Natural and Man-made Beauties

As you may have deduced from my previous posts, Melbourne is home to an array of beautiful sights produced by Mother Nature and man.

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I had the pleasure of attending the Tesselaar Tulip Festival, established in 1954.  The event combines music, food, crafts, and, of course, tulips.  The Tulip Festival is held in Silvan, Victoria in the Shire of Yarra Ranges.  In its 61 years, the festival has grown to 25 acres of land covered in half a million tulips of over 120 varieties.

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I was even able to see a bit of good ol’ Gloucester County, Virginia while visiting the farm.  There was a spread of approximately twenty varieties of daffodils–not quite as vast as the tulips, but bittersweet nonetheless.

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One of Melbourne’s number one attractions is its graffiti streets.  In 1964, graffiti began to appear on buildings of suburban neighborhoods, metro trains and trams, put there by the disaffected youth of the city.  As this vandalism became recognized as an art form, it became prominent in well-seen areas around Melbourne Central.  In 2008, in admiration, Florida’s Disney World took to recreating a Melbourne laneway for a tourism campaign.

While the decorated laneways attract tourists to the Australian city, the government is torn on how to manage the production–art versus vandalism.  For now, graffiti will remain a double-edge sword.

xo

Books, Badges, and Botany

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I never had to exercise such self-restraint as when I went to the Book Market at, you guessed it, Federation Square.  Every Saturday, bibliophiles gather to sell, buy, and swap new and old titles.  Vendors line the Atrium with an array of titles, varying in genre from Russian literature to romance to children’s books, for prices that would even give Amazon a run for its money.

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After convincing myself that lugging ten kilos of literature around Melbourne would not be my smartest decision (or the easiest task), I strolled down St. Kilda Road to the Shrine of Remembrance.  The Shrine was dedicated in 1934 to the 114,000 Victorians–men and women alike–that served in the Great War (1914-1918).  During the war, not all the bodies of dead soldiers made it back to Australia for a proper burial, so the Shrine was erected to provide acknowledgement, honor, and closure for the families of the deceased.

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Spanning the entry wall to the Visitor Centre is a display case containing 4,000 medals presented to Australian military personnel during times of war and peacekeeping.  These medals reflect the honors of 106 Victorians.

The Visitor Centre houses a museum of war relics–uniforms, letters, weaponry, etc.–from the establishment of the colony, Victoria, to present day efforts in Afghanistan.

Throughout the day, a remembrance ceremony is conducted in the Sanctuary of the Shrine around the Stone of Remembrance.  Engraved on the Stone is “Greater love hath no man.”  The Sanctuary is constructed with a glass roof allowing the sunlight to rest upon the word ‘LOVE’.

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Underneath the Sanctuary is the Crypt, a holy room in honor of the sacrifices made by all the Victorian men and women who have served the Australian military and lost their lives.

Across the street from the Shrine of Remembrance is the main entrance to the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Like a lush Central Park, the Gardens provide a beautiful backdrop for families to picnic, play soccer, and soak up some vitamin D.

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Within the Gardens, the National Herbarium of Victoria is located.  The Herbarium conducts research on over 35,000 specimens of Australian plants, fungi, and algae; as well as some non-Australian collections.  Researchers focus on the taxonomy and systematics of Victorian flora.

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Lastly, I finished my day of solo explorations with lunch in yet another Melbourne alleyway, musical entertainment free of charge.

xo

Kiss My Sassafras

Finally, after approximately ten months of winter, spring has finally returned to my life.  Good-bye nine-degree (48˚F) mornings, hello high of 23 (73˚F)!

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Torta:  spicy grilled chorizo in a flaky roll, topped with a pineapple pico de gallo

To kickoff the season’s festivities, my friends and I attended a Mexican festival held, in the heart of Melbourne City, at Federation Square.  The event was comprised of craft vendors, food trucks, sombreros, mariachi bands, and glorious Melbourne sunshine.  Mexican food craving:  satisfied.

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This past weekend, Sole and I took a scenic drive into the hills to yet another quaint, country town, Sassafras.  Like many of the other small towns in Victoria, Sassafras is a single lane-way with a row of shops, boutiques and cozy cafes on either side.  We were fortunate enough to hear the work of Stephen McCulloch, a member of Team Delta from the most recent season of The Voice Australia, while browsing a cute knick-knack and home goods store, Smits & Bits.

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We continued our journey through the winding roads of the Dandenong Ranges to the SkyHigh overlook (no, Dad, not where they train superheroes).  From atop Mount Dandenong one gets a panoramic view of Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne CBD, and Mount Macedon.  Other attractions at SkyHigh include:  a secret garden, an English Garden, and trail walks through the ranges.

Unfortunately, we have a dreary-spell for the next few days, but you know what they say:  [September] showers bring [October] flowers.  The weather is getting progressively nicer, which means I will be increasing my explorations and discovering a lot more of Victoria’s beauty in the months to come.

xo

Never Judge a Book by its Movie

Another Sunday morning of solo-exploring led me to the State Library of Victoria, one of the first three public libraries in the world.  The State Library was established in 1854 and is comprised of several reading rooms and galleries housing books, magazines, historical archives and artifacts, and artwork.

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The La Trobe Reading Room is situated under the largest dome of its kind.  The room spans 35 m (115 ft) in height and diameter with enough space for over one million books and 600 readers.

Along the perimeter of the dome, on levels five and six, were exhibits.  The first exhibit was a walk through Victoria’s history; it contained artifacts and historic information pertaining to the establishment of the English colony, the infamous Ned Kelly, ANZAC involvement in WWII, and the first Australian made car.

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The newly formed Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was sent to the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915 to assist in the demise of Turkish troops.  Although the campaign was a failure, ANZAC endured primitive conditions and plagues (lice and dysentery), earning their countries’ respects.  Alongside propaganda, the courage, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice to withstand such terrible conditions aided in the recruitment of new soldiers who would step on the battlefield during WWII.

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Holden was a saddlery manufacturer founded by James Alexander Holden in 1856, until Edward Holden converted the company into the automotive field in 1908.  In 1919, they began specializing in completely Australian made car bodies before being subsidized in 1931 by U.S.-based General Motors.

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The second exhibit displayed many works (writings, paintings, sketches) regarding natural history.  Joannes Jonstonus was a Polish natural historian and physician whose goal was “to make young men delight in natural history” by illustrating real and imaginary sea creatures in his notes.  Francois Le Vaillant was a French explorer and ornithologist.  Unfortunately, he was not credited for many of his ornithological discoveries because he preferred to use his own descriptive names, rather than the standard Linnean nomenclature.

[ATTENTION:  If you do not know what Linnean nomenclature is, do not ask me, as my biology-loving heart will shatter into a million pieces.  I suggest you do a quick Google search and educate yourself.  That is all.]

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A stereograph is formed by posting two images, taken from slightly different perspectives, next to each other on a cardboard mount.  When viewed through a stereoscope, they create a three-dimensional single image.  There is a large collection of stereographs at the State Library, most of which depicting the interior architecture of the Library, as well as its galleries and exhibits.

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After wandering the Library for three hours (and I am still convinced I missed things), I met with a friend to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).  I am no film critic, but when in Melbs, right?  We viewed a compilation of shorts directed by aspiring Australian and New Zealand filmmakers.  Prior to the viewing, each director gave a short speech thanking their cast, crews, and family–a practice run for their potential Oscar-winning speeches.  That’s right; some of the shorts are being considered for 2016 Oscar nominations.  How cool!  While there were a couple shorts that I did not quite understand, others were great and took a new or different approach than anything I had seen before (again, personal preference, not a film critic).  Just another thing I can say I did while on my Australian adventure.

xo

No Queens in Queensland

Reluctantly, we have returned from our holiday in warm, beautiful Port Douglas, Queensland and are back in cold (but still beautiful) Melbourne, Victoria.

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We stayed in a villa hidden behind the line of swaying palm trees along the famous Four Mile Beach.  At low tide, a vast expanse of the intertidal zone is exposed or under very shallow water, thus allowing beach goers to observe hermit crabs, sea stars, and small fish up close and personal.

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Queensland, like Victoria, did not disappoint in the food department.  Located at the Reef Marina is a restaurant, On the Inlet, that serves everything from basic fish n’ chips to seafood platters topped with crab, scallops, and calamari to pan-seared baby barramundi with an Asian salad (pictured above).  Enjoy it all while watching the boats sail along the inlet into the horizon.

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On Thursday, I returned to my natural habitat.  At 10:00 AM, we boarded the Quiksilver and took a scenic cruise to Agincourt Reef, one of the 2,900 small reef ecosystems that comprise one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef.  Upon docking at a large pontoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as always, I took to my fins and dove into the spectacle of the sea.  I have done my fair share of snorkeling, but there are always new things to see and discover.  Whilst frolicking the sea as a mermaid, aside from the easily recognizable parrotfish, clownfish, and angelfish, I saw, for the first time:  giant clams, a humphead wrasse, blue linckia sea stars, and orangespine unicornfish, to name a few.

It was an early start Saturday, as we boarded a 4WD bus that would carry us from Port Douglas into the Daintree Rainforest, one of two World Heritage Sites I would experience during this holiday (the Great Barrier reef being the other).  We began by driving through Mossman Grove, a small town where the sugar cane plantations seem to outnumber the people (population 2,000).  Sugar cane is a year-long crop that is harvested for three to four months before being transported, via railway, to the mill for processing.  The small street housing the supermarket, cafes, and laundromat is the hub of Mossman Grove.  “Moss Vegas,” they call it.  If you are in need of any major purchases, you must travel some 30 to 45 minutes to Port Douglas to retrieve them.

Our first expedition was a river cruise along the Daintree River which spans 140 km (87 mi) north of Mossman Grove.  The river is an estuary (brackish water where salt and freshwater mix) and its mangrove and eucalyptus lined banks are home to many animals, such as:  barramundi, yellowbellied sunbirds, herrings, and the animal of the hour, estuarine crocodiles.

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Saltwater crocodiles are energy efficient animals, obtaining all their energy from the sun and using their food sources solely for growth and development.  They can survive without food for up to six years and without water for up to two months.  Saltwater crocs can slow their heart rate to two beats per minute which allows them to stay under water for up to six hours.  Females reach lengths between two and three and a half meters, while males reach lengths up to eight meters.  Scarface, one of the twelve crocodiles spotted during the cruise, is the alpha male along the Daintree River.  He is near 70 years of age, 4.7 meters length, and 600 pounds.  Due to fighting other males in territorial disputes, he has lost all 2,700 teeth allotted in his lifespan.  He is one tough animal I would not like to swim with.

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The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest on Earth and houses Australia’s greatest biodiversity.  It has been accessed by non-natives since the 1800’s, but no efforts to protect it were made until the 1960’s when the rainforest was deemed a World Heritage Site.  Cassowaries (literally translated, “horned heads”) are large, colorful, flightless birds that aid in the dispersal of seeds, thus enabling the growth and development of the forest.  Cassowaries occupy the understory with orange footed scrubhens, a small bird which builds the largest ground nest; while bennetts, or tree-climbing kangaroos, and other smaller birds can be found in the canopy.

One must be very self-aware while trekking through the forest, for there are several types of dangerous fauna among you.  Be aware of the Hope’s cycad’s grayish speckled palm fronds, for its entire composition–bark, leaves, and seeds–is toxic to humans.  The seeds of these trees take 12 months to germinate; and once sprouted they grow approximately one meter every 100 years.  Hairy Mary’s are trees that are sure to pierce the skin should you grab hold of its spike-covered trunk.  Lawyer bushes, or wait-a-whiles, will have you waiting, if its spiky vines latch onto your skin or clothing.

 

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Our last stop within the Daintree forest was Emmagene Creek, a natural water hole, where some brave tourists enjoyed a nice (chilly) swim followed by an exotic fruit and Billy tea tasting.

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(1) sour sop, sour custard apple; (2) rollinia, sweet custard apple; (3) black capote; (4) Indonesian apple, five corner; (5) papaya; (6) sapodilla, caramel pear.

Of the exotic fruit, I most enjoyed the sour sop (1); it tastes similar to lemon meringue.  Despite the off-putting appearance of black capote (3), it wasn’t bad; it was creamy, but bland making it the least enjoyable.

Billy tea is tea brewed using an aboriginal technique to ensure tea leaves are not scooped into drinking cups.  Once the tea leaves are done boiling in the billy pot, a person swings the pot in a circle several times, allowing centripetal force to pull the tea leaves to the bottom of the pot.  A stick is then banged on the side of the pot forcing any stray leaves to sink to the bottom.  The tea can then be scooped into cups to drink, leaf free!

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In 1770, James Cook ran his ship aground at modern-day Cape Tribulation, named for “the beginning of [his] trials and tribulations.”  Cape Tribulation is the converging point of two World Heritage Sites, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.  It is a spectacular scene, lined with palm trees and mangroves, with an undisturbed view of the horizon.  Not enough time was allotted to bask in its beauty.

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Lastly, we ended our excursion with a stop for ice cream, freshly churned passionfruit, raspberry, pineapple, and wattle seed ice creams.  Nothing beats the sweet, chilly goodness after a day of traipsing in the hot sun.

Our final day in Port Douglas was spent meandering around a market.  Vendors lined a field by the marina, selling handmade goods–artwork, jewelry, and clothes.  We witnessed the crushing of sugar cane to make juice, the playing of a didgeridoo by an aborigine, and an array of other street performers.

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Our return flight to Melbourne did not leave until late evening; so before checking into Cairns Airport, we visited the Cairns Tropical Zoo, where I got to check off another item from my bucket list.  Yep, I cuddled a koala; two and a half year old, Charlie!  Despite what I had been told, he was heavier than I thought he would be and less smelly.

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All good things must come to an end, but I can say with confidence though, this holiday will not be my last venture to Australia’s Sunshine State.  My heart calls to the sun, sand, and sea.  So, until next time, Queensland.

xo

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I cannot say “Thank you” enough to my fabulous host mom, Sole, for allowing me to join her and her family on this amazing holiday.  She has welcomed me into her home and has treated me with nothing but kindness since my arrival.  I had a blast during the entire trip and seeing the boys expressions and excitement for all the world’s wonders is something I will truly remember forever.  I love being the go-to girl for all their marine-related questions.  I’m ready to move, when you are, Sole! 😉

We came. We stomped. We conquered.

Recall Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG) where I witnessed my first Australian Rules football game.

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Well, I got a wild hair and decided it’d be a great idea to participate in the Stadium Stomp Challenge.  That’s right!  After a day of celebrating the world’s greatest nation (USA!  USA!  USA!), I woke up to run up, down, and around 7,343 steps.  In the company of members of Carmen Get Fit, the gym I have joined, and hundreds of other Melbournians, I managed to conquer the challenge in 1:12:41.  Not bad, if I say so myself.

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I made it my goal to try and beat the man I had been playing “Cat and Mouse” with throughout the afternoon; and I did it!  Here’s to accepting new challenges, setting goals, and achieving them!

xo