Our last few days in Australia

After a nice flight during which Ben made lots of new friends and a great impression on a cute air hostess (is that the politically correct expression for a stewardess now days?) we landed in Melbourne and picked up our rental. It took us a little longer than we expected as they gave us a big Japanese SUV, as with any non-European car we had difficulties with the baby seat and thus had to wait for a VW to get ready.

Ben flirting....

When we arrived home in East Hawthorne it was almost dark and we made ourselves comfortable. We were slowly realizing that our stay in Australia was about to end.  While we were happy with the thought of going home and stop living out of a suitcase we were also more than a little sad. For the past two months we were in a state of quasi trance, we did not really know what day or date it was, we did not care if it was the weekend or not, the only thing that we looked forward to was our next destination. There was a lot of excitement about the whole trip and there was nothing routine about it.

An Australian forest

We still had three days though and we wanted to make use of them, we decided to visit the Dandenongs. The Dadenongs are the Melbournian answer to the Blue Mountains, at least that is what “they” say. The Dadenongs are not that far from Melbourne but it was a stark reminder that driving in Australia is not really as pleasant or quick as what we are used to back home. We finally reached the forest and after a quick stop at the visitor’s center we took a stroll through a beautiful forest, the trees were huge and looked like they came from the sets of LOTR. We drove through towns with names like Ferntree Gully, Safrasssas, Kallista, Olinda, stopped for coffee and enjoyed watching people go about their lives.

This was also the weekend of the Formula 1 race in Melbourne, the Greek Festival Antipodes and the start of

This is a great sport!

the season for Aussie Rules Football! Melbourne was bustling with frenetic activity of all sorts. There were closed roads and whole areas cordoned off to an exclusive clientele, especially around Albert Park where the F1 race was on. Fortunately, I received a pass from a friend who lived in the area and I could move around. We had gone to the Antipodes festival the night before and it was fantastic, there is something very special that makes you very proud when a world city like Melbourne stops to celebrate its Greek population. The celebrations are extensive, there is a mini Luna park that they set up, there are stands that offer original Greek food, there is live music, there are local politicians and some that come from Greece, they hold speeches and go on a publicity roll through the mass of people. It was what the Greeks call a “panigiri”, in its truest sense.

On Saturday, I went to my first and only AFL game, the Bull Dogs were facing Collingwood. Australians are sports crazy and there is no other sport that can perfectly illustrate this craze. The sport is full of action, there is no stopping, they run, they shove, they kick and not always the ball for 4 quarters each about 30 minutes! The game is physical, quick, fun and exciting and the crowds were wonderful, loud and full of energy.

On our last full day in Australia the weather was beautiful, clear blue skies and warm. Unlike most of our time in Melbourne it looked like we would spend our last day outdoors, enjoying the day as Aussies do. We decided to go to the Botanic Garden and the Shrine of Remembrance.

The very imposing ANZAC Memorial

It is a patch of green and quiet, just south of the city center, an excellent place to take a walk and enjoy the skyline. The Botanic Gardens are very beautiful, serene and as good a place as any to relax and in our case to reflect about the time that we spend in Australia. The Shrine of Remembrance was a very special place to me. It was build as a memorial for the fallen soldiers of Victoria during WWI, later it was dedicated to all fallen soldiers of the ANZAC forces. The Shrine was more spectacular than any other that I have seen. Walking through the building with its high ceilings, the war torn flags, the registers with the names of the fallen, the eternal light in front of a monument in the courtyard, it was overwhelming. It is also possible to get on top of the shrine where there is a balcony with breathtaking views of the city and St. Kilda just to the south.

Melbourne

The weather was beautiful and we did not want the day to end so we drove to St. Kilda and just sat there watching the sunset and loving every minute of it. That was the last day of a magnificent trip, we saw so much and experienced a lot. We spend countless hours together as a family and drove many ks through this beautiful, magnificent country.

The Botanical Garden

The next day we checked if all was ok said our goodbyes to Beth’s uncle, who had been a graceful and wonderful host. We drove to the airport, taking in the sites, the city, the sky that seems to be so different down under. We dropped off the car and made our way to the gate….

 

Botanical Garden in Melbourne

The Eternal Flame at the ANZAC Memorial

The Memorial

St. Kilda

At St. Kilda on our last evening in Australia

The last picture in Australia! Happy faces no one can ask for more!

Tropical Queensland – Part 2

4 Mile Beach

We were sick by now of the rain so we decided to find a place that we at least did not get wet.  It was a bit difficult as the whole region between the

A beach along the Cook Highway.

Fiji Islands and most of Northern Queensland was heavily influenced by a series of cyclones, the radar showed covered skies everywhere.  The only exception at least for the highlands.  You see a few miles inland along the coast there are a series of hills that lead to the highlands, the climate there is very different than the coast, it is a lot drier and mostly cooler.  So we decided to head inland to the Atherton Tablelands.  The Atherton Tablelands are a plateau that is part of the Great Dividing Range.  The plateau is named after John Atherton who sttled near the town that now bears his name in the late 1870s.  The region is well suited for farming as the soil is very fertile due to ts volcanic origins and it is also well suited for dairy and grazing.  The region though was originally developed for its tin that was discovered near the present town of Herberton.  It is not an easy drive, especially with the car we had, the road up through the mountains onto the plateau is full of tight curves, there were lot of look out points but the only thing

A WWII bombing site

we could see was a white nothingness as the clouds were hanging very low.  It was raining all the way up but once we reached the plateau the weather turned favorable, we even saw some sun.  We did not come prepared as we were not planning to visit this area, our idea of Port Douglas and Queensland was sun, beach and tropics but in life you do not always get what you want or even what you paid for.  So we just looked at the map and drove to Mareeba.  Mareeba is the biggest town in the region with a population of about 7000, as always Australia is just way to big to fill with 22 million people.  Nevertheless by now we were accustomed by now and found the town to be bigger than expected.  The town grew with the arrival of the railroad in the late 19th century and also during World War 2 when the Australian army used the town as a staging area for the battles in the Pacific.  According to the tourist guide the town gets 300 sunny days a year and that was a reason enough for us ti explore the town a bit.  We headed for coffee at the Coffee Works.  A delightful little place that was packed and offered some very tasty desserts, the Mississippi Mud Pie (I know it is not Australian) was the best and of course excellent coffee from local coffee beans.  As with all places in Australia the town was trying to project a sense of history, to somehow tell a story and prove to anyone willing that there is more to the place than meets the eye.  Australia is so young though that

Ben at the marina

to us it did not seem very significant in the big scheme of things, maybe only in the Australian scheme of things.  Mind you that this is not a criticism, just an observation.  The drive had taken us longer than expected so we decided to head off to Cairns with a stop at Kuranda.  The road was better, we also got to see some huge termite mounds, they can be huge!  It started raining again, it was pouring like there was no tomorrow.  That was to continue for the rest of the day, which was still half the day.  We drove to the town of Kuranda, 25 kays from Cairns.  Thousands of tourists visit the town either with the skyrail  or the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway.  The rain was so bad that we did not stop to get out but just drove through the town that was devoid of any tourists.  We managed to find our way to Barron Falls were Beth and me took turns to run to the lookout platform to look at the -only in the wet season- spectacular falls.  It was a pity that we did not get to spend more time but it was uncomfortable so we decided to get on to Cairns and hope to find some respite.  The road turned nasty again as we had to drive down from the highlands, I wish we can visit again sometime when the weather is better the views must be breathtaking.  We went into Cairns looking for food, we were hungry as we only had had breakfast in the morning but it was not meant to be.  The restaurant we wanted to go to was closed and would not open until 5pm, so we took a little walk at the Cairns Esplanade in the

Near Mossman Gorge

rain and went into a couple of souvenir shops.  Before long we took off to go back to Port Douglas.  I cannot stress enough how beautiful the drives were, the scenery despite the gray skies were breathtaking, we stopped at Palm Cove and while the beach was closed for swimming the place looked very beautiful.

This was our last night in Port Douglas and we decided to try Thai food, Beth did not allow me to give prik (Thai for chili) to Ben but we had fun and enjoyed a very nice evening out.  We also started talking about the return trip and we wondered where two months went.  We only had four more days in Australia, we had so much fun and we done so much that we did not realize that our time here was almost up.  We went back to the hotel and packed, we had a flight to Melbourne to prepare for….

So long….

Somewhere around Mossman

The Daintree River ferry crossing

ANZAC Memorial in Port Douglas

My BB's at the same ANZAC Memorial

A very nice tree, mv BBs next to it.

Macrossan Street

Wind in Ben's hair!

Ben packing

An interesting statue in Mareeba

The museum in Mareeba

Barron Falls near Kuranda

The Cairns beach front

Ben at the Cairns Esplanade

Palm Cove

My BBs at Palm Cove

Mossman Gorge

Four Mile Beach

Ben entertaining the flight crew

Ben and his new friends on the same flight

Ballarat, VIC

Melbourne Skyline from the aquarium

After Sydney we flew back to Melbourne for a quick weekend before we headed out again to Port Douglas in Queensland for a week of R&R.  After all when you are on vacation for two months you do get tired of it and an R&R in the tropics is the way to go.

The weekend in Melbourne was easy, no worries as they say.  We were not sure of what to do and Beth was not up to driving hundreds of kilometers to go to the Promontory, the southern most tip of Australia.  A very nice National Park with nice beaches and good trails for hiking.  So we decided for something that was closer, Ballarat was the destination.  A city west of Melbourne, we drove through it on our way from Adelaide.  What we did not realize at that time was that Ballarat is the

My BB's

biggest inland city in Australia and has played a pivotal role in the history of Victoria and Australia as a whole.  So we headed back the way we came on the Western Highway for about 100 kays to the city of Ballarat.  The next biggest town west is Ararat, go figure!

Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851, this discovery spawned the Victorian gold rush and within a year became the biggest city in Victoria.  It was not too last tough as fortune seekers followed a trail of gold discoveries that went around the coast to the north in Queensland and on to Western Australia.  The story of gold is told very well at the Gold Museum in Ballarat.  More large gold nuggets have been found in the goldfields of Victoria than anywhere else.  The world’s largest gold nugget “Welcome Stranger” weighing in at 64.5 kg was found in these fields in February of 1869 by two miners laying a mere 5 cm below the surface.  The second biggest was found three years earlier around Ballarat, from the 47 nuggets weighing over 18kg found around the world 40 were found in this area.  And gold has not disappeared since then, there are regular discoveries of nuggets worth well over 50,000$.  The city of Ballarat and the surrounding region named officially the Goldfields region of Victoria have also found that tourism can also be a gold mine of sorts.  There are many things to do in this area but as we only had a day to spare we decided to spend our time in Ballarat.  The city has about 80,000 people and it has many fine victorian buildings that have changed little in the last 150 years.  Looking down some of the streets with these grand structures bar the cars and bitumen was like looking though a window 150 of history.  We headed  to Sovereign Hill an open air live gold mining museum that is the most popular attraction in the city.  The museum depicts the first ten years of the gold rush, the 1850’s, you can pan for gold just like back then, there are volunteers walking the streets in period costumes happy to pose for pictures and answer questions, mines to tour and spend a few hours in a place that might very well have been a movie set for a western.  It was an amazing place and one of the best I have seen, well worth the $40+ that we paid to get in.  It is also a sort of place that children enjoy a lot as they can discover and learn a lot by “living” history.

Panning for Gold

Ballarat turned out to be a nicer city than I had expected, so besides the Gold Museum that we enjoyed where we saw some of the larger nuggets found (replicas & originals), we also walked in some of its parks and wondered aloud about how easy going Australians are.  They are outdoorsy and they make use of their many parks.  They barbecue, walk, bike, laze in the sun or whatever else they feel up to and they seem totally at ease.  Despite the crowds in some of these parks -not only in Ballarat- there is some tranquillity about in the air.  The fair weather surely is a factor but it also their general “no worries” attitude towards life that give us that impression.  It is also something that our Greek cities can surely learn from, instead of just cementing every little patch they should make sure that citizens can enjoy the outdoors by providing parks like they have here.  That is a different discussion though for another time.  The parks and barbecue/picnic in Australia go hand in hand and are as simple as it gets but a wonderful combination.  The Wendouree Park is worth mentioning because it also has a memorial to POW (Prisoners Of War), a wonderful memorial that resembles the Vietnam Memorial in DC and a nice little Tram Museum.  There is also a very nice Victory Arch on the main entrance of the town from the west.

Sovereign Hill

Ballarat is also significant as it is the place of the only civilian uprising in Australia.  In September 1851 the Victorian government introduced a Gold License in order to raise money for services and also as a way to discourage people from leaving their jobs to become gold miners.  Most of the miners though lived in absolute poverty in the hope of striking gold so they resented this measure which they saw as unfair taxes.  It did not help that the local government and police were corrupt as well.  They regarded this as taxation without representation, much like the Yankees did in Boston about 80 years before, as they could not vote for the people who governed them.  In November of 1854 the diggers appointed an Irishman Peter Lalor as their Commander in Chief and vowed to defend their rights and liberties and build a stockade, made a flag and burned licenses.  On December 3, 1854 about 300 soldiers and police officers attacked and massacred the diggers, ove 30 killed and many more wounded.  More than 120 diggers were put on trial but none where ever found guilty.  Public opinion sided with the diggers and finally Australia introduced major reforms among them the most important the right to vote for parliament.  The diggers had finally won.  Well, I get easily carried away but this also shows how many hidden gems there are in Australia besides all the known sites and cities.

Goldasaurus weighing in at 4.4kg found in 2003

On that weekend we finally managed to get back to the Aquarium in Melbourne from which we were evacuated a couple weeks ago because of the storm.  I had expected more from the aquarium but Ben certainly enjoyed watching all the different fish, including sharks.  We then went to Oakleigh, the Greek neighborhood, to meet with relatives on my father’s side.  So for the first time I met my aunt Parthena and her three children Coonie and her husband Jan, Varvara and Ari and her grandchildren.  We first had to entangle how we are related but then we had fun catching up.  On the weekend we also met Maria Mitropoulos and her husband Darren Favretto, Beth’s friends from Adelaide who now live in Melbourne.

So long….

Victory Arch in Ballarat

POW Memorial

Downtown Ballarat

With Maria and Darren

Aunt Parthena and Varvara

Ari feeding Ben

The Family

The family

Sydney – Part 2

Beth at the South Head, the Pacific waters in the back

Everything in Sydney is about the harbor.  As one non-Sydney (how do you call someone who lives in Sydney?) resident told me Sydney is the harbor with 5% that have a view of it and 95% who want to have a view of the harbor.  Any property with view of the harbor gets an instant premium on  its value.  Talking about property value, what is going on in Australia is putting me off.  The quality of the housing is terrible to not so terrible but the prices are through the roof.  I was not sure if the quality of the housing was substandard or if it was just the houses we had visited but after talking to recent immigrants to Australia from Europe they all say the same thing.  I cannot believe that this country has forced the light bulbs off the shelves around the globe but otherwise live in highly inefficient houses waisting water, energy and precious resources.  House prices through are really high, even in suburbs that are half an hour away from the CBD a decent place can cost you a million!  The same goes for all major cities in Australia.  It is crazy and stupid, the discussions about property and property values remind me of discussions I had with friends in the US back in 2007.  Is there a housing bubble looming in the  horizon down under?  I do not know but I like the

South Head again with Sydney in the background

German restrain on these matters, we do not get excited about this stuff and we do not like artificial wealth nor much credit.  As usual I tend to trail off so lets get back to the subject at hand.

We spend a week in Sydney and took in all the major sites, we saw the magnificent harbor and all its major sites the first day but we of course returned a couple times and even did a ferry ride to Manly late in the evening and were treated to an awesome sunset.  There is a single entrance of Port Jackson, the entrance is protected by two big rocks called the Heads.  We went to the South Head, through some wonderful little suburbs.  The view from the Head to the west is the city and the Harbor Bridge and on the other side the Pacific Ocean.  The views are grant and the suburb of Watson Bay is really pretty.  The zoo with its sky safari, new elephant baby, an excellent Outback area and many lookout points at the city across the harbor is one of the top ten destinations within Sydney.  The zoo itself is very good but its location and its proximity to water, plus the fact that you can reach it by ferry make it incredibly beautiful.  There was a lot of areas that they were working on, and that took out some of the fun but overall one of the better zoos we have seen.  The suburbs

Coogee Beach

on the north side also looked a lot better and more exclusive that the ones in south but we only drove through and did not linger much.  Closer to the city and next to the Rocks is the Darling Harbor and Chinatown, two parts of the city that are very interesting to visit and tons of stuff to do.  Especially around Darling Harbor there are a lots of restaurants, clubs and cafes.

As always I have to visit the memorials and in Sydney the ANZAC memorial is in Hyde Park, close to the Museum Station on Liverpool St.  There is a “Lake of Reflections”, very similar but much smaller than the one in front of the Lincoln Memorial in DC.  Here I met Tony, a New Zealander veteran of the ANZAC forces in Vietnam.  You would not have guessed looking at the guy but he had done two tours in Vietnam in the late 60’s.  We talked about war, memorials and cowards (…sorry I meant politicians), it was another chance encounter that has made this trip so much more interesting.  It also confirmed that there is always pain and much sacrifice for us to get to where we are and we need to honour that… …remember them and learn to avoid the same mistakes in the future.  We cannot let their sacrifice be in vain.

Ben on Bondi Beach

Of course visiting Sydney without visiting the famous beach of Bondi is like drinking a milkshake without the ice cream.  Bondi beach was crowded, there was also a contest of surfing that was being filmed.  The commotion was incredible, and the weather perfect.  We also visited Coogee and other beaches like Cronulla around Botany Bay.  Botany Bay is also the spot where Captain Cook actually made his first landing in Australia, there is a small memorial in the Botany Bay National Park to mark the spot.  It is incredible to just stand at that spot, look around and see all the development that has taken place in the last 200 years.  I am sure he would not recognize the place today.

Another must for any visits in Sydney is the Blue Mountains.  We took the train from the central station in Sydney and travelled west through the suburbs like Parramatta for about two hours before reaching Katoomba, the gateway to the Blue Mountains.

Bondi Beach Ben and his mum!

We walked down to the lookout and then the short hike to the Three Sisters, the main landmark in the Blue Mountains.  We loved the landscape and we would love to have more time to hike through some of the trails and spend time in this National Park.  Throughout our travels we have enjoyed mountains and forrest parks the most and this one was really very pretty.  The air had a pleasant smell as the Eucalyptus oil that the trees emit permeates the air.  It is also the reason why the mountains look blue from the distance.  This place is a mere 200km away from Sydney  but it is so dense The ANZAC Memorialthat only in the mid 1990’s did they find a pine tree that was thought to be extinct for 90 million years.  This country is so vast that there are still things, species, organisms that have yet to be discovered.  Sydney is where Beth and me fell in love with Australia.  We have seen so much in the past two months but we were awestruck and dumbfounded.  Sydney maybe a city that is very far away from other big cities, Melbourne does not count (at least not for the people of Sydney) but there is a reason why so many people want to come to Sydney.

I would like to also thank our hosts Rita and Tony Vitalis, who took us in for a week and showed us Sydney.  We appreciate their hospitality and hope to reciprocate soon.
So long…

Ben, Beth and Kyriakos on the ANZAC Memorial

Elizabeth on Elizabeth St.

Sydney Tower and the Monorail

QVB, wonderful building!

Ben and Kyriakos on our way to the Apple Store in Sydney

A Memorial

Chillin' in Sydney.

Yeah, Bondi baby!

He is incredible

In Taronga Zoo

Darling Harbor

Ben the bird whisperer

At the zoo

For Ben's profile pic

My BBs

View from Taronga

Magnificent

Bondi Beach

Candid moment

with my mate Rick.

Awesome!

The three sisters

Enjoying the outdoors

Landscape galore...

Our hosts, Rita & Tony Vitalis