Friday 11 April 2008

Not Thelma or Louise, sadly

Home again. What a difference eight days make. Canberra has so many trees, and is now full of early autumn colour and very beautiful. A welcome contrast to the busy big-city traffic-choked experience of Melbourne, although our 8 days there were wonderful.

What a great city, Melbourne, despite the awful traffic fumes. Coffee-lovers/cake-devotees/shoe-shoppers of the world, Melbourne is for you. It certainly was for us, 7 pairs of new shoes (between us! Not all mine!) later. Not to mention all the cake. By the end of our stay and many rides on the free city circle tram to visit parks, galleries and museums, we understood the grid system of streets pretty well and were adept at not being flattened by trams; we must have looked confident, as we were often asked for directions, and were able to respond with impressive accuracy. This is not a skill I possess at home, I must say, where,
with considerable vigour and imagination, I can seriously misdirect the gullible.

We decided against car hire and driving the Great Ocean Road, and booked a series of coach tours instead. Good move, as the drive would have entailed one of us taking great care on the twisty winding road, unable to look to left or right and cursing continuously, while the other spent time immersed in the guide book, looking up recommended spots to view and take photographs of this astonishing stretch of coastline, and muttering about feeling carsick. Instead, we sat high above the road and could eat Tim Tams while seeing for miles between our scheduled beauty spot stops. I am planning a series of Tim Tam Explosion tutorials when I get home; I'm amazed that this national craze has not reached Britain, and feel it my duty to spread the word.

We went to the Dandenongs, as awe-inspiring as their name, although it translates rather tamely as Tall & Lofty (ie trees). We visited Phillip Island and saw Little Penguins (yes, that's their name, and they really are little, like small, fat,
navy blue and white skittles) emerging from the sea at nightfall, huddling nervously till large enough groups were formed to make them feel safe enough to cross the beach to their burrows in the sand dunes. They have a ferocious range of predators, so are right to feel nervous, but apparently tolerate hundreds of excitable humans watching them and following them along the boardwalk, providing a soundtrack which seems mostly to be in Mandarin. Loud Mandarin.

The sky was inky black, the stars entirely unfamiliar and just as breathtaking as the age-old ritual of the penguins' homecoming; I found that by standing still and looking up at them, I was suddenly joined by dozens of other people following my gaze. Power to influence crowds, wowee!

We then had the obligatory shopping experience before getting on the coach for a long drive back to the city. During my stay so far, I could, if I wished, have accumulated a lorryload of brightly coloured koala/kangaroo/penguin-themed souvenirs and given them to all my friends. Sadly, I am more self-disciplined in this regard than with shoes, so you can breathe a sigh of relief: you have been spared. All except Charlotte.

Enough of the travelogue for now; well, maybe a list of Lovely Sights to date:

  • Koalas (not bears, Annie! marsupials)
  • Kangaroos & wallabies galore
  • Echidna (one, back view only; fat-bottomed)
  • Platypus - in its platypusary at Healesville Sanctuary
  • Emus and parrots/cockatoos/crimson rosellas by the dozen
  • Wombat - one, snoozing, but impressive
  • Dingos
  • Gum trees/towering mountain ash
  • Cake stalls
  • Shoe shops

My suitcase, last spotted on March 27th, was delivered to Canberra Airport on April 5th, and reunited with me tonight. At last, a different set of clothes, and my slippers! And very very welcome emails from loved ones; thank you. This is a washing and repacking stopover only.
To Tricia's family in their Sydney suburb tomorrow, Blue Mountains on Sunday, Sydney proper on Tuesday. Will the thrills ever cease? Will we become able to resist the fabulous Australian cakes? Watch this spot.

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