Australia Digested

Wrapped up a two week trip to Australia.
Flying down to Perth I scored a window seat and found the landscape far more interesting than the movies.   Just miles and miles of nothingness.  Rarely, you can see a road or a track scratched into the land like a line on a fresh bought Etch-a-Sketch.   Yes,  Aborigines have been here for 100,000 years,  but even given all that time,  they wouldn’t have time to see everything.  Surely, there are places here where no human has set foot.
Perth at night
And then rising up out of the ground are the cities of Perth and Freemantle with populations of well over a million people.  Perth is described as the most isolated capitol city in the world.  Yet, here it is clean and bustling and incredibly expensive.  Part of the cost is in the isolation, but also, the until recently, boom in mining has brought incredible amounts of money to the area.
Money and men.  Popped into a pub and found the gender ratio to be, 10 men to every woman. Maybe the ladies hang out elsewhere or maybe the 30 dollars I paid for sub-par fish and chips and a beer wasn’t enough to draw them in.
The entire downtown area is wired for free wi-fi and free busses circulate the city as well.  While I was there the Fringe Festival, an alternative arts fest was going on.  Maybe because the city is on the edge of the world, its Fringe Fest has become one of the world’s largest with multiple plays, performances and exhibits.
My Jakarta-honed skill of stopping traffic with the outstretched palm of my hand is rendered nearly useless and only serves to cause cars to honk and policemen to snark, “Hey, wait for the little red man to turn green before you cross.”
A week in after a few days in Sydney feeling under the weather, I took the weekend to drive the coast from Sydney to Melbourne about 1100 km.  I had 2+ days to do it.
Pastoral scene on the road to Melbourne
The drive is great.  Rolling country side. Lots of cows and sheep and trees and fields. The towns on the way are all small. This is the least direct way of going to Melbourne.  The hotels along the way are all motor inns like many in the US from days of old where you drive through a little gate and pull up outside your room.  Your window looks out over the parking lot.  The two I found were mostly clean. The owners were nice.  They had a mini fridge.  One had a sign that said, “Please don’t clean your fish in the sink.”  I was thankful for that.
The first night I checked-in and the woman gave me my key and a small bottle of cold liquid.  I looked at it totally perplexed. “It’s milk!”
“Oh,… how quaint!”  I thought maybe the area was known for its milk and maybe this was some local Aussie way of getting me off to sleep.
The second night, 400 km away, a woman offered me milk again, but then added that it was for my coffee or tea.  Ah. Of course. It all made sense. 
Melbourne along the Yarra river
My first time in Melbourne.  I think it is my new favorite city.  I used to think that Sydney was pretty great, but Melbourne has got it going on.  Though established later, it feels older than Sydney. There is more charm.  And not grimy Paris charm, but well-designed, well-aged character.  The Arts district has several  cool museums.  The botanic gardens look great.  There is food galore.  Lots of free wifi about town and a new free tram system as long as you stay in a certain area.
There is still a vibrant Chinatown and it is not just chatzkes,  Chinese take-out and massage parlours.  It’s actually encroaching on the Greek district.  The Greek diaspora back in the 70’s brought thousands of Greeks to Australia.  This community though doesn’t seem as vibrant, though with all the problems in Greece now, maybe it will pick up again.  The focus in this town, and indeed, throughout Australia, is China.  Chinese museum exhibits, performing arts, economic conferences. It is all looking to Beijing.
Inflatable Nude Model Drawing class at local museum
Mind you, the weather was perfect and that definitely played a role in my good time, but if you’re looking for a neat city to go explore, put Melbourne at the top of your list.
Canberra is different.  You fly around to all these squeaky clean, bustling cities and then you hit Canberra and it’s like falling into a time warp.  Carved out of the mountains between Sydney and Melbourne, Canberra is really a series of planned towns surrounding the parliament and government buildings. There isn’t much of a central city, but there is a ton of green space and parklands around. Like they put in all the public spaces and are waiting for the rest of the city to join them.  It’s all part of the grand plan, I guess.
Years ago, to get countries to build their embassies in middle of nowhere, they granted them all land if they agreed to build their embassies in the style of their native architecture.  So, wandering around one section of the town is like wandering EPCOT without the throngs of tourists and smoked turkey legs.
Overall, it’s a pretty sleepy little town, though there are a good number of places to eat.
There are some good hikes just outside of town and even in town.  I’ve been to Australia 5 times and this is the first time, I’ve seen kangaroos in the wild, just lying around the city park.  Actually, they don’t behave much differently than the ones I’ve seen in the zoos. Roo carcasses litter the motorways each morning.  Flocks of lorikeets and cockatoos and parrots as common as cardinals and blue jays back home seem more of the novelty.

Brisbane was my final stop.  Swung by to see an old school roommate and his family.  It is always nice to be able to feel like you picked up a conversation after being away for 5 or 10 years.   I was in Brisbane about 17 years ago and the city I arrived in this time was totally unrecognizable from  previous.  High rises and tunnels and bridges.  It was amazing to see how this place had grown.  And like most of the other places there is so much being done to get people outside and away from their cars.  We took in a couple of museums and spent some time at local swimming pool all of which were well cared for and totally free of charge.

I saw this sign.  It displays the Aussies tendancy to shorten the names of things.  Boatsman become boaties, Firemen become Fireys.  McDonald’s becomes Macca’s.

The equivalent to Burger King is Hungry Jacks.  I used to know the reason why but aside from the name, it is the exact same place.  Home of the Whopper.  I stopped in for a quick bite.  I got a value meal, but I wanted just water instead of soda.  I was told that there would be a seventy five cent charge for water.  The woman behind the counter said quickly.  “I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s not a prank. I don’t know why it is.”  Thankfully, a small soda here is still accurately small.

They haven’t succumbed fully yet to the Supersize wave, though maybe it is coming.  7/11 was advertising their new slurpee size called……. The Expandinator.  For all day slurping!

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