November 30, 2008

Melbourne Australia

About a year ago we were notified by Whole Foods that we had won a trip to Australia, at first we didn't believe them but after a little investigation it turned out to be true. The trip included air fare and hotel for a week in either Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne and we chose to go to Melbourne. It also included a couple of day trips and we chose a hot air balloon ride over the city at dawn and a trip to Phillip Island to see Little Penguins.
We picked Melbourne because we had heard that it was a great city for food and wine and had a more interesting mix of things to see than Sydney. I think we did pretty well, Melbourne is small enough that we had enough time to get to know our way around and to see pretty much everything that we wanted to in the time that we were there. Some of the highlights were:

The Queen Victoria MarketDSC01679.JPG - A huge permanent market that is parts flea market, farmers market, deli and butcher. The flea market part was pretty much what you would expect, vendors flogging cheap junk and we weren't too interested in it. The other parts however were fabulous and we wished that we had something like this in NJ. The fresh produce in the farmers market were gorgeous even though it was only spring/early summer and the cheese and meat vendors looked wonderful. Having nowhere to cook, we obviously couldn't take advantage of the place, though we did buy several cheeses to nibble in our hotel room for the rest of the week.

DSC01725.JPGThe Royal Botanical Gardens - I love Central Park, but the botanical gardens here really put it to shame. The foliage there is somewhat tropical reminding me of California with lots of Palm Trees and outdoor house plants. The gardens contain a very large variety of plants and trees though not a huge abundances of flowers (at least at this time of year). It is an incredibly pleasant place to walk around and many people were having picnics. There was a good variety of birds including one called a Bell Bird that made the most unique sound. We liked the place so much that we returned a second time and had a picnic.

DSC01796.JPG The Yarra Valley - We rented a car and drove out to a local wine region and did some tasting. It was a very scenic mix of light brown hills and Eucalyptus trees. The wineries were very nice and the wine was good, though we liked the first one that we visited the best. It was called Yering Station and is one of the oldest in the area. One thing that we really did notice here was how incredibly nice and friendly the Australian people are.

IMG_1897.JPGHot Air Balloon Ride - One of the day trips included in the prize was a flight over the city at dawn in a hot air balloon. We had to get up pretty early for this but it was definitely worth it. The weather was cool but clear and we had an amazing time watching the sun come up from 2000 ft in a balloon. I've always wanted to go up in one and was amazed a what a simple device it is. While the pilot has no directional ability at all, he was able to direct the balloon to the target landing field simply by using air currents at different levels.

DSC01941.JPGFairy Penguins - The other day trip was to Phillip Island to watch the The Penguin Parade. We really didn't know what this was except that it sounded interesting to Barb, and I like penguins. We sort of thought that it was a park that we would spend the day in and and then watch the penguins come out of the sea at dusk. Instead it turned out to be a bus tour with a very chatty Canadian driver called Phil. There were various stops along the way to the island where we got the see all of the required Aussie wildlife including Kanagroos, Koalas, Wallabys and Wambats. Viewing animals sitting around was not really that exciting but the penguins were worth the trip. Every night in various places along the coast of southern Australia, Little Penguins come home from the ocean to their barrows on the hillsides to feed their young and shag their mates. They wait until it is almost dark and then they come out of the ocean in the hundreds and waddle up the hills. The place we went to is set up so that tourists can watch the little guys go by a few feet away with out interfering with them (unfortunately no photos were allowed). It was pretty interesting to see and they are incredibly cute, they grow no more than 12 inches high and have blue backs instead of black.

FifteenDSC01784.JPG - We are big fans of Jamie Oliver and one of the eating highlights of the trip was a visit to Fifteen. Unfortunately Jamie is not really involved in the restaurant as he has licensed it to his buddy Tobie Puttock. That said, it is a really nice restaurant and is true to the spirit of Jamie's style of cooking. We both greatly enjoyed both the dinner and the atmosphere.

Well that's our trip, we really had a great time and would recommend Melbourne to anyone thinking of going down under. A full photo album of our trip can be found here. (Note: I didn't take the photo at the top of this page).

Posted by smartin at 02:42 PM