Aussie Sojourn - Day Six

Today was the final day of leg 1 of our adventure down under because we were going to fly to Sydney to spend the coming week there and experience the hospitality of New South Wales from later in the evening. Though I had put much time on planing my stay at Melbourne, I haven't done half as much of research for Sydney. And that just for one single reason, my good old friend, my classmate at college and my advisor for this Aussie Sojourn... the one and only Pradnya.

She and her hubby Sumeet has been to Sydney on an onsite opportunity through a IT company and they had called Sydney home since last 5 years. I consider her as one of the biggest motivation factor for me having proceeded with my PR and has been a source of inspiration and a guide throughout the process. She had been very helpful to me in planning all aspects of my visit, from accommodation to places to visit, from making me aware of the 'must-dos' to letter me know of different offers I can avail. We had already setup to meet late in the evening at the Darling Harbour to watch the firework display. But all before this we has to pack up and get going.

Thanks to Anjali she had all the things wrapped up and packed the previous night itself. I had decided to use Uber to haul a cab and had thus differed this task to the last moment. I had booked the Sydney to Melbourne flights while still at India and had opted for the budget airline Jetstar, unaware of the fact that they depart from the Avalon airport which is much far away from the main city. While it had taken us less than half an hour to arrive from the Melbourne Airport, this one would take us a couple of hours drive. Whatever cost benefits I had availed from a cheap flight tickets were to be offset by the taxi charge to the airport. I decided to blunt the brunt of the taxi charge by chosing a Uber ride but it wasnt to be as surge pricing meter was indicating 4x. Though the scheduled departure time was 10am we had requested our host to extend it till noon as our flight was to depart only at 5 pm. So I waited for some more time hoping the surge to settle which instead spiked to 7x. Finally Our host advised me to opt for a local cab service and helped me with the App. I booked the cab which arrived with a few minutes. The very 'Indian' looking cab driver helped with loading all our luggage, we bid good-bye to Bryan and got ourselves settled in the backseats for the long drive to the airport.

The driver maneuvered the suburb lanes and soon we hit the highway to the airport. As we trudged along I realised this way the same route that would have taken us to the Great Ocean Road trip. Though my wish was making that pilgrimage was still pending, I consoled myself that I would make it happen sooner than latter. Very hesitantly I tried to strike a conversation with cabbie, the first question very obviously being to know of his origins. Though he looked very 'Indian', I was a bit reluctant to directly ask that a leading question. So instead I queried if he was from Asia? He didnt hear it the first time and thus I had to repeat myself. When he answered I realised he was our long lost brother at partition from Pakistan. He queried us back about our origins. I tried to strike a conversation with him but he seem to be a man of limited words mostly answering in mono-syllabic replies. Nevertleless he revealed that he has come to Australia for studies and decided to stay back considering the conditions back home. Rest of the journey was spent  gazing out of the windows, appreciating the nature, the multiple lane highway and the systematic driving sense. When he took a shoulder turn off the highway I realised we have approadhed the airport, but there werent any aircraft visible still circling in the sky. A few more turns and we arrived a very desolate looking building with not a soul in site.

Aussie Sojourn - Day Five

By now almost major attractions of the CBD were covered and I was pretty satisfied with the way things have coincided with my planned itinerary. As per my plan today was meant for the 'Great Ocean Road' trip which is one of major attraction for visitors to Melbourne. The GoD drive is a scenic drive along the antarctic ocean with many breath-taking spots, coves & beaches and limestones structures. This road also leads you to the '12 Apostles' which is fastly eroding into the ocean and I wanted to see this tourist attraction long before it is gone. Frankly rather than the tourist hotspots on the route, I had intentions of self driving  on the great ocean road and had got myself an international license as well for this precise reason. But when we visited the visitor centre we were warned that a single day trip wasnt the most advisable thing to do as one would hardly get the time to soak in the beauty, besides it could be pretty taxing upon the passangers especially kids, and needless to say on the driver. All this advice along with the almost intimidating driving rules (remember I come back from Goa) and a slightly prohibitive cost of self driving a soft top coupe weighed the odds against me taking the drive. I still had the option of taking the bus ride but I felt that would mean crushing my dream which I shall surely live some day. So that plan not materializing I had to make up for it with some alternative for we didnt want to waste a beautiful day within the confines of our room. So off we left...

We hadnt had a very fulfilling breakfast all these days, for the rush we always were in to explore new place. But today having been there seen that, we though of setting our priorities straight and spend some time in satiating our taste buds. So we went to QVM where I had spotted a line of food stalls in the alley adjoining the market. After a couple stroll up and down the alley and carefully going through the menu displpayed, Anjali decided to settle on a Turkish food stall. We ordered a turkish dish (was it a falafel or a pesto? I forgot) and rested our backsides into the chairs. When the food came we relished it to the last bit and then topped it with some turksih tea, coffee.

From there we went to the docklands to view the marina from up close. We had passed by it the last time we visited the Melbourne Star and since the shuttle didnt halt here we just observed in from the comforts of the bus. But today we had the luxury to visit and see a few art installations and patches of beautifully manicured flower beds we line alone the shore while the sparkling white yatchs dazzled in the bright sun in the background. Walked over the wharf, passed across the Etihad stadium and hitched a bus ride to the Royal Botanical Gardens which we could not explore due to the rains on the previous day. Today was different as in it was pretty hot and not the best day to roam around large stretches of absolutely very well maintained plants of different species and colours. Nevertheless we explored the various sections of the park, the map we picked at the entrance lobby coming very handy. Totally exhausted having unknowingly clocked a few miles, we finally decided to rest for a while. So we located a bench on a lawn and cooled our heels. By now Anannya too had dozed off and it only meant we had some quite time for just two of us.

Aussie Sojourn - Day Four

So past three days of activities means we did cover many of the tourists attractions but a couple of them were still pending to be ticked off. So we decided to schedule our day's itenirary around these viz: The Shrine of remembrance and Royal Botanical Gardens which were very closeby to one another. One more reason I had not clubbed these attractions with rest of the site-seeing was that I had plans to meet up with on eof my classmates from college and so also check up on the Centerlink services whose office was locality in the vicinity.

But the day didnt exactly start the way we would have preffered it to. We had experienced nice, cold breezy weather and so also the hot and hunid climate on the previous days. But today it was a day for the showers. The weather app had been predicting the days weather more or less accurately in here, however the place were I come from we are neither used to checking the weather app predictions; perhaps the weather forecast are known to be notoriously off the mark. Infact as some joke goes back in India one should expect exactly opposite weather to what is been predicted. On a serious note, weather in India is very much predictable and there are pretty well defined months for season and one do not see much of seasonal climatic variations during a day. However Melbourne is notorious for its erratic weather conditions and I was correctly forewarned about 'able to see all 4 seasons in a 24 hours span' of any day. So here we were starring over the poarch  while sipping hot tea and eating instant noodles as the raining came down. Though the downpour wasnt significatly heavy and had it been just me I would have walked out, we were still reluctant because we didnt was to risk any ailment on the foreign soil and especially after the still fresh in the memory episode of pneumonia she had been through and needed a 11 days long hospitalizaion needless to stray the numerous pricks she was administration causing her so much of physical pain and mental trauma to all of us. Thankfully she was cured well in time and recovered  from her convalescence which had at some moment even threathened this trip down under. So we waited was the rains to subside.

Once the showers fizzled out, we moved out on our mission armed with the single umbrella that Anjali had carried from home. There was no ambiguity in our minds as to who gets to use it. We took the usual bus ride back to the city and got down near much earlier to our usual stop and walked our way to the university main building. I planned to take the visitor shuttle from here to the Shrine of Remembrance rather than going to the Fed Square and onto St.Kilda. I was by now pretty familiarised with the layout and was beginning feeling confident of commuting. So we wait for the next shuttle to arrive at the stop and hoards of students zipped past us. Then onto the shuttle we took us through the familiar route via CBD and docklands to the Shrine of Remembrance. By now it had begun drizzling again but still not that heavy. The plan was to have Anjali take Anannya around the Shrine of Remembrance and the Royal Botanical Garden which was spread over vast expanse of the land. Anannya especially was looking forward to go to the 'garden' which to her had totally different connotations from usual. 

So I left them behind and moved across the lawn and onto the St.Kilda road, crossed it and moved downhill along in street in a seemingly commercial district. I called up my friend and he gave me a landmark to arrive at and asked me to buzz me once there. So once I reached opposite the BMW showroom, I buzzed Rahul and waited at the entrance of Wipro Technologies where he worked. Minutes later he arrived and hugs & pleasantries were exchanged. He enquired if I have had lunch and offered to take me for lunch somewhere nearby. I hesitantly agreed for I wasnt sure if my folks back there would wait for me. But since I have no way to communicate back to her and knowing the fact that she did had AUDs with her I walked to have a quick bite. Besides Rahul and me had lot to catch up since over a decade had passed by since we had last met way back during college days. So we settled our butts at a South East asian restaurant,ordered a couple of dishes. Our talks ranged from nostalgic memories of college days to whos-who & whos-where about all our batchmates, how Goa has degraded over the years and then to how australia is as a place. I too had many curiousities to settle viz: Melbourne vs Sydnet, the climate, jobs and career prospects, standard of living et al. He patiently listened and answered as we devoured the food that arrived. Rahul had to go back to work and so we wrapped our lunch and he was courteous enough to foot the bill, so I thanked him exchanged a warm handshake and each took their own road back to their destination. But not before clicking an mandatory selfie for the college whatsapp group.

Now it had begun to rain pretty heavily. Anjali had thrusted the umbrella to me saying I might need it more that I had to walk quite some while and that she would find shelter somewhere in the garden if need be. So armed with the umbrella I walked to the centrelink offfice which was at the York Street which almost seemed to be a deserted street. I located the office and got myself a ticket and waited in the lobby. It had been quite a while since I had left wifey back and that I had told her that I should be back within an hour. Now that it was over an hour I was getting worried that she might start feeling panicky but I had no means to reach out to her. The wait felt excruciatingly long with each passing minute as I waited for my turn to come. And suddenly my phone buzzed with a unknown number. I was pretty sure it was she calling me and with great anticipation I answered it. Yes, it was her. "Where are you?" she questioned. Her voice a mix of worry and anger. I told her how I got delayed at the office and asked her not to worry for I would need to another half an hour at least. I hung the call up relived that I have things under control. Soon I was called to the counter where I was courteously dealt with in regards to application. Since I didnt have my bank debit card with me there, I was requested to revisit the centre with the same and get my records updated. That thing done I had another item off my to-do list and I triumphantly walked back to reunite with my family braving the incessant showers.

After looking out for them two for few minutes, I found them in the lobby anannya saddled in her pram and dozzing off but Anjali was fuming primed to erupt and my glimpse was an trigger she was waiting for. She wasnt all at fault for I was gone for hours without a trace, she could not move around as it was raining, and our little one could quite be a devil at times and this was that one time where she had been throwing tantrums. And to top it all they hadnt had their lunch; I felt a bit repentant for having relished a decent meal while my folks were starving still. Telling her that would just mean adding insult to injury so I deliquently avoided her question probing if I have had my meals. We moved out from there without visiting the galleries and went to the bus stop to catch the next shuttle to CBD. That also meant I will have to give a miss to the two attractions which I was actually was looking up to visiting and it kind of put me off. As we waited for the shuttle, I even got in a minor argument with my wifey as why she couldnt get food for them two not realising she was constrained with the pouring rains. Anjali sensing my disappointment coaxed me in making a quick tour of the shrine which after initial rebuttal I gave in to. I promised to make a quick tour of the same and would arrive well in time before the probable time of departure of the shuttle. So i sprinted up the steps of the shrine , visited different sections, clicking pics and virtually running through the aisle. Though I skipped many a section just to ensure I will be back in time and in time I was; Anjali told me the shuttle had left soon I had departed. Darn! Had no option but to curse my own self and wait for the next one. I dont know if Anjali was testing me when she proposed making a quick dash to the RBG before the next bus arrived; which I flatly refused, rode the next shuttle and arrived at the St. Kilda's stop for some pet-puja.

Aussie Sojourn - Day Three

At the Melbourne Visitor centre yesterday we came to know about the visitor shuttle bus which move around the city and take the tourists to landmark attractions. The $10 ticket for 2 days entitled one to get on any of these shuttle at any of these designated 13 stops. One could visit the attraction at leisure and then hop on to the next shuttle and continue the journey. What’ more? It had free onboard Wifi. Yippee! So we bought a couple of tickets for our self and take the shuttle at St. Paul’s Cathedral which was stop #2 on the route. When we arrived there, the shuttle wasn’t yet arrived at the stop so we decided you see the cathedral from inside.

The cathedral was humungous with the high ceiling intimidating you and making you realize what a tiny speck you are. The fat pillars on both side and the arcs curving in from each side and meeting at the center were stone carved and flashed the gothic look. There were hardly any soul on the prayer benches or otherwise except a couple of tourists near the towering altar. Since this would interest Anannya, Anjali took her to a side aisle wherein a special play area was demarcated with toys scattered around. I moved on to watch the place with more details. As one entered the cathedral there was this soothing sound of someone playing an organ. Though very calm it was loud as well, perhaps it was the acoustics of the grand hall which was amplifying the effects or perhaps the person was playing on a mic I told myself. I roamed around a bit and then came across a array of giant pipes which kind of puzzled me but I moved on. When I returned back to the play area, Anannya was busy riding on some toy while Anjali was chatting with the David Shepherd’esque old man. I realized later that he was the curator of the cathedral. After exchanging pleasantries and hearing where we came from, how could we not grace past the topic of cricket. So here was he, but as you might be expecting or at least as I had expected  instead of bragging how the green baggies have been humiliating India time and again down under, he chose to mention the series when India had white-washed the Aussies. And we say that the Aussies are big-mouthed, or perhaps it was just him. I later queried him about the sound the queried him as to who was playing it and it is then I got enlightened about that array of pipes. The cathedral contained one of the world’s largest while organ and it was wind acting as the conductor of the orchestra. He also added that we were plain lucky to have witnessed it as it is usually played only on the day of the mass.

When we came out we still didn’t see any bus there. No, it didn’t mean that the bus has not arrived, it only suggested we did miss the bus and may be two. So instead of waiting there at the stop I decided that we visit the ACMI and the NGV which were just across the street. As we walked along the footpath we could see hordes of people visibly tourists moving in and out of an alley way. As we approached we could see and stone brick paved alley way with either side walls sprayed with all hues of colour. It was the Hosier street and famously known for its street art, graffiti. It wasn’t random sprinkling of paint on the walls, but there was definitive artistic touch and many a times a not so subtle message. The paintings ranged from cartoon characters, to sceneries, to world peace message and even a piece of advice to the USA. I could spot a couple of kids who in their school-uniforms were sheepishly trying to paint their artwork as well. Guess they had bunked their classes for a noble cause? 

From there we moved onto the halls of ACMI and the art galleries of NGV. The ACMI exhibited variety of sci-fi gadgets from the past and those used in different movies. But what was more interesting was what lay ahead, for they were also demonstrating the gadgets for the future like the Virtual reality goggles. The NGV too was spell bounding for any connoisseur of art for it had huge collection of paintings, sculptures and art. We raced through much of it as we didn’t have any plans to skip our shuttle any longer and headed back to the cathedral stop. Within minutes we could see the distinctive bright red coloured bus pull in. A few tourist got off and we jumped on and grabbed the seat. Needless to say first thing that both of us did was to connect to the free onboard WiFi and got on with instagramming/FBing .

The shuttle chugged along and the very lively driver welcomed the new guests onboard and proceeded with his running commentary. The next stop was the MCG which didn’t excited Anjali much but I still decided to hop off to do the ‘Sporting Hajj’. The climate out there at the MCG stadium was stupendous with cool breeze kissing your face. Anjali had once again got her sartorial choice wrong of clothing relaying solely on the earlier day’s hot and humid climate. Duh! The climate was very pleasing at MCG and the cool breezing crazing against your body makes one feel energetic. Guess that is one of the reason why MCG is the most favourite venue of most of the cricketing legend and facing the red cherry dressed in the whites is kind of a holy grail for most of the cricketers across the world. Very typical to the Hajj wherein the devotee circumambulate the black stone, I went all around the MCG. I also took a detour to the Hisense Arena, the National Tennis centre, AAMI Park and the venue for the Australia Open. One could see hundreds of young kids practicing different sports, no wonder Australia is such a strong sporting nation. We took the next shuttle and then moved on.

We moved past the Treasury gardens, watched the Victoria parliament building pass by, zipped past the famous food street of Lygon street and Collins street and then to the University of Melbourne, the driver blabbering all the way with history of many a landmarks sprinkled with nit bits of GK. The bus paused at regular intervals to let the tourists hop on and off at the stipulated stops. We then arrived at the Queen Victoria market stop which was the place for Melbourne biggest market for all things under the sun. For fish to clothes and eatables to vegetables, this was the go-to place if you wanted to buy things cheap. But it being a Wednesday it was the weekly off and all the stalls were sealed and wrapped. This disappointment didn’t last for too long as the driver informed us that Wednesday though being the weekly off, it is all the day for the night food bazaar wherein I can get to devour a wide and inexhaustive range of cuisines supposedly from the length and breadth the world. Now that I have titillated your taste buds and I am guessing you mouth is watering as well, I will leave it at this. More of it later. So we made a mental note that we need to arrive at the place dot at 1700 hrs, militarily speaking.

We then made our way to the docklands which is a very recently developed region of Melbourne. We passed by a giant white statue of an Eagle, which was considered sacred by the native aboriginal people of Australia. We could see large tracts of wavy roof like structure which turned out to be the Southern cross station, the hub of all inter- and intra- state rail networks. Interesting to note here the name Southern Cross is derived from a constellation, which is also seen on the Australian Flag. As Melbourne grew and so does its population, it had to expand to accommodate its vast numbers of immigrants and thus this area got into being as an outshoot. Unlike the mix of Victorian and swanky buildings in the CBD, this area housed mostly residential hi-rises. Our driver informed that the buildings having built in the docklands region were so shaped to look like that of a ship; I am yet to figure out that similarity. Ignoring his rant we got ourselves busy watching the marina and the white gleaming yachts anchored there. Soon we reached the Melbourne Star, our next in to-do list. Remember Anjali had added this to her wish list yesterday, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. A few years back when we had been to Singapore, I had given the Singapore Eye a miss for more ‘down to earth’ experiences, but she hadn’t still let me go for that misadventure (missed adventure rather) and I was in no mood to make it 2-0 in her favour. So here was the opportunity for me to break even,  even though if it meant I would be set back $140. So we grabbed a quick bite at a McD and moved on to take a ride in one of those glass cubicle which circled every half an hour. There was hardly any crowd there and we got the entire cabin all for ourselves to play around. No, don’t let you mind wander; the cabin is strictly under CCTV surveillance and besides we had own set of little eyes proding throughout. The cabin rises slowly and you get to see newer frontiers of Melbourne emerge at the horizon. There is a running commentary helping you to identify significant buildings I you move 360 degrees along the circumference of the Melbourne Star. All and all I felt this experience a bit…….. ‘Meh!’ A more exciting thing was seeing Anannya enjoying herself on the tiny slides, the rocking rides and the driving car that she got to play with in the play area after we have alighted. It was a tasks to get her off from it and onto the City Circle tram back to flinders street. Got somewhere close to the George Street stop and walked north to QVM.

When we arrived at the tin shade of what we know at QVM, the stalls were just getting set up. Though there were a couple which were up and running and already had a small crowd gathered around it. We had no clue what this would snowball into as the evening unwound. So as we waited for more options to get added, we had our first mango of the season well before the season. My daughter being a huge Mango fan, meant Anjali and me got to taste just a small bite of it as Anannya ‘cleaned’ it up within no time. Soon the crowd begin building up and we decided to take a walk down the aisle and take our pick. The entire lane was lined up with hundreds of stalls and each of these stalls offering you thousands of things you relish. From Cheesesteaks, Dumplings & Noodles to Nachos, Pastas and doughnuts. Well not to miss on the different items in meat of lamb, chicken, pork etc. After the recee I decided to settle for Koothu Roti from a familiar looking Sri-Lankan stall. This dish was basically a chicken and Roti version of scrambled egg. Wifey settled for a more saner looking Korean Potata twist and fried beans. Besides food, another star attraction of the night food market is the live performances that happen along side which all the people can enjoy while devouring their chosen food. We got to experience this guy who was playing a fruit. No its not a typo and I didn’t mean to say flute but F.R.U.I.T. He had this assemble of different  carved of fruits viz: carrots, watermelon, cabbage, lettuce et al and he was making rhythmic notes out of these. Quiet a novelty it was. We also had another stage wherein the artist were playing the digeridoo though I would have loved to hear the same played by an aboriginal native in his traditional attire. With our mind and soul satisfied and more so our tummies, we took the ride back to our home.