Visitin’ a land down under. Australia

G’day Mates. Australia. 

Naturally, I saw some kangaroos; but, no, they weren’t just bouncing about the streets. Starting our Aussie adventure at the south, we docked at Tasmania where I had the opportunity to host a tour throughout Hobart and the surrounding (dry, almost desert-like) countryside. Stopping at an animal park, I had my coveted chance to get up-close (really up close!) and personal with the kinds of animals that you just don’t find anywhere else. Wallabies, a koala, tasmanian devils, and yes…a whole lot of roos. There weren’t any joeys riding around in pouches, but that didn’t diminish the experience. By the way, did you know that the term ‘joey’ applies not only to wee roos, but to wallabies and possums as well? Now you know. Go win your next round of trivial pursuit.

Melbourne.

We were lucky enough to have an overnight stay in this amazing city of about 4 million or so. I had no idea how cosmopolitan, hip, and BIG this city was. The first thing that stood out was how incredibly well set up it all is. Take, for example, that they have an electric trolly (streetcar for those of us on the ‘up over’ side of the world) network running throughout the ENTIRE city including about 30 minutes into the suburbs in all directions. Furthermore, their downtown had an incredible New York feel to it. What I mean is…people everywhere. But not only people everywhere (I mean, it wasn’t exactly crowded), but people *doing* things. Everywhere there were very neat shops filled with shoppers. The public squares, the train station, the pedestrian mall: just people enjoying being downtown. It was full of vibrancy and life. And made for some very enjoyable exploration. I was surprised how obviously affluent the business community was/is, and the resulting architecture. All stemming from the 19th century, there was incredible development made possible by the riches of Australia’s gold rush that had its commercial center in Melbourne. Remarkably, most of this old architecture is preserved – right down to the Victorian shopping “avenues” which were covered alleyways with shops lining. These gorgeous avenues are still very much in use, with specialty shops, cafes and the like. And again – people bustling about.

Walking about the downtown area, I was also a little surprised that I didn’t really seem to notice the same level of bohemian culture that even Toronto has (now exploring several metropolises, I have to say that the bohemian/young urban scene of Toronto is pretty first-rate). After work, I took advantage of the overnight in Melbourne by going with some ship friends to the “student” area of St. Kilda’s. There we enjoyed visiting some pubs and saw students doing their “young urban scene” thing. So, that very cool element of the city was very much there – and I presume that if I had longer to explore I would have found more of it.

In Melbourne I also had the surreal opportunity of meeting up with someone I had met back in Canada. Just the thought of being on the other side of the world and seeing someone I know was remarkable. My former classmate Erin is in a relationship with a guy from Melbourne – and I had met him in Canada. Darren and I met for coffee in downtown Melbourne. I just found it quite interesting…and in Singapore I will have the opportunity to meet with a classmate who is living there.

When exploring urban areas, part of the enjoyment comes from simply wondering around and surprising yourself with the things you find (i.e. the things that go beyond the “must see” tourist attractions). As I mentioned, Melbourne stood out for me because of the amount of unique independent shops and public areas…and the people who were out and about in these areas. Wondering around into a few neat stores, I came across Mag Nation. This was a two story store filled complete with magazines (interesting enough), but also with a licensed bar and music/internet cafe (much more interesting). It was really popular with young-types who just were hanging out and buying expensive magazines. Had a cool urban feel to it. I left feeling that I had succeeded in finding somewhat of an urban treasure…and combined with being about so many “downtowners,”  and having some coffee at an obscure little cafe…I had a satisfying taste of the very strong urban, cosmopolitan vibe of Melbourne. In sum: great city; very urban, very livable.

Sydney.

I had in-port manning while in Sydney. That’s the maritime rule whereby the ship must maintain a minimum staffing level when in port. This ensures that enough people are looking after the ship (imagine if we all left and someone stole it!) Anyway, we all are on a big rotation, and when our turn comes up we must stay aboard. But…there’s a good trick: you’re allowed to swap with people, so you can trade off and go ashore for a limited time. The other limitation of my visit to Sydney was that we didn’t have an overnight, which limits the ability to explore in the kind of depth I got to enjoy Melbourne with.

Fortunately, with Sydney, everything I ever dreamed of seeing was literally a stone’s throw from the ship. Being a cruise vessel afforded us an entire day docked at the most scenic vantage point: right beside the harbor bridge and right across from the Opera House. Our dramatic pre-dawn sail in to the gorgeously-lit city set the stage for a day simply enjoying the most scenic harbor in the world. Coming into the city from the water also gave the kind of view that you just wouldn’t get any other way: sailing right in front of the Opera House!

In the evening I did get to swap with someone and went ashore. Part of that time ashore was helping escort a guest in a wheelchair at the shoreside dinner for World Cruise guests. Those guests who are staying on board for the full World Cruise are treated to two gala shoreside dinner extravaganzas: this first one in Sydney, and the next one on Rome. When I say extravaganza…it was a several hundred/plate dinner at Luna Park (the famous amusement park perched on the side of the harbor opposite the Opera House and directly under the harbor bridge). You know, the kind of glitzy event that gives a “view” of Sydney without them actually having to bother exploring the city, haha. Of course the meal (which I got to enjoy) was spectacular, and the entertainment was the highlight: a cultural show by a variety of Aussie performers.

After the dinner, I spent about an hour just exploring quickly the area around the harbor…and even walked partway across the harbor bridge for an amazing view.

My next blog entry will reflect a little bit about the reality of traveling the world in fast forward: about what it’s like to explore a world-class city in a few hours. But, this posting is just supposed to be an overview of Australia. So I’ll continue…

Great Barrier Reef.

We spent a few days sailing over the Great Barrier Reef between Sydney and Darwin. Out in the deep ocean you can’t really see too much of it. We did have to shut down the washing machines on board because we couldn’t draw water from this environmentally sensitive area. We also cruised at a very slow speed so as to create minimal wake. Every so often, you could see deeply colored blobs in the water – the very very large pieces of coral. And every so often, they broke the water creating various islands..most small, but some very large.

Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin.

I group these three ports of call together because my visit to each of them was virtually the same: based on my schedule those particular days, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to immerse myself beyond hopping on the shuttle from the pier to city centre. Two hours in a city centre gives you a good taste of its vibe. I get a chance to pop into a bunch of shops and nooks and crannies, to explore the public area, get great photographs, and occasionally to pop my head into some of the cultural site and historical/architectural landmarks. Each of these three ports of call had its own unique charm – but they weren’t knockout exciting like a world-class cosmopolitan city. Brisbane had a particularly nice atmosphere with its downtown perched above a river (think Ottawa, but without quite the charm of Ottawa). Its downtown had a London-like feel: some incredibly nice areas, other areas that didn’t have the same shine. Cairns (pronounced Canns like multiple cans of beer but with a stronger N) and Darwin were small cities of increasingly tropical flavour (upon leaving Australia, I crossed the Equator again).

And that, dear reader, brings to a close my Australian adventure. I’m very much tempted to go back and explore more – there’s so much I missed even though I saw so much. For example, I’d really love to experience the beach culture that is so famous in Australia (I’d especially love to see one of their crazy surf lifeguarding competitions where they go out in these rickety boats into huge waves…having been a lifeguard for many years I would find that fascinating). And we only touched the east side of the country – so much more to see. But such is the case of the world: so much to see. I’m just happy to be seeing it!

As you can tell, amateur travel writer that I am, writing in a blog about what the destinations are like is somewhat limiting. Furthermore, I purposefully didn’t want this to be an I-did-this-today journal, but rather a glimpse into the experience (and also an outlet for myself, personally, to deliberately reflect on the journey). But, I think, my photos and corresponding captions are really the “picture” of what the places I’m visiting are like…the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Even when I look at the photos as I’m sorting through them, I find myself thinking (even a day after leaving a destination): “my God, I can’t believe I was just there.”

BTW… my four favorite photos from Australia are the four as we sailed away from the continent: the tremendous storm cloud above the end of Australia, followed by a Pacific Ocean sunset. You really do see the world in a completely different way from the wide open sea – and it is indescribably beautiful.

As they say in Australia,

Bye!
-Andrew

P.S. I’ve no idea if the toilet flushed in the reverse direction in Australia. Our toilets on the ship are ultra-high suction so it sorta just goes whoosh. In Australia and New Zealand they call restrooms or washrooms the very crude sounding “toilet.” (As in, sir, could you point me to the toilet?) And they have two buttons…to be more environmentally conscious you can choose how much water you, er…need.

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