Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Great Ocean Road: Part I

Ted came to visit :)
 Mining is where it's at in Australia, especially in WA. It's why Perth is so expensive and why there are more self-made millionaires there than anywhere else. It's big bucks because it's hard work. It means going out to the middle of red-dirt-nowhere for maybe 4 weeks at a time, working 10 hour days, and then having 1 week off to go home. Luckily, for a few of those days off, Ted came to Melbourne. And we decided, as we do, and knowing that we have a limited time frame left in Australia, to be touristy. 
So where to go when in Melbourne? 
To the Great Ocean Road. 
We rented a car early on Sunday morning without much of a plan except to drive west along the road that is considered to be one of the 100 things to see and do before you die. After leaving the city, it takes at least an hour before you reach the beach town of Toorquay and the start of the drive. 

There's something about the ocean that just makes you want to smile. 
We stopped at a couple beaches along the way, but knew we had much more to see. 

 Luckily the sky was blue and the weather was warm. Well, not according to Perth-ians. It was warm. It was.
 Could have stayed all day...
The roads twisted and turned and we rose high above the sea. There was hardly a banister to keep us from going over the edge. Falling, tumbling, tossing and turning, plunging and plummeting down the cascading coastal cliff as we sank into the crashing waves upon the rocks below us. Could've happened. It didn't - obviously. 
On our way here along the highway, the speed limit was 80km/h and seemed like a crawl. Here along the coast, the speed limit was the same, but warned of slowing down to half that speed to turn every couple of meters at every corner. Even going 60 km/h seemed like racing dangerously, peering around every bend and holding your breath as another car passed. 
It was a bit like Malibu. A bit like Cinque Terra. A bit like Donegal. 
But very much it's own Great Ocean Road.

This sign post definitely wasn't the start of the GOR according to the map, nor did they make it very safe or easy to pull over after seeing the sign to take touristy photo opps, 

but luckily the road was long enough to spot on coming cars and safely get a shot. 
Livin' wild!

I was driving, so this was my view looking back  - and taking pictures!! 

My camera died right about here. So all remaining photos were left up to Apple: Ted's iPhone and my iPod. I was unprepared. I didn't realize, or even think about what we were doing, so I didn't have any chargers with me.

 Forget all the scenic, breath-taking views. This next sequence of events was probably the highlight of the day.....Scene above ^ nice rocks, calm ocean, warm breeze....
Ted off to explore the rocks to see how far out he can get to get a good photo of the ocean while I bitch at my flashing, dying camera battery....

Then! BOOM! Waves crash over the rocks and he runs to stay dry without slipping. 
Nope, smells like wet sea for the rest of the day. 

Me: laughing hysterically

The ocean: laughing hysterically.

Ted: can't believe that just happened. 

We drove along, away from the ocean, with my trusty Australian guide book (that we went back for, so might as well put it to good use) and followed the suggested road to a turn off which pretty much promised and guaranteed a wild koala sighting. However, we drove and drove along the one-laned dirt road, up and around the windy curves with our heads leaning out of the windows, desperately trying to seek out the camouflaged marsupials sleeping in the contours of trees' branches. Of course, just my luck since I was looking, we saw no koalas. However, a kangaroo, or a wallby I think because it was small and dark, hopped out right in front of us from one side of the sloping hill up onto the other side and disappeared into the trees. For the slight detour, I suppose that made the trip somewhat worthwhile. No, not really. Even the little pub at the bottom of the road called Koala Kafe was a smug smirk at our fruitless digression. 

Along the road we go to see what else this adventure has for us...

this one's for jess.

Friday, September 14, 2012

overheard at the bar: "stupid americans. the same animal cruelty goes into making a bacon & egg mcmuffin as foie gras."

But this road doesn’t go anywhere,” I told him.
“That doesn’t matter.”
“What does?” I asked, after a little while.
“Just that we’re on it, dude,” he said.

What I Miss #13

Reasons Why Australia is too Far Away. Not all, but Some:

September 2012: Oktoberfest 5 year reunion in Germany
October 2012: "Friendship Retreat" with the girls
October 2012: Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto 1 year reunion with UNISG in Turino
November 2012: Thanksgiving
December 2012: Christmas with the family in Donegal
January 2013: Mum's birthday - it's a big young one. 
February 2013: New Ryan member. <  < BABY! AUNTIE!  > >
March 2013: Jess' 25th birthday in VEGAS baby VEGAS

not to mention all the birthdays, mother's day, father's day, hen parties, wedding festivities, and weekends I've already missed.

Australia. Australia. Australia. 

The good news is I will be having a summery "orphan Christmas" and treat myself to an "old fart's birthday" on the beach.

I'm going to be an auntie!!!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

“A mother's love is a blessing
No matter where you roam.
Keep her while you have her,
You'll miss her when she's gone"
-- Angela's Ashes.

Mum left Australia's winter to go to Ireland's summer. I cried when she arrived, I cried when she was here, I cried when she left.* For whatever reason she claims to have come here for, whether it was because she missed me (duh), was worried about me (perhaps), was scared about my spider bite incident (I'm ok), wanted to go on a vacation across the world (you know Sheelagh!), was craving a meal of native kangaroo and Australian shiraz (obviously), or just came to bring me out of Perth (most likely), I am grateful for all of the above and for the opportunity we had to experience Australia together. Maybe it wasn't on the cross-country train like I had imagine my Western Australia departure to be, and maybe it wasn't as touristy as it could have been and more about finding a new home for me (re: the 'most likely' reason above), I hope that she thinks it was as worthwhile as I appreciated and enjoyed her visit. Although I wish mum could have seen more of Australia, we did see a lot and the country is so unbelievably huge that it would have been impossible to see and do it all. I don't think she'll be back to see the life I've created in Melbourne (it's still in the works...) like she did in Perth, but who knows where this "australian adventure" will take me to.

Love you and thank you. 
*i may or may not be crying right now.

Who's coming to visit me next???!!!! 

Brighton Beach

 Not too far along the tram from the CBD of Melbourne you can reach the beach. Even if it's technically winter and the sky is overcast with clouds, it's still a nice walk to get your daily dose of crisp fresh sea air without crowded bathers taking up the sand and sun.

Or just gaze at the enormously nice looking houses along the coast. 
Melbourne Sky Line. 

The bathing boxes, or beach houses, along the coast are not only iconic but highly prized and sought-after. Brighton itself resides some of the most expensive residential properties in Melbourne. Even with the ginormous neighbouring homes, these little boxes are only owned by local residents and cost anywhere upwards from $200,000. They are literally just a wooden box, all the same size, with a door, maybe a window, and no running amenities like water or electricity.
Mum in front of one of the little boxes, but take note of the multi-million mansions behind her.

Apparently Eric Bana lives in Brighton...

Although there are bathing boxes along the Port Philip Bay, there are only 82 in Brighton, the closest to Melbourne's CBD, and unique to their kind.

Shit Australians Say #9

PS: It's pronounced Mel-burn not Mel-born just like Brisbane is Briz-bin not Bris-bayne. And Cairns is well. Um. It's care-nz in one syllable or some say Cans but that's apparently not correct. I just might not go there. 

Monday, September 10, 2012


It was goodbye Brisbane, goodbye Queensland hello Melbourne, hello Victoria. Well, it was supposed to be hello Sydney, hello New South Wales, but mum had already been to Sydney and didn't need to spend her time revisiting places she had already seen, and I had decided I didn't want to live in Brisbane or Sydney, but instead in Melbourne, so it would be another part of Australia for mum to see before she left and hopefully I could find a new home there. 
Everyone kept telling me how much I would love Melbourne, how it's very European, highly cultural, a big foodie scene with lots of restaurants and hip cafes but that the weather just sucked compared to the rest of Australia. Everyone kept telling me to wait until November or December when the weather was better to go, but compared to Perth's "winter" I couldn't imagine how cold it could possibly be. Nothing compared to a Donegal or New England winter. And plus, if I arrived before everyone else said to go, I would be beating the rest of the crowds listening to everyone else and have a better chance of scoring a job and a home without the summertime competitiveness. So, hello sweaters, hello rain coats, hello shoes with socks, hello umbrella, hello jeans. 

Despite the bad rep Melbourne gets for it's weather compared to the rest of the Australia, it is a must-see on anyone's trip. It's way bigger than Perth so I still feel a bit lost and overwhelmed, but it is made up of so many different neighbourhoods, or precincts, each with their own quirky personality. Immediately after mum left, I got a mild anxiety attack wanting to scream, "you have to come back! we haven't seen the half of it! you'll love it even more! come explore with me!" Unfortunately, a pending trip to Donegal and a 28 hour trip would not make that happen anytime soon.

There's Fitzroy and Collingwood, destinations for Gertrude Street running east-west and the perpendicular Brunswick Street crossing north-south. International restaurants, brunch hot spots, wine bars, hipster hangouts, dive bars, hole-in-the-walls, and artsy designer shops from knitted home goods, unique clothing, recycleables, second hand stores, vintage boutiques, one dollar stores, to antique markets. You name it, it makes you want to eat it, wear it, and be cool. 
Melbourne CBD is laid out basically in a rectangular grid system with the river front Flinders Street followed by Little Flinders Street, then Collin Street followed by Little Collin Street then Bourke Street followed by Little Bourke Street get it. Vertically off of these streets are little alley ways with apparent secret local gems to find. Even though there is a Chinatown comprising of about two blocks, the abundance of Asian foods dominate the city: Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Nepalese (does that count?), Malaysian. It almost feels as though you could be in Asia sometimes. 

The South Bank across the Yarra River (to the left in the picture above) seems a bit more upscale and touristy in the sense that it's a place to be to be seen and people watch. Although in saying upscale, there is a Wagamama on the second story with fantastic views over looking the river and city skyline :) Diners can sit outside (warm or cold) and watch the action along the promenade: the energetic street performers, the loud school groups, the photographing visitors, the hot shot business suits, the fit runners on their way to the adjacent park, and the prosperous/unfortunate ones coming to/from the glorious complex that is the Crown Casino. 

You can even have a drink in the middle of the river.
The CBD has its own collection of restaurants, hotels, cafes, shops, department stores, bars, university buildings and public institutions that are all easily accessible by Melbourne's tram system. Along with the pretty efficient tram system, there is a circle line tram that borders the city for riders to hop on and off for free. There's also buses, taxis, trains, cars, and pedestrian walk ways to get around Melbourne, but they all give way to the trams. For example, if a car wants to turn right onto a street, (mind you, Americans they are driving on the opposite side of the road) the car must go into a special lane all the way on the left hand side - the furthest away from where it wants to go - in order to wait until its able to turn right. This is so passing trams can still go through, continuing its transporting flow of traffic, and will not get held up behind waiting blinking cars. This is called a Hook Turn.
To the east of Melbourne, there are funky neighbourhoods such as Prahran, Toorak, South Yarra, and St Kilda which are not only home to some of the most abundant shopping on Chapel Street and popular nightlife, but also the most impressive homes. Melbourne in general I find astonishingly architecturally-stimulating: so many little attentions to detail blow my mind away. I can't even describe it, but I am constantly in awe of the artistic elements, the shapes of the buildings, the covers over the windows that can block or attract sunlight, the ornamental add-on's that seem to prove no functional purpose let alone be obviously aesthetically pleasing, or the thoughts that went through the architect's head that said "yes, this is peculiarly distinct and obscure, it's perfect." It's an eccentric city with so many international flares and edifying elements that although it makes me feel overwhelmed in the sense that I can't get a grip on it, it all somehow comes together to create what is Melbourne. One day, I'll get it. Until then, I'll keep walking around with my head tilted and my jaw dropped. 

nice lil' photo of mummy dearest.

We passed through the Carlton Gardens, home to the Melbourne Museum, IMAX, and the Royal Exhibition Building, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is the only 19thC great hall that is still mostly intact.
Queen Victoria Market.
This place will have to have it's own post once I have more pictures of it, but so far, it may be one of my favourite, if not definitely the most visited places of mine in Melbourne. It's not open on Mondays or Wednesdays which cause bouts of panic in case you're starving and Have to go to Coles or Woolie's (ok there's so many restaurants I doubt that would be the case) but because of the market, the only reason you would have to go there would be to get some kitchen staples. The market has everything else. It has a food court for those who cannot wait to eat; delicatessens selling cheeses galore, dips and crackers, marinated seafood and vegetables; a wine stall selling local wines with daily tastings; fresh pasta; more cured meat than you've ever seen (unless you are a UNISG alumni); butchers ranging from organic only, African dried specialties, and specialties in poultry; a baker's dozen selling fresh breads, baguettes, bagels, and sandwiches....
Then there's the produce section: stall after stall of fruits and vegetables all competing with prices and freshness for customers.
Then there's the meat section: all types of cuts of beef on offer that you've never heard of or don't even like the look of with marinades and leftovers saved for the dogs; seafood that you can smell before you see it; and the guys screaming deals to get you to come have a look.
In the back of the market, past the donut van that constantly has a line of at least 30 people in it, no joke, there's the other market that sells goods and crap from souvenir gimmicks, to leather jackets, UGG boots, and jewellery....Even though I could spend hours wandering up and down the rows of the market, bumping into people and eyeing which places have the best deals and freshest looking stuff, it is all a bit repetitive after awhile. 

for jess.
The tourist information centre in Federation Square is an informational hub with a plethora of brouchures, pamphlets, maps, walking tours, excursions, and souvenirs. I left with handfuls of to-do's and to-see's. 
it's not always cold....spring is coming!! There are lots of parks in Melbourne as well, keeping it a fresh and beautiful city but I have yet to explore those...I'm waiting for the wind to die down and the warmth to pick up. 
I suppose I should stop writing and go out and explore the rest of Melbourne, huh?

The Lone Koala Sanctuary: Part 2

Despite the name of the place, the koala's weren't alone at the Lone Koala Sanctuary. It was host and home to many other native Australian animals that tourists typically expect to see wandering the streets and are baffled when they don't see them running all over the place.
"I've been in Brisbane for three days already and I haven't seen ANY kangaroo's!" 

There were kookaburra's....
"kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
merry merry king of the bush is he
laugh kookaburra laugh kookaburra!
how gay your life must be."

There was a Tasmanian Devil. Sleeping in the sun and not running around like a wild one.

There was a possum.

After the koala's, my next favourite was the wombat, for a variety of reasons. 
 hi ted.
He's so cute and grumpy and was even messing around with his blankie. 
So cute, but watch out!! 
 Speaking of watching out, there is a perentie, the largest lizard in Australia and the fourth largest in the world. I dont know if you can see in the picture, but that is an entire bird in its mouth. Mum and I were walking by, about to skip the reptile until we were distracted by a loud flock of birds calling out and swooping down into the pen as they surrounded it from a nearby tree. We went around and saw this giant lizard munching down on a bird, bits of feathers protruding from his mouth as others fluttered to the ground. Apparently he jumped up and caught his lunch as they flew by and casually continued to eat it whole as the rest of the birds desperately and unsuccessfully to get their little bird friend back.

And if you can't see the victim being eaten, here's a video with commentary by a lady who saw it all happen.

my camera skills are tremendous.
I just noticed now, but I wonder if that lizard knows the crocodile is stealthily looking at him...One hungry chomp and the little lizard is gone in a swallow. A bit different from the scene above. People often get attacked by crocodiles but I wonder if a perentie lizard ever attacked someone, or if they prefer feathers. 

onwards away from the dangerous animals. There was a platypus in a tank, but Thank GOODNESS they didn't have a spider section. Had enough of that in my own room and in the vineyard thank you very much, Western Australia.
mum taking a picture of an emu, from a distance

a wallaby is kinda a smaller kangaroo. sorta.

these kangaroo's were definitely drugged. How they let anyone go near them and touch them and surround them and be photogenic all day I have no idea.

i feel creeeeeepy. but so cute and incredibly soft! please don't jump at me!
I don't know what anyone expects a pouch to look like, like a pocket right? but it definitely wouldn't be a giant slit in the mother's belly. 
I know it's supposed to be very natural and ooooh ahhhhh, but it doesn't look that comfortable, for either one. For the mother to have knobby legs coming at her in all directions and for the baby roo to be crouched in an orifice that looks so clammy and sweaty in there....
Along comes papa
There was a kangaroo rest area, where funnily enough, there were kangaroo's actually resting in there. I dont know how they know to go in there, or maybe they just want to escape the tourists, but it was quite clever, in a way...
The Lone Koala Sanctuary is a better experience than expected. It's still a zoo with captive animals, but for the exposure the visitor gets to these native animals which they expect to see in the country but might not get a chance to be out in the wild with them, let alone touch them, it's quite enjoyable by shown by all the celebrities, royalties, pop stars, bands, and cool people that go there.