Koala with Joey at Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Australia

Sign with Kangaroo Ahead AustraliaUpon hearing that you’ve been to such a far-flung continent as Australia the first thing someone asks you is: “How did you survive the jet lag?!” or sometimes “How could you handle such a long flight?!” I guess I was expecting different questions, such as: “What was the food like?”, “Did you get to hug a koala?”, or “What does the inside of a well-played Didgeridoo smell like?” (Ok, maybe I’m the only one that wondered about that last one).

To answer those two questions, I have to explain a condition that I have. It’s called Vehicular Narcolepsy. The moment I ease into the uncomfortable seat of a plane, train, or automobile, I slip into a miniature coma (I can only be resuscitated by the sound of one of those free food carts rolling next to my seat, not sure why that is…). Sometimes my condition is so severe that I fall asleep before the plane takes off and then I am rudely awakened by some irate passenger trying to get past me with his roller suitcase. What’s the rush? Everybody else is off the plane. I remember once I was traveling from London back to Brussels, and I decided to take the train. What makes this interesting is that England is separated from Belgium by the English Channel. So part of that journey would be through an underwater tunnel known as the ‘Chunnel.’ There I sat, upright and vigilant, determined to stay awake and not miss out on this unusual train ride. Next thing I knew, we were pulling into the station in Brussels. Good thing that food cart rolled by, otherwise I’d still be asleep in that train. Going back and forth from London to Brussels for decades. The next time you were in the checkout line at the grocery store you’d see rows of tabloid magazines with the headline “Comatose hobo spends 27 years on train until free food service finally comes.”

Tom Bradley International Terminal LAX Los Angeles California

Well, I slept here…

American Airlines 737 DFW Dallas Airport

And in there.

Anyways, back to Australia. Flying from Florida I had to take four flights to get there. I fell asleep in Florida, woke up in Texas, grabbed a BBQ sandwich, then fell asleep again. Next, I woke up in Los Angeles. I had a very long layover there so, needless to say, I slipped into unconsciousness yet again. Thankfully someone opened a bag of Cheetos next to me so I didn’t miss my flight. I then slept through the eleven hour flight to Fiji (less the food breaks, of course), spent the day in Fiji, and then slept for five hours on the final leg to Australia. By the time I landed it was about one in the morning, so I slept again figuring that was the fastest way to get to breakfast. I have to say sleeping for 34 hours has a way of taking care of the jet lag. So how did I survive the long flights? I usually say: “Well, the food was good. Other than that, I don’t really remember.”

Looking at Skyling of Melbourne from Federation Square

Those lines you see strung up are tram cables with lights that mimic the stars at night. Giving you the outback feel right in the city. The tallest tower is called the Eureka Tower. This 975 ft. tall residential building is an artistic representation of the Australian Gold Rush. The blue and white being the colors of the revolt against the taxing British authorities, and the stripe pattern is meant to mimic a surveyors staff for gold prospecting. The gold bit on top obviously represents, well, the gold, and the red strip is there to represent the blood spilled in battle between the Australians and the British.

As you may have noticed from earlier posts I try not to spend too much time in touristy places. When most visit Australia, Sydney is likely first on their list. I, of course, didn’t go to Sydney. This time it wasn’t exactly my choice to visit Melbourne instead of the world-renowned capitol, but I am sure glad I did! Melbourne is sort of the Portland, Oregon of the South Pacific. Incredibly artsy, unparalleled coffee, and amazing food, all without hippies, hipsters, and all those other annoying things that start with hip, like hippos and hip hop artists (Am I the only one annoyed by hippos around here?).

Eggs Benedict Melbourne Australia

There’s no such thing as a greasy fried egg and a slice of wonder bread here. If you want breakfast, you’re getting a mouth-watering Benedict garnished with Rocket (Arugula).

A testament to Melbourne’s artsy side can be seen in some of their alleyways (which they call lanes). Where in most cities, graffiti is a problem, Melbourne turns it into an ‘art.’ The city commissions ‘street artists’ to do their thing, but only in designated lanes. The result? Check out this lane for example…

Grafitti in a lane in Melbourne Australia

I say, what a novel idea really! And what about the other lanes that aren’t slathered in ‘art’? They’ve been transformed into restaurant districts. I’ve never been so excited to eat in a back alley in all my life! Just make sure you venture into the right one, otherwise you could end up sharing “Rat-a-la-Burn Barrel” with a couple of vagrants. Not that it would be a bad thing. I’ve heard Rufus’ use of paprika and thyme is nothing short of breathtaking. (Any resemblance to real vagrants named Rufus is purely coincidental.)

Outside of Gills Diner Melbourne Australia

While Gills may not be the prettiest on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Stuffed Rabbit wrapped in procuitto Melbourne Australia

No this is not from Rufus.

Anyway, moving on to the coffee. Originally Melbourne had been invaded by an evil enterprise, one that will not be mentioned here (Hint: it rhymes with Starbucks, oops). There were already 80+ of these fiendish franchises permeating the streets of Melbourne a few years ago, but once the native Melbournians realized what real coffee was, they started their own “mom and pop” coffee shops. Were they successful? Let me put it this way. They have eradicated all but 5 of those villainous green and white establishments.

AU Coffee

I deleted my Starbucks app just looking at this picture.

The first time you set mouth on the dark brown velvety goodness of a true Australian coffee, be it a short black, long black, long white, flat white, cappuccino, or latte you will be uncontrollably forced to shred your “Gold Card,” delete all of your “Frappuchino selfies from Instagram, and run screaming down an alley repeating the words: “My life has been a lie!” until you trip over Rufus who was violently gnawing on another ‘paprika rat.’

Dessert case full of delectables Melbourne, Australia

Here’s a picture of some desserts to help get your mind off of Rufus and the rat.

Besides excellent coffee, the nearby Yarra Valley is home to rolling vineyards and even a Chocolaterie that is quite inventive.

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie

Here, in what feels like the middle of no where, you’ll find a chocolaty oasis teeming with unusually (but most of the time good)  flavored chocolates. Some a little more adventurous than others. While lavender may be nice to smell, eating it in a chocolate bar is a completely different story, but hey if you like to eat things that taste like potpourri, then you can have mine.

Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley is the State of Victoria’s oldest wine region with the perfect cool climate for optimal grape growth. A concept that I didn’t fully grasp until I got here, it’s cold! I figured it couldn’t be that cold in the “Southern Hemisphere” but the temperatures were around 40-50ºF most of the time.

If you do decide to visit Melbourne (which I highly recommend) remember to make time to get out of the city. I trust you wouldn’t want to miss out on the Australian wildlife (and no I’m not talking about Rufus again, would you just let it go already?). The animal life on this continent is completely unique. My personal favorite, of course, is the Koala Bear (no it’s not really a bear, it is a marsupial. Hence the pouch). There’s another Koala myth that needs to be dispelled. I’ve heard the notion that Koalas are permanently intoxicated from the Eucalyptus leaves that they consume (and I understand, if I spent all day, everyday sitting in a tree eating the same old leaves, I’d hope there would be some sort of ‘kick’ to them), but this is not the case. The leaves that they eat are very low in nutritional value so the Koala needs to sleep around 18 hours a day to conserve energy.Koala sitting in Gum Tree Victoria, Australia

 

From what I could see Australian wildlife either wants to sleep all day (Koalas and all the other Marsupials) or kill you (venomous spiders and snakes). I prefer the fluffy ones that sleep all day, just don’t let Rufus near them (really, another Rufus joke?).

Now, you may be thinking that Australia is a ‘comfort country’ (What’s that? See my England post) since they’re English speakers, but that’s not necessarily the case. Australians really like to abbreviate their words or even make up their own, it seems. Afternoon becomes ‘Arvo’, McDonald’s becomes ‘Macca’s’, Sandwiches are called ‘Sangers’, and if something is really good, it can be ‘a ripper’, ‘dinky-day’, or ‘true-blue!’ Throw in a thick Aussie accent and “Presto!” they’re speaking a different language. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. If not, just nod your head and say “fair dinkum?” (Translation: “Are you serious?”).

Gum tree with South Pacific Coast in Background

Make sure you have SPF 3,000 because of the colossal hole in the planet.

Another thing to keep in mind, there’s a gigantic hole in the ozone layer above the south pole extending up to Melbourne. This makes the sun tremendously intense. I saw one guy get sunburned in 10 minutes! My advice, invest in one of those awesome Aussie hats (usually made of kangaroo leather), they’re a real ripper! What if you don’t feel like wearing a hat or applying sunscreen? No biggie. As long as you don’t mind getting skin cancer and having the complexion of a lizard in molting season, then be my guest.

Beach Victoria Australia

These waters bring surfers from all over the planet.

All in all Australia is an outstanding place to visit. Where else can you sip on an amazing cup of coffee while gazing up at koalas in the old gum trees, all the while sinking your teeth into a delicious, succulent paprika…ok ok fine I won’t say it. The moment you set foot ‘down-under’ you’ll see why it’s worth the jet lag (still don’t know about the Didgeridoo smell, though).

Above images: Australia has these crazy suspension platforms that allow you to walk through the Eucalyptus forests. The walkways are about 100ft. up whereas the tower is 150ft. tall! Very cool, there’s three on the continent so if you ever visit check to see if you can squeeze in one of these tours.

Editor’s note: I haven’t seen my cat since Friday. I’m also missing my entire bottle of paprika. The cat comes to “Frisky” and the paprika comes to “Pappy”. Anyways, got to run. Something’s in the oven. Whatever it is, it sure smells good…

Looking down a road in Nadi, Fiji

Fiji

Bottle of Fiji Water in Fiji

This stuff is actually affordable here.

Fiji. The ancient Sanskrit word meaning: “Land of Expensive Bottled Water.”*

Tyler Cramer Standing outside the Nadi, Fiji Airport

Well I’ve cleared customs! Now onto that interpretive dance…

Never in a million years did I think I would see the South Pacific island of Fiji (to sound like you know what you’re talking about, put the emphasis on the second syllable: fee-JEE, while holding your nose in the air, of course). This was only achieved by taking advantage of the typical travelers’ nuisance: the dreaded layover. Personally, I love layovers. Not only are they free, you get a break, prevent Sheep Train Thrombosis (Now that I think of it, I could be hearing that wrong) and you get to scratch another country off of your list!

Although, this leads to a lot of confusion. You’ll talk to some travelers who say “Oh, I’ve been to Paris several times,” naturally you reply: “Nice, what did you think of the Louvre?” Then, they reluctantly respond:  “I was just in the airport for a layover for a couple of hours, but coming and going, so that counts as two times in France!” To alleviate the ensuing argument of whether they have been to France or not, I have included an excerpt from the International Standard for Scratching a Country Off of One’s List (ISSCOOL). It states, according to Section A Sub-Paragraph 3.15c, and I quote: “One may not officially scratch a country off of one’s list until these three criteria are met: (1) Said individual must clear customs and exit the airport premises. (2) The traveler in question must, and we repeat, must sample the staple cuisine of said country. (3) It is imperative that said traveler take part in an interpretive dance of the Overture of 1812 by Tchaikovsky or similar festival overture in e♭major”…do we need to go on?

 

Fiji Airways 767 by Tyler Cramer

Even their airplanes are decorated with their famed Tapa design.


Fiji flower by Tyler Cramer

Fiji Fact #257: Tekiteki is the practice of putting a flower in ones hair that signifies marital status and sometimes where one is from on the Island.

Anyways, back to Fiji. It is an archipelago of over 300 islands (only 1/3 of which are inhabited), with a combined land area comparable to the state of New Jersey (or about the size of Slovenia, to which you probably just said in your head: “Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?!”, and I apologize. I didn’t realize you were all such geography buffs). Fiji’s main exports are sugar and (Fiji ®) water. Apparently, if you combine Fiji’s two main exports, you get luxury hummingbird food. Which is why the Fijian Constitution provides that hummingbirds have the right to vote (too bad there are no native hummingbirds to exercise that right).

I was on my way to Melbourne, Australia and my layover was in Nadi (Pronounced Nahn-dee, for whatever reason) located on the southern island, Viti Levu. Traveling with a large group to attend a convention, I asked the other Americans what they were doing for their layover in the beautiful country of Fiji. It turns out, most booked their tickets in a way that their layover only lasted 2 hours, lame. They would probably go on to be those people who would tell you that they’ve been to Fiji ‘several’ times, when in reality, they’ve spent all of 4 hours there, never even breathing the fresh air of Fiji (trust me, the air in that airport was anything but fresh. I mean come on shouldn’t they have a cleaner ventilation system. That is why they call it an ‘air’port right?).

Tyler Cramer riding in the back of a covered pickup truck through Fiji

Definitely my favorite way to zip around Fiji.

Then, there were those that booked a day at the nearby all-inclusive resort. Nice you say? Absolutely! You get waited on hand and foot, as much food as you can bear to shovel in, and a comfy chaise lounge to park yourself for 8 hours. “Great!” you say, “can I scratch Fiji off the list now?” Really? Do we need to repeat Section A Sub-paragraph 3.15c? While you did leave the airport premises and you may very well have done an interpretive dance while you sipped your (mostly juice) Mai-Tai, did you sample the local cuisine? Nope.

Lastly, there was a third group who purposely extended their layovers so that they could galavant with the locals and truly experience this foreign land. As I said earlier, there was an international convention going on in Australia, and because of that, there was a small group of Fijians waiting at the airport entrance to welcome the few brave souls that wanted to venture into the Fijian ‘outback’ before going on to their final destination.

View of a Fijian Roadway from the back of a pickup truck taxi. By Tyler Cramer

Though taking the adventurous route may require you to be thrown around in the back of a pickup at warp speed. You can’t ‘ouch’ beat ‘ouch’ the view!

Upon seeing this small, but grinning welcoming committee, I knew I was going to be ‘scratching Fiji off the list’ in no time. A handful of us followed our impromptu tour guides out of the airport, across the ‘highway’, and then ten of us crammed into ONE taxi. Before we knew it, we were hurdling through the streets of sleepy Nadi, heading to our guides’ house for breakfast. There we were presented with a Fijian Smörgåsbord of pastries, sausage rolls, sandwiches, and Milo (some sort of hot chocolate malt beverage.) After we grazed on Island grub, we piled into yet another taxi.

Since not many Fijians own their own vehicle. There are various forms of public transport.

Since not many Fijians own their own vehicle. There are various forms of public transport.


Fijian Style Home Nadi, Fiji by Tyler Cramer

Typical Fijian house—This is where I ate breakfast!

This time, heading to Port Denarau. This was reminiscent of a cruise ship port. A miniature tourist town isolated from rural Fiji, complete with a Hard Rock Café and numerous trinket shops. Now typically I steer clear of gift shops, but these were exceptional.

A view of the harbor in Port Denerau, Fiji by Tyler Cramer

This is the area that most people go when they ‘explore’ Fiji.—Port Denarau

Nothing was made in China, (no offense China, when I visit you, I’ll only be looking for things ‘Made in China’. I promise.) little burlap bags of various Fijian exports (coffee, tea, sugar, etc.) and native Tapa cloth galore! With the excellent exchange rate at the time (almost 2-1), I promptly loaded up my backpack (on the way back home, of course, since I knew I had room).

Fijian currency in a variety of colors by Tyler Cramer

My souvenir of choice…

 

After blowing most of my Fijian dollars (excluding my carefully calculated food and souvenir currency reserve) we proceeded to drop by every business where our tour guides had friends/relatives that were employees (which was just about every place you can think of). All the while using various types of transportation. Sometimes it was a bus, other times it was a taxi, and (just to show off their diverse assortment of transport methods) the back of a pickup truck. One of our stops was a coffee shop where I literally got a bowl of Cappuccino for the equivalent of $2.50, a far cry from the exorbitant prices of Australia, where I believe the going rate is $5 per half teaspoon. (Although, that half teaspoon was the best half teaspoon of coffee I’ve ever tasted.)

Yummy cappuccino in Nadi, Fiji by Tyler Cramer

My delicious bowl of Cappuccino

Our last stop before being returned to the airport was the moment I was so eagerly awaiting. A restaurant with a book for a menu, describing all kinds of Fijian foods that I wish I could’ve spent a week consuming. What do you do when you are barraged with far too many choices, constrained time, and limited stomach vacancy? Ask the server for their recommendation. This was easy considering I said: “I think I’ll have this dish” to which the waitress immediately replied with a stern: “No, you will have this. Much better.” Alright, ‘some dish that I can’t pronounce’ it is! I can say I was definitely not disappointed, and from now on I’m never ordering for myself again (unless you are at a Subway, and the lady insists on loading your sandwich with banana peppers, bologna, and mayonnaise. This is where you employ the ‘oh, I forgot my wallet in the car’ method and make a solemn oath never to return again.)

Tyler Cramer drinking from a coconut in Nadi, Fiji

These coconuts taste like garlic and apples. Maybe some people like that combination…And as always: “When in doubt, pinky out”


Crab Dish in Nadi, Fiji

Don’t worry the shell is just for looks!

In only two layovers totaling about 25 hours, I can scratch Fiji off my list with a clean conscience. What could’ve been an uneventful stop over (where the most excitement was watching some old guy beat the tar out of a forever lodged bag of potato chips in a vending machine screaming: “Release the goods, you contemptible beast of burden!”) will become an unforgettable memory filled with little burlap bags of Fijian Coconut Soap (they were on sale, ok!?). So the next time you are looking for tickets on a long haul flight consider a layover, and I mean a LONG layover. Who knows, maybe you’ll be rewarded with an amazing destination you never thought in a million years you’d ever visit.

Editor’s note: Sheep Train Thrombosis (STT) is a fatal disease that causes the death of countless railbound sheep each year. If you think you could have Sheep Train Vehiculosis, consult a doctor/veterinarian to determine whether you are at risk. Side effects may include: Wooly Ear, Trainophobia (fear of wolves), uncontrollable Baa-ing, and in some cases death.

*Calm down, I’m just joking.