Chapter 28: March 6th — April 6th, 2005
G’Day Mates: Travels to Melbourne and Sydney
Sydney's Harbour Bridge and Opera House
After a wonderful break from cruising life at our home in Mexico from October 2004 until March 4th 2005, we flew back to Brisbane, Australia and Mi Gitana (a 30+ hour trip via Tokyo plus crossing the date line 2 days after our departure), exhausted but greatly pleased when we arrived and found that our boat had done well after our nearly 5 month absence. Compared to last year when we returned and found that Mi Gitana had been burglarized with much missing and damaged, it was wonderful to find her in relatively good shape inside and out. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a 2- page list and a months worth of projects, maintenance, cleaning, and repairs to get her ready to cruise again this season… but we were still relieved that she survived our absence and the summer storms of the area.
One of the things that we have regretted about our 2 seasons of cruising in Mexico is that we mostly just saw the coastal cities and towns and spent almost no time doing inland traveling. We had decided that since this season we will be going up the coast of Australia north of our current location (Brisbane, which is right about in the middle of the Eastern coast of Australia), and not cruising south, that we wanted to at least do some sight seeing south of here via “land/air” travel. We picked Melbourne and Sydney to visit and while at home planned a 15 day trip, flying first to Melbourne and then to Sydney, with some side trips to visit the wine country areas surrounding both cities. It was a WONDERFUL trip, but of course, too little time to see all that these two cities have to offer. But I will spend most of this chapter writing about this part of our first month back in Australia. I will also write about things that I have found to be “different” and therefore, interesting, about Australia and the people, customs, language, from the US.
But first, as always in my chapters, I write a little history and some “interesting” facts about each country we visit (since most of us Americans really know very little about the countries and continents outside of our own country). For those of you reading this, not interested in this aspect of my ramblings, just skip to down below the italicized section as I try to capture a multi-thousand year history and some “facts” into a few pages.
Australia is the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country. It is the world’s 6th largest country and the world’s largest island. It is also mostly “empty” with 80% of it’s just over 19 million people located on the eastern coast from Adelaide (south) to Brisbane (mid-east coast) with Sydney (4+ million) and Melbourne (3.5 million) being the 2 largest cities. It is also the only nation that began as a prison. It is home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and the largest monolith, Ayer’s Rock. It also has more things that will kill you than anywhere else in the world: 10 of the most poisonous snakes in the world are Australian; they have the box jellyfish, (the most poisonous creature on earth), who’s sting is frequently fatal, the funnel web spider (the most poisonous insect in the world), whose bite will throw you into a fit of seizures; and if you miss running into the above creatures, you can also be eaten by saltwater Crocodiles or sharks!
80% of all the plants and animals that lives in Australia exist no place else in the world. However Australia is considered the driest, flattest, hottest, mostly infertile, as well as climactically aggressive of all the other inhabited continents. (Only Antarctica has a more hostile-to-life environment!)
Between 45,000-70,000 years ago, before “modern” human being appeared in the Americas or Europe, it is thought the Aborigines “invaded” Australia, meaning they invented and mastered traveling the oceans at least 30,000 years in advance of anyone else. And then it appears, they never took to the seas again. They are considered to have the oldest continuously maintained cultures on earth
But besides the Aborigines, it is thought that the Portuguese probably first sighted Australia in the beginning of the 16th century, followed by the Dutch who landed in a few places on the western coast, but finding the land barren and harsh (with no signs of the gold and spices they were looking for), they quickly left. In 1642, the Dutch East India Company started another expedition to explore Australia (then called “New Holland”), led by Abel Tasman (for whom Tasmania was later named for). He charted the northern and west coasts, however he never sighted the continent’s east coast. About 40 years after Tasman and 100 years before Captain Cook’s trips here, a British pirate (named William Dampier) first investigated inland looking for riches but found the land to be “primitive and godless,” causing the Dutch and the British to have little interest in the continent until the mid 1700’s when along came James Cook. After his scientific assignment in Tahiti, he began to search for the great South Land. (Back then the scientists in Europe thought there must be a huge land on the bottom of the earth to “balance” out the world land masses on the north side —Europe, the Americas, etc.–of the earth.) So Captain Cook, after leaving Tahiti, traveled New Zealand and then headed for the un-explored East Coast of New Holland. Making several stops ashore, the botanist aboard his ship, the Endeavor, was astounded at the plants, animals, and birds never seen before. They also saw Aboriginal people and attempted to communicate with them, but found them to be shy or withdrawn, mostly ignoring these invading white men. Captain Cook noted that the East coast was a different story from the barren harsh land of the previously noted Western coast, with tropical rain forests, and beautiful bays. He raised the Union Jack and renamed the continent “New South Wales” claiming it for the British in the name of King George III.
Following the American Revolution, Britain was no longer able to transport their convicts and undesirables to North America. So with their prisons overcrowded, they decided the newly claimed New South Wales would be a great site for a colony of thieves. In 1788, the first fleet (11 ships of a little over 1,000 prisoners and marine guards) arrived in what is now Sydney harbor to begin settlement. Many of the prisoners had done only petty crimes, but arrival in this harsh land was like a life sentence as, once arrived, there was little hope of returning home. Within 3 years, more “fleets” arrived bringing the prison population up to over 4,000. (By the time the convict transportation was abolished in 1852, more than 168,000 convicts had been shipped to Australia.) The convicts were used to start farms, to build government roads and buildings and subsequently Sydney became an important port on trade routes. Eventually “free” settlers came to the new country with hopes of “free” land and with the discovery of gold (about the same time as the gold rush in America)dreams of riches. Plus after the convicts had served their sentences, they were allowed rights of citizens and a nation was born. However almost all of the new settlers remained years in the Sydney cove area, hindered by a seemingly impenetrable barrier of mountains (The Blue Mountains) around the settlement. Eventually, expansion by sea allowed other port communities (Melbourne, Brisbane, Townsville) along the Eastern coastline to be set up.
It is believed that when Sydney Cove was first settled by the British, that there were between 500,000-1million Aboriginal people in that region alone, living in tribal communities, each with their own very different language. The new settlers, considered the land to belong to no one except themselves, and conveniently saw no reason not to drive the Aborigines from their land by force. For the first 100 years of “settlement” very few Europeans were prosecuted for killing Aboriginal people and the practice was widespread [… This history reminding me of what happened to our American Indians with the new world “settlement!”] Additionally these new settlers introduced diseases such a smallpox, measles, VD, flu, pneumonia and TB to the Aboriginal peoples. The British also cut down the forests and introduced sheep and cattle that destroyed the habitations and watering holes of the Aborigines. By the 1880’s, the Aboriginal population in this Sydney area was reduced from the above figures to around 800. One quote I found stated: “The Australian native can withstand all the reverses of nature, fiendish droughts and sweeping floods, horrors of thirst and enforced starvation — but he cannot withstand civilization.”
By the early 1900’s legislation designed to segregate and “protect” Aboriginal people had been passed in all states of Australia. In order to give the Aboriginal children a chance to prosper and integrate, the government removed the children from their families and communities sending them to foster homes or state training centers in the “civilized” cities — the thought being that this would prepare them for a more rewarding life in the white world. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Aboriginal parents regained “custody” of their own children. (Previously, the states controlled them.) The government somehow felt that these indigenous peoples (who had previously led very communal extended family close-knit groups or clans) were immune to normal human emotions. In 1967 they were finally given citizenship to their own country. And now in the last 20+ years, the Australian government has begun to do a lot more to help maintain and restore the Aboriginal culture, restoring large tracts of land to their communities, spending more money on schools and clinics, and helping them to start small businesses. But progress is slow — by the end of the 20th century, the Aboriginal people were still 18 times more likely to die from an infectious disease and 17times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of violence, and their newborns are 2-4 times more likely to die at birth, with the overall the life expectancy of the average indigenous Australian 20 years LESS than the “Caucasian” Australian.
In 1901, Australia became a nation, but its loyalty and many of its legal and cultural ties to Britain remain as part of the Commonwealth, with the Queen, instead of an Australian “president,” as the head of state. Australians were brought in to fight side by side with the British in World War I and II. In WWII, Australia became fearful (rightfully so) of invasion by the Japanese when Burma and Singapore fell–and especially when their northern territories (Darwin, in particular) were bombed. Additionally, Britain not only pulled out of the Far East, leaving Australia suddenly alone and exposed, but also kept taking Australians out of the country to fight the battles in Europe “for the greater good of the empire.” Ultimately it was the USA that helped protect Australia from the Japanese, defeating them in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. This event marked the beginning of a profound shift in Australia’s allegiance away from Great Britain and led to good relations with the USA. In return, it was Australia in 1965 that committed troops to assist the USA in the Vietnam War.
After WWII, “Populate or Perish” became the motto and the country. Britain alone couldn’t provide the all the immigrants it needed so for the first time, Australia opened its doors to foreign population, particularly Italy and Greece from postwar Europe, as well as at least 10,000 post-war orphans. In the half a century after 1945, Australia’s population soared from 7 million to 18 million!
Australia is a relatively affluent industrialized nation, with most of its wealth in the past coming from agriculture and mining. Recently there has been a shift to more employment in manufacturing, to the service industries (retail, property, business) and to the tourism industry. Major exports include wool (the world’s largest supplier), wheat, barley, cotton, black coal and iron ore. Japan is Australia’s biggest export market.
Australian season are the opposite of those in North America, with its summer in December (Christmas holidays frequently spent at the beaches!), where as July and August is mid-winter. However because of the country’s size, it means there is a lot of climactic variations, and very few extremes along the populated coastal cities — seldom getting to freezing --although there are a lot of snow ski resorts in the mountains, and the summers can be tropical and humid in the upper latitudes to over 140 degrees in the deserts. Where we are, in Brisbane, it seems (other than the higher humidity) to be very similar to San Diego type weather and temperatures, now being the beginning of fall here with pleasant-somewhat warm days and cool (can even use a blanket) evenings. Once we approach the Northern coastline though (Darwin area), even though it will be the dead of “winter” then, because we will be approaching the equator there are very little differences between any of the “seasons.”
Okay, Enough History and Background — Now on to Our Traveling Adventures…
Upon our return to Brisbane, Joe and I worked for about 10 days on boat “stuff” when we first returned so we could again ready the boat to cruise, as well as to leave her again so we could take off on our 15 day vacation.
March 15th-19th: Melbourne
We flew on a “discount” airline, which is very similar to our South West Airline — no frills–but economical, comfortable, and even with flight attendants with humorous safety spiels–called Virgin Blue Airlines — with their all-female crew uniforms monogrammed “Virgin.” Their humor was even present in the airline terminal where the bathrooms were labeled “Virgin Loo,” for which we got a chuckle.
Our first stop, Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, is Australia’s 2nd largest (to Sydney) city. Besides being a very multi-cultural city, Melbourne is famous sport wise for having the Melbourne Cup, one of the world’s most famous horse races. Also it the center of Australian Rules “footy” —football, which seems to be more of an obsession with Melbournites than even our US football is to Americans. (They kid about American Football being for sissies as in the USA they wear helmets and protective padding, whereas here, they are barely covered in short-shorts!) Australian Rules football seems to be a sport little followed in Sydney or in our Brisbane area, where Rugby, (also called “football” in this country,) is the sport of choice. Australian Rules seems to be even a more rough and tough manly-man game than Rugby. Joe and I have watched both games on TV and haven’t even come close to figuring out what is going on in the games — they seem to kick in their forward motion of the ball as much as running and passing. About the only similarity we can find between either game and our American football is they do try and score over and between a goalpost.
I should back up a bit and mention one of the main reasons we decided to visit Melbourne is last year while we were “stuck” at the Musket Cove Resort in Fiji for a month last June (waiting for a part we needed to be shipped to us from New Zealand), we met 2 couples at the famous 3-Dollar beach bar there. They were admiring our boat tied up to the small marina and we invited them aboard for a tour and drinks; subsequently, during their vacation at the resort there, we shared several evenings, with lots of good drink, merriment and good stories. We parted with them saying, “If you ever get down our way….” Anyway, while we were at home this past winter, I emailed both couples asking for advice on where to stay and what to see in Melbourne should we come there on the sightseeing “vacation” I was planning-- and the response was they insisted we visit their city and stay with them. We thought we’d compromise and stay a couple of days with them and then go to a hotel for the remainder of our stay, however that was not to happen. They had every day and evening planned for us and it was the most wonderful time for us.
It started with Ron, picking us up at the airport and taking us straight to the Rialto building downtown where they have one of the tallest observation towers in the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately it was a gray overcast day, but we still got a fantastic birds-eye view of the whole Melbourne area, with its tall modern skyscrapers side-by-side ornate 19th century buildings, it’s canals and rivers, and the beautiful huge bay (Port Phillip Bay) of which the Melbourne area wraps around. Then we went to Ron and Lurlene’s home — which was to be our “home” for the next 5 days. They had a wonderful “welcome” dinner planned that evening with the other couple we had met in Fiji (both couples were friends vacationing together), Bill and Barb. I had indicated that one of my goals on this trip was to learn more about Australian wines (as you will see later we integrated stays in 2 different wine areas into this “vacation”). Both couples were anxious to contribute to our knowledge of Australian wines as we were “introduced” to bottle after bottle of wonderful wine, starting immediately upon our arrival to Ron and Lurlene’s home with about 3-4 bottles of champagne (followed by quite a few reds with dinner)!!! It was a wonderful welcome and reunion with our 4 friends.
The following day, although I think all of our brains were a bit “fuzzy” from the night before, we set off to abuse our livers even further for a wine tasting/sight-seeing excursion to the Mornington Peninsula… a wine-growing region (currently with over 60 wineries and 170 vineyards) along the coastline of Port Phillip’s Bay, just south of Melbourne. It is a beautiful area of rolling green hills, national parkland, with spectacular views of the bay below, dotted with vineyards —sort of Victoria’s Cape Cod. Ron used the excuse of being the “duty driver” to not partake in wine tasting, but we gave in to “the hair of the dog” and managed to “taste” samples at 4-5 wineries along our travels that day, plus we had a wonderful lunch at picturesque Red Hill Restaurant / Winery.
The next day we took a drive down the famous Great Ocean Road, on the North side of Melbourne and the Port Phillip’s Bay. Touted in the guidebooks s being one of the “world’s most spectacular coastal routes,” we had to agree, it was at least as spectacular as the coastline south of Monterey California. The day we went was a gray, cold, misty, and windy, making the views seem to be even more of a contrast in beauties with it’s sheer and ragged cliffs, amazing rock formations, and mountains, contrasting with the rain forests, and sandy beaches. The road was started after World War I as a give-work-to-veterans plan. It took 14 years to construct the 2-lane 187-mile road, which is understandable, as it curves in hairpin turns around the mountainside with the sheer cutoffs plunging into the ocean below. We were most grateful for Ron doing the driving so we could enjoy the views. It is said if you took all the water away in the ocean below the road along this part of the coastline, you would see 1,200 ships lying in pieces on the seabed — more than anywhere else in the world. Although we did not go all the way down the 187 miles, (usually a several day trip, obviously), we saw enough of it to appreciate it’s beauty. Another milestone for us is this is probably about as far in the southern latitudes as we will ever go in our lives-- a whopping 38 degrees, 34 minutes South (equivalent to about a little above San Francisco in the Northern Hemisphere).
At the beginning of the road is a touristy but nice atmosphere coastal town called Lorne, where we stopped and met up with Ron’s cousin who lives and owns a successful real estate office there. He treated us to a 4-wheel drive tour of the area, including a stop at a friend of his who rescues Kangaroos and other “wild” animals that have been injured (Joe got to hold a baby Kangaroo!), and to a lookout point, then ending with a wonderful lunch in one of the good restaurants in town.
Our 4th day in Melbourne was a much- needed “lay” day. Lurlene had planned a dinner party that evening for us with 14 guests, including of course our friends Barb and Bill, plus another cruising couple that we had also met in Fiji. (At the time they were sailing their boat but were at the end of their journey returning to Melbourne last fall and return to a life on land.) So we mostly for the day, we lounged in the house, played with “Harry” the cat , did some reading, caught up on emails, and “saved” ourselves for the evening activities. Lurlene has 4 magpies (beautiful large shiny black and white birds) that come to her door several times a day that she hand-feeds raw hamburger meat. We had never seen anything like it! They come so often, that even her 2 cats totally ignore the birds and the birds walk right by the lounging cats with no fear. If she is not there or ignores them, they squawk and squawk until someone finally hears them and comes to their beck and call with the meat!
Besides the wine and champagne Lurlene and Ron had set out for the “cocktail” hour prior to the sit-down-dinner that evening, Bill showed up with 6 bottles of wonderful Shiraz for a “tasting” presentation. We went though each bottle, tasting each one at a time to compare wines from different Australian wine growing regions, then picking our favorites to have with our meal. They were all good, but they increased from “good” to “spectacular” (as well as increased in price range) as we got to the last few bottles. After 4 days of drinking wines with our friends we came to the conclusion that Australia must send it’s mediocre to bad wines to the US grocery store shelves as ALL of the wines we had been served in Melbourne (restaurants, wine tasting, and with our friends) had been wonderful and on par with some of the best of our California wines.
So far we had toured downtown Melbourne, the area south of Melbourne and the area north of Melbourne all around Port Phillips Bay. On our 5th and last day in Melbourne, Bill and Barb picked us up for a tour ON Phillips Bay in their boat. Finally the sun came out and we had a beautiful day on the bay, viewing the waterfront mansions, a sunken ironsides boat (called Cerebus, vintage 1800’s), and wonderful skyline views of downtown. We also saw these strange things they called “beach boxes” along the beaches. They are not houses, but a wooden shed (8’X8’ or even smaller and just barely standing room) with no electricity or water, brightly painted and set on a beach, side by side more just like them. We were told they could cost close to $200,000, plus the person really never owns them — they just lease the land they are on. But people buy them as a place to go to for beach picnics and I guess to sleep in for a little piece of waterfront. Strange! We anchored next to one of the beaches with these “boxes” and Barb set out a wonderful picnic lunch, and of course, we had more Australian wine!
For our last evening, after our day on the water, we, and our 4 friends went out for Chinese food (with MORE wine! Of course!) I forgot to mention earlier that all over Australia they have BYO restaurants, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the US. (Some small café or pizza places but also some fairly “fancy” places have them.) Most of them don’t have liquor licenses so they allow you to bring your own bottles. Some of them charge (but a very small amount like a dollar or two) “corkage” to open and chill your bottles, but others don’t charge at all. It is a WONDERFUL concept! Anyway, this Chinese restaurant was one of those, so again 4-5 more bottles of wine were opened that night for our last night in town. (Ironically, Joe and I who were leaving the next morning for 2 days in the wine country, were wondering how we were ever going to give our livers a rest!!!)
[Note: Another interesting thing we learned about Australian restaurants differing from the US is that in MOST instances, the restaurants do not allow “doggy bags.” It appears that Australians are almost as litigious as Americans and restaurants here have been sued for a person taking home leftover food and then with home consumption, getting sick on it. So the health department does not allow taking home of leftover food. This doesn’t make sense as “take away” style restaurants/food places (food that you order but don’t consume on the premises --what we call “take out”) are really popular here …so those rules don’t apply there and the rules seem to not apply to pizza places where you can take home with you un-finished pizza slices. Anyway we were amazed, as at home for us, our refrigerator seems to always contain some sort of left-over doggy-bagged container/sack/foil from a previous restaurant meal!]
The next morning we had rented a car and Joe and I said our farewells to our friends — it was a visit that we would never forget. These previous foreign strangers that had befriended us in a happenstance meeting in another foreign country, had taken us into their homes and hearts and we will never forget their graciousness and beautiful spirits. We hope some day they will visit us and let us return the hospitality.
March 20th-22nd: Yarra Valley
We started our next “leg” of our trip with a white-knuckled drive -- Joe trying to manage driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and cussing every time he put his turn signal on and the windshield wipers came on!–and of course me “nagrivating” our journey. Besides driving on the “wrong” side, Australia has traffic “circles” where in the US we would have a Stop sign or a traffic signal, i.e. in a busy section of town, every few blocks! Many of these circles have 2 lanes going around them, also creating havoc as to which lane you need to be in for your turn — plus if you intend to turn right, you go around to the left, and which signal do you turn on?? (Actually in the process of the turn you end up using BOTH your left and right signals!) Anyway, I guess it is not only us foreigners that are confused, as I saw a news program on TV here (after an accident that evidently happens all the time in circles) instructing the Australian viewers on how to go around a circle, which lane to be in, and the “art” of signaling–so us dumbfounded Americans are not the only ones with problems in these signals!
But we soon forgot our driving stresses as we drove through farmlands and beautiful rolling lands surrounded by mountains and entered in the land of wine. Only an hour away from Melbourne (around 30-40 miles east) is Victoria’s oldest vineyard region called the Yarra Valley, started originally in 1849. The area is cool in relation to the rest of Australia’s warmer weather wine regions, imitating the Burgundy area in France and therefore famous for it’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes (and hence Champagne which is made from those 2 grapes). The region is now the location of over 55 wineries and probably just as many lodges, cottages and Bed and Breakfast type accommodations. We had reservations to stay in a beautiful self-contained cottage surrounded by vineyards, called Leafield Cottages north of the town called Yarra Glen. (website = www.leafield.com.au ) . We soon learned “self contained” (more popular it seems than B & B’s) means that the ingredients and fixings for your breakfasts are included but you cook or prepare it in your cottage yourself.
View from Leafield Cottage of Adjoining Vinyards in Yarra Valley
We had previously booked for a winery tour via an 11-passenger van. Good idea! This way, Joe could drink / taste wine also and I could relax my white knuckles from his driving. So shortly after our arrival and check-in to our cottage, the van picked us up at our cottage and drove us around to wineries of our choice (we hit 5 or 6, I think — but it was easy at the end of the day to loose count!) plus a spectacular lunch at a restaurant/winery called Tokar Estate. The meal was as wonderful as the views from their hilltop location. One of our requested stops was to visit Domaine Chandon (from the Moet Chandon French family) to see how it compared to the operation and wines of our same named winery in the Napa region in California. The winery/operation/tasting room was first class but the wines were, on my opinion, not quite as good as my favorite California Chandon–but I was glad to stop by for a comparison! With California Chandon, they call their wine “sparking” versus “champagne,” but in Australia, besides with their Chandon brand being called “sparkling” — none of their champagne-style wines are allowed by Australian law to be called “Champagne” but MUST be called “sparkling wine” instead, so their labelling laws are even stricter than those of the US.
There were many things we found to be different about the wineries of Australia (or at least the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley regions) in compared to the way things are done in California. The first thing that amazed me is (note the grapes here were almost ready for picking so the vines were full during our March visit to these 2 regions), the vines were covered (for miles and miles as far as you could see) with nets. We were told the birds (especially the beautiful magpies and black birds) could eat 80-90% of a crop (they wait until the grapes are ripe!) in just a few days before picking is to commence. So the month before the grapes are due to be picked, the vines are covered with these huge nets to keep the birds off of them. [Note, below in our other adventures/touring in the Hunter Valley, seldom were nets are used there, as we were told they have more natural “vegetation” around their vineyards, so the birds had plenty to eat other than grapes, which is NOT their usual diet.]
At most of the vineyards, in front of each row of trellised vines was planted a rose bush. We were told that supposedly the roses were an early indicator as to if there were “bad” insects in the area — the thoughts being that the insects would first “attack” the more susceptible rose bush (where frequent inspections are made) before they would the grape vines. Many of the vineyards had red rose bushes in front of rows of red wine varieties (cabernet, merlot, shiraz, pinot noir, etc.) and white roses in front of white wine varieties (chardonnay, semillion, etc.). If nothing else they contributed to the beauty of the area.
Another interesting thing is that because this is such a cold region, there is always a chance of frost occurring. When the temperatures begin to drop at night and a freeze is imminent, the vineyards hire helicopters to fly over the vineyards all night long — the air blowing from their propellers then keep the frost from settling on the vines. We asked since they do not have “migrant” (mostly Mexican) pickers like we do in California to pick their harvests, who does the labor? They have some machines that pick by mechanically shaking the vines, but it seemed that mostly they pick by hand, paying their pickers between $20-$30/hour!!!! (I guess if we paid that much in the US for grape pickers, we wouldn’t need to worry about illegal immigrants doing the jobs!) No wonder most of the wines we tasted there sold for over $30/bottle!
A couple of other interesting things (at least to me… being the wine aficionado that I am) we noted: many of the wineries used screw tops instead of corks on their bottles. It didn’t necessarily mean that the wine was a “cheap” or poor quality wine, but usually it denoted that the wine was ready to drink “now” versus to cellar for years. Plus many winemakers noted to us that the corks could increase spoilage whereas the screw tops do not. One winery even used a type of beer cap on their champagne (or excuse me — “sparkling” wine)— which was really unusual! Finally we found interesting that at not only many wineries, but also at bottle shops-- [Note: liquor and wine in this country are not sold in grocery stores like they are in California, but only in stores called “bottle shops.”] —they sell wine with out any labels on the bottles called “clean skins.” Usually these are wines that either the winery feels is not good enough to be put under their winery’s label OR could just be an excess was made. But usually they are great bargains (selling for under $10 AU — i.e. under $8.00US)–and CERTAINLY better than the California craze: “2-Buck-Chuck”!!!1
Like in the Napa/Sonoma valleys in California, many of the wineries sold “goodies” in their tasting rooms, such as jams, chutneys, olives, and olive oils. However they are missing the market of selling (like we do) t-shirts with winery slogans, grape-themed gifts, stemware with the winery names etched on, etc. (At least it was “unfortunate” for me–as I wanted some souveniers and walked away empty-handed.) Most of the wineries did not charge for tasting (as almost all of them do in Napa.) Many of the wineries had wonderful restaurants attached — so you could go to their tasting room, taste their wines, and then go into their gourmet restaurants or cafes and eat and drink more of their wines with a meal.
I know I’ve been talking a lot about “drinking” since I started writing this section — but I should say that Australia has stricter drinking and driving laws than even California, with 0.05 being the legal level for intoxication and DUI arrests (versus 0.08 in our state!) Also we noted with amazement at several restaurants, wine glassware they used had a thin line etched horizontally on the glasses. We asked the reason for the line and were told that was the “legal” pour so customers wouldn’t drink too much. (I.e., if you are supposed to be able to absorb “one drink per hour” — the line on the glass — was the “legal” one drink). So if the restaurant had very large balloon style wine glasses, your order of wine might only come ¼ the way up the glass! Personally I thought it an interesting way for the restaurants to give you a “short” pour and save money at the same time!
One of our goals in our wine adventures besides to learn more about the Australian styles of wine, was to find GOOD wine that was exported to the US. When we are at home we see shelves and shelves of Australian wines, many at bargain prices, but have never known what to buy. It’s been a real hit and miss on finding ones that are decent, so we hoped to find ones we liked here on our travels that we could purchase back at home. Unfortunately, the main thing we learned here (as well as in Mornington area, and subsequently in our visit to the Hunter Valley wine region) is that most of these wineries are quite small (they call them “boutique” wineries) and they seldom even export out of their regions, let alone their being enough for foreign exports.
One not-so-pleasant part of our vineyard touring was introduction to the tiny Australian fly! Out of nowhere, they seemed to land one by one all over your face. They would first buzz around, and then land on and even up your nose — while another would try and make an eyeball landing, and a few more land on your upper lip! Flicking them (which we are told is called the Australian “wave”) seemed to have no affect on them as they would immediately come straight back trying to land in the same irksome place on our faces. Persistence seemed to be their trait! We now see the need to invest in the Australian “bush” hat that has corks attached to strings dangling from its brim so when you move, the corks swish across your face — supposedly discouraging the flies from dive-bombing your face!
Fly Repellant Bush Hat
On our 2nd day in the Yarra Valley, our lodging hosts, Ron and Jan, set us out with maps and a list of suggested wineries to tour on our own. Joe didn’t mind being the duty driver and when I would come across a wine in my tasting that was really great, he would share an occasional taste with me. We went to a “cheese” farm also and tasted and purchased some wonderful goat/cow feta-styled cheeses for a picnic. After 5-6 more wineries, we called it a day and rested for the remainder of the afternoon, until sunset, when Jan (owner of Leafield Cottages) had prepared a wonderful meal for us set up with white tablecloths and beautiful china on their deck overlooking the trees, valleys and vineyards, as well as the deer, ducks, and geese in their yard around us.
After 2 wonderful days and nights, we reluctantly left this beautiful area and navigated our way to the Melbourne Airport for the next leg of our trip… flying to Sydney.
March 22nd-27th: Sydney
Leaving the beautiful sunny blue skied weather of Melbourne, we landed mid afternoon in Sydney in the middle of a gray rainy day. We were told they are in the middle of a 9 year drought — and we of course arrive on the day, that drought is being broken! Typical! We had an airport shuttle pick awaiting us to deliver us to our hotel room. We had selected a hotel, (Old Holiday Inn) location in the old historic section of the city called “The Rocks” overlooking the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge , the Opera House , and the Circular Quay. Being the location of Sydney’s first European settlement (with it’s convicts, whalers, prostitutes, marine “peace keepers,” etc, it is a “colorful” location filled with historic sandstone buildings, cobblestone streets, pubs dating from the early settlement days, as well as a great location for getting around to almost everywhere.
Sydney with its 4-½ million people (over 1/5th of the population of the entire country!) is a marvelously beautiful city that is hard to describe. Multicultural (like Melbourne) a third of the people in Sydney were born in another country. I think it is the oldness mixed with the new and the fjord- like harbor that runs through the heart of the city, it’s beaches and surf, old-world-pub-style restaurants that makes it such a wonderful place. The harbor is 16 miles long but it has little rivers and inlets and coves with scalloped bays extending the harbor shoreline over 150 miles throughout the city. Then right in the middle of “downtown” is the Harbor Bridge connecting the southern and northern shores and “central” Sydney, built supposedly to last 500 years and endearingly is called “the old coat hanger.” (Unfortunately though it may last 500 years, it was not built to handle today’s traffic, so it has been supplemented with an under the harbor tunnel for even more traffic!) The bridge took 8 years to build, was completed in 1932, and today can be walked or driven over, can be climbed up and over (a very popular “tour” that we bypassed, where you climb 400 feet over water in the top girders of the bridge wearing climbing harnesses to have a bird’s-eye view of the harbor and city), and sailed under.
The other landmark icon of Sydney is it’s magnificent Opera House with its sail-like famous roofs. 19 years ago when I last visited Sydney, I DID have a memorable experience, attending the Broadway production of “Cats” at the Opera house. Unfortunately for us now-adays, the tickets for performances there are usually sold out a year in advance… to tourists (and of course locals) who plan their travels a lot further ahead than I do!!
Between the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House is the Circular Quay, built as a focal point for the city’s wonderful transportation system, where the cruise ships, ferries, trains, and busses all have their “central” stations. The Quay was also dotted with parks, restaurants, shops, and street entertainers (Mimes and Aborigines playing their didgeridoos! ) This also was only a block away from our hotel — so very convenient for the rest of our stay in Sydney. From the roof of our hotel room we could look down on all 3 of these city icons as well as the beautiful city skyline.
Despite the gray rainy day we arrived, followed by even more rain the following day --- we were still overwhelmed by first impressions of Sydney. For me it was like remembering back-- first (and subsequent) impressions and that magical feeling you get of seeing San Francisco. Anyway, after checking into our hotel, we ventured out in the rain on our first night to try “pub” food and spirits at Sydney’s “Oldest” pub (actually there are 2 pubs that have been in a battle for years both claiming to have the oldest licenses), called Fortunes of War (licensed 1828) about a block from our hotel-- where we had some Fish and Chips and Bundy (their shortened name for the local Bundaberg Rum.) We found out that Fosters (most “advertised” Australian beer in America) is seldom drank in pubs/bars here; the most popular beer we’re told in Australia is Touheys, followed by V.B. (Victorian Bitters).
The main story on the news on this night’s TV was of a man who had been snorkeling near the shoreline and was last seen being taken to sea by a 19-20 foot shark…. Hmmmmm! (Many of the beaches in Australia have shark nets around them for this reason, but this must have been a “netless” beach.)
The following morning, we had booked ourselves a 2-hour luncheon cruise on the Bay followed by a half-day city tour by bus. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the skies were dark, the rain fell heavily, and it was cold and windy. But the trip was pre-paid–non-refundable, so we went and made the best of it! I had booked it for our first day so we could get “the lay of the land” and our bearings so we could on the following days of our stay in Sydney feel more “oriented” to sightsee on our own. The luncheon cruise, was nice — despite the weather, although all my photographs of the day depicted Sydney and it’s harbor-side mansions and beaches in a bleak way! There were high winds and breaking waves in the harbor and later we found out for the first time in 25 years (perhaps a “local’s” exaggeration) many of the ferries were shut down due to the weather! Naturally — this weather-historic day is the day we are out trying to see the highlights of Sydney!!! The luncheon aboard was nicer that we expected with white tablecloths, fresh shrimp and oysters and other seafood, plus various roasted meats and vegetables that weren’t even overcooked! A pleasant surprise!
At the end of our “cruise” we were met by our tour bus for a 4-5 hour “City and Bondi Beach” tour. The driver stopped at several “scenic” spots for us to disembark and take photos but no one wanted to get off the bus in the rain, wind and cold. Finally at Bondi Beach (called in our guide book, “the grande dame of Sydney’s beaches”), the driver insisted the whole busload of us get off for afternoon “tea” at the Bondi Beach Pavilion. I could almost imagine how on a sunny day with it’s fish eateries, ice cream shops and eateries, and bronze skinned bathers, it might have been a nice place. But instead picture a busload of tourists with our umbrellas turning inside out with the high wind (over 35 knots) and rains and the sand blowing so hard it felt like you were being shot in the face by pellets, and the ocean with it’s tremendously treacherous looking breakers crashing on the shore! We all ran as fast as we could seeking shelter of the coffee/ice-cream (not a good day for ice-cream!) shop. We drank hot coffee awaiting the time for our bus driver to return to pick us up. Thank goodness that was our last stop of the day before he delivered us back to the dry warmth of our hotel room!
Magically the next day we awoke to blue skies, sunshine, and warmth. We set off for the ferry terminal at the Circular Quay and boarded an old-fashioned ferry with plans of exploring Darling Harbor area, the famous Sydney Aquarium, and the Maritime Museum. Again I got out my camera, re-taking many of the pictures I had taken on our Harbor cruise the day before under gray skies — this time with the sun blasting and the blue skies making a better background for my photos. The ferry goes right past the Opera House and under the Coat Hanger Harbor bridge with a stop at Luna Park, a Coney Island — style amusement park with a scary looking grinning head for an entrance … then over to Darling Harbor. We had a wonderful time in the Aquarium, especially in a glass tube like structure that you walk through with sharks , giant manta rays, and tons of fish all around you . Really an eerie feeling to have the giant sharks so close to you. From there a walk across a bridge brought us to a mall of seafront restaurants for lunch, and then to a very impressive Maritime Museum, which surprisingly was free… then a ferry back to the Circular Quay and our hotel. For dinner at another pub restaurant near our hotel, I had a Kangaroo fillet (quite tender and delicious!), whereas Joe inhaled Pasta Carbonara. (In one place, we noted on the menu that they had Kangaroo meat on pizza!)
Note: We’ve been surprised to find that food-wise everything is quite expensive (not only in Sydney, but in all areas we have traveled so far in Australia) by US standards. Their mediocre lunch (or dinner) meals (café style or even fish n’chips style eateries) cost usually over $20 for a main course, $10-$15 for an appetizer (which they call “entrées” here)… at table-clothed restraints (again not upscale, but nicer than café style) the main meals go usually for over $30. In the food grocery stores/markets, fresh fish (such as salmon, for example) that I would pay perhaps 6-8$ a lb. for in the States will be $15-20/lb. here and a mediocre quality steak, runs about the same. Vegetables and fruits are correspondently higher also.
Day 4 in Sydney (Good Friday), we were booked on another all-day tour starting at the crack of dawn… this time to their famous Blue Mountains… and again we had our second beautiful day. As mentioned above in my “history” section of this chapter, initially these were an impenetrable barrier to white men’s exploration and expansion from Sydney and the early colonization. Despite many attempts to find a route over the mountains, it took nearly 25 years before a successful crossing was completed by Europeans. (Of course, why they didn’t just ask or follow the Aborigines who had been crossing them for centuries, is a mystery to me!) A road was built soon after, which for the first time opened up the central planes and more farming and grazing land for the new settlers. The foothills start about 40 miles from Sydney and the mountains rise up around 3,400 feet. The blue haze that is around the mountains caused by an oily mist emitted from the eucalyptus trees, gives the mountains their name.
Michele and Joe at Blue Mountain "3 Sisters" Rock Formation Lookout
We were booked on a small coach that took us up to the Blue Mountains and several lookout points. At one stop, we were allowed to descend into the rainforest below via a very very steep little open, amusement-park-style train, the track which previously had been used to haul up coal from the mines below. I tried to take a picture going down but it seemed to be almost vertical, so was hard to get a perspective for its steepness. From the bottom, there was a boardwalk that you walked through ferns, dense foliage, filled with all sorts of cackling birds. At the end of the boardwalk (although we took the “short” walk-- there were miles and miles of winding paths some leading to waterfalls, etc.) there was a gondola to take us back up to the top.
On the way back to Sydney after our visit to the mountains, we stopped at an animal farm — where we could view all sorts of indigenous creatures including the Tasmanian Devil, all sorts of Kangaroos (which were roaming free so you could pet and feed them), and of course the cuddly Koala Bears . We weren’t allowed to hold them, but petting and photo opportunities were allowed.
Then the tour bus took us by Olympic Stadium and dropped us off at a ferry landing where we took a 45-minute sunset ferry ride down the river back to Sydney Harbor and our hotel next to the Circular Quay. It was a long day but broken up with enough stops and different activities — and of course, being a pretty day, also contributed to it being quite enjoyable.
For our 5th and final day in Sydney… Joe had his day to sleep in as I hit the Rocks Weekend Market, right outside our hotel door — a market filled with arts and crafts created from very talented artists across Sydney. It was rainy again off and on, but the street market is situated under many sail-like tents so despite the rain, the crafts were displayed and surprisingly enough, the rains did not keep the crowds away. As much as I was tempted, I came away empty handed as buying things when you are traveling on a boat always creates the problem of where to store it until you can transport it home at the end of cruising season, especially anything large or fragile.
I wondered in and out of the cobblestone streets and stores along The Historic Rocks area around our hotel , and ran into Joe, sitting at an outdoor café sipping on a coffee. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that in general, Australia has the world’s greatest coffee. We are huge Starbucks fans in the US as they are about the only place you can get a really fresh and really strong cup of black coffee (not to mention if you are in to “goodies” in your coffee!) Anyway in Australia, no matter how small the café, or even if it’s a sandwich shop, or a pizzeria, they all seem to have espresso machines for making their “normal” cups of ordered coffee (unlike in the US where espresso machines are usually found only in upscale restaurants). So even a “regular” cup of coffee starts as an espresso and then more water or cream/milk is added depending on what you order: a Long Black is like an “American” cup of coffee only a LOT stronger (usually 2 shots of espresso with a little hot water to dilute it slightly); a Short Black is a shot of espresso in a small cup. A cappuccino is the same as in the US but a Mug-accino is a cappuccino in a mug (or of course guess what a Mug-alatte is?). A Flat White is a short or long black with non-frothed milk (i.e. coffee with milk or cream stirred in.). And that is the gist of it but there’s a lot more to complicate it. But Joe and I keep it simple — 2 Long Blacks, and we’re in heaven!!! We don’t use milk/cream in our coffee, but some of our cruising friends tell us that one thing you cannot get in this country anywhere is Half n’ Half. They do drink a lot of tea in this country also… and they usually drink it with milk! A “cuppa” (see below for Australian language interpretations!) in the afternoon with a bickie (biscuit, which is really a cookie) is still quite the habit.
Later that afternoon (regretfully our last in Sydney,) we followed the advice of our Australian friends who said a trip to Sydney would not be complete without an afternoon at the famous Doyle’s Fish house on Watson’s Bay. So we headed to the ferry terminal once again — and although the day had turned stormy, we enjoyed our last ferry ride out the point where the Pacific Ocean enters the Sydney Harbor at Watson’s Bay. There we had lunch out on a pier at the infamous Doyle’s — devouring some of the best fish n’ chips we had had… with great views of the bay, the ferries and passing boats.
There was still a lot more that I would have liked to do in Sydney — we didn’t get to any of the Museums (other than the Maritime one), nor swim in their beaches, and although I’m not a big shopper any more these days, I would have loved just a few days to meander amongst the streets in the different areas of Sydney. We didn’t get to their famous Toronaga zoo either, but we at least got to pet some more kangaroos and koalas. So my advice if any of you reading this plan a trip to Sydney, allow as much time as possible as there is a lot to see and do. From what we saw, it was a clean city — and we felt safe enough in walking around in the tourist areas. There is great transportation for getting around — ferries, buses, trains — all of which we used in our sightseeing and again all seemed reasonably priced, safe, and even fun.
Easter Sunday, March 27th- 30th: The Hunter Valley Wine Region
We rented another car in Sydney this morning and headed 3 hours to the north to the Hunter Valley. Again we had rented a “self-contained” lodge — this time in the middle of a working vineyard and winery, called Peacock Hill Vineyards (email: email@example.com. The lodge was beautiful (2 bedroom/2 bathrooms, huge living room with leather couches, TV and stereo, full kitchen, large balcony with a barbecue–plus the breakfast “fixins’” included smoked salmon, eggs, cheese, foccacia bread, fresh fruit, cookies, and even a complimentary bottle of the winery’s wine–such a deal for less than $100/night! We were glad we had booked 3 nights!
We arrived about noontime and the lodge owners, Silvi and George, directed us (after we settled into our accommodations) to a wonderful place for Easter lunch — another winery/restaurant set-up. We then proceeded to visit 4-5 wineries that afternoon, before making our way back to the Lodge. George had waiting for us a private sunset wine tasting of their (Peacock Hill’s) premium wines, which were wonderful.
Whereas above, Yarra is the state of Victoria’s oldest viticulture area, the Hunter is the oldest in all of Australia getting its first established vineyards in 1832. When we spoke to several of the wine makers in our travels here, they said if they knew what they knew now about growing grapes, the Hunter Valley would never have been chosen as a place for grapes. That does not mean they are not successful, but it means it is a lot harder to be successful than if other areas had been chosen. However now it is home to over 70 wineries including some of the largest in all Australia (and ones we HAVE seen/heard of in the US), Lindemans and Rosemont Estate. Their specialty is Semillon and Shiraz grapes, however we had some wonderful Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet wines as well. Here because it is a lot hotter area than our previous visit to the much cooler Yarra region in Victoria, the grapes had already been picked a couple of months ago (in contrast to Yarra where picking had not even begun yet.)
The following day, we arranged for another wine/van tour of the Hunter Valley, which took us to 6-7 small “boutique” type wineries, all again with outstanding wines. We stopped, of all places, at a beer brewery for lunch and after all the fancy food we had been eating, Joe finally got his pizza “fix”! We saw in-the-wild kangaroos near one vineyard (which we are told can be a nuisance to crops… but for us were interesting to see!) After a wonderful day of touring, we collapsed in front of the TV and shortly thereafter in bed, skipping dinner altogether.
[Speaking of television, I was surprised to find most of the top rated television programs here are the same as those currently high rated ones in the US. Currently showing are: Law and Orders and CSI series, Cold Case, ER, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Frasier, The Simpsons, and even reality shows such as Survivor, The Apprentice, and American Idol. However, since their seasons are reversed, and they are now in their “fall” season, most of the programs showing are ones I have already watched at home starting in our fall, 4-5 months ago. Also really strange to us is their programs seem to start only at “approximate” times. For example a show advertised to begin at 8:30 PM, frequently does not start until 8:38 or 8:40 PM.]
We then spent 2 more days (total of 4), sleeping in late, visiting more wineries, eating out, and just relaxing in our wonderful vineyard setting. It was a perfect end to a 15-day trip. Unfortunately on our last day, we started to let our minds wander back to all that needed to be done and was awaiting our return on the boat. We drove the rental car to a nearby town (Newcastle) where we caught our last leg of our flight on Virgin Blue, back to Brisbane.
April 1st-April 7th: Scarborough Marina… Getting Ready to Set Sail for the Season
We quickly jumped into our “boat chores” when we returned from our mini-vacation south getting Mi Gitana ready to sail again. We also have refreshed friendships with 2 boats and crew we originally left Mexico with 2 years ago, Kim Thu (Hal and Kim Thu ) and our “buddy boat” during our Pacific Crossing, Wind Spirit (Sue and Barry). Even though in the last 2 years we have traveled similar routes, our paths have not crossed since Papeete (June 2003) and it has been nice to finally run into them again. They (and their boats) are in slips next to us at our Marina.
Nothing much exciting to write about concerning that, except we were joined by our new crew person for this season, Anne.
Anne is a schoolteacher’s assistant for handicapped (Autistic) children, and lives in a nearby town/island called Bribie Island (a bit north of Scarborough/Brisbane). Back in January and February when we were still at home, we placed classified adds in several cruising websites where you can list if you are looking for crew. After only about 3 weeks we had had over 60 responses (and to date, I’ve lost count, but over a hundred--and more are still coming in daily!) of people wishing to crew for us from all over the world. Narrowing it down was really difficult — especially doing e-mail “interviews”, but eventually we mainly narrowed the list down by deciding to limit the “applicants” to those people from Australia or Indonesia… so if by chance it did NOT work out, the person would not have flown/traveled so far as to make it unreasonable for us to say “so sorry–bye-bye, now go home” (since that “going home” would have been at their expense, and at our guilt). Besides location, the other criteria was someone who had been out to sea and could assure us they had been in rough weather and were not prone to seasickness. Anyway, after much debate–and lots of qualified candidates, we chose Anne. She has only a little experience, but has been cruising on a 2 week sail trip (in which she fell in love with the life-style and did NOT get sick), and there was something about the personality she expressed to us in her letters, that made us feel she would be the best person for us this season.
She has been with us almost a week now… and has immediately jumped in as Joe’s helper with enthusiasm. She is in her 40’s, a British transplant who has lived in Australia now for many years, somewhat quiet, with a really great sense of humor. Of course time will tell — when the “honeymoon” phase wears out, when we hit bad weather (which WILL happen), and when stress levels are high–as to how she will do for the long run… but for now her intention —as ours-–is for her to stay the whole season with us — up Australia, into Indonesia, and then into Borneo in October. From there, we will fly back to the US, and she will return to Australia, and the life on Bribie Island that she has for now put on hold.
We had planned on taking off 2 days ago for our first leg north on our 1,500 mile trip up the coast of Australia and over the top — however, as usual, the weather is not cooperating and there are high wind and sea warnings, so we wait… and we wait. When I next write, we should be up in the Great Barrier Reef area — so more sailing stories will follow.
Addendum to This Chapter:
Although the Australians DO speak “ENGLISH” — trust me! It is a different language than we speak in the US and I’m told many of these below makes the Queen groan in her thrown! Anyway to me, many of the terms are delightfully different and I have been jotting down the words/phrases as I hear them and thought I’d share some of them with for those of you who might be interested in visiting here some day:
“G’day” replaces our “hello”; “No Worries” = No Problem
“Poms” (or “Pommies”) are slang for the British (short for Prisoner of Mother England);
“Chips” = French Fries; “Crisps” = potato chips; “Bickies” (or “biscuits”) = cookie;
“Give way” = Yield
“Pokies” = slot (poker) machines
“lollies” = candy or sweets
“crook” = being sick, whereas “sickie”--is a day off of work (playing hookie and not necessarily sick!)
“bloke” and “sheila” = man and woman
“pissed” = being drunk
“tinny” = can of beer, whereas a “stubbie” = a bottle of beer
“arvo” = afternoon
“chalky”=teacher; “fiery”=fireman; “ambo”= ambulance worker; “pollie” = politician
“rug” = small blanket (like you would put over your legs if cool or use in a picnic to sit on)
“jumper” = sweater
“caravan” = camper
“poff” = gay man
And they seem to abbreviate words wherever possible!!!-- some examples being:
“footy” = football;
“St. Vinnies” = St. Vincent De Pauls; “Salvos” = people who work for Salvation Army
“Mackies” = McDonalds;
“Breakie” = breakfast;
“cozie”(short for costume) which equals “togs”, which is what they call their swim suits;
“brolly” = umbrella
“eskie” = cooler (shortened from Eskimo brand);
“cuppa” = cup of tea, usually (but also could be a cup of coffee)
“sarny” = sandwich
“chockers” (short for “chock-a-block”) = full (for example a parking lot is chockers)
Then the names of some of their towns can really give you a chuckle, not to mention being a mouthful: Mooloolaba, Humpybong, Bongaree, Burpengary, Jiggalong, Borrumbuttock, and my favorite: Tittybong. Most of these, of course, are Anglicized from someone’s interpretation of how to spell Aboriginal names–and probably just as strange as many of our American Indian names used in naming our cities/towns are to foreigners visiting the US.
Other Random Notes of Differences in Australia that I/We Have Found Interesting so Far:
Their toilettes do not have flush handles but instead 2 buttons on the top. After much speculating, I finally was able to confirm that one button (a half flush) is for pee, and the 2nd button (a full flush) is for poop. I was told this is because most of Australia is perpetually in a drought and it is part of water conservation… A good idea, we should be using in the US or especially in our dry Southern California!
On holiday weekends, all over the highways are flashing signs reminding the drivers that “double demerits” are issued (for the holidays) for speeding tickets! Another good idea!
In the US we use so many paper towels that we buy them in rolls of 6 or 12 (or even more if you shop at Costco)… here as in most of our South Pacific travels, it seems to be a little used household item. First of all they are seldom sold in packs of more than one (I did find a pack of 2 in one store) and also they are very flimsy (not absorbent), and the rolls are really short (at least 3-4” shorter than our standard size). They are also very expensive. Australia (probably like most of the world, other than the US) also is not as obsessed with the softness of their toilette paper. Although it IS softer than many I came across in my travels in Europe, it is nowhere near as thick and soft (plus the rolls are not as thick/fat either — less sheets, I suppose) as in the US.
Paperback books can cost between $19-25 dollars!!! And many are a larger size (1 ½ - 2 times as large) as our “pocket-sized” books.
Their “standard” hamburgers come with beets (those red pickled slimy things) on them–and “the works” usually includes additionally, slices of pineapple and a fried egg on top of the beets and the burger! Pickles are seldom seen on burgers here unless you go to McDonalds (Mackies).
Often “side” salads to your meals at a restaurant come with no dressing on them.
Tipping is unusual except in “posh” (that means upscale) restaurants — and even then it is customary for seldom more than 5-10% of the meal. Most credit card slips at restaurants don’t even have a place imprinted on them for a tip!
Many restaurants charge a 10% surcharge on Sundays and holidays.
Most taxis also have a surcharge added on on evenings and weekends — as an incentive to get them to work those hours.
Not only do people drive on the “wrong” side of the roads here, they also walk on the wrong side. We are having a hard time remembering to walk on the left side of the sidewalk or to the left if someone else is approaching us. Same with escalators and staircases—up being on the left and down being on the right!
When they had the Olympics recently in Sydney, we heard that many tourists were being hit by cars because they forgot about the reverse driving and looked the wrong way as they were crossing streets. So now in the tourist sections of town in Sydney, there are signs painted on the streets telling the tourists to “Look Right” before crossing! (Of course as Joe, noted, they do NOT have in the middle of the street — as you are half way across the street another sign painted telling you to now “Look Left”!)
Well that’s enough for now…