The 10-months-later Backfill of Oz

Oh hey. It’s me again.

For those of you who were actually actively following my blog while I was away last year, I’m sorry. Australia was super busy, and then when I got back into Canada… well, you’ll hear more on that later.

So what actually happened in those last two weeks? To refresh your memory: we’re now in the last days of August and the beginning of September. I flew out of Sydney on September 12th, back to Canada.

Melbourne

– I “hopped the pond” over to Australia (Queenstown -> Melbourne) at the end of August

– I discovered that there was a two-hour time difference between there and NZ (definitely didn’t realize that)

– I learned about hook turns – they are terrifying, especially if you’ve never experienced them before, and are a passenger in a vehicle with a local driver. I still remember them 10 months later, that’s how scary they feel! More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hook_turn

– My first night in Melbourne was spent (a) dropping my luggage at the hostel, then (b) finding an internet cafe and putting in 2-3 more hours of work. I’d left the work day early to make the jump. I remember it was raining. But the wi-fi was excellent.

– Working in Melbourne generally consisted of public libraries. However, it was very difficult to get a seat with an outlet nearby – I was often right on the end of my battery before being able to plug in somewhere. And the internet was very iffy. On the plus side, I had a big mall nearby, so it was easy to get food.

– I took mostly nature/animal tours in Melbourne, since those were the best. I think I took a city tour too, but my memories of it are so blurry, it must’ve started in the early morning.

– The hostel was… not the best. Maybe the second worst hostel of the whole trip (BASE Auckland still ended up as the worst). The wi-fi only worked on one floor, so that floor was always packed and noisy, and of course that many people on one access point made the internet slow as molasses. I quickly learned to do whatever I needed to do on the internet before leaving my workplace/public library for the day. And the rooms were tiny, hot, and very basic – bunks and storage lockers, that’s it. With a very bright overhead light. The showers were grimy. But you can’t beat its location – right across the street from Flinders Street Station and the information centre. And next to a Pie Face.

– Which reminds me, Pie Face in Oz has the best coffee. Never mind the fancy cafes, I always ended up at a Pie Face for coffee. Easier on the wallet, too.

– Melbourne has these little alleyways which contain standalone shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. It’s like being in Europe, except… tinier? The one by my hostel was one of the most well-known (busy) ones – Degraves Street.

– Degraves had an awesome pub (I don’t recall the name) with a server who looked like David Boreanaz, and a manager (owner?) who tried to hook me up with another one of the servers – apparently we liked the same beer, and I knew how to pour properly…

– The huge downside to Degraves (and maybe this is the case for the other alleys too?) is that none of the eating establishments have their own washroom facilities. There’s a public facility at the entrance to the alley, so if you need to go during dinner, you just tell your server and… walk out the front door and down the road. Also, the public facility is the sketchiest public washroom I’ve ever seen. If you end up in that area and you really need to go, either hold it, or take a buddy. Seriously.

– I did a brewery tour at the Carlton Brewery, which is one of their major companies (think Molson). The tour itself was interesting – that’s probably the largest brewery I’ve ever toured – but the beer tasted very similar to Molson Canadian. If you know me, you know how I feel about Canadian, and it’s not a good opinion. The food was good though! I got to exchange stories with locals about how hot Canada can get in the summer (they were very skeptical that it gets over +20C here), and in return, they told me what happens in a city when the temperature climbs to over +40C. The answer: not much.

Sydney

– I decided to take the train between Melbourne and Sydney, because trains. It was actually reasonably priced – so reasonably, in fact, that I decided to take Business Class. Fancy!

(Upon taking a closer look, I realized why it was so cheap. The whole ride was about 12 hours, start to finish! AND there was track maintenance going on, so I had to take a bus for part of the way too. Australia is much bigger than it looks on a map, by the way – Melbourne and Sydney are like an inch away on a regular map. They’re 12 road hours apart!)

– The ride itself was pretty uneventful, all things considered. I had two full meals over the course of the day, and hot scones with jam and cream in the morning. I did a lot of reading. However, I ended up not being able to drowse much, because there were two really loud kids in the front of the carriage. I guess they also wanted the Business Class experience.

– I grabbed my bags from the train, and got a cab to the hostel. Partway there, the driver’s engine light flashed on, and he had to pull over. He got out, fiddled around under the hood for a bit, and then sheepishly poked his head in the door and said “…do you know anything about cars?” Not particularly reassuring! But we did eventually get to the hostel, and he definitely undercharged me for the trip, so that worked out in the end.

– The hostel was a YHA, and it was a relatively new one, too. We were in the neighborhood/area called “The Rocks”. It’s a very old part of Sydney, which is now considered very fashionable, in a hipster kind of sense. But the hostel was great, and my roommates were also really good. One of the best hostels I stayed in!

– I was on vacation at this point, so I didn’t need to worry so much about wi-fi. Phew.

– I took a public city tour, saw more wildlife, and did a “beer tour” (not to be confused with a pub crawl or a brewery tour). I ended up being the only one on the tour, too, which was odd. But it worked. We just visited a bunch of the oldest pubs in the Rocks (which are also some of the city’s oldest pubs), and had dinner. Kangaroo and Alligator pizza! I don’t eat meat often, but I figured I wouldn’t get the chance for these two again, so ‘when in Rome’, etc. Alligator is salty and chewy. Kangaroo is more gamey, but very beef-like.

– I met up with a relative, and we toured the Opera House and other parts of the city together for a day. She also very generously bought me a ticket to go see a play which was showing at the Opera House – “The King and I”. It was a great performance.

Misc

– I never got a chance to go sailing in the Whitsundays, just due to a general lack of time. If I ever head back down that way, I’ll definitely need to take more time in Oz!

– Since I was flying out of Sydney, that was my last Australia stop. Flights home: Sydney -> Auckland -> Vancouver -> Calgary. I could’ve flown straight out of Sydney to Vancouver, but it was with Air Canada – you also may know how I feel about international flights with them! So I decided to change planes in Auckland, and fly AirNZ one last time, because they’re awesome.

– I can’t recall which flights (I think it was Queenstown -> Melbourne, and Sydney -> Auckland?), but I flew Virgin Australia twice (never flown with them before), and was really impressed by their planes and service. The only complaint I had was that you could upgrade your seat without actually moving seats (i.e. get better benefits with the exception of better seating), so I ended up sitting in between two people who had upgraded and got hot meals, and I got a sandwich. Which I had to pay extra for. Good way to get people to upgrade next time, I guess.

– In case you ever decide to do something similar to what I did, I highly recommend initially signing up with a bank which has a presence in both NZ and Oz. That includes ANZ and Westpac. I signed with BNZ, which is only in NZ, and so had to close my account before I left NZ. Whereas if I’d signed with, i.e., ANZ, I could’ve waited until the end of my time in Australia to close it, and had cash on hand easily. Now I know.

– Another word to the wise – if you do the same thing I did with flights, too, keep in mind that NZ and Oz consider flights to/from each other to be International flights. So if you are flying, i.e. Oz -> NZ -> Canada, you will land in the NZ airport’s international terminal, and will not need to leave it for your next flight. So you’ll need to find a service desk for the next airline you’re flying on, and get them to find and re-check your checked bag for you! This was surprisingly hassle-free in Auckland (and with AirNZ) though.

There you have it – the very late and abridged version of my Oz adventures! There’s more to follow for this blog, I just needed to get this out of the way first. Stay tuned!

– T

Edit: I just realized I’m missing a full post from Queenstown. Lots happened there, so I’ll be revisiting it in my next post. Whoops.

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