feet's adventures in oz pt 1
Finally found WiFi (free!) at Mickey D's of all places....
The flight from houston to LAX is fairly awful. The guy directly behind me is doused in cologne and sounds like he is trying to cough up a lung -- I want to turn around and accuse him of deliberately setting out to destroy my trip to the land down under by infecting me with whatever nasty bug he is carrying. I spend the next three hours attempting to breathe through a bevnap. As it turns out, this proves to be a largely ineffective means of protection...
The 15-hr flight to Melbourne isn’t bad at all. I have a window seat and no one in the seat next to me. The food is decent and the entertainment center has some good movies - I sleep a while, watch “The Duchess” and read about half of the book I picked up in LA (“Wicked” - which I really enjoyed, BTW and highly recommend.)
Arrival: Catch a cab to the apartment of Robert - my couchsurfing host. He is funny, chatty and a blast to be around -- just as his profile suggested. We deposit my luggage in his flat and head out for a stroll in his hood - inner city Melbourne -- a surprisingly un-innercity-like area featuring loads of open green space and formal English gardens. I had read that the drought here is extreme, but you sure wouldn’t know it by the gardens.
Dropped in to Federal square and the visitors center where I got some tour info. Had a beer and then walked some more. Cook’s cottage. More gardens. Another beer...
Back to Rob’s for a little telly and my first (and last) taste of vegemite - (glad I got that out of the way early!) Sleep for almost 12 hours on Rob’s “couch” (fully-dressed foam pad mattress in his computer room.)
Next morning we take off in his car stopping at a friend’s beach house where we meet up with a couple mates - let's call them Dan and Karen. The four of us take a nice long beach stroll to a waterfront restaurant for breakfast and I get to watch the local “Nippers” club in action. I gather the nippers is some sort of rite-of-passage beach kiddie thing. All the participants wear matching bathing caps though most of them don’t go anywhere near the water but engage in beach relays, etc.
We say our goodbyes and continue on to Frankston - about an hour’s drive from Rob’s - to see the “DinoStory” sculpture display that so many of my friends worked on. I get to meet Natasha, the Russian sculptor (now a Melbourne resident) who is giving workshops on site. She is really a delight and talented to boot.
We take a different route back to the city through a hilly and heavily-forested area where a musician friend of Rob’s and his bandmates are just finishing up a rehearsal. This guy has a music room with a life-size cardboard cutout of Jimmy Vaughn (making me feel right at home!) and tons of guitars and even a ukulele -- so I treat them to the quick version of the unlitter song (lucky blokes!;-) Lots of music talk on the shady outside deck - Kirk would have loved this crew - and then our host pops a CD into the outdoor music system and I can’t believe I am listening to none other than Robert Earl Keene who apparently has an Australian fanbase (wonder if he knows that?)
Back on the road we pull over at the Trestles bridge for a chance encounter with “Puffing Billy” - a famous steam engine (well, famous if you are a trainspotter, anyway.) Robert informs me that a “friend” is coming over that evening if I don’t mind and I assure him I can disappear no problem. At this point I am starting to feel like I am coming down with that nasty bug and want nothing more than to crawl in bed with my book and contemplate my immediate future and how being sick might affect it...
As it turns out, Stephania - another couchsurfer from Italy - is something more than just a “friend.” She in fact enjoyed her recent couchsurfing experience with Robert so much that she has unexpectedly returned - surprise! - to tell him he is the man for her. She plans to file for a visa so that she can marry him and bear his children. Fortunately Rob, who has struck me a someone fairly happy with his bachelorhood, doesn’t seem too put out by the idea. I wonder how I fit into this picture as clearly these two need some alone time and so offer to move to a motel if he can point me in the right direction. But he/they will have none of it. Has a mate with a spare room that he assures me I will be welcomed to use. Stephania and I spend a happy afternoon drowsing in the sunny park then we all head over for a pasta/tiramasu dinner at Theo’s place, where I am typing up this blog entry.
He has gone off to work leaving me with a cup of coffee, a set of keys and instructions to the nearest tram stop. I think I will see what St. Kilda's is like but the heat of the day hits me like a ton of bricks and I end up reading on the banks of the river Yarra under this tree until it just gets too hot... 37 = 100+!
God I feel lousy.
Tomorrow I have booked a day tour of the Great Ocean Road - a bit spendy but something I am convinced I would always regret missing. And then the day after that I fly to Tasmania. Where it will likely be cooler if nothing else.
Random observations: things are expensive here, even with the favorable exchange rate. Cold medicine I would have expected to pay $6.00 for in the US is $13 at the local IGA. The birds I have seen! Big white-crested cockatoos are considered pests. Having a devil of a time finding wifi even though I would happily pay for it. Broadband users are few and far between from my experience. I am so happy I can do simple email on my iPhone though I am not sure that the 20 mb of data I signed up for is going to get me through this trip. Twitter is a blessing and a local tweeter even helped me solve the vexing annoyance of an iPhone that refused to budge from California time. Am so happy to be using couchsurfing as it has enabled me to meet the nicest and most generous people you can imagine. If I could just shake this stupid cold I would be a very happy camper.