Sunday, August 24, 2014

Adelaide -> Melbourne

OK, I've fallen behind again, too busy or tired to post the last few days!

I had only 1 full day in Adelaide on Thursday. I had breakfast in the Central Market, right across the street from my hotel. I picked up some fruit, cheese and beef jerky for the next few days, and had a coffee in a cafe in the market.

I spent the morning exploring a few attractions: a gallery showcasing Aboriginal art, the South Australia Museum (mainly the Aboriginal exhibit, and one on Mawson's Antarctic expedition). Had lunch at the museum, and then crossed town to the Jam Factory, a collection of art studios and galleries. I watched some glass blowing (a team of three people working beautifully together to make a large bottle), and explored the galleries and the shop, full of mostly beautiful and very expensive pieces, mainly in glass or ceramic.

Back across town (making good use of my unlimited transit pass!), had a beer in a pub and then went to see a movie: Snowpiercer. It was a bit disappointing, and one flaw in the plot bugged me: this train containing the last of humanity after we froze the planet supposedly makes one trip around the earth each year. It's clearly moving quickly, but even at 100km/hr, it would only a few weeks to make that trip.

I found an Indian restaurant near my hotel for dinner, and got to bed early.

Friday morning I got up, had breakfast and checked out of the hotel. Took a bus to the Avis office, got my car (a nice small Hyundai) and headed out. It was straightforward to get out of Adelaide and onto the freeway, and driving on the left was not an issue. I had driven on the left once before, on our group trip to Scotland 6 years ago. Then I was driving a big van on very narrow roads, and that was a bit challenging. This small car was easier to handle. My only problem was that most of the time when  making a lane change or turn, I would turn on the windshield wipers instead of the turn indicator, as the two stalks are reversed here!

The drive from Adelaide to Melbourne is about 900km, and I planned it for two days, with a stop in Portland around the middle. The first day took me through big open plains, rolling countryside and some forest, and most of the forest was obviously planted, with hundreds of trees in perfect rows. The landscape looked vast, and the trees different enough from what I'm used to that it looked a bit exotic, maybe a little like Africa. I saw a kangaroo and what I think were a couple of koalas, dead on the road from collisions.

I arrived in Portland around dusk, and got a little turned around looking for my motel. I finally stopped at a fish & chips shop to ask for directions; it turned out I was only a few blocks away. The motel was quite nice, including the best internet connection I've had all trip - good enough for a Skype call with my daughter Karen! The owner also brought by my continental breakfast (cereal, juice, milk, raisin bread) so I could have it whenever I got up; there was a kettle and toaster in the room so I could make my coffee & toast. I walked a block to a nearby hotel/pub for dinner. It was quite busy, and while I ate, I enjoyed watching several of the locals try their luck at one of those machines where you manipulate a claw to try to grab a prize. This one was filled with footy (Australian Rules Football) balls, and while I think of those machines as a scam, I saw at least 4 balls retrieved in the hour or so I was there.

Saturday morning I got up, had my breakfast, and hit the road. An hour or so into my drive I got to the start of the Great Ocean Road, the really scenic drive that was the reason I rented the car from Adelaide to Melbourne. This route was slower, with a lot of twists and turns and scenic lookouts to stop at, and it took me longer than I expected to get to Melbourne (not that that was a problem).

Some of the 12 Apostles

Another Apostle


I entered Melbourne around 6pm, and as I pulled off the freeway I hit terrible traffic. I decided to get off the Main Street I was on and see if other streets were moving better. They were, but I ran into 2 issues with that plan. First, one of the streets I chose didn't go through as far as I wanted, so I I had to turn. And the turn I needed was a "hook turn" - a right turn (and remember, when driving on the left, the right turn is the bigger turn across oncoming traffic) from the leftmost lane. I had read about these, but wasn't prepared to execute the maneuver properly, and wound up doing a regular right turn, which I think did not please all the other drivers around me.

Got to my hotel around 6:30 after fighting my way through all the traffic, glad that I won't be driving any more here after I drop off the car in the morning. My hotel here is the nicest one so far (maybe four stars), and is centrally located at the edge of Chinatown, and close to train and tram lines that will take me anywhere I want to go. Had dinner (Indian again!) at a restaurant around the corner, and got to bed, very tired after a full day of driving.

Sunday I slept until 8:30 (10 hours!), and took the car back first thing, which turned out to be a little trickier than I expected. First off, it took the valet parking guy about 20 minutes to fetch my car, because the transmission stick was stuck. Then I drove down to the Avis office, which is in the Southern Cross train station. I spotted the office on the other side of the street, and managed to do a U-turn a few blocks later to come back around to it. It wasn't clear where to park the car (no driveway or parking area), so I pulled up at a taxi stand and ran in to ask where to leave the car. That turned out to be a parking lot two blocks down the road, where I finally managed to leave the car.

Found a spot for breakfast nearby, and got myself a 7-day transit pass. Melbourne has a great network of trams and trains; Rob Ford would hate it, but it's going to work well for me while I'm here.

After breakfast I wandered around Federation Square and the Flinders St train station.

Federation Square

The clocks at Flinders Station.
"Meet me under the clocks" has been a common way
to get together in Melbourne for generations

Can't help it, but this made me smile.

It turns out that the Melbourne Writers festival is on this week. I found 5 authors I'm interested in seeing:
  • Lauren Beukes, a South African writer of strange, quirky sci-fi novels I enjoy
  • Dave Eggers
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Chris Hadfield
  • Tony Wheeler (of Lonely Planet)
I had missed Chris Hadfield's session, some of the others were sold out, and the Salman Rushdie session as $130, which I found a bit pricy. I bought a ticket to a reading including Lauren Beukes, and there's another free session with her as well. I wish I had known in advance about this festival, as I might have been able to get another ticket or two before they sold out.

Had a yummy lunch of peri-peri chicken at a Nando's, and then returned to my hotel for a little siesta. Headed out mid-afternoon and got the train to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for my first Australian Rules Football match.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground ("the MCG"),
one of the most hallowed sporting arenas in the world.
Sort of like Australia's Fenway Park?

Each team had a huge banner brought out onto the field;
their players ran out from behind their banner.

I had seen the odd game years ago, and decided it was a part of Australian culture I ought to sample. The people sitting next to me were friendly and happy to explain what was going on, which turned out to be simpler that I had first thought. The ball can be advanced by kicking, hand-punching the ball to a teammate, or running (but you need to bounce the ball once every 20m when running with it). When you catch the ball off a kick that's called a mark, and the other team can't tackle you, so you get a free chance to kick or pass the ball without interference. Scoring is all by kicking the ball through 4 goalposts at the end of the huge field: 6 points for a ball kicked though the two middle posts, and 1 point if it goes between an inner and outer post. I was seeing the Richmond Tigers play the St Kilda Saints. Richmond was battling for the last of 8 playoff spots with this game and one more left to play in the season, while St Kilda was buried in last place with only 4 wins in 20 games. There was no national anthem at the start of the game, but each team's theme song was played as their players took the field. Richmond jumped out to a quick 30-0 lead, but after that the game was pretty even, with the final score hitting 98-72. I was impressed with the skills of the players, all of whom had to be able to kick and catch accurately while running around the enormous field continuously.

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