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!