Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category
We had no troubles getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Sydney’s tunnel system once again proved useful. After dropping off the hire car, we checked in, and this time we were prepared to make sure our car seat was smoothly approved. The checkin agent remarked that we were very organised for people travelling with small children (seeing that we only had 2 carryons).
The airport was of course the ideal place to shop for any souvenirs which we felt we lacked, and we picked up some zip-up tops and a t-shirt, with a few other knick-knacks. The flight itself was OK, although mini-Elbeno didn’t sleep as much as he had on the way out. I watched a few of the films on offer although missed the end of Ocean’s Thirteen.
Mini-Elbeno also enjoyed his first ice lolly to himself. This might be why he didn’t sleep so much!
So we got home safely, and the family went to bed, and I went to work. Well, I figured I might as well at least clear my email backlog…
Today was our last day in Australia, and we had arranged to take a trip to see my family up in Belmont. By comparison with our other trips, this was a short drive (just around 100km) and we arrived at about 10.30am at Betty & Jack’s house. We got to talking about this and that, and catching up, and a short time later Doug and Julie and their son Jackson arrived.
Mike and Nada arrived with Tony, who had recently driven over from Dubbo.
We had a lovely lunch of barbecued sausages, chicken and lamb, with various salads and potatoes. Mini-Elbeno enjoyed playing with the various toys available while we chatted and got to know the family. Betty and Jack gave the small chap a gift of a stuffed koala with Australian accoutrements (hat and flag), and all too soon it was time to leave and brave the holiday weekend traffic back to Sydney.
Once more our plans changed – owing to Mrs Elbeno not feeling 100% and the inclemency of the weather, we decided not to take a day trip to the Blue Mountains. The Boards had suggested Palm Beach, but this was also a long drive, and in the end we opted for a day of rest and light pottering around the local town of Parramatta. As you can see from the following two photos taken out of our window an hour apart, the weather was being a bit unpredictable.
Parramatta, then. It’s really just like any UK satellite town: a bit of history, shops and eating. We hit the information centre and made our way to the park where we saw the outside of the Old Government House, a National Trust Property. We also got rained on a fair bit.
At the next break in the weather we made a bee-line for a restaurant (Cafe Ziggy’s) to have lunch. Mini-Elbeno enjoyed drawing while we were waiting for our food, and he actually ate quite a lot IIRC.
The weather seemed to have cleared a bit, so we continued our tour of Parramatta, and the small chap played for a while in a playground in the town centre. We went into what turned out to be a huge shopping mall, in search of souvenirs, but couldn’t find any stores selling Australian-type things. So we returned to the car, paid a not-very-cheap price for the downtown parking, and returned to our motel.
That night we ate leftovers for dinner. Mrs Elbeno had a sore throat though, so even then she ended up eating not much. So we went to bed. At least we’d had a day that wasn’t spent on the road. At this stage we were looking forward to meeting family tomorrow and getting home after that.
Our original plan had been to visit Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, part of NASA’s deep space network. But since it was a 50-mile round trip in the wrong direction, we opted for visiting Cockington Green, a model village named after the village of Cockington near Torquay, which is coincidentally close to another model village that I’ve visited quite a few times.
Seeing as the motel was a bit lacking in breakfasting facilities, we went straight to the cafe and had warm scones, jam and cream with hot chocolate. A good breakfast on a rainy day, as it was. During a break in the weather we toured the model village. It was divided into two parts: half was a somewhat Wodehousian view of England (cricket matches, dogs running off with sausages out of a butcher’s van, etc) and half was International, i.e. various strangely-chosen models representative of their home country, and sponsored to the tune of A$1000 by the appropriate embassy located in Canberra. The model chosen to represent the UK was the Lynton and Lynmouth railway:
Which I have been on many years ago. I am also unable to explain why the swan in this picture is wearing boots, but there you are.
Cockington Green also features what must be the world’s smallest steam railway, which consists of a loop of track maybe 100 yards long that goes around the “International” bit. They charge A$2 a go (we didn’t bother) but the funniest part was the continual admonitions of the grumpy guy driving the train, telling the kids in no uncertain terms to keep their arms and legs inside the train. Perhaps the poor old guy thought he was getting his dream job, only to have his days perpetually ruined by pesky kids.
We got out of there around noon and back on the road to Sydney. The memsahib and mini-Elbeno fell asleep in the car and I completely failed to look out for the Big Merino as we passed Goulburn. We stopped for a late lunch in a shopping mall in Campbelltown before heading on to West Ryde, a western suburb of Sydney where we were to spend our last couple of days in Australia. Once again, Google showed itself to be not so good with directions and we were hit with toll roads twice.
We arrived at our last motel in late afternoon again, and were told that the hotel restaurant was closed because of the public holiday. Actually, it was quite lucky that we hadn’t planned to be in Sydney itself at this time, since we didn’t know that APEC was going to be on then when we booked the trip.
We were glad to be able to relax at the end of our travelling, and Mrs Elbeno wasn’t feeling very well, so for dinner, I picked up a (really nice) pizza from the oddly-named “Da Bruno – JP’s Pizzeria”, and while we kicked back I called the Boards to have a chat.
After a brief morning constitutional, we were out of Albury and on our way to Canberra. We stopped for lunch at the Niagara cafe in Gundagai where we had hot chocolate (of course) and passable food (I think I had some kind of pie). A few miles the other side of Gundagai, we came to The Dog on the Tucker Box, an Australian landmark:
For some reason, we were expecting it to be big. But it was, as you see, just a normal size dog. I think we had got it confused with the Big Things. Anyway, the cafe/gift shop was closed for refurbishment (“under new management”) so we stayed only five minutes before getting back on the road. The weather, which had been fine for us for so long, started to worsen and we had several showers.
Approaching Canberra on Highway 25, we got stopped and turned around by police at a bad accident scene that was blocking the road. This put a minor crimp in our plan, since we didn’t really have directions for an alternative route, but we followed a truck that also got diverted, reasoning that it would be going to Canberra too. As it happened, it was going to Goulburn, but we only had to follow it as far as the main highway where we turned south and it turned north.
Canberra! The city everyone loves to hate. Planned to within an inch of its life (or further, depending on who you talk to), just like Milton Keynes. Everyone, on hearing our plan to drive back through Canberra, had told us “what do you want to do that for?” but we approached it with an open mind, intent to see all the sights. Strangely, the only person who spoke well of Canberra was the motel owner in Albury, who avowed, “Oh, it’s lovely up there.” I think in the end, this says more about Albury than Canberra. I was later to have the following conversation with Ben:
Ben: “So, how’s Canberra then?”
Me: “It’s… everything they say it is.”
Ben: “That good, eh?”
Well, millions of people can’t all be wrong in their opinion of Canberra, and I must report that it’s not a place I feel the urge to go back to. We arrived at about 4 owing to our unplanned delay, and after getting to our motel (the worst so far) discovered that everywhere closed at 5. Everywhere, that is, except the National Library. We had hopes of walking over there to see the various exhibitions and a bit of culture. As it happened, we drove because the rain was threatening again.
Thank goodness we drove, because Canberra is not designed for walking. It’s planned, and things are relatively far apart. I have no doubt that one can walk, given the abundance of greenery, but it’d be quite a long way. The road system, I assume initially planned with the best of intentions, has become a diabolical snare of twists and one-ways that one is only saved from by good maps and good signage. Even so it was in large part luck that saved us from a wrong turn that would take us a mile out of our way.
The National Library exhibition turned out – you guessed it – to close at 5. Our water was detained by the security guard and denied access to the reading rooms. We took a look at some dead parakeets in a mini-Exhibition in the hallway, and used the computer to check our email, before taking our leave.
Canberra has a few features that save it from being a total loss. The Cook Memorial Jet is impressive, and was active as we were entering the city and crossing Lake Burley Griffin, sporting a permanent rainbow in its wake and treating our car to a light windblown shower of lake water. We also spotted the largest stainless steel structure in the southern hemisphere! This makes me wonder what the largest one in the world is, but I don’t think I can be bothered to find out.
In the end, the most enjoyable thing about Canberra (besides journeying onward) was the evening meal we had. Our guidebook told us that eating out in Canberra was excellent, and in fairness I can’t disagree. We ate at a restaurant called Milk and Honey where I had a pork chop, stuffed apple and caramelised onions, and Mrs Elbeno had some kind of pasta that was equally delicious. We returned to the small motel room glad to have only one more day of travelling ahead.
I had one goal for today: by hook or by crook, I was going to see an echidna. This was the only well-known Australian animal I hadn’t yet seen, since they didn’t have one at Taronga Zoo, and it looked like Melbourne Zoo was going to be my last chance. So we headed off with Em and the Boardlets to Melbourne Zoo – conveniently located only about 15 minutes away by car. Someone had good karma, because we managed to park literally right outside the zoo entrance – we couldn’t have been any closer at all!
Having packed in the morning, we were under no particular pressure to hurry along, and we planned to leave by 4. So we meandered around the zoo and saw all the usual zoo animals. For lunch, we opted for the more up-market option than the fast food stand outside, and the restaurant was surprisingly good. We were also in the market for some Australian animal souvenirs for the small bloke; either stuffed, plastic, or part of a wooden puzzle. Mini-Elbeno had had fun playing with Leo’s plastic animals and had taken a particular shine to the “eh-neh-neh-neh”. The best souvenir option turned out to be stuffed, and we picked up a nice plush platypus and an echidna hand puppet, then headed to the playground.
Time was getting on now, and I was still missing the echidna in my notional “I-Spy Book of Australian Animals”, hand puppet notwithstanding. The Boardlets were showing signs of tiring too, but before leaving, we made a swift detour to the Australian animals section, where, Em promised, there was an echidna to be found. Kangaroos, emus, wallabies, they were all old hat now. Koalas? Pfft. But wait, what’s that in the koala enclosure? That brown spiny thing ambling along with its round-shouldered gait? Could it be?
Hurrah! My monotremal curiosity was now fulfilled. We fairly rushed past the rest of the birds and animals and headed home, it now being about half past three. I loaded the car, and of course since the boy had fallen asleep on the way home, we waited for him to wake up, reasoning that it would be strange for him to wake up on the motorway with everyone else gone without a goodbye. And so it was that about an hour after originally planned, we were heading out of Melbourne, trying to find a way on to the Hume Freeway.
We stopped at the Avenel Roadhouse for refuelling (us, not the car) where (I think it was here) mini-Elbeno discovered the delights of milkshake. I fear that whenever we eat out now, I am doomed to have to order a milkshake so I can share it with him, because he inevitably now asks for one and gets annoyed if it is not forthcoming. We will also (as we have subsequently learned) have to limit ourselves to restaurants which serve milkshakes, or incur his wrath.
We finally pulled in to our overnight stop, Albury, at about 9pm, just as the proprietor of the motel was emailing us and wondering where we were and why someone from California would be booked in anyway.
Once again we headed in to Melbourne CBD, this time to do the Golden Mile. We had picked up a flyer the previous day from the information centre in Federation Square. Federation Square (also the home of the ACMI) itself is interesting architecturally:
I don’t remember eating downtown, so I must assume that we had lunch before leaving the Boards’. The Golden Mile Heritage trail starts at the Immigration Museum just down the road from Flinders Street station, wends its way through the city, and ends up at the northeast corner of the CBD at the Melbourne Museum. Along the way, we took in the sights and sounds, and made several detours into shopping arcades. Melbourne has an interesting mix of old and new.
This is a hook turn, and it’s exactly as mad as it looks. I’m glad I didn’t have to make any while I was there. To turn right (yes, across the oncoming traffic since Australia drives on the left) at a hook turn, you must first move into the far left lane. Then, I gather, you wait for the traffic on your right (going the same way as you) to pass. Also, of course, you must wait for a gap in the oncoming traffic. This being downtown, the traffic flow both with and against you only tends to stop when the light turns red. At this point, you seize your chance and make the turn before the perpendicular traffic can get started and thus prevent you once again from doing so. The reason this mad system is in place is apparently something to do with the trams which run in the centre of the road. I still think it’s less than sane.
These photos show the splendour of the downtown arcades. And not only do they look good, they’re packed with great shops. Melbourne is a fantastic city to shop in. My favourite shop (of course) was The Games Shop – a proper board game shop, small but stuffed with quality games. Any shop that stocks both Settlers of Catan and Go is doing something right.
All the time we were window shopping, mini-Elbeno was snoozing in his stroller. He woke up when we reached Treasury Gardens, where we took another detour off the route and into the park. We let the chap out of his seat for a change of pace and went to see Cooks’ Cottage (yes, the apostrophe is really after the s – I can only assume that they’re referring to the Cooks as in the Cook family) and rather oddly, the JFK memorial with its pond. I say pond, but in fact it was completely dry, presumably because of the stage 3 water restrictions that were in force. We did not see a single fountain in Melbourne that was working, and the few ornamental pools we saw in the parks had notices to the effect that they were filled with reclaimed water, however that works.
Getting out of the park and back on to the trail, we went past Victoria’s parliament building, then took a turn through Chinatown and out the other side towards Carlton Gardens, the other big park bordering the CBD and home of the Melbourne Museum (which we had already visited the other day, albeit just to use the children’s part). It was getting a little cold out of the sun, which was now getting low and occluded by the city, and we made a run for the museum lobby where we placated mini-Elbeno with some milk. That done, we decided to get back home and made for the nearest station, which was Melbourne Central. This also turned out to be a big shopping centre, built over an old shot tower which still stands inside it.
We were a little lost inside Melbourne Central for a while, but managed to find the platforms eventually.