Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Australia Week 3: Carlton, Dandenong, Moomba

Things change quickly in the game industry. One day you're midway through a six-week training trip to Melbourne, and the next, you're told the trip is over and you've got a week to get back to home office. So I write today's blog post with the bittersweet knowledge that this week will be my last in Australia and it's back to Utah - so it goes.

Before the disappointing news of my shortened trip, I had a very busy weekend touring around Melbourne and its surrounds. Friday was the beginning of the Moomba Festival, which is held over the Labour Day weekend. The Moomba festival is a pre-Lent carnival celebrating...well it's really just an excuse to have a big carnival downtown with water-based competitions including a birdman contest and wakeboarding, as well as a big parade, fireworks, rides and all that fracas. Friday night a bunch of us went down the banks of the Yarra river to watch some wakeboarding and experience the carnival atmosphere. The crowds were not nearly as dense as on White Night, but our team can make anything into a party. We spent the evening feigning enthusiasm about watersports and then retired.

Int. Melbourne Gaol
The next day I did one of the walking tours suggested in my Melbourne: Step by Step guide, and walked the length of the neighborhood of Carlton. The trip started with a tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol, where prisoners were held and sometimes hung from 1845 to 1924. It's a suitable dour looking building with stained walls, heavy iron doors and very informative plaques and displays all over the place talking about the most noteworthy of Melbourne's criminals. Most notable of which is the inimitable Ned Kelly.

I won't go into detail as to Ned's infamy. If you'd like to read more about him, you can go to the wikipedia article about him (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ned_Kelly). Suffice to say, in his final shootout with the Melbourne police, Ned donned a homemade suit of iron armor and was only taken out because the cops used a makeshift claymore made of buckshot to damage his unprotected shins...oh such hubris, Ned.

Ridiculous Benvenuta Manor
After the Gaol, I headed north past Melbourne's monument to the 8 hour work day, which Victoria had before most other places courtesy of their strong labour movement. A fitting photographic tribute to their Labour Day I suppose. Past the monument and into Carlton proper, is the ostentatious Benvenuta mansion, which has in it's time been a residence, a brothel, a court, an Italian Club, a brothel, and most recently a college residence for the University of Melbourne.

Veering a bit to the west, I wandered through Carlton's main thoroughfare, Lygon street, which is known for being Melbourne's 'Little Italy.' I had a excellent Italian cappuccino paired with some authentically bad Italian table service, then returned east to Carlton Gardens and the Melbourne Museum.

Whale skeleton would like to remind you that it is enormous
Melbourne museum has some interesting exhibits including some very nice dinosaur skeletons, a section in which one walks through a replica Victorian rainforest, and an interesting permanent exhibit about the native and quite diverse Aboriginal people from the Melbourne area. I only managed to see the first floor of the museum before I had to meet up with my tour guide for a limited-access tour of the Royal Exhibition Building, just across the square from the museum itself.

Int. Royal Exhibition Building
The Royal Exhibition Building has seen its share of history. It was created to house the World's Fair of 1880, and played host again to the World's Fair of 1888. It was also the spot where the first Federal Parliament of Australia was held, marking Australia as a commonwealth. The Australian flag was first flown from its dome in 1901. It's been a temporary home for the RAAF and a venue for the Summer Olympics (1956). The beautiful interior was painted over white at some point, but restored to its full 1901 splendor in 1992.

After touring the building, I was going to go back to the museum, but it turns out I had managed to lose my ticket. So I made a pivot and headed over to the campus of Melbourne University. For the most part, the University feels sort of closed off. I took some pictures of the interesting Newman Chapel and, as suggested by my travel guide, took a walk through the outrageously full Melbourne General Cemetery, which houses dead people of every major faith. It was hot, I had walked about six miles, and I was ready to be done with the walk...then I got to walk all the way back to the hotel! All in all it was a 10 mile day...great practice for the next day.

The morning of Day 22 I ate a big breakfast and then hopped the tram to Flinder's Street Station, one of three major train stations in downtown Melbourne. I was taking a train out to the pleasantly named Upper Fern Tree Gully where I would hike the 2.8 km, 90-ish story climb to the One Tree Hill picnic grounds, have lunch, then walk back down. That was the plan.

When I arrived at UFTGS, I was greeted with a small information center. Slightly unsure of how to begin my journey, I inquired within. "Fancy a 4 hour hike?" the small lady at the counter exclaimed by way of greeting. Sure, I thought. I didn't really have anything else planned for the day, and I was feeling pretty energetic. The lady scribbled some notes on a map for me..."first you walk walk walk until you get to 1000 steps, hike that, then take One Tree Hill Road across to...well actually it's not on the map here, but it's called Hackett's Track. Take that down to...well it's also not on the map, but it's called Hillclimb Trail. Take that down to Belgrave and then take the train back to Melbourne!"

Hmm. A 4 hour trek through the wilderness, alone. The long quiet boy scout in me was reminding me that you shouldn't hike by yourself, certainly not in a foreign forest, in "the land of things that want to kill you."

But hey, guess what I did anyway!

First, a note about the 1000 steps. Formally called the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, the hike represents the trek that Australian soldiers made with their wounded after the battle of Kokoda in WWII. It is a very steep trail. It's 2.8 km at what I am guessing to be a 30% grade. By no stretch of the imagination was this an easy walk, but my will was tempered by the fact that, and I swear I'm not making this up, there were old Chinese women happily making the journey wearing those chunky platform heel shoes. Clearly insane.

One Tree Hill Road has notably more than a single tree
As intense as the climb was, it was only about a quarter of the path I made through the Sherbrooke forest that day. The rest of the hike was not particularly blog worthy. I did see a wild echidna and I hiked for many hours. I also said hello to a pair of female hikers who looked at me like I was about to possibly murder them. There's something that occurs during a very long hike that I like to call a "hiking trance". Bill Bryson mentions it in his classic travel narrative "A Walk in the woods." The longer you hike, the more the hike starts to become more a meditation on walking then a journey to get anywhere in particular. Taking the next step becomes the only thing that matters. I experienced that a lot during my hike on the Appalachian Trail in my teenage years. On this trek, I had some flashbacks to that experience.

The clever people of Belgrave put a pub right at the exit to the trail, before you get to town. There I had the most delicious half pint of cider I have ever tasted. I finished the walk to Belgrave, ate a meat pie, and returned on the train back to Melbourne. I was pretty cooked, dirty from head to toe, and ready to take the next day very easy.

The Moomba Parade had a real 'Cirque du Soleil' feel to it...
Moomba! The next day was the parade for the Moomba festival. It's important to note that there's some controversy over the name "Moomba". The creator of the festival, who seriously made the thing as an excuse to have something to do before Lent, swore up and down that it was a dialogue word meaning "get together and have a good time" or something similar. His son later said that what it actually meant was "Up your ass". Later the comment was redacted. The origin of the word still remains a bit of a mystery. Anyway, the "Up your ass" parade consisted of many colorful floats and people and I sat on the sloping cliff leading up the Shrine of Remembrance and got some pretty good shots of the whole thing. The rest of the day was relatively uneventful. A bunch of the gang went to a restaurant/bar called Cookie in the CBD where we had some good asian-inspired food, drank cider, and had our bill brought to us in a children's book. Keep Melbourne weird, I guess.

Anyway, as I said earlier, my trip is being cut short due to the fickleness of the game industry, but this weekend I'm taking the opportunity to fly out of Sydney instead of Melbourne, so I can spend four days before I return to reality in the other major east coast city of Australia. Tune in for the end-of-trip report sometime next week.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry they're cutting your trip short, honey! I've SO enjoyed your blog! Glad you've had such amazing experiences. You'll love Sydney!