Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Last Day in Melbourne

That was yesterday, and I thought I'd post a few last photos while we still have a few minutes before catching the Skybus to the airport.

We had a really lovely day yesterday, a very nice end to an amazing trip. We slept a little late (8am) and treated ourselves to a pancakes-and-french-toast breakfast at the hotel cafe. Then we finished packing, and headed out to fill in the last few gaps on our list of things to see around town. We took a tram down the street to Federation Square, where we've been before, though we now know how to use the trams to get there rather than walking. Jon had visited the National Gallery there last week, and wanted me to see the Aboriginal art gallery, since we've discovered we both love their style of artwork. It was really beautiful, and very well displayed, with information about the cultures and what the individual pieces meant. Then we walked up to one last espresso bar Jon had read about, which was right near the Victoria parliament house (formerly the Australian parliament, when Melbourne was the seat of government), and ate our last peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the steps in the sun. It was a beautiful day, probably the warmest we've had here, and great for walking.

The next stop was the Melbourne museum, which was fantastic! They really know how to do museums here. There was a huge, semi-outdoor "Forest gallery", which was really a forest with concrete walkways and displays that was built into an in-pocketing of the museum footprint. It also had another great Aboriginal culture gallery, and a great exhibit on evolution. We spent a few hours at the museum before heading by various trams and trains to south of the city, where we met up with my friend Ursula and her boyfriend Matt for dinner and dessert. For dinner we thought it appropriate to end the trip with the famed chicken parma, which is apparently a staple meal here, and is basically chicken parmigiana with an Aussie twist - a layer of ham on top of the chicken, under the cheese, and the whole thing served over french fries. It was delicious. Thus ends our Australian adventure, and as soon as Jon gets out of the shower we'll be off to the airport and on to LAX. We've had a truly fantastic time, and can't wait to come back to Australia. There's so much more to see and places we'd like to go here, but for now we're ready to return to home and cats. Someday we'll be back!

Victoria Trip

We're back from our driving trip through Victoria with my lab, and we had a fantastic time! We left Saturday morning after the conference ended, and took a train/bus/cab to the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens, which are south of Melbourne. There was an orchid workshop there that a few people went to, and we all met up at the Garden, which was lovely. They had an extensive selection of Eucalypts, the definitive Australian tree genus which contains about 800 species. We explored the Gardens for a while before heading first to a koala conservation center where we observed the cuties in their natural habitat, then on to a boardwalk through coastal mangroves, and then on to Penguins on Parade, which is just as adorable as it sounds. Photos from the garden, koalas, and mangroves are in another Facebook album. No photos are allowed at Penguins on Parade because of the risk of disturbing the birds, but you can read about them and get a feel for the cute factor here.

After watching the penguins come ashore and make their way up the hillsides to their burrows, we piled back into the cars and drove north to Healsville, which is northeast of Melbourne. We arrived late after a long drive, and settled into a motel that was pulled directly out of 1950s American suburbia. It was very surreal. The next morning we got up early, stopped for a big breakfast, and then drove to Marysville, the epicenter of the devastating and horrendous wildfires in 2009 that killed 175 people, cooked 400,000 hectares of Victoria to a crisp, and killed untold amounts of wildlife. Tom (my advisor) had visited the area two weeks before the fires, and every single place he ate at or stayed in burned down. The day before the fires started, in January, it reached 46.4 degrees C in Melbourne, which is 115.5 Fahrenheit, and they were in the midst of a severe 10-year drought, which all contributed to the severity of the fires. The forest has obviously begun to regenerate, but you can still see evidence of the burning in some of the photos from the second day of the trip, which are linked below. We spent the whole day driving through the mountains and through various types of eucalypt habitats. Highlights included disregarding a Road Closed sign on a back mountain road when one of our vehicles was not 4WD, because to go around would have meant many hours and kilometers lost, and a spectacular waterfall with a view over the Goulburn Valley. We ended the day driving down out of the mountains and through extensive rangeland for sheep farming, which was actually quite lovely. We ended the day in the city of Bendigo.

Finally, on the last day of the trip, we headed west on a four hour drive to the very edge of Victoria, where it abuts Southern Australia, to a place called the Little Desert National Park. We explored for a few hours before heading back to Melbourne, where we arrived late and tired, but happy to have seen a little of the Australian bush!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 5 - Misc.

After we walked a large portion of the Botanic Garden, we headed back to our hotel on foot, crossing the Yarra River over one of many bridges. We stopped to take some pictures of the river, the trams, which are a major form of transportation here, and Federation Square, a combination of open space and buildings that fronts part of the river. The buildings are rather interesting and geometrically patterned. Then we decided that since we had made sandwiches to bring along for lunch at the zoo, and were going home to have pasta for dinner in the hotel room, all in the name of saving money, that we at least deserved a really fine dessert. Enter Murray's Doughnuts, which is just down the street from our hotel and which makes an apparently famous eclair. Famous according to them, at least, though after partaking of it, we have to agree. It was immense and delicious, a satisfying end to a really lovely day. The conference starts back up for me tomorrow, and then Saturday we'll leave for the little field trip with the lab. There probably won't be much to post until then, so enjoy the photos from today's adventures!

Federation Square:

The Yarra river:


Our token Australian souvenir, probably the only one we'll get on this trip: a stuffed peacock, in honor of all the peacocks we saw at the zoo.

Fabulous and tremendous eclair:

Day 5 - Royal Botanic Garden

After the zoo, we got back on the tram and rode through Melbourne, across the river, and to the Royal Botanic Garden which is in the southern part of the city. On the way to the garden we walked by a large remembrance shrine to WWI, which was a large building on a hill with nice views back across the river to the city. At the time of WWI, Australia's population was less than 5 million people; just over 400,000 men enlisted, and over 200,000 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. The impact was apparently really large in Melbourne, where almost every inhabitant knew personally someone who was killed or wounded. This shrine was built to provide the relatives and friends with a place to remember and mourn, since most of the bodies of the dead were obviously never returned to Australia.

We continued on to the garden, which is huge and really lovely. It's more like a large, semi-forested park than our typical botanical gardens; we saw very few plantings of flowers, although it is winter, which might account for this. Mostly it was alternating lawns and forested areas, with lots of walkways. It's free entry, which was really nice, and is obviously used extensively by the local residents. I made another Facebook album for this one, but here are a few of the photos we took. It was about 4:30 when we got there and you can tell it's winter by the low angle of the sun. It's been setting around 7pm.

Day 5 - Zoo

Today we started off with a lovely breakfast including the fabled Australian bacon - which is in fact very much like sliced ham. It's delicious. Then we caught a tram to the Melbourne Zoo, which is north of the city. We got there about 10am and stayed until after 3... it was by far the nicest, most wonderful zoo either of us has ever been to. The animals were all in great shape and clearly healthy and happy, which often isn't the case at zoos (the inhabitants of which we frequently find to be just depressing). The design of the place was also wonderful. It was full of vegetation, and the walkways were determined by lush, forest-y plantings that directed your course, rather than concrete barriers or walls. The whole thing was just great. Particular highlights included a walk-in kangaroo enclosure where you could go right up to the 'roos, and an incredible aviary that went on and on and contained tons of incredible birds. We spent about 45 minutes just in there and found it really difficult to leave.

Here are just a few photos, but I put a big album up on Facebook, which has better photo management capacity than this blog. Here's the link to the album.

A meerkat:

Jon and I each acquired a hop-on in the butterfly house. Here's his:

The amazing aviary:

A lovely tree fern:

Us and kangaroos:

Very nice giraffe/zebra enclosure:

Black-lipped cobra (behind very thick glass. The Taipan was next door):

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Days 3 & 4 - Conference for Emily...

Well, it's now Wednesday morning, and what a week it's been! I don't have much in the way of photos, since Monday and Tuesday were completely consumed by the conference for me. So far it's been great. My talk went well, and most of the other talks I've attended have been really interesting. Last night a few of our Madison friends came over to our hotel room to relax and drink some wine, as we're the only ones here who have a room larger than a shoebox (which is all thanks to Jon!). It was quite pleasant and nice to sit around and chat on the other side of the world. Today was designed as a rest day by the conference organizers, so we're taking advantage of it! The rest of them are going on an expensive pre-organized day trip, but Jon and I are going to have breakfast in the city, mostly to experience first-hand Australian bacon, which is supposed to be very different from our bacon, and then we're taking a train to the Melbourne Zoo, and then finishing the day at the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are supposed to be lovely despite it being winter. Then the conference resumes for me tomorrow. Jon has been busily working on files for his clients but has gotten out to explore the city over the past couple of days too. Here are a few photos of the conference center and the Melbourne skyline by day and night... some are a bit blurry because taken with my phone's camera. Nicer ones will come today after our travels!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 2 - More exploring

Yesterday (Sunday) we met up with my friend Ursula from the Museum of the Earth, who now lives here in Melbourne, and did some more exploring of the city. We visited several markets, which were interesting, and the central farmer's market, which was pretty neat. Then we had burgers at a great little place she knew in one of the Arcades, and then it was time to register for the conference and to practice our talks. The Melbourne Convention Center is gorgeous, and I'll take more pictures of it today as I've over there for the conference. Rachel and I give our talks today, so hopefully all will go well! Jon is going to seek out coffee shops in which to work, and we'll meet up again for dinner with fern people.

Day 1 - Aquarium

A few photos from our trip to the Melbourne Aquarium:

For $150 per person you can take a walk in the large shark tank...

Jon observes a ray about to swim over us:

Colorful reef fish and sea horses:

The deadly Stonefish:


Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 1 - Morning wandering

So after breakfast we headed out with Tim and Rachel to find coffee at a neat place Jon had found online, called DeGraves Espresso or something like that. It was on one of the many little alleyway/arcades that are all over Melbourne (see photos). They are very not fast-paced here... at the coffee place and the cafe we ate at last night, you seat yourself and they get around to you eventually, and it's all very relaxed. This kills me, as I always like to move quickly and be on to the next thing, but I'm trying to settle down and enjoy it and it's actually rather nice.

After coffee we parted ways from Tim and Rachel and we walked to Federation Square and then to the river, which is only about a block away from our hotel and runs parallel to it. Then we picked up some more groceries at a larger supermarket we had missed last night, and came back to the hotel for lunch. Next we're off to the aquarium (which is right across the street and a block away from our hotel), and then we'll meet back up with the others for dinner.

Views down the arcade:

Us in the arcade, with seating for the coffee shop behind us. Even though it's winter, it's still mostly warm enough to sit outside if you're dressed appropriately.

Jon and Rachel with excellent coffee beverages:

Rachel's cappo had a fern design!

By the river:

Downtown buildings:

The Flinders Street train station:

'Burger King' was trademarked here when they tried to expand to Australia, so instead the chain is called Hungry Jack's:

Hotel Room tour

My first attempt at video... a tour of our hotel room. More will come!