Thursday, August 17, 2006

Leaving Melbourne for HOME!

The morning we left Melbourne for our long flight home were fairly hectic. Tim had booked us transportation to the airport using a service in which you take a shared bus to the airport. The bus picked us up from the hotel which was much cheaper option than paying the $50.00 AUS we had invested for the cab ride to the hotel, so I was all for it. However, the service should have really had a foot note that it was rather cumbersome and really with anything more than carry-on luggage probably not worth it.

The way it actually worked was that all the luggage (and remember we had a lot of it - 4 large suitcases and 2 carry-ons each) and Tim and I loaded into a small van which came to pick us up from the hotel. I started to get nervous because the van was fairly late in picking us up. The van took us to a central bus depot where we loaded a large bus for the airport - all of our luggage hand held and almost impossible to navigate, in tow. We had to get tickets in between, so we missed the first bus and had to wait for the second one. At this point I was very nervous about how late we were getting. Finally, the second bus came, we loaded the luggage and ourselves somehow, and headed to the airport.

The airport was a little tricky to try to figure out where international flights check in, but eventually we found it and checked our luggage and got our tickets. I was starting to relax more now, but still just wanted to get to the gate.

Our flight home took us through Sydney and then back to the US. Our flight from Melbourne to Sydney was fine and went off without a hitch.

Upon connecting in Sydney, however, we approached our gate to another security checkpoint with an enormous line. Due to another terrorist attack which had taken place involving the liquids from a flight out of London, carry-on items were being restricted. We knew this in advance and had passed the checkpoints in Melbourne without problem. However, the airport in Sydney apparently had different rules. They were pitching everything in the carry on bags containing liquid of any form or quantity.

Although I don't recommend arguing with security of any type in a foreign country, I was a little more than agitated when all of my Dayquil and Nyquil got tossed (even though it was inside its original packaging) because it contained liquid. The agent next to the station I was at saw my red eyes and runny nose and did his best to be funny and try to cheer me up, but I was very upset and not extremely cooperative. Tim, who had been cleared 15 minutes ago, was patiently waiting for me.

When I was finally released, we got into the line and actually had to be expedited in order to make our flight. Once inside the plane, we were OK.

By now the novelty of long, international business class flights had more than worn off. We ordered a strong drink to knock us out- a substitute for our confiscated (and apparently Homeland Security-threatening) Nyquil and fell asleep.

We woke up as we taxied into the Los Angeles airport late morning and made it through U.S. Customs without incident. We had been so used to showing 20 forms of ID and documentation that we were all prepared. The customs agent said, "You just have to prove to me that you are a U.S. citizen. I don't care about the rest. Welcome home!".

There is good reason why you should never pass judgement on anyone seen drinking at an airport in the morning. Each person's flights, experience, and time they have been travelling is very different. I generally assume that those people have just flown from an area in which it is night time (as was Tim and I's experience). People who need a drink in the morning because they have some sort of addiction usually don't end up doing their drinking at international airports.

We went to the sports bar where I ordered a beloved veggie burger and Tim ordered a Sam Adam's as big as he is. I found an outlet near our table and charged up my Treo cellphone, which I dearly missed during our extensive time away from home. I called my parents and siblings, and Tim called his family.

After killing about 3 hours at the bar and around the concourse, we boarded our plane for Philadelphia. It was funny to hear people complain about the long flight when we had just been flying for over twice as long. It is all about perspective, I guess.

As we approached Philadelphia, it was dark, but we could see all the lights. We landed and were very happy, although at the same time quite exhausted and could hardly believe it that we were home. We trailed through the exit with the rest of the passengers heading towards the luggage claim.

We came out past the security checkpoint only to see Tim's family waiting there! It was crazy! We were so surprised. Tim said later that he looked over and thought, "That person looks like my mom." And then it WAS his mom!

They had come to meet us and brought our car. They were staying at an area hotel. We spent some time with them and picked up our car. We arranged to meet them the following day whenever we woke up.

As we arrived home, it was strange to see so many familiar sights after so long. We passed by our surprised concierge who was shocked to see us. We headed up the elevator and arrived back at our little home. Yay!!! Everything was clean and welcoming and well cared for by my mother. She of course had left little gifts everywhere and restocked things like our paper cups by the bathroom sink and put a new blanket on our bed. The 5 articles of clothing that were still in our laundry basket when we left had been washed and folded. That is Momo!

We showered and tried to sleep, settling in for what we knew would be weeks before we actually got back into the proper timezone and body cycle patterns again.

What an adventure we have had!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Melbourne (Day 3)

By the time the morning arrives, my cold is full blown and feels more flu-like. Everything hurts, and I don't feel at all like getting out of bed. Sadly, though, this is our last full day in Australia, and we have some more things we want to do before we leave. Tim and I decide to just try to do as much as possible.

To add to the situation, the weather is very windy with winds that literally almost knock us both over. It threatens to rain at any moment.

For breakfast, we went to the Fairy tree and miniature tudor village donated by the queen of England to thank Australia for supplying food to England during food shortages. The little village was very cool, and we commented that our kitty, Elora, would probably really like it. It was approximately the size for which Elora would have looked like a large lion. At the café I had a big omelet and cappuccino, and Tim had a Big Breakfast meal. The food was extra slow in coming, so we were there for quite awhile. Tim actually went out while we were waiting to take his photos of the fairy tree and the village. I was able to see more details from the pictures than from actually being there, because my cold was making me impatient for being out in the wind.

After breakfast we walked to the tram to get the 55 on William St. to the regular zoo. Our conversations with the hotel staff convinced us that it was going to be a huge hassle to get to the Werribe Zoo at a reasonable price, even though we would have preferred to go there since it is a free range zoo with little safari trips through the animals.

Several class trips were also trying to take public transportation to the zoo at the same time. The trams were very crowded and the vast majority of the kids were very poorly behaved. Since this is the third time we have mentioned this, you are probably getting the impression that this is usual behavior for the middle-school aged kids here. It may be the usual behavior of kids in this age group anywhere, but we probably don't notice at home. There really aren't very many kids where we live.

We got off the tram a stop early and so we had some amount of confusion in how to actually get into the zoo. We were walking around the outer perimeter of the enclosures, but couldn't find the entrance. We ended up entering through the back where the buses usually load in.

By and large, the Zoo was not very impressive to us. Many of the animals were hiding, and all the enclosed cages made it very difficult to get good pictures. In addition, the aforementioned class trips were teasing the animals that did dare to show their faces and hitting sticks against the cages. I am certain that had my sister been there, she would have given more than a few lectures.

Regardless, the lions, brown bear, baby Orangutan, and fur seals were very cool to see.

We stayed at the zoo for 2 hours and then got the tram back to the city. By now it was extremely windy and cold, and we wanted a good lunch. We took the tram back to Brunswick Street with the plan to go to the Blue Chili again for that great soup. A nice man on the tram recognized us as foreigners and asked us if we needed help. He helped make sure we were on the right tram. Most of the adults we have talked to here are incredibly sweet and gracious. So, either there is a recent wave of horrible children being born, or they just snap out of it when they grow up and become great human beings. I am not sure.

When we got to the Blue Chili and it was open but closed for eating in the period between lunch and supper, so they wouldn't serve us. I was very upset about this.

We walked farther up the street to a soup and sandwich deli. Tim got beef pie and did not like it. I got Pumpkin and Chickpea soup which was great although very peppery, and my nose was running a marathon in response.

At this point even though it was only late afternoon, I was feeling extremely sick, so we headed back to the hotel. The walk back from the tram station was very hard, but we made it. Sometimes, even if you know you only have a few blocks to go, it just seems like FOREVER.

Tim gave me Nyquil and I went to bed. Tim worked on the blog pictures for awhile.

This was our last night! Our last night would be spent packing, getting organized, and ordering transportation to the airport.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Melbourne (Day 2)

Before continuing on with Day 2 of our adventure in Melbourne, I'll provide some commentary on the demographics of Melbourne as opposed to Southern Australia. What we have seen in this city so far is a lot more ethnic diversity - mostly in the form of Indians and Asians. However, the people seem a lot more assimilated with Australian accents and western dress. It is sometimes amusing to go to a Chinese shop and get greeted in a very cheery Australian voice!

So, back to the adventure...

Our first night in Melbourne was very cold in the room. I'm also not feeling great - something that actually started coming on yesterday, but got worse over night. Add to this the fact that despite the fact that we are loving our vacation in Australia, I am starting to just feel like I want to go home. I want to see our condo and our kitty again and make sure that everything at home is OK. I'm sure that is a fact that will not make sense to many people who have a lifelong dream to visit Australia. I'm sure I only felt that way because we had already been gone for 6 months.

Regardless, we decided to make the most of being in a new city and headed to the 7-11 down the street to get two Zone 1 Met Cards. This would allow us to travel unlimited on the tram and bus services within Zone 1 of the city.

We took the tram to the Queen Victoria Market, which we had read about in several brochures and looked very cool. It was advertised to be literally a market with fruits and vegetables and clothes and other goods. We planned to have breakfast in the area when we arrived and just have a relaxing morning.

As the tram approached the market, we saw a very quaint area with cobblestoned streets and brick buildings lining a covered sidewalk area. I saw Victoria Café, which looked very relaxing with outdoor seating. We decided to eat there and ordered great breakfasts. I ordered the Big Veggie Breakfast, substituting avacado instead of eggplant, and Tim ordered the Big Breakfast, consisting of a 10 inch long sausage link and bacon, fried eggs on toast, and a tall black coffee.

After a delicious breakfast and some conversation with the shop owners who were excited to have two Americans there, we went into the Market itself. The market had big vegetable stands and fruit stands, clothing of every type, souveniers, and independent shops. The prices were not very cheap, and certainly did not employ the type of bargaining we experienced in Hong Kong at the Temple St. Night Market, but the items were still cheaper than retail.

We didn't buy very many things, but we looked around for awhile. Our purchases included a thinsulate hat for me (which was bought out of necessity as it had started to get suddenly cold), a Rip Curl watch for Tim, a Gray sweater with eagle for Tim (which the saleswoman made Tim try on and told him he was like a model in the sweater), wool socks for Gene, Chinese tassles and good luck dragon and prosperity toad, a wide western style belt for my sister, and a kangaroo scrotum pouch for Moho from Tim's work.

The market is famous for "cheap jeans", but we did not see any jeans in the cheap category that would have been good for either of us. We did get a funny lesson on jean fit, though, from another vendor who was trying to use Tim as a model. Tim was looking at the relaxed fit jeans and received a lecture on how with his skinny legs, he needed to only wear the slim fit jeans or else it would not do him any good. She went on to say that for you (pointing to me) or I (pointing to herself), jeans with more room in the thighs are fine, but not for him (pointing to Tim). Tim was bewildered by the whole thing and just decided not to get any jeans.

After our shopping, we stopped at the Stork Hotel for a drink and french fries. This was a divey bar but cool. It was not very crowded. It had a few regulars at the bar, some backpackers on one of the other couches, and a few Europeans playing pool. Everywhere we have been here - including this divey bar - has good wine. Everywhere we go here also corrects us on our requests for ketchup. It is "to-MAH-toe" sauce.

We decided to take the Tram to South Gate and look at the shops again. School had apparently just let out and the mall was full of kids. Some of these kids were of the very rude and disrespectful variety, such as the stupid kids throwing entire cup fulls of soda off of the balcony in an attempt to hit people passing below. I needed to get money out in an area very near to where they were hurling items down. Before going over, I made eye contact with the main person, gave him a look that would have stopped time, and continued staring at him until he left. For the second time in this city, we made a firm decision to never have children, if there is even a small chance of them turning out like these idiots.

Although I was in an instant bad mood at the general state of humanity, we managed to get some souvenirs at the Body Map store before leaving. We got koalas for my sister and momo, and a collector's spoon for Darlene with a kangaroo on it which said "Australia".

The cold had gotten the best of me by this point and I was dragging. We headed back to hotel to rest and work on the blog more. I fell asleep for a few hours and felt a little more energized when I woke up.

We decided to head back to Brunswick Street again for dinner, since it seemed full of great restaurants like the Blue Chili from the night before. We walked through the woods to that area, but this time, there were no sightings of the frightening possum-creatures.

Rather than taking the tram, we walked the entire way up Brunswick Street and settled on the Blue Fin - a place much farther down the street than we had walked the night before. Our waitress was a very friendly and cute girl who looked like Lauren Reid (formerly Brubaker). I ordered salmon and veggies, and Tim got a hamburger about 8 inches in diameter. We were stuffed after dinner, which has become a very common situation during this vacation. We are making up for months of not being able to find that much food that we liked!

On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a loungey bar with dim lighting, red plush couches, and chandeliers called the Black Pearl. The decorating style was very much Victorian meets Gothic. The bartender was extremely friendly and interested in talking to us and finding out where we were from. He whipped up two great Irish coffees for us with homemade, hand shaken whipped cream on top.

We walked the whole way home. However, this time during our walk through the woods to the hotel, we encountered more scary possums. This time, they were not content to stare at us and creep up to our legs. This time they outright chased us! How horrifying!

Although the hotel lobby was hopping with many people at the bar, we headed up for bed. We had big plans for the next day of going to the Werribe Zoo.

Monday, August 14, 2006

First Day in Melbourne

Well, today was certainly packed with activity! After completing packing and working on the blog late last night, we finally settled to bed with both the alarm and a wake up call set for 4:30am. Of course that time came much too early for either of us. We dragged ourselves out of bed and got ready to go and did a final check of the room. Our cab came more or less on time at 5:30am, and we settled our bill, packed up the taxi, and headed for the airport.

When we arrived at the airport, there was a long line for Qantas, but it was moving quickly. We were scheduled for the 7:45am flight, but when we got up to the counter, the woman told us that our original flight was already delayed due to maintenance, but that she could get us and our luggage on the 6:45am departing flight to Melbourne. So, we went that route, and made it through the process and security just in time for boarding. We even got seats together, so that went very well, and we were happy that the woman was so helpful and amazed that it was just under an hour from leaving the hotel to boarding the plane!

Tim slept most of the way for the approximately 2 hour flight. I was tired, but was again in the middle seat. Yuck.

When we arrived, we were able to find baggage claim and locate our luggage without any problems and loaded it up on the cart. Unlike the other places we have been, you have to pay for the luggage carts here (about 3 Australiajn dollars).

The shuttle services to the hotels were running into some problems this morning, so they recommended we take a cab. This costs about $50.00. (We are spending a small fortune on cabs to and from places here, since we can’t drive). The cab driver continued on the now familiar trend of being completely unhelpful, not friendly, and unimpressive. At least he knew where the hotel was.

However, he did not help Tim with a single bag and was somewhat of a jerk, therefore, even though I generally do tip here despite the fact it is not a tipping country, I gave him zero tip. (Tim will tell you it takes a very rude person for me not to tip them). At least pretty much everyone else we have come across in our travels has been very nice, efficient, and helpful and we’ve paid them back for their efforts.

We arrived at our hotel at about 9:30am, so our room was not yet done. However, we were able to check our bags and relax in the very nice lobby area while we waited. Tim went to get some coffee at a shop down the street and I had them set us up with a wireless account so that we could work on the computer while we waited. Our hotel is right on a beautiful park with a huge assortment of trees of all types and it is very green. It made a very nice setting to sit and type for awhile.

Tim worked on some picture editing, and then at around noon we decided to walk up the street a few blocks to get some lunch. We went to a place (Zetost) that had tosts on Turkish bread as their specialty. They were very good.

When we got back to the hotel, our room was ready and the staff had already put our bags up there. They upgraded us to a Junior Suite due to the fact that I practically lived at a Hilton Hotel for over a year in lovely Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and still have status from it. (Things like this are one of the perks of consulting despite the hellish lifestyle). The suite was nice a spacious, with a couch, windows on two sides and a nice bathroom with powder room.

Since our flight was so early this morning, we were pretty tired, but we were also dealing with the fact that we had only 3 days in this city, which is much larger than Adelaide. It is comparable to the size of Center City Philadelphia (something like Front to 30th street area and maybe 1.5 miles wide). We decided to at least take the free city tram around the city loop so that we could hear about the different sections of the city and what was there. We also had a ton of brochures from the hotel.

On our way to the tram stop, we walked through the Fitzroy Gardens. There is a nice paved walkway through the very large trees and gardens. It is really amazing to see palm trees, evergreens, and eucalyptus trees all together in a row and sometimes growing into each other. It is hard to put your finger on the actual climate that would support all three of these, plus require hats and gloves but here we are!

Tim saw a very long pinecone on the ground as we were walking and went to pick it up. He nearly drew blood the thing was so sharp! He had me hold it for a picture. We saw that these long skinny pinecones were from a coniferous tree that also grew the short fat kind of pinecone we're used to seeing. Very strange. We also noticed that the trees had these thick plastic bands around them about 5-10 feet up from the ground. More about that later…

[The Really Long and Skinny Pinecone of Death]

Once we got on the free City Loop tram, we realized this would not be our main transportation for the next 3 days. It got super crowded and you couldn’t really see the areas, but they had an audio commentary on the different parts of the city which gave us a general idea. We were able to figure out a bit how the trams worked and decided to buy day passes. They are much, much cheaper than cabs and they run pretty late here, so it is a good way to get around. I wouldn’t say that the public transportation here is super self-explanatory or easy to follow, but it is doable with a combination of signs and maps. It is more like trying to use the Philly transportation – you have a combination of subways, buses, and trains and several overlapping maps. It definitely isn’t like Washington D.C. where you just show up and it all makes perfect sense with a day pass and a very clear map.

[Melbourne's Tram World]

We were almost falling asleep on the bus, so when we finally completed the loop and got back to the hotel, we decided to take a nap for about an hour, and then go to have dinner at one of the restaurants near Fitzroy. We also booked IMAX tickets for the 8:00pm showing of Deep Sea 3D.
We were still very tired when our nap was over, but decided to drag ourselves out of bed and go find a restaurant.

As we left the hotel and began the process of figuring out which sequence of trams we needed to take, it began to rain. Not a very heavy rain, but it made the sky look very dramatic and we joined the rest of the pedestrian crowds in scurrying for cover under the overhangs and enclosed bus stations. We haven’t seen rain since leaving Manila!

[LCD screens with real-time"Time Till Next Train" countdowns...Mass Transit done well]

We were able to figure out the trams to the general area and then walked along Fitzroy for about 4-5 blocks. Tim finally realized that he had read the map wrong and that we would never find anything on Fitzroy St., we cut over to Brunswick St. where we immedaitly saw several cool-looking restaurants.

[Not much retail, but a cool-looking alley anyway]

We eventually settled on the Blue Chilli which had a great selection of Asian/Indian/Thai inspired foods. I ordered a coconut/curry soup which was to die for! I wished I had just ordered two bowls of that and no entrée! I also ordered some garlic steamed veggies and rice. It was really great! Tim ordered chicken spring rolls and a spicy Indian noodle dish.

[Outside on Brunswick St.]

After our meal, we headed over for the IMAX which wasn’t very far away, although it looked really far away on the map! It's a small city, but we're still used to the scale of Manila and Philly.

At first there were only about 4 people for the IMAX movie and this was pretty cool! But just as we were settling in for a great movie in 3D, an entire group of 50 of the World's Most Inconsiderate 12-14 year old children I have ever seen came flooding in making a ton of noise and showing complete disregard for anyone else (as is typical of this age group). We still enjoyed the movie, but it was a lot harder to with them throwing popcorn, yelling to each other, and making stupid comments about the animals and the fact that Johnny Depp was one of the narrators. They also did a good bit of crawling over the seats to change where they were sitting and standing up and moving around during the movie, obstructing the screen. They appeared to have been there as part of a school trip and there were only 2 adults there to manage that many kids. Very annoying.

After this not so great experience (which was also not cheap – IMAX movies here are $17.00 per ticket), we decided to get a tram down to the Yarra River to walk along the river and look at the shops and restaurants that were at Southgate.

[Walking by the Exhibition Hall]

One our walk we cut through another park and noticed that there were more very tall trees and also noticed some things that resembled domestic cat-sized squirrels scurrying about everything. Oh! Whatever these things are much be the reason that those plastic bands are needed on the trees we saw in the Fitzroy Gardens- to keep them from climbing up the trunks.

Lets take a closer look and find out just what these things are! Of course,it was too dark to really get a good look, so Tim points his camera in their general direction and fires off a shot with the flash:


Oh My God, it's POSSESED!

Rather than scurry away like a normal wild animal, this thing lunged towards us. I quickly backed up, but Tim still had his eye on the camera viewfinder and only noticed the attacking creature when he squeezed off another shot and saw it illuminated by the flash.

We have tried to find out what this was, and we think it is a bushy tailed possum.

Tim continued in his efforts to get a photo, using me as bait. As I tried to redirect one towards his camera, I suddenly looked down and one was inches from my foot pearing up at me. I screamed and jumped away. He later got another shot of one eating something it had just taken out of the garbage can in a tree that had a branch available lower than the plastic band.

Those things were terrible! I hope I don’t have nightmares about them! Some cyclist rode by us as I was shrieking about the animals, and I’m sure to them it would be like somebody screaming at a squirrel in a Philly park. All the same - I’m sure the thing had rabies, and I needed to protect myself!

When we arrived at our destination, we saw that this was a really beautiful area. We walked along the river and Tim took a lot of pictures. It also looks like the shopping is really nice there and we found several shops I want to go back to tomorrow (since they were closed).

Some bars and restaurants were still open, however, and we stopped in for a drink at an Irish Pub where they had a man playing guitar and singing fun Irish songs. When we first entered, the bouncer told us they were closing early that night for renovations, but we still could get one drink. It was pretty hard to flag down a waitress, but once we did, we got served our drinks and then we could enjoy the music. They actually did not close in 10 minutes. They kept serving and about 20 minutes later a very loud and drunk group of ladies game rushing in and ordered shots and some of the guys came in and started doing Irish dances! Maybe Monday night is ladies’ night here? Regardless, the music was great and it was a fun time.

We took the tram back to our hotel without much trouble. (Pretty much the hardest thing is to try to figure out which stops and which side of the road they will come to).

So, now I am just putting down my thoughts for today and then we will head to bed! Tomorrow we have some plans to go to the Queen Victoria Market, look at more shops, and we are considering going to the zoo.

More later!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Exploring Adelaide

We were very excited today to tour Adelaide City today. From the photos on the website and the descriptions in the Lonely Planet book, it seemed like a small but very nice city. I hoped to start the day at the Central Market and then tour the Haigh Chocolate Visitor’s Center (think upscale Belgian chocolate tour like Hershey’s Chocolate World). We then planned to have lunch at a cute little café and people watch.

Well… although our day still turned out to be a good day it was after many adjusted expectations and changes of plans. Our first mistake was that our one full day in Adelaide fell on a Sunday. When we were planning our itinerary, this didn’t really seem like a big deal. In cities like Philadelphia and Makati, everything is mostly still open on Sunday except for government offices. Certainly restaurants and shopping are still open even if later in the morning. Well, here, the city shuts down almost completely in the downtown areas. No Central Market (which looked incredibly cool from behind the gates), no Haigh Chocolate tour, not much of anything. The city was more like downtown Harrisburg is on a Sunday (unless it has changed drastically in the last year).

This was very disappointing to us. We did wait awhile for the city loop bus to come around to see if any other sections of the city were open and we walked through Chinatown, which was also mostly closed except for some grocery stores.

We returned to Victoria Square and saw a sign for a tram that goes to the suburb of Glenelg. We remembered that Geoff had recommended going there and had also read about it in our Lonely Planet book, but we hadn’t planned to go there. However, our options were pretty limited at this point.

[The Queen of England came to Adelaide once, and they made her this fountain in Victoria Square]

We waited for the next tram (of the San Francisco variety) and boarded for Glenelg, hoping that more would be open there. Tim looked very upset though. When we boarded the tram and encountered their confusing and inefficient system of selling tickets, Tim was looking even more upset, so I got the tickets and told him that I’m sure things would be open at this other town.

The ride was about 30 minutes with about 15 stops along the way, in mostly nice-looking suburban neighborhoods. As we got closer, we realized that this area was hopping! There were really cute cafes all over the place and nice restaurants and bars and shopping that was mostly open – especially on the main drag. We got off at the very last stop and we were on a beach! It was so strange to be on a beach in the winter time where seagulls, sand, the ocean, and evergreen trees were all there co-existing. The place was filled with every variety of people in every type of dress – from summer shorts and tank tops to full on winter gear. It was really crazy to witness.

We got off the tram and walked towards the water in a daze. The wind was strong coming off the water and you could smell the salt and the sand. A wooden pier was built out into the water, so we went out and looked at the surf and the waves- it was really refreshing.

[And odd assortment of nature]

We made our way back onto the main street and started looking for a place to get some coffee. We passed a whole range of shops, bars, pubs, surfing and skating shops, pizza places, Indian restaurants, and clothing boutiques.

[The bustling fun of the Glenelg shopping district]

Eventually we saw across the street an entire shop dedicated to the Haigh brand of chocolates and a coffee shop called Bracegirdle’s House of Fine Chocolate- also very chocolate-oriented. I got a coffee, Tim got a mocha, and we took our things upstairs to a table. The place was decked out with really cool art work depicting chocolate and ice cream, so Tim took some photos.

I don’t think we mentioned this before, but Tim’s camera has been attracting a fair amount of attention here. He looks like a professional photographer with it (and of course my vote is that he is at least as good as one)! A family from Sydney introduced themselves and wanted to see his camera and was complimenting him on it. They usually think it is film rather than digital, and then they are very impressed when they can see the big LCD display, etc. We aren’t sure if this type of camera is just not available here.

This also brings up a point that we’ve made before, but the people we meet in restaurants and on the street here are so friendly to us when they hear us speak and realize we are Americans (or Canadians – sometimes it is hard for them to tell). This makes it so much easier to adjust to the area and feel welcome. Geoff was telling us previously that after 9/11 tourism to Australia from America trickled to almost non-existent levels. Perhaps it makes them happy to see a young couple touring through Australia again or maybe they are just very friendly in general.

After the coffee, we wandered over to a large building that had a Dave & Busters-like arcade, a mini-golf course, and several huge water slides. We went there initially just to use the bathroom, but it was fun to watch all the people playing games and all of the kids running around and even using the water slide in the “dead of winter” as they refer to this time. I, personally, thought it was way to cold to be using the water slide, but they were having a good time anyway! I hope they did not catch pneumonia.

We had lunch later on at a seafood and Greek place called Scampi’s, which was right on the boardwalk. As opposed to all of the other pubs and cafes along the main walk, this restaurant was not very crowded at all, probably because the prices were quite a bit higher than the other places. This seemed to be due in part to the sustainable fishing practicing they were advertising and also just because they were projecting a hoity-toity image. In either case, we ended up there because we could not understand the seating system of the other locations despite attempts of the bartender to explain it. The door he kept telling us to wait at did not seem to exist or be attended!

We had a table by the windows on the second floor and watched people below. The whole scene seemed very surreal- almost like a scene from the Truman Show- where the whole environment seems too perfect- almost manufactured. The afternoon sun created a seemingly artificial light and couples and small families (all with dogs on leashes) seemed to be passing by at regular intervals and we wouldn’t have been too surprised if we found out that they were all on a repeating loop. Even the seagulls looked to be operating via a computer program. We spent a lot of time watching a little girl take off her hat, her mother replace it, the little girl throw off her hat again, etc. etc. We also spent a lot of time watching an Alaskan husky puppy dog try to beat up a full grown rotweiler. This was really amusing.

Since our lunch was a little pricier than planned and because we had passed a great looking market, we decided that we would buy some fruits and veggies and some good bread and just make some food in our room that night rather than going out. (We also weren’t sure what would be open when we got back to the city). We stopped by a neat little market and bought a bag full of fruits, olives, cheese and bread. The very amusing cashier was telling us that she was having a bad day because it was the 13th. Tim said – “But it is not Friday.” She said that she was having a bad day anyway. So, we tried to cheer her up and moved on.

[We were excited to be in a fruit and vegetable market once again!]

We got back just in time to see the tram parked in the station. We re-boarded the tram and a half hour later we were back in Adelaide. As we pulled into the station, we noticed an Italian restaurant (La Trattoria) that Geoff had mentioned was his favorite. We wanted to get a Thank You gift for him, so we walked over with the intent of purchasing a gift certificate for him, but, like everything else, it was closed. We made our way back to the hotel and got some plates and a sharp knife from the front desk (the hotel restaurant was closed, too). Kendra cut up the fruits and we sat out on the balcony and ate our dinner. It seemed like we were way up in a high-rise, even though we were only 4 stories up, because very few of the buildings in Adelaide are really high.

Later that evening, we called the Italian restaurant, found that they opened later in the evening, so we walked back down and picked up the gift certificate (or “voucher”, as they call it here). The owner of the restaurant was obviously the patriarch of a large Italian family and he was very officious, but not in a rude way. He wrote out a voucher and signed it, saying “Everyone here knows my signature. You will not have a problem.” With that we headed back to the hotel and mailed it off! I hope that Geoff receives it OK.

When we dropped off the letter and scheduled our cab for the next morning, we asked the attendant at our hotel if he could recommend a bar close by. He told us about a few nice bars close to our place that were open and mentioned the Belgian pub that Geoff had also told us about. We were able to find it without much issue and we downed a few beers and some fries before heading back to get packed back up for a quick flight to Melbourne early tomorrow morning.

I reconstructed our luggage once again to be more efficient while Tim worked on some of his photos to try to get more posts up there.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Last Day in the Outback

Today was the last day of out tour of the Flinder’s Ranges and Outback tour, and as usual with Geoff, it was full of more surprises.

Tim and I woke up very early and met Geoff at 6:45am for a drive around to see more kangaroos, which are very active during the night and just before sunrise. In addition he wanted to show us a place outside the resort where the sun rises over the hills and lights up the red rocks of the Pound in a spectacular way.

[Wilpena Pound, the Moon and the dirt roads of the Outback]

The drive, although very early, did not disappoint and we saw hundreds and hundreds of kangaroos, euros, and emus. We even saw two huge male kangaroos boxing each other. Geoff then parked and we walked up to the crest of a hill and watched the sun come up over the mountain ranges and light up the surrounding peaks of Wilpena Pound.

[Kangaroos out in mass]

[Me shooting Kangaroos and the sunrise from the truck]

[Tree Backlit...]

[Tree Frontlit...]

After the drive, we had breakfast, which was great as usual. We had eggs and mushrooms for me, tomatoes for Tim, and hashbrowns. We ended our time at Wilpena by packing up our bags and loading them into the car. We started to be very sad that our tour was ending, but at the same time, we were very tired and excited to move on to the next adventure of sightseeing in Adelaide city. The rest of the day ended up being very exciting though!

[A posing Kangaroo]

[A posing Kendra]

We stopped for a stretch and more fuel in Hawker (where we had stopped on Day 1). We then moved on to the small town of Quorn for morning tea. There was an old Steam Train that comes through this town, but it was not in operation when we stopped there, so we just toured the station and picked up some literature on it. The town had a very "Old Western" feel to it, complete with old bars and hotels, and a lollipop shop. Geoff told us that he had come through here a few months previously and that all the paved roads had all been covered with a layer of red dirt for some filming for a movie that they were doing.

[A dusty Ford Falcon parked on a dusty road in Australia]

On our way to lunch, Geoff completely randomly looked across a the road and saw a bunch of cars parked near a “footie” field. He thought it would be fun to stop and let us take a look at the game for a while, but when he looked closer he saw that it actually was a sheep dog trial going on!

Basically this is when Kelpies have to herd sheep across a yard, through some obstacles and eventually into a pen to test their skills as a sheep dog. We stopped by and it was really amazing to watch! Some dogs were better than others, and the best ones were constantly putting their lives at risk to get the flock where they needed to be. They would dive between their legs and crawl under the feet of the sheep to get in front of them, or jump right on top of them and run across their backs!! Sometimes the sheep would get spooked and try to escape by leaping over the gates and fences. The men would be out in the field whistling and shouting commands to their dogs, trying to get them in front or behind certain sheep to drive them into the specific areas or pens.

[Doggie and sheep on the run]

[Trying to clear 12 sheep in a single bound]

The whole event was set up as a contest, with the winner recieving a few hundred dollars. The rest of the town was out to watch and take part in a big BBQ that was gearing up. We got to talk to some of the locals and meet some of their other dogs and trucks full of puppiues- it was such a unique and interesting sight to see!

[Every dog in the place wanted to be in on the action. The man in the hat is giving us the crash course on how the whole event is run.]

[These little guys will be in next years competition]

The impromptu stop put us behind schedule a bit, but it was well worth it to see that event! We then stopped at Wheatley’s Old Bakery in the very small town of Stone Hut for lunch and Tim had an emu pie and I had a Cornish Pastrie with vegetables (this is what the miners used to take down for lunch in the mines. The shop was really cool and it was under some renovations to make it a bigger (and with bathrooms!). They also had a small winery and we got to taste some Shiraz and an apple cider liqour. We picked up a bottle of the Shiraz for our hotel room later that evening.

[Trying to remember what different kinds of pies they have....]

[...this many. (The emu was delicious!!)]

After lunch Geoff asked us if we wanted to take another detour from the agenda and stop in on a friend of his with a beautiful house in the country and a beautiful ranch grounds with flowers and horses. We said sure, and so we got to meet some great people who were about the age of our parents. They were really welcoming to us and served us tea and we had some entertaining conversation. This couple has had a very interesting life. They used to run a tourist resort in the Solomon Islands and he was in several wars including Vietnam, Iraq, and one of the African wars.

[Kendra's about to be licked by a big horse]

Finally, after meeting the horses, we headed home. We chatted with Geoff about the tour on the way home and let him know how great the tour was as well as write a note in a book he kept in his truck.

[Some colorful cars that we saw on our way home]

We exchanged addresses, etc. as we neared the city. He dropped us off a little after 6:00pm at our hotel and we hugged goodbye and headed inside.

The hotel had been storing our extra luggage for 5 days and the staff had already placed our baggage in our room, which was great. We checked in and went up to our beautiful room. The hotel is very nice and very new. Although we enjoyed our Outback tour very much, I am glad to be back in the city in more of a setting I am used to.

[The Majestic Roof Hotel in Adelaide, South Australia. With a lovely patio out on the 4th floor]

[Kendra loved the big bath (with doors out to the living room)]

We weren’t able to explore much of the city tonight, but we did go to a nice little restaurant called Daniel’s near the hotel.

Some general commentary on the general demographics here and style: Overall, the population seems to be on the young side. There are a lot of people with small children or younger singles. There is a very popular trend here right now for very extreme two-toned hair (white-blonde on black). The dress style is a bit 80’s from the US and a bit European all mixed in. Stylistically, it is very similar to Hong Kong and there are a fair amount of Asians in the city. Other than that, it is very white. People seem to wear their hair in a messy, just woke up style, and the men mostly all have very spiked up hair or Mohawks accentuated by the two-toned colors. We will head to be shortly tonight and then explore more tomorrow!