Along the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

The trip to see the Twelve Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, near Melbourne, Australia started at Federation Square (across from St. Paul’s Cathedral) where I got to see the possible tour options at the tourism office located there.

Melbourne, Flinders, train station, Australia, photo, travel

Flinders Train Station, across from Federation Square

I returned there to take the bus on the day of the tour and a long but rewarding day began.  Along the way we stopped to see some of the flora and the wildlife (koalas, kangaroos and birds).  It was amazing to see koalas and kangaroos just freely roaming around, not in a zoo or animal park.

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Close-up of a fern in the park where we stopped to see the koalas

Kangaroo, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Kangaroos roaming (or hopping) free along the Great Ocean Road

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Colorful bird!

koala, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Koala doing what they do best: sleep. Tons of sleep.

The Twelve Apostles (who knows if there are really 12 at any given point, one of the more famous ones had collapsed not long before my visit) are fascinating as they “show” the process of water and wind shaping our landscapes.

Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Australia, Great Ocean Road, park

A nice park has been set up to help see the Twelve Apostles

As the water washes away softer terrain, these “islands” of stone become separated from the mainland.  Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

You can tell where new ones will appear:  any of those fingers or peninsulas are apostles-in-the-making.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

At some point, the underside of a finger begins to hollow until an arch forms.  The arch eventually collapses separating part of the former peninsula from the mainland (see next photo).  In turn, an arch may form on the newly-formed “island” and, when the arch collapses, it will just leave just a column which over time will also collapse leaving nothing behind.  The cycle of life!

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Here is a finger where a part collapsed creating an “island” arch

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

By now, this “island” has become quite isolated and is developing an arch that will further weaken it

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Columns in the water: former arches, former fingers, former mainland!

Now, the park has very easy trails to walk and get good vantage points, and the tour goes to other interesting spots such as Loch and Gorge.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Loch and Gorge

But what really captivated me was the brief helicopter ride to see the apostles from above.  I had never ridden a helicopter before so there was a double thrill aspect to the experience for me.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Viewing them from high was a real treat

Finally, if you decide to drive the Great Ocean Road and you are not from Australia or the U.K. (or some other places like them), please mind what this sign says as you explore this beautiful road!road sign, great ocean road, australia, driving, photo

Sports Travel: Not My Usual Pursuit but Fun

rugby, World Cup, 2007, Paris, photo, sports, travel

I am not much a sports traveler.  I don’t chase “my” teams.  I don’t go checking off famous sports arenas.  I don’t chase big sports events.  Heck, what am I saying, I am not much a sports spectator.  I do it in big occasions (usually involving Georgia Tech, my alma mater) or when the opportunity comes up to do so and enjoy being with family or friends (which, I admit, is not often).  However, there are some things I have greatly enjoyed related to sports and travel.

All that said, I can get into sports easily when the right opportunity comes up.  Here are some examples of how travel and sports have offered some great experiences…

Traveling to the Olympics

First on that list is going to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics which I shared in another post.  Yes, a big enough event gets its own post :).

Barcelona, Olympics, post card, logo, Olympic rings, 1992, souvenir, travel, sports

I worked in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, lived in the Olympic Village, and got to see many events (for free and in the dignitaries’ seating area!) – but that was not travel for me (though it was to many who came to be part of this great event).

Olympic Village, cafeteria, Atlanta, Olympics, sports, travel

With my awesome Mom at the Olympic Village cafeteria

Traveling for the Olympics may involve more expensive hotels than normal for the location, patience with crowds at events and in public transport, etc.  But it is a fun way to see a new place.  The older I get, the less likely I am going to want to deal with the crowds of these large events but I may have a Football (Soccer) World Cup in me…

Baseball’s World Series

Baseball may or may not be the world’s most boring sport (or is it cricket?) though it is a fun sport to be at to socialize.  But when the stakes are high, it can be as intense as any other sport.  I got to watch game 2 of the World Series in Toronto in 1993 where the Blue Jays played the Philadelphia Phillies.  I was working in Toronto at the time and our local office partner was able to produce tickets for us to attend (he wanted us happy about having to travel to Toronto weekly for months on end).  No complaints here.  And Toronto won that series on game 6.

World Series, baseball, Toronto, Blue Jays, Phillies, Skydoe, ticket, souvenir, travel

My ticket!

Rugby Down Under

The day I landed in Sydney, Australia from the U.S. there was a key rugby match (away) between New South Wales and Queensland.  My friend is a big fan of his home state’s team and he asked if I was too tired to go to the pub with him to watch.  I was jet lagged and had spent the day walking around the city but could not say no.  Well, I could have but part of me was intrigued about how Australians watch their sports in pubs so I tagged along  He did a great job explaining the sport and the differences between union and league as I had watched international rugby matches before and was getting a little confused by what I was seeing in this match.  In any case, though I slowed down during the middle of the game, I soon got my fourth wind of the day when the game approached its exciting end.  It was a great intro to Australia right after arriving to hang out with him and his friends watching a sports event that locals love.

I had coincided with the Rugby World Cup when I went to Paris in 2006 but was not clued in before I went and was not yet too into the sport to have bothered to try to watch a match.  I regret that as I now find rugby an exciting sport to watch.  By the time I went to New Zealand in 2009, I was more into it having watched on TV some of the international series.  So I enjoyed a couple of nights going to a local pub and watching with the locals.

rugby, World Cup, 2007, Paris, photo, sports, travel

An English fan in Trocadero and a rugby ball in the Eiffel Tower during the 2007 World Cup

And Football (Soccer) Down Under

While visiting friends in Melbourne, the opportunity came up to watch a football (soccer) match where Australia played Japan.  One of my friends and I went with some co-workers.

The match was a friendly match and nothing to write home about but what is something to write about is how much drinking goes on in these matches and how not-well some of the locals handle their over-drinking.  Yes, sometimes as you walked around the stadium, you had to hold your nose as not everyone managed to reach a trash can or a toilet on time.  It was like a minefield!  No pictures needed for this…

stdium, sports, soccer, football, Melbourne, Australia, photo, travel

Phone photo does not expose the minefields!

Baseball around North American Cities

One cool thing about catching a sports event in another town is getting to see the arenas where these events are held (though some I could care less if I see).  Sadly, professional sports are way too commercialized and the owners hold cities and their taxpayers hostage (don’t get me going on this…) so I seek to not sponsor the businesses with any regularity.  But I don’t deny having enjoyed watching the Yankees play at the no-longer-around Yankee Stadium or the Mets at no-longer-around Shea Stadium.  Though I admitted not being much into sports travel, I have to confess I DO want to go to Fenway and Wrigley some day as well as watch the Green Bay Packers play at home in the middle of a snowstorm (for real!).

Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field

I may be biased but one of the most historic college football fields is Georgia Tech‘s Grant Field where Bobby Dodd Stadium sits which celebrates its 100th birthday this year (as a full stadium).  It IS the oldest stadium in Division 1.  And it is the site of the most home wins in Division 1 (I’d like to see more of these lately…).  The foundation of the stands was built by students back in 1913 – amazing, huh?   Of course, a lot of re-building has taken place on the facility, some good and some not visually impressive but it really is not THAT important as the facility is a great one to watch sports:  it is not an abomination in terms of size so you really feel close to the field and it has great views of the Atlanta downtown skyline (I love being in the west stands late in the afternoon – great colors!).   This stadium witnessed the most lop-sided win in history in 1916 (granted the rules of the game are not the same now) where Tech beat Cumberland 222-0.  Not even a basketball score gets that high!  All school loyalty aside, it is part of college football history and a great place to experience.  I enjoyed it as a college student and now as an alum!

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So all this said and done, the opportunity to visit a landmark in sports history has come my way and I will be going in January 2014.  Stay tuned to find out where this is!!!

What fun sports travel have you done?

What do you recommend I don’t miss out?

Getting Up High in Sydney- The Amazing Bridge Climb

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

When I got to Sydney, Australia to visit friends and finally explore that land down under, one of the first thing my friends told me was I HAD TO do the bridge climb.  The Sydney Harbor Bridge climb.  I was immediately mesmerized at the thought.  Normally, I try to go up any structure that allows me birds eye view of a city.  The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Christ Redeemer in Rio, the medieval towers in la rossa Bologna, St. Paul‘s in London, Sacre Coeur also in Paris, the Peachtree Westin in my hometown, … you get the point.  Nothing like being high up and looking down at man’s urban creation.  I had crossed the bridge on foot and snapped a photo I really liked looking at the Sydney Opera House (and you are already high from the bridge level) but a higher vantage point… THAT would be awesome.

So the Sydney Bridge climb was right up my alley.  Of course, I had to be OK parting with a good amount of dough, well north of US $100 (truth be told, around $200…).  But WHEN would I return to Sydney to do this?  I am not scared of heights when I feel secure and being on a walkway was good enough for me (vs. walking out on some diving board-like piece of something hanging of a needle or other such skyscraper structure).

A friend of mine who is also a travel blogger (Erin, from The World Wanderer) was telling me she wanted to do the climb.  I encouraged her to do it and she encouraged me to write about my experience (it was on the long to-write-about list).  The bridge climb is a fairly recent offering having been started in the mid 1990s or so.  They claim over 3 million participants so far – become one, like Erin will some day, and help them get to 4 million!

The prep

So I made my way to the place where they brief you on the entire process and suit you up on this very not glamorous attire.  The important thing, though, is that you part ways with ANYTHING that could POSSIBLY fall off you during the climb.  It is not only that you would lose the whatever-it-is.  It is that there are likely cars right under you that could be hit by anything falling off!  If it is not covered completely by the suit – it comes off.  Your sunglasses, mercifully, are given a contraption so you can keep them and they won’t fall off – whew.  They go through some instructions and -voilà- off you go!

Modeling the jumpsuit used in the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb

Notice all the gear on the model

The hike

Once you are ready to go, the first step is to hook yourself up to the “cord”.  This cord thing runs the ENTIRE route you will walk and you will be hooked to that cord the ENTIRE time you are out there either UNDER the bridge or climbing up.  Yes, that is why you should not fear doing the hike.  You are tethered to the bridge.  The only way you are falling to your death is if the bridge falls into the harbor hundreds of feet below.  And then it does not matter if you are climbing the bridge, on a bus crossing the bridge, or a pedestrian on the sidewalk on the bridge.  So no fear!

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

Notice how I am strapped to the bridge

Once you start climbing, yes, the effort could be significant for some.  I exercise frequently so the physical effort was not extraordinary.  But I think you don’t have to be in great shape to go up.  Just don’t have serious heart issues or other serious illnesses.  Oh, and don’t be intoxicated.  They check and won’t let you go up!

The guide will make stops along the way but she/he is explaining things along the way.  The headphones you get are AWESOME.  They don’t go in your ear but over the rear of your cheek close to your ear – the sound vibrations emitted by the thing get to your eardrum and you hear perfectly fine – how cool is that?!  Our guide was phenomenal – great explanations, great humor (I am sure the same jokes he  and his peers say every tour but nevertheless funny), and great Aussie attitude and friendliness.

Say cheese!

As you hike the bridge, they will be taking photographs.  Remember the bit about not being able to bring a camera?  (You leave your stuff in a locker.)  Well, they know you want a picture or two.  And they know we will buy them so they won’t be cheap.  But since you already dished out a couple hundred buckaroos, what’s another limb, right?  The photos will be great – admire mine but do not laugh at the suit cause you will be wearing one too!

Climb of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia with Opera House in the background

One of the worst smiles I’ve given in a photo but, overall, I can’t complain!  And it’s windy up there if you can’t tell!

“Closing arguments”

If I ever return to Sydney, I am likely to splurge again – but this time to do the night climb which I hear is also phenomenal (and cheaper!).  Hopefully, I’ve had enough time by then to save up for the cost of another climb.  But one thing I know, it will be WELL worth it!

I give this a completely certain thumbs up even if it feels gimmicky.  Gimmicks like this, though, have to be gone for (here is where English teachers cringe).  They pay you back with an incredible view of this great city by the water!  Did I convince you to do it??

Photo of the Week – Sydney Harbor from the Sydney Bridge

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge, in Sydney, Australoa

I loved the opportunity that arose unexpectedly a couple of years ago to make the long trip to Australia and New Zealand.  It is not often I take more than 2 weeks off work at a time so having a month to go Down Under was pretty special – and yet not enough time by 200%!

One of my favorite discoveries was the incredible natural setting combined with man-made structures that is Sydney Harbor.  Though I could not take a camera up when I climbed the iconic harbor bridge, I did strive to take pictures from the bridge.

The picture here takes me back to that visit and to the incredible setting that is Sydney Harbor.  Here is to returning some day!

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge in Australia

Photo of the Week – I Dream of “Return to Cradle Mountain”

Tasmania was an enchanting place to visit.  The greenery, the remoteness, and yes, something different about the Australia and Australians I had seen so far.  The natural beauty was impressive.  We stayed at the Cradle Mountain Lodge, which we greatly enjoyed, and hiked up to the lake on a winter day in June of 2009.  I wrote about the trip back then in the entries below, but I thought I’d highlight again Tasmania by sharing some photos from the visit.

Getting to Tasmania and the plan – read more here.

Going to Cradle Mountain and beyond – read more here.

Around Wineglass Bay and ending in Hobart – read more here.

Cradle Mountain and Crater Lake in Tasmania

Cradle Mountain
(Captured with Canon EOS Rebel)

Trail on the way up to Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Colorful trail
(Captured with Canon EOS Rebel)

The lodge by Cradle Mountain

Around the lodge

2009 in “Review”

Well, 2009 is almost in the books and who would have told me at this same point in 2008 all that I would do in 2009!  On the less glamorous side, sinus surgery and losing my job.  Yep, I wouldn’t have imagined both.  But, on the more exciting side of things, I certainly had even less of an idea that I would get to see the land of John Paul II (Poland), the mythical (at least for those of us far from it) land down under (Australia), the majestic islands in the far south Pacific (New Zealand), the mountains and beauty of the granite state (New Hampshire), and 18 years later a country I loved when I lived there (Chile).  I also did get to visit more familiar places like Tampa, DC, Panama, NYC, and Denver but most of those were in my plans already.

So I sit here during Christmas Day wondering which places will I get to see in 2010 for the first time and what will I discover in more familiar places…   I can’t wait to find out!  Could it be the year I see the Holy Land?  Or check out Iceland?  Perhaps visit southern Chile and the lake district?  Or finishing off “Western” Europe by seeing Portugal and Ireland??  Or, why not, go to Australia again and explore other parts of the continent?  SO much to see, so little time and money!

Thanks 2009, and good riddance in a way.  2010, bring it on!

Random Observations during Trip to Australia and New Zealand

As I used to do when my writing was in email form to friends and family, I am going to share some of the random things I observed that caught my attention in my trip to Australia and New Zealand.  These are not earth-shattering observations or anything that is better or worse in the places I visited than what I am used to, just things that caught my eye.  I always find it interesting to hear what others find curious so I will share what I found curious…  Hope no one takes offense!

  • I arrive in Sydney, my first main stop in the trip.  After surviving the strict customs and health things they do at the airport, I leave the secured zone and what is the first thing I see?  Krispy Kreme.  Don’t get me wrong: nothing wrong at ALL with a KK doughnut.  And Aussies sure have a right to enjoy them like I do. But it’s funny that I travel halfway around the world and the first thing I see is an outlet of a doughnut chain founded in the southeastern U.S. where I live!
  • Alright, I get past KK (without stopping), handle a few things (ATM, buying SIM card, etc.) and eventually get to my friends’ place (a train and a metro ride away – plus a short hike).  I shower, unpack somethings, and venture out to combat jet lag.  But first, let me load up on caffeine!  I look around and there are coffee shops EVERYWHERE!  I did not know Aussies were so into coffee.  Not that it should surprise me, coffee is good but there were coffee shops not just in every corner but in between corners and multiple ones at almost every corner.  Wow.  That’s a serious devotion of coffee.

  • So I pick one coffee shop – a hard thing to do with so many around.  I ask for a coffee.  I get a blank stare.  I repeat myself.  The young woman has an accent (eastern European, perhaps) so I assume my own accented English is too new to her ears.  I repeat my request “a coffee, please”.  She asks if cappuccino, latte, or flat white.  I didn’t want either of the first two and the third option sounded like a cup of milk – just white, flat white, only milk.  I say no I just want coffee.  It occurs to me that perhaps I needed to explain that I meant coffee with nothing else.  I get a blank stare.  Eventually, the other clerk joins us and I repeat the last statement.  I succeed in getting black coffee.  I wasn’t sure what the deal was but, heck, I got my black coffee.  Only to discover it was horrible.  And then it dawns on me:  perhaps black coffee here is not as good as say, PR, France, Italy, hence they must always add some amount of milk and/or foam.  Got it.  But I still didn’t know how I should have asked for black coffee… Nor did I get what a flat white was… (until later and then I loved them).
  • It is not “how are you doing?” but “how are you going?”.  At first, I wanted to say by bus or by train until I caught on.
  • There are these “stores” called TAB in Australia.  I wasn’t quite sure what they were and my friends explained they are sports betting places.  Mind you, not glitzy or big like casinos (they have those too) but like small stores.  And they can be quite a common sight in Sydney and Melbourne – one every couple of blocks?  (an exaggeration on my part but it felt like that!)
  • Air travel is a breeze here.  Not sure if that is good or bad but for domestic flights, just show up 30 minutes beforehand.  Security doesn’t even require shoes off.  My belt and shoes set off most US airports’ machines.  Not here.  Nada.
  • Driving:  in some places, it felt like these were the best drivers in the world and, in others, pretty bad.  No locations shall be named…
  • The times I ordered salads, not once did I see regular plain lettuce.  I love these countries!
  • More than a couple of times, I think I was fed some mis-information by eager-to-share-knowledge guides.  Like Lake Taupo being the largest lake in the southern hemisphere.  It IS the largest freshwater lake in Oceania (616 km2) but that is a far cry from Lake Victoria (69,485 km2)…  Another was the “world’s longest bridge” somewhere between Dunedin and Christchurch…  I didn’t buy either of these claims but I wonder how many I “bought”!  Now, I am sure Dunedin DOES have the world’s steepest street (it is so according to the Guinness Book of Records, I checked).

Dunedin’s most famous street

  • Constant references to something being the x-most in the southern hemisphere.  It felt like everything wanted to claim something.  Best example:  the Christchurch airport signs telling the travelers that the company that runs the airport was the 1st airport company in the southern hemisphere to become carbon neutral.
  • Rainfall in the north island of NZ is measured in inches but in the west part of the south island, it is measured in meters!  (I am raising this not because they used different measurement systems when giving me these data points but because it points to the significant difference in rainfall amount.)
  • Train restrooms were clean (as opposed to those in many other countries I have been to; ahem, Europe…).
  • Power outlets have a small switch immediately next to them to turn them on.  If you don’t realize this, that electric razor you are trying to charge up won’t be doing anything the next morning!
  • Upon arriving at a motel or B&B in NZ, the person at reception ALWAYS offered me milk.  It took me a while to develop a solid theory on why (outside of “they just love drinking milk here perhaps”):  since it was winter and the rooms had electric kettles, maybe it was in case I wanted tea/milk or coffee/milk?
  • Many places had windows with 2 positions for closing the window.  One was to entirely shut it but the other was to leave a slight crack open yet have the window locked.  It was hard to see that the windows were slightly ajar.  At first, I wondered why motel rooms had a draft…  I figured it out on my own, thank you very much.
  • Every motel or B&B I stayed at had towel warmers.  I loved that since it was very cold.
  • Airlines had a bit of an obsession that the safety card in the seatback pocket must always be the FIRST thing in the pocket.  Before landing, flight attendants requested this and/or would fix it for you if they noticed the items in the pocket were not in the right order…
  • Public restrooms in every town’s central area!  And easy to find!

Do you share any of these random observations?  Any others from your travels down under??

Along the Great Ocean Road and within Melbourne

Distances in Australia are enormous and, perhaps, they feel more so because there are a lot of vast empty lands in the middle (as opposed to us in the US where we have Kansas in the middle!).  Yet my trip to Melbourne from Sydney felt short indeed as it does not require traversing the country.  I wanted to get a good feel for Melbourne and no better way than visiting people who actually live there.

My friends in Melbourne lived in a penthouse pretty much in the central business district of town, enjoying a view of the Yarra river and the Crown casino.  I think my friend Matt chose this apartment for a reason…

Melbourne, Australia, CBD, Crown casino, Yarra river, travel, photography

The view from the pad!

The next morning after my arrival I made my first stop the information center in Federation Square, a relatively new and modern square next to the Flinders train station by the river.  There I found way more information than I needed but that would have been very helpful had I decided to spend 2 months in Victoria, the state where Melbourne is… I wish I had had all that time!

Melbourne, Flinders, train station, Australia, photo, travel

Flinders Train Station

The information office was very well organized and the folks there were extremely helpful.  My first objective was to see the Great Ocean Road that heads out west from outside Melbourne by the ocean so I scheduled it for the following day.

The Great Ocean Road and my first helicopter ride to see the 12 Apostles

The tour on the Great Ocean Road ends at the Twelve Apostles which are remnants from the mainland that water has eroded over time so they look like massive columns of rock coming out of the water, no longer connected to land.  The number 12 is just used ’cause it sounds cool but now there are <>12 (I don’t even remember how many they said).  In fact, 2 days before I went, one collapsed so I missed ever seeing it – well, I saw it in a pile of rocks.  Hence, it is safer to say <> 12 since the number could change any day!

Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, Australia, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The Twelve Apostles (well, some of them)

I decided that a neat way to see the apostles was to get in a helicopter for a 15 minutes and fly around.  I had NEVER been in a helicopter so the exhilaration went beyond seeing the Twelve Apostles.  I soon found out how hard it was to admire the view and take pictures at the same time while trying to look around fellow passengers and also not blocking their own view!

Great Ocean Road, Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Australia, helicopter, travel, photo

An apostle as seen from the helicopter! Great vantage point!

Wildlife along the Great Ocean Road

An unexpected surprise in the drive along the Great Ocean Road was seeing kangaroos, koalas and birds.

Koala, Australia, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, Canon EOS Rebel

Koala in the wild – asleep!

Australia, wildlife, bird, colorful, Great Ocean Road, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

One colorful Australian bird along the Great Ocean Road

Using the free city bus is a great idea

After booking the Great Ocean Road tour, I took advantage of the free bus the city has for tourists to hop on and hop off at the various important sights in the city. Taking a bus is a great way to orient oneself in a new city, to see some places that one may have decided “check, don’t need to come here”, and to actually get off and visit places that seem interesting or make a note to come back another time.  With this, I discovered the Victoria Market which sold just about everything but, unfortunately, as closing right as I got there.  I did manage to get a couple of souvenirs and fruits and made my way back to the city center proper.

I did not get to visit the art gallery in Federation Square which I was hoping to see but got to see the Immigration Museum where I gained a good understanding of the Australian immigrants’ story.  What a long-ass and possibly horrible journey to make it to Oz through the roaring 40s!!

Some food was enjoyed too

Other things I did was enjoy chocolate at the chocolate stores in the Arcades (the city center has this beautiful arcades from early last century with shops and that’s where this chocolate shops are).  I also, based on my friends’ recommendations, enjoyed great soup from a little chain store called Blue Bag – the red lentil soup was excellent.

Witnessing a sports match – with all that it entails…

On my final night in Melbourne (and Australia), I got to go to a football/soccer match at the MCG between Australia and Japan.  It was great to be able to watch such a match with the local crowd though that required being careful on leaving as we had to walk through a minefield of a kind…  Let’s just say, there seems to have been over-drinking during the match 🙂  I got to try one of the famous meat pies during the match which was good but by the time we were done with the match, I was hungry again – should have had 2!   That’s when I tried vegemite – on the salty side but the butter made it better.

I can help but compare…

Anyway, I have struggled in my mind to compare the cities of Sydney and Melbourne but can’t find a way to properly explain how they felt.  Sydney has the harbor right there which was more in your face than Melbourne‘s proximity to the ocean.  Sydney felt fast-paced, Melbourne more laidback.  I enjoyed them both and feel like I need to go back to keep studying what makes them different – how conveneeeeenient!  🙂

Exploring Wineglass Bay in Tasmania

Our exploration of Tasmania in no time continued on Day 3.  After taking breakfast overlooking Coles Bay, we wasted little time in getting going to see Wineglass Bay, which some call the best beach in Australia (I am sure there are many who may not agree; I certainly don’t know much about Australian beaches to opine conclusively!).

Again, Getting There Is Half the Fun

Yes, Wineglass Bay beach is not of the type where you drive up and park next to the beach with your cooler, chairs, bodysurfing board, bags of food, etc.  Nor is it the type where you walk a few blocks to get to, similarly loaded with things.  And what a good thing it is that it is neither!

To get there one embarks on a 1.5 hr or so hike.  Of course, there is a lookout available way up higher than the trail to the beach so we made our way to the lookout for a good view of the beach.  The path to the lookout is really not much higher than the highest point on the trail on the way to the beach so if you are making to the beach might as well climb a few more steps to the lookout!  The view is quite worth the small extra effort.

Gorgeous Wineglass Bay

We were discussing why it may be called Wineglass Bay.  As we had no computer access except the kiosk at the hotel and, as we were not about to get on a computer anyway, we speculated on the why.  Our main theory is that the shape of the bay does look like a wineglass but the cup part of it.  That is, it may be more appropriate to have called it Stemless Wineglass Bay but we realize that does not quite flow out as easily and musically as Wineglass Bay so we accepted the poetic license.

After the lookout, we descended into the beach itself.  As most beaches, just the sound of waves itself is a reward but the setting of this beach is indeed quite spectacular.  It was nice to hang out and soak in the view and sounds, as well as rest from the effort to get there so we could do it in reverse!

At Wineglass Bay

The Other Half of the Fun?

The other half of the fun, if I put aside my attempts at artistic picture-taking, could be the sandsurfing on a tiny sand “dune” of 3 ft in height.  After a few times doing it and getting it on video, we had a good amount of sand in our shoes.  Good for me, I had thick socks so I didn’t really notice or care – until I got my boots off at the hotel that evening!

IMG_9749The hike up clearly was not as exhilarating as the climb down as we had already seen the trail and we were just headed back to the car to hit the road.  However, the beauty of this trail is that a good part of it is set between massive red boulders, especially towards the highest point of the trail.

Waiting for us at the parking was one of the 2 wallabies we had deemed to be “drunk” when we saw them on our way in.  It was used to humans enough to be petted and still stay put.

Tasmanian Wine on Our Path

As with the prior day’s hike, what followed was lunch.  We ate at the bistro at the lodge where I enjoyed fish and chips and a fantastic mixed salad.  Oh, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc for good measure.  With that, we started our 3 hr drive to Hobart but we quickly found out that the Milton winery, whose wine we had enjoyed the night before, was about 40 minutes away from the lodge and on our way to Hobart to boot!  We stopped at the winery where we got to sample their Pinot Grigio, Rose, Riesling, Iced Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and the Pinot Noir (not in that order!).  They were all decent wines but the Riesling was not quite like the German Rieslings I am used to; does not mean it was not good but not what I was expecting.  However, the Iced Riesling was simply delicious so I bought a bottle – not sure when I would drink it or how far I could carry it with me but I was willing to take the risk!

Wrapping Up the Day and the Trip in Hobart

The drive to Hobart was on the Tasman Highway which gave us a glimpse on the beauty of the east coast of the island.  It was a nice way to wrap up exploring…

On the way back to Hobart on the east coast

We did not have much time left for Hobart but did follow a Lonely Planet recommendation for a restaurant.  The restaurant was called Da Angelo and it was located in the Battery Park area.  I had the carbonara which was close to the best I have ever had (maybe number 2 after a place in Rome near the Vatican).  I could not eat the entire serving though I so badly wanted to eat every bit of it!

With that and our early morning flight on the next day, our long weekend in Tasmania came to a close.  I was wishing my trip had been for even longer so I could spend even more time in Tasmania but I am finding that I am feeling that way pretty much about every place so far in this trip…  I am astounded when I am told that New Zealand scenery will be even more impressive so I am eager to get there to check it out.  In the meantime, I will continue exploring Melbourne and hanging out with my friends whose idea it was to explore Tasmania together – for which I am very thankful!

Tasmania deserves being explored though it may be far for many of us and it does deserve more days than we could give it.  The folks there are super friendly and the scenery will indeed leave you wanting more.

(Pictures taken with Canon EOS Rebel)

Tasmania – The Lakes, the Mountains and the “Tinas”

Planning the Day

We hit the lodge breakfast (which gets high marks!) and planned our course of action for the day.  The lodge offered a guided walk to Crater Lake at 1 PM but we thought that would waste a little bit of time waiting until then to do a 3 hr hike.  We also had to get across the island for our next stop so we opted, after some research at the front desk, to head out on our own.  The front desk offered a map and said the trails were well marked (they were).  They also indicated weather tends to be better earlier in the day so that settled it for us.  We were ready for our walk!

Day 2 – The Hike

After driving into the park and getting the car permit (around $22AU), we made it to the start of the trail.  The trail begins with like a 20-min walk over a boardwalk set up above the grassland.  The grassland was not quite just as grassland as there was plenty of water on the ground but you could not see it due to the bushy grasses.  I supposed that is why they thought it would be good to install the boardwalk.  The bushy grasses, due to my inability to properly describe vegatation or determine what they really are, were baptized the “Tinas” by us as they resemble Tina Turner’s hair.  Later on, on our way back we determined that when the paths were covered in water and deep in mud, stepping on the Tinas at the edge of the path was the only way to make it across the pools of water and mud.  Tinas became our friends!

Walking towards Cradle Mountain

The path then turned to a gradual climb with rock steps and wooden steps which alternated in different sections of the trail.  Eventually we hit the waterfall along the path, nested deep into a very wooded and green area where you could almost not see the sky.  I felt like I was in a tropical forest without being in the tropics.  The sounds of water and nothing else and the smell in the air clearly “screamed” that we were not anywhere near human habitats.

Soon afterwards we saw the edge of Crater Lake.  The lake did not have a blue color as the sky was somewhat overcast but the lake and the hills that surrounded it seemed majestic.  We were in for a nice surprise further along…

Crater Lake

…  As We Reached Marion’s Lookout

Though we had registered at the trailhead as only planning to go to Crater Lake, we had planned to go to the lookout above the lake.  Upon seeing the lake, we knew that was the right plan!  We embarked on the trail that would take us to that lookout –Marion’s Lookout.  Of course, that meant we were climbing even higher, almost to the peak of one of the hills/mountains (which is it??) around the lake.  Eventually, the route became so steep that a chain handrail was required to be able to climb the steps to the lookout.  At the lookout, the effort was rewarded many times over by the view of Cradle Mountain, Crater Lake and neighboring Dove Lake.  It was very cold at the lookout but that did not matter.  We got to soak in the view and snap a few pix, of course, before descending back to the trail.

View from Marion's Lookout (with the author in the way)

View from Marion’s Lookout (with the author in the way)

We decided to return to the trailhead via Dove Lake, not Crater Lake, so we could enjoy another part of the park.  It was pretty easy to alter our route as the trails were very well signed (though the front desk said to not trust the time estimates on the signs; this must be part of Tasmanian psyche as the Hobart tourism brochure carried ads telling visitors “It’ll take longer than you think” and there were similarly-themed billboards along the road!).

Do Not Feed the Animals – They Feed Themselves Quite Alright, Thank You Very Much!

Once we reached the trailhead and the parking area, we went to sign out at the hike registration book (I am glad they ask for this; if someonen gets lost, I suppose someone from the park would know if they see a hike registered in but not registered out).  At the little shelter where the registration book was, we noticed a few pieces of animal excrement and had a good laugh at how wildlife chose to come into the small shelter to take a dump.  Well, we were in for a pleasant surprise when we walked back out and saw a wombat calmly eating grass next to a parking spot just like the one in the picture below (not my pic).   It did not care that humans were around it as it went to town on the grass!  I suppose it first made a stop at the shelter before proceeding to have lunch…

wombat-pic

Headed East

After the hike, we were starving so headed back to the lodge for lunch before departing the park and the area to go all the way to Freycinet National Park on the east coast of the island (a 4-hr drive) to check out Wineglass Bay (see map in my prior entry on Tasmania).

The route we took was less scenic and a “faster” route than our way in which was fine with us.  We got to drive through small towns (where I appreciated the fact that all towns seem to have public restrooms in their squares!) and see a little bit of different scenery.  We bypassed Launceston, one of the main cities on the island, and entered the eastern part of the island as nighttime set in (it begins to get dark here around 430PM and before 6PM, you are in total nighttime).  We could not see the beautiful landscape around us, we would see it the next day.

Finding the next lodge (Freycinet Lodge, http://www.freycinetlodge.com.au/) was not a problem as it was right inside the Freycinet National Park.  This lodge seemed a step more upscale than our prior one (but it was cheaper pricewise).

And Now Time for Us to Feed Ourselves

We were very tired from the hike and looked forward to a nice dinner so after settling in and cleaning up, we headed for dinner.  I had a fantastic pumpkin and rosemary soup and my main dish was a fish called Trevelle.  One of the neat discoveries was this powder called “Bushdust”.  Nothing to do with a U.S. political family, instead it is a mix of nuts and spices that you sprinkle on bread or soup or whatever to spice it up (spice up flavor-wise, that is).

We also made a fantastic discovery:  Milton winery’s Pinot Noir (Tasmanian).  It was quite full-bodied with great flavors and a good finish.  A perfect ending to a great day!

 

(Pictures taken with Canon EOS Rebel)

Tasmania – Starting Our Visit to a Southern Paradise

Well, I got to Melbourne from Sydney but will delay writing about Melbourne until I have covered more ground here.  Instead, I thought I would share about my very short 3-day visit to Tasmania, a place I only dreamt of ever seeing given how remote it feels to me as a Southeast U.S. resident…  The visit was short but, what a visit!

Getting There

Before telling you about the visit, I first have to comment on how easy one navigates domestic air travel in Australia.  Not sure if that is good (speed, less hassles) or bad (security concerns) but it is certainly different than in the U.S. and parts of Europe.  For domestic travel, you only need to be there 30 mins in advance.  Security lines are short and speedy (TSA, take a field trip to Australia).  Only laptops need be pulled out of bags.  Liquids are OK to carry on.  A breeze!  Of course, feeling sad when saying bye to relatives is just as hard here.  I saw a boy of about 5 with his parents saying goodbye to his grandparents and his uncontrolled sobbing after passing security was truly heart-wrenching…

What to Do in 3 Days in Tasmania?

I posed this question in a forum and on Twitter and I think people thought us insane to attempt to cover much ground in 3 days.  Well, it is true that you can only cover so much in 3 days but we were not expecting to do it all or do any one site to its fullest extent.  No speeding up the laws of physics.  We were told to stick around the southeast corner (or so) near Hobart which was not bad advice at all, but I think we had our heart set on a couple of places.  So what did we aim for?  Covering the island (er, state) like the dew…

tasmania_map

Day 1 – Hobart to Cradle Mountain

We took the 7AM flight from Melbourne (one of those sacrifices we had to make…) for the hour-long or so flight over to Hobart.  The flight was smooth as could be (which made me VERY glad we did not take the overnight ferry ride on fairly rough seas…) and getting through the airport and car rental went pretty smoothly and fast.

We decided that we still needed some breakfast and coffee as we expected to have a 4.5 hr drive through the Cradle Mountain National Park to get to the lodge we were going to use as base to see Crater Mountain and the neighboring lakes.  So, before embarking on that long drive, we decided to head into Hobart center to the weekly Saturday market in Salamanca Square.  We had been told it was worth checking out so we got to kill two birds with one stone (does that sound too violent?) and enjoy coffee and a donut while browsing.  The setting was very nice, the produce being sold by the same farmers that grow it, and the arts/crafts section pretty much like any festival in any city I have been to, except some of the arts stuff was more unique to the area.

We began our journey inland following the riverside until eventually we left it and headed to the national park.  The map in this entry may make it seem a straight drive but we went sort of west and then sort of north across a mountain range.  The views were simply amazing; it seemed very lush with eucalyptus and ferns everywhere – and the occasional hydroelectric plant with the huge set of pipes funneling water from up high to the plants for extra push.  The roads got a little windy but not excessively so.  It was definitely a drive we enjoyed.

A Stop in a Queenstown

Around 1:30 PM we stopped at the first town we had seen that seemed to have open businesses (this was on a Saturday afternoon) or, for that matter, that just had businesses!  This town was a mining town called Queenstown.  The neighboring hills/mountains seemed to be iron since the color was a rust color on exposed rock and reddish on rocks that perhaps were more recently exposed.  The town felt like a frontier town though I have never been to a real mining town.  There was no trace of tourists (‘cept us).  We ate at a small eatery (not sure what to call it) – a souvlaki for $6.50AU which was a real bargain compared to any other lunch I have had in Australia!

And Finally to the Lodge!

After another 1.5 hrs of our 4.5 hr trip, we made it to the Cradle Mountain Lodge (not the Chateau) (http://www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au/).  This lodge is close to the entrance to the park and had better recommendations than the chateau.  We really enjoyed the feel of the lodge with its “living room” with a humongous fireplace where we sat before and after dinner sipping nice Tasmanian pinot noir.  Our cabin (our type was called Pencil Pine) was very functional and the day bed was really a full bed and quite comfortable.  Our cabin overlooked a pond and had its own local wildlife right there.  At the lodge you could eat at a restaurant or the tavern and we chose the latter.  The food was actually quite good (I had chicken schnitzel) and had the only TV for the guests which helped one disconnect from the world.  We were exhausted after our early start (and after dinner and some wine) so we called it a night so we could have a decent recovery ahead of our hike the following day.  The lodge offers a number of organized activities from hikes and walks, to movies and wine tastings.  Something for everyone and, seemingly, a place to stay for 2-3 days easily while enjoying nature.

Our first day, though tiring, was quite a succesful day and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenic drive we got to do through the heart of Tasmania.  Here is what awaited us the next day…

Of Mountains, Caves, and Wine – Leaving Sydney Is Hard to Do

So today I leave Sydney.  I have greatly enjoyed seeing friends and getting to know this awesome city.  I am actually sad at leaving it and wish I can come back some day soon.  But I am off to see other friends in Melbourne and that is helping me depart.  I have packed all the stuff I brought plus all that I acquired here (souvenirs).  It all fit so now let’s see how I do taking the bus and then the train to the airport.  It will save me like $50 so I am willing to do a little work.  Fortunately, the bus stop is very close to my friends’ apartment.

Of course Sydney has a Chinatown

One of the final explorations of the city itself started with a trip to Chinatown where, after enjoying a stop at a Chinese bakery :), we went shopping for souvenirs.  Paddy Market (not to be confused with Paddington) has an incredible amount and variety of stuff for sale, including souvenirs, the same you find around town but much much cheaper (thanks Kelly for the tip!).

I got to do some good shopping which, of course, wore me out (I really do not enjoy going shopping) so we went to the Lowenbrau restaurant at The Rocks to recover by sampling their pork knuckle and enjoying some beers.  It was a great place to sit outside on a beautiful afternoon, relax, and soak life in.

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Awesome a city and a setting as Sydney is and has, beyond the city proper are some really neat things to see.  I explored those before wrapping up visiting this corner of Australia

A quick getaway to wine country!

How could I let Sydney end without seeing wine country??   Sunday we went to the nearby wine country:  Hunter Valley.  We visited 4 wineries and enjoyed sampling wine (oe swallowed; well, except the driver – thanks Dave for taking one for the team!).  It wasn’t  a bad drive heading over though we did face some roadwork traffic delays.  Folks at the wineries were very pleasant and eager to talk about the wine – and pour for free. The most common wine as Semillon, which is fairly unfamiliar to me.  It seemed a good summer wine or good for fishy fish (salmon comes to mind).  We did also sample Pinot Noirs, Cab Merlots, Cab Sauvignon and Moscato.  The latter was my favorite!

Tyrrell’s Wines in Hunter Valley

I felt like a tree hugger… This is a fat tree!

And leaving Sydney to see mountains and caves

Tuesday I visited the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan Caves.  I went on a tour since the places would be about 3 hrs away.  Unfortunately, though, we did not get to spend enough time doing the hikes around the Three Sisters area which I would have loved – I only got to spend like 45 minutes walking around the tropical forest near the old mines. Having now explored it, if I get to return to Sydney, I will plan to spend way more time in the Three Sisters area!

Driving on the Blue Mountains gave me a good view of the local mountain towns and I also wish I had gotten to spend time in these small towns.  They look like a delightful place to live.  The Jenolan Caves were pretty spectacular (we visited the Lucas cave; I liked the “slide” cave).

The tour we took was 1.5 hrs which was about the right amount of time to spend in caves.  The temperature inside, as in any cave, was in the 60s which was extremely nice given it was much colder outside where I wore a cap and gloves!  The Jenolan Caves also deserve more time so one can explore other caves (though I am told usually in this time of year there is only one cave open per day).  Some other day…

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My final night in Sydney

My visit in Sydney ended with a dinner at the Belgian Beer Cafe in Harrington St. in The Rocks.  A former school dining hall, it has a lot of charm and you can see the ruins under the building which probably date to close to the founding of Sydney by the British.  There we enjoyed good Belgian beer as well as kangaroo loin, and mussels in white wine and cream sauce.  The kangaroo meat was quite tender (cooked medium rare) and the sauce was delicious.  I highly recommend it!

Now, I will wrap up my writing and posting of pix so I can head to the airport to my next stop in this great trip:  Melbourne.  I close this post with one of my favorite pictures of Sydney…

View towards Harbor Bridge and the Opera House

Thanks to my Sydney friends for a truly memorable time and for the hospitality.  Til next time!

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