Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Great 2 Days in Melbourne

So, I dropped into Melbourne yesterday and found my hotel pretty easily, thanks to a local guy I met on the plane who gave me good directions. It's funny, I saw him in the airport bathroom before the flight, coming out of a stall with his shirt off (I think he was changing-- I hope), and he had left his backpack on the sink counter where anyone could have stolen it. Anyway, I thought "What an idiot". Well, sure enough, his seat was right next to mine on the plane! So he over heard me asking the flight attendant which side of the plane had the best views, and started talking to me. During the one hour flight, it turned out he was a really nice guy, an immigrant from Lebanon, and a student at Melbourne University. He gave me some great tips on restaurants and other stuff. Just goes to show, you never can tell.
As soon as I dropped my bags off at the hotel I hopped back on the train (just a block away) back downtown, 2 quick stops, and within minutes I was walking in the CBD (central business district) of Melbourne with the crowds. The train , which go everywhere, let me off at a different stop from what I planned, but it let me see more of the town as I made my way back to Federation Square, the city center. It's yet another nice "people" place, with cobbled open expanses, modern buildings, a huge screen for outdoor movies, even a ferris wheel. The river's right next to it, but because of some unfortunate design flaws, you can't see it unless you go over to the railing and look down.
Anyway the next day (Easter sunday) I knew where I wanted to go: the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary; not a zoo, but a place that rescues and treats all wild animals. It's a long way from town, requiring 2 train changes and a bus to get there. But while heading out there, one of those funny things happened. I was wearing my "Emergency Animal Technician" shirt, and as I got off the train and was heading for the bus stop, I passed an old lady and her dog (a big sweet mutt of uncertain parentage). She noticed my shirt and asked me to help her put on her dog's halter. Unfortunately, I have a mind-block when it comes to those-- I can never figure out how to put them on! But I tried (unsuccessfully) for so long, she gave me a lift to the sanctuary, which was great, as I found out I would have had to wait 2 hours for the bus! Things sometimes work out like that. So the whole way there she was telling me stories of the history of the area, including hearing the famous singer Melba (whom "peach Melba" is named after). I was in a sleepy haze by the time she dropped me off.
I was mainly excited to visit the Sanctuary's hospital, hoping to meet some of the staff. It was supposed to have scheduled "special events", but when I got there, it turned out to be just a recording. It's a nice setup; you can see into the hospital thru plastic walls, and they even have a camera right over the exam table showing a closeup of what's going on, but nobody was visible at the time. Disappointed, I wandered the zoo path, but as it was a hot afternoon, most of the animals were either alseep or not even visible. I decided to catch the 3:30 bus home, and it was only while waiting for it I noticed I had read the schedule wrong, and the bus had come at 3:15! The next didn't arrive til 5:15.
Well, that was the luckiest mistake I ever made, because as I sighed and went back in, all the animals started waking up. I got great shots of the kookaburras, dingos and koalas, and at the last minuted, I was lucky enough to get face-to-face with a Tasmanian devil! Even better, the wallaroos (smaller kangaroos) came up to the fence and I was able to pet one. But best of all, I wandered back into the hospital showroom which was empty except for me, and saw a tech and a vet examining a parrot-like bird. The tech noticed I was showing an interest, and actually invited me back! She showed me the radiographs of the bird's broken wing, and where it would be kept for the night, a nice little I.C.U. compartment. It really made my day, and I went home much happier than if I had left two hours earlier!
Today I took it easier, just wandering downtown Melbourne, from the "docklands" harbor on one side, up to the huge Queen Victoria Market, which is supposed to be a great outdoor market, but was closed today. I've already become an expert on the city train system, and can hop on & off with no problems now. I keep winding up back here in Federation Square, (named for when Australia officially became a country, not for anything from Star Trek, sorry Ween), where they seem to be the only place in town with free internet.

Yes, I'm learning ways to save money, which is neccessary if I'm going to be able to last through the summer in Europe. For instance, my hotel (hostel, really) includes breakfast; but not only can I eat then, but I can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to have for lunch. Those breakfasts are also where I get those "crumbs" to feed the birds-- what, did you think I bought it?? I'm eating less, as I'm trying to (finally!) lose the belly. And eating no meat is surely helping not only my wallet but my cholesterol. All in all, I feel better and I'm discovering lots of wonderful dishes that I never would have dreamed of trying just a few months ago. Vegetable burritos, for example, are just as tasty as meat ones, and healthier-- for me, as well as for other animals.
I've also started realizing that you don't always have to pay admission to museums and such here; the art museum in Canberra, for instance. I went in, but had to use the bathroom, so I went in that before buying a ticket. Outside the exit was... the Chinese exhibit.... which led to the Impressionist Hall... etc. Overall it wasn't that great anyway, so I'm glad I saved the twenty bucks. I've also seen people walk into train stations without paying; I haven't had the courage to do that yet, but as they're pretty cheap, there's really no need.
So that's it for now; tomorrow I fly down to Hobart, the capital of the state of Tasmania. It's supposed to be more woodsy & wild, like New Zealand. We'll see; check back here in a few days for my final Australia installment. After that, it's on to Asia, where things really get strange!

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