poached egg and sardines aside, but enjoyed the rest of the meal with our beer and wine.
Morning comes early (geesh, the sun rises at 5:45 a.m. here!) and Jake drives us to the train station, as Scott and I venture off on our own to tour the hills, mountains and country side. There is an old fashion steam train, called ‘Puffing Billy’, supported by a local non-profit organization run by volunteers, which will take us up into the mountains. I ran up to a train conductor to find out the best side of the train to ride for photo opportunities. He smiled and said he could not tell me this, but slyly motioned with his hand that the right side would be the best. I laughed and then he said, “Would you like a special treat?” Cautious, I asked if it would cost anything extra (as we already paid about $100 for the tickets). He laughed and said he would put us in the first carriage from the engine, one of the few original still remaining, and lower the windows so we could have an open view. After situating us, the conductor told us to behave and winked. Scott and I hoped to have a romantic train ride alone, but all the carriages filled quickly and we had a family join us in the cabin. This ended up being a lucky as they agreed to photograph us during the ride up the mountain. Nathan and Macaela (our nephew and niece) would be interested in knowing that this is where Thomas the Train lives, with his friends!
We took the steam train to the top of the mountain, where there was a beautiful park with loads of fun birds, including chicken-like fowl that swam like ducks, brightly colored parrots flying overhead making beautiful chirping sounds, and black and white Magpies darting around us as we ate lunch. The Magpies sing such a beautiful tune. Oh the joy of wishing to have the parrots and Magpies in our Austin backyard.
After lunch, on the way down the mountain, we decide to get off the train at a mid-mountain stop, where we were told there was light shopping and bakeries. Ready for a hot coffee or tea, the conductor directed us to a particular shop for the best treats. The train left the tracks and as we walked across, an older gent approached us with blood stains on his body and shirt. He frantically asked that I look behind his ear to see if the black leach was still attached. Terrified, I looked quickly and found no such thing to report. He was relieved. So I asked him what caused such bloody damage. He explained it was a black leach that attached himself to the back of his ear. Knowing leaches come from lake and stream sources, I pressed on, asking for more detail. His explanation was that leaches sometimes fall from the trees and attach themselves to people or animals. Really? Again, Jake’s wise advice that, “Everything here is trying to kill you,” is shown to be true. We walked on to finish enjoying the view, when out of nowhere, a huge Gum Tree limb fell from the sky, striking very close to a father carrying his sleeping child! I’m not kidding you when I say this happened. This was so foreign and crazy to us, and Jake’s message, “everything in Australia is trying to kill you”, rang through our heads.
We arrived back in Heathmont via train, where Jake met us at the ‘touch-off’ (where you touched your train cards before entering or leaving a train station) and walked us back to their unit. Tonight’s plan was a delicious homemade American recipe of gluten-free spinach and chicken lasagna with a beautiful fresh garden salad. Oh yeah! The dinner looked great, and we were excited to learn that friends were coming over as well. Marcus, a friend of Jake’s since they were 5, and Michelle, recently got engaged and were close friends to Jake and Emma. They were fabulous, taught Scott the game of Cricket, and had great stories to share. One of which was their New Year’s Eve experience:
Wanting to party, Michelle asked her father to drop them off at a party, and on the way there, a huge Gum Tree limb fell on Michelle’s car, smashing the hood and causing Michelle to hit her head. After a headache and several hours of drinking, sweet Michelle was taken via ambulance to the hospital, where they experienced the big annual count down. Once again, “everything in Australia is trying to kill you”! Who would have thought the Gum Trees would be on the “watch list” when visiting Australia.
Morning comes and the plan is to drive to Healsville Sanctuary, for the day. We saw koalas, platypuses, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, a mama fruit bat feeding her baby bat and so much more. It was amazing to see all the animals unique to Australia. We hand fed parrots and got really close to wallabies, an animal very similar to kangaroos, but smaller.
For dinner the Aussies took us for drinks and dinner at The Veggie Bar on Brunswick Street. The vibe was very similar to Austin’s laid back scene. We ordered a gluten-free pear cider and beer. Both are fantastic. Australia has definitely been more progressive than Austin in their gluten-free offerings. For dinner we decided on an appetizer for the table that was loaded with goodness and veggie tacos lined in an unusual gluten-free shell. The flavors are explosive and oh so good! The best part of the restaurant/bar is the cool loo (toilet). There is a sink installed above the toilet tank equipped with soap and paper towels. The gray water from hand washing will then empty into the toilet tank, for flushing. Absolutely amazing. I am surprised Austin hasn’t utilized these toilet/sinks. Imagine the water we could save!
After dinner, we wandered the streets, hit a couple used book stores and then ducked into a bar for another drink before heading home. The bar was called Bimbos. It was decorated with cupid dolls that were popular in the 70s. Many of the dolls were in compromising positions and costumes. There was a roof-top bar but unfortunately it was filled with smokers, slow service and no tables. We have noticed there are a lot of smokers in Melbourne. When you visit the 7-11 corner store, there are advertisements with graphic photographs depicting various diseases cigarettes cause, but that doesn’t seem to be helping much.
We all founds seats on the first floor, near a window in some old 1970s chairs. I enjoyed a nice glass of House Bimbos Shiraz and Scott had a local beer or two. It was such a fun experience to feel the vibe and hear the 90s music playing in the background while doing some amazing people watching.
Today we hit a few local wineries. We had a great time tasting the local wines with our Aussie friends. As usual, I enjoyed the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties and we purchased a bottle to take to Emma’s Mum and Dad’s house, instead of having the typical British afternoon tea. After all, once you get the party started, it’s hard to go backwards. We also enjoyed a fancy lunch at one of the wineries, where we ordered snapper with potato, a salad and a scallop wrapped in bacon and covered with caviar. It was expensive and nicely presented. After closer inspection, I find there is a kangaroo swimming in the lake I photographed in the vineyard. Score!
They also took us to a Dairy. It’s an actual Dairy farm, without the stinky cow smell (but the scent of bleach was definitely present). They picked out a nice cheese to take to Emma’s parents’ home to have with our gluten-free biscuits (crackers) that we brought with us, from Austin. In the Dairy, they sold not only fancy cheeses, but also offered wine tastings. Score again!
Our visit with Emma’s parents, Mark and Jane was wonderful! They live close to the wineries and were excited to meet ‘the Americans’, as we were called. Instead of pouring the typical hot tea and having biscuits (crackers) we cracked open the wine we brought to share, along with the cheese. They were so interesting and shared their impression of what America was like to them. Australians watch a lot of America television and mostly New York and Los Angeles is portrayed. So when Mark and Jane booked their tour of America, they went to the west coast and visited California to see Yosemite, and Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Mark looks like the typical Australian we would imagine seeing, with his warm comfortable smile, tanned skin, two leather bracelets, a leather necklace and he sports an earring loop in one ear. But the funny thing is, Mark is not an Aussie. He is from England. Emma’s Mum is an actual Aussie and has pretty skin with deep brown eyes.
We left their house and headed back to Jake and Emma’s unit, where we ordered a gluten-free veggie pizza and a meat pizza for the guys. OH my gosh. The pizza was absolutely amazing and loaded with flavor. There was a cream sauce drizzled over the top. It was even great warmed up as leftovers later.
Photo travel memoir of Australia to be continued …