Tuesday, April 15, 2014

g’bye, byron bay; hello melbun.

Sunday morning, we got up early in Byron Bay for our flight to Melbourne. It was still dark out.

IMG_0295

I’d saved this screen shot of the previous evening’s weather forecast, as we were getting ready to for bed, because I was entranced by the auto-generated location. Not to mention the temperature. A word on said location: the B&B we were staying in was fabulous – just a contemporary house, wood, a lot of glass, a very mellow vibe, on enough acres to allow for an impressive selection of new-to-us birdcalls and insect song. It sucked missing breakfast with the owner, a German guy whose Aussie accent was nearly perfect. When we’d gotten in in the early evening, we hung out in his kitchen with him for a while. He was solo, for a change – his wife and two kids were with his in-laws in...the Netherlands, I think. He had another couple of weeks to go, and was enjoying the change of pace. He and Kevin chatted about which airlines had the best customer service. Tim was a fan of Etihad, an airline I’d never even heard of, though Kevin had. Apparently they have a nanny service for families traveling with young children – a god send. Tim would use long flights to bang out six movies. When you run a b&b out of your own home with two kids and a dog, you don’t get out much.

Anyhoo. Back to Sunday morning. We got up. We threw our gear into the back of the Micra, and headed back up north to Brisbane. We listened to the radio, specifically, to every station’s take on the morning news. (Full of plane crashes, interestingly – a tourist skydiving plane went down, killing all five aboard, and of course the search for flight 370 was in full force.) Son of a bitch, once we returned the rental car at the international terminal, we had to shell out five bucks apiece for the SkyTrain ride to the domestic terminal, a five minute ride away. Since our luggage weighed as much as the Micra, we didn’t put up a fight.

Fast forward to the flight. We sat next to a guy who was confused by his seat assignment – I don’t think he was all there. Nice guy, probably on the return leg of his first-ever trip by air, I suspect. He was subtly amazed by everything. It was actually kind of sweet. I myself was amazed by something I wish we did on U.S. flights – using both the front and the rear exits of the plane to board/deplane. Which I’ve seen before, but it’s always so refreshing.

Once we got to Melbourne, the transition to the public transportation was another dimension’s worth of smooth than our initial arrival in Sydney, when we’d bumbled around the subway station like drunk ping pong balls. We sailed out of baggage claim and directly onto the bus into the city. The bus had an entertainment system where the monitor was either shot or switched off, while the sound kept droning on – tourist info with dripping voices. That was slightly surreal, and the ride was longer than I’d expected, but, finally, a fantastic skyline materialized, with a fat Ferris Wheel at the front. What is it with Ferris Wheels? 

The bus dropped us off underneath the South Street Station. We knew our hotel was across the street somewhere to the left, so that’s where we headed. As we crossed Spencer Street, I noticed trolley tracks running down the middle of the street, between the lanes of automobile traffic. And wow, that narrow island in the middle must be the stop. Oh goody – more factors to weigh in my ongoing quest to not get run over. I never did figure out which way to look for oncoming trolleys.

We settled into our 10th floor room. Our room faced west, the South Street Station a block to our left, a new 8-story building going up a bit to our right, and directly in front of us, what do you know: the Etihad Stadium. 

We devoted that evening to satiating Sarah’s Lust for Thai food. We failed, but had fun. Basically, we walked up into Chinatown, using the Force to get there. We enjoyed discovering, on the way, the charm of the CBD – Central Business District. A no-nonsense grid, with the east-west streets alternating between busy four lane avenues and their little, narrow, two lane siblings: Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale, for instance. Bourke and Little Bourke. Occasionally there’d be a tiny cross street jam-packed with restaurants. The feeling was ... busy, vibrant, professional without stiffness. Very varied. Maybe a bit young-ish. Many flavors of Asian and European faces, only a handful of African faces.

Chinatown was a no-shit, locals-focused Chinatown, though later we heard how it used to be (“more so.”) I believe I was hungry enough to be glittering, by this point. so we went into the first place we thought I could handle (given my No Aquatic-Based Life Forms issues). We landed at the Post Deng CafĂ© on Little Bourke Street. Giant photos of Our Hero, Deng Xiaoping, with his grandchildren, loomed over us. It looked campy as hell, but I have the feeling it was unintentional. It was in between shift times – there was one other table seated, but otherwise it was empty. While we inhaled our good-enough-for-now fare, the staff ate together at the next table.

We took our time wandering back to our hotel. We carried out a surgical strike on a grocery store near the hotel for breakfast food. 

Crashing ensued.

Then what. Our first full day in Melbourne. By now we’re at Monday. We took the morning easy, mileage wise. I was hip-deep in my second reading of “Cryptonomicon”, and Kevin had some work to do. In the afternoon, we went for a walk. First, we sprung a recommendation out of the front desk clerk and got me some Actual Thai food for my Thai food hole. It was AWESOME. Then we wandered around some more. We wanted to check out the Queen Victorian Market but it was closed. Then we headed across the CBD, toward the river. It turns out that this awesome skyline we’d seen from the airport bus? Bonus, it’s on a river. And double bonus (and hooray for brownfield development), all the essential-but-dirty industry riverfront infrastructure (so critical to Melbourne’s development) is long gone and a whole chunk of the south bank of the Yarra River has been developed with shops, restaurants, and an esplanade. I have mixed feelings about such spaces – there’s a pervasive slightly corporate feeling to them – but when it works, it works. We were sufficiently charmed.

IMG_0300

See? Charmed.

IMG_0297

Ah, a confusing pano. The pavement on right side is the bridge over the river. The esplanade is to the left, and the skyline fronting it is everything on the right side of the river.

IMG_0309

View of the esplanade from the bridge on our way home.

I think we just went out to a Nando’s for dinner that night. That’s a simple chicken-oriented chain Kevin is fond of from his time in South Africa. We did the usual granola/yogurt surgical strike, and passed out in our hotel room.

Thus concludes Melbourne, Days One and Two.