Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On to Melbourne

This is the third of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 1Day 2Day 4Day 5Day 6,Day 7Day 8

I was woken up from my disturbed and cramped sleep by a bright glare and looking out from my cabin window showed me a new beautiful sight - sunrise from the skies! It was fascinating to behold a sunrise from a completely new vantage point. I could sleep no more and spent the rest of the flight alternating my gaze between the sunrise and the huge rolling lands below which I hopefully imagined to be part of the famous Outback.

Soon we landed in Melbourne where glaring sun and a cold wind greeted us. Did I mention it is summer in Australia now? The phrase 'The days were long' showed its full meaning there. The sun rose before we did (though that happens wherever we are) at around 6.30 - 7.00 AM and it took its time setting which was anytime between 8.30 - 9.00 PM! Well, all the better for us tourists. Longer day spells more sightseeing!

The same hotel check-in problem happened here too. 'Come in the afternoon' they told us firmly and politely. So depositing our bags, we took ourselves off for catching the sights of the city. Australia Day was being celebrated that day and on the streets we caught sight of many wearing their flags draped about their selves or faces painted in the flag colors.

A free tram runs around the city square (a rectangle actually) and we hopped on. The city was a typical blend of the old and new - beautiful Old English style buildings (I want to call them Victorian but I'm an architectural rookie) interspersed with boring gleaming metal and glass structures.
Next stop was Victoria Harbour where we saw Jelly fish - not behind a glass wall either but in their natural habitat! There was a curious structure on a platform nearby - a sculpture of a huge cubist cow stuck upside down on a...tree. You heard me right.
The inscription below said the scuptor meant it to represent flood situation in Australia during which it may be common to catch sight of a dead cow upon a tree.
Before I read that, I imagined it to be the cow which had landed at the wrong place after 'jumping over the moon'. Ah well, to each his own!

Next stop was the Melbourne Aquarium. There were cute penguins there, from Antartica. And there ends the interesting stuff. Looking at fish behind a glass wall is something I can get quickly bored with. And I did. After feeling we had wasted about $65, we left the place to have a quick freshening up and lunch.

We then took a stroll along a busy street - Swanston Street - filled with shops and eateries on both sides of the road. The street was lined on both sides by a broad sidewalk and it is one of these that we found something to arrest our progress - Sidewalk Artists!
The year before last, I was mesmerized by a video of a spray paint artist on a Manhattan sidewalk [Check out the video here ] and imagine my delight on seeing a similar one in person. This guy too, did not fail to mesmerize!

Across the street were people in gaily colored dresses dancing on stilts and nearby was a man who was cutting silhouettes out of cardboard of real people posing for him. In all, it was a nice experience to be sitting on a comfortable bench, with a cool wind playing around, munching fried cashewnuts and being entertained by people... each an artist in their own way!

The little hand of my watch was creeping towards 8 and we made another of our impulse decisions to find a beach from which we can catch the sunset. Another tram journey later, we were at the South Melbourne Beach watching a sunset at 8.30 pm, along with a flock of sea gulls.

The beachfront was a beautiful place - a neat road with beautiful Old Worldy buildings lining it. The houses we saw nearby reminded me so much of those that I had hitherto only read about in Agatha Christies and P.G.Wodehouses and James Herriots.

After a pleasant stroll in the neighborhood, we wound up the day with a delicious dinner at Gharana, run by a friendly and courteous Pakistani man. And so Day Three came to a close, rather quickly in our opinion - since we still could not reconcile ourselves to the fact that the Australian summer days end with the sunset.

The next day... Next post.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Darwin Day 2

This is the second of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 1Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6,Day 7Day 8

Day Two at Darwin started with a visit to World War II Oil Storage Tunnels. These were huge tubes through which we could take a walk, pausing here and there to take a look at the WWII related photographs tacked to the walls of the tunnels in the extremely dim light.
After this little traipse back in history, and after a little souvenir shopping, it was Ho! for Berry Springs Wildlife Park in the outskirts of Darwin. It was a lovely drive along the rain-drenched neat roads.

At the park, we came upon Wallabies (See note) which we were happy to see though a little disappointed that they were not Kangaroos.
After doing the usual touristy stuff at the park (taking a train around the park trails, catching a show on Birds of Prey and having the park guide proudly point out the buffaloes we see in our dear smelly Cooum as 'Water Buffaloes' ) we drove on to the actual Berry Springs.
But recent rains had left the spring swelling up so much that we were banned from swimming.
The river itself posed a pretty picture, running among rocks and greenery and reminding me of another river I had seen back home - the rock formation, trees in the banks and the approach path all reminded me of a summer spent at Mundanthurai, near Papanaasam, and the river bank on which I spent many moments happily woolgathering. I couldn't find much difference between the two!

'Oh not again', I chided myself. I've been noting that during foreign travels, I suddenly have these flashes of familiarity that irk me no end. I want to go visit a foreign land that is so completely foreign to me. But somehow or other, each place has something that reminds me of a similar place in my homeland! Now I know what my geography textbook was talking about when it told me "India is a diverse country".

Enough digressing. Lets get back on track. We did. Our flight was late at night and we had loads of time to kill. We started back to Darwin and I took whichever turn off the road that took my fancy! You know, that really is the best kind of drive! One such turn brought us to a deserted stretch and there we practised our Boomerang throw.

The poor thing that we had bought as a souvenir really knew what 'battered and bruised' means in a Boomerang's life, after our practice session. Taking pity on it, we stopped and continued our journey. I was happily cruising along - really cruising. Driving a Lancer for the first time and also a car with automatic transmission for the first time I was totally revelling in the new experience of never having to change gears - the one thing I used to hate in driving. As an added delight, the car also had a cruise control! So there I was, pressing neither the accelerator nor the clutch save the occasional brakes!

Well, not only was the driving experience new, there was another new experience waiting for me around the corner - literally. After one of our impulse turns, while coming back to the main road, I took the turn too fast and (not too) narrowly missed another car travelling at about twice my speed. What happened next maybe expected in a book but I certainly didn't. The guy actually gave me a finger!!! For the first time in life! No, No, I'm not proud of that. I was totally in the wrong so I didn't get too angry or resent it too much. It was just another experience to be added to my 'New' list, though a slightly bitter one at that!

After a few more drives around the area, we drove on to the airport and boarded our flight to Melbourne. What happened next is, of course, another story!

Note 1: Wallabies
They look, jump and behave just like Kangaroos. But are called wallabies 'coz they're smaller! Google them to know the technical difference.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The First Big Leap

This is the first of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8

It has finally happened!!!
I've grown up enough to venture into another continent beside my birth one.
All you globe trotters out there, I can see you smirking but hey, a girl who has longed to travel but somehow never went beyond India's borders can be excused for blowing her trumpets far and wide just because she visited another continent, albeit just for a week.

After becoming a Mrs. my travel dreams were starting to fulfill, one by one. I took baby steps to countries nearby - starting with Maldives for a honeymoon trip, then on to Singapore for establishing a family, the net slowly widened to include Hong Kong and Malaysia. Then one fine day, the baby steps turned to a leap and landed I did Down Under!

One of the reasons which make me look fondly at my fellow singaporeans is that they celebrate the chinese new year for 2 days - which, translated, means we get more holidays! Though we had known about the holidays beforehand, a lull in office work spurred us to take consecutive days off and book passage to Australia. (I know I should say 'flight to Australia' - but 'Passage' is much better sounding and Old Worldy!!)

A drizzly night found us landing at the Darwin airport located on the northern tip of the Oz land.We rented a car from AVIS and drove to our hotel - where an almost-rude desk clerk said we can check in not one minute before 12 noon. So bundling our bags, we scoured the Darwin streets in search of a place to rest our tired, sleep ridden selves (I LOVE how much of a traveller I sound!!!). Save a few aborigines on the streets, most of Darwin was sleeping. Finally, we chanced upon a friendly cafe owner who was just opening his shop who pointed out Maleluca on Mitchell to us - a backpacker's accomodation. (If you're a newbie, see Note to know what a Backpacker's accomodation is)

After much needed sleep and bath, it was on to Italian Brunch at Chianti's. After Singapore, we felt like we were paying exorbitant amounts for food. We had paid less for petrol! If we had come straight from India, we would've gone without food!
By this time it was afternoon and we could check in at the Darwin Central Hotel - and were very impressed when we did so. The room was spacious, comfy and cozy. And the bed was very welcoming compared to the warm Darwin sun pouring thru the window.
Resisting the impulse to sleep yet more, we set out to explore the city - and found it almost as sleepy as it was in the early morning.

This state capital can be compared to one of our large developing villages - a few main streets filled with shops, hotels and bars, one mall and people going about their business slowly and you're sure they all have time to 'stop and smell the roses'.

A sign over a little eatery begged us to enter - "Little India" it proclaimed with audacity, whilst serving malaysian dishes that we were all too used to at S'pore! After a hasty microwaved roti, we drove around the city, taking in its few tourist attractions. Soon it was time for Aquascene, where we get to feed fish that come up with the tide and swim quite tamely between our feet.

If the fish could've spoken, they would've given a new meaning to our local phrase ' as loud as a fishmarket'. The fight for the pieces of bread we were throwing them was raging in that fish kingdom and they were quite unashamedly swimming over, under and beside each other to grab a bite. Dignity was a word they had never heard of!!

After this entertaining spectacle of watching fishes making fools of themselves, we went to a Sailing club nearby from where we caught a glorius sunset. We also included the Mindel Beach, Cullen Bay, Dudley Point and East Point in our circuit. It makes no sense for me to explain each - travel brochures already do that. And a dinner at Garam Masala (yes!) wound up Day 1 in Australia for M&M. (See Note)

Since this post is long enough already, I'll close it here and start Day 2 in another one. (Grrrrr... Do I hear relieved sighs?)

Note 1.Backpacker's Accommodation
In two words..Cheap accommodation. Rooms with only bare necessities.

Note 2. M&M
Not the candy brand. This is us - I and my Hubs.