Upon 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.”
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.”
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?).
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…
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.)
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.
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.’
Besides excellent coffee, the nearby Yarra Valley is home to rolling vineyards and even a Chocolaterie that is quite inventive.
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.
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?”).
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.
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…