Melbourne

Melbourne is a city with a pulse.  After spending a day and a half here it’s clear to see why Melburnians (as Wikipedia tells us the inhabitants are called) think so highly of their town.  It has a vibrant energy that we didn’t feel in either Sydney or Adelaide. We’ve seen students, skaters, and businessmen all moving around town and enjoying the things the city has to offer.

We spent the day admiring two of Melbourne’s big attractions: the Aquarium and Federation Square.  Sadly, the aquarium is undergoing a huge renovation and lots of it was closed. But we still got to see the best exhibit: Penguins.
On Ashley’s list of favorite marine life, penguins are probably second, behind cephalopods and ahead of jellies. The aquarium has two breeds of penguins – Kings and Gentoos. The glass at the exhibit was pretty scratched up but we were able to get some good pictures before the hordes of tourists descended upon them (tip – go early and go often).  Unfortunately, the combination of glass and penguin speed made photographing feeding time almost impossible – watching them dive under water after fish was a lot of fun though.
Federation Square is a recent update to the CBD.  The architecture doesn’t fit in with the surrounding area – it’s far too modern compared to the historic facades facing it. However, there’s a lot going on there. We saw a protest over Australia’s new immigration policy as well as street performers.  In the middle of the square, the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) had an amazing exhibit on Hollywood costumes. The exhibit had the original costumes from dozens of classic films like The Birds, Fight Club, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Big Lebowski.  They had interviews with costume designers and directors that really highlighted a lot of the choices that went into costuming that can be easy to overlook.  The rest of the museum was an interactive look at how TV and movies have changed, both internationally and within Australia. However, the exhibit has so many screens and speakers showing clips from the past 90+ years that it’s incredibly hard to focus.
We didn’t know to associate Melbourne with street art, but were quickly educated. There is wonderfully detailed art (sculptures, installations, paintings) all over the city. None of it seems to be gang influenced; rather it is all artistic expression. The colors used are vibrant and the images are often striking without being graphic or shocking.  I know that trendy places will pay to have someone “graffiti” their walls.  None of these felt like they were deliberately placed.  As we walked back to the hotel, we came across an artist putting his own stamp on a wall in Hosier Lane. As we walked around the city, we worked to keep our eyes open to find new and interesting art.
We also decided to take in some nightlife. Our hotel was conveniently only an alley away from the Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club. The act of the evening was an Amy Winehouse tribute. It was a lot of fun, although we don’t know if we agree with Lonely Planet that it’s the best jazz club in the world. The opener was part of the main group, and he tried hard to play some old bluesy guitar. He definitely had the talent and he had the heart but didn’t quite have the soul that makes a great blues performer. The Winehouse part of the evening was part singing, part biography, and part Monkey Man.
We hit up two major markets on Sunday. The Victoria Market is a combination of Pike’s Place market and a huge flea market.  Everything from American candy to toys to Uggs (real and knock off) to whole fish to orchids.  It was easy to get lost amongst the stalls of stuff and never find anything that you’re looking for.  From there we hopped a tram down to St. Kilda.  The market there was much more focused on handmade arts and crafts. The location overlooked St. Kilda beach and would have been stunning if the day wasn’t rather overcast.

Although we were exhausted from walking around town for two days, we couldn’t neglect one of the biggest reasons to get out of Alice – food.  It’s not that there isn’t good food in Alice, but there are a limited number of places to go. That and seafood. There’s no way to get good, fresh seafood in Alice. We had lunch at Claypot in St. Kilda and as you can see from the menu above, it had a lot to offer. We ended up splitting the tapas and got to try stingray. Drew also had a king prawn that was as big as his hand (and coated in an unholy amount of garlic). In addition, we enjoyed Mexican, Italian, and various other nibbles.

Oh, and we owe a huge shout out to Trunk.  For any of you that have spent some time in Decatur, Trunk is about as close to Leon’s as we’ve seen on this half of the planet. We had a wonderful time sampling the delectable appetizers and drinking top rate cocktails. Drew would have never expected a Manhattan to have the power to salve the soul, but after 9 months of the word “vermouth” getting funny stares, a perfectly balanced cocktail is the ambrosia of the gods.
The worst part of this trip is knowing we have to go back to Alice tomorrow. However, we’re sure to be back before we leave Australia.
More pictures here.

Where Has July Gone?

The middle of winter is a very busy time in Alice Springs. On June 29th, the base held a party to celebrate Territory Day and Independence Day. We had fun hanging out with our friends and watching a great fireworks display. It was definitely different from a U.S. 4th of July celebration, not the least of which is the fact that we were wearing coats and hats! No patriotic parades or music, and less red, white, and blue clothing (again, coats). Territory Day, which falls on July 1st, marks the day the Northern Territory got self governance back in 1978. Around Alice it’s a huge celebration. From our back yard we saw or heard dozens of fireworks shows going off, and they kept it up most of the night. Despite the holiday, the town doesn’t shut down until the Friday.

Friday is Show Day. The Show is the NT version of a county fair. There’s a rodeo, livestock shows, craft fairs, and carnival rides. We spent a few hours wandering around checking out the booths and enjoying the food (pro-tip: Twisters (spiral cut, deep fried potatoes) are delicious and the Scouts have pretty tasty steak sandwiches).

We enjoyed visiting the livestock (chickens!) and the local exhibits. The Volunteer Bush Firefighters did a live fire demonstration to talk about fire breaks and bush fires. Then, we went and met the Desert Park’s newest resident – a fully grown wedge-tailed eagle.

Not all of the events are official – later that night, we got dressed up and went to a neighborhood Superhero/Villain party. Ashley was Batgirl and Drew was a Dastardly Villain (putting the mustache to good use). There have also been numerous farewell parties. Summer is a big turn-over time for turnover, so we’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of our new friends.

But don’t worry, no one in Alice takes life too seriously. Exhibit A: Camel Cup. That’s right, we also spent a lovely Saturday watching semi-qualified people race camels around a track.

There were some serious races, and a few crazy ones. The “Newlyweds” race had a guy ride a camel halfway down the track, then stop and pick up his “bride”. To get on or off a camel, it needs to be on the ground, so the racers had to make the camels sit and get up again. As you might imagine, hilarity ensued. One rider couldn’t get his camel going the right direction, so he ended up backtracking back to the camel pens.

And yes, camels are as ridiculous looking while running as you might expect.

More pictures here.