12 months!

Melbourne 1074 2013-06

It has been about a year since we moved to Melbourne and I am approaching my 12 month anniversary at my current position.  All the clichés apply, time flies, where did the time go and the lot but in all honesty the past 12 months have been amazing, we have made new friends and a new home, Beth is doing what she always wanted to do, which was to work with children and I have gone back into the food business.

 


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Driving around the city that we now call home things start to look familiar.  I was driving earlier today and as we passed the exhibition center I saw the ANL building in the Southwarf, a building that I have now visited many times as my friend George (george-vrakas.com) works as we have lunch often.  The same building and the area of Southwarf and Docklands were completely new to me, I remember looking at it 12 months ago and it was just one of many.  The same goes for so many parts of the city, I have started making connections and little by little things not only make sense now but they are familiar.  Driving through South and Port Melbourne , I remember getting lost, now I know the streets, some of the restaurants and cafes, we have friends there and we go to the beach and the playgrounds with Ben.

This has also helped put my mind at ease, for the psychologists under you, system 1 is now more at ease because of the familiarity with the surroundings and the establishment of routines. You see it is system 1 that makes that has problems making sense of the new and in our case it has been working overtime and it has been exhausting at times.

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Cultural Shock…

Philly Skyline

Philly Skyline

Ok, it seems that my blog has generated some discussions among our own friends, for good reason that is.  We have had mood swings, bewilderment, enthusiasm, borderline depression, an overwhelming feeling of everything being different, we have criticised and we have been criticised and much more.  There is a name for this… …it is called cultural shock!

Let me put it in perspective, most people I know, would not move to the other side of the town they live in.  Whether that is because it is not a place they know or it is far away from friends and family, it does not really matter.  It is foreign to them so they stick to what they know and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Well, we are about 16.000km away from where home used to be and nothing much is here that we can hold on – for better or worse – to insert some routine, some sanity into our daily lives.  Our values, our priorities, the things we know and what we consider common sense, the rules and regulations, they are all very different, they are foreign.  Certainly, the fact that we have moved 4 times within two states in Australia did not contribute to any routine being established.  We again moved this past weekend and we hope that this will be the last time for the next couple years.

Wuppertal-Panorama

Wuppertal-Panorama

So back to cultural shock, it is a normal condition and everyone that emigrates goes through at least some of the stages of cultural shock.  Even if one goes back to the country that he grew up after living in a different one will go through the shock, albeit a reverse cultural shock.  It is extremely important to get a routine in place and to be open to the new environment, to smile and keep positive and communicate with the new surrounding as much as possible.  It is one thing to say it and another to actually do it, it is a very difficult task but it is not insurmountable.

The Arch

The Gateway to the West

I remember the first one I went through back in 1990 in the St. Louis, a place that I know call home (one of many, more on this on another post) but one that I hated with all that I had for a couple months in the fall of 1990.  It has long turned into an eternal love affair.  There has been a few since and it always has turned all right.  I was not keen to move to Germany and now I miss it, I call it… you guessed it right… home!  I have always been a bit sentimental and as much as I look forward to exciting times I look back at fun times, I do though forget the pain along the way and that is fine by me.

So to our shock now. Culture shock is defined as a psychological disorientation that most people experience when living in a culture markedly different from one’s own. Culture shock occurs when our “…cultural clues, the signs and symbols which guide social interaction, are stripped away. …A difficult part of this process for adults is the experience of feeling like children again, of not knowing instinctively the ‘right’ thing to do.” (Piet-Pelon & Hornby, 1992, p.2).  In general there are four phases to a cultural shock: Honeymoon, Adjustment, Negotiation and Mastery.  Everyone experiences it in different ways and so it is for us.  We are between the negotiation and the adjustment phase, had it not been for the four moves within Australia we would probably be ahead of that.  We are building a routine, we have started friendships, Ben has started with Kinder and so it goes.  We will be reaching the mastery phase in the next few months and while that does not necessarily  mean that we will totally assimilate it means that we will feel at home and as we have many homes by now this will be another one that we will come to love.

So long…

Another home in St. Louis, MO

Another home in St. Louis, MO

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Packed and on the move

Entertaining Ben at Bordertown on the way to Adelaide

Entertaining Ben at Bordertown on the way to Adelaide

Ben in an airport and on the move again...

Ben in an airport and on the move again…

Ben will start learning to fly, it will be easier to be on the move

Ben will start learning to fly, it will be easier to be on the move

Melbourne!

Yarra River & Melbourne City Skyline View at A...

Yarra River & Melbourne City Skyline View at Alexandra Gardens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our new home is the city of Melbourne.  A city of more than 4 million people in the Southeast coast of Australia.  It is as far as geography is concerned very far away from anywhere.  The closest “big” city is Canberra although most Australians ignore that city, Adelaide and Sydney are about a day’s drive away and cities like Bangkok (8000km), Tokyo (10000km), Los Angeles (12000km), New York and Frankfurt (16000km) and the list goes on.  So the isolation in terms of distance is without a doubt, a fact.  In many other ways though Melbourne is so central in the big scheme of things and beyond that, as it is typical for Oz, there are so many events and festivals that keep one entertained and relaxed.

ANZAC Memorial

ANZAC Memorial

Let’s start with my favourite Australian sport, The Footy, it is one of the most exciting sports out there and while I do not claim to know all the rules or understand it completely I have my favourite team and I have been in quite a few games both here in Melbourne and in Adelaide to see Port Adelaide games.  It is not the most powerful team but it is most certainly my team.  The game itself, for those who have never seen it, is spectacular.  It is fast paced and while it seems to be very hard it is still in a very Australian way easy going with everyone trading punches during the game and then taking it easy once the horn sounds.  Other notable sports events cricket season, the Australian Open, the Grand Prix, the Races and so many more.

The other amazing thing that never ceases to amaze me is that loads of people are active anytime of the day and anywhere you look.  I see people running to work, I had never seen that before.  When I drive along Beach Rd in the mornings rushing to a meeting I see people in the water and the same goes for most afternoons.  Obviously the mild weather and the proximity to water is a key driver for this behaviour but every weekend there seems to be some kind of athletic event or competition.  Most people at work are active and regularly exercise at all times, I among few others are the exception rather than the rule.  There are outdoor groups of people who get together to exercise in parks, the beach, anywhere where they can really.

Flinders Station

Flinders Station

There are so many festivals around from cultural ones like book or movie festivals to something a lot more interesting like a BBQ festival in St. Kilda.  Multicultural events like the Greek Antipodes festival that took place in the city this last weekend draws thousands and then there are those regional ones like Jazz Festivals and River Festivals where artists from around the globe come and visit.

One thing that we really have taken advantage of is concerts and plays/theater in Melbourne.  I have seen more concerts here in the past few months than the last few years back in Germany.  I even got a chance to see Jimmy Buffett one of my favourite one, that was a very special night!

Melbourne MCG

Melbourne MCG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The list is really endless, there is something new and exciting to do every single day.  It is an amazing place, we live so close to this metropolis and these opportunities to enjoy so many things…  …it is an unbelievable place!

This does not change the fact that it is so far away from most places but it does make for an extraordinary place in its own right and one we are proud to call home!

Our view…

Our views have been shaped by the experiences that have brought us to this point in our life.  In principal this is not very different to the other immigrants to Australia, what makes it unique in its own way are the nuances of these experiences and that is our view.

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Sunset in Hallet Cove, South Australia

I cannot talk about these views without putting them in context and speaking a bit about our last station, Germany.  I have lived in four different countries and Germany is by far the one place that comes close to perfection more than any other and it is the place where I have lived the longest.  The efficiencies, the frugality, the thoroughness and a global conscience  that is the collective German way of life has developed over the past 6 decades is unprecedented.  A good friend of mine from Russia described it as a very boring place because everything works and it is near automatic, isn’t it ironic as it sounds a no worries kind of place yet it so far from it on daily basis as Germans are overall very formal, distant and constantly unsatisfied and then Germany has that terrible weather.

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Footy!

Australia is a great place in many ways, life is for some reason just easy-going and the mild weather makes for an excellent outdoor lifestyle.  In our view though it is far from perfect and that maybe the curse of just knowing to many homes.  Things are made unnecessary complicated  in more ways than we could have imagined when we arrived.  Simple things like setting up and proving your 100 points of id as they do in Oz so you can get basic services takes time, patience and above all it costs nerves.  The surprise is that one would have thought that there would be someone who can or should tell you what you will have to do and how to do it, the onus is on the newcomer.  In a country that welcomes so many thousands of immigrants you would have thought there would be more to it.  That is not the case and while it is not rocket science per se, it is made more difficult by the incompetence, the lack of systems and of processes for new arrivals in the country.  Beyond that even matters that one would believe is common sense are relative complicated, such as trying to get decent broadband, a matter that is trivial anywhere in urban Europe, US or Japan, has cost us at least a couple thousand dollars and countless hours on the phone with providers, as well a broken lease and countless hours on the matter of leasing properties, our rights and obligations.  It is amazing that in 2013 this is an issue, I would understand it if I was in Alice Springs or some other place in the outback or the countryside.

Ben in Melbourne

I am not going to compare here every little aspect but suffice to say that having moved between four countries over the past twenty years, I have never had as many issues, not even when I moved back to Greece in 1996 from the US and had to deal with the incompetent civil servants.  Unexpected because Australia is a modern society and it is one of the most urbanized nations on the planet, the envy of many and the place where many people dream to be able to get a chance at calling it home.

I am not, in any way, saying that this is an awful place, quite the contrary, despite our tribulations and the various costs both monetary and otherwise we are looking forward to the next 12 months with renewed confidence that things will be better, they will improve and we will finally be able to get more out of the Aussie lifestyle.  It is not a post of despair nor is it one of disappointment.  It is merely our experiences and while there certainly have been difficult times we have had luck with family and friends that have supported us all along.

 

Friends, relatives and people that love you

People usually ask what is the one thing that you would like to take with you if you are ever stranded on an island, well my answer is my friends and -most- of my family.  These past few weeks would not have been possible without them.

On March 8th and 9th the moving company packed our household and put it in a container.  What was left was, well…  …another household!  We took a decision to not take everything with us for various reasons, so we were left with a lot of stuff that we had to either sell or give away and of course all the trash.  I know it sounds trivial bit taking care of all that took almost two weeks.  During that time we were sleeping at friends, my uncle loaned me his car and others were helping in any way they could.  The neighbors chipped in and they let me use their scanners, printers, garden furniture, etc.  It is overwhelming really to think of it all and without their support I am afraid we still would be trying to finish up.

In a couple of days we will be in Australia where another bunch of people will help us set a base in our new adopted country.  This is not the first nor will it be the last time that we have been in this situation.  Some people ask me why I am such a giving person and considerate, I just am.  Most of them do not realize that they are very much like that themselves.  You always get what you give, people are usually afraid to give or open.  I have found that by giving, by opening up, being honest and responsible towards others you gain so much, you have fun along the way and above all you learn things about yourself and others that would otherwise not be possible.

R.W. Emerson said it best: The only way to have a friend is to be one!

So I would like to thank all you who have been here and there for us and the ones that couldn’t, I will always be there for you.  Without you our lives would be very poor, you are and always will be in our hearts!

Here is one to friends, relatives and people who love you!

PS: We are now in Kuala Lumpur on our way to Adelaide.  I love this city and I like Malaysia.  I have a few things that I want to write about on my next post, which should be in a day or two…  …meanwhile here is a photo for you.

Our view from our hotel

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

Tropical Queensland

It has been a few weeks since we are back home but there are a couple more posts at least to complete our trip to Australia.  The last week we were there we went up to Port Douglas, fully aware that a cyclone had devastated Fiji and

You thought I was kidding...

Whitesunday but we had booked and organized everything so we went head and hoped for the best.

This time we flew with Virgin Blue and it was a much more pleasant experience than Quantas.  Everybody from airport staff to airplane crew were very friendly and helpful both on the way to Cairns and on the return flight.  At the airport in Melbourne we also met Joseph Pouliotis, our friend from Adelaide who actually had just landed in Melbourne.  We could not see anything on our approach to the Cairns International Airport as the clouds hung low and there were heavy rains.  We quickly made our way to the rental company, everything seemed to be a bit more chaotic than at the airports we had seen in Australia and this was low season.  We picked up our Suzuki Vitara, I would never recommend this car to anyone.  Port Douglas is about 60 kays north of Cairns and the road, named after James Cook,  is beautiful.  The windy road takes you close to many beaches and the view is just plain spectacular, it would have been even better if the skies were not gray.  On our way we past well known beaches like Palm Cove, Trinity Beach, Turtle Beach and others.

Port Douglas was established a little over 100 years ago as a mining town and it was almost deserted at the beginning of the 20th century after the completion of the Kuranda Railway in Cairns and a devastating cyclone in 1911 that left only two buildings standing.  In the 1960s the town had a population of less than 100.  It wasn’t until the 80’s when the town started to develop into one of the best towns in Australia, it currently ranks on the #3 spot on the 100 Best Towns in Australia.  It certainly is a great town.  It is a

Four Mile Beach

tropical little heaven with very good beaches and although in high season it doubles in size the town is very small and you can walk it in a couple of hours.  On its north side there are very nice homes on a hill that overlooks the Four Mile Beach and the tropical forest that extends all the way to the beach.  We stayed on Macrossan Street in a place called Reflections of Port Douglas and Carmel, the owner, made everything possible to make our stay comfortable.  Her apartments are great but what I found outstanding is her hospitality and easy going manner, Ben will miss her. Reflections is about two minutes from the beach and five minutes from the center of town so its location is great especially if you have a baby with you.

We only had three full days in Port Douglas so we had to make the most out of it.  The main reason for going to Port Douglas was for Beth to go the Great Barrier Reef, one of the two world heritage in the area.  So we organized for her to go on a boat on Tuesday, the only day where the weather was going to be half-decent.  As Beth gets seasick we had very

We can only imagine how beautiful it can be...

little choice as we had to choose the biggest ship that went out there.  We chose Quicksilver and if you ever have the chance avoid them.  The crew seemed very rude before they even left and from what Beth described they were not very helpful or nice.  Anyway, we suspected that it might be that way but we had to choose them.  It was already late afternoon so we quickly went onto the Four Mile Beach and took a stroll down the beach.  The beach was closed for swimming and the sea was rough but what made this visit to the beach memorable were the warning signs around it.  Crocodiles, stingers, slippery rocks, strong currents, tides and we shall not forget the stingrays, Steve Irvin the “Crocodile Hunter” was killed by one off the shores of Port Douglas.  So as with most places in Australia dangers lurk around but we adhered to the quintessential Australian adage of no worries and walked on the beach, to be fair we were not alone.  Macrossan St. is really the center of town and we headed out that way when we came back from the beach.  We found good food, good desserts and as always great coffee, prices were fair with the exception of ice cream which is very expensive everywhere in Australia and not

Quicksilver Boat

really as good as our gelaterias here in Germany.  Of course all shops were closed and that is really I never understood about Australia, why do shops close so early?  We were forced not to spend any money, which is not bad after all.  Most liquor shops though are open until very late, I guess work little drink a lot is the motto!  That is not bad, not bad at all.

The Port Douglas Marina

The next day Beth went on to the Great Barrier Reef with Quicksilver and the day did not look good at all.  Skies were gray, clouds hung low and it was windy, which means that out in the open sea the waves would be rough.  There are hundreds of people that fit on the quicksilver and looking at them board I was wondering if they had read the weather report.  There were people with strollers, families with toddlers, elderly people that needed assistance to walk, did they know what they were in for?  Ben and me waited for mum to board and we sat at a bar at the marina to have a coffee and Ben his milk.  We then got into the car and headed north towards Daintree and Mossmann, I could not wait to get to into the rain forest.  We were disappointed, this area has been cleared long ago

...heading out to the Reef

for the production of mainly sugar cane and sugar cane fields stretched as far as the eye could see.  Mossman is also known for its 2-foot gauge tramways, these trams that look like small trains run along the fields and were crucial for the development of the regional economy and Mossman was bigger and richer than Port Douglas for many years.  We then took to the back roads through tiny towns and sugar cane fields, Ben in the mean time was asleep and did not seem to mind the constant opening and shutting of the door as I had to get out to take pictures.  This region is so

Ben waiting for his mum to come back

far from anything and there are just not enough people so the infrastructure is not as great as one would expect but it is a beautiful place to live.  It is always green, there is the proximity to the highlands and of course the awesome beaches make this region very attractive.  There is always Cairns about 80 km south of Mossman that provides for anything anyone would want.  We drove through some streets where houses were literally in the jungle, it is difficult to imagine how you can live so close to “uncomfortable” nature.  The low clouds provided for some dramatic scenery as the surrounding hills  were engulfed in them.  In the afternoon we went to pick Beth up and watched as the Quicksilver catamaran approached the marina and people disembarked.  It to

Somewhere near Miallo

ok a while but then we saw Beth all wobbly, the first thing she said is food but she pale was as pale as alpine snow.  They encountered rough seas and well over half the people on that boat became seasick, Beth unfortunately was among them.  On the way out she had great difficulty and the pills that they gave her did not help as they did not have time to kick in.  Ben was happy to see his mum, we sat at a restaurant at the marina and something small to eat.  It was still early but Beth had to relax so we drove to the apartment.

We spend four nights in Port Douglas and we went out all four nights, Macrossan St., the main street in Port Douglas is very nice.  It is lined up with small boutique shops (that we never saw in operation) and many restaurants and hotels (remember hotels in Australia are not necessarily hotels in Australia rather they are pubs that may or may not offer rooms to let).   We tried a different restaurant each time and once even tried Mexican (my Burritos are better;), the food was good and prices surprisingly down to earth considering that Port Douglas is considered a high end tourist destination, in Europe prices would have been much higher.  It rained every night but as during the day it was warm.  We decided to drive up to Cape Tribulation on the next day, the route would take us through part of the route that I had just done but we would push on farther north take the ferry over the Daintree river and then drive through the jungle onto Cape Trib as local call it.  The road ends at C

A typical farm in the area

ape Trib and there is dirt truck that is impassable for most cars during wet season for I believe about 100km to Cooktown.  Cooktown is the place where Captain Cook was stranded for a few weeks on the natural harbor after sustaining heavy damage on his lead ship.  It is also in Cooktown that the name Kangaroo came to be as it was one of about 50 words that Cook learned from the local Aborigines, the tribe of Guugu Yimithirr.  It was not until the mid sixties that any kind of road actually reached Cape Trib, it proved to be a lively road with loads of

Thick rainforest

tourists, especially back packers and the younger crowd.  The road took as through field of sugar cane to the Daintree river.  Once we crossed the river we found ourselves in the rainforest, the windy road was very narrow and the trees were towering over the road, there were only a few spots where we could see the gray skies.  It rained almost non stop so we did not have the opportunity to get out of the car for pictures but we nevertheless enjoyed the majestic beauty of one of the oldest forests on earth.  We never got see a Cassowary but we saw plenty of spiders a

On top of the tower in the Daintree Center

nd many warning signs to keep off any creek or river banks because of crocodiles.  We stopped at the Daintree Discover Center, an excellent little center in the rainforest with skywalks and different displays, signs and information explaining and pointing out the peculiarities and uniqueness of the forest.  As it is the rainy season the mosquitos are on overdrive and let

I am not lying....

`me tell you if you are ever in this situation wear bright and shiny colors as they are the best defense against them, as fate had it I had a navy blue t-shirt on which attracted mosquitos like you never seen before, they like to hide in the dark.  We did visit the center and did walk around for about an hour, we even went up the tower that takes you higher than the tree canopies for a breathtaking view (it was cloudy).  It is also here that we saw the tree called the stinging tree or better known locally as “dead man’s itch”.  According to the guide book if you are stung you will believe all the stories that surround this tree, there were signs to warn us.  Well besides the humidity, rain, toxic trees,

Jungle!?!

ferocious mosquitoes we also saw spiders that were bigger than the palm of my hand and supposedly there were snakes around.  It is an experience to say the least but soaking wet with Ben complaining in his pouch I started dreaming about all that snow that we had back home in Germany!  We decided to cut our visit in the center short and head farther north to our destination, Cape Trib.  I found it amazing that there were houses scattered about in this so densely forested region.  I cannot believe that there are people that voluntarily live on in this place, it is one thing to visit or stay for a little while but to live there forever, hmmm!?!  I guess you have to love insects and uncontrolled growth of all sorts of weeds…

So long….

The road to Mossman Gorge

Crocodiles on the beach, dangers in the water... ...I am staying clear of that beach!

Cape Tribulation

Our little man!

My BBs at Cape Trib

Crocodiles are waiting for their meal under the bridge (did not go down to investigate).

That is the view from that bridge...

The Daintree River meets the Pacific Ocean, Snapper Island on the far left

On the Draintree River Ferry

Tourists on the Draintree River

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

Sydney

Those are bats hanging on the tree

When one mentions Australia there are two things that come to mind, especially after the Olympics of 2000, Sydney and beaches.  Well it is all for a good reason.  If there is one place that you can visit in Australia it has to be the state of New South Wales.  I wondered why it is called New South Wales as there is no other Wales than the Wales we know in the UK, would it not be simpler just to call it New Wales?  Well, name issues aside NSW is the most populous state and it has a bit of everything that we associate with Australia.  A trivial fact is that New Zealand was briefly part of NWS in the mid 19th century.  Sydney is the biggest city in Australia and its trademark is the Sydney Harbor but besides the city which has a lot to offer there are beaches in and around Sydney and within a couple hours drive you can reach the outback, see the Blue Mountains and drive north on the Pacific Highway to Hunter Valley, the oldest winemaking region of Australia. We flew to Sydney from

The CBD from the Botanical Gardens

Melbourne on the 12th of March, the flight was uneventful until we reached the city where we flew over the city and had grant views of the city and the harbor with the dominating Harbor Bridge, locally known as the “Coat hanger”, the Quays and the Sydney Opera.  What a view!  It was and will be one of the greatest approaches that we have ever experienced.  The city looks big and I remember reading somewhere that the area of Sydney is about 7 times bigger than Paris!  So you get the idea, there were a lot of expectations and Sydney did them all justice.

You need time to explore Sydney and we only had a week.  We used as much of that as we could.  On the first day we went downtown and started our walking tour at Martin Place, this is where Channel 7 has their main offices and if you are there at the right time you can see some of their morning shows being aired live, similar to

Another view of the CBD

the morning news show is New York.  We walked through the Domain and the Botanical Gardens. While the Botanical Gardens are not as spectacular as the ones we saw in Singapore, they are still very very good.  The city skyline in the background and the general setting, the lush green and the many birds make this a wonderful place to picnic, jog, stroll or even just sit on the grass and enjoy the warm sun.  From the distance you can see the roof of Opera House and once you hit the water the views are just amazing.  Behind us on the left was the skyline of Sydney, while not as big as New York or Chicago it is very nice and with the Gardens in the foreground and the water it is just amazing!  Now to the main attraction, the Sydney Opera house and the Sydney Harbor Bridge, there is no much one can say.  It is stunning, it is a view that is just breathtaking.  I

Voila!

have seen it so many times on TV or pictures but nothing can do it justice, you just have to be there.  It was a sunny and very warm day but Ben was enjoying the outdoors, he loves being outside – I know we did not give him much choice but still.  We just stood there and took in the scenery, while all around us there were tourists and locals alike strolling through the park or just having a picnic.  The warm wind and the sound of the water just enhancing the whole experience.  We took many pictures as you can see and wondered loudly why it took us so long to get here to see this.  We walked towards the Opera House.  The Opera House is not really as nice when you are close up, this is a building that you have to take in and admire from a distance.  When you are walking along it you do not see much and what you see seems a bit outdated, a bit old… …the brown glass does not help the appearance either as it looks like the windows have not been cleaned in a while.  From what I hear it is not the best of theaters and the indoors is rather mundane.

Ben abusing his mother!

The Sydney Harbor is actually part of Port Jackson.  Port Jackson is the natural harbor and it is location of the first European settlement in Australia.  The first European to discover Port Jackson was Lt. James Cook in 1770 and it was named after the Judge Advocate of the British Fleet.  Although, Cook’s first landing with the HMS Endeavour was on 29 April 1770 (230 year in about a month!) in Botany Bay, slightly south of Port Jackson.  The sight is marked within the Botany Bay National Park near Kurnell.  In 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip returned and established the first British colony, later to become the city of Sydney.

As we passed the Opera House we sat in awe of the Harbor Bridge, sure I have seen bigger, longer bridges before but the setting and the form are a sight to behold.  It is the world’s tallest and probably widest steel arch bridge.  There are two pairs of pylons on each side and one can actually go up one of them on the south side of the bridge.  For the adventurous, there is also a climb the bridge for exciting views.  As I am afraid of heights that was not really an option.  We stopped and enjoyed another excellent flat white (my new favorite brew down under) while taking in the scenery and observing the colorful masses going about their business all around us.  It is a very busy place.  We then

Oh... he's so much fun!

continued our walk through the SydneyWriter’s Walk, that honors Australians and foreign writers.  The plaques start somewhere near the Opera House and go all the way around through Circular Quay (pronounced key for some reason) to the International Passenger Terminal west of the Quay.  It provides  an overview and interesting quotes.  The Quay is a bustling ferry, bus and train terminals where commuters and

The Family

tourists mix.  It is around this spot that we see the famous New Year’s Celebration.  We walked west around the International Passenger Terminal and into the Rocks, an inner-city suburb that today has established itself as a chic area full of bars, restaurants and an interesting market on the weekends.  This area though had a rowdy, it was an area filled with prostitutes and shady taverns that sailors frequented.  The buildings were about to be demolished for redevelopment, thankfully though it was saved.  Its close proximity to the Sydney Harbor and its slightly elevated position make it very popular with the tourists.  We got some food and walked through the weekend market, so many people, so many sights, so much to do.  We decided to call it quits for the day and head on home, we had just spend a good five hours mostly walking to one of the prettiest urban places on earth.
So long…..

Ben is greeting the world!

The Harbor Bridge

...the view from the east side

Breathtaking!

An artistic approach!

Great Ocean Road – Part 2

As far as coffee places is concerned, I stand corrected, I actually have seen a Starbucks it was empty and it is the first one after driving for about 8000km since we got here in the beginning of February and that is fine by me. The drive on the Great Ocean Road was planned from the beginning and it was among the Top 10 things to do in Australia.  Unfortunately, the way things turned out with the weather and all we cut it short by only taking a day to enjoy the drive.  So we decided to take the Princess Highway west and then turn south when we reached Terang and reach Port Campbell, which is at the west end of the Road.  This was necessary as the Road itself is quite narrow with many curves and although the whole length is about 250km it takes more than 4 hours to drive it all.  So we took a shortcut, on the highway to Terang we could drive fast (for Aussie standards) and reach Port Campbell in about 2 1/2 hours.  Again, we drove through some very nice towns, towns like

A candid moment...

Colac, like Camperdown.  The highways in Australia dissect many towns, actually the highway usually forms the main street, so it does make an interesting drive.  Most of these towns are like very much like towns in the US, in the 50s or 60s.  There is a main street where cars park at an angle, there are the occasional McDonalds, KFC or Subway but these sleepy towns are mostly left in peace.  There many shops and combo shops that cater to the needs of the local community.  This is a stark contrast to my personal experience back home or back in the US where, for whatever reason, people tend to shop in national or international chains, where the shops look the same no matter if they are in New York or in Dusseldorf. As soon as we reached Port Campbell we stopped at the Grotto, basically a sink hole with an awesome view.  We got our first taste of what the Great Ocean Road is all about.  It is full of magnificent views, awesome landscape, waves, wind, a dramatic sky and the great wide open ocean, green hills, nice little sea-side towns and National Parks.  It is probably one of the finest roads that I have ever driven on.  We stopped at a few of the look out points and the pinnacle of our trip was the 12 Apostles.  The formations that have been shaped by the unrelenting waves and wind that have hit the limestone formations for millions of years.  South from of here there is nothing but Antarctica, about 5000km.  The waters are

The London Arch -it used to be a bridge 🙂

cold and the beaches of Victoria although spectacular and great for surfing are not great for swimming, the same actually goes for most beaches around Australia.  I still believe that the best beaches can be found around the Mediterranean.  We then stopped at the London Arch (formerly London Bridge) and then at the 12 Apostles.  At the 12 Apostles there were hundreds of tourist, not sure where all these people came from, as most of the other spots along the route were not nearly as crowded.  I dislike these huge crowds, all these package (or as I like to call them packaged) tourists that go on a well beaten path laid by thousands before them dictated by special interests that do not allow for any interesting side trips and to me is he most boring form of tourism.  Anyway, we had to weave our way through the masses, it was always a hassle to get the pictures we wanted.  There was the constant roar of helicopters and planes flying overhead, carrying tourists.  You cannot convey that in the pictures, the pictures look great but the masses and the noise did distract from the beauty, the

Awesome!

awesomeness of the formations and the sounds of the ocean. So while it is the most popular spot we enjoyed the other spots more as you could just sit there and marvel in peace and quiet.  The Road also took us inland through rolling hills with spectacular views, we drove through the Great Otway National Park.  This park, while relatively unknown, contains ancient rainforests, tall wet forests, waterfalls and a rugged coastline.  It is also here that we saw the only Koalas that we have seen on all our travels.  We had to pick up our pace but we were also hungry so we stopped at Apollo Bay, a nice little town that is much quieter than Lorne.  It sits at the edge of the Great Otway N.P. and it has a nice little beach.  Of course we went for fish and chips, which this years celebrates its 150th birthday.  I am not sure if we are attracted or somehow it is coded in our DNA but we walk into one of the places and it was owned by Greeks.  Throughout our travels we have met so many Greeks, it was

Beth at the Apostles

really nice as we are Greeks from Greece and not Greeks from Melbourne, that automatically elevates us to a special status and we do occasionally enjoy better prices but always excellent hospitality.  We had to try their own homemade Greek deserts and had kataifi, gianiotiko, etc. while looking out at the sea. Ben as always did put up a show and he was adored by everyone.  This stop lasted longer than we had anticipated and hence had to get going as everyone was getting tired and still had a long way to go.  So we left the Great Ocean Road at Apollo Bay and headed north the way we came.

It was and probably will be for a long time the best and most scenic route we have done.  There is something for everyone and the combination of water, rugged coastline and very nice vegetation is a eyesight to behold.  We will have to return and take more time to explore and hike along the coast, maybe when Ben is at an age where we would not have to carry him.

So long….

Some of the Apostles

Another wonderful beach

A place I'd like to live....

I love the guy!

The travelling family!

Another view of the Apostles

The youngest driver

Beth and the uncle!