Monday, August 23, 2010

Melbourne and Australia\Travel Thoughts

I'm writing tonight's blog entry even though I actually haven't posted the entry for Adelaide and Kangaroo Island. If I finish this entry then I'll probably post both of them one right after the other. As I begin this entry I am in our room at the Claremont Guesthouse in Melbourne where we will stay for four nights. In this post I'll highlight some of our activities in Melbourne and then summarize some of my thoughts on Australia and our trip so far because on Tuesday we'll leave Australia and travel to New Zealand.

Melbourne has a reputation from various travel resources as resembling Europe more than other cities in Australia. I would have to agree with that assessment somewhat. It has a more development public transportation infrastructure, cafes, sporting venues, and other European type of amenities that give it a Europe type feel. Now on to what we did while in Melbourne.

Despite the fact that at one time our train was almost a hour behind schedule we arrived into Melbourne Friday evening (the 20th) only a few minutes late. The train engineer made up some serious time on the 2nd half of the trip. We departed our train and made our way through the enormous Southern Cross Train Station over to the Metro Trains. There we purchased a couple tickers which at $3.70 per person for a one way trip were 25% or so cheaper than Sydney train tickets. We then took a train about 5 stops to the South Yarra section of Melbourne. We checked in to our guesthouse which is pretty much just a fancy name for a hostel. They do have apartments but they are across the street. We then settled into our room and had the goal of taking showers before going to bed. The problem is that the bathroom\showers had very little to no working hot water. We had to try at least 4 different ones before finding a couple working showers. We also had an issue with a window next to our room that was jarred completely open and since it was about 45 degrees Fahrenheit it was making the floor and our room cool. It turns out that they had painted recently and the window had been painted open. By the second night the hotel staff had jarred it loose which made the hall and our room a whole lot more comfortable. Showers continued to be somewhat of an issue but we eventually found ones with good enough working hot water to take showers each night.

On Saturday we took advantage of a somewhat cheap all day train pass and toured the downtown area. We mixed that in with taking the free tourist tram which makes a loop of the downtown or central business district area. We strolled through some of their arcades, saw an old Anglican church, & went through Chinatown before heading back on the train to our hostel. We stopped in for a bit an did a load of laundry before venturing out for our Melbourne cultural experience. Our cultural experience was an AFL or Aussie Rules Football match at the MCG. The MCG is the Melbourne Cricket Club which is what we were told is the Yankee Stadium of the AFL and Cricket for Australia. The MCG was only one train stop from our hostel which made it convenient. We purchased two general admission tickets for a total of a little over $42 AUD. It turns out that virtually all tickets are general admission and you just sit where ever you like except for in the center parts which are reserved for the members of the Melbourne Cricket Club. The match itself was pretty neat although I still don't have much a clue as to what was going on. All I know is that a goal is 6 points for kicking it through the center goal posts and 1 point for kicking it through the sides. Some of the other odd aspects is that the coaches run on and off the field coaching their players and trainers are out on the field while play is going on. The match we saw involved the local team of Collingwood and Adelaide. Adelaide is not that good supposedly but almost won the match. Collingwood ended up winning by the final score of 53-51. I'm still as confused as before the match but I'm glad we went. One other note to mention is at the beginning of the match they displayed the betting odds on the large jumbotron screen. They also updated them after each quarter and you could call in and place a bet as the match was in progress. The team that lost was a 13 to 1 underdog but was ahead in each of the first three quarters. After each quarter the odds kept dropping. I wonder if some of the players called in bets between quarters (just kidding).

On Sunday we did a lot of strolling around. The weather was better. It was a few degrees warmer and sunnier. We walked around the Botanic Gardens for a couple hours. I thought Melbourne's were larger and prettier than Sydney's. We then took a tram over to the Victorian Market where we ate lunch. This market had some fresh fruits, meat, and seafood but unlike Adelaide it has several sheds or long large rows with merchandise for sale. It was easily as big as a Super Walmart. After the market we actually stopped and got our first haircuts. Men's haircuts were $9.95 and women's were $14.50. I probably could have gone another week or even two but we figured we get our haircut before going to New Zealand and these were the cheapest prices we saw in Australia. Most places were around $17 to $25 for a men's haircut from what I saw. It is actually the first time I have had a haircut outside of the US. We then walked over to the Melbourne State Library. They had some interesting exhibits including some old books. One book dated from 2,050 BC from Iraq and there was also a 13th century bible in Latin from southern England. We also noticed at the library that they had free internet access both for wired and wireless and you didn't have to be a member. We stopped for about 30 minutes and caught up on email. You had to reserve a computer at a central terminal but it assigned you a specific computer. The system made me enter a name for my reservation so I chose the name of Peyton Manning which probably doesn't mean as much around these parts.

Monday was a down day. We trained back into the city and spent most of the day at the library with free high speed internet access. We are traveling pretty light and didn't bring any guide books with us. Alethea did check out some from the Nashville library and scan in several pages from various countries but that can only help so much. We researched how to get to the airport in Melbourne and how to get to our hostel in Auckland tomorrow. We also researched things to do in New Zealand. We'll be renting a car and driving from Auckland on the north island down to the southern island. Two weeks later (and a day) we end up in Christchurch where we will then fly to Seoul, South Korea. I'm really looking forward to New Zealand even though I really don't know too much about it. I read a guide book several months ago but I've read so many since then I've about forgot what I read. I saw today where they have 4.2 million people and 40 million sheep. They actually had 60 million sheep 20 years ago. In addition to trip research we also caught up blogging, uploading pictures, and other stuff. I'm finishing up this blog from the library. This wraps it up for Melbourne unless something crazy happens. I'll now throw in some notes about Australia and the trip so far.

Australia\Travel thoughts:

I figured I would take a few minutes and list some thoughts on Australia and the trip so far. I'll start with some of the more positive aspects. Australia is an interesting place. Not quite sure how to categorize it exactly. As I mentioned in the Sydney post is reminds me mostly of Canada but there were times when I felt I was still in the US and sometimes when I felt that I was in Europe. The people are generally pretty nice and helpful. Our couch surfing went pretty well too. We ended up surfing 9 out of 24 nights with no major issues. We could have couch surfed another 3 nights in Melbourne but decided not too after having surfer for 6 nights in two locations before finishing up our Australia leg of the trip. We met some really nice people though. We've also had no other major snafus either. No flight or major hostel issues that couldn't be easily overcome (like finding hot water).

I would say I have two highlights that tie as my favorites so far. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was very neat. It would have been a little better if the weather would have cooperated but the views under water were great. The other one that tied with snorkeling was seeing all of the wildlife on Kangaroo Island. It was great to get to interact with animals you've never encountered before and may never see again. I enjoyed feeding and petting the kangaroos. I didn't know much about them before our visit. I thought there were only one type. Turns out there are over 40. They are also quite common almost like deer from what I've heard and observed. It was also interesting to be in a country when they were going through an election. Australia held it's national election while we were here. It is pretty much like US elections with both sides distorting the facts to their advantage. I do like the fact that voting is mandatory. I believe the fine is $50 for not voting. I think it should be this way in the US. I think we would get more mainstream candidates versus the extremes we get on both sides. One other very quick good thing is that we totaled up our expenses and we came in under budget. Yeah!

Now for some of the things that could have gone better. Probably the biggest disappointment was with internet access. It was either expensive, slow, or not present which wasn't expected. As I mentioned earlier we are traveling light and researching and planning as we go so lack of reliable internet access is a problem. We've adapted and have done a lot of work offline and made tasks list for when we do get back online so we stay focused. The next biggest disappointment was how expensive alcohol is here. Beer is 2 to 3 times more than beer in the US and wine is about 1 to 2 times more expensive. Also the local Australian beer doesn't have quite the flavor as good US beer does. I guess we were kind of spoiled living out in Portland for 5 months. In my opinion Portland is the best city in the US for beer. Another interesting thing that we kept noticing is that houses and hostel/hotels lack central heat. Most places have a space heater and just use more blankets. This means that places were cooler on average. Like everything else you get used to it. The last item that got my attention was how much public transportation costs. It was very expensive in Sydney, not present in Cairns, very expensive in Adelaide, and mildly expensive in Melbourne. Melbourne did have some weekend passes that were reasonable or good. On Sunday's all day passes for all zones were only $3.10 AUD. On a week day the price would have been $10.60 AUD.

No other big issues that I can think of. I think we did a pretty good job with packing the right amount of stuff and that we selected the right backpacks. We'll see how it holds up. I am doing pretty good too. I don't expect the traveling to get too rough until we hit China in October. We'll probably run into language barrier issues in South Korea and Japan but that is to be expected. Starting tomorrow for the next two weeks we'll be in New Zealand. New Zealand will be done a little bit differently than Australia. In Australia we mapped out where we wanted to go and bought intra-country flights and booked some of our hostels and made couch surfing reservations before we left the US. In New Zealand we know where we'll stay for the first two nights in Auckland but after that we are on our own and will make it up from there as we drive from north to south. I've heard many good things about New Zealand. I've heard that the scenery is beautiful. It will be a little cooler there than Australia though which is fine with us. We did just fine with our clothes in Australia dressing in layers when we needed too. It is also still off-peak for tourism so that should help with expenses. Well that is it from Australia. I'm going to take a break and then go back and edit this entry before posting. Yes, I actually do edit my posts before I post :-). I know I don't catch all of the spelling or grammar errors. I even fixe some of them after I post. Maybe I should let Alethea read these first which is one thing we don't actually do. We don't read each others blog posts before they are posted so we don't end up writing too much about the same thing unless it is a coincidence. Next post will be from somewhere in New Zealand.

Link to picture from Melbourne:

Pictures from Melbourne, Australia

(Post covered from 8/20 to 8/23 including some thoughts on Australia and the trip so far)