Best Break Ever Part 8: New Zealand real quick.

Okay, here’s the deal. As much as I’d love to tell you every detail of my five days in New Zealand, I only have three weeks left in Australia and I’m waaaay behind on blogging. So I’m just going to give you a quick highlight reel of the awesome stuff I saw and did. If you want to know more, well, as I said, I’ll be home in three weeks.

For now, I’ll only say the country is just as brilliant and green and wild and beautiful and enchanting as you’ve always imagined.

Hot Water Beach

Wherein I dipped my feet in hot water pools created by digging holes in the sandy beach, then went for a walk with a couple of Danish women from my tour group.

Gemstone Bay

I’m just going to leave these photos here for you, k?

Somewhere along the road

Pretty scenery this way. And everywhere else, too.

Buffalo Beach, Mercury Bay

Wherein I had the best fish and chips possibly ever, watched the sun set on a beautiful beach, slept in a hostel by the ocean, and watched the sun rise again the next morning.

Twin Kauri Scenic Reserve

Wherein I hugged a giant Kauri tree.

Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway

Wherein I explored an abandoned gold mine and crossed a really, really wobbly bridge.

Matamata

Wherein I pretended I’d seen more than zero “Lord of the Rings” movies and just generally had fun saying “Matamata” a lot.

Rotorua

Wherein parks are built around bubbling mud pools and steam vents come out of people’s back yards. The entire town smells like rotten eggs and I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Rotorua is home to lots Maori people, and I had a wonderful cultural experience/dinner there.

In Rotorua, I also went zorbing. My tour guide described it best when he said, “Zorbing is like your first time. It’s wet, warm, and over in 30 seconds, but you’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Waitomo

Wherein I went on a cave tour and saw a magical array of glowworms, but didn’t take photos because really there’s no point.

Lake Taupo

Wherein I watched the sun set and that’s about it, because I didn’t have time to go kayaking or skydiving.

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Best Break Ever Part 7: Glad I’m not living in Auckland

My last post left off with me preparing to catch an 11 pm flight from Cairns to Auckland, New Zealand.

When I arrived at the Cairns airport, my flight was the only one open for check-in in the international terminal. (The place isn’t exactly LAX.) Checking in took a little longer than I anticipated, because the person working the counter apparently wanted to ensure before I left for New Zealand that I wasn’t going to be deported once I got there. Before she gave me my boarding pass, she asked if I had plans for leaving New Zealand. Luckily, I had my itinerary in my bag for my flight back to Sydney a week later. When she saw that I had an American passport but was flying back to Australia, she asked me if I had a valid Australian visa. Luckily I had my visa confirmation with me as well, but really, how did she think I got into Australia in the first place? She was friendly enough, but I just wanted to get to my gate so I could sit down and think about taking a nap.

Eventually, I got my boarding pass and proceeded through security. People complain about the TSA, but Australian airport security is pretty much the same ordeal. You have to take your laptop out of your bag, and the liquids rule still applies, except here’s it’s 100 millilitres instead of 3 ounces. The main difference is in Australia, you get to keep your shoes on. They also don’t do pat-downs, as far as I know. Oh, and no one asks you for your passport. Okay, maybe it is easier in Australia.

Once I passed security, I was directed to the customs area, where I had to fill out a “departing passenger card.” The card asked for some random information about my stay and made me swear I wasn’t exporting any contraband from Australia. (This is where I’m glad I left that coral on the beach in Palm Cove.) It wasn’t a difficult process, but I don’t remember filling out anything like that when I left America. I presented the completed card to a customs officer, who put a “departing Australia” stamp on my passport.

It was sometime during this process that I realised New Zealand is, in fact, a different country. Intellectually, I knew that, but the whole customs process reminded me that I was in fact leaving the country I’d spent the last three months in. Not nearly as dramatic as leaving (for the first time) the country I’d spent the last 21 years in, but still notable.

When my flight was ready for boarding, they didn’t even bother to make a real announcement. It was the only flight leaving from that part of the terminal, so the crew pretty much just looked at all the tired people sitting near the gate and said, “Okay, y’all can get on the plane now.”

Once I got to my seat, I was delighted to find I had the entire row to myself. I guess not many people were clamouring to take a red-eye flight from Cairns to Auckland on a random Saturday. I was able to get a little rest by lying down across the three seats, but still airplanes are airplanes and I can’t sleep on airplanes.

The plane landed in Auckland at around 5:00 a.m., just in time for me to see my second sunrise of the trip. (Four-hour flight plus two-hour time difference, for those of you keeping track at home.) I proceeded through customs in a sleepless stupor, passed the giant “Kia Ora – Welcome to New Zealand” sign on the airport wall, and found a shuttle bus to take me to my hostel.

Because it was 6 a.m. when I arrived at the YHA International, I couldn’t really check in yet. The desk attendant looked about as awake as I was, but he gave me some change for the washing machines and the key to the luggage storage room. My first task was to do my laundry, since I’d only brought enough clothes for a week and they were all pretty much dirty by the time I left Melbourne. Once that task was complete, I stumbled out into the street in search of a cup of coffee. Along the way, I was surprised to find a record shop near my hostel open so early on a Sunday morning. The store reminded me of Vintage Vinyl, except it was much bigger (!) and sold music books and c*** colouring books and things as well as records and CDs.

As I wandered around downtown Auckland, I felt like I was at home–but not in a good way. The city reminded me of St. Louis. There are some nice parts, but it’s not. quite. there. The interesting things, like the record store, coffee shops, and museums, were scattered amongst vacant buildings and deserted sidewalks.

I don't know who Deloitte is, but I do know we have a building with the exact same sign in St. Louis. Point proven.

The Auckland Domain was okay, but the walk from the CBD was full of construction and concrete and not all that pleasant. In my wanderings, I came across the Auckland Institute of Technology. I remembered very briefly considering studying in Auckland this semester, and was quite glad I didn’t give that thought any serious attention.

My initial distaste for Auckland may have been caused partially by my tiredness resulting from a sleepless overnight flight. (Not that that stopped me from loving Sydney the minute I got here.) Despite the exhaustion, I decided to try to make something productive out of my day. First I went to Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was very nice. I even managed to stay awake through the 1.5-hour service.

The inside of the church. It was pretty in a clean, simple way.

Leaving the church after Mass.

The front of the church. It was pretty tiny by cathedral standards.

Then I went to the Auckland Museum, which was pretty cool. The Museum is located in the Auckland Domain, a big grassy area in the middle of the city. (Like Forest Park. Except smaller. And uglier. But the St. Louis analogies continue.) Next to the museum is the Winter Gardens, which consist of a few greenhouses full of pretty flowers and stuff.

Water lilies.

Some flowers. (Obvious caption is obvious.)

After visiting the Domain, I decided I’d had enough adventure for the day, so I got a sandwich for dinner and went back to check into my hostel and sleep. It was 6 p.m., but that was highly irrelevant.

The next day, I left Auckland on a Kiwi Experience tour. Our first stop was a lookout over the city. It was cold and rainy but the city looked slightly less lousy from the top of a very dormant volcano.

Rainbow provided for your enjoyment.

I spent a wonderful five days exploring the North Island. But at the end of the tour, I ended up–guess where–back in Auckland.

When I arrived in the city on Friday afternoon, I had the benefit of a full night’s sleep. On the other hand, it was Good Friday, which is a public holiday in New Zealand, so EVERYTHING was closed. Plus, it was raining. Feeling epically lame, I spent some time on the internet at my hostel, then ventured out for a falafel kebab, some chips, and a bottle of L&P from a shop down the street. The kebab shop was pretty crowded, because it was one of the few places open on Good Friday. Kiwis take their public holidays very seriously. I also got a chocolate chip cookie from an “American-style” cookie store. It’s funny–I don’t think of chocolate chip cookies as particularly American, and it wasn’t until this store pointed it out that I realised I hadn’t really seen them anywhere else in Australasia.

On Saturday, I decided to give Auckland one last chance, so I ventured down to the harbour. There, the St. Louis comparisions ended and the Sydney ones began. Let’s face it: Auckland just wants to be Sydney. Their Harbour Bridge looks like a smashed-down version of Sydney’s, and they have a Bridge Climb too. (To be fair, you can’t bungee jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But this is New Zealand–you can bungee jump off everything.)

Harbour Bridge fail.

I took a ferry to Davenport because, as I’ve mentioned before, ferries are awesome. Davenport is the historical area of Auckland, and there were lots of pretty buildings and parks there. I climbed to the top of the dormant volcano we drove up at the beginning of the week. I walked around with the tourists for a while, then slid down the steep grassy side and back to the bottom. That was pretty fun, even if the only other people doing it were under the age of 6.

After killing some time in Davenport, I went back to the Auckland CBD and has a delicious Chipotle-style burrito at a Mexican restaurant. Then I walked around the harbour for a while and became further convinced that Auckland is trying to be Sydney. Unfortunately for the city, it is failing. Miserably. If I had gone there first, I probably would’ve thought the trendy restaurants and fancy boats on Auckland’s harbour were pretty sweet. But because I’d lived in Sydney for three months, I was not impressed.

The harbour from the ferry.

The city from Davenport.

The city from the top of the volcano (in sunlight this time).

Then I went to church, because that’s what I do when I’m alone in a city with time to kill and no money to spend. (Actually, it was Easter Vigil, so I probably would have gone anyway.) It was a beautiful service, and it lasted until 10:30 p.m. After Mass, I said goodbye to Auckland (not entirely happily–even if it was a lousy city, few things are more enticing than a city on a Saturday night) and took a shuttle to the airport. There, I found a comfy bench and slept until it was time to check in for my 6 a.m. flight out of the New Zealand knockoff version and back to the real Sydney.


Best Break Ever Part 6: Just another day in paradise

Remember how I said two of my favourite days in Australia so far took place in Cairns? Well, you already read about the first one. This post is about the second one.

As I mentioned before, I had the privilege of spending some time in Cairns with Ariana. She spent the first two days on an overnight reef tour, but on the third day, we finally got a chance to explore together. We flipped through brochures for trains through the rainforest, ferries to deserted islands, etc. However, both of us were low on cash, and spending the day relaxing on the beach was beginning to sound better and better. With the help of the very friendly receptionist at our hostel, we found a bus that would take us to Palm Cove, a beach about an hour north of Cairns, for the very budget-friendly price of $10 per round trip ticket. We packed our sunscreen and swimsuits and prepared ourselves for some serious relaxation.

The bus ride took us into quiet neighbourhoods, along the sandy coastline, and through gently billowing fields of sugar cane. When we arrived at Palm Cove, we noticed the beach’s swimming area was enclosed by a frame of netting.

Safe beach is safe.

On most beaches in Australia, red and yellow flags indicate swimming areas that are theoretically free of dangerous things like rip currents and sharks. In this part of the country, more drastic measures are necessary because the water is apparently infested by jellyfish and crocodiles and who knows what else. That’s Australian beaches for you–they look gorgeous, but one wrong move and you’re the top headline on the Sydney Morning Herald.

Swimming in the netted area was like floating in a salty pool. It was warm, the sandy bottom was remarkably smooth, and the waves were as gentle as a lake’s. The sea salt lightly coated my lips instead of rushing into my mouth like it inevitably does at most ocean beaches. We floated in the water for a while, and I swam a few laps just because I could.

Looking down the beach.

We took a wander down the beach. The sandy was gradually replaced by dark, wet rocks. Some were made smooth by the waves. Others were bowl-shaped, collecting water in their shallow depressions.  A few crabs scuttled out from underneath them as we walked by. That was pretty cool. We walked until the rocky, sandy beach tapered off into a pointy cliff consisting of large, porous rocks.

On the way back, we saw a watercraft rental stand and abstractly considered the possibility of renting a kayak and doing something productive. Then we got ice cream cones for lunch.

We ate them while walking around the neighbourhood, which basically consists of one quiet two-lane street running parallel to the beach. We passed people in fancy beach clothes. I think some people were getting married somewhere. Palm Cove is an upscale resort town, full of quietly luxurious hotels and unpretentious beachfront restaurants. I got the impression it’s a place where Aussies go on holiday. It was nice. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to afford to actually stay there.

After our little walk, we actually did rent the kayak. It took us about 30 minutes to paddle out to an island near the beach. The water was incredibly calm, so the ocean paddle was easy, and the views were gorgeous.

Ariana took a short break from paddling to photograph the back of my head.

There was a private resort on the island (speaking of places I’d love to stay), so we were only allowed to go up to the high tide line. Still, that was enough for us.

The island was perfectly silent except for the calls of various birds in the trees. There were no other people in sight. The beach was covered in seashells and coral pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colours. My feet didn’t appreciate it, but I couldn’t stop staring down at the ground–well, except when I looked up to stare at the ocean view. Ariana and I collected a few pieces of coral, but when we got back to the kayak rental stand, we were informed that it’s illegal to take stuff from beaches in Australia. Oh. I guess that would explain why this beach had so many pieces of coral and shells on it. I didn’t want to be “that person,” so I took a photo of my treasures and released them back into the ocean.

Multiply this by about 1,000,000, and you can imagine what the island beach looked like.

We forced ourselves to leave the island eventually, since we were paying for the kayak rental by the half hour. The wind had picked up and the trip back was a little rough, but we made it.

Ariana with our kayak on the Palm Cove beach.

After returning the kayak, we spent a few more hours relaxing in the water before catching a bus back to Cairns as the sun was setting. I arrived back at the hostel sun-drenched and covered in sand, said goodbye to Ariana, and boarded a shuttle to the Cairns airport for my 11 p.m. flight to Auckland.

As the shuttle pulled away, I realised I’d left a piece of my heart in the ocean side of Queensland. What a beautiful day.


Best Break Ever Part 5: The best day of my life (so far)

Okay, that title may be somewhat of an exaggeration. The day I got my drivers’ license, the day I first tasted Shakespeare’s pizza, and the last day of #J4804 were all pretty good days as well.

But the day I went to the Great Barrier Reef has to be one of the best days of my life.

I had been looking forward to this day since…well, since I submitted my application to study abroad in Australia. I was excited to go to the Sydney Opera House, I wanted to check out Melbourne, and I thought it might be nice to see the Outback. But I knew I HAD to go to the Great Barrier Reef.

I don’t know why it appealed to me so much. I suppose in my mind, it looked like a fantasy world. Sunlight beaming through crystal clear water, illuminating strange fish swimming amongst colourful coral formations. I’d seen “Finding Nemo,” and now I wanted to see it for real.

I’d be lying if I said my reef experience was exactly like I expected it to be. For one thing, the reef is a lot further from land than most people think. Cairns is “the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef,” but it still takes a good two hours to reach the Outer Reef by boat from the coastline. There are about a million different tours that go there, offering experiences from snorkelling off a huge yacht to spending the night on the reef to diving from a sailboat. I somewhat randomly chose Passions of Paradise, which kind of sounds like a lingerie store but actually turned out to be a very good tour.

On the ride out to the reef, I spent most of the time lying in the sun, enjoying the breeze and the warmth and the mountains in the distance.  The crew served tea and muffins, explained how the snorkelling and diving tours were going to work, and tried to convince us to rent everything from stinger suits to underwater cameras. I forked over the $7 to rent a stinger suit, which protects from coral cuts and jellyfish stings. It looks like a wetsuit, but when I put it on, I got colder, not warmer.

I didn’t rent an underwater camera. We only had about an hour to snorkel, and I didn’t want to spend it swimming around attempting to take the same slightly out-of-focus shots that every tourist takes. It’s not like those pixels were going to adequately capture my Reef experience anyway.

I felt obligated to take a couple of pictures from the boat, but even the best photographers–and I’m far from one of the best photographers–cannot capture the feeling of sunshine, the immensity of the ocean, or the hum of a boat crusing over the waves.

Looking back at land.

Even the water above the reef is colourful.

Once we got to the Reef, the boat anchored near Michaelmus Cay, a small island covered almost entirely by a wild bird preserve. The water there was remarkably calm. Later in the day, we explored another part of the reef, out in the opean ocean.

As soon as the boat stopped at the first site, I jumped in the water relatively fearlessly for someone who’d never been snorkelling before. Initially, it was hard to get used to the idea of sticking my face straight into the ocean. But once I did it, my brain realised I wasn’t going to drown, and it was quite…peaceful, I’d say. When snorkelling you breathe through your mouth, so there’s really no way to not sound like Darth Vader. But besides hearing myself breathe, it was amazingly quiet under the water.  For the first few metres of my swim, I saw nothing but the ocean’s sandy bottom.

Then, suddenly, there it was. Right below me. My first glimpse of the reef took my breath away. As if learning to breathe while snorkelling wasn’t hard enough already.

The first thing I noticed was the coral, and how colourful it, well, wasn’t. There were a few bright patches of purples and pinks, but most of it was coloured in various shades of tan. I’d heard about coral bleaching and how it’s destroying the reef, but I had never really made the connection until that moment.

So my first thought when I saw the reef was a breathtaking “wow.” My second thought?

“Wow. Humans suck.”

The fact that I consider myself a human didn’t help any. It’s interesting, in a way. We Americans constantly hear about rainforests threatened by deforestation, tundras destroyed by oil exploration, and, well, coral reefs bleached as a result of global warming. But those things happen in faraway places. Out of sight, out of mind. We brush them away with an “Aww, that’s a shame,” and go on with our lives. Or at least I did.

Until, suddenly, the reef was no longer this faraway mystical place. It was right underneath me, and I could see the damage firsthand. In that moment, all those dire Greenpeace warnings suddenly became very real and very relevant.

I’d be lying if I said I changed my entire viewpoint on life and became an environmental crusader at that moment. I didn’t. After all, if I really wanted to protect the reef, I’d keep my nosy self away from it in the first place. (Coral bleaching specifically is caused by global warming, but the millions of tourists who visit the Reef each year aren’t doing it any favours either.)

Despite the bleaching, the reef was still absolutely beautiful. If humans have impacted the rest of the animal life in any way–and I’m sure they have–it wasn’t immediately apparent to me. I’m one of those people who NEVER sees animals in the wild. For example, I haven’t yet seen a kangaroo in its natural habitat. I think I’m just too impatient.

At the reef, I floated just a few feet above fish of all shapes and sizes. There were small, brightly coloured fish swimming in groups. These were my favourites. When I saw them, I really did feel like I was in a real-life “Finding Nemo.” There were some very strangely shaped fish just cruising around the coral. There were some gigantic, flat fish swimming in groups of two or three. All these species have names, and I guess could have identified them if I wanted to. But I’m not a biology major, and I was content with admiring their brilliant colours and unique shapes as I glided above them.

And once, while I was swimming along minding my own business, I passed over a stingray, coasting across the sandy bottom. Oddly, I thought of the time a few summers ago when I pet a stingray at the St. Louis Zoo. At the time, I thought that was pretty cool. But now, here I was swimming with them, in the Great Barrier Reef. Now that, that is REALLY cool.

This is what I loved about the Reef. We’ve all seen these fish in zoos and aquariums and Pixar movies. We stare at them through glass and read about their natural habitat, thousands of miles away. But here I was in real Australia, experiencing the real thing. I could practically taste my dreams coming true. The Reef was more personal, more unbelievable, more life-altering than even I expected.

And if that doesn’t fit the criteria of “best day of my life,” I don’t know what does.


Best Break Ever Part Four: Cairns

I’m just going to come out and say it: my three days in Cairns were my favourite part of break.

I loved every moment I spent there. Why? Well, for one thing, the weather was gorgeous. Melbourne was kind of miserable: never about 65 degrees, and usually cloudy. I boarded my plane shivering in my sweater. When I arrived in Cairns, I was hit with a blast of 85-degree tropical (yes, that means humid) air. That sweater quickly became superfluous. It immediately occurred to me there’s a reason Queensland is called “the sunshine state.”

The airport’s surroundings were beautiful, too. Cairns International is relatively small (not as small as, say, Columbia, but not as big as St. Louis), and it’s surrounded by mountains. I’m used to looking outside at airports and seeing grass and more grass. But here, there were palm trees around the parking lot and mountains fading into the distance. I like this place already.

When I got to the city itself (via a 20-minute ride on a two-lane road through fields of sugar cane), my happiness intensified. Cairns earns a fairly big dot on the Australian map, but it only has a population of about 150,000 and feels much smaller than that. Lots of people visit the city, but most use it as a jumping-off point (as I did) to attractions like the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. After spending three months in large cities, it was refreshing to be back in a town with no tall buildings, one shopping mall, and–unfortunately–not much public transportation.

The shuttle dropped me off at my hostel, a charming place on the outskirts of downtown. I loved this hostel: it was adorable, the staff was incredibly friendly, each night’s stay came with a free dinner, and it was only $17 per night. The only disadvantage was the relatively long walk from everything else in Cairns, but I got used to that eventually. The building was rustic, brightly coloured, surrounded by palm trees, and had animals instead of room numbers painted on the doors. I was in Two Kangaroos. I threw my luggage in the sweltering room, chatted for a minute with my German roommate, then immediately changed into shorts and went to find some salt water. Unfortunately, my hostel was a 25-minute walk from the waterfront, so it took me awhile to find the ocean. The walk was nice, though. As you get closer to the ocean, the town’s status as a tourism base becomes more and more apparent. Hostels, McDonald’s, and tire stores are replaced by fancy hotels, ice cream shops, souvenir stories, and fancy waterfront dining. It’s everything you want a tropical destination to be.

When I finally reached the ocean, I realised something odd about Cairns city: it doesn’t really have a beach. There are a few small sandy spots where you can dip your feet in the water, but the only swimming area is a manmade salt-water pool along the Esplanade. It looked very inviting, though I was a little perplexed about why we needed a fake ocean when the real one was right there. I wanted to swim in it at some point while I was there, but never got the opportunity.

After impulse purchasing some gelato at a waterfront cafe, I walked along the ocean on the Esplanade, just enjoying the view. I had a hard time remembering this tropical paradise was part of Australia. This country really does have everything.

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, as well as an excellent place to do anything involving the ocean, so there is an unusually large number of boats in the harbour.

Apparently Scottsdale is a sister city to Cairns. Whatever that means.

The sunset was absolutely gorgeous.

I then walked allll the way back to my hostel to meet the second reason I loved Cairns: Ariana! She arrived in the city shortly after I did, and we were joyfully reunited in the hostel lobby. We walked downtown to take advantage of our free meal vouchers at a cool local pub called The Woolshed. There we also met another friend, Alicia, who had been staying in Sydney. Ariana had been at hiking and camping at Uluru–the one Australian icon I won’t make it to this time. The three of us had fun sharing stories about our various experiences, then went to sleep to prepare for the next day’s adventures.

As much as I loved Cairns, it wasn’t the city itself that was so amazing. It was the things I did nearby: on, in, and under the ocean. Two of my favourite days in Australia so far happened while I was staying in Cairns.

In the next two posts, you’ll hear about them. Stay tuned.


Best Break Ever Part 3: Miscellaneous Melbourne

Here’s a compilation of some other things I saw, did, and noticed in Melbourne.

The Melbourne Museum

I wasn’t initially planning on visiting this museum, but after two people specifically recommended it to me, I decided to give it a go. Plus, it was right across the street from my hostel. During my visit, the museum was hosting the King Tut exhibition on its only stop in Australia. I don’t particularly care about King Tut, so I skipped the massive ticket line to that exhibit and went straight into the museum. That’s right, admission is free for students and other concession card holders. I’m in love already. I’d allowed about three hours at the museum, but it didn’t take me long to realise I would need a lot more. The exhibits covered everything from Australian racehorse Phar Lap to indigenous canoes to the parts of the brain. I spent most of my time in the Melbourne Story gallery. It was an absolutely fascinating crash course in the history of the city and Australia in general. I also spent some time in the body and mind exhibits, which were surprisingly intelligent and informative, given that museum exhibits about the human body are usually targeted to five-year-olds. This one wasn’t, and I appreciated that. In fact, the exhibit contained preserved remains of actual human bodies. Remember a few years ago when “Bodies: The Exhibition” came to St. Louis and everyone freaked out? Yeah, nothing like that here. I think there may have been a warning at the entrance to the gallery, but that’s it. I guess plasticised ovaries don’t bother Australians as much as they do Americans. Besides the ovaries (not pictured), I found plenty of other fascinating things at the Melbourne Museum. I regretfully tore myself away after about three hours, wishing I had more time there. Can I go back yet?

A Holden utility turned into a magpie.

The Australian coat of arms.

CSIRAC, Australia's first computer (1949-1964).

Melbourne International Comedy Festival

I was lucky enough to be in the city during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which is apparently kind of a big deal. I caught two shows of the festival. The first one, called “Girls Night,” featured five female Aussie comedians. They were all pretty funny, and it was great to hear jokes from a woman’s perspective for a change. (Deja Vu doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to booking female acts.) Waiting for the show to start, I met a woman who used to live in Melbourne and was visiting for the festival. We chatted for a while, and she gave me some tips on places to visit, so that was pretty cool. The second show I went to was by a Scottish comedian and titled “It’ll All End in Spears.” This one was a fallback for me–I really, really wanted to see “Grammar Don’t Matter on a First Date,” but it was sold out when I went to buy a ticket. I still wanted to see a show, so I sort of randomly picked one. It was at a place called Elephant and Wheelbarrow, which according to the woman I met and to my observation, is one of the best pubs in the city. So if I ever go to Melbourne with someone other than myself, I’ll make a point to spend more time there. Anyway, the comedy show focused on various theories about how the world was going to end. It was pretty funny, even if some of the jokes were a little old. The grammar one probably would’ve been better, but what can you do? In addition to these two shows, I also saw a free afternoon show at the festival’s hub, Federation Square. Fed Square is basically a brick and concrete gathering place surrounded by museums, restaurants, etc. in the middle of the city. There were free performances throughout the day there, and I stumbled upon a juggler/comedian/general entertainer performing Tuesday. His show was pretty cool, so I took some photos.

An entertainer stands on some buckets and juggles some daggers at Federation Square as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Luna Park

Remember how I tore myself away from the Melbourne Museum after three hours? I did that because I was really excited to get to Melbourne’s Luna Park and ride Scenic Railway, the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the world. The tram ride from the museum to the amusement park was on the long side (about 45 minutes I think), but it was interesting to see parts of Melbourne that I hadn’t explored yet. Eventually I arrived at the park, and as soon as I stepped off the tram, the sun burst through the clouds. This place is making me happy already. I went into the park and bought one adult single-ride ticket (is that weird? If so, I don’t care). After detouring past some other rides and a bendy mirror, I got in line for the coaster. Of course I wanted to sit in the front seat, but two little girls beat me to it, so I didn’t have much choice but to let them have it. I sat in the second row, and it was just about as good. Remember how I mentioned this roller coaster is old? Yeah, it’s definitely old. Like 1912 old (that’s almost 100 years, people). And you can tell, too. The track creaked and the car clacked underneath me like all good wooden roller coasters, but I didn’t feel unsafe on the ride. It just wasn’t going fast enough for that. There were, of course, a few surprisingly swift drops and turns. However, it wasn’t the nonstop exhilirating ride I’m used to. The coaster slowed at the tops of hills, giving me a great view of the park and adjacent St. Kilda Beach. Hence the name “Scenic Railway,” I suppose. I’d say the ride was a good mix of nice views combined with shriek-worthy exhiliration. It was also a lot longer than I anticipated. The coaster forms a loop around the park, passing through the giant clown-face-shaped entrance, then goes around again on a lower track situated parallel to the first one. I don’t know how long the ride took, but it was a very satisfying one. At one point, I closed my eyes and tried to pretend this was 1914 and I’d never ridden Millenium Force, The Incredible Hulk, or anything even close to this awesome. It worked. Coasters may be bigger, faster, and taller now, but it was fun to ride one that made grown women scream 100 years ago and still makes little kids shriek with excitement today.

The entrance to the park looks suspiciously similar to Sydney's.

21 going on 2?

Entrance to the Scenic Railway.

The entrance to the park from inside the park.

Luna Park from St. Kilda Beach.

Brunswick Street

Brunswick Street was hands-down my favourite area of Melbourne. I stumbled upon it my first morning in the city, and came face-to-face with more vintage clothing stores, coffee shops, indie music stores, ethnic restaurants and speciality shops than I knew what to do with. Imagine downtown Columbia, only better. MUCH better. I had breakfast there at a different place each each day. First a chocolate croissant from a Russian bakery, then a chicken and avocado sandwich at an unpretentious deli, and finally eggs and toast from an Italian cafe where the waitress looked at me oddly presumably because she didn’t know my name. I also browsed boutique furniture I couldn’t afford, stepped into and out of to a print shop that was entirely too trendy for me to understand, and spent forever browsing in a stationery shop. I walked up and down this streeet countless times. Usually because I just liked watching the people. Sometimes because I was lost. For me, Brunswich Street was the perfect encapuslation of Melbourne: historic, yet trendy. Urban, yet down to earth. Artsy, but refined. A city defined by old buildings, new ideas, and trams running down the middle of every street.

Royal Botanic/Alexandria/etc. Gardens

Sydney has the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain. Melbourne has a bunch of different gardens all clumped together to form a large green space in the middle of the city. I could never figure out where one garden ended and the next began, so I just let them all run together. The gardens themselves are very nice, as nice as Sydney’s in most places. But the view–well, Melbourne certainly can’t compete with Sydney Harbour. Still, the gardens were a lovely place to walk around for a few hours. (I also found my letterbox there, for those of you keeping track at home.)

Floral clock in the gardens.

Happy fall!

One of the prettier spots in the gardens.

Yarra River

In Sydney, the only way I know how to figure out directions, if at all, is in relation to the harbour. In St. Louis, I see everything in terms of the Mississippi. In Melbourne, the Yarra River quickly became my reference point.  (People in cities without bodies of water, what do you DO?)  The river, unfortunately, is littered with pollution and probably not suitable for swimming, but it was still a nice place to sit and gaze at the Melbourne skyline when I was exhausted from walking all day and had an hour to kill. While I was perched along the bank, I saw a few groups of kayakers gliding down the river. As the sun set, the kayakers disappeared, only to be replaced by crew rowing teams gliding past at supersonic speeds, their fierce paddles startling me away from my daydreams. Because I don’t go to an Ivy League school and played no role in the making of “The Social Network,” I’d never seen a crew team in action. It was fun to watch them paddle swiftly down the river, then work together to pull the long, slim boat out of the water and load it carefully onto a trailer. After they were gone, I was still left with a lovely view of the Melbourne skyline.

Kayakers on the Yarra River

That loud crazy mess in the foreground is Federation Square.

Dramatic.

Weather

When I got to Melbourne, it was pouring. The next day, I was unsure if I’d need sunglasses or an umbrella. Turns out I needed both. At the same time. During my visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol, the sun was shining. It was also raining. This sort of nonsense continued for the duration of my time in the city. Congratulations, Melbourne, for making St. Louis weather look sane.


Random lol of the day

I just had to share this with you, because it’s true.