Monday, April 28, 2014

from city to country, finally

To continue where I left off, lo these many days: the continuation of our trip to Oz. Day Three, Melbourne. One of the inducements to go on this voyage, as if we needed any additional reasons, was that I have family spending time in Australia this year. My uncle Andy and his wife Ann have been living about an hour and a half west of Melbourne while Ann is on sabbatical, and they were in Melbourne for a few days. Kevin needed to tend to business on day three, so I met Andy, Ann, and their friend Leo for lunch at the Queen Victoria Market.


Much ogling and some food consumption occurred. And then we went to the non-food part of the market to look for the best possible prices on wallets made of kangaroo netherbits because ...why not, apparently.

After lunch, they took a tourist bus around town and I was on my own. I walked up to the Melbourne Museum to take in a thought-provoking exhibition on First Peoples. I was a little burned out on photography at this point, though I did remember to get this shot of the Royal Exhibition Building, site of a World Fair or two.


Afterwards Kevin and I met up for dinner across town. I wish I’d taken pictures of the walk – the bustle, the scene, the people – it was wonderful. The next day, Kevin was officially in goof-off mode. We headed out in the morning to run some errands, and then met up with Bill, an old friend and colleague of Kevin’s. Together we wandered up to Chinatown for lunch. Ironically, Bill’s favorite restaurant is Café Post Deng, but we tried another place this time. Luckily for us, the place was nearly unoccupied, so we felt no pressure to hurry out of there. Instead, we enjoyed the kind of leisurely catch up that not seeing someone for ten or twelve years can lead to.


After having been amused by this a couple of times already, I finally snapped this on the way back to the hotel.

Late in the afternoon, we met up with Ann and Andy at our hotel – they’d booked a room in the same place – and we took the trolley – THE TROLLEY! – to a nearby suburb, St Kilda, for dinner.


Luna Park, St Kilda. This amusement park was not open.


Kev and Ann.


Mon oncle André. 

Eventually we settled on a restaurant and after that, a couple of different dessert spots. 


Ann is a connoisseur.

The next day – March 27th – was our last in Melbourne. Packing and last-minute trips to our favorite coffee shop ensued. Andy headed to the airport in the morning to pick up my cousin Kate, and then all five of us took the train together to Warrnambool.

Friday, March 28

Let the explorations begin. I called shotgun on all vehicular explorations due to my tendency to puke easily.


Kevin claimed not to mind, wedged in the back seat.

We started with the easy stuff – just Warrnambool itself. It’s a coastal town, so there were some beaches to check out. Along the way, we found it necessary to slobber over some beautiful livestock guardian dogs just coming off duty.


My cousin Kate hanging with one of them. Their actual job is to hang out on tiny Middle Island where Fairy Penguins (I am not making this up) nest, to protect them from the predations of fox.

Great boardwalks and paths lead to various secluded little coves.





No field guides. I called this one the...pomegranate seed bush.




We visited the carcass of a whale. Yeah. That’s what that is. Still pretty stinky after a couple of years. At this point, we all went our separate ways and entered our respective dream worlds.


Kevin went and put his feet in the water, as he is wont to do.


I went apeshit over the shells. 


And the rock erosion.






Tomorrow: Wallaby. Emu. Koala.

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.


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 Café 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.


See? Charmed.


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.


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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

byron bay, minyon falls, the first wallaby

That night was our second and final night in Brisbane. The next day – Friday – we hauled our luggage to the train station, a couple of blocks from our hotel. The plan: take the train to the rental car agency at the airport, rent a car, and drive a couple of hours south to Byron Bay, about which I knew nothing other than Kevin had an old colleague worth talking to there (we’ll call him Cousin Peter), and something about a beach.


Waiting for the train. By now, I’m pretty much in love with Australia.



Selfie in the car.

As Kevin is actually left-handed, he does more-than-fine driving a right-side drive car, even standard transmission, which this was. His only issue was adapting to turning on the wipers, when he meant to use the turn signal. He re-wired his brain pretty quickly, and we whizzed down the coast, listening to the radio. They talk funny. I practiced my accent. It doesn’t seem possible to be an asshole with that accent, although I knew from personal experience that it can happen. It was a novelty spending the DAY with Kevin, as we’d each been in independent spheres for the previous three days.


Ahhhh....I see we are entering familiar territory: hippie-land. We found our hotel, threw our gear in the room, and immediately headed back out on foot toward the beach, through a vibrant commercial district devoted to anything a chilling-out tourist might need.


This dude on the beach was creating major good karma. It was getting onto late afternoon. There were surfers in the water and folks still out sunning themselves. We made our way down a grassy embankment to the water.




My goal is to have a picture of Kevin with his feet in the water, for every major water body on the planet. This here is the Coral Sea.


Campervans, some obviously people’s homes, others apparently for rent, filled the parking lot. There were guys drumming. Overflowing outdoor cafes and bars right next to the beach. Just what you might hope to see.


White wine for the lady was procured. People watching occurred. The ocean’s within view here.

We eventually met up with Kevin’s old colleague (Cousin Peter), Peter’s wife Laura, and their colleague Russell for dinner. Talked a bit about work – Peter, like Kevin, is in the study abroad field – a bit about life, and had good food. Afterwards they went to the next room, pretty much, for a Billy Bragg concert. Kevin and I headed back to the hotel and fell down, went boom. Zzzzzzz.

The next day, we swapped our hotel for a B&B a few miles away. The original plan had been to make our way back to Brisbane for Saturday night, but that taste of the beach made us realize the error of our ways. So instead, we found the B&B and chatted with its owner about nearby sights. He recommended Minyon Falls, so we piled into the Nissan Micra and took off.


I don’t think this will quite do the landscape justice – it was positively rolling, and green as can be, dotted with the occasional farm house. And with the ocean in sight. Fabulous. It took us a while to find where we were going, because apparently a guy who lives near there gets irritated by the presence of visitors so he messes with the road signs.

Minyon Falls is a waterfall where Repentence Creek falls 100 meters over a horseshoe-shaped gouge in a hillside. You can drive to the top of the falls, or you can drive to just short of there and hike to the base of the falls. From the base you can do a much longer hike to the top (up a series of switchbacks). We elected to just hike to the base of the falls, and then go back out the way we’d come. Afterwards, we drove to the top of the falls.

The hike down and back up was lovely and other-worldly. Tree rooting strategies I’d not seen before. Gigantic leaves. Palm fronds longer than my body adrift on the path. Clusters of red berries dripping down from what the hell is that? Bird calls that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Crickets, crickets, crickets everywhere – or cricket-like-sounding insects, at any rate.


Approaching the falls. And, the teensiest of sound snapshots:

It’s been so dry, we’d been warned there might not really be a waterfall to see, and that turned out to be the case. So we just made our way back out, and drove to the parking area just down the road, near the top of the falls.


View of the top of the falls from the viewing deck. Just a seep, really. I was reminded: I have a thing for cliffs.

So that was about 2.5 or three miles, we think. We headed back for Byron Bay, getting lost in the process by missing a turn, but Kevin’s sense of direction was unfazed and he got us back after first taking us through Mullumbimby, The Biggest Little Town in Australia. If you say so.

Cousin Peter had recommended a hike involving the Byron Bay lighthouse, so we pointed ourselves in that direction, parked the Micra in a lot at the end of the end of the beach, and started hiking.


I don’t mind this.



I don’t mind this one little bit.


I could do this all day.


We have arrived!


It was a loop hike, so after staring slack-jawed at the stupendously huge ocean, we barreled on past the lighthouse and down through the woods.



...with the occasional “I have died and gone to heaven” views...


...til we were well and truly in the woods.

This is where I saw the wallaby.


This is super-zoomed from my camera, so it’s shoddy, but you can see two ears sticking up, right? We contemplated one another for several minutes before another hiker came along and spooked it, whereupon it bounded away.

We were actually pretty close to people’s back yards during this bit of the hike. At the bottom, it was time for one more dip in the ocean, food (nothing memorable – pizza at the same place we’d gone out with Cousin Peter), and crashing back at the hotel. At this point, we’d each hiked maybe five or six miles total – nothing too extreme – in sports sandals, and for whatever reason, for each of us, our right calves were killing us. The B&B was just outside town, and a riot of evening birdsong serenaded us. Except for the part where we got a symphonic treat from the downstairs neighbors, who were feeling...romantical. Let’s just leave it at that. 

We realized we’d read our own itinerary wrong – we had a flight to catch from Brisbane to Melbourne the following morning, early than we we’d realized, and there is also an hour time change between Byron Bay and Brisbane, so we had to haul ass out of there at O’ Dark Thirty. No worries.

Next up: Melbourne.