Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Come A-Waltzing Matilda with Cubbies to Melbourne!


Gosh we had so much fun in Melbourne, it was unbelievable! There were petting zoos, Kangaroos and Koalas and nice cool weather... Sigh! I am in love! :)

So since there's plenty to talk about, i wonder where do i begin? Do i go with Day 1 - what we did... Or do i go with what you really need to know when in Melbourne and compress everything i can into 1 post... ORrrr... gloat and gloat about how wonderful the weather was, and how warm the Aussies are... and and and!... how wonderful the weather was... :) *Did i mention how wonderful the weather was???*

Seriously folks, Melbourne is simply gorgeous. Its a charming city that emits a buzzing metropolitan air, almost akin to Sydney, yet it still held back an alluring charm you can only grow to love (or for me, absolutely head-over-heels for!)... Melbourne leaves you, or rather you leave Melbourne cuddled with a nice, quaint feeling.. and a desire to want more more more! Sure the streets are a little on the "scruffy" side, especially along the cobbled sidewalks, what with the graffiti up on the walls and just plain dampness to everything in the air (Yup! Blame it on the weather!). But hey, that is what we call a city with "character"! :)

Anyway, less talk and more show and tell... Let's start with a picture of the wings to the plane that brought us there, Air Asia X (which TTT already XXX over it many many many times!).

Incident No. 1 - At time of travel, State of Victoria has not yet been crowned the "H1N1 Pandemic Capital of the World" but they did take several precautions here and there. This is how they did it - Quarantine Officers boarded the plane after flight crew informed ground staff that 1 passenger on the flight was coughing profusely throughout the entire journey. Quarantine guys boarded the plane (dressed like scenes from the movie "Sequel to Biohazard") upon touching down. They made everyone else who is not affected stay on board the plane (therefore prolonging time of contact with suspected victim) until all Q&A with the affected completed. By that time, it was well pass 11pm. We took at least 45 mins waiting and wondering... Not good.

"Uhh... what happened arh?..."

"I dontch know. Not sure whether true or not, but someone said that woman got the pig flu lah!..."

"Alamak, bloody selfish you know she... Cough cough cough, never cover mouth one! I sat right in front of her you know!"

Actors from the movie "Biohazard II" :) Clever marketing gimmick? NOT!

Actually, we took more pictures of the Quarantine Officers (we were the only ones on board the plane taking photos like paparazzi, by the way) than this but were instructed to delete all of them before alighting. So we grudgingly did (with everyone else on board laughing with us) - ah yes, ALMOST! ;)

The super-intensive checks and cumbersome Melbourne immigration took us probably another hour or so - the questioning and checking and looking at us up and down and down and up and round and round (they probably couldn't believe how gorgeous Cubbies is despite the furs from a little cubby bear!) - all while trying to keep conversation and spot if we were hiding anything illegal - you know, the usual "immigration" stuff that took an unusually looong time to get through in Melb. HAH! They didn't know that i had a mock Koala outfit in my bag, with the intention of dressing up as one!

WORD OF CAUTION! Based on our keen observation, they single out travellers who are young (or too young, like Cubbies), who travels alone, and especially those travelling with backpacks. Meebops had this theory that we were asked to exit through a different channel because we indicated that we are "professionals" in our occupation list but we looked young (thank you...) and definitely not dressed as how professionals would. We only had t-shirts, shorts and sandals on, so it was contradictory and aroused suspicion... *shrug* Possibly. So BEWARE folks! Don try to be funny especially if you're a backpacker ;) That is, if you want smoother clearance (the Aussie immigration is probably the least friendliest ever...)

We were really too tired by the time we got to the hostel. We shared a cab from the airport with a couple of students from the US. Poor kids didn't even know where to stay but decided anyway, "Yes, we'd like to go to the Elizabeth Hostel please..." Our driver was a Pakistani who barely speaks English, drove them to another hostel on Elizabeth Street. Whatever... I just want to go to bed. The cab ride at 2ish in the morning costs us about AU$80. Expensive? Very.

Fast forward few hours later...

We woke up to the buzzing sounds of traffic from the highway opposite the hostel. My God the air was fresh! :) It was unbelievable.

Here is our first foray into Melbourne as a city, just slightly on the fringe of the CBD areas. We stayed at the Urban Central Hostel, conveniently located on Collins Street in Southbank - the quiet side of Melbourne, but an easy 5 minutes ride into town or 20 minutes stroll on foot - which was what we did every day. UC is a neat hostel that's clean, hassle free and one of those few that has a FULL-SIZE kitchen for you to prepare your own meals. Now we will talk about that later... heh! heh!

Moving along... So our initial plan was to travel outside the city centre on our own, travelling with public transport or even drive! When we calculated the monies though - travelling to and from the city, it adds up to even more than if we go on guided tours. So we weigh the options out and decided that since we are travelling on very limited time and with very very very little money, we might as well make our monies worth and go for the cheapest, most convenient option.

TIP 1! Do not pre-book your tours online - they are usually very expensive! Enquire from travel desks upon arrival and compare prices. Most of the tours offers very very similar experience and itineraries so pick the best bang for your buck! ;P

TIP 2! If you happen to stay at a backpacker / budget hostel and want to join a tour, make sure the first place you ask is the travel desk based at your hostel. They'd usually recommend the cheapest and best tours for your money (which was not a lot for our case). And if you are one of those lucky few (like us) who look young for their age, EVEN BETTER! All you pay are student concession rates! We get to join full service Gray Line tours at a student price. Think double-deck coaches on the GOC - it can't get any better than that!

DAY 1: Explore the City on foot! Make sure you have good walking shoes on!

We couldn't join any tours today because we woke up at noon on our first day in Melbourne - thanks to Biohazard II and Australian immigrations. So we had a quick brunch at McDonalds and walked into the City, towards Crown Casino complex, crossed the Yarra River, took pictures on Flinders Station and marched all the way to Federation Square. before heading back the same way we came. We also made a pitstop - because Cubbies wanted to visit her "aquatic comrades" at the Melbourne Aquarium - it was well worth it though (cos Cubbies was given "child price" for her visit... yayayayayyy!!). Some pictures here...

The Penguin Parade... Live from Melbourne Aquarium!

The river that runs through it... Yarra River running through Melbourne.

You can't miss the very icon for Melbournians - Flinders Street Station. The crowded, noisy, unpleasant-smelling old dame still stands tall and proud today. A visit to the CBD means passing by Flinders Street Station at least once in a day :)

Directly opposite the Flinders Station is the Federation Square - which is the heart and soul of the culture and entertainment scene in downtown Melbourne. Its buzzing, full of activities like demos and people sitting around and chatting on Sundays. Fascinating :)

There what did i tell ya? Demos... LOTS OF THEM. On Sundays, they get even more violent and chanted!!! Tsk...

And there you go, Crown Casino. Everything you need in ONE massive building - food, movies, entertainment, women, Cuban cigars, roulette and sin... All in one. Pretty fascinating!

Oh and they have night shows too. They call it... well actually i call it, "The Great Balls of Fire Show" - huge streams of fire balls burns from massive gas cylinders every night at 8pm Melb time. Can get a little intimidating really, especially when they blow right above your tiny head. FUN FACT: Did you know, that the RSPCA was petitioning to shut down the fire balls because it kills heaps of pigeons daily? Love them birds and animals, but ermm... I 'd like mine roasted please ;P

So that's pretty much what we did on Day One - woke up late because immigration took so much of our sleeping time, had brunch, enquired about tours (and pretty much booked everything we need to see in Melbourne/Victoria with a little extras here and there...), walked around, explored the city on foot and just basked in the sun and cool weather. Neat? Sure was!

OH! Here's the food section for you ;) Remember we had brunch at McDonalds? And it wasn't until late that we felt the hunger pang yet again. So we went around looking for food. Someone told us that at Level 1 of the Crown Casino building, there are food available "foodcourt" style. So we went to check it out and true enough, among the food vendors and Singapore-style food court, there were probably a million other Singaporeans. Bleargh!!!!!

So here's the food. For my Muslim friends, its very true, there are lots of halal food in Australia. You just need to find them, which thankfully, isn't very difficult.

We must be very hungry because i remember we bought 2 main complete meals and a serving of Mediterranean-hummus salad. All we took was a picture of, well, the salad ;P Go figure.

Till our next post: DAY 2 - Billy's Bush Tea (??!) And Why You Haven't Seen Victoria If You Haven't Been On The Great Ocean Road (GOC)!

Cheers, mate!



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