And frankly, I don’t love you that much.
12.10.2009 17 °C
Monday, 12 October 2009
Grand Hyatt Hotel
We had a lot of adventures today, some of which I will tell you about in a bit, but the biggest one for me was buying opals. Ninety-five percent of the world’s opals are mined in Australia, so I thought opals would make wonderful souvenirs for several people on the “prizes” list, as well as for me. I asked the ever-helpful tour director Lisa to recommend somewhere to buy opals, and she named a store called Altmann and Cherney, with convenient stores here and in Sydney. Let me clarify a bit: there are stores everywhere in in Melbourne that sell opals, but I get the feeling that most of those places are selling the equivalent of the $10 New York City street corner Rolex watches, if you know what I mean. I wanted somewhere reputable so that I knew what I was buying was, in fact, an opal. This store definitely fit that bill, plus Tauck tour members get a 10% commission discount there, which was an added cha-ching in favor of A&C. So, after the bus dropped us off at the hotel, David and I walked the three short blocks to the jewelry store. We explained our mission to the sales clerk, who very patiently explained about the different types of opals (fire, the traditional style that most people are used to seeing, black, and a third I can’t remember at the moment….hey, I’ve been up since 3:30 this morning. Give me a break, okay?) and started showing us earrings (my personal preference, so that’s what everybody was going to get. Hey, next time you go to Australia, you can pick out the kind of opals you want, okay?) OH HOLY CRAP!!! Apparently I was seriously naïve about how much stuff costs, not unlike an 80 year-old man who thinks a suit should still cost $10!!!! There was NOTHING in the store in the way of earrings that were less than $300 (and these were not large earrings, either!)!! That’s when the opal plan got thrown out the window, and how! I love you all, but frankly, I didn’t take you to raise! However, since it really is all about me, I got myself a dainty pair of teardrop-shaped fire opal earrings. If you ask me nicely, I might let you borrow them some time.
Today was our day for the bus tour of Melbourne with the tour group. We boarded the bus at 9:00 am--there were some who were tardy, and believe me, I took note of the laggards. Tardiness is a character flaw, people! I am trying to make allowances for the geriatric set, but frankly, if you know you walk slow, start earlier! This was your classic “R&L” (riding and looking) tour--here on the left you see Parliament House, and on the right Fitzroy Gardens, etc. Our first actual stop was St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, the seat of the diocese of Melbourne. It was quite a nice church, but after seeing Notre Dame and Sacre Couer, pretty much everything else is a bit of a letdown.
I learned a new phrase on the way to St. Pat’s. We passed an…ahem…local institution called “Ladies for Gentlemen” that is exactly what you think it is (apparently it’s legal here), and tour guide Lisa used the phrase “Ladies of Negotiable Affection”. I LOVE it!
After St. Pat’s it was off to the Royal Botanic Garden and the Shrine of Remembrance. These two attractions are right across the street from each other, and we had about an hour and a half to divide between the two as we saw fit. I powered through the Camellia Collection and attempted to view the greenhouse containing the tropical collection, but the door was locked, even though it was supposed to be open. I really think the caretaker who saw me standing there with my face pressed against the glass should have let me in, don’t you? For heaven’s sake, I flew almost 10,000 miles to see those flowers! Apparently he did not share my viewpoint, so it was off to find the Rose Pavilion. This was a completely unsuccessful quest, so I power-shopped the gift shop (you know I never pass up a good gift shop!), then headed across the street to the Shrine of Remembrance.
The Shrine of Remembrance is a monument to all the soldiers from Victoria (the Australian state in which Melbourne is located) who were killed in the Great War (WWI), particularly those who died at Gallipoli. It was built entirely with funds donated by the private citizens of Victoria. The monument in very moving: there is a sanctuary in the center of which rests a slab of marble engraved with the phrase “Greater Love Hath No Man”. There is an occulus (look it up) in the ceiling, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the sun enters the sanctuary through the occulus and transects the stone. (The introduction of Daylight Savings Time here in Australia has, of course, fouled up the lovely symmetry, but engineers solved the problem by slapping a mirror up there…now, the ray of sun transects the stone twice on November 11: once at 11:00 (faked with the mirror) and once at noon, whose true sun time is the old 11:00. Since the actual event is so rare, they perform a remembrance ceremony several times a day using a spotlight. They play a bugle call that is called “The Last Post”, then the light moves across the stone. It is incredibly moving. I also learned that red poppies are used as the flower of remembrance because they were the first flowers that began growing again on the battlefield of Gallipoli.
After our opal excursion, David and I set out for more walkabout. Lunch was a fast-foody picnic in Federation Square (more on this in a moment), then we rode the City Circle tram (that actually goes in a square) all around the Central Business District. It was basically a free Gray Line tour --more R&L tourism! After that, we set off to the Eureka Tower to take in the city views from the 88th floor observation gallery. At 90 stories high, Eureka Tower is the tallest residential building in the world, and the 88th floor observation platform is the highest in the Southern Hemisphere. And, for those of you who loved “Leaving Las Vegas” or “National Treasure” (the only movie of his I can honestly say I ever liked) Nicolas Cage owns the penthouse! Anyway, we dutifully paid our $16.50 to be conveyed up into the lower stratosphere to take in breathtaking views of the Melbourne skyline. Even with my issues with heights, I can handle observation decks since they are enclosed. I did bow out of the Edge Experience, which is like the Grand Canyon skywalk, a glass cantilever that lets you look down under your feet. We ended the day with a little retail therapy. I think I bought a little notebook to write these witty bon mots down in, but after my purchase this afternoon, I was feeling sufficiently shrunk and didn’t buy much.
Today was another good food day. The magnificent breakfast buffet awaited us this morning at the hotel. For lunch, David and I went to a little shop we’d seen near the train station called Lord of the Fries. At first, it seemed like a normal burger joint with a wide variety of French fry dipping sauces available for your order. I ordered a mini-burger combo Aussie style (ketchup and vinegar on the fries), while David had the Indian curry dipping sauce. While we were waiting for our order, we began to notice that something was amiss with this “burger joint”. It was the sign that said “100% vegetarian. Ask about our gluten-free and vegan options.” That’s right, it was a vegetarian “hamburger” joint. And that, my friends, is simply just wrong! Fortunately, they put enough toppings on my textured vegetable protein patty that it was palatable. That, however, is not an experience that ever needs to be repeated.
Dinner was at another New York Times-recommended place, a Thai restaurant called Cookie in the Curtin House on Swanston Street. We got several small plates to share, including a fried shrimp cocktail with chili mayonnaise, a roasted pumpkin dish, Thai sausage (who knew?), and something with bamboo shoots rolled up in rice noodles. Everything was yummy save for one little problem: the shrimp were fried with their heads on! I’m afraid I had to give that a big ol’ pass. And, oddly enough, the sausage tasted like lime. An experience we had the other night at Gingerboy was repeated at Cookie tonight, so I’m starting to think this is typical of Australia: if you show up without a reservation, they will seat you but will tell you what time they need the table back! It really makes you feel like you are playing beat the clock to eat your vittles and git! While on the one hand I admire the efficiency, I’m not completely sure I’m not being given the bum’s rush!
Today’s Australia observations: I needed some more ibuprofen (you try waking up at 3:30 am every morning and see how much no steroidal anti-inflammatory you need to down to stay functional), so we had to stop at the chemist’s, not the pharmacy. And weirdly enough, ibuprofen is behind the counter. You don’t have to have a prescription, but you do have to ask the pharmacist (chemist?) for it. Also, shopping arcades are very common here in Melbourne. It looks like one or two little shops in a nook or cranny, but you walk in and suddenly there’s an entire building full of stuff! It’s very pretty, and very unique.
Tomorrow we leave to go to the Outback, specifically Alice Springs. I think the bug-eating barbeque is tomorrow evening. I can tell you this for certain: Heidi-san does not eat bugs, and they can’t make me! By the way, Hugh didn't call today, either. Don't know what's wrong with that boy.