The Grand Finale

August 27 – September 9, 2007—Okay, I can hardly include this in the road trip (seeing as how my car at this point is 10,000 miles across the ocean), but those of you who have actually checked this chronicle once or twice would kill me if I completely left out the endpoint and reason behind my grand adventures to this point…. Australia.

I embarked on the 15 hour flight from LA on the night of the 27th and arrived in Melbourne the morning of the 29th. Yes, it is very weird to completely lose a day. The flight really wasn’t that bad—there’s plenty of movies to watch, free alcohol, and I had a couple sleeping pills stashed away. So really it was like a lazy day at home, just confined to a smaller seat.

I excitedly started off by ordering an Australian beer that I had been looking forward to tasting again… Victoria Bitter (VB). I admit it wasn’t quite as good as I remember, but I’m fully aware my memories from study abroad might be slightly skewed.

My company put me up for two weeks as I settled in to the city in this very nice apartment right in the center of it all.

My first day back in the city was gorgeous, making me immediately fall back in love with this place. Here is a view across the river to the CBD.

And from another vantage point

And a view back across to Southbank from the City.

I immediately had to get some of the Aussie treats I’ve missed most: babies (gummy bears), Jaffas (orange-flavored chocolate), Milo (a chocolate energy drink), and asian-influenced instant noodles.

On the following day, I sought out the office building where I would be working. I knew it was on Southbank, the somewhat recent spillover of the CBD across the river, filled with office buildings, high-priced high-rise apartments, and tons of food and shopping. But I was stunned to see the actual location, right in the center of it all, right on the river’s edge. It’s the shorter building, right in the center of this picture from the CBD.

And here’s another view… that tall building behind it is Eureka Tower, only the tallest apartment building in the southern hemisphere.

This is skipping ahead a tiny bit, but I just have to brag—this is the view from the windows near my desk inside:

I spent most of the week (when I wasn’t searching for an apartment or doing other important errands), re-acquainting myself with and exploring the nooks and crannies of the city. And that really is an accurate description—though Melbourne was originally laid out on a grid with very wide streets to accommodate horse-drawn traffic and bullock carts, a later governor wanted to break up the very large blocks to squeeze more real estate out of them and added laneways and alleys cutting through each. Many of them don’t even have names, but there are treasures found in every one from the stencil graffiti Melbourne is famous for to posh boutiques and quaint coffeehouses. Melbourne is known as a café culture because they are everywhere and Melbournians love sitting down for a cappuccino or café latte with mates to take a break from an exhausting shopping spree in the city. Here are several examples of the tiny alleyways packed with cute cafés.

Some other cool landmarks—the artful Arts Centre and a massive mall hidden inside one city block with a glass dome built around this historic shot tower.

And the Webb Bridge in the Docklands, made to look like a fishing trap used by the Aborigines, and Docklands kids park, with this crazy sculpture with moving parts caught by the wind.

Everywhere you go in the city, there are street performers. They range from dangerous stunts to stupid costumes and antics to really awesome musicians. Here is some video of one band, Bonjah Bango (I did buy their cd... they're pretty darn good), busking on the streetcorner:

Some pics of the city at night—it’s a lively city at all hours. This is also an example of the wide normal streets…

The APEC Summit came to Sydney, bringing Bush with it. While Australia has very similar politics to our own (including a good ol’ boy prime minister that appears to be best buds with Bush), there is a large contingent of very vocal Bush-haters like just about everywhere else he seems to go. On this day they had a national walk-out to protest him and his policies, with a massive collection of school children in the middle of the city and someone had the great idea of bringing chalk. This graffiti was everywhere…

Check out these posters for the walk-out, as well. (I mean, I don’t like Bush much either, but they advertise him as a terrorist and a weapon of mass destruction who is not welcome in Australia)

I was somewhere between amused and happy to be in a somewhat more liberal society and shocked at how vehemently they seem to hate him. It has been very embarrassing, though, to watch him on the Australian news speaking at APEC, calling it OPEC and thanking the Austrians (Australians) for their help in the war. This is our representation to the world……. Yikes.

By the end of my first week I had found a permanent apartment which I LOVE, right in the center of it all on Southbank, a 12 minute walk from my office, and a 5 minute walk from Crown Casino, the largest casino in the southern hemisphere. I’m not much of a gambler, but it does also have 46 restaurants, 17 bars, a movie theater, a bowling alley, and 27 upscale shops.

Oh, and it’s open all hours of the night and has this awesome pyrotechnics show along the river…

I live with two Aussies who I found advertising their extra room in a 3-bedroom apartment on the 16th floor. Sweet! This is the view from my window (toward the rest of Southbank, including Eureka Tower and the Crown parking garage)

And from the balcony off our living room (overlooking all the southern suburbs and the bay).

A view from below...

For more views of the area, I also went up to the top of Eureka to its observation deck at sunset. Here’s the eastern half of the CBD

The sporting arenas and parks along the river, eastern suburbs and Dandenong mountains

Looking south along the coast

And west to the Port of Melbourne where the Yarra River meets the bay. My apartment building is one of those 3 to the far left.

And here I am, in this beautiful city I get to call home!!

I end this entry on the 9th, the day before I started at the Melbourne URS office. My vacation is officially over—back to work!!