Archive for September, 2007

Oz Report – Part 20 – Day trip to Belmont

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Sunday.

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.

Family in Belmont

Mike and Nada arrived with Tony, who had recently driven over from Dubbo.

Family in Belmont

Family in Belmont

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.

Road Scenery

Oz Report – Part 19 – Parramatta

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Saturday.

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.

View from motel 1

View from motel 2

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.

Rainy Parramatta

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.

Henry Draws in the Cafe

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.

Oz Report – Part 18 – Canberra to West Ryde

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Friday.

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:

Cockington Green Lynton/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.

Taunting a swan... with boots?

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.

Cockington Green Steam Train

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.

Oz Report – Part 17 – Albury to Canberra

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Thursday.

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:

Dog on the Tuckerbox

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.

National Library and Telstra Tower

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.

Southern Hemiphere's Largest Aluminium Structure

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.

Oz Report – Part 16 – Last Day in Melbourne, and on to Albury

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Wednesday.

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?

Echidna

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.

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.

Oz Report – Part 15 – Melbourne Day 5

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Tuesday.

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:

Federation Square

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.

ES&A B&SE Detail

Hook Turn

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.

Block Arcade

Gog & Magog (Royal Arcade)

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.

Melbourne Central - Shot Tower

We were a little lost inside Melbourne Central for a while, but managed to find the platforms eventually.

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.