Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The End

It's the moment you've all been waiting for. The end of our incessant peddling of this blog and the sweet revenge of having us back, suffering in the cold weather with you all. We can't say we blame you.

We DO want to say thank you for following along with our trip and for all the fun comments you've made either here on the blog, via email or elsewhere!

Ta ta for now...and HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

Lessons From Melbourne

Two weeks, five tours, 1,000,032 flies, 100+ weak drinks (equivalent to approximately 20 US cocktails), over 40 hours in flight, and more than 2500 photos later our New Years celebration in Australia has come to an end. So, what have we learned in the second half of our adventure?

Lesson #1: Pre-buy all alcohol at duty free before arrival to Australia

Lesson #2: Australians have very different thoughts on child rearing

Lesson #3: Flies. Millions of them. Everywhere.

Lesson #4: Melbourne has a serious inferiority complex. Don't even think of mentioning that some other city does (or has) something better. You will be beat.

Lesson #5: Better bars (and hotter men) in Melbourne

Lesson #6: Free tourist shuttles are free for a reason

Lesson #7: 7up = Lemonade in Australia

Lesson #8: Eric could never live down under...buying video games alone would empty his bank account

Lesson #9: Vegemite is an ACQUIRED taste...and one that is thankfully only in Australia

Lesson #10: Australia is full of fascinating animals

Lesson #11: Australia LOVES UGGS

Lesson #12: Australia is FANTASTIC and we can't wait to go back!


So today is the day we leave Australia. Our quick adventure down under has reached its conclusion. We started off the day with morning visits to the local coffee shops, then headed back to the hotel to wrap up packing and said goodbye to old friends (so long trusty shoes).

After a quick cab ride to the airport, we checked in and reported directly to the Air New Zealand lounge. This lounge puts the Red Carpet Clubs of the states to shame. We enjoyed fresh, (free) hot food, desserts and self-pour cocktails from the comfort of our plush leather recliners. The three hours we got to spend in the lounge FLEW by. I don't know how I'll ever travel regular coach again...

The flight was cushy as can be, and surprisingly just under 13 hours (due to the tailwinds). Our captain? Captain Morgan. Really. So here we are...sitting at the craptacular LAX airport waiting for our final leg home. Don't you fret though, the blog isn't QUITE over. Two more posts still to come!

Monday, January 11, 2010

One Night Only...

Today was the first (and shorter) of our two travel days. A quick 55 minute hop from Melbourne to Sydney. While part of me was ready to leave Melbourne (a nice city, but not going on either of our "favorite lists" anytime soon), another part wanted to stay and enjoy the great 107 degree heatwave they are having! One interesting thing we that Quantas Airlines seems to have something against the adorable, cute, furry little Furbies. Hmm...random...

All disappointment of missing the heat was quickly wiped away once we got back into downtown Sydney.

Our original plan of just running a couple quick errands was thrown out the window once we got wrapped up in the excitement of this great city. First stop, pizza....BBQ emu pizza to be exact. We both had a craving for one last (large) taste of this local delight. But enough of that, you've all heard how fantastic it is already, so no need to go into that again (but...yum!).

Next up, souvenir shopping. I was on a mission for a quality didgeridoo. What better way to annoy neighbors in my building? Quality ones are very tough to find though. Most of the "Didges" around are sold in touristy, souvenir shops and are really only suitable for decoration (thanks to my sister for that info, otherwise I'd have been none-the-wiser). I ended up finding a great C# one at a neat little store called Spirit of Downunder. It bills itself as Sydney's largest and finest collection of Aboriginal arts & crafts and musical quality didgeridoos.

The weather outside was sunny and beautiful, so we decided to take one last ferry ride from Circular Quay to Darling Harbor. Well worth it, and a great way to see the city skyline (including the Harbor Bridge, Opera House and Luna Park) one last time.

We continued our souvenir shopping as we made our way from Darling Harbor back up to the Rocks (near the Harbor Bridge). The city was bustling with activity and visited many of our frequented spots like Woolworths and the Jumble. We also saw some new interesting things like a family taking a scooter tour around the city (thanks for never making me do that)

and what could only be described as the worlds most randomly hanging birdcages.

We then made our way to Oxford Street and hunted down a copy of Sx (NOT easy to find this time of the week) because a little birdie told us we might find something interesting in it...and that little birdie was right!

Here is the close-up:

Go figure...we're here for a weekend and make the local gay rag. Too funny! We topped off the night with some tasty indian food and called it a night. Tomorrow begins the long journey home...sigh...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Arrested and imprisoned...for a few minutes

We've had a busy busy trip here in Australia, and as we approached our last full (non-travel) day here we decided to have a slower paced, easy day. After enjoying the opportunity to sleep in a bit, we headed off to our one and only touristy activity for the day: the Old Melbourne Gaol (aka. Jail). It was the winner of the 2009 and 2008 Victoria Tourism Award, so it had to be good, right?! Here is the quick low down on the City Watch House Tour that we took:

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be arrested?

The Watch House Experience is a forty minute interactive experience like no other. With a Charge Sergeant as guide, visitors are ‘arrested’ and encounter what it is like to be locked up. Nothing has changed in this minimalist site since the police and inmates left in the 1990's. After the role play, visitors self guide through the watch house taking in sound points and multi media imagery that is educational and informative.

Awards being what they were, we became further assured we were in for a treat when the lady out front said "You're going to do the 3:45? That's great! You'll get Wendy...she's a huge bitch!". She wasn't lying, Wendy certainly filled the role of cruel warden quite well. Favorite verbal abuse of the afternoon? A woman in our group of inmates walked in with her half-eaten lunch...and Wendy went off. "Get around the corner and finish stuffing your disgusting face!" she ordered. A little later when the woman looked around the corner to see what was going on, Wendy barked again, this time declaring that the woman was a filthy sow. And so it went, for the next half hour. We were verbally abused, ordered around, disciplined, and otherwise made to feel like we were really being imprisoned prior to the jails closing in 1994. I adapted, learning to stay out of the wardens way and using the facilities provided...

...Ken, on the other hand, has been severely traumatized by the experience. I have the feeling some therapist in Chicago is going to make a pretty penny trying to undo the damage inflicted by Warden Wendy!

In all reality, Wendy turned out to be a very nice, cheeky actress and was a lot of fun to watch. One thing that still has us confused though, is that for photo opportunities with her, she insists that she be arresting you in the photo. Her version of arresting, however, consisted of her getting us on our knees, putting our heads in her bosom and then petting us while insisting "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"...

...hello, therapist?!

Anyway, back to the hotel we went. The local rugby team was having a fundraiser BBQ downstairs at the bar. It wasn't a huge crowd, but it was a good one! We enjoyed a few drinks with the group, then headed off to our last Melbourne dinner. Finishing off the evening with some laundry and packing, we're ready for our 11am flight back to Sydney in the morning!

Melbourne Leather Men - Saturday Night

After the long day of touring and being droppd off at the front door of our hotel by Lee inour tour bus (thanks Lee!), we quickly showered and headed downstairs for Melbourne Leather Men night!

I had a great time meeting some a lot of the locals, talking about IML and Chicago and things we have seen and done in Melbourne and Sydney. As it turns out several people were worred that we (mostly Eric) weren't going out to the bar that evening. The owner told me several people came by to inquire if he had seen us that day or knew if we (Eric) would be down that evening. With no phones in the rooms men were waiting patiently.

Eric went down to the bar before me (as I had to quickly iron my t-shirt - I hate wrinkled sleeves). As I entered the bar I saw Eric talking to a hot, woofy daddy...needless to say I didn't have a chance to talk to Eric the rest of the evening. I did manage to say goodbye before moving onto the next bar...

This picture should sum up the evening...and morning...

Great Ocean Road

Saturday started off early with a 7am pick-up for the Great Ocean Road tour. Eric doesn't get moving until around noon so he was a bit tired in the morning as we waited for the tour bus to arrive.

We were introduced to Lee, our tour guide for the day, who had several piercings and was wearing a leather wrist band on his right wrist. Once we were all aboard he introduced himself and announced that were were in for a fun day as he's not a shy one - former DRAMA major. We instantly knew this was going to be an interesting tour.

As we drove along the coast we were treated to many gay anthems to mark the journey. Lee also told us that, fittingly enough, the name of our bus for the day was Priscilla! (no, I didn't just make that up).

The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia's most spectacular scenic drives. Along the dirve you will be witness to the world famous Twelve Apostles, the Otways rainforest, and legendary surf breaks, but also lovely resort towns like Torquay, Lorne and Apollo Bay, and the historic villages of Queenscliff, Port Campbell, and Port Fairy.

Started in 1918 and finally completed in 1932, the Great Ocean Road was all done by hand using picks, shovels and dynamite. The project was dedicated to those who gave their lives in WWI and it remains the world’s biggest war memorial. Until the road was built, the small coastal settlements were only accessible by boat or rough inland roads. Coach tracks were built along some sections, but these were never linked and were impassable in bad weather.

The Great Ocean Road officially starts at Torquay, although many decide to stop by Geelong first to discover Victoria’s second largest city. Geelong has beautiful beaches, delicious eateries and a fascinating heritage.

The section from Torquay to Lorne is known as the Surfcoast. It’s a surf heaven for experienced surfers, but also a great place to learn surfing. The famous Bells Beach, featured in the final scene of “Point Break”, is a much-loved icon of Australia’s surf scene. The Rip Curl Pro, part of the ASP World Championship Tour, is held here every Easter. As we drove the coastline we passed the corporate office of Rip Curl and many other surf and sea companies.

While we were driving through Lorne the driver pointed out that today was the Pier to Pub swim so we would encounter a little more traffic than usual.

Pier to Pub
Dive in with 4000 other swimmers in the world's largest organised swim.Each year thousands of swimmers dive into a sea of history and race the 1.2 kilometre course of the Lorne Pier to Pub, which started as an informal challenge among Lorne Surf Life Saving Club members.
It’s now an action-packed weekend attracting people from near and far to both participate in the race and soak up the carnival atmosphere.

Over the past 29 years the event has grown in size and stature and now claims centre stage of a two day program that includes the Mountain to Surf Fun Run and Surf Boat Race Classic.
Since 3071 swimmers took to the water in 1998, the swim has been entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest open water swim.

The road between Lorne and Apollo Bay is an area of great natural beauty. You can admire the ocean on one side and the forests and mountains of the Otway Ranges on the other. The Otways are a fantastic inland excursion and a definite highlight of the area boasting a superb national park and a magnificent tree top walk.

Eric really wanted to touch the water while in Australia so he got his chance:

Sections of the road are extremely steep with extreme curves. From what we are told several Americans die each year trying to drive the coast because they aren't used to driving on the "other" side of the road. We are glad we took a tour bus.

The section near Port Campbell is probably the most visited section of the Great Ocean Road because of its striking and dramatic natural rock formations. These formations include Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto, London Bridge (renamed to London Arch in recent years after the ‘bridge’ partially collapsed), and the most renowned Twelve Apostles.

Between Moonlight Head and Port Fairy is a treacherous section of coast that has claimed more than 180 ships and earned it the name Shipwreck Coast.

Here are some of the pictures from out adventure:

We finally returned to the hotel around 11pm that evening...what a LONG day but the scenery was amazing...and the village people, Vanessa Williams, Celine Dion...etc were blazing from the speakers as we returned home.

Friday, January 8, 2010

You can't always get what you want...

So, today we decided to explore St Kilda, which we had heard was the main (and most popular) beach in Melbourne. How could we go wrong? Beautiful, sunny, hot day and hitting the beach...sounds like a great plan to me! Unfortunately there isn't much to say other than St Kilda was a stinky, nasty mess of a beach. Not much fun to be had there.

We even checked out the nearby Luna Park (which looked a lot like the one in Sydney, only more run down). When the most thrilling ride is the "Shock Drop" and barely three times my height, well...enough said.

So what are we to do? Bear hunt! See a bear? Snap! Grab a picture. Don't judge! It helped pass the time and make things more fun as we walked around stinky St Kilda beach. Where are the fruits of our labor you ask? Here ya go!

Fortunately the day wasn't a total bust. We stumbled across a FANTASTIC dinner at Red Rice. Thank goodness for that! Oh, and YUM!

Oh, and by the way...we certainly aren't exaggerating when we say it is HOT here!