Australia Part Four: St. Kilda

Knowing that we would be in for two weeks of nonstop adventures, we had deliberately planned for a low-key last few days in Oz, and St. Kilda, a popular beach suburb close to downtown Melbourne was the perfect place to decompress and soak in the last few days of vacation.

We left Apollo Bay after a lazy morning, strolling around the town and grabbing breakfast, and then hit the road to head back into Melbourne. Once we got into St. Kilda, we had some time to kill before our next Air BnB would be ready, so we stopped at a little joint around the corner for some appetizers and drinks. When we checked into our place for the next few days, we were treated to a cute little art-filled studio in the heart of the neighborhood, walking distance from everything we planned on doing for the next few days.

St. Kilda

St. Kilda

After settling in, we went to a local Mexican joint recommended by our hosts for margaritas, and then continued down the main drag until we stumbled upon a Thai restaurant that beckoned us in with its affordable (and, as it turned out, delicious!) noodle dishes. After dinner, we took a little walk down to the pier to check out the evening windsurfers.

IMG_0338 IMG_0339

The next morning, we awoke to our second rainy morning of the trip (we know these are excellent odds). We said our goodbyes to Jules and returned the rental car to the CBD, just as the drizzles began to subside. We hopped on a couple of bikes again and made our way back to the previously closed South Melbourne Market. We wandered around the many booths, grabbing a few souvenirs and finally found ourselves in the extensive fresh food market. We grabbed some dimsum and dumplings as we discussed cooking a dinner in the studio that night, and what we would choose out of the many offerings on site. We eventually settled on some lamb kabobs, giant prawns, asparagus, and entirely too many cheeses for two people.

The dinner was simple to throw together in the simple kitchen, and we used some of our hosts’ provided olive oil and spices for flavoring, paired with some of the wine picked up earlier in the trip. After so many days in a row of eating out, which we hardly ever do at home, it was quite fun and rewarding to cook a meal together with local ingredients on foreign soil, and we were so glad to have given it a try.

Prawns the size of your head!

Prawns the size of your head!

Soooo many cheeses. This was only a small fraction of them.

Soooo many cheeses. This was only a small fraction of them.

Prawns, lamp kabobs, asparagus... and wine.

Prawns, lamp kabobs, asparagus… and wine.

After dinner, we set out to catch a glimpse of one of St. Kilda’s most endearing attraction – the fairy penguins. Now, I know what you’re saying: “But Erin, you hate birds. You’re terrified of birds. You think birds are flying demons.” Yes, reader. Yes, this is all true. However, penguins — FAIRY PENGUINS — are quite different. These little guys have webbed (non-talon-like) feet, the tiniest beaks ever, and their wings do not provide looming flight. So, with all of the fear-factors removed, penguins get the unique honor of being the only bird I would consider as a friend. So, when I heard that there was a small colony of penguins that lived at the St. Kilda pier, there was no way we were going to miss it.

IMG_0355

Peekaboo — I see you!

IMG_0350

This little guy was just standing behind us, grinning away, while we all looked the other way for penguins. It’s hard not to giggle about turning around and seeing this face staring back at you.

IMG_0352

These little guys were literally just a couple feet from us.

 

 

After a while of ogling the babies that were waiting ashore for their returning parents, we decided that we didn’t need to wait another hour in the wind for the sun to set and the rest of the colony to arrive. Also, knowing my night vision (or lack thereof), I figured I wouldn’t be able to see them after dark anyway. So instead, we headed out of the crowds and back down the pier.

IMG_0359

We are not the only tourists  in search of a few little penguins

We are not the only tourists in search of a few little penguins

We decided to pop into a local icon, the Esplanade Hotel, or “the Espy.” We were able to catch a few unsigned local artists — many of which were very good — in the setting of an old, and untouched venue, where the pitchers of beer were cheap and cold. This ended up being one of our latest nights out, as we kept saying to each other — “let’s watch just one more act.”

The "Espy" during the day

The “Espy” during the day

Not the greatest shot but you get the idea of how our night looked

Not the greatest shot but you get the idea of how our night looked

The next morning, the last of full day of our trip, we set out to catch the last glimpses of the city, of course, from the seats of the Melbourne bikes. After a delicious breakfast at Il Fornaio, the restaurant across the street, we grabbed our bikes from the nearby station. We were headed back to the South Melbourne area, to a local yarn shop that had been recommended to me by another vendor I’d met at the Market. I was able to get some local merino wool yarn (I tell myself it came from all of those sheep we had passed during our drives), and a kind lady helped me choose a knitting pattern for a scarf that I could make with the yarn. Having picked up what I consider to be one of the most fun souvenirs (call me an old lady, if you will…), we headed back to the bike path and rode our way far down the city’s edge. We made it all the way to a little suburb called Brighton, with gorgeous houses looming over the water’s edge.

IMG_0366 IMG_0364

After the bike ride, Anthony retreated back to the studio for a nap, while I couldn’t resist the urge to take my nap on the sunny beach. After wandering around the neighborhood on my own for awhile, and grabbing some more sushi rolls, I settled into the sand for an hour or so of sunshine.

Kinda creepy... Apparently modeled after Coney Island and erected by the same businessmen.

Kinda creepy… Apparently modeled after Coney Island and erected by the same American businessmen.

We ended our last day with happy hour together, followed by seafood at a highly-recommended restaurant called Clay Pots. With only a limited amount of seafood listed on their boards, based on the local catches, we knew we needed to be there early to get the tastiest pick. We got a couple seats in their beautiful garden area, and enjoyed a dinner of garlic chili prawns (the sauce was the stuff of dreams… I still haven’t been able to enjoy a piece of bread not sopped with the buttery goodness), blue crab, mussels and veggies.

IMG_0374

Clay Pots restaurant

Clay Pots restaurant

The next morning, we headed to the airport and said our goodbyes to Australia. Of course we enjoyed the trip immensely, but after a couple weeks abroad, it’s amazing how excited you are to see your home, your bed, and most importantly your pets! We were lucky to have some great friends watching Gizmo and Olive, and sending us occasional emails to let us know how well they were doing. But all the same, getting home after the 30+ hours of travel from door to door, and snuggling with our fur-babies, helped ease the pain of the end of vacation.

So that concludes our dream trip across the world! It’s difficult to sum it all up in just words and pictures, because the feelings and fun we had during the trip cannot be described. We always return from foreign travel with a different perspective and slightly larger worldview, and this trip was no different. However, it did all feel strangely American, with a few distinct differences. For that reason, it never felt like we were that far from home, and yet we were nearly as far away from it as physically possible. Regardless, as usual, we returned home with our travel bug not eliminated, but only fed and hungry for more. Needless to say, we are already dreaming of our next trip.

IMG_0361

Advertisements

Australia Part Three: The Great Ocean Road

We had always dreamed about Australia, but it was such a far-off, mystical land to us that I had no idea where we would start exploring it. When Anthony brought up the idea of area Victoria/Melbourne (mainly for its temperate climate, to start), I started looking into the area. The first thing I came across, was a set of spectacular images from the Great Ocean Road, and it became my obsession throughout the planning of our trip. Finally, the day had come for us to see it for ourselves. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.

Our eventual destination was to be Apollo Bay, where we had Air BnB reservations for the following night. Somehow, with the difference in our (American time) Google calendar, we had failed to account for all our days and our first day on the Road was our “lost day.” We decided to hit the road anyway, take our time as we checked out all the sights, and hopefully stumble upon somewhere to stay.

We left charming Warburton after another stop at the café we had so enjoyed the day before for brekkie, and made our way to the coast. After meandering back through Melbourne, we finally hit open highway and it wasn’t long until we started seeing signs for the coastal towns. Before we knew it, we were in the little surf town of Torquay, where we got our first glimpse of the ocean via Bells’ Beach.

Of course, I had to hike up my skirt to go dip my toes in the water, which was warmer than I expected, this far south and with Antarctic waters flowing relatively nearby. Sure enough, there were plenty of surfers and beach bums and kids floating around in the waves, enjoying the sunny day.

Our first view of the ocean at Bells Beach, Torquay

Our first view of the ocean at Bells Beach, Torquay

Bells Beach, Torquay

Bells Beach, Torquay

We did a little wandering through the shops and grabbed lunch before we were on our way, ready to really get a taste of this scenic road trip. After heading out of Torquay (pronounced “tor-KAY”), the coast line did open up and we were treated to a blue sky day that only magnified the turquoise water crashing against the cliffs of the coast. Anthony and I had done a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway in California a few years ago, and we had been expecting something similar with the GOR. I would say there are definitely some similarities between the two coastal highways, which are both so beautiful, but the GOR is unique in its massive rock outcroppings and incredibly jagged coastline. Plus, the blue of the water in Australia (for which the photos don’t even do adequate justice), was like nothing I’d ever seen before.

And now, I will give you a photo dump of some of the views we got along the way. Forgive the repetitive nature of the images — every time we turned a corner the views took my breath away and I couldn’t help but snap dozens of photos. I had a hard time choosing some to post here, and now that I look at them they all look very similar, but just indulge me. 🙂

IMG_0244 IMG_0255 IMG_0263 IMG_0300 IMG_0298

IMG_0247

Our friend at the winery the day before had offered us some advice to stay in Lorne, about a quarter way along the road, so we stopped in this charming surf town to check it out. We quickly learned that there were many “Schoolies” visiting — similar to American “spring break”, college and high school kids in Australia take some time off to celebrate finals on the beach in December. We didn’t find it to be the typical “Girls Gone Wild” atmosphere typical with many American spring break destinations, but more of a chill celebratory atmosphere (at least where we observed).

We traveled through some of the shops in Lorne, until we got to a resort at the end of the main drag. We stopped in to check for vacancy, and learned that this higher end hotel did not accept the Schoolies and therefore had a few rooms left. They gave us our keys to a “very nice room” and we headed up to check it out. We were shocked at the massive size of this suite, and wished we had some friends nearby who could come and help us enjoy it! But, we did just fine with a glass of wine on our balcony, taking in the ocean views, and finally heading out to dinner on the beach. We enjoyed some calamari and chili prawn risotto as we took in a warm sunset over the pier, and then headed back to our large, unexpected suite to tuck in for the night.

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

IMG_0269 IMG_0267

The next morning, I awoke early to go for a run along the beach, commencing on the pier to take in a different view of Lorne. On my way back, I grabbed us some coffee and croissants from a café and we threw on our swimsuits for some morning time at the beach. Anthony went for a walk to collect some shells, while I watched the surfers battling the waves, my interests piqued. I ended up finding a place to rent me a board and wetsuit cheaply, while there was no one around to serve us an instructor. With a few tips from the guy at the surf shop, as well as the small amount I could remember from the surf lessons during our honeymoon in Mexico 6 years ago, I was determined to give it a try. Anthony, not wanting to risk another knee injury, was content to watch me from the beach and provide encouragement and photography.

some of the shells Anthony collected on the beach

some of the shells Anthony collected on the beach

Trying my best to look like a surfer girl

Trying my best to look like a surfer girl

You will not see any photos of my actually “surfing” — as my time actually standing was miniscule and I wouldn’t say I really “rode” any waves (unless you count sitting on the board and bobbing up and over the surf). The waves were larger than those in Sayulita, and without anyone telling me what to do I spent more time underwater than over it. Despite my failings, however, it was a blast. At one point, I was sitting on the board, waiting for a suitable wave, and looked around me in awe. I am in Australia, I thought. On a surfboard. Enjoying the trip I’ve always dreamed of. It was perfect, indeed.

IMG_0287

Almost up!

Almost up!

Wave-beaten but happy

Wave-beaten but happy

After I had had my fill of the waves, I cleaned up and we grabbed some fish and chips before hitting the road again. We continued up the road, seeing more little towns and gorgeous coastal imagery, and hit our destination of Apollo Bay before we knew it. There was more of the road past this town, so we decided to keep driving and see it all before checking in to that night’s accommodations. As we passed through the town, Anthony remarked that we should probably have stopped for gas there, but I assured him that there “had to be” another town coming up where we could fill the dwindling tank. More on that later…

Soon after, we entered into the Great Otway National Park, where we saw some very interesting flora and fauna, as well as our first glimpse at those cute little koalas in the wild. Knowing that this was the place to spot them, my eyes were pealed, and I managed to glimpse about a dozen different little guys in the crazy-looking trees. For Anthony’s sake, I only made him stop the car once for photos. We also saw a wombat on the side of the road, which was almost as exciting as the koalas.

IMG_0306 IMG_0307

At this point, after this little diversion from the road, we were running pretty low on fuel. The gar said we had about 60 km left before empty, and there were signs saying that the next town with fuel was about 30km away. No problem.

The problem arose when we entered this much-heralded town, pulled up to the only gas station in town, which boasted two old pumps that looked straight out of the 50’s. We examined the pumps, only to find a couple of faded, handwritten signs taped on them stating that they had no fuel and the closest was in 50 km in either direction. Enter: a little panic.

The little signs were not specific as to where the gas stations were, so we decided to rely on Jules and her navigation to save us. We typed it in and were routed to a station in a town called Simpson, supposedly 27km away. We crossed our fingers that Jules knew what she was doing, and headed off on the route. Almost immediately, the route became a dicey, one-lane backroad through the forest, but which was thankfully mostly downhill. Anthony took it very slowly (accelerating very judiciously, to save gas), and the 27km took almost an hour to cover in these completely abandoned backroads. Our nerves were on edge, we drove in silence, but hoping that Jules was not steering us astray. With no signs of life, it was difficult to hold on hope to the fact that there would be a gas station buried deep within this wilderness, and I had no service on my phone to confirm her directions.

In the midst of our nerve-wracked journey, however, we did get a glimpse of the only kangaroo we’d see in the wild during our whole trip — a little joey of a ‘roo who hopped out in front of our slow-moving vehicle, and then quickly hopped away back into the bush. A bit of happy excitement among our anxious nerves.

When we finally made it into the ghostly town of Simpson, with about 10km worth of gas left Jules joyously announced, “Your destination is on the left.” We looked left, where an old abandoned factory stood. We looked further down the road and saw fields of crops and nothing to the right. More panic. Jules had lied to us.

We found a little stand advertising Coca-Cola, where we quickly pulled up and shouted at someone “Do you know where we can get some Petrol?” Fortunately, the friendly man pointed us down the road “about 2 kilometers down” to a gas station, which thankfully truly did exist, and we were finally able to breathe again as we rolled into the station on the last dregs of our initial fill-up.

So, with that little “adventure” behind us, we made our way back to the GOR to once again revel in the sights. We quickly came up on a couple of the icons of this area, the 12 Apostles and Loc Ard Gorge (which has an interesting shipwreck story). Both are filled with tourists, but for good reason as the views are absolutely incredible. I will let the images speak for themselves.

IMG_0310

Loc Ard Gorge

 

Loc Ard Gorge

Loc Ard Gorge

IMG_0320

Loc Ard Gorge

IMG_0315

Loc Ard Gorge

IMG_0311

Loc Ard Gorge

 

I got a kick out of these signs on a tourist bridge -- be sure to leave your cat in the car for this hike.

I got a kick out of these signs on a tourist bridge — be sure to leave your cat in the car for this hike.

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

After we had finished our drive down the GOR, we made our way back, enjoying the return trip a little easier without the imminent threat of a breakdown. We enjoyed the rolling green hills that covered the landscape less than a kilometer inland, and dotted with grazing sheep and cattle.

IMG_0336 IMG_0304

When we returned to Apollo Bay, we checked into our accommodations, a lovely place in town called the “Captains Quarters.” A two story cottage that we had all to ourselves,attached to a large home, it was an adorable place to stay along the ocean. We got cleaned up and then went into town for dinner, in search of seafood and/or local fare. We found both at a nice little restaurant where I enjoyed a tasmanian hapuka fish filet and Anthony indulged in seared kangaroo. Both were absolutely delicious. After dinner, we returned to the Captains’ Quarters and settled in, still awe-struck by the sights we had seen.

Captains Quarters in Apollo Bay

Captains Quarters in Apollo Bay

Next up, we’d return to Melbourne and wrap up our trip in the beachy suburb of St. Kilda. Stay tuned!

Australia, Part Two: Yarra Valley

After spending a few days getting comfortable with our bearings in the city, we were excited to get completely out of our comfort zone and head out into rural Australia. We picked up a rental car and we were on our way! Anthony had done his research on some of the driving rules unique to Australia and Melbourne (including the dreaded “hook turn“), and I was more than happy to let him have full control of the wheel while I fiddled with the navigation. We got a kick out of the voice guidance, which of course featured a woman with an aussie accent, who we quickly named Jules — I don’t really know how the name came about, but it seemed like an appropriate Australian name.

Urban traffic is a crash course on down-under driving!

Urban traffic is a crash course on down-under driving!

After heading out of the city, we came to some generic suburbs followed by idyllic country roads framed by hillside vineyards and sheep pastures.

IMG_0144 IMG_0147Our final destination would be a little town called Warburton, but on our way there, we planned to make a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary to get up close and personal with some of the native wildlife. While I, for one, could hardly stand the anticipation to see get my first Australian encounter with a koala, we did need sustenance, so we stopped for lunch at a cute little café in Healesville. It was called the Sweet Olive, which made it an irresistible choice as we thought of our pup back home, as well as a tasty one as I enjoyed fresh spring rolls and Anthony had a chorizo sandwich.

We couldn't resist the cute soda bottles, which we brought home with us as souvenirs and are currently holding flowers on our kitchen table.

We couldn’t resist the cute soda bottles, which we brought home with us as souvenirs and are currently holding flowers on our kitchen table.

After lunch, we excitedly made our way out to the sanctuary, and the visit did not disappoint. While I was not able to fulfill my short-term dream of holding a koala (apparently it’s illegal in the state of Victoria), we were able to get very close to them. We happened to walk into the koala area just as the little guys were waking up for lunch time, so we were fortunate enough to see them during one of their rare active periods. One of the males even bellowed out his mating call to the ladies — a strange and unexpectedly loud sort of snorting.

Looks like a stressful life

Looks like a stressful life

This was Prickles, pacing around her pen as the handlers made their way over with eucalyptus branches for her lunch

This was Prickles, pacing around her pen as the handlers made their way over with eucalyptus branches for her lunch

Just chillin' in a tree

Just chillin’ in a tree

I probably could have watched the koalas, with their cute little smiles and relaxed movements, all day, but there were other animals to see throughout the sanctuary. We don’t exactly make it a habit to visit zoos during our travels, but this unique place was well worth our attention. The setup allowed for very close, but safe, encounters with the animals, and it felt much more natural than a traditional zoo with cages, bars, concrete barriers, etc. The surroundings felt natural and it almost felt like spotting these native animals out in the woods, and we were even able to enter the habitats of some of the creatures (including the kangaroos and wallabies) without any barriers. We learned a lot about the various species unique to Australia, and saw a wide variety, including kangaroos (of course), wombats, dingos, wallabies, tasmanian devils, platypus (platypi?), emus (terrifying) and various snakes and lizards.

tasmanian devil

tasmanian devil

wallabies

wallabies (who are apparently friends with ducks?)

kangaroos

kangaroos

After spending a few hours out in the sanctuary, we finally set out to Warburton (pronounced locally as “WAH-buh-den”), where we had arranged for a place to stay through Air BNB. We typed in the address to Jules, who routed us to a road that seemed a bit off the beaten path. When the pavement ended and we climbed up and up through the ferny forest, without seeing another vehicle for kilometers, we wondered where Jules was taking us, but all the while enjoyed taking in the amazing scenery this trailblazing provided.

IMG_0172 IMG_0175

When we finally started descending and we crossed onto paved road once again, we found ourselves right on the outskirts of the little town of Warburton. As we went past the main street shops and marveled at the valley views, we decided to hold off on checking in to see what was further down the road, which was dotted with little towns sitting on the banks of the Yarra River. We ended up going through a few other similar towns and stopped in a little place called Yarra Junction to grab a small pizza and little bottle of wine to have a picnic in a riverside town park.

After we ate, we headed back to Warburton to check into our room, which was a small cabin on the back of a house in a neighborhood set up on a hill overlooking the river. It was a beautiful setting, and our host provided lovely hospitality including freshly-collected spring water and some recommendations for nearby attractions.

Our lodging in Warburton

Our lodging in Warburton

After settling in, we took one of our host’s suggestions and grabbed a terrace table at a café, overlooking the river, where we had “second dinner” of a calamari and a charcuterie board and a couple drinks. While we were there, we were treated to an unnerving chorus of screeching birds overhead — sounding like they were either in severe pain or were just angry at the world. Constantly. We inquired about the birds to our waitress, who thought a moment and then said, “Ah, yes. The cockatoos. Ornery little buggers…” In addition to the cockatoos, we also frequently heard the infamous laugh of the kookaburra, which had me humming the old childrens’ tune often. For a bird-averse lady like myself, the incredibly loud birds of tropical Australia took quite a bit of getting used to, and I can’t say it was one of the more pleasant aspects of the trip!

Vacation food at its finest

Vacation food at its finest

The next day, after a delicious “brekkie” (Australian slang for breakfast) at a local café, we donned our hiking clothes and set out to explore the “bush.” Our host had recommended seeking out a grove of redwood trees that she said had been planted in by a group of Seventh Day Adventists years before. The meticulous planting of the trees in rows creates a stunning sort of sanctuary in the middle of the surrounding fern gully.

IMG_0189 IMG_0193Next, we drove up to a “rainforest gallery” that we had passed on that meandering drive in, and this time stopped to venture out into the foliage. It was a strangely quiet and peaceful area, with some of the most vibrant green hues I’ve ever seen, illuminated by the wash of sunlight through the canopy. With only a handful of other people wandering about, we all seemed to feel like we should talk quietly and move carefully in this serene space.

IMG_0204After this little taste of the rainforest, we decided to really get our shoes dirty on an actual hike, and chose one that was recommended to us by our host. The destination was La La Falls, with about a 3 km hike in, with only mild but constant ascent. On this hot and muggy day, the cool falls were a welcome sight when we arrived, sweaty, and we were glad to head back to our room for a shower afterwards.

IMG_0208

La La Falls

La La Falls

IMG_0217After getting cleaned up, we rewarded ourselves for our active morning by heading out to experience some of the libations that characterize the Yarra Valley — ciders and wines.

Since we were a little late in the day (most of the wineries close at 5 or 6), we only had time to hit two places, so we stopped at a brewery first where we enjoyed a couple ciders and beer samplers along with a cheese platter, as a local guitarist played an acoustic set for the afternoon crowd.

Coldstream Brewery

Coldstream Brewery

We then hurried off to the closest winery before they would be shutting down, and were lucky to find a friendly vintner who was happy to spend a few extra minutes with us. He poured us (mostly me…) samples of his favorite wines as he gave us advice on how to spend our remaining time in Australia. A former tour guide, he gave us some invaluable recommendations for our time on the Great Ocean Road, which would begin the following day. We got some time with the playful resident dog and the chance to soak in some sweeping views of the property, and I picked out a couple of my favorite bottles to consume later in the trip.

photo 2

IMG_0226

We ended the night back in Warburton, where we shared a delicious plate of fried chicken at a restaurant, as we plotted out the next (and most anticipated) part of our trip: the Great Ocean Road.

 

 

Australia, Part One: Melbourne CBD

The morning of our departure, I awoke to Anthony blasting the house with the classic Men at Work song, “I Come from a Land Down Under” while he made coffee. I had to giggle, assuming that song must be a huge cliché in the actual “down under”, but giddy with the thought that we were actually headed for that magical land.

I’ll save you the grisly details of our journey to the other side of the world, save a couple thoughts.

1.) LAX airport sucks. Period. We knew this before, but confirmed it on this trip.

2.) We were lucky enough to upgrade to premium economy on our international flight — while not first class by any means (I have no idea who can afford those tickets…), this slight upgrade made the 15-hour trip infinitely more comfortable. We were on the second level of the plane, with two seats to ourselves, and only about 20 other people in our little section. Direct access to our own bathroom, easy to walk around, and quick service of snacks from the flight attendants. We ended up reading and watching a few movies before attempting a few hours of shuteye.

We landed in Melbourne on Monday morning, Australia-time, and decided to take all of the advice we’d received from fellow travelers to “hit the ground running.” After taking a cab to our hotel and getting early check-in, and a couple quick showers, we headed out on the town armed with a few recommendations and a little adrenaline to start exploring this place we’d been waiting to see for so long.

First off, we needed to eat. We headed down one of Melbourne’s famous “laneways” — narrow alleys between buildings that have been converted to chic strips of cafés, bars and boutiques. We settled in to one such café, under the cover of an awning while a rainstorm rolled in.

IMG_0052

Hardware Lane

IMG_0050

Only slightly delirious from jet lag

After refueling, we walked a few more laneways in Melbourne’s “CBD” (Central Business District) and joined the tourists to check out the main shopping center and iconic sights, along with some of the street art that is embraced by Melbourne.

Another busy laneway

Another busy laneway

Chinatown

Chinatown

IMG_0065

As you can tell from the pictures, our first day in Melbourne was pretty drizzly, but (spoiler alert) thankfully it would not last past day 1 and we were treated with nearly perfect weather the rest of the trip. However, on this day, with the combination of our exhaustion and the threatening skies, we didn’t do a whole lot more exploring. Eventually, we found ourselves in a cozy little bar overlooking one of the laneways, where we enjoyed a few beers while plotting out some ideas for the next few days.

IMG_0071

photo 1

After the beers, we picked up some delicious hand-rolled sushi (one of the only foods we found to be less expensive — and better — than in America) and headed back to the hotel where we crashed early.

The next morning, we arose bright and early — which apparently became a habit throughout this trip. Normally two heavy sleepers and not morning people, we found ourselves arising with the sun most days in Australia. Probably a combination of the time difference and our excitement, I suppose.

Nevertheless, I woke with quite a bit of bottled-up energy and threw on my running shoes as I saw a much sunnier day beckoning me for a little jog. I ran down to the Yarra River, the central and dividing component to Melbourne, and got some beautiful skyline views as I gained some endorphins. Only getting slightly lost (as is my usual way to find interesting routes in new cities), I made it back to the hotel to join Anthony for breakfast.

photo 3

Yarra River on my morning run

Yarra River on my morning run

After breakfast, we set about walking again, discovering a touristy “City Circle Tram” that takes newbs like us around the main parts of Melbourne for free. While we passed a lot of the landmarks that we had walked through the previous day, we also saw a few other places and got a good sense of direction in the city. After the tram ride, we got out north of the CBD and headed to the Queen Victoria Market — a large, open air market that operates a few days a week and sells a wide variety of fruits/vegetables, meat, seafood, flea market finds — you name it. We snagged one of our best meals in Australia from a food cart selling Malaysian rice dishes and dumplings. I wish I knew what these dishes were called because we’d love to have them again…

Queen Victoria Market

Queen Victoria Market

Circle City Tram

City Circle Tram

In any case, we spent a little more time exploring the north side before once again finding ourselves in a pub (you might notice a theme here), before heading back to our hotel. That evening, we checked out a local Italian restaurant. I had been told that Melbourne prides itself on their “chicken parma” and I thought that this little Italian joint would be the best place to try it. Anthony and I still laugh about it — a thinly-pounded piece of breaded chicken with the requisite cheese and marinara, served over a bed of… french fries. While it was fried, salty cheesy goodness, I can’t say it was the “delicacy” I was expecting!

After dinner, we checked out a bit more of the CBD, and stumbled upon a crazy mall building built around an old ammunition factory. We didn’t even notice it at first until Anthony gestured to the brick tower, and we said to each other, “Is there a building in this building??”

Melbourne's Central Cone

Melbourne’s Central Cone

Melbourne's Central Cone

Melbourne’s Central Cone

I also got such a kick out of all of the Christmas decorations in this summery destination. I know that they celebrate Christmas in climates where there are palm trees and no snow, but the fact that they are just leaving their winter behind to head into the summer season, the Christmas decor just seemed a little out of place.

IMG_0087

The next day, we were excited to get up and indulge in one of our favorite activities, at home or abroad: biking. Melbourne has a bike share program similar to those we have in the States. While we found they are not as well-kept as the ones in Denver (we ran into quite a few technical glitches), they mostly worked well for us. Also, helmets are the law in Victoria — I didn’t spot one single helmet-less rider our whole time there. We complied (being the law-abiding citizens we are) and I am sure my mother will be surprised that I donned one of the helmets hanging off the public bikes (but not before carefully examining it and questioning the validity of the sticker promising a “sterile, hygienic and safe” experience). Mom, you’ll be happy to know I managed to avoid any creepy crawlies, and as an added bonus, my noggin is all intact!

photo 4

Anyway, we rode the bikes around town a bit to Fitzroy Gardens and past some of the cricket stadiums and Olympic grounds, as well as down the river to check out the ritzy “South Bank,” where Melbourne’s rich folk reside.

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens

IMG_0109

Cricket Stadium

After our morning of bike-riding, we enjoyed a quick meal from a turkish place (once again I have no idea what the sandwich-like thing was that we had), followed up later by, you guessed it: time in a local pub. Here, we rested our weary selves for a bit before indulging in some of the local favorite dish of fish and chips.

The next morning, we headed down south of the river to explore the other side of the city, where we had our eyes set on a walking tour laid out in one of our travel books. The tour was to start at the South Melbourne Market, said to be even more robust and appealing than the Queen Victoria Market we had visited before. To our dismay, we showed up on a day that the market was closed, but we checked out some of the nearby boutique shops (shopping is shopping, after all) before getting on with the tour. The walk brought us past some lovely old Victorian homes and mansions, as well as an ornate garden/park.

A mandatory shot of York Street with the Drop Bear Inn looming in the background, an homage to the local lingo for koalas

A mandatory shot of York Street with the Drop Bear Inn looming in the background, an homage to the local lingo for koalas

Somewhat disappointed the market is closed, but completely serene in vacation bliss

Somewhat disappointed the market is closed, but completely serene in vacation bliss

IMG_0114

Our walking tour concluded with our first view of the water — a windy but blue-sky view of the beach of Port Phillip. I think we were both expecting a boardwalk-style atmosphere along the beach, but it was mostly quiet and residential, so we headed back inland for a lunch of café burgers and ice cream.

IMG_0124 IMG_0120

IMG_0122

We hopped on some of the unmissable blue bikes again to head back up to the CBD, where we revisited some of the local sites with a sunnier backdrop.

IMG_0132 IMG_0133

We also made a lap around a large pond at the centrally-located Albert Park. It made for some stunning images of the skyline, despite the threat of hundreds of huge black swans floating on the water.

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

To round out our time in the CBD, we stopped by another laneway joint to enjoy a variety of appetizers (chicken satay, spring rolls and something else that I can’t remember) while we excitedly discussed our escape from the city to come the next day.

Think that’s quite a lot to digest for now. Up next: heading to wine valley, the bush, and our first koala sightings!

Return from OZ

Since virtually the beginning of our relationship, Anthony and I have always dreamed of a trip to Australia. After years of planning and saving, that dream came true! We returned home from our two-week trip on Friday, and while we spent the weekend unpacking, unwinding and recuperating from the jet lag, I can’t wait to get all of the details down while it’s still fresh in my memory. During our last long, international trip to Europe, I was much better at keeping a journal of all of our adventures and encounters, detailing our thoughts and feelings along the way. As we were packing for Australia, we came across that old journal and it was such fun to relive those moments that may have otherwise been forgotten. This time, I will admit that my travel journal was much more neglected as I could barely find the time to take everything in, and the most documentation I managed was a few bullet points per day.

So, I’m hoping to spend some time in the next couple weeks to document as well as I can through photos and stories on this blog, so that we’ll at least have some kind of record to look back on in years to come. A lot was seen and experienced, so I’ll probably break it down into a few different posts. For now, however, I couldn’t wait to share a few highlight photos:

Melbourne skyline

Melbourne skyline

Our little koala friend, Prickles

Our little koala friend, Prickles

Yarra Valley wine country

Yarra Valley wine country

La La Falls

La La Falls

Anthony, lookin' cool as a cucumber driving on the left side of the road

Anthony, lookin’ cool as a cucumber driving on the left side of the road

Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road

Attempting a little surfing

Attempting a little surfing

Loch Ard Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge

One of the 12 Apostles

One of the 12 Apostles

Bike riding in the south Melbourne suburbs

Bike riding in the south Melbourne suburbs

Sunset over St. Kilda Pier

Sunset over St. Kilda Pier