Saturday, March 28, 2009

Memories in Melbourne

I had the opportunity to travel to Melbourne last week for a long weekend to visit my friend Maxine from Marist. I booked an inexpensive flight on JetStar, packed all of my things for 5 days into my bookbag and purse (including Twilight borrowed from one of my host mom’s friends, Kara – I really didn’t want to give into the fad, but after Julia recommended it, I figured it must be good (verdict: excellent, page-turning story line, below-average writing)) and headed off to the airport for the 1 and half hour flight, directions all ready for when I “alighted” from the plane (as they say).

However, when I got off the plane and asked directions to the first road I had listed, the man I asked looked at me like I had 12 heads, and then came to the conclusion that I had gotten myself directions from the wrong airport (I still can’t figure out how that happened, because I knew there were two airports and thought I chose the right one… oh well). He pointed me in the direction of a shuttle bus that would take me into the city. On the bus, a very friendly German traveler sat next to me, and we chatted the entire way into the city. Our bus driver, who thought he was also a tour guide, gave us a little history on the city of Melbourne as we drove, which I tried to listen to while carrying on a conversation with Marcus (I think that was his name anyway – I have learned that I am awful with names; as soon as they say their name, it goes right out the other ear because I am too focused on what I am going to say next).

We arrived in the city about 45 minutes later, and I made my way to Flinders Street Station where I would be meeting Maxine.

It happened to be 6,000 degrees in Melbourne that day, and I had to walk pretty far to find her, but seeing a friendly face was well worth the trek. We grabbed smoothies and proceeded to explore the city. Because she lives so far outside the city (about an hour away), she had only been twice before, both times at night, so we were both new to it. We explored some laneways, which Melbourne is famous for, and sat by the Burra? River for a while. At 8:00 on the dot, flames erupted from five gray stone pillars behind us. We could not figure out why anyone would think, “Oh yes, in Melbourne, where bushfires run rampant, we should have a fire display on Thursday nights at 8, even though the pillars the fire will be coming from are right next to potentially-flammable trees.” We were much more petrified than entertained, and decided that was our cue to find somewhere to get dinner. After much searching (neither of us are capable of making decisions), we opted for an Indian restaurant (Maxine is vegan, which tents to rule out some restaurants). I ordered chicken curry, and Maxine vegetarian. She is also allergic to nuts, and as she started eating, she thought she spooted one. She asked the woman who rang us out, and she said that there were no nuts. Luckily, Maxine was still skeptical and opted to eat the rice first. Then, the chef came out and said, “Oh, you don’t like nuts?” Maxine nervously responded, “No, I’m allergic,” and the man said, “Oh, well I did throw some nuts in.” Cue: minor freakout by Maxine. We quickly finished our meal (what she could eat of it anyway) and then, as potential hives were forming, we went on the search for Benedryl at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night in Melbourne. No luck. Luckily she didn’t end up having a serious reaction, but it was quite a scare for a while.

The next morning, we had to wake up at 5:30 in order to make sure I would make it on time to the Holiday Inn where the “Go West” tour bus would be picking me up at 7:45. I got there, found the bus, and then ran to go grab breakfast and a drink, as I still had a few minutes before the bus was due to leave. When I got back to where the bus had been waiting, though, it was no where to be seen. I started to panic, as I didn’t even have any contact information for the tour company with me, and was not too keen on losing out on a $100 AUD all-day trip. Just as the panic was mounting, I saw the bus come around the corner and flagged it down, hopping on as the last passenger on the bus.

The trip was excellent. Our tour guide, Paul, was very laid-back and funny, and I ended up making friends with tour girls, Melissa and Helen, from Perth, who are travelling Australia for about 2 months; they are actually going to be in Sydney for the next month and asked if I wanted to hang out tonight). Our first stop was an Aboriginal exhibition in which a man spoke to us about Aboriginal weapons and played the billabong quite skillfully. Very impressive. We then started on the Great Ocean Road, a scenic highway, similar to the one along California. It was very hazy and gray in the morning, not making for the best pictures, but it cleared up as the day went on. Then we stopped at a koala sanctuary, where we saw lots of birds, and a very koalas sleeping in the trees.

Too adorable. We stop for lunch, and I grabbed fish and chips. After that, we stopped at one of the few temperate-climate (maybe?) rainforests left in Australia? Or Melbourne? The facts escape me. I saw some of the crazy plants that I had seen in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney in their natural habitat, which was pretty cool.

And then, finally, we made it to the Twelve Apostles. The view was fantastic, and it was so cool to be at the place where all of the postcard pictures are taken.

We also stopped at Shipwreck Cove (or is that the name of the miniature golf place in Lake George? Maybe Lockhead Shipwreck? I’m not sure…), which was also very beautiful, and I got to put my feet in the Antarctic Ocean for the first time. As Maxine said in her blog, it made me realize that we are VERY far from home. From there, we went on to the London Bridge, which actually no longer looks like a bridge anymore, as it has broken off from the land.

We stopped for a quick dinner on the way home at KFC (my first American fast-food since I’ve been here – I made it past Amanda’s one month rule), which very disappointingly did not have honey mustard sauce. On the way home, they gave us PSPs and I finished watching Rabbit Proof Fence, which we had started to watch in class, and then started March of the Penguins. I made the trek back to Maxine’s, and she met me at the tram stop near her house at 10:15. Longest day ever. We stayed up too late talking, and woke up a little late the next morning, but that’s what vacation is all about.

We met up with Katey (Alex’s sister who is our age) and Dylan (her boyfriend) in the morning for coffee (well, a banana smoothie and crepe for me) near the Queen Victoria Markets, which we never actually made our way into. Dylan lives in Melbourne and Katey in Perth, but she is considering moving to Melbourne. We had a lot of fun talking to them, and then Dylan took us back to the Holiday Inn, where we would be meeting the bus again for our tour to Phillip Island. The bus was very late, which was realy nerve-wracking, but it finally came and we grabbed two seats together.

Our first stop was a winery where we did a wine tasting (even though Maxine and I both hate wine). We tried a few, mostly with scrunched up faces, and then took a few minutes to take in the view. Our next stop topped my list I think. We got to feed and pet wallabies and kangaroos! They were SO adorable. There were also koalas, donkeys, horses, geese, sheep, peacocks, talking birds and emus (SO freaky).

At one point, while I was crouching down to feed some kangaroos, Maxine said, “Uhh… Amy… there is a kangaroo hopping at you, really fast.” Despite being completely adorable, they are pretty large, have really heavy, big feet, and when they are hopping at you, it is a scary thing.

After that, we stopped at the beach, and finally made friends with the boys from the Netherlands who we had been trying to talk to the entire trip. We ended up having dinner with them and joked about our not-so-friendly tour guide. As we were driving to our next stop, we saw my favorite sunset I have ever seen. As Amanda said, it really looked like God was coming down through it.

We took a million pictures of the waves crashing on the rocks, and then one of a dead penguin (by accident, which we quickly deleted from our cameras once we realized it). These penguins, which would soon be the stars of the trip, are called Little Penguins, creatively named because they are the smallest penguins in the world.

They hang out under the boardwalk of the spot we were at, and other ones come out of the water during the “Penguin Parade,” which would be our next stop.

The bleachers where you watch the parade from were packed. We found a seat and settled in to wait for the penguins to appear. It was pretty hard to see them, but it was still cool to see. Then we walked along the boardwalk and saw them headed, each to their own separate spots. We couldn’t believe how far they walked just to find their nesting spots. Before we got back on the bus, we grabbed the boys’ phone numbers because we were headed to St. Kilda the next day, where their apartment is. The tour guide gave us PSPs again for the way home and I finished watching March of the Penguins and watched a show about Tasmanian devils, which was extremely scary.

The next day, we met up with Maxine’s friend Ayla from Canada, and headed into the city. We stopped at a street-side market, where I found an awesome journal from a stand called “Rebound Books.” They take old books and turn them into journals, photoalbums, etc. I found one that was called “Stories of Australian Exploration,” and thought it was just too perfect to pass up, so I’ve been using that as diary for my trip. We hopped on a tour bus that took us all around the city, and dropped us off in the botanical gardens, which, much to our surprise, were right across the street from where the bus had picked us up. As we walked into the gardens, we realized that there was a Greek festival going on, so we decided to eat our sandwiches while watching the festival.

The gardens were fantastic, and of course I got a thousand shots of flowers.

After the gardens, we headed to St. Kilda, a beach town outside of the city. We walked around, window shopped a bit (mostly looking at menus for restaurants we could eat at later), and walked along the board walk where the vendors were just packing up for the night. We got a hold of the boys and agreed to meet up with them at 7, and then found a restaurant for dinner. I finally got to have pasta, and it was fantastic. Ayla and I got the same kind, fettuccini with chicken and spinach, in a cream and alfredo sauce, and both finished everything on our plates. After dinner, we killed some time, and then went on the search for the Dutch boy’s apartment (Maxine had forgotten the number of the apartment building number, and the number of the apartment). While contemplating what to do, as we waited in the lobby of what could have been their apartment building, a boy came in behind us, and, as we looked completely lost, figured out who we were, and asked if we were the American girls. He was Nigel, the nephew of the man whose apartment the boys were staying at. He brought us up to the apartment, and we stayed and chatted with the “old man”, as they called him, Jim. He was the nicest, funniest old man, and kind of reminded me of Grandpa Veet. Sometimes he would forget and start speaking in Dutch, which was met with blank stares from all of us. He happened to LOVE Canada, which Ayla was so excited about. After a while, we headed out with Bas, Mark, Nigel and Ruben and found a pub where a band was playing. We chatted with them for a while, went to go grab a gelato, and then headed back home.

We had another early morning ahead of us in order for me to get to the airport for my flight back to Sydney. My flight went fine, and I spent the night getting unpacked and ready for the week.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

haha i love that i am referenced twice in this post! congrats on making it this long without american fast food! miss you and i hope new zealand is fabulous!!