Australia: An Overview
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I am back from my 3-week sojourn to Australia. I am several thousand dollars poorer and five pounds heavier, but a thousand pictures richer with tons of memories and friendships to last a lifetime. There is so much to write about but I will try to keep it succinct while being as accurate as I can be. If you haven’t been to Australia, hope these reflections will help you relive the last few weeks with me, giving you a virtual tour of OzLand. And if you have been, then perhaps these words will rekindle your own fond memories Down Under. Restaurant reviews will be posted separately. Without further ado, allow me to begin.
I am California born and bred, having been spoiled with beautiful weather my entire life. Now, throw us (my friends & I) into a rather harsh land like Australia and we wilt. I ended up quite well, though I can’t say the same for my friends. There were colds, coughs and fevers throughout the trip as we fought to acclimate ourselves to frigid Melbourne (as low as 0*C) and tropical Cairns (as high as 25*C). It is common fact for the locals that one of Melbourne’s most unique traits is that it can experience all 4 seasons in the period of a day. And it is soo true. One minute there is sunshine and blue skies, the next minute the strong winds are blowing in storm clouds and the ripping branches off vulnerable trees. I honestly did not know how to dress for Melbourne and so opted for layering – contributing to a rather frumpy Anh, a huge contrast to the very chic and classy Melbourne-ians on Collins Street and the like.
An overcast sky makes the backdrop for Melbourne’s Federation Square
Sydney, on the other hand, is significantly warmer, though temperatures can vary as much as 30*C in one day. The ocean breezes help moderate the climates a bit more than the drastic Melbourne climate. Sydney beaches are world renowned, but they are coold during the winter and the high winds left my face wind-chapped. I had to consistently lotion myself everyday because the strong dry winds ate at my face. It did rain a good deal on our last day in Sydney, quite refreshing, albeit I did suffer a minor cold after that…
Cairns is a tropical region, so you get glorious sunshine pretty much year round, though the nights can be breezy, so a sweater (or personal heater) is recommended.
Melbourne is very much like SF sans the homeless, the slums, the Tenderloin. The city has its share of large boats, tall buildings, excellent shopping and world renowned cuisine. It is ethnically and ideologically diverse, very cultured, refined and classy. For the most part, I would say Melbourne (and all of Australia for the matter) is much more ‘chill’ and relaxed than the Bay Area. Life takes on a slower pace, even in a hustling and bustling business city like Melbourne. The people are very friendly and genuine. We even got free food from a pie shop, and no one ever hesitated to help us with directions or tell us the time. Very gracious.
Personally, I did not get to experience the real Sydney as the only time I spent in Sydney was during World Youth Day – and that was a crazy and hectic experience, so I cannot fairly judge Sydney’s attitude or atmosphere. Cairns, on the other hand, was a clearly tourist town – full of lounges and bars filled with backpackers like myself. It had the feeling of a definitely college party destination, despite the high-end restaurants and hotels along the Esplanade.
Food Overview: I did not know this before, but apparently (and hard to believe) Australia has taken over America’s place as the fattest country in the world. I was informed of this by a Lasallian Adelaide school boy, who was neither proud nor ashamed of the fact. Fact is FACT after all. And only after 3 weeks in Australia do I know why. Australia is big on meat and pies. They love their Shepherd’s pie, pot pies, anything meat pie. And there is A LOT of meat. LOTS of sausages. LOTS of kebabs. At the supermarket, meat is cheaper than many fruits per kilo. Ridiculous if you ask me. ALSO, Australian desserts are cloyingly sweet and delicious! Lambingtons and TimTams and WagonWheels, dunked in chocolate, filled with extra cream or marshmallows or jam. Dear God, what an artery clogger, but soo good for my sweet tooth. This is, by the way, how I managed to gain 5 pounds on a trip where I walked at least 2-3 km everyday.
And what exactly is there to do and see in Melbourne? Well for tourists, the best thing to do is take a trip down St. Kilda as you hit all the hot spots from there. You hit Federation Square, all shopping streets, cross the Bridge and get great views of the Yarra River. Better yet, follow the river and that takes to you through tons of excellent food places (link: Bear Brass) and little shops. When Annie and I travel, we like to ask the locals (on the streets and trains, at the bars, the waiters/servers, etc) for recommendations. Brunswick Street is like SF’s Haight & Ashbury, full of lively bars and pubs. Just make sure you are in by 2am, as the new law prohibits loitering around after then. I am a big shopper, so of course we had to head down to the Queen Victoria Market (corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets), which sells copious amounts of souvenirs, clothes items, as well as plenty of food to make any picky foodie drool. It is a must on a to-do list. Melbourne also has a well-known aquarium, which I did not get the chance to see. But being from California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium spoils me and I won’t see anything less. If you head down to the far end of St. Kilda, you hit the beach and all the beachside activities imaginable. Granted, it is mid-winter now, so the only major attraction is the huge strip of pubs and bars. Oh, did I mention that the legal drinking age in Australia is 18? Yes indeed!
A visit to Sydney is not complete without a thorough visit of the Sydney Harbour via ferry so that you can see the Opera House, the Bridge, Circular Quay (ferry and train station), Botanical Gardens, the Rocks and all the other things on the waterfront. Ferry transportation can get a bit pricey, but well worth all the sights. Also, a ferry is also a necessity to visit Taronga Zoo and Manly, the former being famous for its Australian animals and beautiful views of the Sydney harbour, and the latter for its famous beaches that boast excellent waves for surfers. In the city itself, Darling Harbour and Walk is a must for couples, especially at night, as the path is lined with water fountains and beautiful pools. The walk terminates on one end at Cockle Bay, a great place to shop and dine; the other end of the path is Chinatown. For great shopping, let me suggest Market City located just outside the main Chinatown Street. These city center sights are best accessed by train, a complex but very effective system that virtually allow you to explore all of Sydney and the neighboring suburbs with efficiency. But wait, there is more! The best part of my experience in Sydney had to be the hike from famous Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach. There is a path carved along the coast, curling along the cliffside, that lasts kilometers long. We managed to only go part of the way, but the scenes are breathtaking.
After freezing in Melbourne and Sydney, our group made way to Cairns to defrost and thaw. Cairns itself can be conquered in 2 days – its small Esplanade, the Lagoon Pool, the Night Market, Wharf and other shops can all be checked off your list fairly quickly. However, Cairns makes a good hub to access any of the Northern Australian beaches just north or south of it. It helps to have a car (we rented a 1991 Daihatsu!!!) as Kuranda Rainforest and Port Douglas and Palm Cove are at least a half hour drive north of Cairns.
That concludes my brief overview. There will be more in-depth pieces on the trip and expect to see reviews for the following restaurants in the upcoming days:
*Quan An Bau Truong, Cabramatta, New South Wales
*BearBrass, Southbank, Melbourne
*Max Brenner, Manly
*Pancakes on the Rocks, The Rocks, Sydney
*Far East, Bankstown, New South Wales
*Gloria Jean’s Coffee
*and many, many more
Please check back often for updates on my Aussie trip. Right now as I sort through 1500+ pictures and go through 3 weeks worth of journal notes, I am reminded by someoneiknow that in the end, it wasn’t just all the places we visited or all the food we ate or how much money we spent that ‘made’ the trip. Rather, it is the people we met, visited and got to know on the trip that really made the trip worth every headache, heartache, backache, footache we experienced. Until soon!