wednesday, october 1 - auckland, new zealand to melbourne VIC, australia
the hotel check-out was 11am & our airport shuttle wasn't coming until noon, so it was perfect to have my facial start at 10:30am. i rarely have facials, but it seemed weird to not spend two hundred bucks in a day, so i went for it. X) it was wonderful! my face had never felt so fancy & french, soft & smooth, & my skin really needed the pampering after so many flights & so much time away from home.
Frugal & i checked out & our shuttle was right on time. we were NOT charged the extra $55 for luggage on the way back, so i can only figure that gavin the supervisor came through for me. (i never received that hotel voucher, but that's fine - i prefer expedia anyhow.) customs & security took all of ten minutes, but we couldn't go to our gate because it wasn't yet assigned - our flight was on the board, but the column for gate was filled in with "RELAX". i giggled & took a photo. i found the only outlet in the airport & camped it for a few hours while eating my remaining chickpea fries & generally being sore as shit from horseback riding.
the flight was fine - more lumpy air, but a nice calm pilot. i got a good recording of the takeoff this time, & didn't know that an australian town named MOE was important enough to put on the flight map. our luggage was first out, & it was easy to hop a shuttle to the ibis budget, located down a not-rapey alley called little bourke. a lot of the streets here have main versions & "little" versions, marked as "lt" - so lt bourke was the alley next to bourke street proper. the room was better than i'd expect for not much money, & it had a fridge & was quite clean, so that was good. it also had the tiniest tub i've seen since i lived in that illinois apartment with a square tub - this one was 4' long: lish-sized tub! since this was my second time in melbourne, plus most of my plans involved a local, i was pretty comfortable with the town... but i was so glad we had the lush fancy hotel in new zealand with the brilliant concierge when i was more "on my own".
Frugal & i set out for food together, but i left him at a rather dusty looking pub & continued on my own. i bought a fancy blueberry/grape/apple juice (60% blueberry juice! & all australian sourced) to take the edge off my hunger. i almost ate at a dumpling place, but i kept going & found SUD, a delightful italian place with a delightful mustache-waxed man, ben (i think), who paid me special attention. they had spatchcock on the menu outside but he said it was from the day before, & couldn't find me a lone bird left. no tenth animal for me tonight... though technically poussin isn't a different animal, just a younger version of one i'm well familiar with. anyhow, he highly recommended the quaglie (deboned quail with eggplant, capsicum, & sultanas), & told me how they run free in barossa valley near adelaide & are brought in for them. i went for it, & those two birds definitely died with honor for my meal - the sear on them was outstanding, & the meat was juicy & soft. i couldn't finish the new potatoes they brought with my meal (especially after a slice & a half of their beautiful bread with a surprisingly good olive oil & balsamic), but i couldn't pass up dessert, so i took the crostata al cioccolato (dark chocolate tart with salted caramel) to go. ben said i couldn't walk back carrying "a daggy container", so he wrapped the plastic takeaway box in a cloth napkin & saw me out personally. :)
i came back to the hotel to relax & continue healing my riding bruises, & caught a shockingly funny show on tv, "impractical jokers". i set up with lana for tomorrow, tried to scam some free wifi (not this time), & ate my perfect tart (the salted caramel was JUST on the verge of bitter, exactly as i like it).
music: j church, "lost demo #10"
thursday, october 2 - melbourne, victoria, australia
i'm glad i didn't have dumplings last night, because lana's favorite vegan restaurant is shandong mama, & she'd recommended the zucchini dumplings several times while i was planning the trip. she was totally spot-on with the last meal we'd had together, so i took her word & we started the day there for lunch. we shared orders of both boiled & fried zucchini dumplings, & they were exceptional - the dumpling dough was super light, practically melted in my mouth, & the fillings were identifiable pieces of zucchini & tofu & herbs & such - so fucking tasty. (see lana's pic!) we also had the scallion pancakes, & they were both beautiful & delicious - they looked a little like crispy woven baskets of yum.
we wandered around shopping after lunch; i'd reloaded my myki card while i was out last night & i was set to go. i had a couple of good juices (a mango smoothie thing by nudie, & another local juice lana recommended of apple/strawberry/mandarin/lime - you could really taste every individual flavor). lana took me through a bunch of little stores to buy awesome australian foodstuffs, & at the oxfam shop i chose a quandong dessert sauce (subtitled "wild peach topping") & bush tomato seasoning ("kutijera, a favorite with australian aboriginal people for thousands of years"). we also stopped through adriano zumbo again, & fortunately i only had to buy one pastry this time - pars the strawberry gran. but i also picked up two more macarons (another salted caramel on toast, & a bright green mandarin/kaffir lime), & a pre-packaged container of milk chocolate hazelnut things, chocadz, that sounded amazing - i forgot to photograph the sign, but i found the description online: gooey caramel ganache on a bed of hazelnut meringue, dipped in chocolate & rolled in crunchy chopped hazelnuts. i know, right? (they didn't even last 24 hours once i got home.)
we went through a local market after that, very much like pike place. i photographed some crazy looking flowers & black tomatoes, & discussed how odd it is that australians call papaya "paw paw" & canteloupe "rock melon". we'd hoped to find fresh feijoa, but spotted none. i did buy a large jar of plum jam by enchanted cottage preserves in mount dandenong, & two one-serving sizes of the same flavor from yarra valley jams - only samples of the latter because it appeared to be jelly, not jam. i found cooked australian crayfish, the giant creature i'd had in the laksa at harbourside, & understood why my soup had only two scallop-sized chunks of crayfish - they were going for nearly a hundred a kilo. (i priced the smallest one, but it would've still cost forty bucks to buy.) on the way to the next location, we found cadbury employees handing out HEAPS of free boost nuts bars; i'd bought a regular boost bar a while back & considered trying the nuts version, so that was a neat coincidence.
we also ran through the place i'd bought those chocolate bars during melbourne v1.0, & lana bought some MUSK flavored lifesavers. they smelled... like 14yo boys trying too hard with the cologne, but the flavor wasn't bad, just kind of floral & lightly sweet. they weren't good enough to eat more of, but not bad enough to buy a roll to force my friends to eat. lana was familiar with the musk sticks i saw on manly beach & said they taste similar, but the texture is horrid.
we decided to quit for the day, as we were both quite tired, but lana's train was forty minutes off, so we went for a snack. lana took me up four flights of stairs to this terrific little indian pop-up place called overdosa. they take firm avocado chunks, coat them in dosa batter, & deep-fry them. & fuck, everyone knows i'm not much for deep-frying anything, but DAMN that was good. we dropped some lemon juice on them & they didn't need aaaanything else.
we set up brief details for luna park tomorrow, then lana went back to her train & i wandered the melbourne CBD a bit more before taking a couple trams to my hotel. i decided to do dinner light after all that (& with my strawberry zumbo still ahead), & bought a couple items at coles, including a vanilla bean & cinnamon "chia pod", which i'm 99% certain was non-newtonian, & some full-cream australian milk to drink with my zumbo treat.
i got back to the room around seven thirty, used my phone as a mobile hotspot for my netbook (which is still new to me & awesome) ate, & & watched some australian tv (including an ad that included a bastardized version of trio's "da da da", a song i know because j church covered it, but the song's from 1982, so... it's weird). i'd say australia seems pretty liberal about their tv - i heard all manner of swearing, the few minutes of south park i ran into weren't at all censored, & they even showed boybox (ie, a dude tucking it back) at one point. it was really refreshing.
that crazy strawberry tart was, of course, beyond delicious - the strawberry white chocolate mousse was as ridiculously light as the cream cheese mousse on the carrot cake, & i fucking LOVED the parsley jelly - i'm into desserts with herbs anyhow, but its use really gave the flavor a new dimension. yum.
friday, october 3 - melbourne, victoria, australia
i'm not sure why Frugal woke up butthurt - i wished him a great last day & he responded like i'd said i hope he has a kickass time at his mother's funeral. whatever, my day was going to rock. i ate my macarons for breakfast with the last of my aussie milk - the lime & mandarin was lovely with its little bits of zest in the batter, & the salted caramel was even better than the last one - it must've just been made before i bought it, because the cookie texture was perfect. my riding wounds were abating & i was feeling pretty good.
i'd seen ads in new zealand for escape masters, who offer a live-action escape-the-room game like "nine hours, nine persons, nine doors", which i'd just recently played & very much enjoyed... but with 2+ people as a requirement, i couldn't go. (wtf, southern hemisphere? sky screamer, horseback riding, & escape room... they all require you to know someone. don't they know that no one can truly know anyone else?) there were fliers in the hotel for a similar company in melbourne, & lana thought it sounded awesome! i arrived early, had a breakfast wrap, & torrented on more free wifi, then we met up at escape room to try "gallery: the insidious art thief".
our game was only rated three of five stars, but we had to use both our hints in the second room, & barely started on the third & final room before our timer ran out. the girls running the place showed us how to solve it, & i don't think we would've finished the last room with infinite time. it was AWESOME. we had to find secret passages & shimmy under lasers & figure out combination locks & read things with a blacklight torch... i loved it. apparently they're coming to the states, if they're not already there, so i hope they show up in seattle soon.
after we stepped into a little pop-up art gallery with a sweatered tree outside, & it was so cool that we took the tram to the full gallery. i almost bought a large etched glass panel of trees - would've been more tempted had it not been an etching of canadian trees. the smaller pieces were photographed in australia, but i didn't like them as much.
hungry, we debated food & ended up back at shandong mama eating zucchini dumplings again. fuck, they were just SO good. the waitress was all, "...you were here yesterday?" but she shouldn't've been surprised that we'd return. we also stopped & had tiny vegan cupcakes at lana's request, & they were just the right amount of cupcake. we took a long tram ride to luna park but didn't end up buying the day pass because the lines were gross - it was the last day of school holiday & there were baby people everywhere. also luna park is really tiny - i'm pretty sure it could fit inside silverwood without moving anything around. (i showed lana silverwood's website while we were in line, & she nearly shat a kitten. it made her want to visit the states, & i promised to drive her to the park if she made it.) we bought single rides instead, & agreed the power surge looked the best - & it was great! amusingly, it started with twenty seconds of gnr's "welcome to the jungle", which then abruptly cut off - i guess they couldn't afford to buy rights? but the ride itself was terrific.
we walked around a bit after, i had a triple mango smoothie (mango, mango juice, & mango yogurt), & bought a tiny ceramic fish at half off at a little hippie shop called ishka that was going out of business. (it has a holder for keys on it, so i'll be able to tell people to hang their keys on the fishhook. :D)
at lana's behest, i bought a pink lady apple juice by preshafruit, & she was right - it was the best apple juice ever. we stopped by her favorite little bar/hangout in the city, & i photographed a weird lsd poster in the bathroom. we also ran through a candy stop & i bought some nerds i hadn't tried, various sweets including an l&p whittaker's bar (at lana's request, as it's not vegan & she really wanted a firsthand account of how good &/or gross it was) & a silly present for phil, & some... mint chocolate caramel popcorn? wtf, too weird not to try. (it wasn't great.)
the oddest coincidence happened when we stopped into a little market & i heard my favorite song by slint on the stereo. i'd JUST seen them play in seattle, & ended up talking to one of the girls who worked there (it was her ipod or whatever) & her super hot guy friend about how awesome slint is. this is a band that put out their best of two albums in 1991, was incredibly influential but basically retired just after that, & who i never thought i'd get to see live - much less listen to in a tiny market in australia. crazy.
though vegan, lana was on board with my quest to eat as many new animals as possible, & we searched for number ten for ages, but couldn't find anything else. (i guess technically the queensland king prawns i had in sydney would count, but i have trouble counting types of prawn as unique. yeah, they are, but they're barely identifiable one to the next other than size & sweetness. so, fuck it.) i settled on having my last bug - i got a prawn & moreton bay bug risotto as takeaway from xpressomondo.
lana & i said our goodbyes at the train station, promising to meet again, & i fully intend on doing so - she was a terrific guide & greatly improved my trip. i trammed back to the hotel to pack & eat dinner - my portion only had half a bug, but it was pretty inexpensive & very tasty, the bug grilled & smoky in its half shell. i stayed up until midnight to begin to flip my schedule back, & went to bed. as much as i enjoyed this trip, & i thoroughly did, i was definitely ready to go home.
saturday, october 4 - melbourne VIC, australia to los angeles CA to seattle WA
the flight out was at 9:50am, so i left for the skybus at 6am, allowing 20 minutes to drag my bags three blocks to the train station, plus thirty minutes for the twenty-minute drive to the airport. Frugal had been whining & complaining about having to be to the airport so early - he thinks it's stupid to get there three hours in advance - so i split & let him fend for himself. hey, if he wants to risk paying for a new flight at thousand bucks, he can go right ahead.
my time schedule was perfect, & it took an hour & a half to get through everything. the qantas rep couldn't get me anything but a middle seat, but she was able to move me up to a better middle seat, just one row back from the main door. i camped an outlet & had a really delicious apple & rhubarb yogurt with muesli, then spent my last $1.50AUD on a cadbury caramel koala because it was the only thing under three bucks (& i again avoided buying twelve pounds of toblerone). the free airport wifi was busted, but i still had about 70M left on my international data plan, so i used that & the last of my pre-paid texts while some weirdo played the "an exciting thing is happening" music from pirates of the caribbean on a piano in duty free. why is there even a piano in an airport?
my gate was the same one as the flight to new zealand, way down at the end of the world. it was slightly delayed, but i had hours to wait in los angeles anyhow, so that was no problem. Frugal & Half Creeper found me just before boarding; Half Creeper had been down to queenstown & did a bungee jump & shotover jet, so he showed me some great pics. i wondered if i'd've had more fun rooming with him, but he also caught some kind of NZ flu while he was there, so i wasn't sad to be away from that.
the aussie flight on qantas was good except for the dude next to me who kept elbowing me fairly roughly & not apologizing. a few hard shoves back & he seemed to get the point; good thing, since i was ready to verbally bitch him out at the next touch, & he would NOT have liked that as he seemed the easily embarrassed type. i arrived into LAX on time, waited an hour for my luggage, & walked literally around most of the airport to get from international arrivals to domestic departures. (kindly, a guy at customs gave me a smartecarte so i didn't have to drag my 22kg bag for my tour of the LAX sidewalk.) i got my boarding pass, then waited in the thirty minute "express bag drop" line only to be told that i couldn't check in until four hours from departure. it was 9:15am. the flight wasn't until 4pm. -_- poor hungry lish waiting in the airport.
when i went back up at noon, the lines were massive. an hour later, my bag was checked & i found food & a good chair to nap in. my plane boarded, stopped in oakland, landed in seattle, & i was finally in my town after eight flights & ten safe takeoffs/landings. i took an uber home & got there around 9:30pm.
i'd done a good job cleaning before i left, so i only had to contend with some air in the pipes (always scary) & a surprisingly evaporated toilet - that's not something you see very often. i had dinner, then ate a couple of the zumbo chocadz - delicious, made more so because they weren't too sweet. the sugar level reminded me of those wonderful ice cream bars i had in china. at 2am, i crawled into fresh sheets (thanks past lish!) & slept well, my schedule having successfully flipped back via many naps over the 33 hours it took to get home.
so the final list of new animals consumed on this trip:
1. blue swimmer crab
3. moreton bay bugs
4. [australian] scampi
6. blue grenedier
9. [australian] crayfish
that list doubles to 18 if you count the sushi phil & i ate in los angeles. :)
& new fruits:
3. rosella (wild hibiscus)
4. quandong (wild peach)
i feel like this trip made me so much more confident in travelling alone. i was able to get where i needed to go, accomplish everything i really wanted to do, didn't get lost, didn't get raped, & didn't even feel homesick for my computer since i could access it from nearly anywhere on my smartphone. it wasn't as big a challenge as going somewhere that doesn't have english as a primary language, but i bet i could get myself around germany or sweden or switzerland just fine.
it was a long trip, but a great one. i hope you enjoyed my travellogue.