Meandering Melbourne

“Travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone.”  –The Dhammapada

This week I was fortunate enough to have an abundance of free time, with which I chose to do some solo explorations of local sites.


I ventured first to Brighton Beach, another quaint little beach town, much like Sorrento.  Church Street is a posh shopping centre, equipped with stylish boutiques, cozy cafes, and enticing restaurants.  A short 15-minute stroll from Church Street places you at the intersection of Dendy Street and Esplande where the Brighton Beach bathing boxes are located.  The original 82 bathing boxes were constructed shortly after the settlement of the English, as a means to conserve the decency of beach goers.  In the mid-1800’s, the boxes were relocated to where is now known as Dendy Street Beach, after extensive land disputes.  Each box is uniquely painted–some adorned with cartoons and ocean scenes, while others simply bear bright colors.


About a week ago, I found myself with two hours to kill, so I wandered into the National Gallery of Victoria.  Boy, did I underestimate the time it would take me to explore this museum, so naturally, I had to return to see the rest.  The NGV is an absolutely outstanding gallery comprised of three stories and over 70,000 artworks spanning the genres and regions of the world–to name a few:  contemporary, pre-Raphaelites, Asian, English, Ancient World.  Due to the expansive building, I was lost within the gallery, but at the end of the day, I’m sure I could have been lost in worse places.

“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”  –Ray Bradbury


Located across the street from the National Gallery are the Queen Victoria Gardens.  Throughout the gardens are statues of nymphs and hammer throwing men and memorials to commemorate Queen Victoria and Edward VII.  Strewn among the grass are Melbournians picnicing, reading, playing frisbee, and simply enjoying the sunshine.  Add a zoo and a swimming pool and you have found yourself in New York’s Central Park.



Queen Victoria Market hosts a special night market during the winter months.  The Winter Night Market brings together music, food, merchandise, film, and fire.  I advise bringing your appetite because you will want to try everything available–mushroom burgers, lamb shanks, chili con carne, fried Oreos, hot apple cider, and more.  While you are eating, you can shop for handcrafted artwork, jewelry, soap, and clothing at one of the thirty or so merchandise booths.  Done shopping, but not ready to return home?  Check out the cinema located near the rear of the market to enjoy film shorts written, directed, and produced by amateur Australian filmmakers; be a groupie at the mainstage while local bands perform well-known and original songs; or cozy up by one of the many fire pits located around the venue.



Keep Left



Two English, a Scott, and an American get in a car…and have a road trip filled with sightseeing, wine, and kangaroos.  We set off at 9:00 AM for the 243 kilometer (151 mi) drive from Torquay to Warrnambool, along the Great Ocean Road.  The stretch of highway runs along south-eastern Australia with several overlooks to bask in Mother Nature’s beauty.


Most notably along the Great Ocean Road is the Twelve Apostles.  Due to harsh weather conditions and extreme erosion, the limestone was carved into bridges which later collapsed leaving stacks.  Unlike its name, the landmark was only ever composed of nine stacks, eight of which remain after a collapse in 2005.


After completing the westward trek along the Great Ocean Road, we journeyed northward to the Grampians National Park to rest for the night.  Among the fields and fields of sheep, I can finally say I have seen a wild kangaroo!  In almost every span of land or campground or parking lot, there was a troop of kangaroos just hanging out.  And boy, do they come out at night!



Before making our return trip back to Melbourne, we were sure to get in a quick hike.  A 1.8 km (1.11 mi) return hike to Mackenzie Falls was the icing on the cake of our road trip.  Although the return was a steep uphill climb, the view from the pool was amazing.  Please note:  pictures do not do Australian landscapes justice.

Unfortunately, our time in the Grampians National Park was cut short and we had to return home for the workweek.  On the plus side, I will be returning in January with my host family and I could not be more excited to discover the other gems the park has to offer.


New Heights, New games, New Friends



Located 285 meters above Melbourne is the Eureka Tower Skydeck.  You travel via lift 88 floors at a speed of 9 m/s for a total ride time of 32 seconds.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Never have I ever had my ears pop while on an elevator, until visiting the Skydeck.  I would much prefer my ears to pop than to have to conquer the 1,642 stair climb to the top.  No, thank you!

The 365 degree view is absolutely breathtaking.  You can see all of the city and beyond–MCG, Parliament, the Botanical Gardens, St. Kilda Pier, and more!  Definitely worth the ear pressuring trip to the top.



Not quite sure I am sold on Australian Football, or footy.  I attended my first game and can say that I left more confused than when I arrived.  I thought I understood the basic gist of things… wrong!  And the same whistle tone/length/etc is used for at least five actions/fouls/etc (none of which are a stoppage of play).  At least the atmosphere was great and the beer was cheap.  Here’s to that!

Now, I have met several people during my first month here (yeah, where did that time go?) and there seems to be a general consensus:  all Americans are rednecks who drink beer, wear cowboy hats, and chant “‘Merica” at every opportunity.  I hate to break it to you, Australia, you’re wrong.  I am from Virginia, not Texas; therefore, I most certainly do not chant any variation of “‘Merica”.  Ever.


Wallabies and Kangaroos and Penguins, Oh My!

Yesterday morning I began my journey from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Phillip Island, home of the fairy (or little) penguins.  A fitting spot to celebrate World Penguin Day, I’d say.


The first  stop on the map was Maru Koala and Wildlife Park.  There I was able to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s native wildlife, including:  koalas, wallabies, dingoes, kookaburras, emus, and, you guessed it, kangaroos!  Nothing can quite describe the funny sensation of a wallaby or kangaroo licking bits of dried food out of your palm, while their tiny paws (and rather large claws) grasp your hand or wrist.


On our way to Pyramid Rock, we stopped for a quick stroll at Woolamai Beach.  This particular beach is famous as a surfer’s paradise.  Considering the dreary weather, the waves were quite large and I can see how it has withstood its name.  Once at our intended overlook, I walked to the end of the bridge to peer out at a pyramid-shaped rock, Pyramid Rock (clever name, eh?).  Had the weather been more enjoyable–less wind, more sun–I would have gladly spent longer trolling around the cliffside, exploring the area, but onto the next we went…


The little penguin colony of Phillip Island is the last and largest penguin colony on the island.  Due to this fact, researchers have taken many measures to protect and conserve the population and its habitat.  One way is by implementing weighing stations.  When the little penguins return from hunting at sea, they waddle their way up the cliffside via a maze of well-engraved pathways.  Researchers have implanted a man-made barrier to funnel the penguins into a single-file line as they cross over a solar-powered scale.  This data has been collected over the past 30 to 40 years and is used to monitor the sustainability of the colony.11

Finally at the Penguin Parade visitor centre, the other viewers and I worked our way to the viewing theater positioned on the beach.  Seated quietly, holding our breath, listening for the calls of the little penguins, we waited.  At 6:00 PM, after the sun had set, the first rookery arrived at the beach.  From the water, they waddled across the sand and up the cliffside to their burrows.  Standing at only 33 cm (1.08 ft) and 1 kg (2.2 lbs), they are in fact the littlest penguins–and the cutest, if I might add.  The viewing only lasts for an hour, as the rangers turn off the lights and allow the penguins to return to their burrows undisturbed.


Savoring Sorrento


The perfect way to spend a dreary day?  Beer tasting and dessert eating, of course.

En route to Sorrento Beach on the Mornington Peninsula, a mere hour and a half drive outside Melbourne, one sees hill after rolling hill of vineyards… and sheep.  Lots of sheep.  Tucked among the wineries and farms is Red Hill Brewery–Sole’s and my first stop on our day out.  There I enjoyed a tasting paddle (flight, for you Americans out there) of deliciously crafted Australian beer.



Once at Sorrento Beach, we continued our delectable journey by indulging in the famous vanilla slice.  I am not a big sweets person (besides chocolate, of course), but this was heavenly.  A vanilla slice consists of a thick layer of vanilla custard sandwiched between two layers of flaky crust, topped with powdered sugar.  Just sweet enough.  Mm mm.  Although they can be found in many, if not all, bakeries in Australia, I was advised that this shop has the best, by far.  Living up to their claim as “Sorrento’s Famous Vanilla Slice,” it seems.


After enjoying a stroll through the quaint beach town, another beer overlooking the bay, and a quick photo-op on the beach, we finished our savory journey at Sorrento.  If you want to enjoy Italian food, I recommend this restaurant.  I don’t think I saw a dish that looked anything less than impeccable, and my taste buds haven’t failed me yet either.  The Diabolik pizza I had was exactly what I had been craving and I didn’t even know it.


Go home, Australia. You’re drunk!


Tonight I had dinner at a pub which is actually a restaurant that is called a hotel.

Anyone as confused as I am?

In Australia, pubs are more restaurant-like environments where people congregate for a bite to eat and a drink.  You are required to order and pay for your food and drinks prior to being served.  That’s one way to ensure no one stiffs you at the end of the night; no dine-and-dash here.  What we Americans refer to as a pub would actually be classified as a bar, in an Australian dictionary.

Pub food in Australia is not pub food at all.  Tonight I dined on chicken parmigiana, or “parma” as the Aussies call it.  Rather than being plated on a bed of spaghetti, it was served with chips, or french fries, and fresh vegetables.  Sure beats peanuts and pretzel rods placed on the sticky counters of any pub I’ve ever been to.

You might ask, “Why are they called hotels?”  Good question and I have yet to find the answer.  The whole bit would be far less confusing if they did not call actual (by American standards) hotels, or temporary living accommodations, hotels, as well.  Learning this lingo is no easy task, I’ll tell you that much.

The one thing Australians and Americans can agree on is the definition of a club.  A club is a venue in which music with heavy bass is blasted from speakers by an overzealous DJ, as girls drunkenly dance around in short skirts in the middle of winter.


And the adventure begins…


I began my journey on Thursday, April 09 with a 4:00 AM wake up call.  Within 33 hours of travelling, I saw three airports, witnessed three sunrises, and survived six screaming children on two, essentially, back-to-back thirteen hour flights.

Despite it all, I finally made it to my new home!

After Sole, my host mom, and Jayden, the eldest son, picked me up from the airport we headed for their house where following my introductions to the youngest sons, twins, Tristan and Luc, I immediately showered and got much needed rest.  That evening, I took a stroll with Alison, the au pair whom I’m replacing, to a local supermarket and ate dinner.  I was so utterly exhausted, I went to bed at 7:00 PM.

What a great night’s rest!  Wrong.  At 11:30 PM, I was lying wide awake, twiddling my thumbs.  As tired as my mind was, jet lag had won and wouldn’t let my body adjust to Australia time.  Sleep came in waves until finally I heard the boys waking up Sunday morning and pulled myself out of bed for the day.

Fortunately, I have Alison here for the week to help me adjust to the new lifestyle and show me the ropes.  We left Sunday morning to travel into Melbourne, which is an hour bus and train ride away.  Great news for me, the bus stop is literally in front of the house.

In Melbourne, I got a little taste of everything.  We visited Queen Victoria Market, one of the largest trade post/flea markets I have ever seen.  They sell everything from kangaroo skin hats to boomerangs to Miami Heat jerseys and fitted hats, with a full fresh market and live music to boot.  You could essentially spend all day wandering the booths.


After leaving the market, we had a nice lunch at a quaint restaurant in a long line of restaurants tucked down an alleyway.  I have never been so bombarded by wait staff to eat at a restaurant before.  Quite the overwhelming experience deciding where to eat for such indecisive individuals as Alison and myself.  Nonetheless, lunch was delicious but it called for a drink afterwards, so to the rooftop bar it was!  (It claimed to be “Melbourne’s best rooftop bar,” but I’ll have to do some more research and get back to you on the truth of that statement.)


After ringing in my arrival into Australia with a cold draught (pronounced draft), we were onto the next item on the agenda:  graffiti streets.  Melbourne has several; and if they’re anything like the one I saw, I cannot wait to see more.  Pure talent and such eclectic style and content.  Leaving the graffiti street, we crossed the Princess Bridge over the Yarra River which runs through the center of the city to Crown, a huge hotel/casino.  Crown brings Vegas to Victoria, minus the strangling cigarette smoke (thank goodness).


Following a few more drinks, we made our way back to Narre Warren via another train and bus route.  By that time I was far past tired, so after checking in with Sole, I happily crawled into bed and got the solid sleep that I needed.  Finally I had beat jet lag!

The work started this morning, as the boys began their winter term at school.  Again I am fortunate to have Alison here to walk me through the motions of prepping the boys for the day and getting them ready in a timely manner.  Here’s hoping I can manage when she leaves at the end of the week; keep your fingers crossed for me!