Posts Tagged Melbourne

Airline Rankings Around the World

We ended up flying on 8 different airlines during our 30/40 World Tour, since we booked our flights individually.  Below is our ranking of airlines from best to worst.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive study; it’s merely our impressions from the economy flights we experienced during the summer of 2011.

View over New Zealand

View from our flight over New Zealand

  1. Air Emirates (Mauritius to Dubai; Dubai to Munich)
  2. Air New Zealand (Auckland to Nouméa)
  3. American Airlines (DC to LA)
  4. United Airlines (Madrid to DC)
  5. Qantas Airways (Nouméa to Sydney)
  6. Air Mauritius (Melbourne to Mauritius)
  7. Air Pacific (LA to Fiji; Fiji to Auckland)
  8. Air Berlin (Munich to Barcelona)

To learn the price of each of these flights (ranging from $137 to $946 per person), see the previous post on the cost of our trip.  But price did not directly correlate with a positive experience on an airline.

Air Emirates

Air Emirates flight attendants

The signature red hat and sweeping scarf of the Air Emirates flight attendants

We were so impressed with our Air Emirates flights.  The uniform of the flight attendants with the red hat and sweeping white scarf is quite striking and exotic.  When we first boarded, I wondered about the practicality of such an outfit.  But after we were airborne, the hats came off.

The Air Emirates food was delicious.  I’m sure you’re laughing about delicious airplane food, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t eaten hot food on an airplane in years!

The personalized entertainment screens for each seat were the best of all of our flights.  The screens were the biggest of any airline and provided on-demand entertainment options including movies and games.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand was another of our favorite airlines.  Their economy seats were beautifully passenger centric.  The back of each seat had a drink pouch that fit my water bottle perfectly.  It’s so easy and obvious, but I’ve never seen it on another airline.  I usually have to stuff my bottle into the magazine compartment, which forces the whole pocket wide open and takes up far more space in already cramped quarters.

We also loved the personal entertainment screens for each seat, and both watched Cedar Rapids at our own pace.  I started my movie slightly earlier than Mr. HalfFull, so I was pre-laughing at all the funny parts.  Finally, he asked me to pause so that he could catch up and we could laugh together!

I think it’s wonderful when airlines let you play and pause your own movie.  You can sleep when you like, use the restroom whenever, and still catch the full movie.  It’s so nice to be in control!

American, United & Qantas

I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about American Airlines, United Airlines, or Qantas Airways.  I’m also not married to that specific order.  All the flights were fine; nothing stood out to me positively or negatively, so they are all nestled in the middle of my list.

Air Mauritius

Air Mauritius only issues paper tickets.  Enough said!

Air Pacific

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Air Pacific ranks toward the bottom of the list because of their carry-on policy.  We specifically purchased our bags to be compliant with carry-on size restrictions.  But we had no idea that Air Pacific also has a weight restriction for carry-on bags.

I’ve never had my carry-on bag put on a scale.  But our bags turned out to be too heavy, and we were forced to check them.  I think this may have been because it was a double-decker plane which required more attention to avoid being top-heavy.

I don’t particularly mind checking my bags if I don’t get charged an extra fee.  But the problem was that we had packed with the intention of carrying our bags, meaning that we had our rain jackets rolled on the outside and other items clipped to the outside of the bags.  It’s stressful to repack a bag at the ticket counter with a line of people staring me down for being ill-prepared, especially when I thought I was perfectly prepared!

The other problem with Air Pacific is that they don’t have a regular counter in the LAX airport, so we couldn’t check in when we arrived from Washington, DC.  We we returned to the airport hours later, the line was frustratingly long and we didn’t get the seats we wanted.

Air Berlin

AirBerlin plane

Air Berlin was our least favorite airline of the 30/40 World Tour

Our original plan was to travel via train through Europe on a Eurail pass.  But for our specific plans, it wasn’t cost-effective or a good use of our time.  So we decided to book a budget flight from Germany to Spain.  It was our worst flight of the trip.

It included our only airport layover and our only flight delay.  Double whammy!  Plus, the children on the flight were unbearable and my sandwich was inedible.

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.  Perhaps our recent awesome flights on Air Emirates skewed our judgement.

 

  • What’s your favorite airline?
  • Have you had a delicious airplane meal?
  • Do you know of another airline that still only uses paper tickets?
  • Have you had a carry-on bag weighed?

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Coffee Around the World

Mr. HalfFull got his photo op around the world. Now it’s time for mine.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I drink coffee.  In fact, when I ventured around the world on the 30/40 World Tour:  Quest for Passion, I found that my passions are coffee and napping.  I learned this through various opportunities to enjoy them and be deprived of them.  Undoubtedly, coffee and napping are essential to my life.  Deep, I know.

Let’s take a photo tour of my coffee encounters around the world…

Capitol Grounds lattes

I was armed with a latte from Capitol Grounds on my very first flight out of Washington, DC.

Fiji, our first country on the 30/40 World Tour, was not coffee aficionado friendly.  At our first coffee stop, they tried to tell me that Coke was just like coffee!

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Much of my time in Fiji was spent on primitive islands with instant coffee.  Quelle horreur!

I didn’t get real coffee until our final night in Fiji when we checked into Sofitel and I had an amazing cappuccino.

My coffee experience in New Zealand was the complete opposite of Fiji. New Zealand has the most coffee roasters per capita of any country in the world.  They take their coffee culture very seriously; even gas stations have espresso machines with baristas, and no one serves drip coffee.

Coffee @ Mecca Stonehouse

My first full day in New Zealand included a latte (and internet time) at Mecca Stonehouse in Mission Bay outside Auckland.

Blogging in Paihia

I seem to always have coffee while on the netbook, including here at Paihia wharf.

Volcanic Latte

We learned that coffee drinks come from volcanoes at the museum in New Plymouth.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

I even had a coffee in hand outside the Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

Circa Theater

Later that same day when we went to see a show at Circa Theater, just across from the museum, I had another coffee.  Zoom to see me drinking it.

New Zealand was perhaps the best coffee country on the 30/40 World Tour, but the French-speaking countries like New Caledonia weren’t bad either.

Café Malongo in Nouméa

While waiting in line at Café Malongo in Nouméa, I considered my espresso order.

Change in Nouméa

After using bills to buy coffee, we count our change in Nouméa.

Coffee at Le Surf Hotel

Once again enjoying coffee with a side of internet at our hotel in New Caledonia.

Coffee School

When we reached Sydney, Australia, I considered joining coffee school, but decided I didn’t have enough time.

Australian Parliament

I brought a cup of joe with me to the Australian Parliament Building in Canberra.  They wouldn’t let me bring it inside, but I had no problem devouring it quickly!

Phamish in St. Kilda

The coffee drink and coffee netbook seemed to pair well at a restaurant called Phamish in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Heidelberg Train Station

After visiting our new Australian friends in Heidelberg (another suburb of Melbourne), I waited for the train with coffee in hand.

Latte Art in Melbourne

Loving the latte art at a café in Melbourne before our flight to Mauritius.

Turkish Coffee in Dubai

Enjoying turkish coffee in Dubai with Sir Expat

Coffee in German Biergarten

Coffee in a German biergarten on Lake Starnberg with my cousins. Yes, I know you usually drink beer in a biergarten, but we had done plenty of that the night before!  Don’t I look just like a beermaid, but with coffee and less cleavage?

Coffee @ Marianplatz

Any time of day is a good time for coffee — even late night at Marianplatz in Munich.

Lunch @ Barcelo Sants

A cappuccino complemented my 3rd course of lunch nicely at our hotel in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Do you try to limit your coffee intake?
  • What things/actions are essential to your life?
  • Do you have any coffee location recommendations for me?

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Into Africa (Sort Of)

Getting to Mauritius, an African island nation off the coast of Madagascar, was an ordeal that started back in Australia. Mr. HalfFull researched airport transportation and discovered a direct bus to the airport with a pickup location near our hotel. This seemed like a great option until we learned that our hotel offered an airport shuttle for less than the bus. What a great deal – no walking with luggage AND a lower price!

But as we’ve learned time and again on the 30/40 World Tour – you get what you pay for!

The shuttle did, in fact, pick us up at our hotel on time. But this was not a direct shot to the airport. Instead, the shuttle was also transporting a family from the airport to their hotel. So we dropped them off and thought, “Okay, we’re off to the airport now!”

Not so fast.

Melbourne

Skyline in Melbourne

The shuttle proceeded to make more stops to pick up passengers heading to the airport. During this circuitous journey, we passed by our hotel AGAIN! Then we stopped at a hostel to pick up two young girls who weren’t ready. With each stop, we got more nervous that we wouldn’t make our flight on time, despite having left our hotel with plenty of time.

Mr. HalfFull was livid on the shuttle ride, especially when he noticed that we were heading away from the airport. He almost blew his lid when we passed by our hotel the second time. But it was me, Ms. HalfEmpty, who tried to help him see the bright side of things! I pointed out that we were getting a nice drive-by tour of Melbourne – parts we had not seen – enroute to the airport. How’s that for role reversal?

After the most circuitous shuttle ride, I endured the longest plane ride of my life (almost 12 hours)!  I didn’t think a long flight would be a problem for me, but I was so ready to disembark after the first 8 hours. Also, this flight was during the day. Even though I’m an expert napper, you can really only sleep for so long before it’s no longer a nap.

When we arrived in Mauritius, it wasn’t very late in the evening, but it was already starting to get dark since it was the winter season in the southern hemisphere. We knew we had about an hour ride from the airport to our 4.5 star hotel (50% discount in the off-season!) on the beach. This turned out to be another crazy drive.

It was too late for a shuttle, so we grabbed a taxi; a harrowing ride ensued! Our driver had no qualms about passing vehicles with oncoming traffic on narrow roads. He also spoke on his cell phone for much of the ride, and was often not in his lane. Plus, we were moving fast!

La Palmeraie at Night

Nighttime view of the overflowing pool at La Palmeraie

Thankfully, we survived the taxi ride, although that fate seemed uncertain several times on the ride. We arrived at a beautiful Moroccan-inspired resort – La Palmeraie Boutique Hotel. I felt under-dressed and yucky from the plane ride. Plus, this wasn’t really a hotel where the normal clientele carried duffel bags.

Room @ La Palmeraie

Flower petals and a letter on our bed at La Palmeraie

As soon as we arrived, they greeted us with a refreshing local drink and chatted with us in the lobby. Despite our attire, our money was still green (or multicolored, as the case may be). I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived in our room and found flower petals on the bed, a personalized letter from the director of the hotel, and flowers in a vase. The little touches made us feel extra special.

We were gearing up for a relaxing week on a continent (Africa) and an ocean (Indian Ocean) new to both of us. After weeks of being on the move, I was looking forward to sleeping in the same bed for 7 consecutive nights! Check back to hear about our experiences in Mauritius.

  • In your experience, do shuttle drivers do a good job of scheduling pickups to create a direct route to the airport?
  • Do you and your spouse ever switch roles?
  • How long was your longest flight?
  • Describe your most harrowing taxi ride.
  • Have you been impressed with a hotel experience?

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Adventures in Aussie Art

Cow in Tree

I think this upside-down cow in the tree is supposed to be art, but I'm not sure.


Melbourne is a bit of an eclectic town.  Whereas Sydney seems more business-like with pinstripe suits in abundance, Melbourne is for artists in jeans.

We saw some strange stuff in Melbourne.  I think they call it art.  For example, take the upside-down cow in the tree along the waterfront.

Dinosaur in Melbourne

Ms. HalfEmpty is attacked by a dinosaur on the mean streets of Melbourne.

We also encountered a dinosaur in this area.  I was a bit scared.  But I really should have been quite well prepared for this.

Do you remember when Mr. HalfFull and I almost visited Natural Bridge in Virginia?  (We didn’t make it past the Visitor Center, but that’s another story.)  We also saw an open-mouthed dinosaur there.  But that one seemed slightly more tame since it was ridden by a cowboy.

Come to think of it, we also saw a dinosaur in Sydney.  But this one was next to a welcome sign.  So the juxtaposition of the fangs and the welcome sign made it seem slightly less menacing.

Dinosaur in Sydney

Mr. HalfFull welcomed by a dinosaur in Sydney

I guess the fear appeal of dinosaurs is rather universal.

Okay, back to Melbourne.  This city is full of artsy people, including musicians.  We saw tons of advertisements for local bands.  I think you could see live music every night of the week!

While we were in town, so was the AC/DC musical.  Mr. HalfFull is a fan and convinced me this would be another fun theatrical experience to add to our 30/40 World Tour theater count.  Even though this was our seventh play of the 30/40 World Tour, it would be our first musical.

Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be Poster

Show poster that lured Mr. HalfFull

Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be — The Story of Bon Scott is advertised as a musical.  But to me it was more like a rock concert scattered with flecks of narration.  The “play” chronicled Bon Scott’s life from Scotland to Australia.  This included his bands before AC/DC, most of which I had never heard of.  The early music was unfamiliar to me, but I did know most of the AC/DC songs.  The majority of the audience was older and probably remembered Bon Scott from their rock n’ roll party days.

I am keenly aware of kinesthetics and pay particular attention to how actors and musicians move.  The guys on stage moved well and seemed very comfortable as musicians since they are rockers in real life.  However, the lead who played Bon Scott was a bit awkward in his movements.  But I guess he was attractive enough to make up for it.

Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be show

The rock concert part of the "play" (Credit: Marty Williams)

I was disappointed because I was expecting a play, not a rock concert.  When the focus is on the music, rather than acting and choreography, I don’t find it very visually interesting.  I’m not opposed to concerts, they just aren’t as appealing to me.

I think the rest of the audience knew what to expect.  They were completely into the music from their heyday.  They were reliving their youth — alcohol and tattoos in abundance.  They probably felt the opposite of me and could have done without the narration!

Our final day in Australia was spent experiencing the artsy side of Melbourne — cow, dinosaur, and play rock concert included.  Stay tuned for our adventures in Mauritius next.

  • What art has caught your eye abroad?
  • Have you noticed an abundance of dinosaurs while traveling?
  • Do you prefer straight plays or musicals?  
  • Would you enjoy a narrated rock concert?  
  • Do you prefer theater or concerts?  Do you think it’s because you are more visual or auditory?

All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

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Mr. HalfFull’s Beautiful Day

It’s almost been a year since Ms. HalfEmpty and I packed our tiny duffels and journeyed west around the world.  People still ask us, “What was your favorite thing?”  As we’ve learned through numerous attempts, it is simply impossible to tell our story of last summer in any reasonable amount of time. These blog posts capture the basics, but still seem to barely skim the surface.  That said, for me there was one day of the entire world tour that was probably my favorite.

Like any good story, this one requires a touch of background — in this case, the conclusion of our stay in Nouméa.  You see, New Caledonia’s Tontouta International Airport is located 51 km north of Anse Vata beach where we stayed, requiring shuttle transfer from our hotel/casino.  Our shuttle van was piloted by a crusty old French woman who drove sans concern for human safety.  We found ourselves stuffed into a rickety van, serendipitously sandwicheried behind a lovely Australian girl and her mum.  Perhaps to keep her mind off imminent death in a fiery crash, Ms. HalfFull uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with the Aussies squished in front of her.  By the time we all checked in for the same flight to Sydney, friends were made and e-mail addresses exchanged.  Hopefully we’d cross paths in a few weeks on the outskirts of Melbourne where they lived.

Heidelberg Train Station

Ms. HalfEmpty @ the Heidelberg train station

Fast forward through Sydney, a bus safari, and a few tears. We find ourselves stepping on to the platform of gorgeous Flinders Street Station with tickets outbound on the Hurstbridge railway line destined for the northeast suburbs of Melbourne.  As luck would have it, the train preparing for immediate departure was an express with a stop in Heidelberg, where Ms. HalfEmpty’s new Aussie friend planned meet us with her boyfriend. We ensued on a drive west into the Yarra Valley for a bit of sight-seeing and wine tasting!

Note to reader: at this point, feel free to quietly play Eels’ “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” in the background whilst reading the remainder of this post.

We hadn’t traveled by private car since New Zealand, so it felt almost luxurious to be chauffeured for the nearly one hour road trip from the ‘burbs into picturesque countryside that oddly reminded me of wine country here in Virginia. In this brief time, I was already smitten with the Aussie boyfriend who reminded me so much of my dear friend who’d married us a few years ago. As a couple, they were brilliant tour guides.

View of Melbourne

View of Melbourne from top of lookout tower

We pulled into a quaint, wooded parking lot that could maybe fit 10 cars or so. They were hoping the sky would clear so we could see Melbourne from one of the Yarra Ranges National Park lookout towers. We learned these towers play an important role in the early detection of fire. Anyhow, I’ll let the image we took up there speak for itself, but it was one of those moments when you feel lucky to be alive.

Wine Tasting at Chandon

Ms. HalfEmpty tasting a flight of white wines with our brilliant tour guides

Next stop, vineyards! We started out at Chandon, probably the most well-known winery in the region. To avoid the throng of tourists at the free tasting bar, I suggested we sample a range of white and sparkling wines at their Greenpoint Tasting Bar. Although the atmosphere was a tad corporate, we had a fun time with our Aussie friends and bartender. For you sparkling wine fans out there, grab a bottle of Chandon Z*D Blanc de Blancs if you stumble across it.

Punt Road Winery

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoying wine with our Aussie friends near Punt Road's pétanque court

The next stop was our amazing Aussie hosts’ favorite Yarra Valley vineyard: Punt Road Wines. I’m not sure where to start. Suffice it to say I felt like the cosmic tumblers of the universe had all fallen into place. Brilliant new friends. Delicious wines, especially their Pinot Noir. Friendly, yet knowledgeable bartenders. Tasty snacks that perfectly complemented their wines. A few other like-minded strangers up for a fun time filling out the tasting area, giving the room just enough energy. Even solid background music.

Samples turned into glasses. Glasses turned into bottles…leading to one of my most enjoyable conversations of 2011. I learned why you would never want to be nicknamed “FIGJAM” and why Aussies begin their answers to many questions with the words “Yeah, no.” By the time we were done out on Punt Road’s wine garden, our friends had become members of Punt Road Wines’ Punters Club!

Kangaroo Steaks

Mr. HalfFull finds kangaroo steaks in the grocery store (nestled between the ham and the chicken)

During our conversation an epiphany hit me that Ms. HalfEmpty’s personality was Kiwi, while mine was Aussie. Our hosts were interested in our trip and especially what we thought of Australia so far. I said my only regret during our time in Oz was that it didn’t seem likely we were going to be able to taste kangaroo steak. Our friends looked at me like I was crazy, noting that we could stop by the grocery store on the way home and pick up a few!

On top of being amazing hosts, it seems our friends were amateur chefs as well. I didn’t realize how much we missed the simplicity of a home-cooked meal. So my favorite day culminated with a scrumptious meal at our friend’s home back in Heidelberg: fresh steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, and seared kangaroo steak. It was delicious, and apparently benefited the Australian environment.

We settled in to the couch after dessert for a recorded episode of one of our friend’s favorite British television shows. I don’t remember much about it due to wine and kangaroo euphoria.

Katie's House

Ms. HalfEmpty bids farewell to our gracious host's Heidelberg house the next morning

She graciously offered her guest house. Apparently some people have to work, so we woke up to an empty house. The kitchen was a mess from the previous night, so we gave it a thorough cleaning before letting ourselves out.

I will never forget that beautiful day, and hopefully one day we’ll be able to repay the hospitality when our friends get the opportunity to visit us here in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

  • Do you have a hard time picking a favorite day/experience to share with friends after traveling?
  • Do you find yourself talking to strangers more easily when death could be imminent?
  • Do you enjoy wine tasting?
  • Have you learned interesting slang while traveling?
  • What exotic food did you try that was commonplace for locals?
  • Would you offer your house to people you met on a shuttle in a foreign country during your vacation?
  • What would you show foreigners who come to visit you?


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Highs and Lows Come and Go

On our 30/40 World Tour, we would typically book our accommodation before we arrived in a new location. However, on the Oz Experience bus tour, we didn’t have much downtime to do research online. Because of the mechanical problems, we usually arrived at our hotel/hostel late and were so excited to have a bed for stretched out sleep. (Sleeping on a bus can get a bit cramped.) We also had to wake up early to cover the mileage the next morning, so neither the evenings or mornings gave us much time to surf.

Melbourne

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull in downtown Melbourne

Everyone else on the bus tour had a reservation in Melbourne – even the backpacker teenagers! (I wonder if their moms booked it.) So Squatter made the rounds through Melbourne dropping people off at their various hostels. After my two nights on the tour, I knew I wanted a nicer place to stay. So we got off at the last stop and started walking toward St. Kilda.

We were tired and hungry at this point, which is not a great combo for a traveler with no idea where she is going and a heavy pack on her back. I don’t do so well with the unknown, especially under those circumstances. Mr. HalfFull often reminds me to live my way into the answers and embrace the unknown. But it’s so hard! I like to have a plan and direction.

Our goal was to find a restaurant with free wifi where we could eat and book a hotel like hobos with all our luggage. Even though we traveled light, I still found it a little embarrassing to have so much stuff at a nice restaurant. But they were super gracious at Phamish café and didn’t seem to mind. We were “phamished” so we ordered the sampler appetizer, which turned out to be a huge platter with all sorts of foodie deliciousness. It was quite a contrast from eating powdered eggs.

We didn’t find a lot of reasonable accommodation options in St. Kilda. There were a couple of fancy hotels, but they were rather pricey. I was leery of sketchy places after our last two nights, but reluctantly I consented to a hostel called The Coffee Place. I think its name and color scheme was the only reason I thought it might be okay.

When we arrived, I wasn’t so sure. It was basically run by kids playing video games. In other words, it could have been a frat house. I’m too old for this!

We went up to our room by climbing several flights of stairs. The door wasn’t secure like a front door; it was more like a lightweight bedroom door. Inside everything was clean, but very sparse. There was almost no furniture aside from the bed. However, there was one small built-in shelf with a coffee maker – after all, it was The Coffee Palace.

After seeing the room, I lost it. This was no palace. The tears streamed down my cheeks. There was really nothing wrong with the room; it was fully functional, clean, and spacious. I think I was just exhausted from the bus tour; I didn’t get my afternoon naps or sleep-in time in the mornings! Plus, I was an introvert on a bus full of people for three days. I was drained from all the interaction. I guess six weeks of being on the move left me feeling rather half empty – maybe even completely empty.

Phamish cafe

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoying cappuccino at Phamish café

We enjoyed Phamish café so much that we went back there for breakfast the next morning. I had a cappuccino and internet time…I was back baby! Plus, we were staying at The Coffee Palace for two nights, so I wasn’t lugging my bag around this time, and knew where I would be sleeping that night.

Mr. HalfFull loves sports; I become a football widow during the NFL season. We actually got married on a bye weekend for his football team! He also loves college basketball, and once again goes missing during March Madness. So he was super excited to have the opportunity to witness Aussie rules football in person.

It was game day, so we walked to the train station and were surprised that there were no ticket kiosks. A person on the platform informed us that you could buy tickets on the train. This seemed strange to us, but obviously we knew nothing about public transportation in Melbourne. So we boarded the train and found the ticket machine. We soon learned that the ticket machine only takes coins. What does an ATM not give you? Coins!

So we had no coins and couldn’t buy tickets; I felt like a fugitive. Hopefully, they would let us play the dumb American card. We really did have the best of intentions!

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Mr. HalfFull looking for tickets outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Finally, we arrived downtown at the enormous stadium that seats over 100,000 people. We were about to engage in some more illegal activity. We didn’t have tickets and were scouring the crowd outside the stadium looking for scalpers. We knew the game was a huge local rivalry between Carlton and Collingwood and thus, was sold out.

We didn’t find the shady people Mr. HalfFull was seeking, so we headed to the club ticket counter. The woman informed us that indeed the game was sold out, but she told us to look for scalpers and warned us not to pay more than face value. An employee advised us to seek out scalpers! Is scalping not illegal in Melbourne?

We walked all the way around the stadium with no luck. Mr. HalfFull didn’t seem so half full and resigned himself to the fact that we weren’t getting into the game. Then he spotted a guy with long hair, facial hair, tattoos, and rings on every finger. He looked like the type of guy you didn’t want to fight. Mr. HalfFull thought he might be a scalper. We hung around to listen to his conversation and learned that he too was looking for tickets.

Stadium Family

Ms. HalfEmpty in the MCG stadium with the side of the family who supports the Carlton Blues

Our chances seemed pretty much exhausted when I overheard the conversation of a family nearby. They were talking about how it was too bad that “those two” couldn’t come. What? Two tickets?

So I butted into their circle and asked if they had two extra tickets. They did, but they were tickets for children. Bummer!

Stadium Family

Mr. HalfFull with the other brother who's a fan of the Collingwood Magpies

We started walking away when they said, “But we aren’t going to use them, so you’re welcome to try. Just walk in with us and be our kids for the day! There’s no harm in trying.” I didn’t know what the penalty was for using the wrong age-group ticket, but we had already ridden the train illegally, so what the heck! Weren’t the Australians descendants of criminals anyway? (Kids, this is why they tell you not to smoke because it’s just a gateway to more and more.)

The tickets worked and we all got in! The introvert had accosted strangers in a foreign country to fulfill Mr. HalfFull’s dream. It was amazing.

Inside MCG

Watching Aussie football inside MCG stadium

The stadium was huge and circular, unlike our oblong stadiums. It was impressive to watch these super fit athletes play with no padding. There was a lot of leg to tantalize the ladies. Plus, there were no big bellies like in the NFL. Even the referees were super fit.

The family we sat with explained the rules to us; they were so much fun. We tried to pay them for the tickets and buy them beers, but they didn’t want anything. They even emailed us a few days later to ask if we wanted to grab “a pot.” After looking that up online, I learned that it’s beer, not tea.

Meat Pie

Sampling meat pie at the stadium

We knew that meat pies are an Aussie football stadium staple. Even after our disappointment with pies in Sydney, we tried the stadium fare. It was okay. I guess they can’t make them like the flaky pastries in New Zealand because it needs to be self-contained and more spill-proof for the stadium.

Red Stitch Theater

Ms. HalfEmpty at Red Stitch Theater

That evening we had tickets to see a play called My Romantic History at Red Stitch theater. It was a super cute playhouse. Much of the play took place in the bathroom and the set consisted of three bathroom stalls. That brought our live theater count to six on the 30/40 World Tour.

Mr. HalfFull got his football and I got my theater. It was a good day all around, especially considering the tears the night before.

  • Do you make reservations before you arrive or wing it?
  • How do you handle the unknown? Are you able to relax and let things unfold?
  • Did you have a breaking point while traveling? What helped you get over it?
  • Have you broken the rules while traveling?
  • If you are not normally a sports fan, do you still think it would be interesting to witness in a foreign country?
  • Have you been surprised by the kindness of strangers?

Related:  All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

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1 Bus, 3 Days, 1000 Kilometers

Oz Experience Bus

Squatter walking back to the Oz Experience bus, which acquired quite a bit of dirt along the journey

Australia is a big country.  We knew we couldn’t see it all on our schedule, so we chose a small part.  We flew into Sydney, and knew we were flying out of Melbourne.  So Mr. HalfFull decided that it would be fun to see the part in between from the ground, and booked us on an Oz Experience bus tour.

Squatter

Squatter breaking for lunch after our hike to the summit on the final day

Our driver was an ex-military officer named Squatter.  Even though he currently owns his own house, I think he got the name from squatting at his mom’s house too long.  Anyway, he was a great storyteller and made the ride a lot of fun.

We arrived early at the meeting point in Sydney.  Everyone was just hanging around outside the bus, so we decided to get coffee.  It turned out to be a fairly complicated street to cross with inconvenient crosswalks and fast traffic.  By the time we got back, everyone had selected their seats on the bus.  One side had double seats and the other side had single seats.  Of course, most of the singles had reserved double seats for themselves in the front of the bus.  Mr. HalfFull and I wanted to sit together, so we were relegated to a double all the way in the back.  This was not a good start!

Australian Capital Territory road sign

Our whole bus group posing for a photo on the side of the highway

One of the first stops was on the side of the highway.  I was quite confused.  Was the bus broken?  Did someone need to pee?  No, Squatter thought it was a good photo-op with the Australian Captial Territory sign.  He gathered all our cameras as we huddled and shivered behind the sign.

Oz Experience bus on highway

Walking back down the hill to the bus on the side of the highway

Then he commenced talking about Australian war history. I suppose this was interesting to him because of his military background, but I was beginning to wonder if he ever talked about anything else.

As we slowed down in the capital city of Canberra, the bus repeatedly stalled at low speeds in traffic circles.  I was not impressed.  Already I was in the last seat listening to war stories… and now the bus didn’t even work properly!

War Memorial

Red flowers next to the names of the fallen at the War Memorial in Canberra

I soon learned why Squatter was telling us so much about wars.  Our first stop in Canberra was the Australian War Memorial, which is also a museum inside.  Mr. HalfFull enjoyed the exhibits, but I’m not a huge fan of museums.  So a museum about war wasn’t my cup of joe, but I could appreciate that it was a beautiful memorial building.

Canberra

View of a Canberra promenade from the War Memorial

Canberra was a strange city.  Apparently the citizens in Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t agree on which city would be the capital, so they created Canberra as the capital in between.  Canberra is a planned city (actually designed by Americans).  Rather than the usual grid of streets, Canberra follows a wheel and spoke model, so all the main promenades flow into the center of town.  These wide streets are huge and seemed strangely empty.  But Squatter said they were designed for the influx of millions of people for celebrations.  The normal population is much smaller; plus many of the ministers of Parliament don’t even live there full time.

Old Parliament

Old Parliament House with Aboriginal Embassy on the lawn including the word "SOVEREIGNTY"

Our next destination was the Old Parliament House.  When Parliament was in session here, the Aboriginals set up a tent city on the lawn across the street to demand their own embassy.  The tent city has become their embassy, but must be manned to remain so.  Squatter warned us not to take photos of them because it might start a fight.  I didn’t actually see any people at the camp and we took our photos from across the lawn, so I guess that’s okay.  It reminds me a bit of the Occupy DC camps that were recently dismantled.  However, the Aboriginal Embassy had a lot more green space and fewer tents (and no expensive name-brand camping gear; it was pretty decrepit).

Australian Parliament

Ms. HalfEmpty sips coffee in front of Parliament House in Canberra

Queen at Parliament House

British lad on our tour kissing the statue of the queen at Parliament House

After seeing the Old Parliament, we were off to the current Parliament building.  Squatter gave us a tour of the inside and made sure to add a lurid detail about each political figure as we passed his/her portrait.  The design for the building was selected through a worldwide architecture contest.  While the final result is impressive, it’s not terribly practical.  The flag that flies 81 meters high gets so tattered in the wind that it must be replaced every 2 or 3 weeks at great expense.  On our tour, Squatter dared the 18-year-old lad from the UK to cross the ropes and kiss the statue of the queen.  As he knew (and Michelle Obama learned), you can’t touch the queen!  Shortly thereafter, our group was reprimanded by a security guard.

Australia

View from the bus

The rest of our day was spent driving to our overnight accommodation.  After the decrepit nature of the bus, I was rather worried about where we would be staying.  But as we pulled up, I saw the word “hotel” and was relieved it wasn’t a hostel.  I already knew that we paid extra to have a private room, rather than be in a dorm-style hostel.  But if they had both types of accommodations at the same location, I figured I would be roughing it a bit.

Snowy River

At least the hotel had a nice view of Snowy River

I was right.  This was unlike any “hotel” I’ve ever encountered. We did have a private room, but it was so tiny.  It was basically just big enough for the bed and to swing the door open.  At the foot of the bed was a bookcase.  When I say at the foot of the bed, I mean touching the mattress so that the lower shelves were inaccessible.  This also made the far side of the bed inaccessible without crawling over your companion.  There was a small TV on top of the tall bookcase — far too high to watch.  It was plugged into the cable outlet, but not electricity.  So I brought it down and looked for an outlet.  There was only one, but the cord didn’t reach that far.  I had no idea why they had this TV in the room since it was unusable in the current setup.  We also shared a bathroom with the other room in our block.  Unfortunately for us, it was a dorm style room with 10 people!  The bathroom was a single toilet, single sink, and single shower all behind a single door — such a poor design for so many people.  Our dinner and breakfast were included in the “hotel” dining room mess hall.  Dinner wasn’t so bad, but breakfast was terrible.  They served military style powder eggs.  I was glad when our night was over!

Remember how I told you that the bus was stalling at low speeds in Canberra?  It continued to do this all day.  There was another Oz Experience busload staying at the same “hotel.”  That group was doing the reverse of our trip and would end up in Sydney, the location of the fleet’s mechanic.  So we switched buses with them and were on our way.  I wonder how they fared with the stalling bus.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would become very important for us to have an operable bus for the terrain we would encounter the next day.

Toboggan Hike

Mr. HalfFull with his toboggan in search of a sledding hill

The “hotel” was mostly inhabited by skiers and boarders since it was at the base of a mountain.  We drove up to the ski area, but only had an hour, so it wasn’t enough time to actually ski — super disappointing!  Instead, we rented toboggans and practiced our most daring sledding moves.

Sledding

Looks like Mr. HalfFull found some snow. Did he leave any for the other kids???

We were a little out of control standing on the toboggans.  But it’s not our fault they don’t steer well!  There were only a few close calls with small children, but we didn’t take any out.  Although, we did see some of them take their friends out.  The real problem was that no one was telling the children not to walk up the middle of the hill where the sledders should be.  We tried to set a good example by walking up the sides, but the children never followed us.

Weighing Options

Mr. HalfFull weighs his options (with two rocks) in the wilderness. Don't fall in!

Back on the bus, our next adventure led us to remote mountainous roads that require a special driver’s license.  These are narrow dirt roads with curves and cliffs — no guard rails.  It was rather exciting at times.  (My mom would have been screaming.)

Squatter & Friends

A koala and other furry friends help Squatter drive the bus through harsh terrain

We stopped periodically to admire the landscape and take photos.  After one such stop, we all piled back on the bus.  But the bus wouldn’t go.

Apparently, there is a safety feature that if the door is ajar, you can’t accelerate.  So Squatter asked the person near the door to shut it.  This shutting process went on for minutes.  There were gentle closes and hard slams, but nothing seemed to allow the bus to accelerate.  Squatter was able to override this safety feature by using the hand brake.  But he knew he couldn’t drive like that for hours on these roads.

Tinkle Tour

Mr. HalfFull goes in search of a tree to tinkle behind

This location was so remote that there is no cell phone service.  So in addition to requiring a special driver’s license, you are also required to carry a satellite phone.  Squatter set up the satellite phone and called the mechanic, who conveniently never answered.  Fortunately, a Mexican girl in her early 20s had similar problems with her old car back home.  She suggested that we remove the fuse to disable the door safety feature.  It worked!

After getting back on the road, the microphone started acting up.  Squatter spent much of the trip telling us great stories about what we were seeing, and also about his experiences working with Aboriginal kids.  So the microphone was essential.

Fixing the Microphone

Squatter breaks out the toolbox to fix the microphone

The microphone was also essential for another reason — making sure all parties were on the bus.  Squatter told us a story about a previous trip where  a guy went into the woods to “hide an Easter egg.”  This trip included two buses with every seat filled, but no one bothered to do an actual count of passengers when they departed that particular stop.  The guy in the woods had been sitting in the back of the bus (I feel his pain) and no one alerted the driver that he was missing.  Apparently, this guy heard the bus engines start, which made him start running with his pants around his ankles and “Easter egg” all over.  He did not catch the bus, and the drivers didn’t realize he was gone until much later.

So on our trip, we would check in on the teams from each country.  Squatter, would ask for Team Germany and the two German girls would respond.  Team Mexico consisted of one girl.  Team Canada sat directly in front of us on the bus and consisted of a 30-something woman, her boyfriend, and her parents.  Team America was me and Mr. HalfFull.  When Squatter would call out, “Team America?” the Canadians thought it was hilarious to scream, “F*@# yeah!” in response.

For a while, Mr. HalfFull abandoned me to go sit up front and hold the microphone wire for Squatter so it wouldn’t be jostled on the rough roads.  Eventually that workaround was no longer effective and Squatter broke out the toolbox, and I got my husband back as a travel companion and seat pillow.

Remember that I told you about my applicator-less tampon experience?  It happened on this day of the journey out there in the middle of nowhere.  But at least there was a port-a-potty with toilet paper, and I didn’t have to use a tree for cover like Mr. HalfFull.

Dirty Bus

Ms. HalfEmpty is incredulous reading the message on the back window of the bus: "I wish my girlfriend was this dirty!!"

It was a dusty, bumpy journey and the bus certainly looked like it.  Remember the British bloke from above who kissed the queen?  He also decided to leave a note in the back window of our bus.  (See photo at left.)

Kangaroo & Joey

A kangaroo with a joey in her pouch

The next day was the final leg of the bus tour and included my favorite part — kangaroos!  I had seen kangaroos twice on the trip so far, but those were only in passing as we drove by.  This time we were in a field of kangaroos.  We were so close; some people in our group even touched the tail of a kangaroo.  It was amazing to watch them spring into the air in person.

Emu

The emu posed for a photo

We also saw an emu in the same field.  It was impressively large, but at least it wasn’t so close that it towered over us.  It fled pretty quickly and I never saw another one, unlike the swarms of kangaroos that allowed us to close in.

Our final adventure of the bus trip was a hike in Wilsons Promontory.  At the summit, we had a picnic lunch on the rocks and enjoyed the view.  From our vantage point, we could see two oceans!

Australian Poop

Can you guess which is emu poop and which is kangaroo dung?

I complain a lot about conditions like the bus and the accommodations.  I’m just not that rugged, and I do enjoy my creature comforts.  But I know we couldn’t have done all of that on our own.  The number of hours behind the wheel was insane; I don’t know how Squatter does it.  But that also meant that we had to wake up early, so he could cover lots of territory.

Kangaroo & Emu Crossing

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull pose with the quintessential Australian roadsign

Three days was certainly enough for me, but there are people who take a series of these trips all the way across Australia and back.  In fact, the British lad did a 31 day tour across the United States!  I know that’s not my half empty cup of coffee, but we did have some great experiences and meet interesting people during our Oz Experience.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Where do you prefer to sit on the bus?
  • Do you ever stop on the side of the highway to take photos?
  • Do you enjoy war history?
  • Are you a fan of museums?
  • What do you think of the Aboriginal Embassy?  Does it remind you of Occupy DC?
  • Do you enjoy sledding as an adult?
  • Have you had vehicle issues while traveling?
  • What wildlife did you see while traveling?

Related:  All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

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