Last Minute Melburnian Beers

It hit me as we were standing out in the cold how weird and random this whole thing was. Here we were, two young female Americans with a very limited knowledge of beer taking a tour of a brewing company we’ve barely heard of hours before we had to rush to the airport for our flight back to Auckland.

Why the hell were we doing this?

Carlton Brewhouse had popped up on our radar when we doing research into things we could do in Melbourne. We found a 2-for-1 coupon for a brewery tour and tasting in one of the visitor guides and decided to go for it. It was a deal at $15 per person and we both like beer better than wine, but those are small reasons when you consider the trouble and time we had to go through to get there, do the tour, and rush to the airport in time.

The brewery was located in a northern suburb, across town from we were staying. Because of how the timing was going to work out, we had to bring our luggage with us. I felt like an outright fool walking up to the visitors’ center, rolling my bag behind me. Then when the tour started and we had stored our luggage, I noticed that Kirsten and I were the youngest people in the group. I felt severely out of place.

Inside the Carlton Brewhouse's bottling facilities.
Inside the Carlton Brewhouse’s bottling facilities.

What were we doing?

Yet we went along with it, following behind our bearded, bespectacled American tour guide with the other tourists. The day was cloudy and colder than what we had previously experienced. I couldn’t entirely focus as our guide explained the beer making process, pointing to the various buildings where different steps took place. I was cold, thirsty, and the past two weeks of traveling were finally catching up to me. But I tried my best to listen and learn.

We went inside a couple times, standing comfortably on viewing decks and gazing at the machinery below. It was the weekend, and the production lines sat in industrial silence. As much as I would’ve loved to see the plant in action, it was still interesting to see those gleaming monsters and learn about the making of a classic alcoholic beverage.

Beer tasting!
Beer tasting at the Carlton Brewhouse.

As was expected, the beer tasting at the end was the best part. The experience both reaffirming what I already guessed about my tastes and raising my expectations for on-tap beer. This was the reason why we did this, why we trekked all the way out here last minute with our luggage: Good beer. Duh.

But even then I couldn’t fully relax. Our flight was at 4:15pm and it was already 12:30pm. I would’ve loved to linger and have lunch, but we had an hour of travel ahead of us. So with great reluctance, we hurried our tasting, grabbed our luggage, and sped walked to the tram stop.

So was it worth it? I asked myself once we had transferred to the SkyBus and were now racing on the motorway, heading towards the airport. I looked over my last view of Melbourne’s skyline and felt my beer-filled stomach, and knew that, yes, it was worth it. All of it was.

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Damp and Cultured in Melbourne

We tried to be fancy. It was our last full day in Australia and Kirsten and I wanted to savor the occasion. We didn’t end up exactly where we planned. The clinking of dozens of tea cups and the constant whoosh of the passing waiters wasn’t exactly the setting we were hoping for, but we were satisfied nonetheless.

The video game section of the ACMI.
The video game section of the ACMI.

It was raining. Again. But we knew it would. We had planned for it. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image was our first stop. This free museum detailing the history of the moving image around the world (with particular focus on Australia) was a maze of colorful lights, interactive displays, and video screens with sounds and images blending together to create a small but multilayered technological wonderland. Video games attracted crowds in one corner. Classic Hollywood starlets simpered along one wall. Brief spotlights on Australian filmmakers lived in one section. Interactive exhibits exploring the elements of film hummed in various rooms around one bend. Being the film nerd that I am, I was entranced.

Noon quickly came and we departed those glimmering halls of media for grander pastures. It was short walk in the rain before we finally arrived. The tall Greco-Roman pillars loamed above us in the grey light. A function was going on at Parliament House, so the early afternoon tours were cancelled. But we didn’t care. That was not why we were there.

I had found out about the high tea in Parliament while doing research about what to do in Melbourne. When I told Kirsten, her eyes lit up, and she insisted that we simply had to do it. And here we were, wet and slightly tired but excited. Security was questioning and not all together obliging, and when we finally arrived at the front desk we were informed that we needed a booking, a fact that wasn’t immediately clear on their website. No booking. No high tea.

6 o'clock nightly news in the 1850s on display in the gold vaults of the Old Treasury Building Museum.
6 o’clock nightly news in the 1850s on display in the Old Treasury Building Museum.

So back out into the rain, hungry and disappointed. Kirsten took it in stride, but I wanted to make it up to her. There had to be somewhere else we could get good tea. I just needed Wi-Fi to look for something. We tried the Old Treasury Building Museum next door, where before we had a chance to check on our phones for an internet signal, a volunteer warmly welcomed us in and gave us brief and lively overview of the simple museum. Even though we quickly found out that there was no Wi-Fi, because of that introduction we felt obligated to at least look around.

After learning about a failed land scheme to help returning Australian WWI vets, we headed down to the gold vaults. It was here that they stored all the gold in the area during the gold rush of the 1850s, which briefly made Melbourne the richest city in the world (and explains the presence of all the Victorian architecture that still populates the city). Each vault had a different multimedia display detailing different aspects of the gold rush, from fake news reports that translated the headlines of the era into a nightly newscast to reenacted gold trades between two characters on two television screen. It was all very clever.

We finally managed to find some Wi-Fi and tracked down a tea house in one of the arcades we had visited early in the week. Hopetoun Tea Rooms were crowded with people, mostly Asian tourists, but as we waited in line and peered in to look at the food being served, we knew we had made a good choice. And there we were, being fancy with our pot of tea and extravagant cakes, listening to the clink of the other tourists’ tea cups and feeling the rush of the waiters serving them. Not exactly high tea in Parliament, but still a great way to spend a rainy day.

An Australian Hipster Sojourn

Fitzroy: Melbourne’s “bohemian heartland.” Known for its plethora of murals, a funky weekend market, and dozens of vintage stores. I knew I had to check out this neighborhood.

One friend joked when I told her where I was going that “the hipster areas call to you like a siren no matter what part of the world you’re in.” I’m not ashamed to say that she’s right. I guess it’s a side effect of growing up in Austin and having creative parents.

Kirsten, always willing to do anything that I plan, was more than happy to join me on my Australian hipster sojourn. Starting on Gertrude Street, working our way to Smith Street, and then looping around to Brunswick Street we took the whole day to circumnavigate the area.

I could tell almost immediately we had arrived in Melbourne’s hipsterdom, albeit a high-end iteration: Beards, tattoos, and retro and/or natural styles of dress lived next to trendy cafes, indie boutiques, and designer cocktail bars. Gentrification’s fingerprints were everywhere.

On Smith Street. This graffiti facade stand above artisan bakeries and Asian restaurants. © Violet Acevedo
On Smith Street. This graffiti facade stand above artisan bakeries and Asian restaurants. © Violet Acevedo

Some of the grit that no doubt penetrated the neighborhood in the near past still lingered in the buildings. The traditional home of the working class and Melbourne’s first suburb, the area boasts some stellar yet slightly rundown Victorian architecture. Chipping paint and worn brick coupled with intricate ironwork and elegant stone decoration.

Graffiti was present of course (there seems to be a very lively culture surrounding graffiti in Melbourne), but striking murals also covered the bricks. It seemed, at one point, that each block would host its own display of public artistry.

Just one example of the murals that populated the area. Found while wandering down one of the side streets. © Violet Acevedo
Just one example of the murals that populated the area. Found while wandering down one of the side streets. © Violet Acevedo

Fitzroy’s hipsterness revealed itself in other ways too. We must’ve stopped in a dozen or so vintage stores during our self-guided tour and walked past an equal number of record stores, each harboring their own unique take on the old-turned-new aesthetic. Natural grocers and vegetarian restaurants were also in abundance, full of young, well-off mothers looking for new organic and vegan ways to feed their children.

While most of area catered to a certain type of wealthy middle-class hipster, a kind of hipsterdom that is often beyond my day-to-day tastes and budget, we made the most of our time there. We found a couple deals, grabbed good pho for lunch and vegan curry for dinner, and topped it all off with locally produced ciders at a cider bar.

“Cheers to hipsterdom!” we said as we clinked together our pints, satisfied from the long day.

Melbourne’s Fairies

I have vague recollections of the 20th Century Fox film FernGully (1992), an animated movie where fairies fight to stop a lumber company and an evil pollution spirit from cutting down their forest. (It’s one of those ridiculous films you watch as a kid and think is brilliant then but later realize how cheesy it really was. All I really remember about it, now years later, is the environmental message (which I guess is kind of the point).)

I had no idea it was supposed to take place in Australia (the main characters don’t exactly have Australian accents…thank you America). So when Kirsten mentioned that she wanted to hike this 1,000 step path in the Dandenong Ranges and I started to do some research, I laughed in shock when I found out that the nearest town is called Fern Tree Gully.

I hadn’t thought of that movie in years…I didn’t exactly have flashbacks to the film while hiking up the 1,000 step path, but part of me did begin to think that I was walking up some ancient pathway to a hidden magical kingdom. The steps were worn by thousands of ambitious fitness enthusiasts and curious tourists and dirtied by countless days of rain, giving them an earthy appearance, like they had just grown out of the forest floor or been placed there by some ancient civilization. The sharp sunlight streaming through the greenery, which lent everything a sunny aura, added to this feeling by granting the setting a slightly magical presence.

It should’ve taken us a while to get up those 1,000 steps. The sounds of heavy breathing increased as the screech of cockatoos decreased the farther up we went. But there must’ve been some magic in that track after all because we made it up quicker than expected (though we could definitely “feel the burn”).

Afterwards we made our way to the deserted One Tree Hill picnic grounds only a short walk away to eat lunch. The light was once again streaming through the now straight trees and the bench enclosure emerged between the trunks like some fairy-tale hideaway. As tired as I was, I could appreciate the sight.

We lingered with our lunch (consisting of bread from the Queen Victoria Market, oranges, and peanut butter) and watched over the trees as huge gleaming black birds watched us from the other tables, waiting for crumbs.

We took the Lyrebird Trail back down, heading straight to the train station. The magic had worn off and exhaustion had set in. We both fell into the showers the moment we got back to the hostel to wash off the stink of exercise.

And because we hadn’t seen enough nature in one day, we walked down the street back to St. Kilda Beach to see the fairy penguins come out along the pier at sunset. The enchantment of the sinking sun and glimmering sea lasted for a while but was quickly dampened by the tourists.

There were relatively few of them on the little boardwalk next to the penguins’ homes amongst the rocks. But once they began to emerge into the twilight, the tourists swarmed. Pushing in as close as they could for the perfect picture, they crowded these wild animals just as they stepped blinking into the light.

It’s kind of appropriate that they’re named fairy penguins. That frantic human greeting would be exactly how fairies would be treated if they were real and alive today. Imagine if they actually were living in Fern Tree Gully? The crowds…oh the crowds…

One of the plot points in FernGully is that the fairies believed that the humans were extinct. The main character had never seen one before. But would that even be possible in the modern age? Could a fairy live in the Australian wild without once encountering a prying hiker or photo-obsessed tourist? For most, the magic would live in getting the snapshot, not in seeing the image.

More Melburnian Sights

As if we didn’t get enough of shopping yesterday, we headed out that morning with one goal in mind: the famous Queen Victoria Market.

As famous as it may be, when we arrived around 10:30 there was barely anyone there–just a few early-bird tourists toting backpacks and locals grabbing some insanely cheap produce. So we strolled amongst the stalls, marveling at the prices and bemoaning the expensive nature of New Zealand’s food (it’s nearly all imported).

Between the stalls at the Queen Victoria Market. © Violet Acevedo
Between the stalls at the Queen Victoria Market. © Violet Acevedo

Soon the masses of oranges and apples and leafy greens gave way to lofty racks of cheap wholesale clothing and row after row of souvenirs. A few original products were interspersed with the repeating booths of Chinese-made Australian stuffed animals and leather jackets, but they were few and far in between.

Instead of being disappointed at the lack of originality at the market, partly because of the lack of people, we were able to take it in stride. We actually took the opportunity to complete any gift shopping we needed to get done before we left the country.

By the time we toured the delicatessen section around noon, the crowds were finally showing themselves. Hungry, we pushed through the lunch rush and snapping tourists, grapping something to eat before escaping to a table. We didn’t stay long after that.

Getting tired and determined to “take it easy,” we wandered over to Carlton Gardens and laid in the grass, soaking up the afternoon sun. I watched the clouds drift by as the slow hum of traffic drifted in and out of the flutter of pigeon wings, glad to be away from the crowds and the rush of sight-seeing.

After a while, we strolled over to see the Royal Exhibition Building in all its Victorian grandeur and the Melbourne Museum in all its modern sleekness. As the day was still young, and the sun still high, and we walked over to the State Library of Victoria to check out even more Victorian architecture.

As all great libraries do, the main entrance welcomed visitors with striking Greco-Roman columns before opening up to spacious reading rooms and a dome reaching up seven stories. Of course, we went up the dome and looked down upon the studiers from our great height. I took time to look at the history of Melbourne exhibit while Kirsten continued to walk around.

The La Trobe Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria. © Violet Acevedo
The La Trobe Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria. © Violet Acevedo

The sun was setting when we left that hall of knowledge, and I realized yes, we comparatively we hadn’t done much that day, but that’s what made it great. It was simple, easy and just the pace I was trying to achieve. That’s the thing with traveling for vacation. It’s sometimes hard to find the right balance (at  least for me) between relaxing and sight seeing.

Melbourne is not a “shithole”

“That place is a shithole,” our Irish roommate at the hostel commented when I told him we were heading downtown for the day.

He seemed to think that the whole city and everything in it was a “shithole.” The streets are dirty. The walls are covered in graffiti. The transportation is crap. He’s been there a week and was generally displeased with his surroundings, often voicing his opinions in the same matter a fact way. (It’s safe to say that Kirsten and I didn’t really like him.)

I really wanted to prove him wrong.

Before I arrived in Melbourne, I was told how “artsy” and “cool” it was. “It’s like the Austin of Australia,” said the Assistant Director of the BU Program (who has never even been to Melbourne). I wanted it to be that. I wanted it to be somewhere I could relate to.

But throughout the day, the Irish roommate’s words continued to ring through my head.

“This place is a shithole.”

I found myself consciously looking for things that challenged his statement as we began our day of shopping in the city.

He wasn’t wrong about the graffiti. It certainly was everywhere, but in a way, the city seemed to embrace it instead of fight it. Graffiti, street art, and murals are prevalent, making up an integral part of Melbourne’s landscape. In the urban hubs, you can’t escape the spray paint. For example, our tram stop’s walls are congested with violently colorful graffiti tags and cartoon images.

St. Kilda Junction tram stop. © Violet Acevedo
St. Kilda Junction tram stop. © Violet Acevedo

It can be a bit out of hand–graffiti on trams, on information boards, on the sides of motorways–but no so more than other cities I’ve been to. (Um…NYC anyone?)

However, unlike those other cities, Melbourne has seemed to make the most of it. The most famous example is Hosier Lane, a laneway (alleyway) full of a dizzying amount of overlapping colors, words, and pictures that reaches several stories up. We visited that famed spot late in the afternoon, and tourists peppered the pavement, cameras all at attention. One graffiti artist was even at work, and they swarmed him like flies before he disappeared. When an alleyway full of graffiti becomes a tourist destination, you know it’s become more than just a nuisance but an important facet of the city’s culture.

As for the dirtiness…Yes, it’s a city that doesn’t mind having a bit of grit in its eyes. Downtown there is pollution in the air and grime on the sidewalks. But all the great cities have a bit of dirt in their cracks, New York City especially. It gives the place a sense of reality. The city becomes less of a postcard imaginary and more of lived-in truth.

And once again, Melbourne seems to have embraced this grit. Two of the other most famous laneways are prime examples. Like Hosier Lane, we ended up stumbling upon these places towards the end of the afternoon, exhausted from all the walking and window shopping. But what we saw, perked us right up again.

Centre Lane. © Violet Acevedo
Centre Place. © Violet Acevedo

Centre Place and Degraves Street are narrow little alleyways that run between the major streets. The rising buildings around them block out a fair amount of sun, but the spaces are still alive with dozens of cafes and restaurants and curious shops. The brick walls are covered, once again, in graffiti art as well as aging posters and Victorian ironwork. We felt like we had found a hidden, bustling undercity and we finally understood why the laneways were so famous: They made the grit and gloom of the inner city into a vibrant and energetic place of commerce.

Alternatively, Melbourne can be clean and upscale too. Several Victorian shopping arcades, including the Block and Royal Arcades, still welcome visitors with well-kept elaborate windows and mosaic floors. We felt we were in another time, in another city when we walked through those vaulted ceilings.

Melbourne’s modern malls are equally elaborate and spacious. The main example we found was Melbourne Central. The mall is several stories high, full to bursting with stores, and intricately designed with the most modern styles. It was easy for us to become amazed and overwhelmed.

Also in many ways, Melbourne can be breathtakingly beautiful. After hours of walking around downtown, exploring all the nooks and crannies from Chinatown to the Bourke Street Mall, we ended up on the river walk near sunset. And there was the city, reflecting upon the Yarra River, its modern and Victorian buildings gleaming in the dying sunlight.

Downtown Melbourne in the dying light of day. © Violet Acevedo
Downtown Melbourne in the dying light of day. © Violet Acevedo

While Melbourne may be a “shithole” to some, if you look closely and keep your mind open, I’ve found it can be quite a unique and vibrant place. My expectations, while now hampered down with reality, were, happily, not proven wrong.

Melbourne and Her Markets

We missed out in Sydney, arriving too late and leaving too early to experience the city’s markets. Kirsten and I were determined not to miss out again. The moment we arrived at the hostel in Melbourne after our delayed flight, we sat down and did intensive research. We ended up constructing a game plan for tomorrow, intending to hit as many Sunday markets as possible.

Taking the morning slow, we started with the Arts Center Melbourne Sunday Market near the center of town. The stalls were artsy and few, crafty and beautiful, cute but mostly out of my price range. Standing under the shadow of the modernist iron peak that forms the roof of the Arts Center and in view of downtown, what struck me most was the city itself.

The architecture had a different flavor. The sleek, blue lines common in other cities were present in the skyscrapers but that style was also interspersed with sparks of color and unusual shapes. And in between these often ultra-modern designs were the remnants of the city’s gold rush past. Victorian brick sat between or was even incorporated into newer buildings. Melbourne seems to embrace its past as well as look for the unusual in the present. The artsy-ness was refreshing after the carefully crafted, borderline generic-ness of Sydney.

We then made our way along a typically urban street, watching it transform from office buildings to warehouses. After about an hour, we reached our next stop: South Melbourne Market. More established and open five days a week, this massive marketplace was located under a sprawling warehouse and surrounded by a sizable parking lot.

As we approached, people zoomed about during the lunch time rush. When we entered, we were struck by masses of people and smells — glowing display cases of meats and cheese, stacks of grains and bottles of beer, Asian tourists snapping pictures at everything, locals trying to do their weekly shopping…

We eventually escaped the food section and stumbled into the household goods and clothing. A mixture of overprized hipster fair and wholesale Chinese knockoffs, we wandered along the isles occasionally wishing we had more money or more room in our suitcase.

It took us a while to see everything, but once we did we left for other sights. The tram took us to the beach, a cold and atmospheric place in the clouded sky and windy air. It reminded me of the Atlantic beaches I’d seen in Maryland, completely different to the Pacific-like sands of Sydney. We sat at a bench on the boardwalk, watching other people walk along the shore in coats and shoes. We drank the cheap cider we bought at the South Melbourne Market and talked about our past and present.

After we finished our bottles, we managed to make it to the St. Kilda market along the esplanade just as they were closing up. Besides some cool jewelry we weren’t missing much, but nevertheless we felt accomplished having made it to three markets in one day.

Luna Park was located right next to the market, and since entry was free and we were unable to go to the one in Sydney, we’d thought we go in and see what all the fuss was about. This small amusement park was established 1912 (23 years before the one in Sydney) and remnants of the carnival-like, old-timey fun were still present the simplistic nature of the rides and the colorful, jokey nature of the decorations. Kids ran everywhere — in strollers with snotty noses, or on their own feet jumping up and down at the lights and sounds. It was no Disney World or even Six Flags, but it was well established and we could see how little kids would be enamored.

As we sat down and ate some French fries, we could feel the day catching up to us. We had intended to take Melbourne at a slower pace, but that wasn’t working out as we planned. There was just too much to see…

Damp and Cultured in Sydney

The day began with a 20 minute walk in the pouring rain to get free pearl earrings. You see, one of the advantages to the tourist booklets is the coupons. While most of them didn’t apply to our itinerary (cruises and tours and the like), Kirsten and I couldn’t pass up this deal. All we had to do was locate this place on the third floor of this old building downtown, enter their caged offices, walk through their selection of rough and polished opals and pearls, sit down with an employee, write a review of the place, and receive our free earrings. We did this all while our umbrellas dripped and our feet grew cold in our wet shoes. It was worth it though.

Knowing that the rain wasn’t going to let up all day, we had made a plan to stay dry indoors and tour the museums. First stop: The Australian Museum.

Within the gallery of skeletons in the Australian Museum.
Within the gallery of skeletons in the Australian Museum.

Holding the title of the oldest museum in Australia, this 19th century building hosts an extensive collection of native birds, animals, insects, and cultural paraphernalia. Most of the galleries were filled with bones and taxidermied corpses of Aussie creatures, some of which we saw alive the other day at Featherdale. Dinosaurs filled one hall; the towering shadow of the famous T-Rex dominated this crowded exhibit. Minerals resided in one corner of the second level, including examples of the gold that kept the country’s economy running for nearly 50 years.

In two rooms, aborigine culture was introduced through stories and artifacts and modern art pieces. Captions were written by aborigines and often included sad tales of oppressed cultures and lost homelands. Informative as it was, it didn’t make for the most uplifting exhibit.

Throughout this relatively small museum, school children roamed in packs, ranging in age from 7 to 17. They toted worksheets and uniforms and loudly commented on the artifacts, either seeming intensely interested or extremely bored. The crowds got intense enough that we decided to leave a bit earlier than planned.

Back out into the rain, and after a quick lunch break, we strolled over to St. Mary’s to admire the gothic revival architecture. Mass was in progress so we didn’t stay long.

Then up College Street, past the Mint and Parliament of NSW, and into the State Library of New South Wales. Information packets in hand, we walked into the grand reading room, gaping at the vaulted ceilings and multi-stories of books.

Mitchell Library Reading Room in the State Library of NSW.
Mitchell Library Reading Room in the State Library of NSW.

A guide noticed our stares.

“So where are you guys from?” he asked.

We answered and the moment he learned I was from Texas, he lit up.

“Do you recognize me?”

“No.”

“Look at my name tag.”

“’Johnny Wayne Graves.’”

“So do you recognize me?”

“…no…”

“I’m John Wayne! The real John Wayne!”

He was joking of course. He was black and was keenly aware of it. Born in Houston and part of the US military in the 1980s, he left America and the army for Australia about 20 years ago. The reason he gave us: the KKK. He proceeded to tell us a story of seeing his commanding officers in full white ropes in a German pub, and realizing that they were not only racists but saw him as “expendable” (a word worse than the N-word, he informed us). He left as soon as he could.

He kept us for a good 15 minutes, talking and explaining, going through various points in his life story. We eventually said good-bye, but not before he made me promise to tell Texas that Johnny Wayne was coming home (someday).

The 19th century Australian art  in The Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The 19th century Australian art in The Art Gallery of New South Wales.

While we had enjoyed this encounter, it was still raining we headed out of the library and our energy quickly dropped on the way to our next stop: The Art Gallery of New South Wales. Exhausted, wet, and sore-footed, we didn’t spend long in those artistic halls, sticking around long enough to only admire the Australian art and a few of the intriguing contemporary installations.

Afterwards, rest. The activity of the week was finally catching up with us. We sat there, on the couch in the main lobby, watching the other wet art-goers swarm in and out, for nearly half an hour.

We needed food, badly. We had heard about a Chinatown Friday Night Market and so quickly made our way over there. One problem: the rain had scared away most of the stalls. What were left were a few brave souls that looked tasty but very wet. So, choosing a restaurant at random, we sat down for a quiet meal as the rain finally stopped.

A Very Manly Day

It was the first day of spring and there was not a cloud in the sky. The sun shimmered on the water as the city of Sydney retreated into the distance. Tourists gathered at the railings to take pictures of the Opera House and Kirsten and I sat at the bench enjoying the view and the warmth. We knew we had chosen the best day to go to the suburb of Manly.

When we embarked, we encountered a relaxed beach town—complete with chain stores, tourist shops, local cafés, and plenty of bars/restaurants. Determined to take things easy after the long days we had earlier in the week, we slowly made our way around the town center, stopping at shops and watching the various tourists and locals go about their day.

Lunch was taken at Bare Naked Bowls, a health food café specializing in acai bowls (thick acai berry smoothies topped with fruit and nuts), a recent obsession of Kirsten’s. We sat in this off the beaten track café, soaking in the sun and watching kids play around on their bicycles.

Once full of nutrition, we strolled over to Manly beach. More realistic than Bondi beach with sand not as impossibly fine and soft and clean, the shore stretched into the distance as tourists and kids alike walked and played amongst the waves. We could’ve easily spent all afternoon on that beach, but we deiced to move on. There was more to see.

We walked barefoot to the neighboring beach, Shelly Beach, before putting our shoes back on and heading up the nearby peak. Through scrub and brush we went, following the sounds of other backpackers laughing at the top. After a couple missed turns, we were finally atop the rocks, looking out at the sea with the sun at our backs.

I took out the map and pointed out the recommended scenic walk to Kirsten. It would take us through Sydney Harbor National Park, up through North Head, and then to a city outlook. Thinking it would be as short and simple as the North Head in Devonport, NZ, we decided to check it out. But like everything else in Australia, North Head was far bigger than we expected.

We quickly found ourselves hiking through expanding fields of brush and blossoming flowers. Our feet silently moved through the sandy paths as the warmth became heat. There were better prepared yet fewer people out here. So we strolled in silence, listening to the sporadic calls of birds and the distant burb of frogs. Occasionally, we encountered ruins left over from more WWII outposts. Silent concrete sentinels left to their own devices in the encroaching brush.

After a while, thoroughly exhausted and sweaty, we made it to the information center more than half way through the park. From there it was another 15-30 minutes to the outlooks, but we looked at each other and knew, there was no way we were going to do that. And an even remoter chance that we were going to walk back to town, easily a 2 hour trek.

So defeated, we took the bus back to the wharf and the next ferry back to Sydney.

Aussie Animals

The birds chirped and cawed, the school children gaped and yelled, and Kirsten and I couldn’t take our eyes away. We were at Featherdale Wildlife Park to make sure that we saw all the prerequisite Australian animals that dozens of people expected us to see. We weren’t disappointed.

Smaller than the zoo but much more interactive, the place boosted several examples of dozens of native species: everything from the common seagull to emus, koalas to Tasmanian devils. Cages and fences still populated the complex, but trees also covered the walkway and a few birds were allowed to roam free. And then there were areas where the animals were allowed to wander onto the path and into visitors’ reach.

Kirsten got to feed a wallaby a sugar cone full of food. I got to pet a kangaroo.

Everywhere we went, we would gap and comment usually with phrases like “so cute” or “wow…so beautiful.” And yes, we were well aware of the cliché nature of our speech, but sometimes things are so unexpected or astonishing that nothing but a cliché can be expressed.

However, shortly after we arrived, the place quickly swarmed with children. They all stood about waist high and were minded by tired looking adults. They ran around in their school uniforms, shouting to each other about the animals, lunches banging at their side. Even though they often got in the way and their boisterous nature sometimes scared the animals, Kirsten and I couldn’t help but smile at their youth and enthusiasm.

We stayed until after they left and wandered along the now nearly empty paths, taking in the sight of the animals that we were unlikely to see again. After a few more pictures, we deiced, yes, it was time to go.

A bus, train, and lightrail ride later we ended up at another of Sydney’s wildlife centers: The Fish Market. Seagulls swarmed the several warehouse sized buildings that sat along the waterside outside of Chinatown. As we approached the smell of fish grew stronger and the hum of last-minute shoppers grew louder. We were told we must eat here, and we were eager to do so before the place closed in an hour.

So we passed the fresh fish sitting in ice waiting to be bought and fried, and headed towards the restaurant area. Even at such a late hour, the place was packed with locals and tourists varying for their chance to eat freshly caught and cooked seafood. We wandered around in a daze, unable to comprehend the amount and variety, our stomachs too empty to allow our brains to think.

We were eventually caught by someone trying to sell the last of their food before closing, loudly advertising the sale prices. We jumped at the chance and then spread out to find more deals. In the end, we both got enough fresh seafood to stuff our faces with under $20AUD. (God, I wish this was near where I lived.)

We chilled at the hostel afterwards, nursing our full stomachs and tired feet, before heading out again to meet some other people in the BU program for a drink at the Opera Bar underneath the Sydney Opera House. Yes, it was probably the most touristy thing we could do, but when else were you going to sit in the shadow of the Opera House with the lights of the city twinkling along the water besides you?

The other tourists laughed and joked as we sipped the house brew, unable to stop staring at the shimmering darkness of the night.