Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Down Under!

we touched down in Melbourne on 27 March, Easter and T's 65th birthday. Pumped!

Within two hours of landing, a second cousin of T's, whom he'd never met, arrived at our hotel, and she and her husband whisked us off to show us the town.  First stop, their charming home for a "simple" lunch that, to us, was very special indeed:  lovely cheeses, smoked salmon, avocados, great bread,  washed down with Australian red wine--every item a treat for us Penangites.    Then they drove us around Melbourne, through downtown, around the Australian Grand Prix track (--the many viewing stands were still up), and past museums and other buildings they thought we might like to explore on our own the next day.

Indeed, the next day we took the tram to downtown, and started with the Art Museum, which we thought we would just have quick look at.  T's cousin had told us of the stained glass ceiling in the back that sounded like worth a look.  Two + hours later we exited....  Here is the ceiling, and T getting a good look

Many cool things to see

We paused to watch and listen to a pond full of ceramic ware floating along, making chime-like sounds as they bumped into each other 
While Tom went in to to see Whistler's Mother, K  spent ages watching a video of two people placing rubber band after rubber band around a watermelon.  Yes, she did get the satisfaction of watching it burst.  Art!

On to downtown proper, across the Yarra River
and the cricket stadium
Trams are free in the CBD (= central business district)
Melbourne mixes charming old (late 1800s - 1920s) buildings with interesting tall new structures, really well.  Odd bits of art are seen here and there, even along the highways.  We found many other reasons to love the place. Sensible public transit.  A vibrant downtown, with many small shops that are open and full of customers.  How is this possible?  A thriving middle class, thanks to a livable minimum wage.  What a concept.  We heard of a cleaner earning US$19 an hour.  You don't routinely tip in restaurants because WAITERS EARN ENOUGH TO LIVE ON.  

Without having a clue what it meant, we had booked an Art Series hotel, the Blackman.  Great reviews, and we will certainly be adding ours to that.  It was very convenient, for one thing, just a few tram stops from the CBD. Super comfortable--studios complete with dishwasher (a real novelty for us) and a small balcony. Classy--stuffed with the art of Charles Blackman.  And outstanding customer service--they gave us a bottle of prosecco with an ice bucket for T's birthday. Here is T in the hallway, and a rack of art publications in our room.

On the advice of T's cousin we visited the Melbourne State Library, a gorgeous old building. Up on the fourth floor T runs into students from Uplands! What good students, in the library!
There is a university nearby, and many of their students using the library.

We learn that Ned Kelly's armor is here and have to have a look.  A legendary outlaw in the 1870s, he and his gang robbed a lot of banks before all were killed by police save Ned, whose homemade armor apparently offered some immediate protection.  He was arrested and hung in the Melbourne Gaol in 1880.
Here is a famous Melbourne's landmark, Flinders St. train station.
Every town needs a Lolly shop, no? And a discount one, all the better.

Downtown Melbourne has several historic malls, called arcades.  we stopped for drinking chocolate in this one. Oh yes.
We hopped a tram to the once seedy beach town of St. Kilda. 
We walked out to the end of the long pier and were rewarded by finding two of the 1,000 little penguins said to live there.  It was quite windy and they were snuggled in between some rocks.

View of Melbourne from St. Kilda

The next day we picked up a car and headed south to the Great Ocean Road.  A good and fitting name. The first town one passes through is Torquay, surfing capital and birthplace of both Quicksilver and Ripcurl brands,

Along the way a slight detour inland to the Kennet River, to see if we could spot some koalas. Scanning the trees as we drove yielded nothing, but when we pulled over so T could find a bush, after some moments he spotted this guy right in front.
and this one. 

Back to the Great Ocean road, time for lunch!  Our first Aussie fish and chips, right by the sea. Perfect!

this fish is Blue Grenadier
The Great Ocean Road is 250 kilometers (155 miles) of national heritage two lane highway along the southern coast of Victoria--that's southeast Australia. Built by soldiers returned from World War I. A major tourist attraction, understandably.

Roughly halfway along are the "12 Apostles," limestone stacks that actually number only 9. One apostle:

Two apostles

Such different trees!  We have no idea what any of them are. One type is reminiscent of Lebanese cedars.

We stopped for the night in Warrnambool, a pleasant small town not far from the end of the road, to to speak. We stayed in the Hotel Warrnambool, very conveniently situated above a really nice pub.

The next day we turned north, heading for Grampians National Park.  New road signs appear:
Unfortunately the first one we see is dead, by the roadside. Three of those before we reach our destination.

Our first glimpse of the Grampians mountains
and nearer
And a live one--don't hit him/her!

Or else? 
We reach Halls Gap, where we spend two nights.  Our motel backs up to a large field full of...kangaroos!

and cockatoos!  The fence divides our small terrace and the field.
The kangaroos raised suddenly in alert mode, then moved quickly off to one side. Off in the distance we spotted the reason: an emu.  
We did several short hikes to various viewpoints in the park.

Well, some of us find this interesting--kangaroo poo:

Much of the area had suffered forest fires. Fascinating how the vegetation works with local conditions: the very cool looking plant (with cool looking homo sapien, below) called kangaroo tail only germinates after being burned.  Apparently they can live up to 600 years!

Above, the burned stump of a kangaroo tail. Presumably it will sprout.

One hike was to a waterfall, that in this dry season had little water but was still beautiful.

We left the Grampians to head for the small town of Kaniva, to meet another of Tom's second cousins. Kaniva is, well, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide on the well traveled Western Highway.  Kaniva has a strong community, which really makes the place stand out,  Apparently the Garden Club waged a beautification campaign that eventually won everyone over.  There are trees and green spaces that might not have been, and bits of art. Evidence of a sheep painting contest are dotted about the town.

When an oil company announced that it would be closing the
 only gas station in town (leaving the nearest station 38 km/23 miles away), locals came up with a plan to buy and operate it--people bought shares in the venture and it is now a thriving community fixture.  We had breakfast inside and were happy to pay 3 cents more a liter for gas at this community-run station. The train station was not so lucky. For the station to remain open, not only to passengers but to freight cars transporting harvested grains, trains a minimum of 25 carriages long are needed, more than Kaniva can produce.
T's cousin Barry gave us a great tour of both Kaniva and the homestead where T's grandfather lived.  We saw a sheep-shearing shed and learned of the many different crops that large farms in Australia grow, in rotation and depending on the amount of rainfall.  Canola and lentils are two, as well as clover, which brings nitrogen back into the soil and provides feed for the sheep.  Australia is also the second largest producer of almonds after California.  Barry alluded to how much of a challenge farming is.  He showed us an area where someone from Qatar (or maybe the government) had just purchased 120,000 acres.

Barry showed us the church where their family had gone for generations, and where T's grandfather once preached (in an earlier building).
With great thanks to second cousin #2, we moved on the Adelaide.   Along the way, K made T stop to enshrine on this document for all to see, the Giant Koala
we didn't get out of the car.

Adelaide has a different vibe than Melbourne.  It shares wonderful features like free downtown transport and many green spaces, but doesn't have the artsy vibe of Melbourne.  The new and old are not blended so well, and the new just isn't as appealing.  Adelaide does have FREE WIFI downtown though, which is amazing.
We went to the South Australia Museum for a little culture. Your author felt compelled to take the following two shots:

both stuffed 

Besides shopping and culture, we made time for a tour of Haigh's Chocolates.  Super yummy, and also a class act of a company. Haigh's is family owned, with well-treated workers and a commitment to the environment. We visited just after Easter (sale--yay!).  The company does not make Easter bunnies, as rabbits are a real scourge in  Australia,  Instead they make bilbys, which look quite a bit like rabbits but for the pointed nose. They also make chocolate frogs, to bring awareness to an endangered frog species.
Our last night was spent in Glenelg, a suburb of Adelaide and location of  Holdfast Bay, which was surveyed in 1838 by Col. William Light who is also famous in Penang. 
At the Glenelg Museum there is a fun old-fashioned arcade

Glenelg marina--had our last dinner in Australia here

Absolutely no idea what this is good for.
Bye Down Under!