Saturday, April 26, 2008

We're off!

23/04/08

Practical first, for emergencies – AUS international phone code is 61. So, if you need to call us, we've got a number: +61 450496485. The + is for whatever you need to dial to make an international call. When I get a chance, I'll have my Skype calls transferred to this number, so you'll be able to call the 412.... number from the States or the other number from France and it'll be free for you and not too expensive for me. (Check your e-mails from last September. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I never sent you those numbers and you don't need them.)

One full day in Melbourne. Well, it's a small city, but still probably merits more than one day. It shows that even though I asked for more, the travel agent didn't really listen to me and I was too distracted by other things to pay attention at the end. On a circuit, she has us spending Two nights at the same hotel rather than continuing on to make the driving less tedious. Oh well, we'll manage. Also, if she had told us that the flight from Hong Kong stopped first in Adelaide, we might have organized ourselves differently and started from there instead of here.

So, we stopped en route in Adelaide and had to disembark so they could refuel and clean the plane for the trip back to Hong Kong. We didn't sleep at all during the flight because the toddler behind us screamed all night. Once we got here, I did a little laundry in the sink and we went out for a walk. The city center is very small and it looks like any late 19th – early 20th century town – except for the modern office towers that make it look like a big city at the same time. A strange mix. It's very clean. It's a little cool – after all, it is fall here.

Our hotel, Batman's Hill on Collins, is at the corner of Spencer and Collins Streets, just past the Southern Cross Station. The station is not just a train station; it is also where the airport shuttle dropped us off. There is also an outlet mall, just in case we needed to go shopping. And what looks like a full entertainment complex, with perhaps a sports stadium behind it. At 5 pm, you see the troops of office workers all heading to the station and at 9 am this morning, we watched them all file past on their way from the station to work. Our room is ideally situated for this parade.

We went straight up Collins and turned right to Federation Square, opposite the Flinder Street station, the terminus. This means we went almost halfway up the city grid and one-third over. If I hadn't stopped to get a phone card, this would have been a 20-minute walk!

Somewhere on the way, we smelled pizza and got hungry. After our stop at the tourist office, we hunted down a pizza joint and then called it a day.

This morning, up bright and early, we set off for the free tourist shuttle and had a pleasant ride up to the Melbourne museum. The first exhibit we saw was a student show of technical studies. There was cabinetry (Claire, you would have been very impressed!), fashion, photography and more. What impressed me the most were the specification books for each exhibit. The students had to define users or clients. For that, they created a persona, just as we do when we set out to write a technical document. Then, they had to show what had inspired them, what concepts they decided to work with (from their inspirations), and how they modified them to fit what they needed. They had to show they mock-up drawings and so on. They had to define the technical specifications. After that, you lifted your head and there it was – the finished product, a very professional piece.

Then, a bit of the history of Melbourne and Victoria, an exhibit on the Pacific island community that has settled in Melbourne and that is trying to keep their culture alive. Then, it was time to discover the Aboriginal exhibit – very interesting exposé on the two laws and how their culture should be respected. It's fine for museums to show their art as long as it is with the artist's (or family's) permission and that the museum does not show sacred items that are for the initiated only. That still leaves plenty to see.

We caught the free tram that dropped us almost at the hotel. After a short break, we went across the Yarra river and walked along the waterfront for a while before stopping at an excellent place for a seafood dinner.

25/04/08

I'm not connecting to the Internet as much as I'd like, so these entries are not so regular. Yesterday, we drove up from Melbourne to Albury, just over the state border in N.S.W.. We were set to stay at a bed and breakfast – only more, because it included dinner, too. It was lovely. We stayed with Patricia and Matt Stewart at their lovely farm, Inverness Park. Why Inverness Park? Well, Matt is from Inverness and Patricia, a fifth generation Australian, has ancestors from Inverness. Because of the drought they have had to give up their cattle. They had a herd of Highlanders and had prize-winning stud bulls. Now, they only have their cashmeres. Patricia took us around the place and explained everything to us. We got to pet Billy, their oldest goat and got a tour of the sheering shed, even though it's not sheering time. The goats grow their cashmere down from the longest day to the shortest and then, if they are not shorn, they shed it. So, sheering time is at the beginning of July. However, due to the drought and the stress it creates in the animals, they will probably not sheer this year.

The drought has gone on for eight years, now. We could see how dry things were on the ride up. The Stewarts have a pond, Little Loch Ness, which is almost dried up. And, like most Australians, they use collected rain water for their household use. They expect the rainy season to start any day now and hope it is enough to put an end to the drought.

They have a lovely home and farm. They were wonderful hosts. And Patricia made us an excellent dinner.

This morning, we explored the Victoria gold rush country. We had stopped in Beechfront yesterday – the place where it all started in 1852. So, it's contemporary to the California gold rush towns and looks like a town from a Western. There's a whole little circuit of these towns on the Historical trail and the Wine and Gold trail. Yes, this is also part of the wine country. From Yackandandah, we headed up into the mountains to get on to the Great Alpine Road. Unfortunately, there is this persistent haze from the burning off, so you can't really get a view.

The fall colors are beautiful – all that we missed last September in Canada. But, as we got up into the mountains, the forests are mostly eucalyptus and green. I was driving, so I didn't get a picture of it, but we were amazed at the amount of dead trees along the crest. It's not beautiful at all; it's eerie. A single dead eucalyptus is like a sculpture all white. A forest of them makes you think of a catastrophe, a sci-fi movie. From a distance, you could imagine what these mountains must be like with snow on them – they are already white from the trees.

We followed the Great Alpine Road down to Bairnsdale, where we are spending the night at the Commercial Hotel, which has not been refurbished in many, many years and needs to be. The town reminds us a bit of Okeechobee – a wide street with stores lining each side. The town seems to be a block thick on each side of the main street. Our post-dinner walk up and down each side of the street took no more than 20 minutes, including our window-shopping stops. That explains how I have the time to write this entry. Now I just need to find some Internet access. (A shame we discovered we could use the Stewarts', but it was already this morning and time to leave them.) I'll probably post this from Melbourne, tomorrow.

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