Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Oz Report – Part 14 – Melbourne Day 4

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Monday.

With Ben back at work, and Em doing her thing with Leo and Angharad, we were off into Melbourne to do our own thing too. We had two things in mind: Melbourne’s Golden Mile Heritage trail, and the Pixar Exhibition at ACMI (Australian Centre of the Moving Image). But the first order of the day after getting in to Flinders Street station was to find some lunch! We looked in our guide book and made a short list of two places which were both just a couple of blocks away. One of them turned out not to exist any more, or at least to have transformed into another place. However, it had stairs to get in. No stairs always beats stairs when you’ve got a stroller, so we settled on the Hopetoun tea rooms.

After a good, if slightly pricy, couple of sandwiches and the by now de rigeur hot chocolate, the main event was cake: Lamington for me and an apple slice for the wife.

Apple slice and Lamington

Now, a short aside about Aussie food. In general, a lot like UK food, it tends towards the homey. Australians are big on pie – well who isn’t? But I think they’re being a little boastful in thinking it’s strictly an Australian thing. However, curry pie is a work of genius, I’ll admit. Vegemite I’ve already covered: they also have Marmite, but owing to trademark issues they have to call it “My Mate”. Sausages, or snaggers, on the barbecue are another big thing, and all Australian parks have public barbecues to go and have a cook out. Just take along food and something to give the barbie a bit of a clean with, and you’ll soon be enjoying tasty meat-based snackage. This also meets with my approval.

Lamington is another great thing. Basically a Victoria sponge covered with chocolate and rolled in coconut. They range from the posh tea-room variety (as pictured above) to the one-rung-below-Mr-Kipling very-artificially-enhanced-I’m-sure variety, and for me both have their place. I seldom say no to a lump of cake waved in my direction. The last Australian foodstuff that must be mentioned is the Tim Tam. It’s been compared to a penguin (I’m talking about the chocolate bar), but I think it’s better. There is something about it. One thing I haven’t tried, but am intrigued by, is the hot chocolate Tim Tam mouth explosion, whereby one bites off opposite corners of a Tim Tam before sucking it full of hot chocolate and popping it into ones mouth whole. I think I have to try this.

Anyway, back to the plot. After lunch, we thought “Pixar or Golden Mile first?” and of course, naturally I chose Pixar. So we went over to ACMI and paid our $15 each plus $40 for the souvenir guide (no pictures allowed inside, you see). I thought $40 was a bit steep, but didn’t mind so much paying it for a thick book full of artwork, which after all, I can also write off on my taxes. However, the other merchandising was definitely milking it – $30 for a mug?!

Pixar Exhibition at ACMI

Before actually heading down to the exhibit, we looked around the rest of ACMI. It’s not really a museum like MOMI in London is, but more an exhibition space. There were some interesting short films on show and a couple of rooms dedicated to the Independent Games Festival winners. After mini-Elbeno was awake, fed and changed, we went down to see Pixar. Mrs Elbeno did a sterling job corralling the young chap while I lost myself in the artwork and movies on show. They were showing all the older Pixar short films – Luxo Jr, Red’s Dream, Tin Toy, etc – as well as a whole load of concept art, character and world development work from the later films, and also interviews with various Pixar employees.

When we’d had enough to be going on with, we headed up to the cafe for a bite to eat, and mini-Elbeno got a chance to meet some friends:

Henry meets Mike and Sulley

In all we ended up spending a few hours at ACMI, foregoing the Golden Mile for today. For once the kids all went to bed at a reasonable time in the evening and we were able to complete a couple of games of Buzz!. I won one, but Em showed it was just a fluke by thrashing us all second time around.

Oz Report – Part 13 – Melbourne Day 3

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Sunday.

This was Father’s Day in Australia, and Mrs Elbeno had arranged for us 3 to run the Father’s Day 5 in Albert Park. So we got up early and borrowed a portable satnav device from the Boards, which directed us to the correct place without a problem. We got there at 8 for a 9 am race start, so we were able to get a decent parking place, pin on our race numbers, etc, without any rush. Although I had been entered as a runner, I was taking the small chap around the course in his stroller.

Mrs Elbeno zoomed off with the real runners, leaving me threading my way through the huffer-puffers at the back. Before the race I had decided on a target time of 45 minutes, so when I passed the one km mark at 13 minutes by my watch, I thought I had better get my skates on, and started running with the stroller instead of walking. It helped that the boy had fallen asleep, and the stroller’s front wheels were locked for more speed potential. I passed lots of people which prompted one woman to chivvy along her husband because “the baby’s passing you!” Picking up water at around 2.5 km, I settled into my run-walk pattern and came home in an official gun time of 41.37, quite respectable for a stroller-pusher.

Daddy and Henry after the 5K

That afternoon we headed with the Boards down to Elwood, on the northwest side of the bay that Melbourne sits atop, to enjoy the weather, barbecue some “snaggers” (sausages) and generally laze about, it being Father’s Day. Mr Board showed he’s going native:

Ben cooks the snaggers

And the chaps had a good time playing on the playground equipment and kicking balls around.

Henry plays Aussie Rules Football

I climbed a nearby rise to get a shot of far-off Melbourne, before we packed up our things and headed down the road for an ice cream.

Melbourne across the bay

However, mini-Elbeno was being difficult, and Mrs Elbeno was getting a headache (or something) and we left the Boards to their ice cream, heading home ourselves. That evening, I think we ordered Indian for dinner and started a game of Buzz!, which unfortunately had to be prematurely aborted owing to the needs of the small one.

Oz Report – Part 12 – Melbourne Day 2

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Saturday.

The weekend came without our noticing… I had managed to completely forget work, which was great! Our precision-planned schedule had today and Sunday down as “Boards’ choice” so we deferred to our hosts for the day’s activities. Since we’d brought the fine weather, it was decided to visit Collingwood Children’s Farm. The walk there was a nice stroll of about 45 minutes, through parkland – you wouldn’t know it was in the middle of Melbourne.

A park in Melbourne

On arrival we immediately sat down for lunch at a superb outdoor cafe, and enjoyed some of the best sandwiches I’ve had in a long time. Afterwards, Leo and mini-Elbeno had fun being restrained from chasing ducks and chickens, and later sheep and lambs. Although there were clear signs telling people not to handle the lambs, of course many older kids were doing so anyway, to the extreme consternation of ovine parents and offspring alike. Mrs Elbeno sternly warned away some older kids who were obviously distressing a lamb and its mother.

Lamb and Sheep

Time was getting on, so we retraced our steps homeward, and Ben and I continued our conversation about games industry foibles, machinations and future directions. Once again, a pleasant and relaxing evening was had by all. Em went out to a mother’s group night out, so we ordered pizza and watched amusing videos on Youtube after the kids were in bed.

Oz Report – Part 11 – Melbourne Day 1

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Friday.

Ben had taken the day off work, and we decided to take the train in to Melbourne (about a 15 minute journey) and visit the Melbourne Museum. The Boards have a family membership, so they’re able to go any time, and for good reason, because the Melbourne Museum has one of the best kids’ sections of any museum I know. In fact, we didn’t actually visit much more of the museum than the kids’ playing area!

Henry and Leo at the Museum

Dinosaur Fun

Geek that I am, I did get to see Australia’s first computer (and only the world’s fifth): the CSIRAC. Melbourne Museum also features Phar Lap, the famous racehorse of the 20s. We ate a passable lunch at the museum cafe before catching a tram home. Well, I say lunch was passable, but Mrs Elbeno complained about the pasta. My sausage roll was fine though. After getting home, we spent the late afternoon and evening relaxing and looking at photos of our trip so far. Leo and Angharad have a well-set bedtime routine and were off by 8.30, and we had fajitas for dinner.

Oz Report – Part 10 – Melbourne At Last

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Thursday. A week since we’d arrived in Oz.

We awoke at 6, give or take, and I pulled on some clothes and rushed out and across the road to get some pictures of the dawn. I’m not sure that my 360 panoramic effort is going to turn out, but dawn over the marina was pretty nonetheless.

Dawn over Lakes Entrance

It was quite cold (probably single digits Celsius) and I hurried back in to get warm and entertain mini-Elbeno while Mrs Elbeno, the mad woman, went out for a run. After she got back, we found a cafe for breakfast, checked out and were on the road again at about 10 am. The drive to Melbourne now was plain by comparison with the earlier driving down the coast, since the road veered more inland and tended to be more straight highway. We stopped at a rest area to briefly placate the small bloke, then again for a late lunch in Pakenham.

Getting to Melbourne was easy, but once again Google Maps proved less than useful at directions in actually getting off the highway, and we ended up on a toll section. Mrs Elbeno coped with alternative directions though and soon we had arrived at Board Acres, home of Ben, Em, Leo and Angharad, which was to be our home for the next 6 days. Em welcomed us warmly and we all popped down to the local park to give the kids a chance to let off steam.

Henry slides

Later that evening we caught up with Ben too (after work) and were able to properly relax after all that time on the road. Lovely.

Oz Report – Part 9 – Lakes Entrance

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Wednesday.

We left Narooma at about 9, planning to stop in Eden (the last town before a long stretch of driving) for lunch. We had our usual (by now) hot chocolate and other brunchy things in Eden, which was a nice little town with a wide high street where cars parked in a central divide. A quick nappy change later we were back on the road and hoping mini-Elbeno would fall asleep. However, he didn’t really feel inclined to do so, and we stopped again 43 km later at a rest area.

Australian highways feature many rest areas and truck parks, I suspect because the towns are quite far apart. Remote as it was, this rest area was functional, with a solar panel for power, ladies and gents toilets (albeit of the composting rather than flushing variety) and cold water – activated with a lever – to wash hands. The soap had long since disappeared, but perhaps those more skilled in Bush knowledge than myself could have rustled up some antibacterial sap, or something.

Back on the road, we continued the long drive to Orbost, the next town. There we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack of pancakes and fruit salad.

Cafe in Orbost

We got into Lakes Entrance at about 4, and found our new motel without a problem since it was on the main drag. Right next door (by good planning) was the attraction we wanted to visit in our short time in Lakes Entrance: the Shell Museum.

Shell Museum

At $5 each to get in (mini-Elbeno free) it was a bargain and a good way to while away 45 minutes. Not only shells, but entire dried crabs, lobsters, fish, octopi and other denizens of the deep were on display by the thousand. Also, a model railway for the further amusement of mini-E. I was particularly struck by some cone shells with unequivocally sierpinski-esque markings:

Sierpinski Shells

It’s one thing to vaguely be aware of fractal patterns in nature that you’ve read about third hand, and quite another to see the remarkable truth sitting in front of you. I was impressed.

The shell museum closed at 5, so we took a walk in a direction that we thought would take us up to a lookout point. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to be fulfilling its promise, and it was getting dark, so we turned around and went back to a park to let the little chap have a play, while we enjoyed the view over the north arm just after sunset.

Lakes Entrance North Arm at Sunset

Lakes Entrance is so named because it is the only inlet to a lake system which stretches along 90 miles of coast at the south-eastern corner of Australia. After dark, we wandered off to find the local bowls club and have dinner there. It was something like a Harvester. I had Hawaiian chicken and Mrs Elbeno had Chicken Parmigiana, IIRC. I think mini-Elbeno mostly ate carrots (or “haba” as he calls them) and I used some discount coupons from the motel to get us a free round of drinks. The club had an excellent play area for youngsters with a rubberised floor and alphabet puzzles as well as Xboxes. We made our way back after dark, once again marvelling at the night sky, walking briskly so as to stave off the evening’s chill, and trying to spot a suitable place for the next morning’s breakfast.

Oz Report – Part 8 – Narooma and Tilba

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Tuesday.

Today was our one day in Narooma before heading south again. Originally we were going to Montague Island – a four hour tour to see seals and other wildlife – but owing to the expense and under-subscription of the tour and the fact that we were too early for whale-watching season, we decided to do other things instead. Mrs Elbeno took a run down by the ocean, and afterwards we kicked the day off with a nice breakfast at a place called Pelicans on a small marina in Narooma.

A Pelican

They did particularly good hot chocolate (with two marshmallows each). After breakfast we went down to Surfbeach, a local beauty spot which was deserted.

Narooma: Surfbeach

After enjoying the wind and waves on the rocks for a while, mini-Elbeno got bored so we got back in the car and drove a little way south to Umbarra Cultural Centre. It is astonishing to think that Indigenous Australian culture is around 60,000 years old. This makes it the oldest (extant) culture on earth. Imagine ancient Romans and Greeks still being around today – not too much of a stretch. Ancient Egyptians? Still possible. The people who made the Lascaux cave paintings? Quite a bit tougher. Now multiply that far back by about 4, and you have an approximate date for beginnings of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander cultures.

I talked to the lady running the centre – her mother was Aboriginal and was forced to marry a white man in the 50s under the White Australia policy, she said. She was quite bitter as she told me about this and how the Aboriginal peoples had been in that area for millennia, worshipping the land, before being subjected to “terrorism” by the colonial peoples who assumed they had no religion and no culture. Clearly Australia is just beginning to come to terms with its past.

Mini-Elbeno was being difficult, so to give him a chance to fall asleep, we drove to Central Tilba. We spent the afternoon pottering about the historic town and visiting the various shops. I bought a sorely-needed new belt and wondered about a kangaroo-skin wallet, but didn’t take the plunge. I must get some kind of wallet for mini-E, or bequeath my current one to him and get a new one, because he’s mad about it.

We returned to Narooma in the late afternoon and watched the sun westering over the harbour, and the waves coming in to the inlet.

Narooma Harbour

Narooma Inlet

We had the leftovers of the last night’s Chinese takeaway (quite acceptable) for dinner and watched the sunset from our motel room.

Narooma Sunset

But that’s not all! That night we were in for another treat – a total lunar eclipse, which approached totality at about quarter to eight. Being in Narooma, with crystal clear weather, and far from any light pollution, the night sky was just incredible. Of course, we didn’t recognise much of the southern hemisphere sky, except the Southern Cross (Crux) and a star that was so bright that I figured it was probably Jupiter. But the moon turned an orangy red, and for the first time in my life, I recognised the milky way clearly. One of these days I must get myself a telescope, and drive out into the desert to immerse myself in astronomy.

Oz Report – Part 7 – Narooma via Shellharbour

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

I’m now back at home. Some pictures (more to come) are up in a flickr collection. I’m inlining some of the good ones.

Monday.

We picked up our hire car – a Ford Falcon XR6 – in the morning, from the Budget place down the road from the hotel. Hire car tip: picking up a car at the airport incurs a surcharge. In our case it would have been 15%. But you can drop off at the airport for no extra charge. So we picked ours up in the city, having used trains and shanks’ pony for a few days. Getting out of Sydney was a breeze using the extensive network of road tunnels under the city (which we were again to use when going back to the airport). Driving in Oz is easy – obviously it’s right hand drive, and many road signs are similar to the UK. The ones that aren’t tend to be similar to the USA.

So we headed South and past Botany Bay, on our way to Shellharbour where we were stopping for a few hours to see family. Mini-Elbeno fell asleep in short order, and we passed a sign indicating we only had 1027 km to Melbourne (our eventual destination). So quite a way to go on our road trip, and that’s not even counting coming back. We overshot Shellharbour but quickly righted ourselves, and by dint of recognising every other direction from Google Maps we managed to make it to Marcy and Al’s house.

Family

Betty (my grandad’s sister) and Jack were visiting and we had a lovely lunch followed by a tour of Shellharbour. We spent a while talking and catching up before getting back on the road to Narooma around 4. Since we had a few hours’ drive ahead, we didn’t want it to get too late. The road to Narooma was a lovely drive – sweeping bends and rolling hills, with ocean views on the other side.

Road scenery

We arrived in Narooma – population something a little over 5,000 – after dark and found our motel on the second attempt. Google Maps isn’t very good at indicating where there is no through road. I was sent to forage for food while Mrs Elbeno tended to the offspring. Amazingly, Narooma sports two Chinese takeaways (almost half of its eating establishments!) so I picked up some food from the Ocean Palace and we refilled before bed.

Oz Report – Part 6 – Last Day in Sydney

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Sunday.

We had a relatively easy day planned; a visit to the Australian Museum in the morning followed by meeting our friends Dean & Lisa in the afternoon and mooching around a bit.

The Australian Museum was pretty good: the fossils and meteorites were interesting, and they have a hall of skeletons which mini-Elbeno enjoyed. They also have a great area for under-fives with various playthings, big puzzles, and a plastic ladybird which mini-E grabbed onto the first minute we were there and refused to let go of. We eventually managed to wrest it from his grip and left with him protesting.

We wandered through Hyde Park and had a late lunch in the Art Gallery of NSW, before meeting Dean & Lisa on the steps. We spent a while trying to keep mini-Elbeno from whacking all the artwork off the walls in the Aboriginal art section, then we left and wandered down to Woolloomooloo bay and up and down the wharf there – an old wool wharf now converted into apartments, restaurants and hotels. Apparently Russell Crowe lives on the end.

It was getting near sunset so we went down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to take in the sunset. I took about a million photos of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in the sunset. Absolutely stunning views.

Sunset over Sydney

After sunset, Dean and Lisa had to get back home, and we meandered back to Woolloomooloo Bay for dinner. We didn’t go to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels – apparently a famous spot for pies – but instead tried out Siena Marina. They didn’t serve curry pie, but even so the food was just fine.

Oz Report – Part 5 – Harbour Tour and Taronga Zoo

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Saturday.

We got up early again and went down to the ferry wharves. Today was our harbour cruise day! We bought a combo ticket for the harbour cruise and Taronga Zoo, and had breakfast at Rossini right on the wharf. Two jam doughnuts as big as our heads, half a pig’s worth of bacon, enough eggs to make a cardiologist faint, and copious amounts of toast.

Breakfast

The ferry headed out just as the morning mist was clearing and we got some interesting photos of the city and harbour (stay tuned for the flickr galleries to follow when we get home). First stop was Fort Denison, a little outpost in the middle of the harbour. Then on to Taronga Zoo, where we alighted and took a cable car up to the top.

Taronga Zoo was great: we saw all the Australian animals of course (plenty of pictures of roos, wombats, etc), and we also saw the wild bird show which was cool. A bird of prey (I can’t remember which one) flew right at my head as part of the show – I hadn’t noticed that one of the trainers was standing right behind me at the back. We had our photos taken with a koala (not holding it, just close; it was up a small tree – apparently handling koalas is illegal in NSW and Queensland) and we also saw a seal show. I also took what turned out to be a great picture of a wild rainbow lorikeet that was sitting in a tree above me.

(Wild) Rainbow Lorikeet at Taronga Zoo

I must also mention Taronga Zoo’s icon which I think is excellent: it looks quite like an Xbox controller actually (although it is really a stylised platypus)!

Of course the zoo also afforded great views over the harbour to the south.

Sydney - view from Taronga Zoo

But more of that was to come as we left the zoo and caught the ferry again to Watson’s Bay, out at the edge of Sydney harbour. I could have stayed there all day at The Gap watching the Pacific Ocean crash against the rocks. We caught the last ferry of the day back to the city centre and enjoyed the sunset behind the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the ferry.

The Gap

After wandering around The Rocks a bit, we ate at City Extra back on the wharves, and caught a train back to the hotel.