Friday, March 21, 2014

Australia Day 25, 26: A Farewell to Melbourne

I decided to split the last journal entries up a bit, because they were getting long. This post is about my last few days in Melbourne.

Having had our trip cut short, I was determined to make the most of the last week I had in Australia. I scheduled a flight to Sydney on Thursday, and tried my best to get the last things I wanted to do in Melbourne in the bag.

The author and Southeast Melbourne
Wednesday I decided to spend the $15 and go up to the Eureka Skydeck, the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower, a residential building south of the Central Business District. The Skydeck claims to be the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, at 91 floors. The slightly nauseating elevator trip brings you to the attraction, which is ceiling to floor glass walls that look out in all directions over the Melbourne skyline. There’s a special area that you have to pay extra to enter that allows you to stand out on a glass platform so it feels like you’re standing on nothing, but it didn't feel worth the extra $10 to have my stomach drop into my feet. A couple of my fellow travelers joined me, the same ones, it happens, that would be joining me on the last leg of my trip, to Sydney, the next day.

The Melbourne skyline is pretty impressive. It covers a large area, with a few sections of skyscrapers. The rest is green areas, residential sections, and some large, futuristic looking stadiums for cricket and Australian Rules football, a local passion. Sadly the reflective glare in the glass room made it very difficult to get good pictures. I managed a few, but I was disappointed in most of the results. Still, it was nice to be up that high and get a sense of the scale of the city.

La Trobe Reading Room
Next we went back into the CBD to visit the Victoria State Library, a very actively used, very well appointed library near the Royal Institute of Technology. The main attraction of the library is the La Trobe Reading Room, a huge octagonal room with 5 floors of open interior space. We were visiting the library just as everything was shutting down, so sadly we didn't get a chance to go to the 5th floor viewing room, but I got some acceptable pictures from the ground floor. The other thing the library is known for is a large art collection. Again, sadly, we only got to see one of the collections, an assemblage of paintings by and of local celebrities.

Kingfish Sashimi at Chin Chin
By the time we were done with that, it was almost time for our farewell dinner. Our team leader was getting us together for a bit of a send-off at one of the coolest restaurants in town, an Asian fusion restaurant called “Chin Chin”, where we going to participate in an all-inclusive…I guess sort of “omakase” of entrees of whatever the kitchen decided to serve us. I was pretty excited about this meal already, but oh man. Everything about the experience was amazing -- the drinks, the energy of the group, the outrageous food, the desserts, the wait staff. I could not have asked for a better meal. Of particular note – the sweet and sour barramundi with pork belly in a spicy relish with apple salad. Insane.

We got out of the restaurant fairly late. I had to do some laundry so I stayed up even later getting that done. Thursday was my last day in Melbourne. We were scheduled for a pretty late flight, arriving in Sydney at 10:30pm. That gave me another full day of adventure in Melbourne. Well, I had yet to see a damn kangaroo on this entire trip, and I wasn't going to leave Australia without seeing one, so I decided my day would be spent at the Melbourne Zoo.

My buddy Oscar and I first stopped off at a cafe recommended to us by one of the guys at the game studio, a slightly out-of-the-way cafe with the peculiar name of “Auction Rooms”. There’s nothing particularly auctiony about the place other than a few references to bids on the menu - you didn't have to barter for your food or anything. I had a pretty awesome poached egg dish with seared kingfish and cranberry relish, and an excellent cappuccino…and then an excellent Americano, which Australians (and probably the rest of non-American English-speakers) refer to as a “long black.”

After hopping a few connecting trams, we arrived at the Melbourne Zoo.I *did* finally see some kangaroos, albeit very lazy ones, along with platypodes, a rather hideous red panda, and some Australian Little Penguins, which is apparently their official name. But the real highlights of the experience were four-fold.

There have only been a few reports of Cassowary mauling
people with their huge talons...
First, the Cassowary. We would have missed her if someone hadn't pointed her out hiding off the path, but these giant birds, related to the emu, are huge, brightly colored, very shy, and *totally* dinosaurs. They even have these amazing crests called casques that make them resemble Gallimimus.

Second, the emus. Not because they’re beautiful, but because they were in the open Australian animal area with the kangaroos and they were bold as brass. They strut around the enclosure like they own it and would come right up to you and stare you down, daring you to cross them. Those emus were kings.

Thirdly, the monkeys. Who doesn't love a monkey? They were extremely active at the zoo that day, and put on quite a show of acrobatics and …monkey business. I didn't get many good pictures of them because the glass was filthy, but they were a joy to watch.

Last, and very not least, the meerkats. Oh my god, people. Meerkats. They live in family groups. They have a lookout poised to look for danger. They’re insanely curious and were fascinated by the people watching them. There was an amazing moment at their enclosure where they all suddenly turned, gathered around and looked up at the sky together. We followed their line of sight and they were watching a plane and its contrail fly by. I died.

We burned most of the day at the zoo, then returned to the hotel to pack for Sydney and our inevitable trip home. I enjoyed a last drink at the hotel restaurant and we hopped in the cab to the Melbourne Airport. At the airport I realized that I had left my extremely expensive color-vision-enhancing sunglasses at the hotel, but luckily I had a friend still there who retrieved them for me and eventually would brought them home to Utah.

A short hour-long flight later, we arrived in Sydney and took another taxi to our hotel, a divey little place at the edge of China Town, run by a very grumpy (but kind of awesome) night manager, who gave us our room key and told us to get lost…well not really, but it sort of felt like that.


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