A Travellerspoint blog

Melbourne

the cultural capital of Australia

We really enjoyed our trip to Melbourne over an extended Queens Birthday weekend in June. We had been forewarned that it would be "so cold!", and so, I drastically overpacked. It really wasn't that bad. It was a bit drizzly and breezy, but nothing that stopping into a pub or coffee shop wouldn't solve.

The city is known for its amazing coffee, which is due to a lot of Italians settling in Melbourne and bringing their coffee traditions with them. Lygon Street is the Italian district; but many other lovely coffee shops can be found off small alleyways throughout the city. The lanes and arcades are among the highlights of Melbourne. It's remarkable not only where a restaurant or coffee shops can be put up, but that they are all still busy enough to make a living.... we did our part to keep them afloat.

We had the luxury of a personal tour guide; our friend Joe has been living in Melbourne for about 4 months, and was a fabulous host. We rarely had to look at a map, or come up with something to do. We had looked at our travel books and a few websites prior to the trip, and had a short list of things to see. When we left, we had ticked a few things off that list, but had seen many more things than we even knew about, and had some ideas for what to see next time.

Our first day there, we had a few hours before we met up with Joe. After lunch, we took a walk through the Fitzroy Gardens, enjoying the mix of autumn coloured aspens among the gum and palm trees. We stumbled upon the the oldest building in Australia, Cooks Cottage, dating back to 1755, before meeting up with Joe in the CBD.

We walked to Federation Square, to the massive visitors centre, and made a few more plans for the weekend. Fed Square is the central hub of the CBD, right across from the Flinders Street Station which is not only the central train station, but an iconic building in Melbourne. On the other corner is St. Pauls Cathedral, which is a beautiful gothic style church. That evening we took advantage of the locals insider knowlege and enjoyed an outdoor art show beside St. Pauls, put on by Chapter House. After that Joe took us to a very unique outdoor alley pub; Section 8. One thing that is remarkable is that Melbournians, despite having some of the cooler temperatures in Australia, still enjoy doing things outdoors in the winter, especially sitting near a heater at a pub or cafe.

We had been looking forward to going to an AFL footy game, which was basically the only thing we had planned for our trip. Prior to the game, which was at Etihad stadium, we went down to the Docklands to see the area, and get ready for the action. To be honest, the docklands was a bit of a disappointment. There was a large outdoor shopping centre, which, despite many sales, was completely void of shoppers. Aside from that, there wasn't much going on along the waterfront, with the exception of the half-melted Southern Star Observation Wheel. We did stop in to the only ice arena in Melbourne, the Icehouse, to watch some ice hockey and browse through the giftshop (which had an Oilers t-shirt!).

The Friday night footy was an intense game between two Melbourne clubs; Geelong vs Carlton. The fans were right into it, and, as I was sitting beside some boisterous Geelong supporters, I soon was backing the Cats as well. Australian sports fans are great- they are constantly yelling out; either in support or encouragement, or in dismay and frustration. It's infectious. I would highly recommend anyone travelling to Australia to attend a sporting event, and in Melbourne the obvious choice in the winter is AFL.

Saturday we visited the ACME museum , which is just off Fed Square. It was a rainy day, so it was a good (and free) way to spend a couple hours. Riding the trams, including the free tourist tram, is another great way to kill some time on a poor weather day. It's so easy to get around, and see different parts of the city. The tourist tram, called City Circle, does just that- it does a loop through the central districts of Melbourne, and provides some information along the way.

Chinatown in any city is a good bet for a nice, and affordable meal. Melbourne is no different. After talking about it for 3 days, we finally went out and had a good assortment of dumplings. If you have a specific restaurant in mind, it would be best to make a reservation, or go on a weekday, we were turned away from a couple shops before finding a suitable place.

With so many famous and unique pubs, we decided to do our own little pub crawl, where we visited a number of estabilishments in one evening. Highlights included the Croft Institute; an old lab that was converted to a dark pub. The bartenders were more like scientists, mixing fiery drinks and serving cocktails with syringes instead of spoon (which resulted in the discussion that you can't look cool while drinking out of a syringe). We stopped one the rooftop of the Red Hummingbird, and then did a walk-through of the popular Cookie before heading up to Toff of the Town.

Sunday was market day. We started off at the Queen Victoria Market; the largest outdoor market in the Southern Hemisphere. The market is known for clothing and souvineers, but especially for lovely produce and meats; and the shouting of vendors to encourage people to buy from them. There is also a section of take-away food, the most popular being the Turkish Boreks, the snags, and the pies and other bakery goodies. After Vic Market, we went down to The Rose Street Market, which was a smaller market with gorgeous, unique, incredibly inventive artsy things, mostly made by locals manning their own tents. We had planned to continue on to the market at St. Kilda, but a cider house caught our eye instead.

We did visit St. Kilda, but it was too late to see the penguins as they come in at sundown. That is on our list of things to do next time. As is St. Patricks Cathedral and The Shrine of Remembrance, and a game in "the Caudron" (MCG). It's impossible to do everything in four days, and it's always great to have motivation to return. Our next trip will be in the summer, and will include the Great Ocean Road, and Phillip Island... if we can squeeze that all in.

Posted by Bleaklinson 00:08 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne afl Comments (0)

Sydney

advice from a local tourist...

In the past six months, we've lived no further than 200km from "the big smoke", and we've visited Sydney more times than I've kept track of. It's gotten to the point where we really don't think of it as a weekend away-- so, to be fair, I should probably review what we've enjoyed and seen as "tourists" before I become any more jaded and disillusioned by this massive city.

Sydney is the oldest city in Australia, it was first settled in 1788. It has also grown to be the most populated city in the country. The only problem with these two facts, is that between settlement and huge growth, there was seemingly no city planning going on. The result today, is huge traffic problems due to extremely narrow roads that constantly end (This was also the clincher for us purchasing a GPS). For tourists, this is probably not much of a concern, as there is a fairly well established public transit system that hits all the highlights. However, for us, Sydney is the place to do our big or specialty shopping trips. A lot of the shopping is in the western suburbs, which also has the greatest traffic problems. It's not uncommon to take half an hour to go 3km through dining district Newtown, or along Parramatta Road. We are discovering the value in staying in hotels out of the CBD, parking the car, and using transit to get to where we need to go, whenever we can.

We have enjoyed seeing and photographing the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from every angle, as well as walking across the bridge (we haven't had a chance yet to do the bridge climb, but it comes highly recommended). I have completed a few weekend courses in Sydney, one of which was at The Rocks, which sits between the opera house and the bridge, and provided views of both through opposite windows. It gave me another opportunity to walk through the bustling Circular Quay, which is the hub of the Sydney Harbour. One day we'll take a ferry from the quay to the northern beaches. The Royal Botanic Gardens are a beautiful half hour walk from the Potts Point/ Kings Cross area toward Sydney Cove, with huge eucalyptus trees, many statues and fountains, as well as beautiful flower gardens. Keep an eye out for the many bats living high up in the trees.

Darling Harbour is on the other side of the CBD, along Port Jackson. It's an eclectic mix of old naval ships, the expo centre, restaurants and shops and tall skyscrapers along and across the waterway. We were quite lucky to visit it on a gorgeous sunny day, where the water and skyscrapers glistened.

Sydney boasts some of the best city beaches in Australia. Bondi Beach is on the south side and is a large bowl-shaped bay. Manly is one of the infamous northern beaches. Locals can be seen walking with nothing more than their board and a grin to take advantage of these great surf beaches right in the city.

There are a few nice markets; we've been to the one at The Rocks, and just missed the Paddy's Market one weekend. Part of the benefit and problem of living so close is that we have developed a case of "we'll do it next time". On the same note, on our list of things to do is the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk.

Every time we finally get on the F3 leaving Sydney we're relieved to not be living there! But, it is handy to have it so close... while I'm hesitant to call it a love-hate relationship that we are developing with Sydney, I will call it a "learning-to-tolerate mateship".

If there's anything I can suggest to tourists, it would be to plan what you want to see and do in advance. There's lots of nice areas to walk through, or you can use transit. Enjoy the lovely views along the water, and stroll through some of the tiny old streets; it's much better than sitting in traffic!

Posted by Bleaklinson 23:43 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

fancy a game of footy?

Anyone who knows anything about sport, knows that the term "football" typically needs more explanation (especially when speaking with someone with another from another part of the world) to determine what game you're actually talking about. In Europe, football is what the rest of us call soccer; in North America, it's what the Aussies refer to as "grid-iron". In Australia; football can be soccer, but footy can be rugby union, but more likely rugby league, or Aussie rules football, depending on where you live on the island.

From what I understand, the imaginary dividing line runs in a northwest direction, just east of Melbourne, the home of Australian rules football. In fact, the AFL was a Victoria only league (the VFL) until 1990. A majority of the teams are still located in Melbourne, but there are teams in most major cities around the country, including our closest team, the Sydney Swans. We watch games throughout the weekend, and although we haven't yet made it to a game yet, we cheer most for the Swans. Not only are they our home team, but the jerseys are red and white (I'll fit right in wearing my team Canada hockey jersey), and they have a bloke from Victoria, BC (Mike Pyke) who's been getting some decent playing time, so it's "Go Swannies!"

We live in rugby league territory. This style of footy differs from rugby union, which is the style of rugby we're most accustomed with from major international competition. Rugby league was developed at the turn of the century by a group of blue collar workers who were not compensated if they had to miss work due to injury playing union... the majority of persons playing in the southern part of the country were "rich kids" playing in schools, but those in the north were miners and labourers. The idea of those better off was that if you couldn't afford to play, you shouldn't play. So, a new game came forth, with a few rule changes (replacing rucks and mauls with playing on, with only 6 tackles permitted before the ball gets turned over). However, this did not result in a less violent game, quite the contrary, actually. Most players are extremely muscular, jacked, and those that criticize the game say the heads of these guys are just as thick... it's not a very tactical game, from what we can see so far. The players I've met at the clinic have all been friendly and down to earth, but all but one have had shoulder injuries (the other one was a cork thigh), and the retired players have rotty backs, shoulders, necks, knees... it's a rough game.

We went to a game in Newcastle, while it wasn't a very large crowd, they were quite boisterous. While we couldn't make out a lot of what was being exclaimed, a few favourites were:
--- "Dariiiiiious Booooooydd" (Darious Boyd is a fullback for the Knights... he was also born in QLD, and plays for the (rival) Maroons in the State of Origin games against NSW; and those games were just coming up - see below)
--- "get up ya sook!" (I just love the term sook)
--- "boooo Cowboys" (from a girl in gradeschool - we also heard her say "It's okay just do the best you can... to win" - she was pretty cute)
It was a pretty fun experience, pretty magnetic and easy to get excited for the home team... it's just a shame they didn't show up in the 2nd half.
--- and our favorite, "it's not bloody netball!"

In an attempt to get to know the game a bit better, and meet some more people outside of work, we've joined a touch footy team. In touch, we play 6 people per side, 3 guys, 3 girls. The rules are fairly finicky, and after two weeks we're moderately happy not to be completely confused; it's more than just running down the field and not making a forward pass. The basic jest we get is that with the first few possessions, it's best just to quickly get up field, get touched, and quickly do a rollback to the dummy half (the name of the person who takes the rollback but has to pass the ball, if they get touched before passing you lose possession). Because the defence has to get back onside (level with the ref, 5m behind where the mark was made), it's a lot of running forward and back, and if you don't get back quickly enough, the offence is coming right through you... I'd like to be on the offensive side of the ball in that situation sometime.

This week is a series of games between players (from the National Rugby League - NRL) born in NSW and QLD. It is known as "State of Origin"- basically it's for bragging rights, between the two states that started this brand of footy. As NSW'ers, it's our hope that The Blues pull out a win this series, as they've been on the losing end for a few years, and brother John in QLD is gettin a bit cocky! :P

Posted by Bleaklinson 23:32 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Bushwalking is for the... birds?

Easter weekend we visited our local mountains in the Copeland/ Barrington Tops region. We purchased a deal for a whitewater kayak trip... next time we'll do the upper river. While parts of the river were swift moving, with a bit of whitewash, it was quite shallow and we got stuck on the rocks in places. We now realize we're spoiled with vast pure water in the Canadian mountains. Even without crocks or snakes (yay NSW!), had no desire to jump in, even after 10km paddle on a sunny, 27C, late summer day.

The Barrington Tops region quite a nice area, lush land with mini mountains... like the Okanagan or Kootenays, just scaled down a bit, and with gum trees instead of pines. We hoped to do some mountain biking, but found that it isn't permitted in the national parks and forests, and most of the rest of the land is private. We could have joined a tour put on by the company we kayaked with (Barrington Outdoor Adventure Centre), but at a hefty $80 a person ($20 off for having our own bikes!), we decided to try out luck finding something on our own.

We camped at The Steps at Girrba, which is affiliated with the BAOC. It was the most remote camping we've done in Australia (thus we were on high vermin patrol, but saw none) and had a nice quiet spot down by the creek. The downside was the road- we should really get a 4x4; we bottomed out every time we went down the terraced hills to our site. They had some small mountain biked tracks that they'd developed, which was a fun 15 minute circuit that came down right beside our site... but not something that would satisfy the need for adventure.

We drove to the nearest state conservation area. The Copeland Tops parking lot was busy, and as soon as we pulled in a ranger came to mention to us, and the truck beside us which also had bikes, that only walking is permitted... no chance of sneaking in a ride. We decided to go for a hike... or, as the Aussies say, a bushwalk.

I didn't really understand why they referred to it as bushwalking, until about 5 minutes in... As we continued to walk through this seemingly neverending "dry rainforest" it was quickly determined that we'd just do that 3.3km loop, rather than the 7km-- what's the point of hiking if you can't see anything? I love trees as much as anybody, I'd even venture to say I like trees more than most, actually, but after you've seen 3km of bush and trees, it's pretty tough to be breathtakingly impressed... even the Giant Fig was a bit of a let down. But, I digress...

Posted by Bleaklinson 03:57 Archived in Australia Tagged barrington copeland Comments (0)

The Process

With beautiful irony, our permanent visa application was accepted last week on exactly the 6 month anniversary of us arriving in Australia. We had been anticipating this news for a few months, so we were very relieved and ecstatic to get the word. It seemed that only our immigration consultant considered it a reasonable amount of time.

The reason why it took so long for us is that my employer hadn't sponsored anyone before, so he had to go through a nomination request. There was the typical lost paperwork, and wrong paperwork being completed (different forms needs to be completed if the owner purchased the company less than a year prior to the application, and we were right on that bubble), and next thing you know it was over 5 months before it was even lodged.

But, it's all behind us now, and tomorrow Jeremy finally can start work. He's working at an engineering firm in Maitland, which is 60km from our home in Salamander Bay. The drive takes about an hour with heaps of traffic and roundabouts along the way.

In perfect timing, Jetstar had a birthday sale, and we scored some cheap flights for when we can afford to start travelling this vast country. In less than a month we'll be in AFL central, Melbourne, to catch a game or two and take in some of the great cultural scene as well. We've also booked a trip to the Brisbane area for our Aussie-versary, and are looking forward to a trip to New Zealand with my parents in the new year.

Happy Monday from some very eager D.I.N.Ks!

Posted by Bleaklinson 03:34 Comments (0)

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