Friday, August 14, 2009

Come A-Waltzing Matilda with Cubbies to Melbourne! - PART 2


So we continue with the anecdotal account of our journey in Melbourne, Australia.

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

Our journey outside of Melbourne City Centre began on Day 2. The day was spent entirely on the road. Tour starts from 7:30am right up till 10:00pm. We obviously couldn't wait to see the best first, so we journeyed to one of Australia's great spectacle - The Twelve Apostles.

To get to the great 12, you will take the coastal highway, also known as The Great Ocean Road. And if you are the squeamish, motion sick kind of person (like Cubbies), better hang on to those pills to adjust your sense of balance and equilibrium - the roads are extremely winding and quite bumpy too!

TTT initially planned to take a self-drive tour along the GOC but thankfully we thought otherwise because it is a loooooooooong journey that will not only take a toll on your body but forces you to concentrate more on the road and less on the sights itself.

Albeit the "long winding Cubby-unfriendly roads" and obvious "touristy" spot, you really haven't seen Melbourne if you haven't been on the Great Ocean Road.

I'm not even going to say much about the GOC because the pictures are pretty self explanatory.

First stop on our trip was the Bells Beach (BB), famous for its surfing activities. There were several tour buses that took their morning tea-break stop at the BB. WE were one of them, obviously. For me, it was a the long awaited pee-break! The weather, though absolutely gorgeous, was super duper chilly!

Surfer dudes and dudettes... I once knew a cool surfer chick business associate who travels from Sydney and surfs every single day at Bondi Beach. I must say, they are really something... She was due for a meeting one morning, donned a "power suit" and umm... flip-flops (you know, beach slippers) and this really huge black Billabong carry-all duffel that looked like she was going to have some surfboards up on display! I personally found it very amusing, but apparently, not the rest ;)

Cubbies is not a very good swimmer (well, she's only 2 you know..) and surfing in big open seas is like asking her to jump down from a high cliff! She is terrified about the pounding waves and all that Blue Planet DVDs she's been watching every night (with all the whales and the sharks swimming underneath) doesn't help either. Meebops however (the one with the gusto..), will want to give surfing a shot some day!

This is the overview of BB (on video!!!) on a semi cloudy day. It was freakin' cold and there were quite a few surfers who were crazy enough to surf that morning. The winds were blowing strongly but strangely though, the water was tamer than i expected.

That's our guide, Darryl, doing his spins on Billy the Tea and telling us amusing stories about Vegemite, Lamingtons, Matilda (which by the way, is not the name of a girl..), Victoria Bitter and his hilarious and outrageous stories of his wife and kids. Great guy by the way, so if you do get him as a guide on Grayline, you're really quite lucky because the rest of the guides that we've had were all BLEAH-boooring. The only thing with Darryl is you'd probably find it really tough to fall asleep.

Moving along... this was also where we had a taste of Melbourne's very own "tar-like" Kraft Vegemite (our VIRGIN experience) and Lamingtons and believe it or not, Billy's Bush Tea. Ok i made that last one up, it's actually Bush Billy Tea - the iconic black tea in Australia often brewed with an added touch of Eucalyptus leaves. Billy is actually the can that the outbackers / campers used to brew the tea in. Its really quite pleasant, with hints of soft menthol notes as you sip it. Goes better without sugar or milk!

Darryl doing his Sir Mix-A-Lot... Geddit? Bah!

Yada yada yada... sings "The wheels on the bus goes round and round..."

Oh wait... Here are MORE photos of the GOC, including Cape Patton. Cape Patton was a "photo stop" just before we head to lunch at Apollo Bay. Its really stunning for photos, with waves crashing into gigantic rocks and limestone.

Next up, lunch!

Lunch was at picturesque town of Apollo Bay. It is a stunning coastal town lined with cute little houses, tinted with backdrops of lush green fields and relaxing blue hues from the ocean ahead (Imagine!).

The breakfast Cubbies made (which was burnt bagels with eggs and cheese) finished by the time we got to Lorne, so we had to get lunch because Cubbies had an appetite after the vomiting episode. There are no halal food outlets here so we settled for seafood in cafes.

We got the Classic Fish & Chips... probably costs us about AU$12.99 or so.

And we also got the Fresh Handmade Vegetarian Pasta and Rice. Costs us about AU$6 for a small serving..

After lunch, the bus went pass the Otway National Park and we were sheltered by the scorching mid afternoon sun. The Australian rain-forest seemed like they were made up of nothing but fern gullies and Eucalyptus - actually those are the only two kinds of plantations there.

Along the way, we also spotted a wild Koala (not Koala Bears!) which is the famed and uniquely Australian marsupial. Poaching or killing of Koalas in the wild is a serious offense in Australia so watch out for those slow-coach crossing the road if you're driving. WARNING! Even though the Koalas are cute, cuddly and looked like they are begging for a big hug from you (like how sometimes Cubbies bat her lashes for a hug), they do not like to be stroked or touched!!! You will suffer and bleed when they paw you (not the good way) with their long and sharp claws - so do not try to touch them! They really like it that way :)

We didn't get close enough to focus on the wild koala but i'm sure its cute as the rest of them! Here's another photo of a SUPER cute baby Koala. It must be tough being a Koala though, having to live with white aging hair all their lives... *sigh* Hehehe! :P Fret not, we will post many more pictures of these charismatic marsupials in our postings!

Picture of Cutest Joey Koala borrowed from Erik K Veland

Just before the actual 12, we were stopped for picture taking at the Gibson Steps. These steps are small steps but goes all the way down to the sea front and my God, that was really a test of our strength, stamina and physical resilience (or the lack thereof...). It was here that i realise how pathetic my stamina is now. Bleargh!!! The scenery though, was absolutely jaw-dropping gorgeous-ness :)

Views from the Gibson Steps...

If you are as enthusiastic and persuasive as Meebops, yoan take the stairs all the way down... and you'll see that this is the closest you can get to the limestone Apostles. It was really tough walking along the shores tough, because the sand is really thick and makes it really difficult to walk on.

Next on the road is The Twelve Apostles - main highlight of the day. Honestly, after the entire episode of vomiting and waiting and waiting in anticipation for the great 12, the feeling was quite subdued by the time we get there. It was magical nonetheless, and to see the Great 12 in real time is nothing you have ver experienced before... but... you know the feeling.

Anyway, there are 2 options to take when you're here - either you walk through the tunnel to the viewing platforms at the Port Campbell National Park to view for yourself, the stunning and impressive nature-carved limestone cliffs standing so majestically and patiently, unfluttered by the violent waves crashing against it.

OR for an extra AU$75, you can also get yourself a comfy ride on nifty little copters for a chance of a lifetime!

that's right - an aerial view of the 12 Apostles! Breathtaking indeed but the price was a little too steep for Cubbies. I was quite reluctant (as i always will when it comes to forking out more money!) but Meebops (the more touristy of the 2) was so excited of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And so we did! It was our virgin copter ride, ummm... really nice... but kinda scary at the start :)

Here are the photos...

Nifty little machines they are...

Behold the views!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stunning ain't it??? :)

Along the same coastline is also the mysterious Loch Ard Gorge (LAG), which after visiting The Twelve Apostles, you will come to realise just how really charismatic these carved limestone looked like up-close. LAG is the real deal... Up close and personal - so close you can talk to it!

The Blowhole cave...

This is the Island Archway, before the arch collapsed in June 2009. TTT would like to consider themselves lucky enough to have witness the Archway in its full glory in May 2009 :)

This one's here called the Shipwreck Coast, and you can actually (again) take the stairs down for a greater appreciation of its sheer size and magnitude.

Some new friends i waved and smiled at....

Oh hellooo..! LAG was also where i met an acquaintance, Little Pet Kangoo. Someone obviously abandoned it. Though quite pleased that i met a friend, i am also sad that its there alone, waiting for someone to adopt it. I can't adopt it obviously... i have Meebops.

Our last stop for the day was at Port Campbell. We didn't get anything to eat while we're there cos we do want to have something back in the city. But it is a nice little port town overlooking a quaint pier.
Our drive back was a snooze ride all the way! What a day! :)

Oh! Not without what i snacked on all the way back to the city!!! Homemade fries in dog poo bag... :)

USELESS INFO ANYWAY: I don't know how many times i actually peed on that day. The reason being the fact that it was already late Autumn/early Winter and apart from the sweatshirt i was wearing (over the thousand strands of bear-fur on my body), i had only my socks and my cute little Crocs sandals on (that Meebops got me as a gift!) . Now Crocs has holes in it so i guess with the air-conditioning on the bus and the cold weather outside and the lack of necessary protection for my furs, i got cold! And if there was ever an award for "The Most Number of Times Someone Uses the Tiny Toilet in the Bus" - I would've won a lifetime achievement award for it!

Till our next post: Day 3 - Sleep In Day And My God, Aren't Those Tiny Penguins Bloody Exhibitionists?!!

Cheers, mate!


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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