Saturday, June 30, 2012

Not Necessarily the Ruby City

After returning from the Great Ocean Road, the husband and I spent a day in Melbourne proper. Our principal aim was to acquire an authentic didgeridoo for younger son, but we managed to squeeze a few tourist attractions in all the same. We were staying in Oakleigh, a suburb about 14 kilometers (about nine miles) from the central downtown area. We took the train in, which provided a good view of the city as we approached.
We got off the train downtown, across from Federation Square a civic center opened in 2002. One of the guidebooks said that people either love or hate Federation Square, and our hostess had told us she wanted to know what our reaction was.
I wasn't really sure how to react to it. My initial reaction was on the negative side, but I think with time it might grow on me. What unsettled me was not so much the appearance of the building but its appearance in relation to the other, more traditional architecture around it.

Although I by no means consider myself a city person, I do like walking around an urban downtown. I particularly like shooting (in a photographic sense) businesses, windows, and skyscrapers. I don't really feel comfortable photographing people; the people shots I took in Vietnam were mostly with a longer lens, and even there I still felt awkward at times. One of the businesses we say, in the train station itself, was noteworthy for its truth in advertising.
I guess this business might also be considered truth in advertising, though the business of the same name in DeLand, Florida, peddled ice cream instead of chips and gravy.
It appears, though, that "chips" are also called "fries" in Australia, judging by the fine print on the red letter board outside this business.
People who know my predilection for pie will understand why this business caught my interest.
The coffee menu was interesting in the number of strengths one could order.
During our day downtown, we saw quite a few Pie Face establishments and even partook of some of their yummy goodness for an afternoon snack.
The pies came in various sizes--we got the smallest for our snack--and fillings. The husband had apple for his snack, while I had cherry. Bigger pies also came in meat versions to serve as entrees. I'm sure someone has done this in a U.S. city, but I've never seen it.
Finally, how can you not love this business?

We walked through Victoria Market more for general interest than actually looking for anything. It was much higher class than the markets in Vietnam.
The vendors weren't shouting at you to come see what they had for sale, nor were they actually taking your arm and trying to lead you into their stalls. The prices were higher, too, though lower than one would pay in a shop outside the market. We kept in mind, though, that the $10 didgeridoos in the market were far from authentic. We did purchase a didgeridoo for younger son, but we did so at a shop outside the market. We had a lengthy discussion with the shop owner about her merchandise, buying enough merchandise that she threw in a cloth bag for free. She also held the didgeridoo for us while we did the tourist thing and visited the Old Melbourne Gaol.

Except for a brief period during World War II, the gaol hasn't been used as such since 1924. It almost seems out of place sitting in the shadow of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
Inside, though, it looks very much like the gaol it was.
We were able to see how small the individual cells were, though we did not take part in the added experience of being arrested, booked, and actually locked up for a short period of time.
It would have been interesting, but we instead had to get back to the shop to pick up the didgeridoo.

I mentioned above businesses, windows, and skyscrapers, though in regard to the third, "buildings" might be a more appropriate term than "skyscrapers." Having covered the businesses side above, here are some of the windows I liked.
And as for the buildings, sit back, scroll, and enjoy.
We never did figure out what they were building in the shot below. If you have an idea, comment away!

I did take a couple of shots of people or other things I didn't necessarily expect to see, such as a temperance statue with googly eyes. I really didn't think younger son had been to Melbourne, but this is the sort of thing he would do.
There was also a representation of mercury droplets that I at first thought might be sidewalk seating.
The husband asked me to shoot this tram sign.
As for the people...
It was a long day, but we finally got on a train back to Oakleigh.
Of course, when we got there we wondered if the train hadn't taken a wrong turn and dropped us back in Vietnam.

I'm not a fan of large cities, but I enjoyed our day in downtown Melbourne. The husband and I agreed that it felt very much like a European city. I also thought that it had a very different feel than Perth did. Perth had a more frontier feeling, sort of like a city in Montana or the wild Western U.S., while Melbourne felt much more cosmopolitan. I can't say, though, that one felt better than the other. We visited Perth and Melbourne because those were the places in which I had friends. Pondering it, I think the two gave us a very good feel for some of the differences inherent in such a large country. I think now that it would be interesting to go back and see Darwin, in the north, and maybe somewhere in Queensland. Hobart, Tasmania also has possibilities for a future trip.

I never really felt as if I drew the lengthy blog of our 2009 trip to a tidy conclusion, so let me try to do that here for this trip. Many places I've visited seem comfortable as one-shot deals. I loved the week we spent in Rome in 2002, but I'm not sure I'd jump at the chance to go back there over going somewhere new. Australia is such a huge, varied country, that I could go there over and over, and each trip would be distinct. I'm not sure I can articulate why, but I would go back to Hue as well. There is a draw to the city that I can't explain. We passed on many of the tourist visits we made three years ago and settled more into living there than visiting, and that made it a very different trip. Will be go back? I don't know, though the husband has gotten several messages in the two months since our return from Hue students asking when he might be coming back. He somewhat jokingly told the Hue University folks just to contact me if they wanted him back, and he knows what I'd say. So who knows, there may be another trip blog to come. In the meantime, though, happy trails!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Great Ocean Road Really Was

Upon hearing we would be visiting Melbourne, multiple people told us we should not miss the Great Ocean Road, a 243-kilometer (151-mile) stretch of highway running along the coast to the southeast of Melbourne. When we emailed our Melbourne hostess that we were thinking of renting a car and doing this, she replied that she would drive us because whichever one of us were driving would be hard-pressed not to be looking at the scenery. Add driving on the left to awesome scenery, and the sum is likely to be an accident. Recognizing this fact, the Australian highway folks have posted these signs at every scenic overlook from which people might be merging back onto the road.

The Great Ocean Road formally runs between Torquay and Warrnambool, though we went a bit further in order to spend the night in Port Fairy. While we took two days to see the road, some tour buses do just the highlights in one day which I imagine is a long one. The two days we took allowed us to spend some time at each of the highlights, stop for coffee and meals, and not drive at a breakneck speed. (The speed limit for much of the way is 80 kilometers or about 50 miles per hour.) If we had wanted to stop at all the scenic overlooks and other attractions (a walk through the canopy of one forest, for example), it would have taken more than the two days we allotted. And for the really energetic souls with time on their hands, the 104-kilometer (65-mile) Great Ocean Walk parallels part of the Road.

There are some pretty amazing trees along the way, including these two at the start of the Road.
There's also this one a bit past the end.

I tend to think of Norfolk Island pines as houseplants, but it would take quite the house to hold this one. There were also birds, as readers of this earlier post might expect.

The emus shown above were at a wildlife sanctuary at which we stopped. There were some other animals there as well, like wallabies.

There were some koalas, too, doing what koalas do best, sleep or eat.
There was scenery, particularly inland, that reminded me of Europe.

Mostly, though, there was some incredible ocean scenery.

We even had a rainbow follow us for a long while on the first afternoon.
There was some mist, too, on the inland side, another reminder of European landscape I've seen.

One of the highlights of the Great Ocean Road is a site known as the Twelve Apostles, although Mother Nature has reclaimed four. Since "the Eight Apostles" just doesn't have the same ring that "the Twelve Apostles" does, there are still a dozen in the naming sense. It was getting dark as we approached the Twelve Apostles on the first day. With plenty of the road still to drive, we decided to see the Apostles as the sun set then get back on the road and drive to Port Fairy, where we had rooms reserved at a pub. We figured that we could drive back to the Apostles the next morning and see the sites on that end of the road along the way. The next four shots are from the evening visit.

The next morning, we had a superb breakfast at Rebecca's in Port Fairy.

Before heading back to the Great Ocean Road, we took the time to walk around the harbor at Port Fairy.

We also saw a bird of a different sort there,

though having read "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" way back when in high school, I can't imagine ever naming a boat "Albatross."

The scenery that we'd driven by in the dark on the way from the Twelve Apostles to Port Fairy was in many ways superior to that around the Apostles, despite their being probably the main tourist attraction along the road.

The formation below is now called London Arch; its former name was London Bridge. Yes, the middle fell away transforming a bridge into an arch. And yes again, there were people on the far side when it happened. Fortunately, no one was on the part that fell away when it did.

The husband also got his share of amazing land- and sea-scapes including two panoramic shots.

Most of the above photos came from a place called Loch Ard Gorge. It's named after a clipper ship that ran aground on an island there in 1878. Only two people in their late teens survived, a crewman on the ship and a female passenger. Loch Ard Gorge is about a ten-minute drive from the Twelve Apostles, and we thought it the more beautiful spot, but don't tell that to the busloads of tourists at the Apostles daily. Many of those tourists are from Asia, explaining the one stall with a squat toilet at the visitors' center there.

For those who remember my mentioning the squat toilets in Hue in an earlier post, well, they weren't this one. This one, I would not mind at all using if there weren't a sit-down version available.

The number of Japanese tourists at the Apostles also gave rise to one of our great stories from the trip, how I passed as an Australian. While I was waiting at an overlook to shoot a photo, a Japanese couple approached and started gesturing at me with the camera that the husband was holding. I thought that he was asking me to take a photo of the two of them with the view in the background. But no, he wanted to take a photo of his wife with a real Australian. The next thing I know, there are people standing in line to have a photo taken with me.

Needless to say, I kept my mouth shut, though there's no way of knowing whether my American accent would be recognized as such. The husband and I posed for our own shot while we were at it.

The walkways let you get various views of the Apostles on either side, and you are trusted to stay on the paths.

I'll end with a few more shots of the Apostles, which should show that the sweaters we had on in the earlier photo were, indeed, appropriate that day.

After the Twelve Apostles, we actually left the Great Ocean Road and drove back to Melbourne via the inland route. The higher speed limit there got us back to Melbourne in time for a rollicking dinner of fish and chips with a group of our hostess' friends.

Coming up next, a day out in Melbourne and some ending reflections on the trip. It's been almost two months since we got home meaning that it's time to put this trip to rest and start thinking about another.