11.29.2014

Smaller

The largest size of take away coffee you can get in Australia is about 12 ounces, equating to about the smallest size in America.

One thing you notice when traveling in Australia, or really any country other than the USA, is the moderation and simplicity of the people. Everything is quite a bit smaller.

It is not all about consumerism and competition - bigger, better, faster, more.

Granted, the Australians make their coffee better and stronger than Americans. So in a sense it is about better, meaning quality. But it is quality at the expense of quantity. To me, that is the definition of VALUE - emphasizing quality rather than quantity.

American corporate advertisers and mainstream media emphasize excess without regard to quality and this cheapens American society. People don't need quality in America...when things don't last they can just throw them away and buy more, dirt cheap. I understand why corporate America does this. They want to generate large profits and are not content with modest profits because they fear their competitors will outcompete them. It is literally a race to the bottom. Cut costs (and thus quality) and gain profits.

I want to disenfranchise mainstream America because it is unhealthy. More accurately, I would like to make quality and moderation mainstream again. But I think as long as mediocrity is mainstream, quality doesn't have a fair fighting chance. So first we need to work on the collective American mindset, a much more formidable task. But people can be rational and most would say they prefer quality vs. quantity, I think.

Disenfranchising weak sauce and consumerism seems challenging. But it has been done before. Look at the example of smoking cigarettes. Collectively as a society we realized that cigarettes were a bad product and we disenfranchised smokers to the fringe of society. Smokers are relegated to defined areas and the disgust of non-smokers around smokers is scarcely veiled anymore. Smokers are objectified as a nuisance to others.

Just five minutes ago, as I was lying on my hotel room bed in Cowes, Australia (Phillip Island) writing this post, I smelled cigarette smoke. The window near my bed was open.

"Is someone smoking outside?" I asked my pops. "I smell smoke."

He opened the door of the hotel room and looked outside.

"Yep," he replied. "Right next door...that must have been what I smelled last night."

"Can you close the window?" I requested. He closed the hotel room door and then turned the knob that closed the window.

Our conversation wasn't hushed. Every word we spoke could be clearly heard by the smoker outside the adjacent room. He or she (I did not see) was relegated to second class status, legitimately ridiculed and shunned (disenfranchised from our lives) for their habit. It is perfectly OK to tell a smoker to get out of your face to their face nowadays.

So mediocrity can be disenfranchised. The key is to first recognize something as a danger to society and decide to do something about it.

Mediocrity and consumerism are ultimately destructive to American values and long term wellness. Once we all agree on this, we can start jailing bankers.

March of the Penguins

I find tourist attractions that involve humans observing nature to be quite gauche. Still, I went with my extended family to view the dusk arrival from the sea of the Little (aka Faerie) Penguins that roost on the southern shore of Phillip Island off the coast of Australia near Melbourne.

These penguins spend the entire day at sea, gorging on fish, and return to shore at dusk, when the risk of predation is lowest, to feed their young. After a hard day's fishing, it must be annoying for them to have to parade past a bunch of nature starved humans oohing and aahing at them.

Imagine if you came home from work each day to find hundreds of penguins scattered around your house and along your driveway and footpath, to watch you come home and do your thing. Ridiculous.

Still, the little guys were super cute, waddling up the beach to their nests on the hillside around the viewing area and penguin center (moneymaker with gift shop). When you left the place you could see even more penguins along the boardwalk, and some of their chicks. It was pretty cool. But the sheer size and scope of the tourist attraction was disheartening. I suppose there is no way around it with so many people in the world now, searching for meaning in their lives via the meaning in penguins' lives.

We were forbidden from taking pictures or videos of the little beasties, so there is nothing visual to accompany this post. You will have to google "little penguins phillip island" and see if anyone has posted pictures or videos, illicit or otherwise.

Christmas in Australia

So...

Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere. December 25 in Australia equates seasonally to June 25 in the Northern Hemisphere. That is to say, Christmas in Australia falls about three or four days after the longest day of the year down under, in the middle of summer.

It's hot then. It doesn't even snow in Australia in winter usually, but in summer it is often ridiculously hot.

So ice and snow and reindeer don't make a lot of sense as icons for Christmas in Australia. I won't be coming back to the USA from Australia until December 10, but the preamble to Christmas should be in full swing by then. I will have to see what kinds of icons and imagery Australians use to celebrate Christmas. That should be educational.

My dad tells me that Australians don't really try to resolve the cognitive dissonance of celebrating Christmas in summer. They just admit that it is silly to celebrate Christmas in general, even in the Northern Hemisphere. So they just embrace the silliness.

Cowes on Phillip Island

The beach at Cowes on Phillip Island was gorgeous when we arrived there after the short one block walk from our hotel, a derivative of the Comfort Inn chain called Kaloha Resort. My sister, her partner Carl, and my niece and nephew Millie and Ty, respectively, were already there, as mandated by the nine year olds' compulsion for instant gratification. My sister was knee deep in the sea, keeping a watchful eye on Ty and Millie as they splashed about, a longing for deeper water in their eyes, but restrained by my sister's restraining gaze.

The beach was about as idyllic as one could imagine. The southern shore of Phillip Island where Cowes lies is protected from strong winds and currents by surrounding land masses, principally Gippsland and the Nepean Peninsula, the east flank of Port Phillip Bay. The sea was remarkably calm, the incoming tide only apparent as a gentle lapping of waves, each succeeding one rolling a few centimeters farther up the sandy beach. We had missed low tide by a couple of hours, but a wide expanse of beach still separated the water from the brick and asphalt sea wall of the Esplanade.

Perhaps two dozen people dotted the beach around us, with a dozen more in the water. The blue skies were likewise dotted here and there with small puffs of cloud that did nothing to prevent the brilliant Australian afternoon sun from showering the beachgoers in its ultraviolet rays. A sea breeze cooled the skin to a comfortable level even though the ambient temperature was probably near 35 degrees C (90 F).

I put my smart phone and wallet in the outside pouch of the backpack my sister had taken with her to the beach, then removed my sunglasses, hat, and t-shirt, and ambled toward the sea to join my relatives. Carl was just stepping out of the water.

"How is it?" I queried.

"It's actually quite a bit colder than I expected," Carl replied in his softspoken voice.

He was right. The sea water was deceptively chilly on my skin as I waded slowly into it. It made sense. Being the end of November, it is only late spring in the southern hemisphere right now, the equivalent of late May in the northern hemisphere. Still, I expected the water to be a bit warmer given the more subtropical latitudes of this part of Australia.

I eventually gathered the courage to plunge my entire body beneath the surface of the water, which felt not unlike dunking myself in a pool of ice water, though I suspect that is an exaggeration in a relative sense. I played a bit of "shark" with my niece and nephew, which basically entailed chasing them through the shallow frigid waters until I "tagged" one of them and they became the shark.

I left the water after a few minutes to restore my core temperature under the Australian sun. As the dry air evaporated the sea water from my skin, leaving a fine residue of salt behind, my niece and nephew set to the task of racing to see who could dig deeper holes in the sand in a span of 30 seconds.

I overheard Carl say to my sister, "It seems odd to travel four thousand miles just to come to the beach." I sensed that he was hoping for more interesting activities, but my sister was more inclined to satisfy the desires of her twin children.

My parents, with whom I had left the hotel, joined us at our spot on the beach. They had walked down to the nearby pier after I had joined my sister's entourage.

11.28.2014

The Sanctuary District - Healesville Australia

The most poisonous snake on Earth is the Inland Saipan native to Australia, if the zoological experts at the Healesville (Australia) Animal Sanctuary are to be believed. Additionally, the top 10 most poisonous snakes in all the world live in Australia. While there are no documented human deaths from the Inland Saipan, it is a moody and unpredictable beastie. The key word, of course, is documented. I can imagine someone deep in the Australian bush getting bitten and, with no way to get help, never being seen again. That would be an undocumented death. Still, it seems to me anyone who goes out into the Australian bush ought to know what they are up against, so maybe no one has died from that particular snake. But people have surely died, with documentation to confirm it, from the bites of the other nine species of venomous* snakes in Australia, like the Brown and Black Snakes.

Today, my family toured the Healesville Sanctuary, a zoological park (zoo) filled with native Australian animals. My sister and I have been there before, when we visited Australia as kids. I remember being allowed to pet kangaroos and wallabies as a kid, but that has changed a bit now. While you are not strictly speaking forbidden from petting these animals, you can only do so if they come to you, and this is highly correlated with whether you are presenting them with a foodstuff that they like to eat (and is legal to feed them). Suffice to say, no petting occurred this time, but we still got up close and personal with them in their enclosures. They are quite tame, so they mill about in their areas separated from the people by just a rope that signifies the edge of the walking path. They have monetized the official animal petting experience now, charging $12 for what they call "Magical Moments" with the animals, complete with photographs of your animal encounter available for an additional cost. I am not one to succumb to such marketing ploys. If the animals don't want to come get petted by me of their own free will, I respect them all the more for it. We did see some other people having their magical moments with the beasties. The vicariousness of that was sufficient.

In order to get some much needed exercise after all the delicious but not low calorie Australian food I have been eating, I parted ways with my family for an hour or so to pound out some power walking through the fairly large zoo grounds. I spent some time in the Lyre Bird aviary talking to a zookeeper who was there to feed the elusive birds. The Lyre Birds did not show, although a Bower Bird did. Apparently, the male Lyre Bird had recently shed his showy tail feathers and when that happens he becomes very reclusive and shy, like a woman might be hesitant to go out in public without makeup or decently stylish clothing...but if she is hungry enough, she might. The female Lyre Bird apparently does as the male does, because she did not show either. They Lyre Birds did not sing as far as I could tell, although this is questionable, because Lyre Birds can perfectly mimic other birds, and in fact almost any sound they hear. They have an organ in their throats called a syrinx that is made of keratin and it is believed to account for their amazing mimicry. The Lyre Bird's syrinx is the largest of any known bird species. The zookeeper said he once heard the Lyre Bird making a strange call he had not heard before and a Vietnamese visitor to the zoo said it was Vietnamese. They will also mimic the sound of a few dozen school children at a distance, because school trips to the sanctuary occur almost daily. It was quite educational talking to the zookeeper even if the birds were AWOL.

During the heat of the day, most of the animals were fairly dormant and just lying about here and there. The koala bears were asleep in their gum trees when we arrived late morning, but later in the afternoon, shortly before we were due to leave, I caught a koala milling about. Koalas are not pettable at any time because they have razor sharp claws. They may look cute but they will make every attempt to disembowel you if given the chance.

The dingos were also up and about later in the day. These animals fill the niche of wild dogs in Australia. They are, in fact, a type of dog and can interbreed with domesticated dogs (and sometimes do), but interestingly, dingos do not bark. They make all kinds of other howling and chattering sounds...but nothing that could be defined as a bark.

We watched a decent presentation about the Duck-Billed Platypus, a primitive mammal called a monotreme that lays eggs but nurses its young after they hatch on "milk" that comes out of sweat glands on the beastie's abdomen. They are not even developed enough to be called teets. Male platypi, but not females, are venomous. They have a bony spur behind each of their hind legs that is supplied with a quite painful venom stored in a gland in their thigh. If Creationists really wanted to make a compelling case for their bogus beliefs, the platypus would be a great specimen, albeit not a very intelligently designed one. It is almost like God's zoological technicians biffed and accidentally combined bird and mammal traits in one creature. In fact, Australian Aborigines believe that platypi are the result of that kind of "just so story." According to their Dream Time origin myths, a swan and a water rat fell in love and got married. The platypus was their ungainly offspring, part egg laying duck and part water dwelling, milk producing rat.

I learned quite a bit today. It was a marathon trip to the zoo to be sure. I had a couple of meat pies (Australian staple) for lunch at the zoo cafeteria, as well as an Asian salad of some type. I felt OK with that given all the calories I burned walking. A woman from Seattle stopped me to chat briefly about the Leinenkugel's beer shirt I was wearing as I was power walking my way around the zoo grounds. Apparently, she had stopped at the Chippewa Falls WI brewery en route from Minneapolis to Door County in some earlier chapter of her life and had greatly enjoyed the beer.

We hit a grocery store in Healesville before we returned to our hotel in Thornton, several kilometers away through the perilously narrow and windy mountain roads of the Great Dividing Range. These mountains are not huge by any means but the shoulders on the narrow roads are virtually non-existent and it is not easy to keep a large minivan between the lines, but my dad did so exceedingly well. The rest of my family was panic stricken in the rear of the mini. I am really hoping I do not have to do any driving while I am here, since they drive on the "wrong" (left) side of the road in Australia. America should make a deal with Australia that we will switch to the metric system of measuring things if they switch to driving on the right side of the road. I don't think the Aussies will take that wager, because they probably don't give a shit if America goes metric.

At the grocery store, we got some sandwich fixings for our long road trip tomorrow down to Phillip Island where there are penguins. Restaurant food here is ridiculously expensive, even given the fact that taxes and higher wages are factored into the prices. It is more economical to shop at a grocery store and make food at home (hotel). I got a whole kilogram of sliced turkey deli meat. This is over two pounds of meat, so I will be making some THICK sandwiches tomorrow morning before we hit the road. We also bought some fruit, which will supplement our cereal based breakfast. We have muesli and some ancient grain flakes (amaranth and shite) we bought yesterday to use up, along with a jug of damn tasty soy milk. I could live in Australia, I really could. And probably should.

Tonight, notwithstanding the grocery store run, I succumbed to the temptation of hotel restaurant food and that was not a bad choice, exorbitant though it was. I got grilled fish (not battered) and chips. The fish of the day was sea bass. It was great. I also had a tasty pint of Carlton Dark Ale, an Aussie beer.

This weekend we'll take a ferry across the Heads of Port Phillip Bay and visit Point Lonsdale where my dad's parents had a resort property my sister and I went to a few times as kids. The sale of said property is actually largely underwriting this trip. When my paternal grandparents built their "resort" house in Point Lonsdale in the 1950s, the area wasn't actually yet a resort area. Over the years, as people began to recreate there more and more, a resort community grew up around the property. The house on the property had been rented out after my gramma died (my dad inherited it), since we all lived in the States. Some bad renters gutted and vandalized the place a few years back and my dad decided to sell rather than remodel and rent again (the last time I was in Australia was actually accompanying my pops in this mission to determine the fate of the property). He still made bank notwithstanding the poor shape of the house on the property. Presumably the developer who bought the property demolished the house and built some new ritzy dwellings there for people who make far more than I do (but someday I'll be independently wealthy and swoop in to reclaim the family property again...hahaha!). So we will have to swing by the address and see what they have done with it.

Well it has been a long day and I suppose I ought to catch some ZZZs.

*I am well aware that the words venomous and poisonous mean different things zoologically, but I shall use them interchangeably here because my blog is for laymen and I do what I want to as a free agent in the cosmos.

11.27.2014

Golden Gaytime at Eildon Were

After making the long drive to Thornton, Victoria, Australia and checking into the hotel there, we went sight seeing to Snobs Creek Falls (described in a prior post) and Lake Eildon, specifically Eildon Were, the location of a legendary tale my dad tells of when he was a boy and the family dog, Dodge by name, saved him and his dad (my grampa who I never met) from getting sucked over the were spillway in a dinghy. The area has changed quite a bit because a new dam was built there and the water level is now 90 feet higher. But it was cool to be able to associate the place with the "Dodge Story" my dad often recounts.

At the time, my grampa had a campsite on the far side of the lake. It was a protected area then as now, but you were allowed to camp there if you had a mining permit. These must not have been to difficult or expensive to get because my grampa had one. Getting to the campsites required a boat and they had a small dinghy with an outboard motor moored on the lake close to the were spillway. As they started toward the campsite, the outboard motor died and they could not restart it. The lake level was high and the water going over the spillway was about five feet deep. So the powerless boat began to drift toward the spillway.

My dad admits that in a worst case scenario they could have jumped out of the boat and swum to safety, but that was a last resort because they didn't want to lose the boat and fishing gear. Dodge the dog was with them and the solution they settled on was to get Dodge, a Labrador Retriever, to swim out and fetch the mooring line of a nearby boat anchored in the were. Somehow this worked and they were able to pull the dinghy alongside the other boat until they could get the motor started again.

After seeing Eildon Were, we drove into the tiny outback town of Eildon for tea at a cafe where I made an awesome discovery. I found a mythical Golden Gaytime ice cream bar in the ice cream cooler of the cafe. I had only ever seen this as a Facebook meme and I was now able to verify, scientically, the existence of this humorously named dessert product.

We hit the grocery store in Eildon for some breakfasty type foods since the hotel was a bit sketch on breakfast availability and then returned to the hotel for a brief rest, when I actually wrote the precursor to this post, but it was lost to some kind of bug in Blogger's mobile functionality, so I am actually now re-writing the entire thing the following morning from memory.

We had a great big dinner at the hotel's magnificent dining hall. I am not clear why the hotels we have stayed at thus far do not offer the traditional hot breakfast" of the British Commonwealth. This would, if memory serves, be a smorgasbord of eggs, bacon and other pork meat byproducts, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, cheeses, bagels, pastries, and cereals etc. Perhaps some place we stay at will offer this before the end of the trip. It is not a big deal but I am a breakfast protein kind of person and this hotel room cereal and banana thing in the morning is not good for my figure.

Snobs Creek Falls

My family is quite risk averse. I guess I am the thrillseeker among us and that is not saying much. We had to wind the minivan up a rather narrow "mountain road" with a drop off on one side and a risk of falling rock on the other, in order to check out Snobs Creek Falls, something of a tourist attraction near our motel in rural Thornton Australia, northwest of Melbourne (in tje bush). There was ample width for two vehicles on this road...but barely. When a couple of large logging trucks came barreling down the hill as we were going up, my dad cautiously and skillfully navigated the mini to the left to allow them to pass. However, my mom and sister veritably crapped themselves with panic and immediately became convinced that we were surely going over the cliff, or in a best case scenario we would get a flat tire and have no way to call for help, and would be stranded in the bush to die of starvation, about a half mile from civilization. I have no idea why the stress hormones skyrocket when my family is together, but there is no reasoning with it once it starts.

They began a campaign of trying to convince my dad to turn around the next chance he got, but of course there were no chances and any attempt to try to turn or large mini around on the narrow winding road would likely have been more perilous.

I suggested to my family that the awesomeness of the falls we sought would be proportionate to the risk experienced in getting there, but this was clearly not a compelling case for my white knuckled kinfolk.

Of course, we made it to the falls, and while I cannot say with certainty that they were as impressive as I had proposed, they were still pretty cool. After we saw them, we were able to easily turn the mini around in the parking area of the scenic outlook.

This is trout fishing country apparently, and I have dropped some hints that perhaps taking my twin niece and nephew fishing would be a way to keep them from losing their minds from the boredom of sightseeing alone...

11.26.2014

Healesville and Thornton

Today we are road tripping in the minivan to the northeast of Melbourne, through the Yarra Valley (wine country) toward our ultimate destination of Thornton. We will pass Healesville on the way, where we are going tomorrow. Healesville has a big animal sanctuary for native animals like kangaroos, wallabies, and koala bears. You can pet them. That will be cool for my niece and nephew.

There are cattle ranches in this area.  And lots of vineyards we can see from the road.

It is a rather long trip by car and I am navigating. Even so, there is ample time between important intersections for me to write.

The rural areas we are traversing remind me of the open spaces in Colorado and are probably comparably dry. They are probably irrigated for the benefit of the cattle though. Carl thinks this area looks more like Vermont, and it probably does, but I am not as familiar with Vermont. But if you, dear reader, are familiar with Vermont, visualize that.

In the town of Whitehorse that we passed through, there was supposed to be a white horse, but we never saw it.

As we go up into the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, it becomes more like a semi-tropical rainforest. There are fern trees, which look like small palm trees (see pics), but the fronds are ferns. This is probably an example of convergent evolution, but I can't say for sure.

We have stopped at the Black Spur Inn, in Narbethong, for lunch. However, the woman keeping bar said the kitchen doesn't open for 20 minutes yet. So we're taking a short walk around the inn grounds, which are quite scenic. We saw some kookaburras in the trees but they refused to "laugh" for us when I had my video camera on.

According to my dad, the original version of the film, "On the Beach," with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, which takes place largely in Melbourne and surrounds, had some scenes filmed at the Black Spur Hotel, which was what they called this inn before it got its current name. I will have to watch the movie and see if anything looks familiar. I hope it is on Netflix, but if not, I can probably find it on Youtube.

Australians appear to love food and as such, I love Australia. The food is not especially healthy, but its yummie. I ordered roast pork at the Black Spur. It was on special. I was tempted to get fish and chips, a solid staple of the Australian diet, but I get that a lot, so I mixed it up. I also thought about the chicken and brie pie, but my sister got that, so I had a bite of hers and it was good.

We have arrived at our lodging, the Rubicon Hotel in Thornton. I am going to post this now and write more later.

Thornton

Tomorrow we'll drive up to Thornton and tour the area around Eildon Weir where my dad recounts a dramatic adventure in which the family dog he had growing up, Dodge, saved him and his dad (my grampa who I never knew) from going over a dam spillway in their fishing boat when the engine would not start. As the story goes, they got Dodge to retrieve the mooring line of a nearby boat that was anchored so they could pull themselves to safety.

Melbourne and Surrounds

It is 5:30 PM in Melbourne Australia and my extended family is in our rented Europcar minivan, navigating rush hour as we make our way back to Sandringham from some north suburbs, where my parents were visiting some old friends, named Jack and Mary.

This morning, we took the train (again) downtown to mill about the Royal Victoria Botanic Gardens. It was a good looking and, more importantly, inexpensive outing (in fact...free). We were able to identify some trees we had seen on city streets our first two days in Melbourne. So that was the payoff.

At Jack and Mary's house in the 'burbs, I was also able to access an Australian bird book and confirm the identity of the Rainbow Lorikeets we had seen copulating on our first day here.

We got some tasty sandwiches at the Flinders Street Station that were fairly economical by comparison to most of the food available publicly here. We had also made some homemade sandwiches with leftover ingredients from the grocery store run yesterday morning. Only one of the three sandwiches got eaten. They await my mouth when we get back to the hotel once this heinous car ride through rush hour ends. I wish we had taken public transport out to the suburbs but that might have overwhelmed my easily stressed out family...even though this driving is surely stressing out my dad, who is at the wheel, as the only strictly native Australian among us, erroneously implying a genetic ability to drive on the left side of the road. It is quite hair raising to be sure.

I Have a Right to the 21st Century

I find myself hoping, even praying (though I am not religious), for something to happen in America that grounds all air travel for a while so I will be forced to stay in Australia indefinitely. A zombie apocalypse would be fine. That would be unlikely to reach Australia and New Zealand for the simple fact that travel times exceed viral incubation periods, so by the time planes with infected people got close, they would have been identified (if they didn't crash into the sea). Gunmen would greet these arrivals with extreme prejudice.

I have never visited an industrialized country I liked less than the USA. I am always impressed with every other country's ability to grow their social infrastructure and profit from doing so. I would love for the USA to up their game on this. Free market mechanisms apply to countries as well as companies. As a human being, I have a right to a good society and I will judge each country against my rubric of excellence.

My gut reaction is to simply want to leave America and let it wallow innits mediocrity while I move to a place worthy of me and conducive to my way of life. I think this is an appropriate reaction. Some may argue that I should stay in America and try to make it better, but I think that is a futile fool's errand. America is too far gone down the corporatist path. I see no way for it to recover.

I am lucky I have dual citizenship with 21st century Australia and 20th century USA. I will be sure to renew my Aussie passport when I get back from this trip. Australia has its problems but it is worlds ahead of America. They understand the value of a good society and they are willing to collectively pay for it via taxes, with the requisite amount of Australian windging.

Some Australians don't appreciate what they have. They should live in America for a while. Conversely, Americans would be wise to travel more and see what nice things they COULD have, if they weren't so beaten down by corporate media and government that tells them they can't, as a society, afford them. They could afford them if they were willing to pay for them with higher taxes. But people are reflexively against higher taxes ideologically for reasons they don't even fully grasp.

Steak Medium Means Steak Medium in Australia

I made the mistake of ordering my porterhouse steak medium well when we ate at the restaurant across the street from the Sandy Hotel, because in America that usually translates to medium rare. The cooks there are largely incompetent, lazy, and rushed, so their only compulsion is to get the food out of their sight as quickly as possible.

But not in Australia. The cooks here are competent and medium well means that. So I should have ordered it medium rare, the way I like it. Lesson learned.

11.25.2014

Melbourne Unlimited

Melbourne Australia was ranked the most livable city in the world by the people who rank that sort of thing and today we saw why.

We took the Sandringham line train to downtown Melbourne today, after we got our Myki public transit cards. The customer service agent at the Sandringham station where we got on explained the Myki cards to us very clearly. The Myki card system is a little clunky, and quite a political hot potato according to my buddy Paul who lives in Melbourne, but basically it is a fully automated and centralized digital system for easy on/off trains, busses, and trams, of which there are a ridiculous assortment in Melbourne (America's poor public transport system is shamefully weak by comparison). You put money on the cards and then you can use the card freely until the money is gone. There is a daily cap on charges so you cannot be charged more than about $12 AU in a day, no matter how many rides. The card itself costs $6 though which is a bit steep.

Anyway, we took the train down to Flinders Street Station (akin to Union Street Station in Chicago or Grand Central in New York) and cruised around the downtown, taking a couple trams here and there. We went to the Victoria Market, which was a huge marketplace, with a lot of fish vendors. All kinds of fish. We showed Ty and Millie, my niece and nephew, what a flathead was. This is a kind of fish with a quite flat head (appropriately enough) that we used to fish for when we lived in Australia for a couple years in the 80s.

There was a huge food court there too, so we ate some lunch. I had a couple of meat pies, a staple Australian foodstuff akin to a pot pie in the USA, as did Ty and Millie. My mom and pops got a couple bowls of Asian vegetables.

After lunch we had two options - Botanical Gardens or St. Kilda Baths.

We opted for the latter and took a tram southwest to Luna Park in St. Kilda, a famed old amusement park where the entrance is the grimacing face of a clown (you enter its mouth under a frightening set of teeth). A couple blocks from Luna Park, on the beach, is the St Kilda Baths. In the old days, they used to heat sea water and people would bathe in it outdoors as a restorative. They still do, except now the baths are indoors alongside an olympic size lap pool. It's basically an aquatic center but they still use real seawater. In the old days, a section of ocean along the beach was fenced off (from sharks) and people would swim there.

We took another tram back to Flinders Street to hop on the Sandringham train back to our hotel at the terminus of that line. In Sandringham, we had a rather expensive dinner at the Hobson Stores restaurant, then my parents and I walked down to the beach to watch the sun set. However, we were too slow. Although the sun was just above the horizon when we left the hotel room, it had sunk behind distant low lying clouds before we made it to the beach. We walked along the beach a short way (the offshore breeze was chilly). The tide was in again and the waves were quite fierce because of that and the wind.

Overall an action packed day. After I finish this post I will hit the hay and probably sleep like a baby.

Pictures from today are attached.