Saturday, February 5, 2011

Australia - Melbourne & Phillip Island

Saturday, February 5, 2011

We got to Melbourne from Uluru the day before (Friday, Feb 4) but got in late.  We flew from Uluru to Sydney then to Melbourne.  The Sydney to Melbourne leg was delayed because of weather problems then once we got to Sydney, we had to circle in a holding pattern almost as long as it took to fly there in the first place due to weather issues.  It was raining and there were minor floods (but nothing compared to the ones in Brisbane).

So Friday was a late night and I didn't go out once we had checked in.  We're staying at the Rydges Melbourne and it's a pretty nice hotel.  Unfortunately when I walked into the room they had first given me, I thought someone must've left the faucet on as I could hear water running.  Turns out there was a steady stream of water dripping from the ceiling onto the bed, thoroughly soaking in.  I was on the 21st floor and the hotel has 22 floors so I don't think it was a roof leak on the hotel itself.  More like someone left the water running in the room above me and it came pouring down.  Fortunately the hotel quickly gave me another room on a different floor and I was able to crash.

Saturday, we had a city tour of Melbourne from the bus and it was interesting to see the architecture.  Some of the houses with their iron lacework/trim almost made it seem like being in New Orleans, according to my fellow travelers who'd been to Louisiana.  The driver took us around to Victoria Market where we stopped and shopped for an hour.  It was much like a farmer's market where you could buy clothes, fresh fruits and veggies, cheeses, breads, wine, organic stuff, etc.  Cheapest place we've been to in Australia so far.  I didn't buy much but enjoyed poking around the different stalls and stretching my legs.  After that, we went to St Kilda and had a 30-minute walk around.  Also fun as the main street they dropped us off at were lined with cake shops.  Their front window displays were fun to look at and mouth watering although most of them I just like to look at but would find it too overwhelming to really eat.

You know I had to take a picture of some of the bakery storefronts in St Kilda:

The city tour ended around 1 pm and we weren't meeting until 3 pm for the next excursion so I took the opportunity to walk the streets of Melbourne.  Our hotel was centrally located right near Chinatown and Little Italy.  I walked almost the entire two hours just absorbing the sights.  I must say, I LOVE Melbourne.  It's got a lot of character and architecture and you can stumble upon an old church and right next to it or across from it is a modern office building.  Or a beautiful park.  There are also more breadshops lined with tempting goodies, reminiscent of Paris where I could walk into any place and get an awesome baguette.  It has the bustle of a New York or San Francisco or Boston but without being crowded like those cities can tend to be.  It could be because we were there on a weekend and Melbourne is a commuter city with most of its residents living outside the city center but still, it was ideal as a tourist. 

Our afternoon excursion was to see the penguin parade at Phillip Island.  It was about a 90-minute to 2-hour drive out there one way but we had to take some detours due to the recent flooding as some of the roads we needed had been closed off.  It was an overcast, cloudy day but I didn't mind that.  Prior to our arrival, there had been a heat wave in Melbourne but now it was cool because of the rainy weather.  I'll take cool over hot any day, especially having come from the Outback.

Phillip Island is a sanctuary for the little penguin.  That's literally what they're called because they're the smallest of the 17 different types of penguins, standing no more than a foot tall.  Supposedly the sight is something else because at night when they return from fishing in the sea and make their way back to their nests (burrows) there are hundreds, sometimes thousands of them and there's a viewing place on the beach where tourists can see them come up from the water.  Unfortunately, I say supposedly because I didn't see that many.  We waited on the beach for over an hour until it got dark enough around 9 pm for the penguins to return home.  But it was dark, there weren't really any bright lights to see by and it was hard to see.  They told us we could hear the penguins calling to each other as they came in before we could see them.  That might've been true if the hordes of other tourists managed to shut up long enough to be quiet and listen to the penguins. But they didn't.  It also started to pour down rain so imagine a horde of noisy, rain-soaked tourists flooding the place.  If I were a penguin, I wouldn't come out of the ocean either to face that.

As it was, I did see a few penguins up close as I walked back to the bus as some of them had their nests near the walkways.  The little buggers were cute with their waddle.  But I'm not sure this particular excursion was worth it.  They told us later that not a lot of penguins came out (you think??) because of the stormy weather.  Again, it's just one of those things you roll with and just suck up because it's not within anyone's control to make penguins come out of the ocean or shut up the yakking tourists.  Or keep the rain from coming down in a deluge.  Our bus driver was missing in action so we ended up waiting, huddled outside the locked bus, as the rain came pouring down and other buses drove off.

When we finally did pile onto the bus and head home, it was late and we were all tired, cold and grumpy.  Erica, our tour guide, was smart enough to know we wouldn't appreciate a bunch of commentary so she wished us goodnight and suggested we all take a nap until we get back to the hotel.  Unfortunately, the bus driver didn't get the hint and tried to give us a trivia quiz.  Even more unfortunately, a wallaby darted out in front of the bus as he was driving and talking and he hit it.  UGH.  He stopped and reported it to the rangers and seemed to think the wallaby would just hop away but I don't see how a small wallaby can withstand the hit from a huge tour bus and come out the winner.  UGH again.  The driver took up where he left off on the quiz and after the half-hearted answers, he finally dialed back on the commentary over the microphone but then turned on the radio.  The tour group is a pretty good-natured one but I think we'd finally reached our limits - disappointing penguin experience, getting soaked in the rainy weather, hitting/killing a wallaby and having someone talk your ear off for hours on the trip in and now it looked like the trip back.  Someone asked the driver to turn off the radio and the driver gave us some lip about it but everyone else clapped once the radio was turned off.  We just wanted to nap in peace.

Which lasted until we were about 15 minutes away from the hotel and the bus driver's commentary started up again.  This is probably one of the biggest drawbacks of a tour for me - I know it's their job to point things out as we go but when we're doing long drives, other than a few facts here and there, I'd prefer to enjoy the drive in relative quiet, not have someone talk at me for 2 hours (yeah, I was pretty crabby by this time too but kept my crankiness to myself as there seemed to be enough to go around, lol).  We ended up getting to the hotel after midnight because of more detours due to flooded roads.  I was pretty glad to get to bed.

Today, Sunday, February 6, is another day.  There was another tour excursion to wineries but I don't drink and I wanted some free time to explore Melbourne so I gladly opted out.  As soon as I finish updating my blog, I'm off to go explore Melbourne some more.  I love the city so far and the best way to see it is on foot.  They're celebrating Chinese New Year here (lots of Asians in Melbourne) so I expect to see some fun stuff on my walking travels today.  I'm also excited to try some of the bread shops, especially in Chinatown.  Pork buns!  Custard buns!  I keep trying to try "real Aussie food" but it's become inevitable that there's more to that than fish n chips and meat pies.  There's such a strong Italian and Asian presence here that I'm going to enjoy some of those foods as well.

A shot of part of the Melbourne skyline from the river walk.  Look at that beautiful blue sky!


  1. Hi Carol,

    I hope you enjoy Melbourne - hope you got a tram pass for the day and went to some of the different foodie areas - St Kilda as you saw is amazing as is Lygon Street and the Richmond area (for Vietnamese food).

  2. Liz, I love Melbourne! About to do my write up of it while it's fresh in my memory but this could be one of my favorite cities ever. Did a lot of walking which is always the best way (to me) to see a place.